Saturday, January 09, 2016

A Passion For Concrete

Jack Shafer writes in Politico Magazine about "strange new respect" that

The American Spectator’s Tom Bethell introduced the concept in a 1992 article to ridicule the practice of liberal journalists who would reward conservative politicians who migrated from right to left by commenting in print on how they were now commanding “strange new respect” in Washington, showing “growth,” “maturity,” “wisdom,” and “thoughtfulness.” Bethell’s initial example was Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by conservative President Ronald Reagan but soon became a quasi-liberal, and was rewarded with praise by many in the liberal media. Kennedy has only continued to add to his strange new respect stockpile, the Weekly Standard commented in 2005

Shafer cites John McCain, Eric Cantor, former Presidents Carter, Reagan, and GW Bush, and (arguably) "religion" as among the beneficiaries of application of the concept.

Strange new respect is granted more broadly than Bethell claimed.  Numerous other individuals have benefitted from suddenly being regarded more highly by liberals, conservatives, or centrists in the mainstream media and elsewhere. It frequently arises among political candidates when they cross that invisible line, graduating from fringe candidate to serious candidate as interpreted by powerful interests. And so it is that Shafer observes

As journalists and others begin to view as inevitable—or at least genuinely possible—a Trump victory at the Republican National Convention, we should expect a rise in Trump coverage that expresses strange new respect for him. A vestigial example of the genre appeared today in POLITICO. Titled “Donald Trump’s Big Tent,” the piece suggests Trump may be deserving of strange new respect because his “appeal has spread over seven months so far beyond a rabble-rousing, anti-establishment rump to encompass the very elements of the American electorate the GOP has been eager to reach.” Trump isn’t weird, the story implies. He’s the new normal.

Trump himself may ironically benefit less from a sense that he is respectable and laudatory than that he is a rogue character.  Seven months ago, investigate journalist David Cay Johnston posed "21 Questions for Donald Trump," each of which focuses on personal finances and none of which he has seriously been pressed on (an exception- Thom Hartmann- below).  Several of them involved Trump's involvement in La Cosa Nostra.

In October, the Washington Post's Robert  O'Harrow Jr. explained that the 69-year old real estate developer got entangled with "mob-controlled entities" and

As his ambitions expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, Trump had to contend with New York’s Cosa Nostra in order to complete his projects. By the 1980s, crime families had a hand in all aspects of the contracting industry, including labor unions, government inspections, building supplies and trash carting.

“Organized crime does not so much attack and subvert legitimate industry as exploit opportunities to work symbiotically with ‘legitimate’ industry so that ‘everybody makes money,’ ” the organized crime task force’s report found. “Organized crime and other labor racketeers have been entrenched in the building trades for decades.”

In New York City, the mafia families ran what authorities called the “concrete club,” a cartel of contractors that rigged bids and squelched competition from outsiders. They controlled the Cement and Concrete Workers union and used members to enforce their rules.

Nearly every major project in Manhattan during that period was built with mob involvement, according to court records and the organized crime task force’s report. That includes Trump Tower, the glittering 58-story skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, which was made of reinforced concrete.

“Using concrete, however, put Donald at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers,” the investigative journalist Wayne Barrett wrote in “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”

Through (later disgraced and disbarred) attorney Roy Cohn, Trump dealt with La Cosa Nostra, including

S&A Concrete , which supplied building material to the Trump Plaza on Manhattan’s East Side, court records show. S&A was owned by Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. The men required that major multimillion-dollar construction projects obtain concrete through S&A at inflated prices, according to a federal indictment of Salerno and others.

Fortunately, the boss of the Genovese crime family did not go unpunished, for

On Feb. 26, 1985, Salerno and 14 others were indicted on an array of criminal activity, including conspiracy, extortion and “infiltration of ostensibly legitimate businesses involved in selling ready-mix concrete in New York City,” the federal indictment said. Among the projects cited was Trump Plaza. Salerno and all but one of the others received terms of 100 years in prison.

Donald Trump frequently brags of having given generously to political candidates seeking office on all levels of government, and having reaped the rewards of having done so. He assiduously avoids the term "bought" but as O'Harrow notes

Trump’s donations were later cited by the organized crime task force’s report as an example of the close financial relationships between developers and City Hall. “New York city real estate developers revealed how they were able to skirt the statutory proscriptions,” the report said in a footnote. “Trump circumvented the State’s $50,000 individual and $5,000 corporate contribution limits by spreading his payments among eighteen subsidiary companies.”

Trump also did business with Cosa Nostra figures in Atlantic City, primarily through Kenny Shapiro, an investment banker for Nicademo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, and with whom he had "a close association," according to The Federalist's David Marcus.  Scarfo and nephew Phillip “crazy Phil” Leonetti "controlled two of the major construction and concrete companies in Atlantic City."

Two months ago, when it seemed to most political observers (and certainly me) that Marco Rubio was the person to beat in the GOP primary, questions were raised about the Florida Senator's personal finances, including his house, a retirement account, and use of a GOP credit card.  It seems Rubio, who has had a terrible 7 or 8 weeks, has trouble handling money.

Donald Trump, it seems, has wallowed in the sewer of  organizedcrime, which has largely been ignored.  Examination of his personal finances should not  be neglected in favor of a "strange new respect."

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