What’s Obama got to smile about?

Just over a decade ago I visited the Midwestern city of Independence, Missouri. Independence had been the home of Harry Truman, the former president whose eight years in office saw the end of World War II and the creation of Nato. After Truman left office in 1953 he returned to his hometown, turning down offers of directorships and paid endorsements.

Instead, he chose to live modestly off the remains of the $670,000 fee for his memoirs – the vast majority of which went in taxes and expenses – and the money from his Army pension, which came to $1,351 a year (equivalent to $12,000 today). By the late 1950s, Truman’s finances were sufficiently strained that Congress created a special presidential pension, of $25,000 per year (the only other living former president at the time, Herbert Hoover, reportedly drew the pension himself only to avoid embarrassing Truman).

Things are a little different than they were in Truman’s days. Barack Obama can expect to receive an index-linked $207,800 a year from the presidential pension for the rest of his life. Obama is said to be a multi-millionaire already from the sales of his books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity Of Hope, and he is in line for an advance of up to $30m for the sale of his presidential memoirs, plus royalties. If Obama still needs any ready cash, there’s always the speaking circuit, which can be lucrative for articulate ex-presidents. The Clintons together earned around $153m between 2001 and 2015 in speaking fees.

With all that money, and the prospect of even more to come, it’s no wonder that in photos of him holidaying with Richard Branson last week, he “radiates a happiness bordering on ecstasy”, as The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones puts it. Obama isn’t the only person to benefit from the tycoon’s hospitality. Indeed, “ever since Branson acquired Necker Island in 1979 for about £180,000, he’s busied himself inviting the great, the good… and the merely famous to enjoy it”, says Alison Boshoff in the Daily Mail. While ordinary people can also stay on the island, you would “need to shell out £40,000 a night”.

Still, if you’re a president and want to have Richard Branson invite you to his hideaway, or get those lucrative appointments, it’s important to protect your image while in office – something that’s worrying First Lady Melania Trump. She’s filed a $150m lawsuit against the Daily Mail saying that allegations the paper made about her may undermine her plans to develop “multi-million-dollar business relationships”. These would have included deals with purveyors of “apparel, accessories, shoes, jewellery, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance”.

Melania is not the only one in the Trump administration with an entrepreneurial streak. Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s advisers, turned heads when she endorsed a line of clothing made by Ivanka Trump in a TV interview, stating that viewers should “go buy it today”. As well as being “cartoonishly crass”, as The New York Times put it, this violated federal ethics regulations, which state that an employee “shall not use his public office… for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise”. Truman would have been appalled.

Tabloid money… how jumped-up frogs caused the housing crisis

• Trickle-down economics – the idea that we all benefit when the rich get richer – doesn’t work, claims the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has called for higher taxes. As a former businessman – Welby was an oil executive before taking holy orders – and leader of the property-rich Church of England, he should know better, says Peter Hill in the Daily Express.

“More taxes mean more taken from middle-income earners, because there aren’t enough properly rich people to make much difference.” Squeezing the middle would be “monstrously unfair”. “If trickle-down economics doesn’t work, it’s because taxes are already far too high and earners haven’t enough left to trickle down.”

• “One of the reasons Britain has a housing crisis is that builders are not allowed to build homes until all the newts on the site have been moved, on velvet cushions, in golden carriages, to a new habitat,” says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. In one case in Milton Keynes, moving 150 newts cost £1m. This “meant that the affordable homes… were not affordable at all”. So we should all welcome the government’s decision to axe EU rules protecting this “jumped-up frog”. From now on, “if houses are going to be built on a newt pond, then it’s up to the newts to move themselves”.

• Jane Park was just 17 when she bought her first lottery ticket and won £1m – then spent much of it on cosmetic treatments, sunshine holidays and two properties, says the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn. Four years later, she says the money has ruined her life. On reading her tale of woe, “my compassionate nature kicked in and I thought, she’s only a kid… That was until I discovered that… she is planning to sue [lottery operator] Camelot.” “Wouldn’t it be refreshing if for once… someone took responsibility for their own plight?

Merryn

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