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Weekend edition—Trump’s madman strategy, shorting MoviePass, Japan’s economic miracle

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As chairman of his eponymous casino company a decade ago, Donald Trump had a curious side gig. Employed by the company as a special deal negotiator, he was entitled to pocket a percentage of any savings he realized for the company when haggling with vendors.

When asked if he objected to this unusual provision, then-CEO Mark Juliano shrugged, and said Trump was actually pretty good at deal-making.

That arrangement is worth recalling now, in the light of now-president Trump’s attempted deal-making with North Korea, because it reveals that, for one thing, Trump can be trusted to look out for his own interests and for another, he may actually be good at negotiating.

In the case of North Korea, his bellicose tweets about Kim Jong-un last fall rattled global markets and unnerved the populations of South Korea and Japan, yet appear to have cajoled Kim into entering into talks in Singapore. With Iran, his yanking of the US out of its nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions may be a prelude to further bargaining. In the tradition of New York real estate, Trump treats deal-making as a blood sport, but a sport nonetheless. He knows most of his posturing is bullshit, and he expects his opponent to know it, too.

Trump’s negotiating strategy, to the extent he has one, seems based on blustering his way into absurdly aggressive positions, then retreating to what then becomes a more reasonable position by comparison. On the campaign trail, Trump produced no shortage of eye-rolling by boasting about how his deal-making prowess would yield foreign policy triumphs. Now, implausibly, he may be proving himself right.

Trump’s style has echoes of the “madman theory” that Richard Nixon employed (paywall) in the belief that Nixon’s unhinged behavior and apparent willingness to use nuclear weapons would frighten North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh into peace talks in 1969. Of course, Nixon’s strategy failed. It took three more years and thousands of additional deaths to bring about a peace treaty in Vietnam.

In Atlantic City and New York, Trump dealt with adversaries who shared the same goal—profit—and a common world-view. But as he rampages onto the world stage, Trump should remember that Nixon ultimately failed in his grand strategy overseas because he didn’t understand the motivations of his opponent.—Oliver Staley

Five things on Quartz we (and our moms) especially liked

This week, in honor of Mother’s Day in many countries around the world, we asked our mothers to help us choose our favorites.

If you think cleaning your home is a chore, think again. Undertaken with friends, it can help you achieve outer and inner peace. Ephrat Livni illuminates concepts developed by the Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto, who has an MBA, to turn any uninspiring task into an experience that is positive and deeply meaningful. (💐 to Elijah Wolfson’s mom)

Taiwan’s new language policy. In giving Taiwanese equal status with Mandarin as a national language, Taiwan is attempting to reckon with historical injustices toward minorities—in stark contrast to China’s evolution. As Nikhil Sonnad writes, “Taiwan has developed into a pluralistic democracy, even as China moves in the opposite direction.”

Black people’s mere presence is still threatening for many Americans. This week, a white student at Yale University called police on another graduate student for napping in a common room. Aamna Mohdin writes that such incidents remind us that many white women have yet to fully confront racial ideas about who risks other people’s safety. (💐 to Michael J. Coren’s mom)

What happens when a trade gets too popular. It’s not just cinema fans who think MoviePass, where you can see one movie in cinemas a day for $9.95 per month, is too good to be true. As Alison Griswold explains, investors are so keen to bet against the company that stockholders can make big money by loaning out their increasingly worthless shares at eye-watering interest rates of 70% or more. Isn’t finance fun?

The ties that blind. We’re all vulnerable to the risk of having our friendships at the office become unproductive, no matter other factors such as age, gender, and level of seniority. Lila MacLellan delves into the trouble with workplace friendships, and shares the expert strategies for avoiding the pitfalls.

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Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Have the Social Justice Warriors met their match? In the age of identity politics, there are a few polymaths on the fringes of the web challenging the prevailing orthodoxy and finding an audience; Ben Shapiro’s podcast gets 15 million downloads a month. Bari Weiss, for the New York Times (paywall), meets the “intellectual dark web.”

The endless waves of grain in Kansas. Many who grow up in places like rural Kansas leave it behind, forever. Not Corei Brown. Writing for the New Food Economy, she returned to see how healthy food could help rural towns survive. Instead, she found agricultural abundance in the midst of depopulation.

Japan, the economic miracle? Long a poster child for stagnation, Japan deserves a Nobel Prize for building an economy that sustains a stable society, argues Jesper Koll in the Japan Times. The median net financial wealth for the Japanese—$96,000—is roughly double that of the average American. Smart policies like supporting women in the workforce and a tight labor supply are a model for “capitalism that works,” he says.

The best primer on the Kileaua volcano emergency. Robinson Meyer at the Atlantic took a deep dive into the science behind the lava that’s devouring homes on Hawaii’s Big Island. But he also looked at the tradition that shapes how native Hawaiians see the emergency, and why volcano science and Hawaiian religion aren’t at odds at all.

Anna Wintour’s priorities. Stella Bugbee, for the Cut, takes a hard look at the most powerful woman in fashion and her orchestrated rehabilitation of the former spouse of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. “This is how Anna Wintour chooses to use her power,” she writes, “ensuring [Chapman’s] return to the very red carpet where so many actresses were pushed to wear her dresses.”

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, MoviePass short orders, and Georgina Chapman’s dresses to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Kabir Chibber.

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