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Martin Shkreli tries the Shia LaBeouf defense, says he was just trolling the entire world.

In his first interview since his arrest last week on securities fraud, the former pharmaceutical executive told the Wall Street Journal he was being targeted by U.S. authorities for, well, just being a jerk.

The 32-year-old famously drew the world’s ire for unapologetically raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill. He then thumbed his nose at music fans by purchasing the only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s new album for a reported $2 million, and then not even listening to it. Last Thursday, the FBI swooped in and arrested Shkreli on charges related to his time as a hedge fund manager, but Shkreli says this was a mere pretense for going after his true crimes against humanity, which, he now says, was “a bit of an act.”

“What do you do when you have the attention of millions of people? It seemed to me like it would be fun to experiment with,” Shkreli told the Journal. He was arrested, he said, “because of a social experiment and teasing people over the internet.”

March 01, 2017


The Democratic response to Donald Trump’s speech left a lot to be desired.

Democrats continue to believe that Trump is an aberration rather than the natural evolution of Republican politics. Nowhere is this more evident than in their frighteningly inadequate response to Trump’s joint address to Congress.

“It actually felt a little bit like The Hunger Games at points,” Rep. Jamie Raskin told the Huffington Post. “I looked up and I saw [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich and suddenly I felt that I was transported to a different world.” But Trump is not a cartoon dictator. Comparing him to President Snow is a mildly humorous dig at best, not a serious counter-message. Perhaps it is unfair to make an example of Raskin. But these pop culture references feature prominently in liberalism’s anti-Trump rhetoric, and they are not helpful. They tell us nothing useful about Trump or his ideology and they do not provide us with the politics we need to take him down.

See also: The Democratic women who wore white to last night’s speech. It’s a charming gesture. That’s all. It didn’t intimidate Trump or his party. And it’s an obscure reference: It seems unlikely that most viewers understood the significance of the color—it’s to honor suffragettes—so it’s near-uesless as an act of protest. Democrats could have made a more powerful statement. Rep. Maxine Waters, for one, boycotted the speech. But in large part, Democrats were reluctant to rock the boat. Rep. Steny Hoyer told The Hill that Democrats had urged their members to be “respectful” of Trump. Rep. Eliot Engel decided to #resist by refusing to reserve an aisle seat for the event, an area that is sometimes referred to as asskisser aisle.

And the party inexplicably decided to have former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear deliver its official response to Trump. It’s likely they thought Beshear would appeal to Obama coalition defectors. But Beshear talks like a Baptist preacher, not a populist. He is not actually what those voters want.

The overarching impression is that the party is still dangerously out of touch with the political reality it inhabits. The Democratic Party can’t defeat the big bad with the force or a magic wand or matching outfits. They need a different kind of politics—resistance politics, loud politics, obstreperous politics. And there’s still no proof they understand that.

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The Trump administration keeps undermining its own arguments for a travel ban.

Donald Trump was supposed to sign a revised executive order on immigration on Wednesday. This new and improved version of the travel ban would remove Iraq from the list of targeted countries (therefore allowing travel by Iraqis who have aided the United States) and permit legal permanent residents to re-enter the country, which was one of the many flaws of the original order.

But after Tuesday night’s well-received address to a joint session of Congress, the Trump administration decided to hold back the order.

In other words, the Trump administration doesn’t want to undercut a rare moment of glowing media coverage with an action that would revive criticism of the Trump’s Islamaphobic “Muslim ban.” Politically speaking, this makes sense—the Trump administration has not had very many days like today. But by delaying the implementation of the revised order, the Trump administration is contradicting some of the arguments that it made to justify the travel ban in the first place.

Here, for instance, are some Trump tweets justifying the decision not to consult with key departments or foreign governments, and attacking the judges who ruled to block its implementation:

Reince Priebus defended the implementation of the order on Meet The Press by saying that it had to be done quickly: “This is all done for the protection of Americans. And waiting another three days and waiting another three weeks is something that we don’t want to get wrong. President Trump is not willing to get this wrong which is why he wants to move forward quickly and protect Americans.”

The argument, in other words, was that delaying the order could only lead to an increased terror threat. Trump and many others claimed (ridiculously) that the order had to be a surprise, because otherwise terrorists would enter the country in the period before it was implemented. But the Trump administration is now delaying an order because it doesn’t want to change the narrative away from “Donald Trump did something good.”


Uber’s Travis Kalanick wants to be a big boy, but it might be too late.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bloomberg published a dashboard video provided by Fawzi Kamel, an Uber driver, of him driving around Kalanick, the company’s CEO. Near the end of the video, Kamel and Kalanick get into an argument about how Uber has dropped the prices for the company’s luxury black car service, adversely affecting drivers like Kamel (emphasis mine).

Kamel: “But people are not trusting you anymore. … I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you. Yes, yes, yes. You keep changing every day. You keep changing every day.”

Kalanick: “Hold on a second, what have I changed about Black? What have I changed?”

Kamel: “You changed the whole business. You dropped the prices.”

Kalanick: “On black?”

Kamel: “Yes, you did.”

Kalanick begins to lose his temper. “Bullshit,” he says.

Kamel: “We started with $20.”

Kalanick: “Bullshit.”

Kamel: “We started with $20. How much is the mile now, $2.75?”

Kalanick: “You know what?”

Kamel: “What?”

Kalanick: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”

That’s right—Kalanick, who has made billions of dollars as the head of the company Kamel works for, told his Uber driver that he wasn’t taking “responsibility” for his own losses. (Bloomberg reported that the fare for Uber Black has indeed fallen from $4.90 per mile to $3.75 per mile since 2012.)

Last night, Kalanick emailed his employees what he termed “a profound apology,” stating, “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

The apology might be too little, too late. Uber has been under fire recently for its perceived undermining of a taxi drivers’ strike against the Muslim ban and harrowing allegations of systemic sexual harassment within the company. Uber executive Amit Singhal was just fired after Recode discovered he had not disclosed to Uber the sexual harassment violation that had forced him to leave Google. Kalanick himself has also been criticized for being on Donald Trump’s business advisory council (from which he has since stepped down).

Uber might be going through PR hell right now, but it has always been a company that has exploited its drivers, most notably by classifying them as independent contractors. Kalanick’s outburst against Kamel is only the most visceral manifestation of the company’s ethos: prioritizing profit over people. It remains to be seen whether Kalanick will learn that lesson.


What if Donald Trump’s speech wasn’t actually good?

The conventional wisdom from the pundit set is that Trump killed it in Tuesday night’s address to a joint session of Congress. He was so presidential and optimistic and how can anyone oppose him now?

But pundits often conflate what is effective—or what is deemed to be effective—with what is good. There is already evidence that Trump’s speech was effective, that the semi-mythical reluctant Trump voter—the kind of voter who voted for Trump but wishes he would get off of Twitter—liked this comparatively measured speech. Early polling suggests that a clear majority of voters thought Trump did a good job.

But Trump’s speech—halting and dour when it didn’t have the tone of a south Florida real estate video—was good only when judged against the shamefully low bar he has set for himself. (Fran Leibowitz remarked that Donald Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person; his attempts at Reaganesque rhetoric came across as a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.) It had two primary motifs. One was that the United States would turn 250 ... in nine years. The other was the grotesque exploitation of loved ones of people who have died tragically. These included the widow of the Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens and the families of people who had been killed by undocumented immigrants.

Pundits have often rightfully dinged Trump for his flightiness—aside from a few issues, he is remarkably susceptible to influence and changes his mind frequently without any thought to political strategy. But praising Trump’s speech last night required pundits to have the memories of goldfish. Here, for instance, is The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on the speech’s best moments:

Trump hit a few very nice notes: His condemnation of threats against Jewish community centers at the start of the speech was a very nice grace note, and his honoring of the widow of the Navy SEAL killed in the recent Yemen raid was a remarkably powerful moment.

The problem is this: On the very same day that Trump hit these “very nice notes,” he refused to take responsibility for Owens’s death and instead blamed the generals. He also literally suggested that Jews might be desecrating their own cemeteries. Trump’s speech was certainly an attempt to address those controversies, but it didn’t negate them.

There’s a sense in the pundit class that Trump’s speech was a reset button. It wasn’t. Tellingly, even Trump’s own aides don’t think so:

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

CNN drooled all over Trump’s speech.

They won’t be chanting “CNN sucks” at the White House tonight. It may be President Donald Trump’s least favorite cable news channel, but on Tuesday night CNN gave Trump’s joint address to Congress rave reviews.

The most stunning comments came from progressive pundit Van Jones, who was effusive about Trump’s honoring of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and his widow Carryn, who received a long standing ovation. “He became President of the United States in that moment. Period,” Jones said, calling it “one of the most extraordinary moments you’ve ever seen in American politics. Period.” He went on to say Trump’s speech “forces a reset for progressives.”

Most of the CNN panel ran with this theme. Former Senator Rick Santorum was convinced Democrats were excited about Trump’s big spending priorities. Wolf Blitzer concluded that Trump’s “very polished performance” was “getting very good reviews” across the political aisle. And when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on the network, he said, “I find myself in agreement with Van Jones for the first time in my political life.”

Jones argued that Democrats need to give Trump credit where it’s dueand that they deny his political success at their peril. Trump’s speech was superficially effective, but ultimately he did little more than stay on script and wear a decent tie for once. Democrats should hold the president to a higher standard, even if their allies on CNN won’t.

Getty Images

Donald Trump read from a teleprompter and wore a nice suit, and suddenly he’s “presidential”?

The president’s tone in his first joint address to Congress on Tuesday night was certainly uncharacteristic. He was coherent. He hardly veered from his prepared remarks. He talked about “harmony and stability.” He appeared to be wearing a properly-sized tie.

Apparently, those were the only qualifications Trump had to meet to finally be considered “effective” and “presidential” by some of the mainstream D.C. press.

Not everyone was willing to lower the bar.


People with disabilities aren’t props, President Trump.

Today is Rare Disease Day. It’s meant to honor people who live with uncommon, sometimes life-shortening, medical conditions—a necessary moment of visibility. But Trump seems to think that it is about him and his party. During his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, he highlighted special guest Megan Crowley, who lives with Pompe disease. 

“An incredible young woman is with us this evening who should serve as an inspiration to us all,” he said. “On receiving this news, Megan’s dad, John, fought with everything he had to save the life of his precious child.  He founded a company to look for a cure, and helped develop the drug that saved Megan’s life.” 

This is a nice story, but it’s not the sort of cautionary tale that Trump wants it to be. Megan’s experiences are not necessarily evidence that the FDA’s approval process needs an overhaul. Further, most fathers can’t afford to found companies. Many can’t even afford the health care their children need to survive.

Trump isn’t going to make that easier, either. He used a portion of tonight’s speech to stump for Republican policies that would dramatically impact sick and disabled Americans. His remarks sketch the outline of a draft Obamacare replacement that leaked last week. As I noted, that plan allows governors to cut Medicaid, restrict benefits, and shunt people with disabilities into “high risk pools” that aren’t sufficient to meet their health care needs. It’s terrible for people with disabilities, and it is spectacularly offensive for Trump to promote this plan directly after lauding the inspirational life of a woman who’d face discrimination if it’s enforced.


One “school choice” success story proves nothing.

In his joint speech to Congress on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump called on lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.”

“These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them,” Trump said. Then he told the story of one of his guests for the evening, Denisha Merriweather, whose education was transformed by a private school she attended through a Florida tax credit scholarship program.

All Americans want to see more success stories like Merriweather’s, and there’s no question vouchers help some students. But “school choice” policiesespecially private school vouchers, favored by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—aren’t the way to give most students that opportunity.

Just last week, The New York Times reported that “a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.” That was before Tuesday, when the Economic Policy Institute released a new report, “School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement.”

These aren’t the only concerns either. Funding religious schools through taxpayer-supported vouchers is a violation of the separation of church and state. And all private “school choice” siphons money away from public schools, attended by 90 percent of America’s students. Investing in those schools is the way to expand educational opportunity and truly address what Trump called “the civil rights issue of our time.”

February 28, 2017

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Barack and Michelle Obama are about to get paid.

The Financial Times reports that the former first couple are selling two books as part of a package deal—and that bidding has reached $60 million, which is an insane amount of money. That’s the equivalent of roughly 17 Lena Dunham book deals, six Amy Schumer book deals, or four Bill Clinton book deals.

Clinton got $15 million for My Life, perhaps the dullest book ever written; George W. Bush got $10 million for the almost as boring Decision Points. The point is that books by former presidents sell copies, even though they’re rarely very good. Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs are the gold standard, and they’re only good because he was dying and broke and needed to make sure his family had money after he died, which he did shortly after he finished writing. But Obama’s track record as a writer—his previous books were both bestsellers—suggests that his book could get a boost from actually being good. Similarly, people are nostalgic for Obama’s presidency already and his book will tap into that energy as long as it comes out in the next three and a half years.

The Financial Times notes Obama’s book earnings: “Mr Obama earned $8.8 million from The Audacity of Hope, a 2006 bestseller, and the children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, according to a report by Forbes. Sales of his first memoir, Dreams from My Father, published in paperback in 2004, brought in a further $6.8 million in royalties, according to Forbes.” Though the FT seems to be suggesting this is an indication that the Obamas are being overpaid, his hefty royalties in fact suggest his sales record is strong enough to maybe kind of sort of justify paying $60 million.

Still, sixty million dollars sounds like a lot! But it’s for two books and it includes world rights—so you can figure that one book is going for $15 million for North American rights. If the books are sold for $30 each at a standard 50 percent discount, the two books would have to sell four million copies worldwide to hit $60 million in revenue. (Obviously there are production and other costs, so the number is probably slightly—but not significantly—higher.) That’s a lot of copies, but it’s not an outlandish number of copies. (I wrote about how advances work and why a publisher would pay tens of millions for a book back in 2015, if you want more context.)

According to the report, Penguin Random House—the publishing industry’s largest corporation, which was essentially created for the purpose of doing deals like this—is leading the charge, but lesser giants such as Simon & Schuster (which has been in the news a lot lately!), Macmillan, and HarperCollins are contending. Finally, the fact that the deal is for both books is a bit weird—it inflates both advances, despite the fact that they are different books about different things. Similarly, if you want to publish Barack, you have to publish Michelle. (To be fair, I’m pretty sure every major publisher would be perfectly happy to publish either.)

But the money is not the most important thing about this deal. The most important thing is that it is definitely exponentially more money than Donald Trump got for Crippled America, or any of his other books. And that means that this deal will make Donald Trump extremely mad.

Update: Penguin Random House announced it would be publishing Barack and Michelle Obama’s books, for an undisclosed sum.

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Donald Trump did something not-terrible for women today.

The president on Tuesday signed two bipartisan bills that aim to promote women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and in business. This is a worthy effort, given that 84 percent of current STEM workers are either white or Asian males.

In practice, the bills don’t do an awful lot. The Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers and Innovators and Explorers (INSPIRE) act requires NASA to support three mentoring and educational programs for young female students. It also compels NASA to submit a plan in the next 90 days for how the agency can better “engage with K–12 female STEM students and inspire the next generation of women to consider participating” in STEM. The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, meanwhile, “authorizes the National Science Foundation to provide support for women’s entrepreneurial programs.”

Of course, Trump did sign these bills right after signing an executive order to roll back a clean drinking water regulation. And tonight, he’ll deliver a speech detailing his agenda for the rest of the year, which includes repealing Obamacare and increasing defense-related spending by $54 billion, while cutting other federal agencies—like the EPA and the State Department—by the same amount. But credit where due, etc.