Donald Trump’s Phony America

There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.

.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.

She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.

This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.

She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.

Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”

How Fancy Water Bottles Became a 21st-Century Status Symbol

On the surface, water bottles as totems of consumer aspiration sound absurd: If you have access to water, you can drink it out of so many things that already exist in your home. But if you dig a little deeper, you find that these bottles sit at a crossroads of cultural and economic forces that shape Americans’ lives far beyond beverage choices. If you can understand why so many people would spend 50 bucks on a water bottle, you can understand a lot about America in 2019.

The first time I coveted a water bottle was in 2004. When I arrived as a freshman at the University of Georgia, I found that I was somehow the last person alive who didn’t own a Nalgene. The brand’s distinctive, lightweight plastic bottles had long been a cult-favorite camping accessory, but in the mid-2000s, they exploded in popularity beyond just outdoorsmen. A version with the school’s logo on it cost $16 in the bookstore, which was a little steep for me, an unemployed 18-year-old, but I bought one anyway. I wanted to be the kind of person all my new peers apparently were. Plus, it’s hot in Georgia. A nice water bottle seemed like a justifiable extravagance.

Around the same time, I remember noticing the first flares of another trend intimately related to the marketability of water bottles: athleisure. All around me, stylish young women wore colorful Nike running shorts and carried bright plastic Nalgenes to class. “With Millennials, fitness and health are themselves signals,” says Tülin Erdem, a marketing professor at NYU. “They drink more water and carry it with them, so it’s an item that becomes part of them and their self-expression.”

.. Kauss says she always knew the bottle’s appearance would be important, even though positioning something as simple as a water bottle as a luxury product was a bit of a gamble. “As I moved up in my career, I was upgrading my wardrobe, and the bottle that looked like a camping accessory really didn’t serve my purpose anymore,” she says. When she noticed fashionable New Yorkers were carrying luxe disposable plastic bottles from brands such as Evian and Fiji, she realized reusable bottles could use a makeover, too.

.. Kauss and her contemporaries struck at the right time. The importance of fitness and wellness were starting to gain a foothold in fashionable crowds, and concerns over consumer waste and plastic’s potential to leach chemicals into food and water were gaining wider attention. People wanted cute workout gear, and they wanted to drink water out of materials other than plastic. Researchers have found that the chance to be conspicuously sustainability-conscious motivates consumers, especially when the product being purchased costs more than its less-green counterparts.

.. For a lot of people, they spark a little bit of joy in the otherwise mundane routine of work, exercise, and personal hygiene. For a generation with less expendable income than its parents’, a nice bottle pays for itself with a month of consistent use and lets you feel like you’re being proactive about your health and the environment.

Did Russia teach Paul Manafort all its dirty tricks?

Manafort is alleged to have laundered money, to have cheated on taxes and to have lied about his clientele. All of this he did in order to “enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States,” according to the indictment. Among other things it is alleged that he spent $1,319,281 of his money, illegally hidden from the U.S. Treasury, to pay a home lighting and entertainment company in Florida; to purchase $934,350 worth of rugs at a shop in Virginia; and to drop $655,500 on a landscaper in the Hamptons.

.. Some will find it ironic that Manafort did all of this while coaching candidate Donald Trump to run an “anti-elite” election campaign, one directed at “draining the swamp” and cleaning up Washington.

But in fact, this is exactly the kind of tactic that Manafort perfected on behalf of Russia, in Ukraine, where he worked for more than a decade.

.. in 2006, when he brought dozens of American political consultants to Ukraine to assist in an ethnically charged election that pit Russian and Ukrainian speakers against one another, in an attempt to help Russia retain influence over the country.

..  In 2010, he was one of several advisers — the others were mostly Russians — who helped remake the image of Viktor Yanukovych, the ex-con whom the Russian government then supported for president of Ukraine. Yanukovych charged the sitting government with corruption, declared that the election would be “rigged” and finally won.

.. The exploitation of ethnic tension; the dislike of NATO; the constant talk of opponents’ corruption, whether warranted or not; the shouting about falsified elections — these were Trump tactics, too

.. And he sought to undermine Ukraine’s constitution, first subtly and then openly.

.. For a long time now, a part of the U.S. political and business class has been merging, ideologically and aesthetically, with its post-Soviet counterparts. The use of shell companies and Cypriot bank accounts; the over-the-top spending on clothes and houses; the profoundly cynical manipulation of ethnic or racial divides to win elections — these behaviors are now common to a particular set of sleazy operators on two continents. If this indictment is correct, Manafort is the living embodiment of this Russian-American convergence.

 

Louise Linton Isn’t Mad. You’re Mad

Ivanka and her husband holding hands as they stride across electric-green grass at the G-20 summit; her kids ascending the crimson staircase of Air Force One. What’s notable is that Ivanka, like Linton, often does not procedurally belong in the settings where she is photographed; there is an undercurrent of White-House-as-life-style-blog-prop. Nonetheless, these images seem ordinary when viewed without context.

.. Great #daytrip to #Kentucky!” Linton wrote. “#nicest #people #beautiful #countryside #rolandmouret pants #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa.” This is an unsubtle caption, drawing on a type of hashtag-saturated social-media syntax that I associate both with discount-clothing retailers attempting to optimize their search results and aimless individual souls hoping to catalogue their membership in some tribe. Charitably, we could assume that Linton was writing in the latter spirit, registering herself as a lover of the #daytrip, of #people and #beautiful #countryside—a sister to all who love #tomford sunglasses and #valentino heels.

.. In a few aggrieved sentences, Linton managed to frame her husband’s three-hundred-million-dollar net worth as a burden, her six months in Washington as harrowing public servitude, and an ordinary American as a contemptible member of the economic underclass. She punctuated this bit with two emoji, a flexed bicep and a kissy face, which were meant to convey nonchalance but instead communicated a type of strained, hierarchical female fury that I have not witnessed in person since cheerleading camp, in 2005.

.. Linton, who spent part of her childhood in her family’s castle in Scotland and once gave an interview to Town & Country about her twelve-piece suite of wedding jewelry, cemented her appearance as an appropriate partner for Mnuchin, whose company OneWest earned him the nickname “Foreclosure King.”

.. The two fiascoes are twin parables, really—each one illustrates how a desire for reverence leads easily to ridicule, and how, when you visibly strain to perform your identity for an audience, the audience often rebels. The trouble with a manufactured self-image is that it requires onlookers for confirmation.

As Investigations Intensify, Israel Imagines Life After Netanyahu

A black curtain went up a few months ago near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence on Jerusalem’s leafy Balfour Street. It screened pesky protesters from Mr. Netanyahu’s view — and prevented the public from seeing lawyers and detectives come and go as criminal investigations of the prime minister intensified.

.. “For the first time, people are thinking that Netanyahu won’t be the prime minister next time around, whether elections take place in a few months’ time or a year and a half.”

.. experts say that Friday’s signing of a state’s witness agreement by Ari Harow, who served as Mr. Netanyahu’s chief of staff and directed his 2015 re-election campaign, could be a game changer.

.. In Case 1000, investigators are looking at whether Mr. Netanyahu offered favors in return for gifts of expensive cigars, pink Champagne and other goods from wealthy friends, including Arnon Milchan, the Israeli Hollywood producer.

.. Case 2000 involves back-room dealings with a local newspaper magnate. Mr. Netanyahu was recorded negotiating with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth for favorable coverage in exchange for curtailing the circulation of a free competitor, Israel Hayom.

.. Mr. Netanyahu has had abrasive relationships with some international leaders, including President Barack Obama, particularly over his championing of settlement expansion and his efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. President Trump’s victory came as a great relief to Mr. Netanyahu and his coalition — the most right wing in Israel’s history

.. Mr. Netanyahu has also built strong alliances with other leaders, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and has expanded Israel’s global reach based on its prowess in intelligence, counterterrorism and technology.

.. showcasing a combative, theatrical style of diplomacy.

.. inside Israel, he is credited with having maintained stability as Arab neighbors descended into chaos.

.. Mr. Netanyahu’s durability can be attributed at least in part to the fractured field of potential rivals.

Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

According to an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the only difference between the rich and the rest of us is that they have more money. But is that the only difference?

We didn’t used to think so. We used to think that having vast sums of money was bad and in particular bad for you — that it harmed your character, warping your behavior and corrupting your soul. We thought the rich were different, and different for the worse.

.. The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.

.. The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth

.. Aristotle, for instance, argued that wealth should be sought only for the sake of living virtuously — to manage a household, say, or to participate in the life of the polis. Here wealth is useful but not inherently good; indeed, Aristotle specifically warned that the accumulation of wealth for its own sake corrupts virtue instead of enabling it.

.. Pope Francis. He’s proclaimed that unless wealth is used for the good of society, and above all for the good of the poor, it is an instrument “of corruption and death.”

.. Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

.. When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shoplift and cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children.

.. Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

.. They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you.
.. rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths.
.. luxuries may numb you to other people
.. simply being around great material wealth makes people less willing to share
.. Vast sums of money poison not only those who possess them but even those who are merely around them. This helps explain why the nasty ethos of Wall Street has percolated down, including to our politics
.. They seem to have a hard time enjoying simple things, savoring the everyday experiences that make so much of life worthwhile.
.. Because they have lower levels of empathy, they have fewer opportunities to practice acts of compassion — which studies suggest give people a great deal of pleasure .
.. they believe that they deserve their wealth , thus dampening their capacity for gratitude, a quality that has been shown to significantly enhance our sense of well-being. All of this seems to make the rich more susceptible to loneliness; they may be more prone to suicide, as well.
.. By and large, those complaints were not about wealth per se but about corrupt wealth — about wealth “gone wrong” and about unfairness. The idea that there is no way for the vast accumulation of money to “go right” is hardly anywhere to be seen.
.. Wealth has arguably been seen as less threatening to one’s moral health since the Reformation, after which material success was sometimes taken as evidence of divine election. But extreme wealth remained morally suspect
.. particular scrutiny and stigmatization during periods like the Gilded Age
.. only in the 1970s did political shifts cause executive salaries skyrocket, and the current effectively unprecedented inequality in income (and wealth) begin to appear, without any significant public complaint or lament.
.. Certain conservative institutions, enjoying the backing of billionaires such as the Koch brothers, have thrown a ton of money at pseudo-academics and “thought leaders” to normalize and legitimate obscene piles of lucre.
.. high salaries naturally flowed from extreme talent and merit

Trump Foot Soldier Sidelined Under Glare of Russia Inquiry

Mr. Cohen did not seem to have extensive expertise in the arcana of New York City condo rules. But he had something Mr. Trump seemed to value more: devotion to the Trump brand. He had already purchased a number of Trump properties and had persuaded his parents, in-laws and a business partner to buy apartments in Mr. Trump’s flashy new development, Trump World Tower.

.. With Mr. Cohen’s help, Mr. Trump regained control of the board, orchestrating a coup that culminated in a standoff between his security detail and private guards hired by the disgruntled owners, according to people who were there. Details of the dispute’s resolution are secret because of a confidentiality agreement, but Mr. Cohen said that his task was “masterfully accomplished.”

.. He went on to serve as a key confidant for Mr. Trump, with an office near the boss at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Officially, his title was special counsel, but he appears to have served more as a kind of personal arm-twister. If anyone crossed Mr. Trump or stood in his way, Mr. Cohen, who was known to sometimes carry a licensed pistol in an ankle holster, would cajole, bully or threaten a lawsuit, according to a half-dozen people who dealt with him over the years.

“If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Mr. Cohen once said during an interview with ABC News. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”

.. An unverified dossier prepared by a retired British spy and published this year said that Mr. Cohen had met overseas with Kremlin officials and other Russian operatives, which he has denied.

.. He has also attracted attention for playing a role in a failed effort to open a back channel for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, where his wife’s family is from.

.. On the networking site LinkedIn, Mr. Cohen refers to himself as the “personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump,”

.. Those who have known him for years said Mr. Cohen had a penchant for luxury, like Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen was married at the Pierre, a legacy luxury hotel overlooking Central Park, drove a Porsche in college and at one point owned a Bentley.

.. he moved into an office previously used by Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.

.. Mr. Cohen did some scouting and groundwork for possible Trump condominium towers in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Kazakhstan, but those deals never materialized.

.. Some people who worked with him also declined to describe Mr. Cohen’s tenure, with several of them saying they feared being sued.

.. would have made a good contestant on Mr. Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice.”

.. “I believe that my brother represents the type of person that the show depicted that Trump liked and appreciated,” Bryan Cohen said. “He had a combination of smarts, street smarts, and those things are not mutually exclusive. He’s successful, aggressive. That seemingly was a winning combination on the early seasons of ‘The Apprentice.’”

.. The Republican National Committee named him to its finance leadership team this year, and in April, the international law firm and Washington lobbying powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs formed a “strategic alliance” with Mr. Cohen’s law practice.

Several people with knowledge of Mr. Cohen’s involvement with Squire Patton Boggs said he had been brought on as a sort of rainmaker because of his business contacts in the United States and abroad.

.. At a $35,000-a-plate fund-raiser last week at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, Mr. Trump acknowledged the efforts of his former employee