Friday Morning Open Thread: Spume on Troubled Political Waters

As a break from the earnest / tragic business of national politics at this moment in time…

… I offer this brilliant brutal handbagging* of the worthless Chris ‘Mad Bitchin’ Cillizza:

Chris Cillizza’s job isn’t as easy as it seems, although it also isn’t nearly difficult enough to justify the salary he receives for doing it. What that job is even supposed to be is kind of a moving target, to be honest, but much of what Cillizza does in his current position as a political reporter and editor-at-large at CNN comes closer to blogging about celebrity fashion than it does conventional political writing. Fundamentally what he writes about is political style—hot new innovations in institutionalized incompetence; particularly deft or buzzy bits of toxic pettiness; what’s trending in the collapse of everything the country ever pretended to hold dear.

This feels, from one frothy burble to the next, like a very specific type of fashion writing, not of the kind that an astute critic or academic or even competent industry-facing journalist might write, but of the kind that you find on social media in the threaded comments attached to photos of Rihanna. Cillizza does not really appear to follow any policy issue at all, and evinces no real insight into electoral trends or political tactics. He just sort of notices whatever is happening and cheerfully announces that it is very exciting and that he is here for it.

Anyway, because he is to all appearances an absolute fucking doorknob, Cillizza excels at this work. But while he makes it look easy, even an eager-beaver Politics Noticer like Cillizza must eventually notice that this fun sport that so thrills and delights him is also generally debasing everyone participating in or otherwise subject to it and leading to infinitely more suffering than any sport should…

(* I originally used ‘pig-bladdering’, but that felt like insulting Cillizza’s genetics.)

As to the serious topic enthusiastically spittled by The Mad Bitcher — don’t worry, the grownups have things in hand:

Important Read: Laundering Whose Dirty Dollars?

Be kinda nice if this scheduled post is outdated by the time it appears, but…

Trump’s vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president’s private company, which discloses few details about its finances.

It shows that Trump had access to far more cash than previously known, despite his string of commercial bankruptcies and the Great Recession’s hammering of the real estate industry.

Why did the “King of Debt,” as he has called himself in interviews, turn away from that strategy, defying the real estate wisdom that it’s unwise to risk so much of one’s own money in a few projects?

And how did Trump — who had money tied up in golf courses and buildings — raise enough liquid assets to go on this cash buying spree?…

To total up Trump’s cash payments in real estate transactions, The Washington Post examined land records and corporate reports from six U.S. states, Ireland and the United Kingdom. These records show purchase prices for Trump’s properties, details about any mortgages and — in the United Kingdom and Ireland — the amount of cash Trump plowed into his clubs after he bought them. The Post provided the figures it used to the Trump Organization, which did not dispute them…

During the 2016 campaign, Trump continued to brag about how he’d mastered the art of spending other people’s cash.

“I do that all the time in business: It’s called other people’s money. There’s nothing like doing things with other people’s money because it takes the risk,” Trump told a campaign-trail audience in North Carolina in September 2016. “You get a good chunk of it, and it takes the risk.”

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Your Friday Night Must Read

This, by Jebediah Purdy, may be the most important thing you read this year:

The structural buttresses of that world have been crumbling since 1989, but it took a long time to fall. The year 2016 brought the first genuinely post–Cold War election: the perennial carnage of American capitalism, intensified by forty years of growing inequality, prepared the ground for Bernie Sanders’s socialism, while the nativism and racism that had slunk just outside respectable politics returned full-throated. What unifies the crisis-of-democracy genre is the failure to understand this, that the present moment is not an anomalous departure but rather a return to the baseline—to the historical norm, one might say.

The result of this error is a response to the present crisis that is at once too dramatic and too sanguine. These books all claim that Trump is unprecedented—which is not at all true. (Rather, “unprecedented” was code for “terrible” in the language of American political consensus. And, of course, he is terrible.) But these authors are also rather modest in their suggestions. None of the proposals from this genre come close to the kinds of sweeping changes that made the New Deal or even the civil-rights revolution. What might that sort of transformation look like today? For one, we need substantial redistribution, starting with marginal tax rates at the 70 percent levels that lasted until the Reagan-era cuts of the 1980s. For another, we need entirely new institutions of planning and social provision, such as universal family leave and child care to help make the economy more humane, family life less exhausting, and get closer to gender equity. We might also have to do much more to strengthen labor unions, to the point of considering radical measures such as mandatory unionization, which is often the only way to break management’s hold on labor in large firms. It could also mean a new dispensation of basic legal rights, such as granting residents, rather than only citizens, the right to vote.

Read the whole thing.

Republican Venality Open Thread: Just A Clean-Cut Midwestern Prince, Our Erik

“Frontier Services”. If we’re being honest, Erik Prince figures more mercenary “security” is exactly what America needs, too. Another excellent Washington Post expose — “The Blackwater founder has cut a lucrative security-training deal with Chinese insiders. But is it against U.S. interests?”:

Beijing’s International Security Defense College, which boasts of becoming “the largest private security training school in China,” sits behind a 45-foot-high exterior wall and a barricade. Inside the compound, trainers with police and military experience teach classes on tackling detainees, handling hostage situations and thwarting terrorist attacks.

The school is overseen by Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based company founded by Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who created Blackwater, a security firm that played a major and controversial role in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Prince spent more than a decade at the helm of Blackwater, which won hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts to guard U.S. officials and facilities, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the company ran into legal and political problems stemming from its work for the U.S. military — including an incident in 2007 in which Blackwater workers killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians — Prince has lived and worked around the world, creating businesses based on providing security and handling logistics for enterprises on several continents.

Some members of Congress, military officials and people who do similar security work say that Prince’s role as chairman of Frontier puts him in the unsettling position of advancing the strategic agenda of the United States’ largest rival.

“He cloaks himself in the American flag when he’s seeking a U.S. contract, but he is the hood ornament of the new era of the military industrial complex and a set of mercenaries who work for countries, oligarchs and random billionaires,” said Sean McFate, a former military contractor who wrote a book about private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “The Pentagon and national security establishment view Erik as a pariah.”…
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Late Night Open Thread: (Probably) One Last Nerdprom Review

Keep in mind — Ana Navarro is a professional Republican. Jen Chaney, at NYMag Vulture blog:

It would have been easy for Wolf to take a cheap shot at either of these women for some superficial offense, like the way they dress or talk. As Nussbaum points out, that’s what Trump would have done, and has done on many occasions. But nothing about what Michelle Wolf did on Saturday night was easy. It was hard, harder even than the truthtelling that Stephen Colbert did to President George W. Bush’s face at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. True, Colbert was dressing down the commander in chief in his actual presence, something Wolf didn’t have the opportunity to do since Trump, for the second year in a row, couldn’t muster the courage to show up for this event. But Colbert could at least hide behind his alter ego as the conservative host of The Colbert Report. Wolf had to go out there as only the fourth female comedian to perform solo at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, drop a bunch of truth bombs, then sit back down with no shield to provide cover…

Not surprisingly, though, it’s the jabs that Wolf threw at Sanders and other Trump staffers that are getting criticized today, not just because some of them were funny but because they legitimately stung. To acknowledge what actually made the smoky eye line funny meant that some of the people in that ballroom had to reflect on the fact that they either lie, enable liars, or act nicely to liars because that’s what they sometimes have to do to get the information the public deserves to know. That’s the sort of situation that makes people itchy.

But here’s the thing: If the worst thing that happens to you while you’re working for Trump is that a woman from The Daily Show says a few mean things about you while you’re wearing a nice dress, eating a free meal, and drinking some wine, you are still having a better day than a hell of a lot of people in this country. Also, this is part of the job when you’re a public servant…
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Open Thread: Yes, Kill the NerdProm

It must’ve had some utility at some point, back when it was a standard trade-association awards shindig. But ever since it became a fantasy evening for the Media Village Idiots to work out their adolescent traumas — mostly by Vast! Performative! OUTRAGE! cheerleading each other, over the ensuing week, concerning whichever horror the other side was averred to have committed — it’s become both tedious *and* aggravating.

Every year, sensible press people suggest it be shitcanned entirely; every year, the sensible people have been ignored. But since we’re now in the “Everything Trump Touches Dies” era, perhaps we’ve actually seen the last of this farce?

Margaret Sullivan, at the Washington Post:

It never has been a particularly good idea for journalists to don their fanciest clothes and cozy up to the people they cover, alongside Hollywood celebrities who have ventured to wonky Washington to join the fun.

But in the current era, it’s become close to suicidal for the press’s credibility.

Trust in the mainstream media is low, a new populism has caught fire all over the Western world, and President Trump constantly pounds the news media as a bunch of out-of-touch elites who don’t represent the interests of real Americans…

Its defenders say that it’s perfectly all right to have “just one night” to enjoy a break from the supposedly adversarial relationship between government and press. But that relationship isn’t always as arms-length as it should be in a town noted for its mutual back-scratching.

Talev and her cohort certainly are dedicated reporters and editors. But this festive night, always unseemly, is now downright counterproductive to good journalism’s goals. It only serves to reinforce the views of those who already hate the media elite…

Can’t the correspondents’ association come up with better ways to do its good work, ways that show journalists at their best?

That they are in the trenches digging out the truth.

Not schmoozing in the swamp while the president hustles the heartland.

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Schadenfreude Open Thread: Nobody Loves A Loser, Donny…

… Except for the other losers! Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani represent everything Boston most loathes about NYC. So it’s not surprising the Boston Globe was happy to share:

[T]he lure of representing the most powerful man in the world isn’t appealing to this generation’s cadre of top white-collar criminal defense attorneys: Twelve partners from a total of seven firms have said no to President Trump’s entreaties to help him navigate the special counsel’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Being turned down time and again led Trump to pick former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani this week, turning to a former presidential candidate and one-time US attorney who was known for his at times imprecise but often effective advocacy of Trump on the campaign trail in 2016. Trump also brought on board a relatively obscure husband-and-wife team of former federal prosecutors with a white-collar criminal defense practice in South Florida.

It’s hard to call it a dream team.

“Rudy Giuliani has always been available,” said Roger Cossack, a former California prosecutor and legal analyst on TV. “Hiring Rudy Giuliani only underlines Trump’s dilemma in finding a lawyer who will work for him.”…

“What we’re seeing with President Trump is really unprecedented,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. During the depths of Watergate, Nixon had a squadron of high-power lawyers to walk him through the process. “Nixon’s problem was that he wasn’t honest with his lawyers. And he didn’t really allow them to defend him,” he said…

Lawyers who’ve watched firms turn him down say it’s a combination of factors. There’s Trump’s reputation as a very difficult client who will undercut, change his mind, and publicly humiliate. Managing partners at top firms also fear Trump is so polarizing that their practice would lose clients and talent if they’re associated with him.

“Everyone who becomes associated with Trump becomes diminished,” explained one leading white-collar crime expert, who didn’t want to be named for fear of offending the president. “You come out with less of a reputation.”…

Another institutional worry at large firms is that Trump tends to ignore advice, even if it’s the best that money can buy. Some point to the president’s long history of civil litigation as a New York real estate developer and a casino owner, which gives Trump the confidence that he can be his own lawyer…

Firms also are worried that representing Trump could hurt recruitment of the best students coming out of law schools, particularly women, Bennett said…

(Also, he’s a notorious deadbeat.)

Much more, including a list of refuseniks, at the link.