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Trump's approach to politics bears the hallmarks of a bad poker player, author says –



Author and former professional poker player Maria Konnikova says that U.S. President Donald Trump could stand to learn a thing or two about politics from a game of Texas Hold’em.

In her latest book, The Biggest Bluff, Konnikova details what poker can teach us about decision making — and writing for Politico, she argues Trump’s political strategies bear all the hallmarks of a bad poker player

She spoke to Day 6 guest host Peter Armstrong about how she thinks the skills she learned at the poker table could benefit the president.

Below is part of their conversation. 

Trump himself has said that he sees his life as something of a poker match. How do you think he’s faring at this point in the game?

I remain convinced that he probably is not quite aware of the rules of poker. And it’s so funny for someone who lies as openly and as frequently as Trump does, I’m shocked that he hasn’t just said, “Oh, yes, I’m a wonderful poker player.” 

It makes me think that he does realize that it might be a game that’s a little bit above his pay grade. 

You’ve said his whole process of decision-making … stands in direct contrast to what the game of poker teaches. What are the key lessons that he’s missed?

There’s a notion in poker that I think just everyone outside the poker world should employ in their vocabulary because it’s such a convenient word and that’s tilt. And when somebody is ‘on tilt’ or ’tilted’ or when you find something ’tilting’ … that means that you’ve let emotions into your decision process so you’re no longer thinking logically.

This can be both positive and negative in terms of the valence of the emotions — so it can be very angry, you can be really ecstatic. 

Tilt makes someone a much worse player because tilt is very exploitable by other opponents. That means that people can take advantage of it. 

So what Trump should be doing, or what any good poker player should be doing, is trying to perform that calculus on themselves and figure out, “OK, how am I emotional? What things get to me?”

Konnikova argues that better understanding skills required for poker could change the way he governs. “His bluffs work against the weaker players, but … I think the strong opponents will be able to sniff out where he’s actually just full of it and take advantage of it,” she told Day 6. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In the great geopolitical poker game, if Trump is the guy at the table who is on tilt, can you look from a distance and see what other players are taking advantage of that?

Yeah, absolutely. I think someone who is very, very good at taking advantage of it is Vladimir Putin. And that’s very disconcerting. You do not want a leader who’s that easy to manipulate.

Of course, all of this comes with a huge caveat, which is that Trump has already won the presidency and who’s to say he’s not going to win the re-election? Sometimes this kind of strategy can be successful, despite everything that you think is going to go down. 

Do [Trump’s] bluffing skills maybe make up for his bluster and emotion and erraticism on the other?

In some ways, yes. It’s funny, even though this book was about poker, my last book was about con artists. And even though I think Trump would be a horrendous poker player, he is an excellent con artist and is able to convince people of just about anything who already want to believe it — he’s very good at selling people the version of the world that they already want to be true.

And what we know about victims of con artists is that once they’ve already fallen for a con, almost nothing that you can say or do will convince them otherwise.

But, is he someone who is successful at bluffing people who aren’t victims of the con artist Trump and instead are just looking from the outside at the politician Trump? And there I think you might see him falter. 

So his bluffs work against the weaker players, but … I think the strong opponents will be able to sniff out where he’s actually just full of it and take advantage of it. And you actually see Trump walking back some of his biggest bluffs when people fight back. 

As poker analogies go, this one’s pretty incredibly high stakes. [Trump] just used his presidential powers to commute the sentence of a criminal associate. COVID-19 cases are absolutely surging. 

We’re heading into an election season. He doesn’t show any signs of improving his poker skills. If you were betting on it or if you were sitting at this sort of analogous table, how would you weigh the odds that he might actually win this game this round? 

I’m actually still incredibly nervous that Trump’s chances are much higher than we think that they are, because, first of all, anything can happen, and he’s shown himself to be someone who’s very good in the 11th hour. 

We also know that his international standing doesn’t really matter when it comes to re-election. So it doesn’t matter that all these leaders are able to take advantage of a hermit and that he’s not really a match for the best leaders on the global scale.

Right now, the betting markets are favouring [Joe] Biden. But until it happens, I’m not going to believe it. And I would actually not put any money against Trump right now, personally. 

Written by Kyle Myzuka. Produced by Annie Bender. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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Donald Trump's political organization builds war chest topping $100 million – CNN



Trump’s fundraising haul speaks to his continued ability to raise money from small-dollar donors online, as he trumpets baseless claims that election fraud led to his loss last year.
Trump’s team said 3.2 million contributions flowed into the former President’s political committees during the first six months of the year.
In a statement, Trump once again complained of a “stolen” election and cited the donations as a sign that millions of Americans “share my outrage and want me to continue to fight for the truth.”
Trump’s fundraising apparatus includes two political action committees: Save America, a leadership PAC, and the Make America Great Again PAC, along with a separate joint fundraising committee.
Most of Trump’s cash reserves are stockpiled in his Save America leadership PAC, with $90 million remaining in its accounts as of June 30, new filings show — giving the Republican a large sum to unleash as his party seeks to seize control of the House and Senate in next year’s midterm elections. Trump also has hinted at seeking the White House again in 2024, and the new numbers show he remains the GOP’s dominant fundraising figure, despite losing the election and access to social media platforms.
In announcing his fundraising totals, which were first reported by Politico, on Saturday, Trump’s team said his committees had raised nearly $82 million in the first six months of the year, but that total also included funds collected in 2020 that were transferred into his account this year.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller on Sunday said the transfers were included because they amounted to “all new revenues to Save America for this period.”
Save America is the former President’s primary fundraising and public relations vehicle, and he uses it to issue statements endorsing his favored candidates and denouncing those he opposes. But the PAC had not contributed to any congressional candidates during the first six months of the year, according to its filings with the Federal Election Commission. Miller told CNN that checks began going out to endorsed candidates in July, after the period covered by the new filings.
Leadership PACs such as Save America have a cap on donations, but federal rules impose few restrictions on how their contributions can be spent. And during the first six months of the year, the PAC spent about $68,000 for lodging and meals at the Trump Hotel Collection, according to records.
Trump has also endorsed a super PAC, Make America Great Again Action. The super PAC’s filing Saturday night shows it took in a little more than $5 million as of June 30. Individual donors include Don Ahern, a Nevada businessman who contributed $1 million, former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler at $250,000 and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell at $100,000. Lindell has been on a mission to advance claims that widespread fraud contributed to Trump’s defeat.
The super PAC recently has begun spending to boost Trump-favored candidates — pumping $100,000 into an unsuccessful attempt in July to help elect Texas Republican Susan Wright in a special runoff for a US House seat. Wright lost to fellow Republican Jake Ellzey.
Another GOP primary on Tuesday — this time for a US House seat from Ohio — will offer the latest test of Trump’s ability to sway voters. Make America Great Again Action has spent more than $400,000 so far to promote Trump’s choice, coal lobbyist Mike Carey, in the Columbus-area special election.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of contributions to Trump’s political committees. It is 3.2 million contributions.

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Biden's Buy American push is good politics but bad economics – CNN



And he took a small step toward ensuring Washington can upgrade less of it.
That step backward came with Biden’s move last week to stiffen requirements that federal government purchases be limited to products made in the United States — even if they’re more expensive. Thus he followed the grooves set by both Democratic and Republican predecessors, who have consistently embraced crowd-pleasing “buy American” stances that make economists groan.
“Counter-productive,” cautioned Melissa Kearney, a University of Maryland professor who favors much of Biden’s economic agenda. “It really makes some of the administration’s other goals harder to achieve.”
Biden acted to strengthen the nearly-a-century-old Buy American Act, whose provenance alone hints at shaky economic foundations. It was signed into law by former President Herbert Hoover, who had earlier signed the Smoot-Hawley protective tariffs at the dawn of the Great Depression.
That association has not diminished its political appeal as America’s economy over the decades has become steadily more integrated with the rest of the world. Former President Ronald Reagan signed a companion law as America lost industrial jobs in the 1980s.
Former President Barack Obama incorporated Buy American provisions into his 2009 stimulus plan in response to the Great Recession. And Buy American provided a natural component for former President Donald Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again.”
Trump signed a series of executive orders advancing the theme. But as with steps taken by earlier presidents, they allowed ample room for such exemptions as complying with international trade agreements and permitting purchase of some foreign-made goods when suitable domestic alternatives were unavailable.
Now Biden — who has placed revival of American manufacturing at the center of his economic agenda — has moved to limit that wiggle room. Proposed rules he announced last week would boost the minimum value of American-made components in products purchased with taxpayer dollars to 60% from 55% immediately, and to 75% over time.
In the name of national security, the administration would enlarge price preferences for some American-made “critical products and components.” It would simultaneously strengthen reporting requirements for federal suppliers to demonstrate the domestic content of their products.
“It’s not lip service,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official under President Bill Clinton now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s a genuine effort to change the rules.”
By demonstrating America’s reliance on China and other foreign sources for medical supplies, the coronavirus pandemic has fueled the effort. Even economists who celebrate free-market forces acknowledge that Buy America policies make sense in limited circumstances to protect vital national interests.
“It’s a question of scope,” said Kyle Pomerleau of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. He worries that Biden’s policy — which has not yet specified what it considers “critical components and products” — will be too broad.
Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, defended Buy American by noting “mission critical” objectives it can advance. One example: stocking the federal government’s fleet with domestic-made electric vehicles can accelerate a sector crucial for competing economically and fighting climate change.
“I do not think it’s bad economics,” Boushey said. “Everything in balance.”

‘It’s like being for puppies’

No one doubts that it’s good politics. As Biden seeks to recapture the allegiance of some Trump-friendly blue-collar workers, Buy American policies fare “extremely well” among voters, observed Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.
“It’s like being for puppies,” cracked Republican counterpart Glen Bolger. In fact, Bolger added, the idea that Washington can boost the domestic economy through federal purchasing power strikes plenty of Americans as too good to be true.
They have some basis for skepticism. In 2018, the Government Accountability Office found that foreign-made products exempt from the Buy American Act made up just 4% of federal government purchases the previous year.
That makes the sphere of economic activity affected by Biden’s initiative fairly small even if it achieves its intended goals.
“You’re talking about $300 billion of goods in a $22 trillion economy,” Reinsch concluded. “The question is whether it’s going to change very much.”
To that extent, the added costs Buy American initiatives impose threaten less economic havoc than protectionism in other forms, such as import tariffs. Jason Furman, who chaired Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, considers relative harmlessness an argument in their favor.
“The ratio of good politics to bad economics,” Furman said, “might make it fully justified.”

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ANC factions stir ‘dangerous politics’ in South Africa’s towns – Financial Times



Thapelo Mohapi looks at the mangled and scorched scraps of what were once shacks and reflects quietly that, at 38, twice now have the flames of political violence in South Africa left him without a home.

The first time, as a boy in the 1980s, Mohapi was given shelter by Indian neighbours in the Durban settlement of Phoenix when the brutal last days of apartheid engulfed the nearby black township where he lived. It was part of solidarity that would in time give rise to a multiracial democracy. “The Indian community never said at any stage that you are not part of us,” he says. 

The second time was the night of July 14. As riots and looting sparked by a power struggle in the ruling African National Congress swept heartland regions, destroyed businesses and left more than 300 dead, a fire burnt through the homes of Mohapi and hundreds of others in an informal settlement in Durban’s Briardene suburb. “The fire brigade couldn’t reach it in time because of the unrest,” Mohapi says. For now, he is living in a friend’s car and in donated clothes.

What President Cyril Ramaphosa labelled an “attempted insurrection” in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, two provinces that make up half of the gross domestic product of Africa’s most industrial nation and nearly half of its population, was only put down with the deployment of tens of thousands of troops.

Rescuers search burnt-out premises in the aftermath of the riots and looting in Mobeni, Durban. The widespread violence destroyed businesses and left more than 300 dead © AFP via Getty Images

The violence had begun as reprisals for the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court — a victory for the rule of law and the country’s democratic principles under Ramaphosa. Zuma had defied a constitutional court order to attend an inquiry examining his role in corruption so widespread that it hollowed out institutions under his presidency, according to the testimony of dozens of witnesses. He was forced to resign in 2018.

After winning the ANC leadership in 2017 by a narrow margin, Ramaphosa stabilised the party’s decades-long grip on power in a 2019 election and has slowly isolated his predecessor’s closest allies. But the unrest signals that he is confronting a faction who in order to avoid jail are prepared to sacrifice a weakened state — and manipulate social divisions.

Phoenix, Mohapi’s old refuge, was also swept up in the fallout. As police vanished amid looting, tragedy unfolded in a microcosm of South Africa’s complex race relations. As street barricades were thrown up against looters, armed vigilantes emerged and “people that had lived side-by-side in relative peace turned on each other”, Ramaphosa said last week. At least 20 people were killed in the clashes in a township that is majority Indian but where many black South Africans live and work.

The number of economically inactive South Africans has increased, Annual % change and number of economically inactive (m)

The looting was a threat without police on the ground but “in the racial profiling of our African brothers and sisters, some took the law into their own hands — and they were gangsters,” Marvin Govender, general secretary of Phoenix’s residents association, says. 

The state was absent, failing to stop both the vigilantes and the looting, Govender says. Chris Biyela, the convener of a post-unrest Phoenix peace committee, agrees that “if the government responded forcefully in this manner, many lives would have been saved”.

In the chaos of the ANC’s factional battle, even the fire in Briardene appears suspect. Mohapi is a spokesman for Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement that represents informal dwellers. With 100,000 members, it is a fierce critic of the ANC and has often received threats. The day before the fire, Abahlali released a statement that blamed “people who are pushing the agenda of the Zuma faction in the chaos”.

Police officers arrest a looter in Johannesburg. Truck burnings shut down South Africa’s major food supply route between Durban and Johannesburg
Police officers arrest a looter in Johannesburg. Truck burnings shut down South Africa’s major food supply route between Durban and Johannesburg © Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

The group also fell victim to attempts to stir up a race war when a statement it issued calling for calm in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal’s largest city, was doctored with anti-Muslim vitriol, and then spread on WhatsApp.

With mounds of garbage choking the air and broken sanitation, the state has failed Briardene’s informal settlement dwellers. Mohapi has every reason to be cynical about the country’s post-1994 gains. But after what he sees as an assault from within the ANC “to divide the poorest from the poor” and destroy the basis of South Africa’s freedom and its unfinished racial reconciliation, he is more determined than ever to defend them.

“Nelson Mandela would be turning in his grave. This is not what he fought for,” he says. “We can’t be taken back to where we were. We can’t sacrifice that because one man is in prison.”

A warning from history

South Africa received a prophetic warning as far back as 1997 that one day the difficult transition to democracy might be betrayed from within.

Such an attack, the document said, would involve “setting up intelligence and armed networks parallel to and within the state to sabotage change through direct political activity or aggravation of such social problems as crime”, and erosion of governance through “deliberate acts of corruption driven not merely by greed”.

Line chart of GDP per capita ($ in 2010 terms) showing Real per capita income in South Africa is back at 2005 levels

The prophet was the ANC itself — and while the warning was a reference to those still clinging on to apartheid, it accurately describes how decay of the state under the party has created forces that led to insurrection.

Systematic looting of state institutions during the Zuma presidency is well documented. Less visible has been the culture of impunity that was allowed to grow at the bottom, as police and other authorities were compromised by their political masters.

“The whole state has been criminalised,” Mary de Haas, an expert on KwaZulu-Natal’s political violence, says. “We had corruption, but we have been criminalised in the last 10 years . . . there are all sorts of mafia and criminal networks that would jump on this bandwagon.”

The impunity has spread to threaten investments needed to restart the stagnant economy, particularly in Zuma’s home province. In June, Rio Tinto was forced to suspend mineral sands mining in KwaZulu-Natal after security threats and the murder of a manager. From construction to security, businesses in the region say they are used to gangs with alleged ANC links demanding a cut. Ramaphosa admitted recently that extortion rackets have already begun targeting reconstruction following the unrest. 

Armed community members gather at a road block in Phoenix, Durban. Local resident Thapelo Mohapi says of the riots: ‘Nelson Mandela would be turning in his grave. This is not what he fought for’
Armed community members gather at a roadblock in Phoenix, Durban. Local resident Thapelo Mohapi says of the riots: ‘Nelson Mandela would be turning in his grave. This is not what he fought for’ © Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

“There is very little crime intelligence coming from this province,” de Haas says. Intelligence officials “admit that the whole thing is factionalised. Then you get to national intelligence, and that’s even worse. Zuma captured the whole of intelligence, basically.”

An official 2018 report warned of “politicisation and factionalisation of the civilian intelligence community based on the factions in the ANC”, including “serious criminality” in the embezzlement of cash. The state capture inquiry heard this year that a rogue spy unit with a direct line to Zuma was used to target his political opponents.

Such testimony appears to have infuriated the former president. “Every country has its own secrets and things that are not publicly spoken about,” Zuma told supporters at Nkandla, his homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal, before his arrest for defying the inquiry. His supporters fired off weapons and threatened police, before Zuma was taken into custody by his own state protection in the dead of night.

Senior ANC politicians were still arguing that Zuma should be freed even as the violence spread.

Income inequality in South Africa has deepened, share of national income (%)

“The politicians and their cronies are attempting to brew and encourage a very, very dangerous politics that is building fear and anger with the aim of dividing people along lines of nationality of origin, ethnicity and race,” the Abahlali group says.

Food as a political weapon

The most chilling part of what Ramaphosa called “deliberate, well-planned and co-ordinated” targeting of infrastructure in the unrest were attacks that seemed tailored to exploit South Africa’s inequality, especially insecurities over food. Truck burnings shut down a major food supply route, the motorway between Durban and Johannesburg, Gauteng’s provincial capital. Supermarkets were attacked and then their distribution centres hit.

“It really dawned on me when I realised that not only were the warehouses being emptied out [by looters], they were also attacking the packaging industry . . . one of the big aims was to bring access to food to its knees,” says Mervyn Abrahams, co-ordinator of Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity, an NGO based near Durban. “You are creating conflict between those who are poor and those who are middle class just to access the food that is available.”

Activists in KwaZulu-Natal say soldiers and police reinforcements came just in time to stop the total collapse of the supply chain and prevent an even worse second wave of riots driven by those who might not have eaten in days.

The violence began as reprisals for the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court
The violence began as reprisals for the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of court © Yeshiel Panchia/EPA-EFE

It reflected another facet of South Africa’s absent state, worsened by the pandemic — a hunger crisis that has silently swept the poorest, as social protection has fallen short and the economy has sputtered.

GDP per capita has flatlined since Zuma’s presidency and unemployment has soared, with 43 per cent of the working age population without a job or discouraged from looking for one at the start of this year. Even many of those with jobs are in a precarious position. Around half of the average minimum wage worker’s monthly pay of about 3,600 rand ($247) is eaten up by transport and electricity costs even before food bills, estimates Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity. A safety net of welfare grants, covering about 18m people, has also grown threadbare and no longer reflects the cost of living.

In July, a basic nutritious diet for a South African child for the month was estimated to cost about R724, or about $50. The monthly child support grant is R460. Stunting rates in children — an indication of malnutrition — have remained stubbornly high since 1994, at about a quarter or more. The effects are felt decades later, in poor school results, a life on the margins of the job market and long-term health problems. “Each year we reap what was sown 30 or 25 years ago,” Abrahams says.

Cyril Ramaphosa. Some senior ANC politicians were still arguing that the president should pardon Zuma even as the recent violence was spreading
Cyril Ramaphosa. Some senior ANC politicians were still arguing that the president should pardon Zuma even as the recent violence was spreading © Emmanuel Croset/AFP via Getty Images

Saddled with high debts that are approaching 90 per cent of GDP, Ramaphosa’s government bet on riding out a series of pandemic lockdowns with minimal fiscal relief. This only prolonged the agony. In July, the country’s treasury reinstated a temporary monthly grant of R350 for the jobless that it had cut just months earlier. It will last until March.

After the unrest’s wake-up call, civil society is pushing for more permanent transfers. A basic income grant for South Africa’s 11m unemployed would cost R78bn a year if it paid out just enough per month to keep them above the food poverty line of R585, according to the Institute for Economic Justice, a Johannesburg-based think-tank. But the middle class is likely to balk at the tax rises needed to pay for this, or additional borrowing for larger grants. 

“We pay for all of this in other ways in the economy,” Abrahams says. Millions have moved to shacks in the midst of major cities to find work. This proximity is part of why the unrest flared so quickly. “Now ‘the poor’ are right on our doorstep. Higher walls and more security are really not going to protect us.” 

July marked the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s post-prison election as leader of a very different ANC, as apartheid was crumbling and a new democracy was being born
July marked the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s post-prison election as leader of a very different ANC, as apartheid was crumbling and a new democracy was being born © Walter Dhladhla/AFP via Getty Images

Had a safety net been in place, even with political instigation of the riots, “would they have been able to get so many people in the townships to support them, just because they wanted to get food?” asks Abrahams. “It would not have happened at the scale it has now.”

‘Crying for bread’

Organisers in communities across South Africa worry that poverty is about to get much worse in the aftermath of the unrest. “Those who did not loot, do not have food now,” Mohapi says. “People are crying for bread.”

Acts of solidarity have helped residents in Briardene. A Muslim charity has delivered bread and milk. Tents provided by Doctors Without Borders and Abahlali house dozens who were displaced by the shack fire. But private initiatives alone cannot replace the state.

“I’m afraid that the solidarity that had been built, particularly at the bottom of our society, will be placed under huge pressure in the context of what has happened,” says Imraan Buccus, an analyst with the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute. “We need to be on the lookout. We are at a fragile point in our democratic post-apartheid phase. Our state has not done what it needed to do.”

People queue for basic food items  in Durban. A local NGO leader, Mervyn Abrahams,  says ‘one of the big aims [of the looters] was to bring access to food to its knees’
People queue for basic food items in Durban. A local NGO leader, Mervyn Abrahams, says ‘one of the big aims [of the looters] was to bring access to food to its knees’ © Rajesh Jantilal/AFP via Getty Images

July also marked the 30th anniversary of Mandela’s post-prison election as leader of a very different ANC, as apartheid was crumbling and a new democracy was being born. Joining Mandela as party secretary-general and deputy to that role were two politicians of the next generation: Ramaphosa and Zuma. One all but destroyed Mandela’s governing legacy; the other is running out of time to restore it.

Ramaphosa’s first term as party leader is now all but over. The next leadership vote is due at the end of 2022. Most agree that he will probably just about secure a second term. If so, KwaZulu-Natal, the region with the most ANC members, is not a province easily defied. Zuma is in prison at least for the next few months and his acolytes who inflamed tensions may soon join him. But his politics of impunity and patronage live on.

“There is a reluctance on the part of the ANC. They are scared. They don’t want to rock the boat in this province,” de Haas says. “There are a hell of a lot of people who have a lot to lose if the ANC cleans up its act.”

Ordinary South Africans lost even more in the unrest. From below, their anger is growing. “The ANC is rotten and it should be removed. It does not represent the ideals of Mandela,” Mohapi says. Otherwise, he fears, “we are heading for disaster. We will have riots after riots.”

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