The Fake News at the Heart of the Far Right’s ‘Jewish Conspiracy’

old books

When he wasn’t writing romance novels under the alias Sir John Retcliffe, Hermann Goedsche worked for the Prussian secret police as an agent provocateur. His duties? Peeking into envelopes at a Silesian post office — where he served as a mail clerk — and forging letters to set up the crown’s political adversaries.

Though his mail fraud was designed to send pro-democracy advocates to prison, or worse, the most devastating lines Goedsche ever wrote had nothing to do with espionage. Instead, they were composed for one of his shoddiest books.

Hermann Goedsche

Hermann Goedsche

Source Public Domain

Goedsche’s 1868 novel Biarritz is replete with plagiarism, like plots lifted from Alexandre Dumas’ Giuseppe Balsamo (1848), which follows an occultist conspiracy set during the French Revolution. In Biarritz, Goedsche includes a chapter called “At the Jewish Cemetery in Prague,” in which he writes about a different kind of conspiracy, hatched by representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel. In his tale, Zionists meet at midnight, and a rabbi’s speech details a plot to take over the world. The diabolical plan? Creeping takeovers of international finance, media and labor.

William Brustein, a professor at West Virginia University who wrote Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust, is sure a Zionist conspiracy theory was floating around long before Biarritz. “There are threads of it dating back to the 18th century,” he says. But it’s thought that Goedsche’s rendition is the earliest surviving material that details such a plot so explicitly.

Unlike in years past, those who believe in things like the Protocols, and would like us to believe in them as well, cannot get to us uncontested.

Richard S. Levy, University of Illinois

Around the time of Goedsche’s death in 1878, the rabbi’s speech from Biarritz was being passed around as a leaflet. “It was disconnected from the novel [and therefore] freed from any indication it was fictional,” says Richard S. Levy of the University of Illinois, author of Antisemitism: Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. Decades after this fragment began masquerading as a historical text, a new document arrived on the scene, doubling down on the Zionist conspiracy theory.

Biarritz

Biarritz

Source Amazon

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion emerged around 1903. The text — probably of Russian origin — was like the “rabbi’s speech” reproductions in that it was designed to appear as if it had been written by actual Jewish conspirators. Also like Biarritz, the text includes blatant plagiarism, notably from Maurice Joly’s 1864 satire Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. Follow-up editions of Protocols appeared with commentaries arguing that the text was a legitimate historical document. Many of these additions referenced and included Goedsche’s fictional rabbi’s speech as supporting evidence.

In 1921, the Times of London debunked the document, calling it a “literary forgery” based on the easily observed connections between Protocols and works like Biarritz. But Brustein notes how the Times’ rebuttal of Protocols came on page 13, after the front page simply asked “Could there be proof to these claims?”

 

The mainstream press’s ultimate rejection of Protocols didn’t matter to some, though. Between 1920 and 1922, Henry Ford ran excerpts from the hoax document in his Dearborn Independent newspaper. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ford also financed the printing of 500,000 copies of Protocols. Such publications kept the Zionist conspiracy theory percolating throughout the 1920s until it eventually boiled over, in Germany. 

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Protocols “with terrifying certainty reveals the nature and activity of the Jewish people.” Nora Levin, the late Holocaust historian, claimed Hitler used Protocols as a “manual in his war to exterminate Jews.” Levy disagrees. He says evidence that Protocols directly influenced Nazi decision makers is “flimsy.” Brustein’s stance rests between these opinions — he believes that the Zionist conspiracy theory wasn’t the only driving force behind the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, but he’s confident that it served an important role in shaping the Third Reich’s narrative and was used to advance the “final solution.”

1934 protocols patriotic pub

1934 Protocols

Source Public Domain

After Hitler died, and the horrors of the Holocaust were exposed, Protocols and Goedsche’s rabbi’s speech waned in popularity. But they didn’t disappear. Today those texts are easily available online; there are thousands of references to them on Stormfront, which the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests might be the most popular white nationalist forum in the world. And in 2014 David Duke, one-time Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, appealed for help publishing his own illustrated version of Protocols.

Just as the contents of Protocols and Biarritz are alive today, so too are the methods that saw these theories reach their peak popularity in Nazi Germany. Goedsche’s words morphed from fantasy into evidence for a fringe theory, before being endorsed by powerful politicians. “There are similarities between this and what we see today,” says Brustein, referencing the “fake news” that starts on Facebook and ends in a world leader’s tweet. Levy, on the other hand, sees a key difference: “Unlike in years past, those who believe in things like the Protocols, and would like us to believe in them as well, cannot get to us uncontested,” he says. “So I sleep easy.”

Brustein is less optimistic. He’s concerned that today’s “alternative facts” might be taken even more seriously after they have undergone an “aging process,” just like Biarritz. So while fake news may be dangerous today, he says it’s nothing compared to what could happen once it becomes fake history.

Chapter Two of Trump’s Presidency: The Next 100 Days

Trump splash 100

Take a breath. It’s been a hectic first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency. We have a new Supreme Court justice, Obamacare is still standing (for now), the U.S. military struck Syria with Tomahawk cruise missiles, and Saturday Night Live has material for ages thanks to the tweeter in chief — and press secretary Sean Spicer. We’ll leave further recaps to others and take a look at Trump’s next 100 days, with the standard caveat that this president lives to be unpredictable.

A nuclear-powered standoff

Kim Jong-Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has sparked plenty of debates over his intentions.

Source ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

The biggest misconception about Kim Jong-un is that he’s insane. Waving around a nuclear arsenal like a child brandishing a new toy, allegedly ordering the assassination of a half brother with a nerve agent in another country’s airport, warehousing 100,000 political prisoners in forced-labor camps — these are not the actions of a well-adjusted world leader. But North Korea’s accelerating nuclear ambitions and provocations toward South Korea and the United States are perfectly rational as the authoritarian regime seeks to satisfy its elites, rally the masses and hold onto power. They’re also the most explosive test of Trump’s foreign policy over the next 100 days.

But short of preemptively bombing missile sites — Trump has indicated he’s willing to do it, with the Syria strike and “mother of all bombs” drop in Afghanistan under his belt — there’s little direct impact the U.S. can have. China, then, is the key.

China has long helped prop up the rogue nation for fear of the instability a collapse would bring, but there are signs that Beijing is growing tired of Kim’s antics. China announced this year it was cutting off coal imports from its neighbor. The next step could be to halt crude oil exports to North Korea.

If China won’t move, Trump could impose second-order sanctions on Chinese companies that deal with North Korea— locking banks out of the critical U.S. financial system, for example. Previous administrations have avoided such a step for fear of angering Beijing. For its part, North Korea shows no signs of changing course as it tests missiles and threatens nuclear war. “When you normalize provocations, and then people will think, ‘Oh, yeah, the North Koreans, they are just doing what they do,’ that’s great for North Korea,” says Kent Boydston, a Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Beware the crazy-uncle excuse.

Coming soon (maybe): Trump Wall at Rio Grande 

Border wall Mexico

Dusk falls over a section of the US-Mexico border fence

Source David McNew/Getty

It was one of his first and most prominent pledges: a big, beautiful wall on America’s southern border, which would be paid for by Mexico because of the Donald’s negotiating acumen.

Within days of taking office, Trump signed an executive order to start “immediate construction of a physical wall” along with other border security measures. But he needs Congress to follow through with the money, as Mexico’s president has made it clear he’s disinclined to write a check for the wall. Trump has responded with vague pledges about how Mexico might pay indirectly.

So how much will the great wall cost? The Trump administration requested $4.1 billion over two years, but that’s a fraction of what a physical barrier across the entire border would cost. Senate Democrats extrapolated from prototype proposals that a 1,827-mile wall would cost at least $64 billion — and $150 million more per year to maintain. An internal Department of Homeland Security analysis, Reuters reports, pegged the cost at $21.4 billion to shore up the 1,250 miles of the border that are not already fortified.

Democrats are digging in, vowing to block any spending bill that includes wall money — and for more than fiscal reasons. “It stems from a value: Are you somebody who sees the humanity in our neighbors, or are you not?” asks Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is pushing Democrats to stand firm. The result was Trump backing off his demand to include wall funding in a government spending bill, postponing the fight.

This is in part because even border-state Republicans who are hawkish on immigration say electronic surveillance in some places might be preferable to a barrier. And the government would have to seize some property under eminent domain to build a wall, a tactic not likely to sit well with landowners. The Houston Chronicle recently quoted House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, telling local college students: “I don’t think a 30-foot concrete wall is going to be the answer.”

The easygoing investigator who could derail the presidency

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

Source Win McNamee/Getty

The topic was serious, the tone sober when Republican Sen. Richard Burr shared a news conference podium with Democrat Mark Warner to talk about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their investigation of it. But Burr wore a slight smirk when setting a ground rule in his light North Carolina drawl: “We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee.”

As the Russia investigation unfolds, it’s the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who will be charged with maintaining the professionalism and bipartisanship critical to making the probe credible. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who soaked up the attention during the first 100 days, showed himself too chummy with Trump to assess impartially whether the president’s campaign collaborated with foreign interests, and he stepped aside from leading the probe. Thus, Burr has taken center stage in the casual manner he handles most everything else.

Burr is known around the Capitol for his quirks — wearing loafers without socks, driving a 1974 open-air Volkswagen Thing — and for being tight with former house speaker John Boehner. Burr took over the chairmanship of the intelligence committee early in 2015. It’s a job that makes one privy to the nation’s darkest secrets and biggest fears, and it requires lots of time locked away with classified materials, unreachable to the outside world. Burr’s longtime political consultant Paul Shumaker tells OZY that Burr told him early on: “There would be times in his re-election that we would have to run a campaign without a candidate, because he was going to put that responsibility of the committee chairmanship first.”

Burr’s lack of interest in campaigning was often interpreted in D.C. circles as laziness, but he won an unexpectedly tight race last year and says his third term in the Senate will be his last. Though he typically votes the party line, Burr is now free of political shackles as he pursues the ties between Moscow and Trump Tower. Last year Burr was more steadfast than many GOP senators in supporting Trump, and Yahoo! News recently reported growing frustration among the committee’s Democrats that Burr is slow-walking the probe. If it appears to be tainted by politics, pressure will grow for a special prosecutor to come in. Ask Ken Starr and Bill Clinton how that works out.

When trade bluster meets policy

china shipping containers

China Shipping Lines Cargo Ship Summer loading at the Port of Oakland

Source shutterstock

In late April, Trump sat at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office surrounded by steel industry honchos to sign an executive order to “prioritize” an investigation into the effects of low-cost steel imports, implicitly targeting China, a familiar trade foe. Then Trump’s focus shifted to what appeared to be handwritten notes and an unusual target inspired by a visit to Wisconsin two days earlier: “In Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace.” The “NAFTA disaster,” as Trump termed it, has to do with our northern neighbor’s market protections for its dairy farmers. Then last week, he slapped a tariff on Canadian soft lumber imports. Along with cheap Mexican manufacturing, it’s part of his argument to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been in force since 1994.

Trade policy was one of the most consistent planks of Trump’s campaign. He immediately pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership upon taking office, but that treaty was never ratified. Trump last week said he was backing off plans to pull out of NAFTA altogether, and would start fresh negotiations with Ottawa and Mexico City. Opening up a long-standing deal will take more time and finesse, though commerce secretary Wilbur Ross recently said a revamped NAFTA might look a lot like what Mexico and Canada agreed to in the TPP — such as tougher labor and environmental standards. Though most of Trump’s moves so far have been rhetorical, with pledged reviews and investigations, the Canadian lumber action is the first sign of teeth, with more to come over the next 100 days.

But in the wake of the summit with President Xi Jinping, Trump notably backed down from a campaign pledge to label China a currency manipulator, a move that would lead to tariffs and other punishments. The policy whiplash is often seen as the reflection of the internal struggle between senior counselor Steve Bannon’s economic nationalism and a more moderate approach from chief economic adviser Gary Cohn’s crowd, a debate not likely to go away anytime soon.

From swing vote to porch swing? 

Anthony Kennedy Neil Gorsuch Trump

Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy shakes hands with Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch as his wife Marie Louise Gorshuch and President Donald Trump look on during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House April 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Source Eric Thayer/Getty

Washington’s most scrutinized — and at times inscrutable — octogenarian has a choice to make in June. Anthony Kennedy will decide whether to hang up his robe as the Supreme Court’s swing justice. Though high court retirements are as tough to predict as their decisions, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the head of the Judiciary Committee that would consider a replacement, recently told constituents in Iowa that he expects a SCOTUS vacancy this summer.

On an evenly split court, Kennedy has tilted conservative on some issues (gun rights, campaign finance) and liberal on others (gay rights, affirmative action). Most critically for the fight to come over his seat, Kennedy has repeatedly upheld a woman’s right to an abortion. Add an antiabortion justice, and the legally questionable 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade easily could tumble.

The filibuster already has fallen for Supreme Court nominees in this year’s partisan battle over Neil Gorsuch, so the next justice will face a 50-vote threshold in the Senate. Still, the higher ideological stakes than the Gorsuch–for–Antonin Scalia swap means “the battle for Kennedy’s seat will be Armageddon and will likely take a long while in the Senate,” says Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

If Armageddon arrives, keep an eye on whether Trump sticks to the list of conservative Federalist Society–approved judges he put out during the campaign, and the signals from GOP moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. And remember Kennedy himself was Ronald Reagan’s third choice, after the defeat of the severely conservative Robert Bork and the withdrawal of Douglas Ginsburg who — gasp! — admitted to smoking marijuana a few times.

If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

President Donald Trump signs an Executive Order,

President Donald Trump signs an executive order identifying and reducing tax regulatory burdens.

Source Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty

For decades, blowing up the tax code has been the Washington equivalent of Tantalus’ apple from Greek mythology: always just out of reach. Everyone — except, perhaps, the nation’s accountants — agrees that the code is too complex, but every deduction has a lobby attached. Just before the end of his first 100 days in office, Trump announced an outline to slash tax rates for individuals and corporations. Now comes the hard part: steering it through Congress.

Republicans propose that most families will be able to fill out their taxes on a postcard, with a juiced-up standard deduction or itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable giving but nothing else. Democrats have sent mixed signals about whether they’d be open to working with Republicans on the plan. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants Trump to release his own taxes first — an exceedingly unlikely proposition and a nod to Democrats’ protest-minded base.

Republicans remain divided over the “border adjustment tax” on imports, designed to help American manufacturers and offset the deficit impact of the rate cuts. “There’s no pleasant way to raise $2 trillion,” says Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and an OZY contributor. Norquist adds that his reply to any business complaining about a border tax when the corporate rate has been cut from 35 percent to 15 percent would be: “Shut up.” The border adjustment tax was not in last week’s White House outline, which on its own is likely to increase the deficit, meaning congressional rules would force the tax cuts to expire after 10 years rather than become permanent. As the debate unfolds, look out for competing analyses from the White House predicting huge growth and lower deficits and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Another barometer to watch: the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It has jumped more than 10 percent since Election Day, in part on the promise of a regulation- and tax-slashing presidency. Trump has started to deliver on the former. The latter will be a slog.

Those are the issues we can see coming. Because it’s Donald Trump, there’s always the chance for a wild-card moment, particularly as the country gorges on the latest dramatics in As the West Wing Turns. Perhaps Bannon will end up ambassador to Liechtenstein by the time we hit Day 200.

Why I Had to Spend my Vacation Working in a Uranium Mine

Mines

I was desperate. I’m American but I had come to Australia on a one-year working holiday-maker visa and ended up having an unlucky streak in Melbourne — not an easy place to live despite being named the world’s most livable city five years straight.

Melbourne is also one of the world’s most expensive cities, and while the national minimum wage is $17.70, I ended up overworked and underpaid on the salaries of two deplorably paid jobs: $15 an hour cash-in-hand cleaning with a potentially illegal Korean cleaning company, and $17.50 an hour as a cashier at a takeaway salad bar. Melbourne’s hospitality industry hadn’t been interested in my humanities background, so by the time I left the city, I had managed to save only a few hundred dollars.

I was shortchanged, but I knew others had it worse. Asian friends told me they barely expected more than $12 an hour. The agriculture industry, maintained by temporary-visa holders, had been exposed as an epicenter of slave-like conditions. Backpackers claim to have suffered sexual harassment on Queensland farms; I had even reported on sexual harassment cases of backpackers in Melbourne for Am-Unity magazine.

 

For many, Australia isn’t always the easily navigated, lucrative stopover between backpacking Asian countries that it’s made out to be. I was drowning in my own resentment toward the world’s love for this country. But then I heard about jobs in a uranium mine.

I had no experience in the mining industry, no experience in any sort of physical labor job. But the mines were looking for cleaners. That kept me out of the more dangerous work — what the local Aboriginal population called their “sickness country,” since, they said, anyone who went there died. I was only cleaning but still had to wear a lot of safety gear, and I’m almost certain that I was lied to by the corporation because there are tons of terrible effects of uranium. They had safety seminars and told us all the time that they were at a “manageable” level. 

mine.

Hey, it’s a living. Sort of.

Source Photo Courtesy of Allison Yates

But I was happy with the salary. You see, the mining industry, which “boomed” in the early 2000s, was commended as the ticket to overflowing wealth that would trickle down to the whole country. From the start, there were skeptics like the Australia Institute, but most people became steadfast believers in the industry.

Truck drivers were taking home $200,000 Australian dollars a year, 20-year-olds were buying mansions and boats and with the influx of labor came the need for fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) camps, essentially pop-up villages, which quickly became notorious for drugs and prostitution. With the FIFO camps came the need for contracted hospitality companies, jam-packed with cleaners, to service them, and the mining boom soon touched another sector of workers.

I never expected to find myself at a mine in the middle of the croc-infested Northern Territory, sleeping by day, fighting off dingoes by night …

The mine I worked at wasn’t even directly connected to the mining boom — it was already extracting uranium in the 1980s — but that didn’t save it from the global market collapse of the past few years that destroyed the rest of them. In a terrifying swap, the promise of prosperity became devastation. Redundancy meant families across Australia who had banked on the endless flow of cash found themselves with assets they would never be able to pay off. The emotional damage of the mining industry is even more tragic, with reports of FIFO suicides being swept under the table.

Our product, uranium, wasn’t special enough to be immune from the global market downturn. Plagued by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the market still hasn’t been able to recover. This, combined with concerns over rehabilitation costs of its closure in the coming years, has affected more than just the mines’ shareholders and direct employees. The hospitality companies servicing the FIFO camps were invariably affected as well.

In an attempt to cut costs, my mine had just cut ties with one contractor and opted for another, one that provided the same hospitality service for a fraction of the cost. The employees would be the first to notice the change: The new company asked them to stay for the transition, despite offering them less than half of their current salary. It was, unsurprisingly, an unsuccessful attempt.

But in an unfolding of what felt like uncanny fate, the week I drove into a FIFO — dusty from the road and stinking like I’d been eating, urinating and showering in a backpacker car for the past five weeks — was the same week that the new hospitality company was hustling to fill the vacant positions for its “mobilization” (a term used to describe a takeover) the following week. A FIFO hospitality job, at least in anecdotes, was coveted for its pay and tax benefits; it was a competitive industry to enter. And yet, despite my lack of relevant experience, I was hired.

The handful of mine employees who’d had no other choice but to stay were understandably bitter at the mine’s downturn and its effect on their salaries. But I was finally convinced, after five previous months of low wages, under-the-table work and living hand to mouth, that Australia was a grand country all along. I just hadn’t been able to see it.

While they suffered the byproducts of an industry’s collapse, I benefited from its demise. They were making half their normal salary; I was making double what I’d ever made.

As the sun set over the bush, my workmates and I would pass a stream of “utes,” or utility vehicles, on their way back to the FIFO camp. We’d linger a few minutes while we crossed a bridge, a workmate scanning the water below for crocodiles. We’d make it to the mine site and get out of the car in time to cross paths with the few day-shift workers still there. “Have a good shift!” they’d call out.

I never expected to find myself at a mine in the middle of the croc-infested Northern Territory, sleeping by day, fighting off dingoes by night, but as we passed through security, with a swift motion, I’d smooth back my hair and put on my helmet. One workmate turned to me and instructed, “Tonight we’re just going to spot-clean, no mopping.”

“Yeah, they’re not paying us enough for this shit,” the other added. I caught a familiar tone of resentment in their voices. A tone powerful enough to justify a purposeful lack of work ethic. A reason to bitch out the management and curse one’s hapless lot.

It wasn’t just that mine that suffered; it was all of Australia. But after working there for just three months — 70 hours a week, two weeks on, one week off, food and accommodation provided — I walked away with AU$16,000. The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection doesn’t keep statistics on visa holders once they’re in the country, but given the reports of widespread exploitation, I sense I benefited more than most on the same visa.

While I worked at the mine, I felt the tension. I heard people scheming to ask for wage increases and threatening to quit at the slightest disagreement. I saw people, like my workmates, doing a sloppy job out of anger. My sense of accomplishment, despite the twinges of guilt for something out of my control, remained unaltered. I needed the money.

He’s at the Center of Congress’ Toughest Battles — And Loving It

Keviin Brady

The energy is long gone from the cavernous Maryland convention hall when Kevin Brady strides onstage on a Friday afternoon in February. Short, cue-ball-bald and easygoing, he’s as far as it gets from the morning’s entertainment at the Conservative Political Action Conference, when President Donald Trump amped up an electrified crowd. “Are you ready to tear this tax code up by its roots?” the 11-term congressman asks in his flat amalgam of South Dakota and Texas accents, to mild woos from the half-full crowd.

A short speech is followed by questions from the editor-in-chief of the hard-right Breitbart News, who points to criticism of Brady’s proposed border adjustment tax on importers. Brady calmly explains why, in his view, the tax helps American manufacturers. Months later, Trump will avoid the idea in releasing his own deficit-bursting outline for tax reform.

It does not appear terribly fun to chair the House Ways and Means committee these days — witness the two prominent congressional car wrecks: Obamacare repeal and tax reform. Brady admits to having sleepless nights, he tells OZY, but not from stress. He’s newly unshackled after a decade either in the minority in Congress or with a Democrat in the Oval Office. Sure, these bills aren’t whizzing through, but at least they have a chance. “It is honestly hard to sleep because I’m excited about what we’re doing in tax reform, health care and what I hope over time to be able to do in Medicare and Social Security as well,” Brady says, tacking on politically explosive Republican privatization plans that Trump campaigned against because, sure, what the hey. “These are once-in-a-generation challenges.”

His laid-back nature masks a mean competitive streak and a relentlessness for lawmaking behind closed doors.

Brady finds stress relief from a fractious gang of House Republicans, legions of lobbyists and a madcap White House during weekend bike rides and barbecues with his wife and two teenage sons at home north of Houston. But his laid-back nature masks a mean competitive streak and a relentlessness for lawmaking behind closed doors. He’s also seen far worse in his life than congressional infighting.

When he was 12 years old, his father, an attorney in Rapid City, South Dakota, was gunned down by a vengeful husband during a divorce proceeding in which he represented the wife. Kevin was at football practice when the coach pulled him out and led him to a sheriff’s deputy, and he learned his mother would be raising five children on her own. The loss left a void and an inspiration: William Brady had been active in the local Democratic Party, Kevin’s uncle was a state senator, and his mother encouraged community involvement.

Brady started working for the Rapid City chamber of commerce because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and figured it would expose him to all kinds of businesses. Instead, chamber became a career, and watching his businesses tangle with government turned Brady into a Republican. His first elected post was on the city council at age 26, and after new chamber jobs took him to Texas, Brady joined the state legislature in 1991 and then Congress in 1997. In Washington, he rose through the ranks as a collegial member eager to dig in on tax policy without throwing rhetorical bombs. A tight relationship with current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan didn’t hurt. 

Brady, who played baseball at the University of South Dakota, also distinguished himself on the diamond in Congress’ annual charity game — holding down a mean second base at age 62. Rep. John Shimkus, R–Ill., calls Brady the Republicans’ best hitter, even as he ribs his colleague about nagging old-man injuries. Brady earned the pain in the 2003 game, when he dislocated a shoulder and fractured his collarbone on a Pete Rose–style headfirst dive into home plate. (For the record, catcher and then Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., dropped the ball and Brady scored the run.) 

Kevin Brady slides into Tim Holden

Kevin Brady slides into Tim Holden, D-Pa., on the first play of the 2003 congressional baseball game.

Source Douglas Graham/Getty

At a Capitol Hill row house he shares with three other Republicans when the House is in session, Shimkus says Brady is the neat and organized one, matching his “unflappable” nature on the job. “All I know is he pays his rent on time,” adds Shimkus, the landlord.

Behind the scenes, Brady helped forge a badly needed bipartisan reform on how Medicare pays doctors that was signed into law in 2015 after years of failures by Congress. Sage Eastman, a former Ways and Means committee staffer and now a tax lobbyist, says the key was Brady’s patience and tenacity. “No matter how bad it got, no matter how ugly or twisted the policy got, no matter how high tensions ran between members, this was a guy who grabbed everybody, forced them to sit at the table, forced them to grind out a solution,” Eastman says. “He’s taking on bigger and bigger challenges, but I think that same sort of process is what’s necessary.”

As he sells the policies, Brady has hometown concerns to consider. He is the literal embodiment of a chamber of commerce Republican, now a pejorative term in the Tea Party era. Accused of being too cozy with Republican leadership in Washington and too supportive of free trade and government spending, Brady narrowly survived a GOP primary challenge last year. He remains no one’s idea of a Donald Trump Republican. “He’s always been an inside player and, you know, he’s just not a populist rabble-rouser,” says Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Brady tells OZY the Trump administration is still finding its sea legs, and he meets weekly with treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to iron out the tax strategy. Regardless of the bumps, his dream scenario remains unchanged: Republicans run both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and Brady holds the coveted chairmanship. He laughs off the question of whether he’s the proverbial dog that caught the car, saying he’s jazzed to push the idea of filling out your taxes on a postcard. Kevin Brady can see home plate from here, and he’s lowering his shoulder.

The Voice Behind Siri Tells All

Siri

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You may not recognize her face, but you know her sweet, robotic voice. She’s inside your phone and knows your calendar by heart. She boasts her encyclopedic knowledge all the time, but you don’t mind. She is Siri — aka Susan Bennett, the voice actress behind Apple’s witty digital assistant. Bennett has also loaned her voice to other familiar brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Cartoon Network, Waze and Delta Airlines.

But her most famous role is the smart, sassy Siri, one of the Fab Four of virtual assistants. With a unique vantage point, Bennett has watched little Siri grow up quickly alongside her chatty rivals — Cortana, Google Now and Alexa. “Instead of saying, ‘LOL,’ Siri now actually laughs,” says Bennett. But the more Siri sounds human, the more Bennett grows wary. Surprisingly, the original voice behind Siri has a few choice words for the unnerving future of AI. This interview has been condensed and edited.

susan studio

Susan in the studio

Source Courtesy of Susan Bennett

How did you become the voice behind Siri? 

Bennett: It remains a bit of a mystery. In 2005, I had done some recordings for a liaison company that does a lot of voice messaging work — the whole month of July, four hours a day, five days a week. They had come up with these new scripts that were written rather differently than most messaging scripts. We were recording sound combinations that would sometimes be nonsensical. The other voice actors and I didn’t keep up with the speed of technology. We had absolutely no idea exactly what we were doing. So, five years later, Siri appears, and it’s like, “What? We’re who?”

I think it’s a shame that young people miss the point of where the original computer is, which is between our ears.

What were your initial reactions to Siri when she debuted for iPhones in 2010?

Bennett: I believe I was the first English version of Siri worldwide. Of course, part of me was extremely flattered that I’d been chosen to basically be the voice of Apple. At first, I was shocked and rather appalled because I didn’t know anything about it. I’d been doing voiceovers for many years, so I’m used to hearing my voice in public places, radio and television commercials. I’m also the voice of Delta Airlines and Waze. But it was a completely different trip to have my voice coming out of this tiny computerized phone, interacting with me. So I really didn’t use Siri that much. That’s one of the great ironies.

What’s the appeal of digital assistants like Siri, which only 3 percent of iPhone owners use in public, according to a study?

Bennett: People love digital assistants like Siri and others because they sound human, but they really don’t have human reactions. You don’t have to worry about getting in a fight with Siri, although she does come back with a few zingers every now and then. Yet it’s not the same thing as having to deal with a human. That’s why Siri is so important for people with autism and Asperger’s. They get the human element without really having to embrace the whole human.

What do you think of the future of AI and the rise of digital assistants?

Bennett: It is really extraordinary the way technology has improved over the last decade. But I think it’s a shame that young people miss the point of where the original computer is, which is between our ears. These devices, as much as they’re fun and convenient, are taking away some of our intellectual processes. We no longer have to think through a solution. We no longer have to look up an answer. We no longer have to go through the process of learning something. In everyday life, we aren’t really taxing our brain matter very much because it’s just easy to press a button and say, “Hey, Siri.”

We get instant information. If anything does require a process or if anything doesn’t just happen at the speed of light, we get frustrated and anxious. It’s really tough to converse with 20-year-olds. They don’t know how to use the language, and they don’t know how to express their thoughts anymore. I love the English language. But now we’re just getting down to 140 characters on Twitter, and we’re abbreviating everything. I don’t know if that’s a healthy way to express ourselves. Are we just going to be talking in binary language one day — talking in ones and zeros? 

 This editorial article was originally created by OZY Media and published on OZY.com prior to, and independently of its inclusion in this JPMorgan Chase & Co. sponsored series. OZY Media claims the full rights and responsibilities of this article.

Listen to the Bard of Djibouti

Abdourahman Waberi

Abdourahman Waberi has to be agile, in language and in life. The novelist and poet hails from Djibouti, where, at home with his mother, he spoke Somali. He was schooled in and writes in French, and spends much of his time living in American English while he teaches in Washington, D.C. It makes him “totally schizophrenic,” he confesses.

But Waberi’s writing is far from mad. Rather, it’s calm — almost too calm, leading you to forget that Waberi is often writing with fury, writing what he describes as between an op-ed and poetry. (He does not, he states, follow the rules of the “Maupassant short story,” referring to Guy de Maupassant, the staple of many a seventh-grade English class when students are taught What A Short Story Is.)  

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Abdourahman Waberi (second from left) at the 2016 ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

Source Hindustan Times / Getty

Though gentle and shy in person, that changes, Waberi says, when he thinks of his “dysfunctional country. From that point of view … I am an angry man. And that must come out in a mediated way.” How the anger has emerged in print: In the United States of Africa, which imagines Westerners flocking to a prosperous Africa, ditching the U.S. and Europe, and Passage of Tears, which takes readers to Djibouti, where, as Waberi tells us, “the whole world has arrived.” That arrival is thanks to an unending military presence — first the French came; then, at the onset of the global “war on terror,” the U.S. chose to use Djibouti as its base in the Horn of Africa; and now China and even India are eyeing the nation.

Waberi says he is persona non grata back home. He hasn’t returned to Djibouti since 2007. 

Born into a family where “no one was asking about any homework,” Waberi spent his days reading. “I was not the playground kid,” he says. He has a slight limp from an early polio affliction, which, among other health issues, kept him around books more than other boys. He wrote love letters disguised as “stupid poems” and handed them out en masse to friends, hoping the right person would “get the message” that he was writing just to her. Some of that sentiment remains in his work today — “a work of art is like a gift,” he says. When not engaged in diffident amorous pursuits, Waberi protected himself from being bullied by writing papers for others, an endeavor that helped him understand the power of writing.

In Waberi’s work, you find a certain strangeness — listen for yourself in a moment, as he reads two poems in French and English. The mystical elements may hail in part from the spirits around which he grew up. Even though he was raised in a nonreligious Muslim family, Waberi says he does have some “spiritual inclinations.” Someone says a djinni visited them? “You believe them. ‘OK, yeah, that did happen.’ ”

A Modest Proposal for Building Trump’s Wall

building wall

Sean Braswell’s satire series Augmented Reality embellishes news and current events, giving reality a more interesting look and feel

For the moment, the White House appears to have backed down from its demand that Congress include money for Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall as part of a funding agreement that must be reached to avoid a government shutdown. But the president remains determined to erect some form of southern perimeter, reiterating in a tweet this week that “[i]t will get built.”

Of course, in addition to a reluctant Congress, the Great Wall of America has run into a few other obstacles along the way, from its astronomical cost and Mexico’s refusal to pay to a massive shortage of the (legal) construction labor needed to attempt such a large project. Things look pretty bad for a pretty bad idea, but all is not lost. There’s one simple solution staring the president right in the face that could allow him to muster both the political will and the cheap labor necessary to pursue his audacious vision: Enlist undocumented workers to build the wall in return for a path to U.S. citizenship.

Sure, it’s far-fetched (this is an “augmented reality” column) and somewhat callous, but so is building a 1,300-mile goddamn border wall. Still, the proposal is not as crazy as it sounds — and it would actually be in keeping with the president’s promise to build a “big, fat, beautiful, open door” in the wall to let in legal immigrants. Why not let the first to pass through that door be the ones who helped build it?

Trump wants to win, and that means breaking ground.

Estimates for the wall’s cost range from $10 billion to $40 billion, a huge chunk of which will be labor costs: Average construction wages are more than $28 per hour, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, and there is also a massive shortage of workers who are legal and vetted to work on government projects. The potential good news? Of the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, it is believed that more than 1 million are unauthorized construction workers (half of the construction workers in Texas alone are undocumented). That’s a huge pool of potential labor, and one that could be incentivized to work for even less than their normal off-the-books wage with one very big carrot: a path to citizenship for them and their families.

 

This sounds like amnesty and 19 million tons of concrete, you say. Why would Republicans ever go for it? But this is not a free pass; this is months, maybe years, of hard labor, and what is more conservative than allowing someone who has broken the law to pay their debt to society with a little sweat? Besides, it would mean millions fewer taxpayer dollars being spent on bolstered deportation forces. And remember: Trump, a construction tycoon who has reportedly cut more than a few corners in the past, could give two sh*ts about consistency or political ideology. He wants to win, and that means breaking ground.

Besides, a little GOP opposition won’t matter if there’s some Democratic support, which currently hovers around 8 percent for the wall. How might that change? Well, in addition to a path to citizenship, the wall would be the greatest public works project since the Hoover Dam, and liberals love “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, even ones that result in some form of government-owned property of dubious value. And if the ruling party and president are dead set on building a Wall to Nowhere, then why not get something in return? Democrats could add “Builders” to the Dreamers.

To be sure, this is no ordinary path to citizenship; it requires asking some immigrants to help construct a barrier that could limit the passage of future individuals, even members of their own family. But let’s face it, the wall is largely a “show barrier” that won’t really tamp down illegal immigration. And so our expensive, ineffective wall, with its big door, and not Ellis Island, would henceforth become the symbol of America’s true ambivalence to new arrivals.

Finally, and most important, a wall-citizenship pact would give the president more than his promised barrier. It could confer a political victory, the appearance of magnanimity and perhaps even some degree of amnesty for past political offenses. And who really doubts that for a man who does not let details or facts stand in the way of saving face, building a wall with undocumented workers is totally the same thing as making Mexico pay for it? (Let’s just hope he keeps his bargain with contractors better than he has in the past).

If this sounds like the worst, most paradoxical policy bargain you’ve ever heard of being made in an effort to claim victory on a big, dumb idea, well, you’re probably right, but welcome to policy in the age of Trump. 

The Heroine Saving South Sudan — One Child at a Time

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In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?

Susan Tabia, South Sudan 

When I was young, I worked as a secretary in Juba. I was making money, but I didn’t have peace. Later, when I was living in Kenya, I started to have these dreams. I’d have visions of suffering children in refugee camps with no mothers and fathers. I believed it was my calling to help them, but I was a widow and in poor health and a refugee myself. So I flew to Cairo instead and stayed with my sister. My son Simba was living in the U.K., and he told me to come live with him. But the dreams kept coming; I felt like I wouldn’t have peace until I fulfilled this mission.

In the 1980s, there were around 85,000 Sudanese refugees living in camps in Adjumani, in northern Uganda. When I arrived, I had little money; a friend let me stay at her home. A few days later, I found a baby crying in a bush. People told me that her mother was dead and her father had run away. She looked like a skeleton. I took her home and bathed her — she was so weak her skin just came off. Then we fed her and clothed her, and she started to smile. After seven days, she started to walk.

My first orphanage was in a refugee transit camp. The orphanage consisted of one tukul, or mud hut, that was as small as a rat house. We slept on the floor on papyrus mats. When it rained, the roof leaked. We also had to deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army. One time, they entered the Adjumani Catholic mission nearby and abducted orphans. If the LRA finds small children, they just take them.

I’d go to Kampala and sell jewelry to raise money. We also received help from American friends and the Dutch Embassy. Eventually we were able to buy a piece of land and build a proper home with a kitchen and a dining room. We called it Amazing Grace.

 

Every morning, before I start anything, I have to pray. Then I spend the day running errands and helping our “mothers” make sure the children are fed and bathed and doing their homework. Looking after them is not easy. Some of our children are very stubborn. Some like stealing, others like fighting, others are lazy. You need to find means to persuade them to listen.

Feeding and education are also a problem. Sickness is always there; when the children get sick, we have to find a hospital that can treat them. Sometimes a child ends up dying and we have to carry the body home for burial.

I have blood pressure problems, so I have to be careful. If I take on all the burden, I’ll end up dying. Instead I take the problems to God in prayer. If you feel that God is in control, there’s no need to keep worrying. The kids also help; they give me good verses to read from the Bible. Because of their encouragement, I’m strong.

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Not a job, a calling.

Source Courtesy of Shireen Omar

The U.N. tries to help, but the number of refugees is too large. In camps, people have their own children, and orphans become wanderers. They don’t know how to build or cook. They walk around half-naked. Some start stealing or fighting out of frustration. They sleep outside and don’t go to school.

In 2000, I had the opportunity to go to Australia. My friends told me to go and make money, but I couldn’t leave. I don’t need anything. The children are my life; everything I do is for them. I work without salary. Sometimes I give cooking classes or bake breads and wedding cakes. Customers pay me what they want — sometimes they give me goods, like handmade baskets, that I can sell — and I use the money for the orphanage.

It is difficult now because of the new war for us to recover refugees again. We had to close our orphanage in Kajo Kejim and more refugees are arriving at Amazing Grace. My plan was to expand the orphanages, build our own schools and have training centers for those who can’t continue with schooling. But now I don’t know what to say. I knew this would happen one day; I knew the peace we attained, the independence that was given, was not true. I knew we’d break up again.

The World’s Most Celebrated Anti-Slavery Program Is Being Gutted

Brazil slavery

On March 28, federal inspectors raided a remote farm on the Araguaia River, which skirts the eastern edge of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. They found a family of five, including a baby, living in a cattle shed with rats, frogs and bats. They had no toilet or drinking water and had been paid $550 for two years of farm work. “I never imagined getting out of this situation,” the family’s patriarch, Luiz Cardoso da Silva, 69, told investigators. “I thought my life was over here.” The case is now with federal prosecutors, who intend to prosecute.

Since 1995 Brazil has had one of the world’s most celebrated programs to rescue its estimated 161,000 modern slaves and punish the companies that abuse them. But with major business interests closely aligned with President Michel Temer and powerful factions in the Brazilian Congress, those protections are being severely undermined. Many key elements — a public blacklist of guilty companies and labor laws that allow the punishment of big firms for the actions of contractors — are under threat. The number of federal inspectors who raid suspect businesses is being cut back. And a proposed law seeks to change the definition of slavery, abolishing much of it in words. “Today in Brazil we have some of the most advanced laws in the world to fight modern slavery,” Ronaldo Fleury, Brazil’s chief labor prosecutor, tells OZY. “But we are facing a regression of 130 years. This is about treating people like humans.”

There is clearly a corporate agenda behind these [political] changes. Outsourcing is a necessary condition for the existence of slave labor.

Ronaldo Fleury, Brazil’s chief labor prosecutor

Slavers shipped nearly 5 million Africans to Brazil — more than 10 times the number sent to the U.S. — from the 16th century until slavery was abolished in 1888. Since 1995, teams of roaming inspectors have freed nearly 50,000 people like Cardoso da Silva and his family from “conditions analogous to slavery,” which is the country’s broad legal definition of forced labor, debt bondage, degrading conditions that violate human rights or overwork that threatens life or health. Slavery is most prevalent in the Amazon rain forest, on cattle ranches, in charcoal camps and in the deforesting and illegal logging of the jungle. “The mobile squads have been enormously effective,” says Ginny Baumann, senior program officer at the Freedom Fund, a private philanthropy dedicated to ending slavery. “But it is the ‘dirty list’ that has put Brazil ahead of any other country in giving a disincentive to businesses.”

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Former slave Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos poses with his sickle — a tool he used often while enslaved — on the Nova Conquista settlement in Monsenhor Gil, Piauí State, Brazil, in 2015. 

Source Mario Tama/Getty Images

That public blacklist of firms caught using slave labor is now under sustained attack. In December 2014, a business lobby reportedly persuaded the Supreme Court to suspend publication of the list, which served as a public shaming of transgressors and enabled sanctions such as the withholding of loans from state banks. The ruling followed a petition by the Brazilian Real Estate Developers Association (Abrainc), comprising many big construction companies, including a subsidiary of the giant Brazilian firm Odebrecht, which admitted running a massive bribery scheme and also has been condemned for using slave labor. Last month, the company agreed to pay a $9.5 million fine for the way it treated 400 Brazilian workers at the construction site of a sugar mill in Angola.

That ruling was lifted in May 2016, but the Ministry of Labor declined to republish the list, despite the United Nations urging it to do so. It was only after months of legal action by labor prosecutors that it was republished on March 23 of this year, with the names of 85 companies or individuals. Three hours later, it was published again with just 68 names. “The Ministry of Labor created any problems they could to avoid publishing the list,” says Leonardo Sakamoto, a coordinator with Repórter Brasil, a nongovernmental organization that campaigns to eradicate slavery. “Now, public banks that relied on the list do not know if it is reliable, or if it will continue to be published in the future.”

Brazil slavery

Labor ministry inspectors line up modern-day slaves at the Macauba Ranch in the eastern Amazon state of Pará for registration so they can be paid what they are owed. 

Source Andre Vieira/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

Another blow was struck on March 31 when President Temer signed a bill that lets companies outsource core activities. Ninety-two percent of slave labor cases involve outsourcing, as do eight in 10 industrial accidents. The Spanish company Zara, the world’s biggest fashion retailer, has admitted that slave labor existed in its supply chain making clothes in Brazil in 2011. Vale, a Brazilian multinational and the world’s largest producer of iron ore, also faced accusations that its outsourced drivers at a mine were subjected to “disgusting” conditions and forced to work 23 hours straight, with just a 40-minute break.

The new law will make it harder for the courts to hold a large company responsible if it outsources its core activities to a firm that is caught using slave labor. “There is clearly a corporate agenda behind these changes,” Fleury, the prosecutor, says. “Outsourcing is a necessary condition for the existence of slave labor.”

Supporters of the law, which will have wide-ranging effects on Brazil’s economy and workers’ rights, say it will help reduce Brazil’s 13 million unemployed and aid competitiveness. “In no way does this law create any problems for workers,” says the bill’s sponsor, federal deputy Laércio Oliveira. “Much to the contrary.”

Another law being debated by Congress could significantly curtail Brazil’s progressive definition of slavery, removing the mention of degrading conditions that violate human rights, or overwork that threatens life or health. Only conditions that feature captivity, coercion or punishment would be regarded as slavery.

In January, a report by Brazil’s Ministério Público Federal, a body of public prosecutors, said the change represented “a huge social regression, because it would withdraw from a modern conception of slave labor, relegating it purely to the classical notion of slavery as exclusively a restriction on physical freedom.”

Brazil’s labor inspectors, a crucial element in the fight against slavery, also have been hit by the austerity drive that has swept the federal government. The Ministry of Labor now has just four mobile inspection units, down from nine in 2009. The number of slaves rescued has steadily declined, too, from a high of 5,999 in 2007 to 749 in 2016, although last year did feature a prolonged strike by inspectors. The number of inspectors has likewise fallen, from 3,142 in 2008 to 2,450 currently, according to SINAIT, their national union. “The fight against slave labor will, of course, be impacted by the lower number of inspectors,” a spokesman says.

Activists worry about how much longer the system can withstand the pressure. “We are suffering a blitzkrieg of attacks simultaneously,” says Sakamoto, the NGO coordinator. “We only hope we can reach 2018 with the fight against slavery ongoing.” 

The Trump Alter Ego Who Stuck to Real Estate

Glenn straub

Meet our protagonist: a 70-year-old billionaire real estate developer with a flagship property in Palm Beach, Florida. He’s seriously litigious, and courts controversy by combining legal disputes with non-PC verbal disputes. He’s headstrong and extravagant. He uses the royal “we,” and asserts his aim is to “make Atlantic City great again.” The thinning hair remaining on his head is carefully coiffed into something that’s not quite a comb-over.

“Do I need another million dollars?” he muses. “No. We’ve already got quite a few zeros behind our name.”

No, not him. This is Glenn Straub, a West Virginia–born businessman, industrialist and real estate developer who’s betting big on Atlantic City, the New Jersey tourist city where two different empty beachfront palaces still have T-R-U-M-P spelled out on their facades, in grimy shadows of the red block letters once affixed there. The Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza were two of the five Atlantic City mega-casinos that have closed since 2014; a third — the 1,400-room, $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel — shuttered only two years after opening. Straub picked up Revel for just $82 million in bankruptcy court, 3.4 cents on the dollar. When it opens, the resort (not, he emphasizes, a casino — “casinos are dying”) will feature 13 restaurants, five nightclubs, spas and hotels, as well as a rope course and a zip line. “Non-gaming is the way that the city’s going to grow,” says Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at South Jersey’s Stockton University. 

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The shuttered Trump Plaza casino on the Atlantic City boardwalk

Source James Watkins for OZY

The successful redevelopment of Revel (rebranded as TEN) may be key to the near-bankrupt city’s revival. Gaming revenues have tumbled in recent years, from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006 to just $2.6 billion 10 years later, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The plummet, says Pandit, is primarily due to competition from new casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware. Job losses in the thousands accompanied each casino closure; a fully operating TEN could employ 4,000, Straub claims. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 10,000 unemployed people in the Atlantic City metropolitan area, at a rate of 8.2 percent (the U.S. average is 4.5). But with distress comes opportunity.

I’m an impulse person. If I don’t think someone’s doing me right, I’m gonna take them to court — instead of shooting them.

Glenn Straub

Straub has plans beyond TEN, though it remains to be seen how much of his eccentric vision will be realized. The city-owned former airport at Bader Field may soon be up for sale — Straub wants to turn it into a ski slope, complete with half-pipes and jumps, as well as a monster-truck drag strip and soccer fields. Then there’s the city’s water plant, which he’s hoping to add to his portfolio. Straub’s real estate empire has historically comprised 26 manufacturing plants, among 600-plus other properties in the U.S. and abroad.

 

After his father’s death when Glenn was just a teenager, Straub and his brother inherited a small group of car leasing companies and auto dealerships. Later, he bought an asphalt company that would become an Appalachian industrial empire. He retired at age 40, but then began amassing real estate. He’ll try retirement again, at 80, he says. In the meantime, he keeps himself young with a daily workout, and he has spoken about his desire to live past 100 with the help of life-extension therapy. He’s played full-contact polo for more than 25 years, which has contributed to several of the 54 broken bones Straub has had in his life. He wants to see polo and show jumping on the grounds of TEN in the summer, as well as a university-backed research center for life-extension therapy, from cryogenics to blood transfusions. 

But there are plenty of hurdles standing in his way. Straub has been mired in legal battles with New Jersey state-level gaming authorities pretty much since the day he bought the former Revel. The key contention? Whether Straub himself needs a gaming license, given that the casino floor will be run by a tenant. But litigation is par for the course when dealing with Straub, says Anne Gerwig, mayor of the village of Wellington, where Straub’s flagship Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club is located. In the seven years Gerwig has been dealing with Straub, there have been several lawsuits over code violations, land use and environmental protection. Wellington is home to several other mega-rich residents — Bill Gates and Bruce Springsteen among them — and Gerwig is used to working with strong egos. “If you treat [Straub] with respect, you have a much better chance of coming to an agreement,” she says. Straub doesn’t deny his litigious tendencies. “I’m an impulse person,” he says. “If I don’t think someone’s doing me right, I’m gonna take them to court — instead of shooting them.”

He will fight this particular legal battle all the way, he says — giving in and getting a casino license is out of the question as it would jeopardize the other properties under this particular holding company. “Too much bureaucratic red tape,” he argues, is holding back investment in the city — “he calls it a swamp, and it definitely is.” But Straub has no plans to follow that particular “he” into politics: “He’s just a competitor. I like him when I beat him on a bid, I don’t like him when he beats me.” Just like his alter ego in the White House, this gruff, headstrong real estate magnate is all about the winning. 

* Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly named the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.