Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 9, 2018

There’s no business like presidential show business

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 1:12 am

January 22, 2017

Wilbur Ross: the dubious savior of the steel industry

Filed under: Donald Trump,economics,trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 11:29 pm

Wilbur Ross

When it comes to Trumponomics, most of the left’s attention has been riveted on the new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for obvious reasons. As CEO of OneWest, he pushed mercilessly to foreclose on homeowners whose mortgages he held, making the banker played by Lionel Barrymore in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” look like a member of the Catholic Workers by comparison. Politico reported:

Two years ago, OneWest filed foreclosure papers on the Lakeland, Florida, home of Ossie Lofton, who had taken a reverse mortgage, a loan that supplies cash to elderly homeowners and doesn’t require monthly payments.

After confusion over insurance coverage, a OneWest subsidiary sent Lofton a bill for $423.30. She sent a check for $423. The bank sent another bill, for 30 cents. Lofton, 90, sent a check for 3 cents. In November 2014, the bank foreclosed.

So, this is a guy that is supposed to stop “the carnage”?

Much less attention has been paid to Wilbur Ross, the 79-year old “King of Bankruptcy” that is the new Secretary of Commerce, a department that is charged with promoting economic growth. Ross would seem to be a perfect fit for Trump’s “America First” outlook since he is credited with saving thousands of jobs in the Rust Belt, particularly in steel. His approach is to buy distressed companies and make them profitable again, saving jobs in the process. Part of his strategy is to lobby for tariffs that would protect companies like LTV (Ling-Temco-Vought) that he bought at fire sale prices in 2002. His strategy mimicked that of Steve Mnuchin who bought IndyMac in 2012 at a bargain basement price and turned it into OneWest.

As the ostensible savior of American steel, Ross earned plaudits from Leo Gerard, the USW president. NPR, a public radio station with a liberal slant a bit to the left of PBS, put Ross in the best possible light:

“With Wilbur it’s been almost 15 years now, and those mills are [still] running and some of them are the most productive in North America,” Gerard says.

By that time, ISG had become the largest steel company in America by buying up failing steel companies including Bethlehem Steel, LTV Steel and Acme Steel. Gerard says the jobs Ross saved were at the mills themselves and at the companies in supply chain.

If Trump and Ross are hoping to replicate policies that are supposed to be a radical departure from neoliberal “carnage”, it is useful to remember that George W. Bush was a major supporter of protectionism for the steel mills that Ross owned.

With Bush anxious to win over the kinds of voters that helped Trump win the presidency, he announced on Feb. 27, 2002 that tariffs would be imposed on steel imports for three years and a day. That was the same day when Ross announced a deal to take over LTV. Perfect timing, I’d say.

What NPR did not mention is the downside of the deal. After taking over LTV, he fired half the workers. His “rescue” was the same kind as Trump’s of Carrier, which also sustained a heavy loss of jobs to stay in the USA. Since Ross bought LTV in bankruptcy court, he was able to shed $7.5 billion in pension funds to the government.

In 2006 Frontline, a PBS documentary show, reported on the fate of LTV retirees, including a man named Chuck Kurilko. This was his story:

After 38 years in the mill (most of it working night shifts so he could be with his kids after school), Chuck had retired from LTV in late 2001 with a lifetime pension and guaranteed health coverage for himself and Carolyn. “It was looking great,” recalled Chuck. “The first retirement check I got was $2,700 a month. And that’s a nice pension.” Health insurance, he said, was running about $200 a month.

But the Kurilko’s retirement security didn’t last long. Through bankruptcy, LTV had sold off its productive assets and jettisoned its unwanted and underfunded liabilities, like pension and health benefits. LTV’s pensions were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the PBGC), the federal corporation that insures private pensions. PBGC uses a reduced payout formula for retirees under 65, and retirees like Chuck were among the hardest hit. He saw his monthly pension checks slashed by $1,000, and his monthly health insurance payment skyrocket to $1,300. The bankruptcy proceedings that “saved” LTV cost the Kurilkos about $25,000 a year, a devastating turnabout in fortunes. By the time I arrived, the Kurilkos’ savings were down to about $13,000. Every month was a struggle to keep from digging the financial hole deeper.

I expected anger and dismay. What I found was more troubling. Good people that had been justifiably proud of what they’d accomplished through a lifetime of hard work — in the mill, in their community and at home — had lost control of their financial future, and with that their dignity. “We just shouldn’t have to live like this,” Carolyn kept saying, shaking her head as if it was all just a bad dream.

A couple months later, Carolyn’s nightmare got worse. She called me in early April to tell me that Chuck had died from a massive heart attack. We talked about Chuck and about his funeral, and after we talked, I began to think about how Chuck’s passing had come to represent the passing of an era when a lifetime of hard work, at most big companies, was rewarded with retirement security and with dignity. I also thought about Carolyn and the financial predicament she suddenly faced alone. But it wasn’t until later that I came to understand that Carolyn too represents a troubling national trend — the growing number of women facing severe financial difficulty in retirement.

One huge problem in retirement for women like Carolyn Kurilko is longevity. On average, women live longer than men, and nearly a third of all women who reach 65 will live to at least 90. “Chances are the husband will die and the wife will live on and on and on, and she will be the poorest she’s ever been in her whole life,” explains Notre Dame labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci.

The story of LTV and Wilbur Ross is a microcosm of the American class struggle—or the lack thereof. You have labor bureaucrats like Leo Gerard making common cause with a scumbag like Ross in the same way that UAW president Dennis Williams has gone along with deals that led to a two-tiered pay system and reduced benefits so as to “save jobs”. If there was a labor movement instead of what we have now, both Obama and Trump would have been put on the defensive.

The problem, of course, is that the bosses can exercise leverage on the workers by threatening to pick up and move to another country. The threat of runaway shops is what helped Trump get elected even if his solution a la Ross is to make an offer that workers can’t refuse.

Global competition puts pressures on workers everywhere to accept less. This is what “globalization” has accomplished. It cheapens the price of labor and commodities simultaneously. Indian steel mills supply commodities at a price far below those of their competitors in more advanced capitalist countries. Ross cashed in on globalization in 2005 himself: He sold his steel company to an Indian company Lakshmi Mittal for $4.5 billion in 2005, making 12 ½ times on his initial investment.

Mittal is now the far largest steel producer in the world. A lot of Trump’s animosity toward China has to do with its ability to produce steel even more cheaply than Mittal. Like Ross, Mittal screws workers out of their pensions and fires them when they no longer serve the bottom line.

What is happening now is a race to the bottom. Trump is incapable of reversing this trend since it is not susceptible to policy solutions. It is tantamount to King Canute commanding the tide to stop. We are in the throes of capitalism’s decay. I think Trotsky was misguided in the way he went about building a Fourth International but each time I return to his writings, I remained impressed by his ability to size up the political conditions of his epoch in a work like the Transitional Program:

All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet “ripened” for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.

We are not in any position today to construct such a revolutionary leadership but if there is one thing that is clear, it is the need to break with the two-party system that entrusts people like Wilbur Ross, Leo Gerard, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to get us out of a deathtrap they created in the first place.

January 12, 2017

Beyond the Golden Showers

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-7-47-43-pm(click to animate)

I have finally gotten around to reading the 35-page dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia that has only become viral because of the Golden Showers reference. I will take the president elect’s denial at his word and accept that this lurid tale is the result of a prank on the spook who collected various memos into a dossier.

You can get that side of the story on Zero Hedge, the conspiracist website that is party of the Putin/Assad old boy’s network:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

Here is 4Chan’s explanation of how the story came to light:

>/pol/acks mailed fanfiction to anti-trump pundit Rick Wilson about trump making people piss on a bed obama slept in

>he thought it was real and gave it to the CIA

>the central intelligence agency of the united states of america put this in their official classified intelligence report on russian involvement in the election

>donald trump and obama have both read this pol/acks fanfiction

>the cia has concluded that the russian plans to blackmail trump with this story we made up

just let that sink in what we have become.

There’s only one problem with the claim that this “fanfiction” about Golden Showers was transmitted to the CIA via Rick Wilson, namely that the dossier was apparently put together by a man named Christopher Steele who is reputedly a former MI6 agent and who is a top executive at Orbis, a private intelligence company similar to Stratfor. While Steele has not admitted to being the man behind the Golden Dawns dossier, there are reports that support such a claim including the Wall Street Journal:

A former British intelligence officer who is now a director of a private security-and-investigations firm has been identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump’s activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say.

Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said. The document alleges that the Kremlin colluded with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and claims that Russian officials have compromising evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him. Mr. Trump has dismissed the dossier’s contents as false and Russia has denied the claims.

Mr. Steele, 52 years old, is one of two directors of the firm, along with Christopher Burrows, 58.

What is left out of the WSJ article and every other I have read about the dossier’s provenance is who commissioned it. These sorts of reports cost a bundle of cash and it would be interesting to see who paid for it. Likely, we’ll never know. (Update: The Guardian reports that it was a unnamed opponent of Trump in the Republican Party that paid Orbis for the dossier.)

Once you get past the Golden Showers business, which occupies only a couple of sentences in a 35-page document, you’ll find that most of it is a rather unsurprising account of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to get him elected. Quelle surprise. Towards the end of the dossier, you’ll discover that Putin encountered “buyer’s remorse” over being outed in the American press as responsible for getting Trump elected, who does not quite seem to be regarded as a reliable asset by the Kremlin. That would explain why they were so anxious to accumulate damaging material on Trump even if the Golden Showers business does seem unlikely. Why would Trump spend good money to have prostitutes put on a pee show when the guy was much more interested in “grabbing their pussy”.

Most of the 35 pages are about efforts being made to intervene politically in the American elections after the fashion of the report made by American intelligence agencies on January 6th that had less to say about hacking than it did about the open propaganda such as the kind RT.com traffics in:

In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of Messaging on RT prior to the US presidential election democracy” in the United States, RT (RT, 3 November) broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.”

Holy fuck. I never thought I’d end up as a Kremlin propagandist myself.

As many on the left have noted, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy involved with such accusations. The USA has openly admitted if not bragged about doing exactly the same thing in countries that had the impudence to stake out an independent course.

During the late 80s, when I was co-editor of the NY Nicaragua Network newsletter, I was always writing about how the USA was basically buying candidates to run against Daniel Ortega. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other groups operating sub rosa like the CIA spent millions of dollars to unseat Ortega in 1990. On its own, the CIA spent $38 million—an amount that far exceeds proportionately what the Koch brothers routinely spend buying candidates here.

Obviously acting on behalf of its own interests, the Kremlin curried the favor of Americans predisposed to its political agenda. And if there is a more motley crew than those named in the dossier, I’d be astonished. It seems that Putin cultivated the support of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the Larouche cult, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who attended an RT banquet alongside Stein, and a key Trump adviser named Carter Page.

From left to right: Flynn, Putin and Stein

Page’s name keeps cropping up in the dossier like a bad penny. He is cut from the same cloth as Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was dropped in favor of Steve Bannon. Page and Manafort were big-time operators in Russia seeking to promote the interests of Putin and his flunkies like the toppled Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Page is an investment banker who formed an energy oriented firm in partnership with Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. In other words, Page has the same relationship to Russia as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

People like Diana Johnstone are tickled pink that people like Tillerson and Page are key players in the Trump administration. Supposedly this will forestall any moves toward WWIII as the beady-eyed conspiracists at WSWS.org keep warning about even though many on the left are far more worried about a war with China since Trump’s saber-rattling against a country supposedly cheating the USA is well known.

What I found intriguing was a comment in the dossier that claimed Trump was far more interested in partnering with China than Russia: “Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries.” That, of course, backs up what I reported on the article titled “Trumponomics as Professional Wrestling“.

Is there any reason to put a lot of confidence in this dossier? I wouldn’t since most of it is patently obvious, as if it hasn’t been clear for the longest time that Russia is using RT.com and perhaps hundreds of paid trolls to influence voters in the USA. Since I have found Stratfor next to useless over the years, I find no reason to take Orbis’s intelligence more seriously.

The only thing we can be sure about is that Trump, Putin, Obama and Clinton are united around the need to make money for the capitalist class that they orient to. Unlike 1914 or 1941, there is little evidence that the nation-state of today is bent on going to war with its adversaries over the control of markets and resources. With ExxonMobil in partnership with Putin, Lenin’s essay on imperialism cannot be applied mechanically even though some sectarians are in the habit of doing so. There is a war going on, however, and that is between the global capitalist class that these politicians serve and the rest of us who work for a living and would face imminent ruin if we lost our jobs.

Eugene V. Debs put it well:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.


January 8, 2017

Trumponomics as professional wrestling

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 10:16 pm

Any number of pundits on the left welcomed Donald Trump as an alternative to a Clinton presidency that would be beholden to Wall Street in general and Goldman-Sachs in particular. Pepe Escobar, who is on the farthest reaches of this territory, even considered the possibility that his election was “an unprecedented body blow against neoliberalism” and “Perhaps a new push towards democratic socialism”.

While many of these people have woken up with a bad hangover after seeing all the Goldman-Sachs people connected to the new administration, they still might feel worse over the possibility of Donald staying so nationalistic that it would risk a nuclear war with China, his supposed arch-enemy.

For example, the screwballs at the World Socialist Website have now switched from doing their Chicken Little routine over Ukraine to China:

As he declared that he would not feel bound by the One China policy, Trump lashed out at Beijing not only over trade and North Korea, but also for “building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing.” … If there were any doubt that he is preparing for war, Trump’s tweet prior to Christmas that the US must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear [weapons] capacity” is a chilling warning of his reckless and militarist intentions.”

Once you step back and look at things coolly and calmly, which such people are obviously incapable of doing, you will see that there is not that much of a break between Obama and Trump, just as there wasn’t between Bush and Obama. Despite all the acrimonious words coming out of the mouths of Charles Schumer or Elizabeth Warren, the two capitalist parties are much more like professional wrestlers who threaten to destroy each other in a main event only to go out for dinner later that night. Not only that, there’s not much chance of a war breaking out between Trump and China as we shall see later on in this article.

Just consider the willingness of rising liberal Democratic star Kamala Harris to let Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, a former Goldman-Sachs partner, get off the hook in the same way that Obama let all the other banksters go free after he was elected.

In 2009 Mnuchin led a group of investors to buy IndyMac, one of those shady mortgage companies that had been nearly destroyed by the 2007-2008 meltdown. George Soros, who was seen alongside Janet Yellen in a Trump campaign commercial widely viewed as anti-Semitic, was part of the group as was John Paulson. Both Paulson and Soros had bet correctly that the mortgage-backed securities business would tank and after cashing in on their winnings bought IndyMac at fire sale prices.

Once Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank absorbed IndyMac’s mortgages, it began to aggressively foreclose on families in arrears. The Daily Beast reported on one homeowner he went after:

One-hundred-and-three-year-old Myrtle Lewis ran into such issues with OneWest in 2014. She accidentally allowed her insurance to lapse, which prompted the bank to attempt to foreclose on her property. Lewis reinstated her insurance and the bank still didn’t back off. It is unclear what happened to the property.

So, this guy symbolizes exactly what drove people to Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Why then would someone the Nation Magazine describes as “one raising her voice for social and economic justice” let him get away with foreclosures that were prosecutable?

Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept recently got its hands on an internal memo from Harris’s office that referred to over a thousand violations of foreclosure laws by his bank when she was Attorney General in California, and that predicted that further investigation would uncover many thousands more. The bottom line on Mnuchin:

Despite the limitations on the investigation, we uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct, including evidence that OneWest:

(1) signed backdated and false instruments, acknowledged them to notaries, and then caused them to be recorded with county recorders throughout the State; (2) made and directed unlawful credit bids at trustee’s sales which resulted in the wrong parties winning auctions and the unlawful evasion of documentary transfer tax obligations; (3) performed other acts in the foreclosure process without valid legal authority-, and (4) failed to comply with requirements related to the execution, timing, and mailing of foreclosure documents.

Keeping in mind that Mnuchin’s partner in this enterprise was George Soros, who is supposedly the mastermind of every liberal initiative against the Koch brothers et al, you really have to wonder whether it is nothing but professional wrestling. Pure fakery.

As for Mnuchin, he is just the kind of person who might have shown up at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at Barbra Streisand’s mansion. When he was not trying to foreclose on 103-year old women, he was investing in films such as James Cameron’s “Avatar”, one that Steve Bannon’s Breitbart.com called an “America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy”. Get it? Professional wrestling.

It also seems that Mnuchin had put his money where his mouth was when he funded Cameron’s movie. The Blaze has reported that “according to Federal Election Commission filings, Steven Mnuchin has donated more than $96,000 to political candidates, the vast majority of which went to Democrats and left-wing organizations, such as the League of Conservation Voters.” He gave $4,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2004 and more than $8,000 to Hillary Clinton’s various campaigns. He also gave $10,000, the largest single donation listed on the FEC website, to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2004. That’s not the end of it. The entire Mnuchin family has been delivering wheelbarrows full of money to the Democrats since the late 1990s. His father, mother, brother and his brother’s spouse have made major donations to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer and to former Democratic Party presidential candidate John Edwards. Odd that Mnuchin would give money to Warren since she is supposedly Wall Street’s worse enemy. She even described him as the “Forrest Gump of the financial crisis.” (Professional wrestling.)

So why would Kamala Harris let this bastard go free? The answer is that she is like many of the new faces in the Democratic Party that are supposed to be a breath of fresh air and a repudiation of Clintonite neoliberalism just like Barack Obama was in 2008, if you took the Nation Magazine at its word. The daughter of a Jamaican economist father and an Indian biologist mother, she has many progressive credits on her resume—just the sort of thing that is necessary to develop a political career in San Francisco, her home base. The NY Times drew attention to her in a September 2010 article:

In 2008 she laid the groundwork for a statewide race by being co-chairwoman of Barack Obama’s California campaign and fund-raising extensively on his behalf in Southern California. After his victory, Ms. Harris began appearing on national television, with journalists like Gwen Ifill and Matt Lauer referring to her as the “female Obama.”

The female Obama? That sounds about right.

Turning now to worries about Armageddon with China, there’s less there than meets the eye. In fact, the ties between the Trump White House and the Chinese ruling class might be even more intimate than those with Russia based on an eye-opening report in today’s NY Times on his son-in-law’s dealings with the Chinese investors close to the government’s top officials.

Jared Kushner is not just Trump’s son-in-law. He is slated to be appointed as one of his chief advisers. Like the Donald, there will be a token divestment of his business dealings but you can be sure that his empire will grow and prosper as a result of the dovetailing of interests with the Trump administration.

The article sets the tone in the opening paragraphs:

On the night of Nov. 16, a group of executives gathered in a private dining room of the restaurant La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. At one end sat Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Waldorf’s owner, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion and an ownership structure shrouded in mystery. Close by sat Jared Kushner, a major New York real estate investor whose father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.

It was a mutually auspicious moment.

Anbang and Kushner’s real estate firm are co-owners of 666 Fifth Avenue, a “fading jewel” of the Kushner empire. Just by coincidence, after dining at the Waldorf Astoria, Wu Xiaohui has expressed a desire to meet with President Trump. I am sure that Jared will exercise some influence to make that happen.

Apparently the 35-year old Kushner knows how to get around. Last August he and his wife Ivanka hobnobbed with some VIPs:

In August, they were spotted with Wendi Deng, an ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, on the 453-foot yacht Rising Sun, owned by the entertainment mogul David Geffen. Several weeks later, they were photographed watching the United States Open tennis finals with the art collector Dasha Zhukova, wife of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a member of President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle.

Is there any better way to describe the internecine ties between the ultra-rich than is encapsulated here?

  • David Geffen: the gay Hollywood macher who was an early backer of Bill Clinton but who had a falling out with him over his decision not to pardon Leonard Peltier. Geffen was also an early backer of Obama for president and raised $1.3 million for Obama in a Beverly Hills fundraiser.
  • Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, who divorced her when he learned that she was having an affair with Tony Blair. She is also rumored to have had one with Putin. So incestuous.
  • Abramovich is the 13th richest man in Russia and said to enjoy the status of a father-like figure to Vladimir Putin. Sort of like being a godfather to another Vlad—Vlad the impaler.

These sorts of connections have paid off for Jared. Russian billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner and Chinese billionaire founder of Alibaba Jack Ma are investors in Cadre, a real estate investment company he and his brother started with a friend. Guess what. Goldman Sachs has invested as well.

But the bridge being built to Anbang will lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Times has reported that Anbang is “owned by a few dozen companies, which in turn are owned by a number of shell companies that are controlled by roughly 100 people, many of whom have ties to a county in China that is the home of Mr. Wu, whose own power stems in part from marriage.” Like Jared Kushner, Wu knew how to marry well, in his case to Zhuo Ran, a granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, the CCP leader who carried out the capitalist turn.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding Trump’s faux saber-rattling that has the sectarian nut jobs at WSWS.org shitting in their pants, the president-elect is not likely to launch H-Bombs at people he has these kinds of connections with. The president-elect has his own financial entanglements with China: Trump “owns a 30 percent stake in a partnership that owes roughly $950 million to a group of lenders that includes the Bank of China, and one of his biggest tenants at Trump Tower is another state-owned bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.”

A week after Jared Kushner met with Mr. Wu, Donald Trump has lunch with him at the Waldorf. It must have been a pleasant and mutually rewarding affair since Wu was heard saying as left in perfect English: “I love you guys”.

August 20, 2015

Is Donald Trump our Vladimir Putin?

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm


Yesterday Washington Post editorial writer David Ignatius compared Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin:

He promises to restore his country’s greatness, without offering a specific plan. He uses crude, vulgar expressions that make him sound like an ordinary guy, even though he’s a billionaire. He’s a narcissist who craves media attention. And for all his obvious shortcomings, he’s very popular.

Whom am I referring to? Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course. But the parallels with a certain American politician known as the “The Donald” are obvious.

Donald Trump is in some respects an American version of Putin. Like the Russian leader, he seeks to reverse his country’s losses and return its former glory. He promises a restoration of power and prestige without trifling about the details.

“We have no victories,” Trump complained to NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “As a country, we don’t have victories anymore. And it’s very sad.”

Trump’s official slogan is “Make America Great Again!” It’s a line borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican convention, when the Gipper promised a “crusade to make America great again.” But really, this kind of talk is the mainstay of politicians around the world who campaign on a platform of national restoration. Their message is as much psychological as political.

This does raise some interesting questions even though Ignatius is obviously overly enamored of these facile analogies, having already written an editorial in April 2014 stating that Putin is borrowing from Reagan’s playbook by intervening in Ukraine. This is not to speak of the message put forward in his novel “Body of Lies” that the CIA has been overly constrained by legality and oversight, telling Ken Silverstein in a Harper’s interview: “CIA officials put up with a degree of public abuse that would be unimaginable in the case of military officers.” Given what we know about torture and renditions, this makes him just as scary as Putin if not more so.

But there is something to all this. Putin emerged as a popular leader by playing the nationalist card. As opposed to Yeltsin who put down the red carpet for foreign investors buying up Russian assets at bargain basement prices, he made it clear that he had no use for Thomas Friedman type “globalization” panaceas. He has also more recently become the nemesis of the European Union, blaming it for scheming against Russian interests and throwing his support behind ultraright parties like the French National Party that are also opposed to the EU on a nationalist basis.

Despite the Republican Party’s long standing agreement with the Democrats that trade agreements like NAFTA are good for their class interests, Trump has attacked Obama’s latest free trade gambit on the basis that it does not defend American interests aggressively enough as CNN reported:

Donald Trump has lashed out against President Obama’s plans to create a free trade area across the Pacific.

The outspoken businessman, who is known to start brawls on Twitter, sent out a series of tweets explaining his opposition.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an attack on America’s business. It does not stop Japan’s currency manipulation. This is a bad deal,” he said.

The U.S. government has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since 2009 with 11 other nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Chile, Canada and Mexico.

It hopes to wipe out trade tariffs to bring down the cost of importing and exporting, which would help make U.S. businesses more competitive overseas. It would also make it easier for businesses to invest in other countries.

The U.S. government estimates a TPP agreement would add $223 billion per year to the global economy by 2025.

But Trump believes the deal would hurt U.S. businesses, particularly manufacturers, and put people out of work.

That’s in contrast to Hilary Clinton who backed her husband’s NAFTA to the hilt and who has spoken out of both sides of her mouth on TPP. Meanwhile Jeb Bush, who is likely the Republican candidate for 2016, has attacked Clinton for waffling. Unlike Trump, he is gung-ho on TPP.

Meanwhile Trump’s rabid nativism does resonate with Putin’s pals in Western Europe, ranging from Marine Le Pen to Nigel Farage.

Undoubtedly David Ignatius was unnerved by what Donald Trump told Bill O’Reilly on June 16th: “Putin has no respect for our president whatsoever. He’s got a tremendous popularity in Russia, they love what he’s doing, they love what he represents. I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you — you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can’t. I would be willing to bet I would have a great relationship with Putin. It’s about leadership.”

I doubt that Ignatius is fully capable of understanding the romance that some Americans are developing with Donald Trump, which is some ways is like that from a generation ago when there was great affection—at least from white people—for Ronald Reagan, another man on horseback, or for that matter the feeling that Russians had for Vladimir Putin until the economy started going sour. There’s something about these macho guys that makes insecure men and women all weak in the knees, after all.

Someone tapped into the Reagan, Putin and Trump mystique—all at once—is probably the best qualified to speak about it, namely Paul Craig Roberts who was in Reagan’s Treasury Department and who nowadays carries Putin’s water just as tirelessly as Stephen F. Cohen. In an article titled “Trump for President?” on his blog, Roberts fuses the iconography of the Kremlin and Atlantic City most eloquently:

There is no known politician in America who measures up to Vladimir Putin’s ankle, or to the knee of China’s leaders, or to the waist of Ecuador’s, Bolivia’s, Venezuela’s, Argentina’s, Brazil’s, or to the chests of India’s and South Africa’s.

In Europe, the UK, Australia, and Canada, the natural leaders are also frozen out of the corrupt system.

In the US, “leadership” positions depend on financial support from the ruling economic interests. American presidents and politicians represent about six powerful private interest groups and no one else.

After Celente went to press, Donald Trump announced to much mirth. A “con man” they say, but what else is the President of the United States? Do you think you weren’t conned by Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama? What universe do you live in?

In actual fact, Trump might be our best candidate to date. By all accounts, he is very rich. Thus, he doesn’t need the office in order to become rich by selling out America to interest groups.

By all accounts, Trump has a healthy ego. Thus, he could be capable of standing up to the powerful interest groups that generally determine the governance of the American serfs.

Well, okay, I think I will stick with Jill Stein.

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