Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday morning tweetstorm

Image via Seen2.

So somebody this morning got pissed off by something I tweeted last night, when—though I usually try not to engage at all with the Steinsters—I sort of couldn't help myself:

I'll spare you the next six items, where I outlined the Politifact case that it wasn't anything like "all" the uranium rights, that Clinton had relatively little to do with the decision, and that there's no evidence Clinton Foundation donors had anything to do with it anyway, under the assumption (undoubtedly correct) that @PoliticallyLib would click the link. In fact my interlocutor couldn't even read my responses, or at least respond to them:

Exchange: Mark Cuban sandwich

In regard to the scandal of Monday's debate, where Donald Trump retaliated against the expected presence of his old pal Mark Cuban  (who fairly loudly thinks Trump may not be fit to be president) by inviting Ms. Gennifer Flowers, who is said to have done the nasty with Governor Bill Clinton back in the day.

Update: Of course it was all bullshit and Flowers wasn't really invited (they've said she wasn't "formally invited" though she seems to have thought she was), or it wasn't and they've changed their minds, but it isn't happening. Nice to see the evidence of how hysterical and indecisive and uncoordinated they are, the day before the crucial TV moment.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Charitable interpretation, continued

Update 9/25: Welcome Crooks, Liars, and Fans—thanks, Blogenfreude!

Image via Jacques Exclusive Caterers, which handled the Foundation's 2012 Summer Solstice Gala.
In the course of reading up on the activities of the Trump Foundation I came across a story that seems to have been told a lot but not enough, or we'd all know it: that of the Drumthwacket Foundation of New Jersey, a nonprofit devoted to maintaining Drumthwacket, the Greek-revival governor's residence in Princeton, ten or eleven miles from the State House in Trenton. The governor doesn't in fact live there (only one Jersey governor, the ill-fated Jim McGreevey, ever has done it full-time), but uses it as a venue for official events, on the order of 70 a year.

When Chris Christie took office in January 2010, Christina Wilkie wrote for the HuffPost in 2014, the character of the Drumthwacket Foundation began to change quite rapidly. The CEO of the Prudential insurance company and his wife, John and Mary Kay Strangfeld, volunteered to serve as chair and vice chair, and Mary Pat Christie, the governor's wife, assumed the presidency, a new position, and they announced a new vision to encourage the citizenry to take pride in the mansion and fundraising through a New Jersey Pride Corporate Campaign which octupled the foundation's annual income, from around $125 thousand to $1 million.

It doesn't have a Charity Navigator rating, and I can't find any specific information on what's been done for it with that million dollars a year other than making it accessible to persons with disabilities, which is certainly a good thing (but the first floor was already accessible when Jon Corzine moved in to recuperate there after his 2007 car accident left him temporarily wheelchair-bound, and he had a wheelchair lift installed so he could occupy the second floor).

But it has, as you might suspect, given lots of opportunities for wealthy people with business with the state of New Jersey to show what nice people they are, starting with Prudential itself, which has given more than $150,000 to the foundation and in November 2011 received a $250-million tax break ($527,000 per job created). Down to Jared Kushner's Uncle Murray, whose KRE Group made a $10,000 donation and got $33 million in tax incentives for their Journal Square project. And guess what, Jared Kushner's father-in-law, Donald J. Trump shows up as well!

He gave them $10,000 a year from 2010 through 2013, and got approval in 2013 to build a personal cemetery on the fairway of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, ten graves, just for his immediate family, which turned out two years later to be another Trumpian lie; he plans to spend eternity in Florida and turn this site into a 548-grave site for club members. At a substantial profit, obviously.

I should say that, like the Clintons, Christie doesn't get any actual money out of this arrangement, and unlike the Clintons, he can't even get much prestige, since nobody could possibly care very much about whatever he's done for this admittedly very handsome Princeton building. And yet there's clearly something wrong with it that isn't wrong with the Clinton Foundation. Christie himself memorably lied about it as if it were embarrassing, falsely claiming that Trump had contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief on the first morning of the Republican National Convention, and then being forced in the afternoon to admit that it was Drumthwacket that had received the Trumpian largesse. And you can make a case with specific evidence of a pay-to-play phenomenon here (lots more examples in that HuffPost article) in a way that you can't for the Clinton Foundation at all.

What's it about with these things? People talk about donations to a presidential library, say, as contributing to a "legacy", and say that could be worth it to Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as a payment for political favors, and I can sort of understand how that could add up if it did (which in the Clinton case, as I've argued lots before, I think it doesn't). But the Drumthwacket Foundation? Really? What kind of pathetic quo for your quid is that?

Is it about being "high society" at all those gala events, the same thing that makes Christie long for a hug from Jerry Jones in the Cowboys skybox? Yearn so hard that he's willing to sell tax favors or a valuable lease from the Port Authority to get it? Or is it building general relationships with the great, without any particular plan, that might just pay off some day when Donald Trump has a job he could give you?

Photo by Jonathan Ernst, for Reuters, via Kos.

Charitable interpretation

Jean-Baptiste de Saive the younger, no later than 1624, portrait of an aristocratic couple as vegetable sellers. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Most revealing line in Friday's Brooks ("The Clinton Calendar"), I think:
Thanks to reporting by The Washington Post, we’ve learned that the Trump Foundation makes Trump University look like a model of moral rectitude. Donations Trump raised through that foundation went to pay his company’s legal bills and to buy two portraits of himself.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Does the Trump Foundation make Trump University look like a model of moral rectitude?

No, I can't even. It doesn't. Quite the opposite. The Trump Foundation is clearly pretty bad, and presumably guilty of a good deal of illegal business, but Trump University was much worse.

The Foundation took money from Trump's wealthy friends and friendly organizations, from $5 million from WWE to thank him for his assistance in promoting Wrestlemania, a cause that gives so much joy to so many underprivileged 8-year-old boys (surely some of them are underprivileged) to $150,000 for young Barron's baby pix—

Friday, September 23, 2016

Axl Grease

Image via Alternative Nation.
Whistling, as ever, in some kind of darkness possibly of his own making, Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, projects his anxieties into concern-trolling somebody else, Democrats of course, warning us ("Clinton's Samantha Bee Problem") that we may be repeating that moment at the cusp from the 1960s to the 1970s where "the culture" moved left but the politics moved right:

That Nixon-Reagan rightward shift did not repeal the 1960s or push the counterculture back to a beatnik-hippie fringe. But it did leave liberalism in a curious place throughout the 1980s: atop the commanding heights of culture yet often impotent in Washington, D.C.
I'm so deeply tired, by the way, of this kind of plate-tectonics analysis of sociocultural change, especially when it suckers people I admire, like BooMan, into taking it seriously. Whatever is happening isn't happening to a territory of some kind, where Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah have commandeered the troops invading the late-night frontier while putschists seize the Oscars and MTV awards and a fifth column of intellectuals assaults the high ground of the Ivy League—

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Out of the Swamp

Image by Jacqueline Mellow for Alec McGillis's February 2014 piece in The New Republic.
How to talk to a New Jersey jury:
A vicious guy. He’s a bully, he’s an asshole, he’s a horrible person, he’s the most complicated person I’ve ever met. He’s a vindictive person who would destroy your life, he’s known for lying, he has a twisted mind, he’s maniacal, he’s a miserable prick.
That's Michael Baldassare, Bill Baroni's lawyer in the Bridgegate case, describing David Wildstein, who was Governor Christopher Christie's agent of evil in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time and is now the felon in the case who has been "cooperating" with the feds since he took a plea in May 2015 to help them build a case against Baroni, his former deputy at the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former chief of staff. (In return for a lighter sentence, it still hasn't been decided how much lighter, than the 15 years he was likely to end up with.) The coverage on WNYC radio (by Andrea Bernstein and Matt Katz) has been enthralling, but it's even better reading it on the website, linked above, where you get some color you can't get on the radio.

The main thing that's been emerging so far is the way that same description seems to apply to the governor. The prosecution and defense are in pretty much complete agreement on that, and more specifically that Christie definitely did play the leading role, in concert with Wildstein, in locking up traffic in Fort Lee, NJ, and on the George Washington Bridge, for three days in September 2013—the first week of the school year, to make it as nasty as possible for Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, as vengeance for his failure to endorse Christie, a Republican, in that year's gubernatorial race, to which Christie had taken offense, having wooed Sokolich a lot more energetically than we realized: in testimony yesterday Sokolich explained that he

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The residual sadness of the lonely heart

David Brooks's new poem, below the fold, building off his encounter with a Kentucky senior citizen, capped his haunting column of September 21 (reported in my own piece here), as if the emotion couldn't be confined in prose. The work universalizes that moment into a statement of mourning, for the life you led in the 1960s on the Philadelphia Main Line, from which everyone that matters is no longer barbecuing in the back yard but distressed, divorced, alone. The immortality of suburban living promised by Brooks's old friend the suburban futurologist and now Trump backer Joel Kotkin suddenly seems unattainable; those green and family-oriented spaces, swing set and sycamore, mall and megachurch, the old Welcome Wagon, haven't conquered the fact that we suffer, grow old, and die. Thanks, Obama!

Image from Wikimedia Commons via CityMetric.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A stochastic, episodic nature

So it turns out David Brooks has been holding out on us: he really did run across a working class white guy in the course of his voyage into the heart of whiteness—at least one of them ("Dignity and Sadness in the Working Class"). He was dignified and sad.

A few weeks ago I met a guy in Kentucky who’d lived through every trend of deindustrializing America.
He grew up about 65 years ago on a tobacco and cattle farm, but he always liked engines, so even while in high school he worked 40 hours a week in a garage. Then he went to work in a series of factories — making airplane parts, car seats, sheet metal and casings for those big air-conditioning fans you see on the top of buildings.
Leaving the family farm to work in a factory was a trend of deindustrializing? (The original one—old Jefferson tried to warn everybody, but they wouldn't listen.)

He’s in semiretirement now, but he hasn’t been able to take a vacation for four years because he and his wife take care of her elderly mother, who has trouble swallowing. He’s saved her life 10 times so far with the Heimlich maneuver, and they have to be nearby, in case she needs it again.
No wait, you can't blame deindustrialization for that. I'm not saying it's not bad luck. Let's see, if he grew up around 1951 he'd be what, 80-something? And he has a mother-in-law whose life he's obliged to save two or three times a year in that energetic fashion? That's asking a lot of a man that age, and everybody deserves a vacation. (Most likely he was born around 65 years ago and grew up somewhat later—is there a copy editor in the house?)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dismember of the Wedding

Image via Pharyngula.
I don't know that anybody's put this together before—if they have, let me know, and I'll gladly give them credit; but another thing is that Donald Trump himself provides some evidence that you can't bribe the Clintons by donating to the Foundation, because he claims to have done it himself, you know, and there's something a little bit wrong with his story:
When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me,” Trump said. “With Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding, and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice, because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world.”
Problem being that you really can't get somebody to do something in 2005 (the year of Trump's most recent wedding) by paying them off in 2009. Little thing called physics, according to which traveling backwards in time is only for subatomic particles:

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to describe the Clinton Foundation without making it sound nice, because that would be biased

Updated 9/20/2-16:
Corddry: How does one report the facts in an unbiased way when the facts themselves are biased? 

Stewart: I'm sorry, Rob, did you say the facts are biased? 

Corddry: That's right Jon. From the names of our fallen soldiers to the gradual withdrawal of our allies to the growing insurgency, it's become all too clear that facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda. (Daily Show, May 3 2004, via Slapnose.)
Sometimes I think journalists have taken up Colbert's famous aphorism about reality having a liberal bias (2006, after Rob Corddry as cited above, h/t commenter Jim Tarrant) without realizing it's a joke. Seriously. They have the most fervent regard for the journalist's commandment of reporting without fear or favor, and bias is the worst crime in the book, right?

So if an overly insistent commitment to the facts makes you sound as if you're taking sides, well, then facts have to go under the bus. Not my job, says Chuck Todd.

Image via Viva Chuck Todd.
One of the weirdest stories of the weekend was out of the Times's Upshot department, by Lynn Vavreck, reporting on a survey of what registered voters know about the Clinton Foundation, or rather, as the headline said, what they don't know about the Clinton Foundation, because a good half of the respondents, 45% of the Republicans, 44% of the Democrats, and 52% of the independents) said they didn't know enough to answer any questions about it and what it does.

(Which is, for the record, to spend $200 million a year on a very wide range of activities ranging from supplying AIDS drugs to almost 12 million people to working to reduce childhood obesity in 31,000 US public schools, doing it well enough to earn an overall quality score from Charity Navigator of 94.74 out of 100 in its rating, posted just this month, as compared to, say, 97.46 for Healing Hands International, or 83.94 for Catholic Relief Services, international humanitarian agency of the US Roman Catholic community, which spends nearly three times as much money—the lower score reflects its relatively weak financial performance in growth and sustainability.)

Rather more interesting than that is the number of things they know that aren't true. Asked to respond to a series of true-or-false statements,