You Didn’t Build That

Last week, Forbes magazine reported that 21-year-old Kylie Jenner was the youngest “self-made” billionaire ever. She has pulled in at least $1 billion from her makeup company Kylie Cosmetics.

Jenner bent over backwards to say that she’d started her company with her own money which she earned through modeling. “None of my money is inherited,” she said in a recent interview. It should also be pointed out that Forbes’ definition of “self-made” is farcically broad, meaning simply that her business hadn’t been directly inherited.

It’s still obviously absurd to attach the phrase “self-made” to Jenner, who is part of the wildly rich and famous Jenner-Kardashian clan. While she may be savvy about marketing and promotion, Jenner grew up in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the world with access to every advantage money could buy and then some, including years of self-promotion on a successful reality television show. The value of her makeup company lies in the celebrity she inherited from her family if not by direct inheritance of money or assets.

This isn’t just about dunking on Jenner or her popular lip kits, though. She is just the most outlandish example of a bigger problem: the persistence of the idea that the wealthy succeed because of their own genius, hard work, and perseverance. Even Donald Trump, whose parents gave him hundreds of millions of dollars, has managed to promote himself as “self-made.”

The fact of the matter is: wealthy people are mostly wealthy because their parents are wealthy. The correlation between parents’ and children’s wealth is well-established in the research.

Are wealthy parents just passing on some super-amazing genes to their kids that enable them to go on to great success by virtue of their brilliance (That’s Trump theory anyway)? Or is the environment a child is raised in the reason for their success as adults?

The environment you grow up in, the quality of education your parents can afford to give you, the investments they can make in you, the relative affluence of your neighborhood, etc. is almost twice as important as biology, economics professor Sandra Black and her coauthors write in a working paper put out this month by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

For their paper, the researchers looked at the parents of adopted children in Sweden, where there is robust data on both adoption and wealth. They examined kids’ biological and adoptive parents. Then they looked at the wealth of those adopted children at around age 44, old enough to have established themselves as adults, but generally young enough to have not yet inherited their parents’ money. (They only looked at adopted children who still had at least one living parent.)

Black and her cohorts found that the adoptive parents’ wealth was a much better predictor of whether or not their adult child was wealthy.

The outcome seems obvious, wealthy parents have the money available to invest in their children, in schooling, extracurricular activities, and college funds. They also have connections to other wealthy people that poor and middle-class people simply don’t have. This means better access to investors in your new company, for example, or a leg up getting into an Ivy League school.

Or you know, access to lucrative modeling contracts.

Kids with wealthy parents also have a fabulous safety net. And they’re apt to take more chances, plowing all their money into a lipstick company or overpaying for a piece of New York real estate for example.

Entrepreneurs are much more likely to come from wealthy families, where they feel more comfortable gambling for success. Trump’s father routinely rescued him from financial collapse. Though Jenner’s parents pushed her to go out on her own, I doubt they would leave her on the streets to fend for herself if things went belly-up.

To be sure, Black says, environment isn’t the only reason someone like Jenner can make $1 billion. You do still need some amount of intelligence or savvy to succeed.

Personally, I think Donald Trump and his ne’er-do-well kids are pretty definitive evidence against that. But I’m not a professor of economics.

Trump is Not OK

If over the weekend you saw a rambling madman give a frighteningly incoherent, sweaty, two-hour shoutfest of a speech at a right-wing summit while a crowd of feces-flinging howler monkeys wildly applauded, then you viewed the president coming unhinged on national television in a way that has probably never been seen before in United States history.

That is extraordinary cause for alarm.

If, instead, you saw nothing more than a “fiery” Donald Trump give a “zigzagging,” “wide-ranging,” “campaign-like” address where the Republican really “let loose,” then you likely work for the mainstream media, which once again swung and missed when it came to detailing the escalating threat that Donald Trump represents to the country.

From the beginning of Trump’s campaign, there has been legitimate concern that the mainstream media, with its focus on seeming “neutral”, was not up to the task of adequately conveying Trump’s bizarre, authoritarian madness to their audiences. Their response to his CPAC appearance shows that those concerns were well-founded.

There’s no way to accurately describe Trump’s behavior without sounding hysterical or, heaven forbid, “biased.” So most media outlets resorted to euphemistic language or focused on technically true observations (it is accurate that Trump criticized Robert Mueller) while sliding past the more relevant detail, the fact that the president of the United States was babbling like a lunatic who hasn’t slept in days.

Newsrooms nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump is a deeply unstable man as the CPAC meltdown demonstrated. Most reporters simply do not want to mention it. As the Daily Beast put it: “In most ways, it was just another campaign rally for the president, in flavor, content, and punchlines.”

Nothing to see here, folks.

But what’s with the hesitation among the press to cover Trump’s speech as a flashing neon-red sign of a man teetering on the edge? Why won’t the media discuss Trump’s, at this point, obvious mental instability?

It’s the same reason large news organizations, to this day, won’t call Trump a liar. Logically it makes no sense, but news outlets don’t want to take heat from conservatives and from the administration for calling Trump a liar. So even though they’ve documented that he lies all the time, reporters opt for timid words like “falsehoods” to soften the blow.

The same is true with regard to Trump’s unstable behavior. There’s not one working member of mainstream media who watched Trump’s unsettling CPAC meltdown and thought, “He’s seems stable. I have no questions about his mental capacity.” They know it’s a pressing issue. But newsrooms don’t want to suffer the backlash, the shouts of “Liberal media bias!” that would rain down on journalists who tackle the story, even though it’s obvious and newsworthy.

After the debacle that was the 2016 election, many hoped that the mainstream media would learn its lesson about favoring “neutrality” over the old-fashioned journalistic concern for truth. It was an election cycle where Hillary Clinton’s (not insignificant) flaws were exaggerated while Trump’s outrageous behavior and obvious unfitness for the office were underplayed. All out of their misplaced sense of fairness.

And when you’re neutral in the face of sanity and insanity, you inherently serve the maniac’s purpose.

It’s probably true that most in the mainstream media didn’t expect Trump to end up winning the election. The surprise outcome however, should have been a wake-up call. It seems that the lesson was not learned.

There is long-established hesitancy on the part of specialists to try to diagnose somebody if they’re not a direct patient. But even on that front, more and more experts are speaking out. This comes from a petition signed by 70,000 mental health professionals:

“We, the undersigned mental health professionals, believe in our professional judgment that Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.”

The president is not well, and that puts everyone in serious danger. And that’s a helluva news story if the media will just tell it.

Don’t Eat Me Bro!

It is no secret that the right is obsessed with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has dedicated an excessive amount of time and energy criticizing the freshman lawmaker in every way possible. But a Fox News contributor took that obsession to strange new heights Saturday, suggesting in an unhinged rant that the Green New Deal could lead to cannibalism.

Yes, really.

“AOC has completely lost her marbles. I think she’s living in bananaland,” National Review columnist Katherine Timpf said. “Earlier this week she called herself ‘the boss’ for coming up with the Green New Deal. How are you ‘the boss’ for coming up with a plan that doesn’t work? Like, are you sure that the Green New Deal’s not, like, what you’re putting in your pipe and smoking every day?”

Oooooh, sick burn!

Timpf (I can’t type that without laughing, I’m sorry) said she could come up with lots of plans that don’t work (probably the truest thing that she said): “How about we fly around on unicorns instead of airplanes? How about instead of gasoline we use fairy dust we get from Tinkerbell?”

She said all of this in jest (I think), but are her fantastical “plans” really any more preposterous than the Fox News/Republican “plan” of: “We don’t have to worry about Climate Change because Republican Jesus will take care of us?”

She then wonders whether AOC “wants us to do away with all modern technology” before going on to suggest that the deal would lead to turning back to the mid-1800s and “reliv[ing] the Donner Party.”

“I don’t want to eat people, Greg, and I don’t want people to eat me,” Timpf said. “AOC, do you want people to eat you?” She said that right after suggesting that the Green New Deal would also force her to “only eat lettuce and carrots like some kind of little fucking bunny.”

Again, they can’t even bother to keep their attacks consistent. Is it a wonder that none of them manage to resonate with anyone who doesn’t already hate AOC?

Timpf’s rant was guided by a piece she wrote earlier in the week in which she said the freshman lawmaker was “ridiculous” while characterizing the plan as pointless because it has no chance of working. “Would the world be a better place if the United States eliminated all carbon emissions? Of course it would—just like it would be better if we all got free Lamborghinis,” Timpf wrote. “The truth, however, is that being a notable leader requires a lot more than just fantasizing about pie-in-the-sky proposals that have no real future.”

Polls have shown that up to 80% of Americans have a favorable view of the Green New Deal. So it seems that pie is actually right there on the table, we just have to go get it.

AOC took to Twitter Saturday to defend herself from similar accusations that she’s a hypocrite for using the comforts of modern day life. “I also fly [planes] & use A/C. Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future. The Green New Deal is about putting a LOT of people to work in developing new technologies, building new infrastructure, and getting us to 100% renewable energy.”

He Brought Receipts!

Before Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress Wednesday, pundits were split over whether the hearing would be a bonanza for those looking for damaging information about President Donald Trump or a total bust. It turned out to be a blockbuster performance.

Despite his agreements with prosecutors to hold back on ongoing investigations, including some that he said directly involve the president, Cohen’s testimony implicated Trump in at least five felonies:

  1. Conspiracy to defraud the US (knowledge of Stone/Wikileaks email dump)

“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone,” Cohen said. “Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

It’s not clear if Stone, WikiLeaks, or Assange will be charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, though some prosecutors say that the elements of the case point to that eventuality. However, Cohen’s testimony implies that, if this charge does materialize, Trump himself may be a party to the conspiracy.

  1. Lying to FBI/Special Counsel (false answers on Stone/Wikileaks and Don jr/Trump Tower)

Cohen’s testimony above says directly that Trump spoke Stone about WikiLeaks, even though CNN has reported that he told the opposite to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in his written testimony. Cohen also said that, while he is not positive, it is overwhelmingly likely that Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. CNN has also reported that Trump claimed the opposite to the special counsel. That’s a crime.

  1. Suborning perjury (approving Cohen’s false testimony to Congress)

Cohen said his false testimony to Congress wasn’t explicitlydirected by the president but that Trump had made it clear to him through his public lies that he did not want the truth to be known. Not exactly rock solid, but perhaps most damning was when Cohen said that his false statement was made in cooperation with the president’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. If Sekulow was acting on Trump’s orders to get Cohen to lie, that could implicate the Trump in the crime.

Long story short, that BuzzFeed article was essentially true.

  1. Campaign finance (hush money payment)

This was the crime for which Cohen is already on the record implicating the president. When he confessed to arranging two hush money payments as part of a criminal campaign finance scheme during the 2016 campaign, he said he carried out the plot at Trump’s direction. Now, he has provided Congress with a check, signed by Trump (also one signed by Trump Jr. implicating him and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg as well) that shows the president’s repayment for this scheme while serving in office.

One Republican tried to poke holes in Cohen’s story, noting that the check could have been for legal services or some legitimate payment; Cohen though, noted that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has already confirmed that the president paid Cohen back for the hush money payment.

Given that Cohen has plead guilty and is going to jail (partially) for this crime, in which Trump is an unnamed co-conspirator, and the documentation provided, this seems (to my very limited expertise anyway) to be the most rock-solid of the charges levied against Lord Dampnut.

  1. Bank, wire and tax fraud

Cohen testified that Trump inflated his assets to win bank loans and deflated them to reduce his tax burden, precisely the kind of scheme for which Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now facing lengthy prison time. Cohen added that he knew of other offenses that federal prosecutors are still investigating.

The Republican strategy in the hearing was pretty clear. They planned to discredit the testimony from Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer by painting Cohen as a liar, a criminal, and a cheat. Never mind the fact that Cohen was Donald Trump’s liar, criminal, and cheat for a decade.

No one denies that Michael Cohen is all those things, especially Cohen himself. In fact, it’s obvious that Cohen’s willingness to lie and cheat was the main reason that Trump employed him in the first place. For some reason though, Republicans kept harping on Cohen’s history of misbehavior as if it exonerated Trump.

It’s difficult to understand their strategy, assuming there was one. If their goal was to convince the American public that Trump is not a criminal, repeatedly reminding them that his right-hand man for a decade is now on his way to prison for the numerous crimes he committed on Trump’s behalf seems counter-productive. Perhaps they think Americans are too stupid to connect those adjacent dots.

The question at the end of the day is: Will any of this actually matter? Will Republican Red-Hats in Congress make the calculation that they don’t want to go down with the Trump ship? Or, if you want to get unrealistically optimistic, actually put their country over loyalty to their party?

I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.

Trump Will Never Love CNN

Last week it was reported that Sarah Isgur Flores, a GOP hack who has never worked as a journalist, will be joining CNN as one of the network’s “political editors.” The exact contours of Isgur’s role remain unclear (due to CNN’s lack of transparency), but it appears she will be helping to shape the political coverage of an outlet whose agenda-setting power plays a large part in determining which stories receive national attention and how they are covered.

The arguments against this move are numerous and obvious: Isgur is a longtime Republican political operative who most recently served as a spokesperson for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a position she gained after personally pledging her loyalty to Donald Trump. She has no experience in journalism, yet her job will now be to help guide its production. She has previously denounced CNN as the “Clinton News Network.”

In her role at the Justice Department, Isgur defended the administration’s war on leakers and will now be working with reporters who have confidential government sources; her abundant conflicts of interest have forced CNN to silo her off from vast swaths of political news. This seems like a handicap for someone in an editorial role.

For CNN the appeal seems simple: It suggests that the network is doubling down on its false notion of neutrality: a defensive, “both-sides-are-the-same” kind of political coverage that fails to both prevent Trump and the Republicans from attacking them (which they will do regardless), and more importantly, serve the public.

CNN has consistently failed to grapple with this form of false balance. Cable news networks traditionally hire a coterie of partisan contributors and turn them loose to discuss the issues of the day. This leaves viewers confused about what’s actually true and what isn’t as a representative from one party denounces a person or policy while the other excuses it. As a semi-famous saying goes: “If CNN covered sports, every game would be a tie.”

The results of this frame of mind have been grim. CNN has stocked its greenrooms with Trump lackeys, paying a motley assortment of shills, grifters, and extremists to lie to its audience under the guise of being “neutral” and (I suspect) trying to show Trump that they’re not “Fake News™.”

Many of these hires are ethically dubious, handpicked by the president himself or subject to nondisparagement agreements making them contractually forbidden from criticizing Trump on air. In perhaps the most embarrassing case, the network hired (and defended the hiring of) former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to comment on the election even though he was bound by an NDA and was still on the Trump campaign payroll.

The network wants to look like it is being “fair” to Trump, an allowance he has not earned, so it continues to shove these people in front of its cameras.

Like many newspapers and broadcast news outlets, cable news networks received a lot criticism for their false, “both-sides-are-equally-bad” coverage of the 2016 election. However, CNN doesn’t seem to be learning any lessons about their “neutrality-at-the-cost-of-all-else” coverage, or the type of people they are hiring.

When lies and the truth are given equal consideration, it serves the purpose of the liars.