Monday, August 28, 2023

On Our Month-End "Virtual Route 66" Route : On the Week That Was

It is the dawn of Labor Day weekend here in the United States.   Our team pulled together a snapshot of the week with Media Partners we consult weekly as we will be going dark through Labor Day weekend here in the United States as we gear up for our weekly "Route 66" rounds throughout September.    It has been quite a month that saw another indictment for former President Trump, as China continued its' ascendancy with the BRICS conference (As its' economy slows, birth rates plummet, and rumors around President Xi's health abound) and as Zimbabwe saw its' President re-elected.   

We look forward to our "Virtual Route 66" Assessments in all our properties in September :  

Putin's chef meets his 'window.' What does that mean for the future of Ukraine?
By Patrick Tucker

An old joke among Kremlin watchers is, essentially: If you fall out of Vladimir Putin’s favor, stay away from open windows. It’s a reference to the high number of Russian oligarchs and officials who have angered the Russian president and, soon after, died by defenestration

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 The German economy: from European leader to laggard

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 China’s defeated youth

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 How Russian prisoners of war see Putin’s invasion

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 Why was RICO, a mafia-targeting act, used to charge Donald Trump?

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Economist Films

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Yesterday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with the ambassador from the People’s Republic of China, Xie Feng, in advance of her trip to Beijing and Shanghai next week. China’s economy has been slowing down alarmingly recently, with falling consumer prices, a deteriorating real estate sector and market, high youth unemployment, and slumping exports, and international leaders are concerned that China’s economic troubles could spread.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department removed 27 Chinese companies from export restrictions after they met checks about the end use of their products, that is, verified that U.S. exports were not being passed on to terrorists or countries under U.S. sanctions. China’s Ministry of Commerce praised that decision, saying it was “conducive to the normal trade between Chinese and American companies and is in line with the common interests of both parties…. It is entirely possible to find a solution that benefits companies on both sides.”

In China, Secretary Raimondo will meet with senior Chinese government officials and U.S. business leaders. National security advisor Jake Sullivan yesterday told reporters that 

“her trip is an encapsulation of the approach that the Biden administration is taking, where we are engaged in an intense competition with the PRC, but intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage that competition so that it doesn't tip over into conflict and also so that we create every opportunity to work together with the PRC on issues that are in our mutual interest.” 

He echoed the frequent statements of the administration when he continued: “Secretary Raimondo will carry with her the message that the United States is not seeking to decouple from China, but rather to de-risk, and that means protecting our national security and ensuring resilient supply chains alongside our allies and partners while we continue our economic relationship and our trade relationship.” 

Raimondo’s outreach comes as the administration announces another round of senior officials’ trips to Indo-Pacific countries. 

On September 4th, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic organization made up of 10 member states in Southeast Asia that have a total population of more than 600 million people. Harris’s mother was a doctor from India, and that personal connection to the Indo-Pacific has made her an especially effective U.S. leader in that region. This is her third trip to Southeast Asia in the past two years: she went to Singapore and Vietnam in 2021 and to Thailand and the Philippines in 2022. 

At the summits, she will work with other Indo-Pacific leaders—the U.S. is an Indo-Pacific leader itself, of course—to address the climate crisis, maritime security, infrastructure, and economic growth, and on efforts to uphold and strengthen international rules and norms in the region. 

Just as Harris is leaving Indonesia on September 7, President Biden will travel to New Delhi, India, for the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit. The G20 is a forum made up of 19 countries and the European Union, and works to address major issues related to the global economy. In India, Biden will focus on issues from “the clean energy transition and combating climate change, to mitigating the economic and social impacts of Russia's war in Ukraine, to increasing the capacity of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, to better fight poverty and take on the significant transnational challenges that are afflicting countries across the world,” Sullivan said.  

Of this laundry list, Sullivan said, Biden hopes to encourage countries of the Global South to get behind the modernization of development banks as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy begun in 2013 to invest in more than 150 developing countries. Yesterday, Sullivan said that Biden is eager to reshape and scale up the World Bank to reduce global poverty and promote inclusive economic growth, “while also addressing global challenges from climate to migration and to the recovery from COVID-19.” 

Biden nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born American business executive, to be the president of the World Bank, Sullivan said, “precisely to make this vision a reality,” and has asked Congress to beef up funding for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, proposals that Sullivan said “will generate nearly $50 billion in lending for middle-income and poor countries from the United States alone. And because our expectation is that our allies and partners will also contribute, we see these proposals ultimately leveraging over $200 billion. That is the proposal that President Biden will carry with him to Delhi and that he will work with the Congress on to deliver through the supplemental funding request,” Sullivan said. 

The U.S. must, he said, provide support to developing countries, maintain strong global solidarity in the face of Russia's illegal war, and to offer “a credible alternative to the coercive and unsustainable lending practices at the PRC.” He noted that the U.S. ability to mobilize financial power is one of its most valuable assets (which, although he did not say it, is one of the reasons the Republican threat to undermine our finances is so enormously destructive). 

Reflecting the importance of the G20, Biden will commit to the U.S. hosting the G20 in 2026. 

If the U.S. is trying to expand its influence, things are not going swimmingly for the world’s autocrats. Today, a plane on which Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin of Russia was allegedly on board crashed, taking all three pilots and seven passengers’ lives. While it is not clear whether Prigozhin was actually on the plane, national security analyst Mark Hertling took the position that it doesn’t matter whether he was on board or not, because the loss of Prigozhin from the head of Wagner will infuriate the Wagner mercenaries, who are being merged with the regular Russian military, and who were much better paid under Prigozhin than are regular Russian soldiers.  

This fury will not calm things inside increasingly unstable Russia. As Ukraine’s troops are advancing, slowly but surely, “this is not a good time to start reforming the military,” Hertling told CNN. “Even if it's part of a charade,” chair of the Human Rights Foundation (and world chess champion) Garry Kasparov wrote, “it reflects chaos among Ukraine's enemies, murderous energy turned against one another. Dictatorships are stable until they are not, hard but brittle like glass.”

And then there are events here at home. Last night’s news that one of Trump’s aides at Mar-a-Lago had recanted previous false testimony and had outlined the involvement of the former president and his other aides in trying to destroy security recordings and then cover up that effort was just some of the chum that Trump world is stirring up lately. 

Those indicted alongside Trump on RICO charges in Georgia have been surrendering to authorities or making demands of Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis. Today, Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro asked for an exceptionally fast trial, likely hoping to get it over with before more information comes out, prompting Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman to explain: “All of these moves—the latest being Chesebro's speedy trial motion—bring home the elementary fact that now that the concrete prospects for trial and punishment are forcing a sober look at everyone's self-interests, which means their departure from Trump's. A critical time.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (CFETF) established by Attorney General Merrick Garland in May 2021 to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud, announced its results today. The Department of Justice is brining federal criminal charges against 371 defendants for offenses related to more than $836 million in alleged COVID-19 fraud, most of it related to the two largest Small Business Administration pandemic programs: the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, both funded by the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In April 2020, Trump removed the inspector general tapped to chair a special oversight board Congress put in place to oversee the distribution of the act’s funds.

The release quotes acting director of the CFETF Michael C. Galdo, who “said that 63 of the defendants had alleged connections to violent crime, including violent gang members also accused of using pandemic funds to pay for a murder for hire. Twenty-five defendants have alleged connections to transnational crime networks.”

The Justice Department said that 119 of the defendants pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, courts ordered $57 million in restitution, and prosecutors worked with law enforcement to secure forfeiture of over $231.4 million.

Tonight, eight Republican candidates for the presidency will debate on stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, without former president Trump, who is the front-runner for the nomination, participating. Trump’s people saw no reason for him to risk his position in a debate, and instead are using the event to conduct counterprogramming. After considering upstaging the debate by surrendering to authorities in Georgia at the same time, they settled on recording an interview with former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson to be aired in a competing time slot. 

While Trump was not there, President Biden was: his “Dark Brandon” ads trumpeting his administration’s successes appeared before the broadcast.


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- Disgraced former president Donald Trump who is apparently obsessed with photos of current president Joe Biden on the beach

Disgraced former president Donald Trump traveled to Atlanta on Thursday to surrender at the Fulton County Jail. Siri, play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Back in Washington, Trump’s unhinged GOP allies are losing their minds as usual. 

  • House Republicans launched another sham investigation on Thursday, this time targeting Willis, led by Trump’s special little boy House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan. Jordan sent Willis a letter “raising questions” about whether she coordinated her probe with the Justice Department (including Special Counsel Jack Smith) or used federal tax dollars in her investigation. 

  • He also cockily asserted congressional authority to “probe whether former presidents are being subjected to politically motivated investigations and prosecutions.” This is the same song and dance Jordan et al pulled with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought criminal charges against Trump in the hush money case (remember that one?) after which Bragg sued Jordan to stop what he called a “campaign of intimidation.” So far Jordan’s abuses of power to obstruct justice have accomplished nothing.

Whatever else happens, Thursday, August 24 will be remembered as the day we got to see our serial criminal former president’s mugshot, and that’s pretty special!

In case you missed it: Pod Save America just added new live shows in Cleveland, Louisville, San Diego, and San Jose! Members of our new subscription community, Friends of the Pod, have first access to presale tickets and the best seats for these shows. That’s right, the splash zone, baby. The Friends of the Pod subscriber presale ends tomorrow, August 25th at 9am local, so join at any tier today to get the code. Go to to subscribe and nab those presale tickets! 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has broken his silence about Wednesday’s extremely conspicuous plane crash that killed Wagner Mercenary Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, two months to the day after he launched (and then aborted) an armed rebellion against the Kremlin leadership. In a televised address, Putin said, "I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of all the victims. It's always a tragedy.” Wow, convincing stuff! Putin then obliquely acknowledged that Prigozhin was aboard the plane and said only, “I had known Prigozhin for a very long time, since the start of the 90s. He was a man with a difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life.” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder told reporters that U.S intelligence officials are considering the possibility that the plane crashed following an explosion aboard. According to three U.S. officials, there is thus far no indication that the jet was downed by a missile. The violent plane crash was an unsubtle message that “enemies” of the Kremlin (anyone who dares to cross Vladimir Putin) will meet an untimely death.

At Wednesday night’s GOP debate in Milwaukee, WI, not one of the eight candidates onstage raised their hand when asked if they believed that human behavior is contributing to climate change. On Thursday, the city’s schools were closed for the second day in a row because of record-breaking heat.  


Hawaiian Electric, the state’s power utility believed to have started the deadly fire in Lahaina, removed damaged power poles and other equipment from a key fire scene, potentially tainting or losing evidence in an official investigation. 


Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) has forcefully urged President Biden to expedite work permits for the influx of migrants who have arrived in the state over the past year. 


Canada’s ongoing wildfires, which have drifted into the United States, are leading to a spike in emergency-room visits for individuals with asthma, particularly in New York.


A retired Orange County police officer opened fire in a Southern California bar, leaving three dead and five wounded, including his wife. 

The Justice Department sued Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Thursday, alleging that the company routinely discriminated against qualified refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring process.

At least two-dozen women have come forward in recent months to complain of abusive treatment within the Central Intelligence Agency. They have testified to authorities and Congress about sexual assault, unwanted physical touching, and coercion, as well as a campaign they allege the CIA is waging to keep them from speaking out. Some of the women allege that they received alarmist warnings that speaking out could wreck their careers or even “endanger national security.” Hard to imagine something more heinous than a government official invoking national security as a cudgel against a woman seeking justice for sexual misconduct, if we’re being honest! An attorney who represents some of the women who filed complaints said, “the whole nature of intelligence work—the culture of secrecy and people working under assumed names—really elevates the chilling effect of retaliation and isolation that victims feel.”

Thirty-nine year-old Ashkan Bayatpour attacked a female colleague in a stairwell at CIA headquarters in July of 2022, and he remained on the job for more than a year after the woman he assaulted reported it to the CIA and nine months since she reported it to the FBI and local law enforcement. On Wednesday, Bayatpour was convicted of a state misdemeanor charge of assault and battery and was sentenced to six months’ probation. After the decision, the attorney for the woman Bayatpour assaulted said, “This guilty verdict came despite, and not because of, the CIA.”

Allina Health, a large Minnesota-based nonprofit health system announced on Wednesday that it will end its policy of denying medical care to patients with over $4,500 in outstanding medical bills. Not exactly a feel-good news item, but as close as we can get in a for-profit health-care system. 


The Supreme Court of Brazil ruled 9-1 on Tuesday that the use of homophobic slurs is a criminal offense punishable by prison, now the same level of offense as racist hate speech. 

A movement to transform highway shoulders, parking lots, schoolyards, and junk yards into “tiny forests” with native trees and plants is having major positive environmental effects in the communities where they are planted. 

We close out with the following courtesy Ryan Holiday:

Ryan's Reading List Email: August 2023

I had a crazy experience this week. Normally, the talks I do are in windowless conference rooms at convention centers or in unremarkable hotel event spaces. Every once in a while I’ll get to talk to a sports team that might have its own small film room, but usually it’s all pretty boring. I showed up on Monday to talk for Keller Williams…in the Austin City Limits Theater. It was nuts–maybe the coolest venue I’ve ever given a talk in…and to be able to talk about ancient philosophy, it was just a dream. What does that have to do with books? Well, Gary Keller has an awesome book I often recommend: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results.

Afterwards, my wife and I had dinner with Molly Bloom at La Condesa next door. If you haven’t read Molly’s book Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World or watched her episode of the Daily Stoic podcast, you must. Both are great.

I actually have two more theater gigs coming up next month that I’m pretty excited about. Robert Greene and I are sharing a stage at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles on September 19, and the Moore Theater in Seattle on September 21. The shows are close to selling out, so if you’ve always wanted to come see us, grab your tickets before they are gone. Like I said last month, I swung by Robert’s house and talked about The 48 Laws of Power and Stoicism while I was in LA–here’s the video of that, but it’d be way better for you to watch us live–there’s a meet and greet available too.

Get all the books listed in this email direct from The Painted Porch!

Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
In May’s reading list I raved about Ann Wroe’s Pontius Pilot which I said was so good that I could only read a few pages before I’d have to stop and just digest. This book, which was recommended to me by Paul Kix, is that good too. It’s ostensibly a biography, but it’s not a 900 page biography in the way Robert Caro or Doris Kearns Goodwin would write one. It’s a creativity book, an exploration of ideas. It’s more philosophy than biography, and it’s just amazing. It took me some time to go through it but wow, I am so glad I did. Emerson was of course a modern Stoic and his essays in Nature are filled with Stoic ideas. His book Representative Men is a modern take on Plutarch, and his book of poems is simply beautiful (everyone should read both). I’m reading Richardson’s bio on Thoreau next.

Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson's Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism by Timothy Denevi
Back in 2016, the most eye opening book I read was It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis–it’s an incredible and haunting 88-year-old book that explained more about what was happening in the news than any journalist could. This book on the political journalism of Hunter S. Thompson during the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon administrations somehow perfectly illuminates the world today. I’ve always thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was way more than a book about drugs and Hells Angels way more than a book about motorcycle gangs. But it wasn’t until I read this book that I understood what Thompson was getting at–both the dream and the darkness of America, the ugly undercurrents and the perennial battle against humdrum fascism, political corruption and hopelessness. I’m not doing a good job describing why everyone should read this book, but I really do think everyone should read this book.

West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein
Last month, I talked about all my favorite Los Angeles books (Ask the Dust and What Makes Sammy Run? are the top two), but I ended up grabbing one new one at Book Soup before I left. Oral histories are an underrated medium, and this book is a fascinating oral history of a handful of LA’s most intriguing families or events. It opens with the story of the Doheny’s (if you’ve seen There Will Be Blood…) and the murder that happened at the Greystone Mansion (which I recently visited). It also tells the stories of the Warner family, Jane Garland, and Jennifer Jones, all true stories that are just as good as a Raymond Chandler novel. Of course, the title is a play on East of Eden by John Steinbeck, one of the great novels of all time. If you haven’t read that, you must, and I also highly recommend Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel which is one of the best books on writing I have ever read.

Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure by Rinker Buck
I said last month that LA was one of my favorite cities/regions to read about. My other favorite, as you’ve noticed, is New Orleans. Wicked River by Lee Sandlin is an incredible book that I constantly recommend. John M. Barry’s Rising Tide is epic and amazing. I passed Ricker Buck’s book at many, many airports over the last few months, always telling myself, “I’ll get to that eventually.” This month I finally did on a flight home from Annapolis, and I found myself asking the same question after I found and read The Empire of the Summer Moon at an airport: Why did I wait so long to read this? In this book, Bucker doesn’t just tell the story of the Mississippi, he builds his own flatboat (the kind Lincoln used on his own journey), and traveled the entire river! Insane. So fascinating.

Lincoln’s Mentors: The Education of a Leader by Michael J. Gerhardt
Speaking of Lincoln and traveling the Mississippi (he did the journey twice in 1828 and 1831. At the end of the journey’s people would sell the wood from the boat, and it would be used to build houses. Who knows, there could still be a house in New Orleans built from Lincoln’s boat!), it’s interesting how we tend to think of Lincoln or Washington or FDR as fully formed. But obviously they weren’t born that way. Who taught them? What shaped them? This book is a great look at the men (and women) who taught, advised, inspired one of the greatest leaders in history. I’ve read a lot about Lincoln (two favorites are Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk and Leadership by Doris Kearns Goodwin), but this was a unique–and I think important–angle. Lincoln was above all, a savvy and able politician. We could use more leaders like him…so let’s learn from the people who shaped him.

I mentioned being in Annapolis this month–I was there to speak to the Naval Academy as part of a series put on by the Stockdale Center (talk about an amazing place to talk…I got to speak to 1,000+ plebes in an arena the night before the ACL gig). As it happens, this month, I also read a memoir published by Stockdale’s son, Sid Stockdale. If you haven’t read Stockdale’s Courage Under Fire, you must. My wife read and has been raving about this book Raw Dog by Jamie Loftus about this comedian who left LA with her boyfriend, cat and dog to drive across the country, and she’s eating every hot dog she can find along the way. I know that sounds crazy but the book is actually really good. There’s social commentary, pandemic, politics, animal welfare, mildly touches on her social life and family…layers and layers. Of course the best book about hot dogs and New Orleans is A Confederacy of Dunces, which I love so much and was excited to gift to the guy who runs a hot dog stand down the street from The Painted Porch a couple months ago. I binged through Succession, which was both wonderful and horrible. It reminded me a lot of Philip Meyer’s The Son…you think you want to have an empire that you’ll pass to your kids…in practice it never seems to go well for anybody.

Our 4-year-old is obsessed with space so we grabbed this Knowledge Encyclopedia Space!: The Universe as You've Never Seen It Before at Book Soup in LA. He loved it. Our 6-year-old broke his arm at BJJ earlier this month which happened to coincide with his interest in anatomy, so we got him Knowledge Encyclopedia Human Body! which he’s been going through. He and I are still making our way (almost done!!) with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The Illustrated Edition and Lost Heir, the second in the Wings of Fire series.