Excellent Read: “Trump Tourism: How Charlottesville enabled Cindy Yang to market Mar-a-Lago in China “

Remember Warren G. Harding? He was a self-professed “man of limited talents” boosted into the Presidency by the Republican Party as the polar opposite to replace the Democrat’s distant, cerebral, League-of-Nations proponent Woodrow Wilson. Until recently, Harding’s Teapot Dome Scandal was considered the ultimate conflation of political and business corruption. But just in time for its centennial:

Yang’s invitations to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and resort, started coming after high society’s post-Charlottesville exodus. She helped promote the cobbled-together replacement galas, selling them online as opportunities for Chinese businessmen to gain face time with the Trump family.

On Chinese social media, Safari Night became a “midnight carnival” of the American social and political elite and an important networking opportunity for businessmen from overseas. Seats were marked up from the original $600 to $1,000. The ads also offered VIP packages for overnight stays at Mar-a-Lago — $10,000 for two nights, with spa and golf course access, according to one post from a member of a local Asian-American political group.

Dozens of people associated with her Asian-American political group turned out. Yang also recruited guests through her nonprofit group, Women’s Charity Foundation Inc. One of the group’s guests impressed the crowd by plunking down $40,000 for a pair of paintings, with the proceeds going to charity, according to a post on the foundation’s WeChat page that was later removed…

In both years prior to Charlottesville, Mar-a-Lago hosted 33 events, according to the Herald’s analysis of the Palm Beach Daily News’ social events calendar. It dropped to 10 events in the season after Charlottesville…

Selling access to private events is not new, and foreign nationals are not barred from giving contributions to private foundations or nonprofits as they are from giving to U.S. political campaigns.

But experts say Trump’s presidency is unique, and Mar-a-Lago in particular provides unprecedented levels of access…

A cottage industry of influence peddling

… Yang and Lee are not alone in their efforts to capitalize on their access to the Trump family. According to a Herald analysis of Chinese social media and classified advertisements, at least five other groups are marketing Trump-related tours to Chinese elites.

“This may be the highest-level invitation you’ll receive at this stage in your life,” one Chinese-language ad declared. Though most ads promoted events at Mar-a-Lago, a few marketed access through political fundraisers with Trump across the country…
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Republican Venality: National (In)Security & The Cost of Corruption


Betty Cracker already posted about the risks of this potential security breach, but seriously — this is the kind of petty, venal abuse we used to mock when it happened in poverty-stricken, desperate authoritarian states:

… Ms. Newbold’s decision to accuse her own office of rampant mismanagement of the security clearances of at least 25 employees came after months of what she characterized as personal discrimination and professional retaliation from Carl Kline, the office’s former director, after she spent roughly a year trying to raise issues internally.

In a White House where aggressive leak investigations are conducted in service of President Trump, who has aides sign nondisclosure agreements, Ms. Newbold’s account represents the rarest of developments: a damning on-the-record account from a current employee inside his ranks…

Described as both “no nonsense” and “intense” by people who have interacted with her during the clearance process, Ms. Newbold has served under four presidential administrations, beginning with the Clinton White House in 2000. Eventually she worked her way up to adjudications manager, a job that required her to help make determinations about the security clearances of administration employees. Her office is filled with holdovers from other administrations, and it is meant to be nonpartisan.

Yet in the Trump administration the office was filled with people who had little experience in vetting employees in the interest of national security, Ms. Newbold said in a nine-hour deposition with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last week.

Ms. Newbold told the committee that at least two senior administration officials had been granted security clearances — which gave them access to classified information — despite possible disqualifying issues. She also told the committee that she had compiled a list of at least 25 individuals, including contractors and senior advisers, who had a “wide range” of disqualifying information, including drug use, financial problems and criminal conduct…

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Surely the ‘Party of National Security’ will speak up about this travesty!…


 
Professor of international relations Stephen M. Walt, at Foreign Policy, “America’s Corruption Is a National Security Threat”:

… [C]orruption is inherently inefficient. Instead of resources going where they are most needed, they get diverted into bribes, payoffs, kickbacks, and other shady arrangements. And when the wealthy and powerful use connections to get jobs or contracts (or to get their kids into college), that means that more deserving and talented people get excluded and less qualified people end up in positions of authority. The more common such practices become, the more honest and law-abiding people will be tempted to follow suit just to keep up. And once corruption becomes endemic in a society, rooting it out becomes difficult if not impossible.
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2020 Election Open Thread: Stacey Abrams Is Going Places

Abrams has traversed the country meeting with top Democrats since her narrow loss in the Georgia governor’s race. She’s met with every leading candidate for president, and become a regular draw on the big-ticket fundraising circuit, donors and fundraisers told POLITICO. Abrams headlined major donor events for the Democratic National Committee, the progressive donor collaborative Way to Win and former Sen. Barbara Boxer in recent months, and has discussed her political future with top Democratic donors.

At the reception for Abrams hosted by Boxer, held at a five-star Beverly Hills hotel in late February, local Democratic leaders and entertainment industry donors heard her talk about her work against voter suppression and about her brother’s struggle with addiction. After the event, she was mobbed by attendees.

“We must have had several hundred people there but everyone felt she was speaking to them,” Boxer told POLITICO. “I think every single person in that room will help Stacey with whatever it is she wants to do.” …

In contrast to Beto O’Rourke, who wrote Medium posts and took a road trip after his loss, Abrams has been keenly focused on the nuts and bolts of building her political base. She’s attended dozens of events across the country, according to descriptions of her itinerary from sources close to Abrams and others who’ve spoken with her. She also drew high marks for her performance delivering Democrats’ response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in February…

Throughout her national travels, Abrams has attempted to draw attention to her mission on voting rights and her gubernatorial race. “Wherever she goes, she shares the stories of those who faced these suppressive tactics with new audiences,” said Caitlin Highland, an Abrams spokeswoman…

And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where she decides to go next. Great NYMag cover story by Rebecca Traister:

She is a serious introvert, yet her work requires glad-handing extroversion; she is excruciatingly aware of the electoral challenges that face her as a black woman who grew up what she calls “genteel poor” in rural Mississippi, yet she pushes forward politically with the drive and confidence of a white man; she devours romance novels and soap operas, yet she is also a science-fiction, math, and tax-law geek; she can come off as one of the most relatable politicians out there, yet she is a total egghead who drops million-dollar vocabulary words, once sending me to the dictionary to confirm what panegyric means (I mostly got it through context!). And she is a woman who, having just run in a historic election that many of her fellow Democrats expected her to lose, is now being counted on to win, and perhaps save her party, by prevailing in an equally difficult Senate contest, or maybe the race for the presidency. The deepest irony, of course, is that what Abrams wants to do is fundamentally rebuild the electoral system that failed her, just as the system itself wants to pull her in…

Nonnormative as she may be, Abrams is an almost old-fashioned Democrat, with her ideological (and personal) roots in the civil-rights, labor, and women’s movements. Her parents, a librarian and a dockworker, both of whom would later get divinity degrees and become pastors, were civil-rights activists from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. As an undergraduate, she was trained as an organizer at the A. Philip Randolph Institute of the AFL-CIO; she gave her State of the Union rebuttal in an Atlanta union hall.

A graduate of Spelman College, with a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas and a law degree from Yale, Abrams worked as a tax attorney and deputy city attorney for Atlanta before being elected, in 2006, to the Georgia statehouse. She assumed the minority leadership position — becoming the first black woman to lead either party there — in 2011. In the midst of her legal and political career, Abrams has published romance novels (under the name Selena Montgomery) and founded several businesses, including one that made formula-ready bottles for babies and another that helps small companies get paid more quickly by buying their invoices.

Where Abrams is the most passionate is in her willingness to rumble over remaking electoral systems that are rigged to deny the country’s most vulnerable their only real route to civic power. It may not be as sexy as free college, but it’s definitely radical — and as Abrams likes to point out, without full enfranchisement, we’ll never get elected officials who’ll back policies that materially improve the lives of people who aren’t well off and/or white…

After a high-school friend gave her a novel by the black feminist writer Octavia E. Butler, Abrams developed a passion for science fiction. She’s a Trekkie who will authoritatively rank series — “The Next Generation and Voyager are about even; I think Voyager is mildly superior, although Picard is the quintessential captain. Then I would do Discovery, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise. I don’t understand why Enterprise was a show.” These days, she’s into Doctor Who, having grown up on the Tom Baker version. “Right before this campaign started, I was sick and ended up watching the Doctor,” she says. “Then, over New Year’s, there was a marathon. Now I’m watching all the new ones. I’ve seen seasons three, four, five, six, and I’m in the second half of seven.” Abrams watched three episodes of Doctor Who to chill out the afternoon before she gave her State of the Union response…
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Excellent (Horrifying) Read: “The True Dollar Cost of the Anti-Vaccine Movement”

From the reliably excellent Maryn McKenna, at Wired:

Every grave illness and death is an individual tragedy, but the cost of vaccine hesitancy also enforces a shared public toll.

Consider the ongoing measles outbreak in Washington State, which is centered in Clark County, on the Oregon border. In January, when it had racked up 26 cases, the state governor declared a public health emergency. Since then, the case count has almost tripled, to 74.

To figure out who might have been put at risk, the state health department has interviewed 4,652 people and closely monitored 812 of them. It has reassigned staff from across its divisions, borrowed public health workers from other states, sent people who would normally be at desks out into the field, performed hundreds of lab tests that would not normally be necessary. So far, it has spent $1.6 million…

The funding to support that work isn’t being conjured out of the air. It’s coming from the budgets of public agencies, which have already been facing years of cuts and have no secret stashes of discretionary money to spend.

“There are substantial public health responses that go into mitigating an outbreak, and we should pursue those, because they prevent larger outbreaks or broader social disruption,” says Saad Omer, a physician and epidemiologist at Emory University and the senior author of a recent paper on the “true cost” of measles outbreaks. “But it does result in a lot of costs that can be pretty substantial. And we don’t measure the further indirect costs to the community.”

In Washington State, those indirect costs include the other work that doesn’t get done while the outbreak proceeds. The state health department was forced to appropriate a portion of its poison control center’s work hours to handle the calls made by people worried they had been exposed to measles. In Clark County, the local health department reassigned to measles the home-visit nurses who take care of risky pregnancies, and also the investigators who track down victims of sexually transmitted diseases and foodborne illnesses…

Those costs are being paid by state governments, and by federal agencies such as the CDC that give states grants and loan them personnel. State and federal budgets are public money—which means those necessary bills for unnecessary outbreaks are being paid by all of us. The toll of illness may be confined to individuals, but the cost of responding to outbreaks related to vaccine refusal is a bill that we are all being compelled to pay.

And you know the privileged parents now telling each other, Really, it’s only measles, we all got them back in the day and *I* never had any problems will sue everyone from the suspected source to their local government to the FDA if their little darling has to so much as miss a school recital or family vacation because of a quarantine, too. Mah RIGHTS!!!

Sometimes I find myself wishing that this kind of stupidity physically hurt its possessors, and not just their victims, because that seems to be the only way to reach some people.



Election 2020 Open Thread: Elizabeth Warren Is Not Lisa Simpson


Unless, of course, you’re the type of ‘edgy’ media village idiot who thinks Bart Simpson is the president America really needs:

Warren is bursting with what we might call “charisma” in male candidates: She has the folksy demeanor of Joe Biden, the ferocious conviction of Bernie Sanders, the deep intelligence of fellow law professor Barack Obama. But Warren is not a man, and so those traits are framed as liabilities, rather than strengths. According to the media, Warren is an uptight schoolmarm, a “wonky professor,” a scold, a wimpy Dukakis, a wooden John Kerry, or (worse) a nerdier Al Gore.

The criticism has hit her from the left and right. The far-right Daily Caller accused her of looking weird when she drank beer; on social media, conservatives spread vicious (and viciously ableist) rumors that Warren took antipsychotic drugs that treated “irritability caused by autism.” On the other end of the spectrum, Amber A’Lee Frost, the lone female co-host of the socialist podcast Chapo Trap House, wrote for The Baffler (and, when The Baffler retracted her article, for Jacobin) that Warren was “weak” and “not charismatic.” Frost deplored the “Type-A Tracy Flicks” who dared support “this Lisa Simpson of a dark-horse candidate.”…

There’s an element of gaslighting here: It only takes a reporter a few sources — and an op-ed columnist a single, fleeting judgment — to declare a candidate “unlikable.” After that label has been applied, any effort the candidate makes to win people over can be cast as “inauthentic.” Likability is in this way a self-reinforcing accusation, one which is amplified every time the candidate tries to tackle it. (Recall Hillary Clinton, who was asked about her “likability” at seemingly every debate or town hall for eight straight years — then furiously accused of pandering every time she made an effort to seem more “approachable.”)…

Warren is cast as a bloodless intellectual when she focuses on policy, a scolding lecturer when she leans into her skills as a rabble-rouser; either way, her intelligence is always too much and out of place. Her eloquence is framed, not as inspiring, but as “angry” and “hectoring.” Being an effective orator makes her “strident.” It’s not solely confined to the media, but reporters seem anxious to signal-boost anyone who complains: Anonymous male colleagues call her “irritating,” telling Vanity Fair that “she projects a ‘holier than thou’ attitude” and that “she has a moralizing to her.” That same quality in male candidates is hailed as moral clarity.

Warren is accused, in plain language, of being uppity — a woman who has the bad grace to be smarter than the men around her, without downplaying it to assuage their egos. But running in a presidential race is all about proving that you are smarter than the other guy. By demanding that Warren disguise her exceptional talents, we are asking her to lose. Thankfully, she’s not listening. She is a smart woman, after all.