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Gold Bars, Cash Stashes and a Benz: Bob Menendez Indicted for Bribery

A federal indictment charges the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and his wife, Nadine.


Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has been charged with bribery in a federal indictment formally unsealed Friday at 11 a.m. The indictment accuses Menendez—the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—with accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s influence as a Senator to seek to... benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt.” The alleged payoffs came from three New Jersey businessmen and included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, a no-show job, a Mercedes, and “other things of value,” according to the indictment.

The feds say they found more than $480,000 in cash stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe in Menendez’s New Jersey home, and more than $70,000 in his wife’s safe deposit box. Some of the envelopes contained DNA and fingerprints of one of the alleged co-conspirators, mob-connected real estate magnate Fred Daibes, and Daibes’ driver, the indictment alleges. One, the complaint claims, even bore Daibes's return address.

Investigators discovered other envelopes inside jackets hanging in one of Menendez’s closets, one of which bore the senator’s name and the logo of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In the same search of the Menendez home, agents also found home furnishings allegedly paid for by Daibes and Edgewater, New Jersey, businessman Wael Hana, the Mercedes, which prosecutors say was gifted to the politician by businessman Jose Uribe, and gold bars worth more than $100,000, according to the indictment.

In a Friday morning press conference in Lower Manhattan, Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, contrasted Menendez’s alleged efforts on behalf of his fellow defendants with the disclaimers the senator advertises on his official website. “It says he cannot compel an agency to act in someone’s favor. It says he cannot influence matters involving a private business. It says he cannot get involved in criminal matters, or cases, period,” Williams told reporters. “But we allege that behind the scenes, Sen. Menendez was doing those things for certain people: the people who were bribing him and his wife.”


The GOP Wants You to Be Terrified of a Black Woman President

Republicans are creating a fake narrative that Michelle Obama will replace Kamala Harris on the 2024 Democratic ticket—because they know their base will take the bait.


By now, you’re likely well familiar with the GOP’s current 2024 election party line—the one about how a vote for (too old, nearly dead) President Joe Biden is really a vote for (too unprepared, heartbeat away) Vice President Kamala Harris. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) kicked off his podcast earlier this week by pushing the same tired mantra—but then road-tested a prediction seemingly crafted for maximum fear mongering effect. “In August of 2024, the Democrat kingmakers [will] jettison Joe Biden and parachute in Michelle Obama,” Cruz stated. “That ought to scare the hell out of anyone who is unhappy about the direction this country is going and doesn’t want us to go even crazier, in an even worse direction.”

I’ll spare you the details of Cruz’s nonsensical conspiracy theory, except to say that his explanation for how a shadowy cabal of Democratic power brokers will force Biden to drop out at the 11th hour in order to pull off a dramatic switcheroo during the party’s national convention rested precariously on his admission that, “how the Democrats execute that exactly, I don't know.” Nonetheless, Cruz claims the former first lady’s selection as the Democratic nominee is “the most likely and most dangerous” outcome. This is, in no small part, likely due to Cruz’s certainty that former President Barack Obama is “the puppet master” who is “already running the Biden administration.”

As it turns out, Cruz wasn’t floating brand new nuttery he invented himself, but reading from a script Republicans have been passing amongst themselves for months, hoping it will gain traction with conspiracy-minded GOP voters. Back in May, Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy described the same delusional vision—in nearly verbatim language, no less—stating, “I think that Biden’s not gonna make it to the end and that Michelle Obama will be brought in. After all, the Obamas are pretty much running this administration.” She’s one of a lengthy roster of conservatives doing their part to help the completely baseless rumor gain legs, including Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Newsmax’s Eric Bolling and garbage U.K. tabloids such as The Telegraph.


How convenient that this emerging talking point comes after party boosters have used every given opportunity to malign Kamala Harris, Biden’s obvious and constitutionally ordained successor—and also a black woman—as unfit to serve. Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley, ostensibly running against Biden, has instead campaigned on the idea that the president’s age makes him a dead man walking, and that a resulting Harris presidency would be an existential threat to the country. “This is really me running against Kamala Harris,” Haley said recently, adding in yet another Fox News interview that “the thought of Kamala Harris being president should send a chill up every American spine."


CNN Host Tears Down Rupert Murdoch's Legacy in Fiery Segment

What followed was a six-minute reminder of some of Fox’s worst claims to ever air.


CNN host Abby Phillip tore into Rupert Murdoch and “the mess left behind,” describing the legacy of the 92-year-old Australian billionaire who announced Thursday that he is ending his run as chairman of Fox News’ parent company, Fox Corporation, as “outrage porn, partisan red meat, stoking relentless culture wars.”

What followed was a six-minute compilation of cringey video clips of current and former Fox hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Brian Kilmeade spouting off about a variety of topics. In one Fox & Friends clip from 2010, for instance, Kilmeade says, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.”

The montage also includes several instances of bogus election-related conspiracies being floated on the network after the 2020 presidential election—comments for which Fox paid dearly, as the network ended up shelling out $787.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems earlier this year. “That is Fox News—25 years of it,” Phillip summarized.

“Now you can cherry-pick any outlet’s blunders, mistakes, embarrassments, but the difference here is that what you saw are not anomalies. They are features, not a bug. One of their tricks of the trade is repetition—daily, even hourly. If you say the talking point consistently enough, Americans become addicted to the outrage,” she continued, citing the lead-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.



An ode to being 15 in the pre-internet age - Venetian Men

Venetian Men takes viewers on a whirlwind trip through 1990s Europe – a time and place when unbridled freedom reigned supreme. Recalling an adventure from her home in south London to Venice and back, Celia Willis’s exuberant account of being 15 in the pre-internet age is flavoured with the adage that life was simpler – and certainly more fun – back then.

Director: Celia Willis (https://celiawillis.co.uk/)

A nostalgic ode to being 15, fearless and in love with the world

‘We don’t realise it won’t always be like this…’


Commemorating an era when life was documented on rolls of film rather than Instagram, this portrait of being 15 in the 1990s takes viewers back to when unbridled freedom reigned supreme. The English director Celia Willis’s short film centres on a whirlwind trip from her home in south London to Venice, weaving a tapestry of memories into a narrative poem that’s part lament, part celebration. Prefaced with a note about today’s technology-ridden world, the window into her youth is flavoured with the old adage that life was simpler – and certainly more fun – back then.

‘It’s the joy of doing all the things that aren’t meant for us,’ Willis says, recounting how she and some friends spontaneously booked their trip and set out on their adventure. Unbothered by the responsibilities of adulthood, their boundless trust, curiosity and innocence lead them to ‘fall in love with Italian men’ and ‘smoke and sing Bob Barley songs’ with strangers. Reenactments of teenage girls twirling around a pastel-tinted bedroom in baggy jeans and flannel shirts, together with archival imagery – including snapshots of the many handsome European men they met along the way – evoke the aesthetics of the age, imbuing the piece with an infectious, nostalgic energy. An affectionate ode to the fearlessness and enduring friendships that can characterise the teenage years, the film is a worthy trip, no matter your background – although it may leave viewers of a certain age yearning for their youth and smiling in recognition.

Jackson Out of Sight as Mississippi Goes to the Polls

The state’s water crisis hasn’t fully abated, but nobody’s talking about it on the campaign trail.


FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, right, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, second from right, and Jim Craig of the Mississippi State Health Department, second from left, listen as Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, left, speaks about work being done, during a visit to the O.B. Curtis water treatment facility in Ridgeland, Mississippi, September 2, 2022.

This week, 60 Minutes profiled football legend Deion “Prime Time” Sanders. Coach Prime shook up the college football world by moving from a coaching job at Mississippi’s Jackson State University, a historically Black college, to a post at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The program was determined to capture the differences between Jackson and Boulder, and how Sanders reacted to moving from a predominantly Black city to an overwhelmingly white one, “a place with a water crisis to the kind of hipster college town where there is a shop devoted to kites.” Paired to that audio was 20 seconds of damning video, depicting a derelict house and a resident carrying bottled water, a nod to Jackson’s water crisis, up against beauty shots of Boulder.

That 20 seconds was enough to cue outrage from Coach Prime’s former colleagues back East at Jackson State. They jumped all over 60 Minutes for showing the city in the worst possible light. Sanders himself had delivered a strong message about Jackson and its water crisis almost a year ago. “The residents of Jackson are resilient,” he said in a USA Today interview. “I mean, when you just sit there and think about Jackson is the darn state’s capital and we dealing with this issue, we dealing with raggedy streets and, I mean, unpaved situations and, even at HBCU level,” he added, “it’s unbelievable.”

President Biden plans to funnel $600 million into the city to deal with the water crisis, announcing the first $115 million allocation to get to grips with system disinvestment in June. The water crisis in the state’s capital and largest city may be old news to Mississippi residents. But it is not surprising that Jackson’s woes, like Flint, Michigan’s before it, keep the city in the headlines. But unlike Flint, Jackson has not been a top issue in this year’s Mississippi governor’s race. That’s very different from the 2018 Michigan governor’s race, where Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic state senator and county prosecutor, and Bill Schuette, the Republican attorney general, had wars of words over who bore ultimate responsibility for the fiasco after the city switched from its longtime water source to the polluted Flint River.

The 2023 Mississippi governor’s race would appear to be a prime opportunity to propel Jackson’s crisis, as well as the water problems faced by similarly situated communities, to the top of the state’s agenda. But political culture works differently down South. Neither Republican Gov. Tate Reeves nor Democrat Brandon Presley, a utilities commissioner in the northern tier of the state, has had much to say about the Jackson crisis. And there seems to be little pressure on them to tackle the subject. A name-calling contest— “liar” is the most frequently used epithet— is under way, but Jackson isn’t on the radar at the moment. The controversies over rural hospital closures, expanding health and maternity care facilities deserts, and a welfare funding diversion scandal have pushed Jackson out of the election-cycle frame.


Amazon's $185 Billion Pay-to-Play System

A new report shows that Amazon now takes 45 percent of all third-party sales on its website, part of the company’s goal to become a monopoly gatekeeper for economic transactions.


Amazon now takes 45 cents in fees out of every dollar of third-party sales at its marketplace, according to updated statistics in a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The e-commerce giant’s extraction from third-party sales revenue was just 19 percent in 2014. It grew to 27 percent in 2017, 35 percent in 2020, and reached 45 percent this year, according to ILSR’s figures. This has imposed significant pressure on sellers’ ability to make a profit, and is contributing to inflation woes as fees get passed on to customers in the form of higher prices. Overall, Amazon is projected to make $185 billion in fees from third-party sellers in 2023: $125 billion from U.S. third-party sellers and another $60 billion from foreign-market businesses and vendor ads. In 2014, that number was $13 billion. Put another way, in nine years, Amazon has increased its fee revenue 14-fold.

The fees far exceed Amazon’s costs. For example, Amazon has already made $82 billion in fees from domestic and foreign third-party sellers in the first half of 2023, enough to cover all of its fulfillment facilities, which ship products sold by both third-party sellers and Amazon itself. “In other words, Amazon doesn’t have to build warehousing and shipping costs into the price of its own products, because it’s found a way to get smaller online sellers to pay those costs,” writes Stacy Mitchell, ILSR’s co-executive director and author of the report. In this sense, the third-party seller fees subsidize the below-cost sales that allow Amazon to drive competitors out of the market. ILSR’s updated numbers are roughly in line with other analyses like that of Marketplace Pulse, which estimated earlier this year that nearly 52 percent of third-party seller revenue is captured by Amazon.

Third-party seller exploitation is likely to be a major facet of the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case against Amazon, which is expected to be filed soon. The reason that third-party sellers don’t just leave the platform, given this abuse, is that Amazon has grabbed so much control of online commerce that these sellers can’t just bypass it. “Amazon’s dominance of online retail means that businesses that make or sell products have little choice but to rely on its site to reach customers,” ILSR writes. Most third-party businesses on Amazon don’t survive, in fact, at least not ones based in the U.S. Of the top 10,000 sellers on the site, more than half are based in China, according to data from Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon fees on third-party sellers fall into three main buckets: referral fees, advertising fees, and fulfillment fees. The referral fee is a straight off-the-top commission for the privilege of selling on Amazon, and that totals 15 percent for most products. Advertising and fulfillment have been the growth areas for Amazon. Advertising fees do not come from what most laymen would think of as traditional advertising. Much of it comes in the form of businesses paying to list products in Amazon’s search results under labels like “highly rated” (which often have nothing to do with the rating of the products). As with Google, those who get the visible space at the top of search listings are paying for it; those who do not are pushed to the bottom of search, typically unseen by customers. Because Amazon’s organic search “favors products with more sales,” ILSR writes, paying for search ads that boost sales increases a business’s listing in organic search as well. Referral and search ad fees combined have increased by almost 50 percent since 2017.


The Punditocracy vs. the UAW

Today on TAP: Commentators argue that the union is asking for too much. But a big win may help the UAW organize the non-union competition.


Yesterday, what we might politely term the non-labor wing of the Democratic punditocracy weighed in on the UAW strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis. They didn’t like it. To be sure, both Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell and investment banker and Obama 2009 auto bailout czar Steven Rattner, writing in The New York Times, acknowledged that the union’s wage demands were basically just, and that Big Three companies should have long since mitigated some of the concessions (like the creation of a lower-paid tier of workers) that the union agreed to make when the companies faced bankruptcy in 2009. They conceded that the gap between the companies’ CEO pay and median worker pay had risen to obscene levels, and, in sum, that the workers had every right to be very angry at their employers, who’d been making record profits in recent years.

And yet, both charged that the union was asking for way too much, such as the restoration of the yearly cost-of-living adjustments and defined-benefit pensions that the UAW, under Walter Reuther’s leadership, had won in 1950. The problem, they said, was that actions like these would render the Big Three woefully uncompetitive with the non-union auto plants in the South, the low-wage auto plants in Mexico, and Elon Musk’s non-union Tesla factory in California and battery factory in Nevada.

The psychopathically anti-union Wall Street Journal went further than that yesterday, with two articles comparing the productivity and cost of American workers unfavorably to the productivity and cost of workers (and robots) in East Asia, most particularly in China. As the Journal was the leading editorial voice demanding that the U.S. establish permanent normal trade relations with China back in the 1990s, the fact that the U.S.-China wage differential is an issue at all should really be laid at the Journal’s door. Causing this problem wasn’t bad enough, apparently; now they have the chutzpah to bemoan it.

But the complaint common to all these arguments is accurate as far as it goes. It’s indisputable that adopting even just some of the wage and benefit proposals the union is putting forth will widen the current gap between, say, what GM workers make, and the life that enables them to live, and what Tesla workers make, and the life that compels them to endure. The question is whether the contracts the UAW will win will lead to the rest of the industry leveling wages and working conditions up, or whether the labor standards in China, Alabama, and Elonland will level wages and working conditions down. The combination of a big UAW win and the new organizing rules promulgated by the National Labor Relations Board might just enable the union to organize some of those lower-wage plants, or at least compel them to raise wages and benefits to fend off the union’s campaigns.


Biden Has the Right Idea About the Freedom Caucus

The White House says there should be no negotiating over an oncoming government shutdown.


America is staring down the barrel of yet another Republican-imposed government shutdown—the 21st in history. As my colleague David Dayen writes, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The debt ceiling deal from a few months ago included an agreement on what the budget should look like next year. But the Freedom Caucus—a couple dozen of the most extremist right-wing House Republicans—has forced the GOP to renege on the deal. The reason, it seems, is that they are incoherently mad at President Biden and the Democratic Party. They can’t agree on what specifically they want, whether it’s defunding the prosecution of Donald Trump, or extracting even more cuts from federal agencies, or a personal baby seal club for every Republican voter, or what. A purely messaging budget resolution that would have funded the government for just one month in exchange for deep spending cuts just went down in flames. But one thing is clear: The Freedom Caucus is extremely mad.

Luckily, President Biden has the right idea: letting House Republicans twist in the wind. Now, I thought it was the wrong move to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling, though Biden ended up getting a much more favorable deal than I had expected. But since that deal was done, how else to approach a party that can’t hold up its own end of a bargain? In the past, the Democrats have been less willing to stand up for themselves. Back in 2011, for instance, President Obama decided to try to negotiate a deficit reduction deal by offering up hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare in return for Republicans raising the debt ceiling. Those cuts were thankfully avoided only because the Freedom Caucus refused to countenance even a token tax increase on the rich.

Or consider a stipulation of the House GOP budget resolution that just went down in flames due to the caucus’s mad rage: the creation of a bipartisan commission to come up with suggestions to cut the budget deficit. The real purpose of a commission like this is to try to shove through large cuts to Social Security and Medicare to make budget headroom for tax cuts for the rich, which is so unpopular that it could never be passed through the ordinary legislative process. We know this thanks to the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, created by an executive order from none other than President Obama back in February 2010. The commission produced a report whose very first recommendation was, sure enough, a large tax cut for the rich (though it did not get support from all the commission members). These days, by contrast, the Biden administration calls such an idea a “death panel” for Social Security. The Democrats really have wised up on this question.

As an aside, it is quite remarkable how argument-proof this demand for starving grandma is to all available evidence, at least on the right. The endless growth in Medicare spending, which is by far the largest driver of projections showing massive deficit increases over the long term, has actually leveled off over the last decade or so—saving about $3.6 trillion since 2011 relative to the prior spending trajectory. As The New York Times reports, nobody is quite sure why it happened. But Republicans don’t seem to have even noticed. For them, starving grandma is an end in itself. Structurally speaking, the basic problem here is that the U.S. constitutional structure requires compromise during times of divided government, but a critical mass of Republicans are simply too crazy to negotiate. Whereas in a parliamentary system, the majority has the full run of government, and hence there is no need to get opposition buy-in for anything, in our archaic system, we do. So when one party goes nuts, the government tends to get shut down all the time.


Spridd slots T-shaped house into rocky hillside in Stockholm

Spridd is a Swedish architectural office in Stockholm that was founded in 2005 by Klas Ruin and Ola Broms Wessel.


Raked concrete covers this T-shaped house, which architecture studio Spridd has slotted into a sloped site surrounded by trees on the island of Nacka in Stockholm. Appropriately called T House, the home was created by Spridd for a family, along with a separate guest apartment for an elderly relative.

To minimise excavation of the steeply sloping, south-facing plot, the studio designed a narrow central body for the house that slots between rocks. It expands outwards at its top storey, forming two cantilevered volumes that accommodate a generous open-plan living space. "The T-shape enables a minimal excavation as it only requires a small foundation at the bottom," Spridd told Dezeen. "The shape also provides an advantageous symmetry in the structure which stands independent of itself without attachment to the bedrock."

T House is constructed from prefabricated sandwich panels covered with concrete. Inside, the panels have a smooth finish while a raked treatment was manually applied externally. The raked-concrete facades ensure the house is in dialogue with the textures of the rocky cliffside site and the bark of the surrounding trees. Externally, brown-framed ribbon windows on the south, east and west facades give the home a modernist feel.

Inside T House, a curved staircase leads from the level access ground floor to the guest apartment on the first floor and a main suite on the second floor. On the third storey, smooth concrete walls, floors and ceilings are teamed with warm plywood joinery in the kitchen, the stair bannister and a dividing wall between the kitchen and living area. "The interior has a warm character with the exposed wooden surfaces in contrast with the hard exterior," said Spridd. Large doors in the kitchen open to an outdoor terrace, where metal stairs lead to the roof. Both spaces give views over the rocky hillside and hardy shrubs and trees.


Dezeen Debate features David Adjaye's "wonderful" first skyscraper in New York


The latest edition of our Dezeen Debate newsletter features David Adjaye's reveal of the 130 William skyscraper in Lower Manhattan. Subscribe to Dezeen Debate now. Ghanaian-British architect Adjaye has completed the 130 William skyscraper in Lower Manhattan, which is the first skyscraper finished by the architect and his studio Adjaye Associates. The tower is 800 feet tall and has an exterior that is covered in hand-troweled concrete panels. Readers were fascinated by the tower. One thought it was "wonderful" that the skyscraper is not "just another blue glass box", whilst another disagreed, describing the building as "another pointless skyscraper for the super-rich to live in".

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