December 4, 2018 in 2,223 words

Trump’s countless scams are finally catching up to him

The daily news drip can make it difficult to recognize the immense scale of the president’s legal troubles

‘Trump and his children don’t seem to grasp that the scamming and cheating that got them through the dirty world of New York City real estate doesn’t work as well on the global stage.’

The news is generally reported piecemeal, with a focus on what just happened or the specifics of one story. The result is that the cumulative effect often escapes detection. Journalism tends to describe the fragments and not the pattern they make up, which for readers can be like watching a movie shot entirely in closeups. So it is with the travails of Donald J Trump. He is in so many kinds of legal hot water, and the explosive new stories tend to erase the earlier ones from view, just as his own transgressions tend to overshadow his earlier misconduct.

Who talks of how grotesquely he groveled before Vladimir Putin and denied his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions in the long-ago, far-away world of July 2018 when so much has happened since? Who remembers the abrupt firing of the FBI director James Comey in the ancient days of May 2017, when the abrupt firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on 7 November is so fresh? The Washington Post’s running list of lies (up to 5,000 in September) and the New York Times catalogue of people, places, and things he’s insulted on Twitter (548 as of Monday) are helpful.

If you look at all his legal troubles together you see someone who is both reckless and lawless – which we knew – and perhaps in more trouble than has been noted. You might add to that list obscenely stupid, since he often seems to be the only one who believes his own lies, and since he and his children don’t seem to grasp that the scamming and cheating that got them through the dirty world of New York City real estate doesn’t work as well on the global stage.

Flying Trump to midterm rallies to stump for Republicans cost US taxpayers millions


US president Donald Trump flew to more than 40 political rallies in the months leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections, to coax his loyal fans to come out to the polls for Republican candidates. A Quartz analysis of Trump’s travel schedule and the latest Department of Defense operating figures for Air Force One aircraft suggests the tab for the air travel alone was $17 million.

The costs so far have been borne almost completely by US taxpayers.

How much of the estimated $17 million bill taxpayers will ultimately eat is still unclear. When presidents use Air Force One for campaign purposes, their political party or reelection campaign is supposed to cover a portion of the astronomical operating costs, according to Federal Election Commission rules. The Trump campaign reimbursed the Treasury roughly $112,000 for air travel in March and April. There has been no paperwork filed for any similar reimbursements since then.

The specially equipped Boeing 747 jet that the president travels on most often costs $142,380 per hour to operate, including fuel, onboard supplies, and engine and aircraft maintenance. A smaller Boeing 757 that’s used when the president is landing on shorter runways costs $35,641 an hour to operate, the US Air Force says.

DEGREE OF AVARICIOUSNESS: You can see the entire breakdown of Trump’s rallies, flights, estimated costs, and the candidate he was supporting on each trip, in Quartz’s spreadsheet here.

Bush’s sordid Saudi ties set template for Trump – he was just more subtle

The former president has been widely praised for his command of foreign policy. The reality, writes the author of House of Bush, House of Saud, was much more complex – and dark.

President George HW Bush is greeted by King Fahd on his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in November 1990.

Days after his death, reverent tributes continue to pour in for former president George HW Bush, celebrating his adroit handling of the end of the cold war and his victorious leadership in the 1991 Gulf war, all leavened with nostalgia for a bygone era in which an American leader could stand astride the world stage without causing the entire planet to titter in nervous laughter.

Refined, gracious and genteel, Bush, in many ways, was the polar opposite of the current resident of the White House. Nevertheless, his decorous manner often concealed objectives that were far darker than the “kinder, gentler” vision he promoted.

As head of the CIA under Gerald Ford, and later as vice-president, Bush was a consummate pragmatist capable of rapidly changing political positions as expediency demanded. Highly disciplined, he mastered the arts of compartmentalization and secrecy. Nobody in government was better at keeping secrets. With his posh pedigree and Ivy League credentials, Bush had the perfect résumé to be a spy, and an effective mask with which to disguise his real agendas.

As Murray Waas and I wrote in the New Yorker, that was precisely the case in the summer of 1986, when Bush received a call from William J Casey, the gruff, perpetually disheveled spymaster who succeeded Bush as CIA director. Casey wanted Bush, then vice-president under Ronald Reagan, to run a covert operation that was part of what became known as the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate scandals.

5 Crazy Real Churches You Had No Clue Existed

As a rule, places of worship generally try to evoke a feeling of peace and quiet. After all, even the most awe-inspiring cathedral in the world still wants visitors to shut up, sit down, and hear someone tell them how they’re supposed to live their lives. But some religious buildings don’t play by those boring rules. Their looks and vibes are bold, evocative, or even a little insane. These are the houses that the gods invite their really artsy friends to in order to impress them. Do gods even need to impress people? Well, why else would they have such cool and weird places of worship? Places like …

5. Das Schneekirche Was Made Entirely Out Of Snow

As anyone who’s caught a snowball to the ear can attest, the white stuff can be as tough as any stone. And that’s what the people of one small town leaned on when they needed to build a church in the middle of winter with no money or building materials, but a lot of snow.

“For messaging, let’s try to focus more on ‘God provided the materials for His church,’ and less on ‘potential ice tomb.'”

During the winter of 1911, the obviously German town of Mitterfirmiansreut was in dire religious straits. Because of the snow, people couldn’t travel to the nearby town to worship at the only church in the area. So in order to not be fair-weather friends with the Lord, they asked the German State Church for funds to build their own church … and were rudely refused. But instead of sulking, the people of Mitterfirmiansreut used their ingenuity and made do with what they had at hand — which happened to be a metric ton of snow.

Das Schneekirche, or the Snow Church, was 46 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 13 feet high. More impressively, it wasn’t just for show, or something Mitterfirmiansreut (it really does get more fun the more times you say it) could use to raise the middle finger to their stingy higher-ups. The Schneekirche started conducting weekly services on March 28, 1911 and did so for several months until attendance dropped heavily, on account of the structure melting. Fortunately, by then the protest had gone the 1910s equivalent of viral, and the village received enough donations to build a house of the Lord out of much more permanent stone.

But fast-forward a whole century, and in 2011, people decided to revive the old Mitterfirmiansreutian spirit and build a new 21st-century Snow Church. The modern Schneekirche was formed out of blocks of ice coated with snow, and was affectionately referred to as “God’s Igloo” by the press.

This company takes its entire staff on a month-long international retreat every year


Taking a work call.

In 2016, Johnny Warström and seven colleagues from his Swedish startup decamped from Stockholm to San Francisco to take part in a startup accelerator. The accelerator program was by no means a necessity—their product, an interactive presentation tool called Mentimeter, had already gotten some traction after launching in 2014—but it was not without its purpose.

Warström believes that more than the program, the four months of living, eating, and playing together in California changed the trajectory of the young company. “The trip glued us together in a way we had never experienced before,” he says.

So every year since that fateful trip, Warström has tried to replicate it. Mentimeter, now a company with roughly 40 employees, takes a month every year to travel as a team. The destination in 2017 was Barcelona; 2018 was Lisbon; and 2019 is set for Palermo, Italy.

The concept of uprooting an entire company for a month seems, well, impractical. Not all employees or companies can afford to skip town for an extended period of time. As Mentimeter has grown, it’s had to adjust the retreats so that employees with families or pets, for example, can fly home for the weekends. But the benefit of giving employees a respite from the daily office grind is undeniable. The question is whether it’s a worthy investment.

Axolotls in crisis: the fight to save the ‘water monster’ of Mexico City

The city’s floating gardens are a prime party spot – but pollution has driven the axolotl population to the verge of extinction. Can a radical plan save them?

Axolotls are embedded in Mexico City’s culture, and murals and graffiti depicting the unusual creature are ubiquitous in the capital.

Like many residents of Mexico City, my experience of the floating gardens of Xochimilco has mostly been tinged with alcohol. After all, every weekend, this Unesco world heritage site turns into a bacchanal, with groups aboard the canals’ iconic boats celebrating everything from high school graduations to engagements and weddings.

But this is a weekday morning, and Carlos Sumano, who is steering my canoe through the floating gardens, or chinampas, says that sort of unfettered use has taken its toll on the ecosystem. During his six years working in Xochimilco, Sumano has come across everything from pushchairs to television sets in canals.

Water pollution has also affected the region’s most unique creature: the axolotl.

When the Aztecs established themselves in the nearby city of Tenochtitlan, they found in Xochimilco what appeared to be the larva of a salamander. Fascinated, they called the animal “water monster” and incorporated it into their mythology as the mischievous and renegade brother of the god Quetzalcoatl.

Its divine character didn’t keep the Aztecs from eating it but, thanks in large part to the low-impact agriculture of Xochimilco, human and amphibian thrived.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

In this special Self-Deportation Edition of The Daily Show, Trevor heads back to South Africa, tours the neighborhood he grew up in, talks to his grandmother about Nelson Mandela and apartheid, and gives an “MTV Cribs”-style tour of his grandma’s home.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at President Trump freaking out about the Russia investigation after returning from a very awkward international summit.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

Conan’s Japanese etiquette instructor doesn’t like his eyes, face, or body. But she does like his watch.

THANKS to TBS and TEAM COCO for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on a Lion vs a pack of dodgy hyenas.

青い紙袋を着こなすねこ。 Maru wears the blue paper bag stylishly.


The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.

Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.

It is a scene that plays out each weekday morning across Tokyo. Suit-clad office workers, gaggles of schoolchildren, and other travelers gamely wend their way through the city’s sprawling rail stations.

To the casual observer, it is chaos; commuters packed shoulder-to-shoulder amid the constant clatter of arriving and departing trains. But a closer look reveals something more beneath the surface: A station may be packed, yet commuters move smoothly along concourses and platforms. Platforms are a whirl of noisy activity, yet trains maintain remarkable on-time performance. Indeed, the staggering punctuality of the Japanese rail system occasionally becomes the focus of international headlines—as on May 11, when West Japan Railways issued a florid apology after one of its commuter trains left the station 25 seconds early.

Tokyo is home to the world’s busiest train stations, with the capital’s rail operators handling a combined 13 billion passenger trips annually. Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.

THE NUDGE THEORY: Gentle nudges can subtly influence people towards decisions in their own (or society’s) best interests.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?