Saturday, May 2, 2020

More on Kushner

Thanks for the shoutout, Tengrain!

NewYork, uncredited stock photo via Financial Times.

A rather rich person, owner of a couple of Lower Manhattan boutique hotels, once told my wife the secret of getting rich: You have to be able to entirely ignore the content of whatever it is you're doing, the product if your business is producing something, in favor of the bottom line. I naturally thought, what a sad approach to one's livelihood, how like starving oneself.

Then, the things that former Observer publisher Jared Kushner is not interested in, by former Observer editor Kyle Pope:
MOST WEEKS, KUSHNER NOT ONLY DIDN’T READ the Observer, he didn’t appear to read anything else, either. I never knew him to discuss a book, a play, or anything else that was in the Observer’s cultural wheelhouse. His circle of friends was fairly limited, largely tech executives and other successful business people, a smattering of celebrities, and a coterie of much older successful men, people like Rupert Murdoch, financier Ron Perelman, and the public relations impresario Howard Rubenstein.
Even politics seemed to lie outside his area of interest. Every week, Kushner and I held a conference call with the Observer’s editorial writer, who would pitch ideas for the paper’s two main editorial slots. These ideas usually touched on state, local, or national politics. Kushner almost never showed any interest in what tended, at the time, to be the hottest and most pressing issues of the day.
What he wanted The Observer for was to serve as a "bullhorn for his own financial interests", Pope thought, a vehicle for rewarding allies by putting their names in annual lists of the "top people" in New York real estate, and commissioning "hit pieces" against refractory bankers who balked at giving him loans, but mostly just to establish his general valuableness as a person who gets talked about in a positive way, which is always good for business. Central to that was that the paper should be seen as a financial success, compromised by the way he chose to make it one, by saving money on writers, whom he regarded as incomprehensible annoyances:

Journalists, in his mind, were essentially interchangeable, and easily replaceable. The fact that they were so poorly paid was evidence, in his mind, that what they did or how they did it could not possibly be that important. On a couple of occasions, he reversed course, pulling the plug on pay raises he’d approved—and that I’d already let the staffers know were coming...
No wonder Trump approves of him. They share values, and they both understand the presidency the way Kushner understood being a newspaper publisher, as a kind of brand value enhancer, without really understanding that it's a thing successful people could seriously care about in its own right—they get that there's a kind of success metric for your performance, but it measures your leadership, and the response it inspires from the specialists who do whatever it is they do to get you there, an interchangeable species analogous to writers.

That's how Kushner assembled his Middle East "peace plan", in particular. He was lying, of course, when he claimed to have done some kind of research to learn about the issues involved, with his "25 books"; if he had looked at one book he would have been told that Palestinians needed to be offered some kind of political power, or a simulacrum of it. He didn't even bother to ask his "friend" MBS. What he did was to call a couple of Likudnik acquaintances, maybe Sheldon Adelson or Ron Perelman, who told him, orally, all those Arabs really want is money. So since he knew some people who had more money than they knew what to do with, like his "friend" MBS, they could easily provide it, so he didn't bother to ask if they wanted to. He doesn't even now seem to have any awareness that it's failed—indeed since bribe-taker Netanyahu has gotten himself another 18 months out of jail and in the prime ministership, maybe he feels he's succeeded.

And that's how they're handling the current dual crisis in public health and the economy. It's even had some actual results: letting Mnuchin—another person with no interest in anything but his own personal advantage—negotiate with speaker Pelosi over the stimulus package was an unexpectedly great idea, because Mnuchin's not hampered by any worries about what his conservative colleagues might say (or in fact understanding that the time has come for them to stop pretending that they care themselves—they can go back to being budget-balance fanatics after the next Democratic administration is sworn in, as they will, without a blink). But on the health side it's a catastrophe, because Trump and Kushner are unable to grapple with the role of reality, as represented by the intrusive complaints and demands of the scientists. They've never been forced to deal with reality before, it doesn't have a bottom line for them to cling to (as Trump is trying to do with his "very, very strong numbers" in death).

The epidemiological models under review in the White House Situation Room in late March were bracing. In a best-case scenario, they showed the novel coronavirus was likely to kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. President Trump was apprehensive about so much carnage on his watch, yet also impatient to reopen the economy — and he wanted data to justify doing so.
So the White House considered its own analysis. A small team led by Kevin Hassett — a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases — quietly built an econometric model to guide response operations.
Many White House aides interpreted the analysis as predicting that the daily death count would peak in mid-April before dropping off substantially, and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen, according to six people briefed on it.
Although Hassett denied that he ever projected the number of dead, other senior administration officials said his presentations characterized the count as lower than commonly forecast — and that it was embraced inside the West Wing by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other powerful aides helping to oversee the government’s pandemic response. It affirmed their own skepticism about the severity of the virus and bolstered their case to shift the focus to the economy, which they firmly believed would determine whether Trump wins a second term.
My bold.

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