March 3, 2018

Crisis: The Kushners, Activist C.E.O.s, Trade Wars, More Billionaires, Missile-gate


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 3, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, March 3, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from March 3, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Jared Kushner’s Real-Estate Firm Sought Money Directly From Qatar
2. Our Newest Culture Warriors: Activist C.E.O.s
3. Trade Wars Are Destructive. Of Course Trump Wants One.
4. How to Prevent More Billionaires from Happening
5. Missile-gate: U.S. Intel Misses Russia’s Big Advances in Nuclear Parity
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Jared Kushner’s Real-Estate Firm Sought Money Directly From Qatar

This article is by Clayton Swisher and Ryan Grim. It starts as follows:

The real estate firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.

The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

I take it this is correct, although it seems to me that it is not true to speak in the title of "Jared Kushner's Real Estate Firm" while one says in the text that "Jared Kushner’s father Charles" (..) "runs Kushner Companies".

Probably both are involved in the Kushner businesses. And the reason this article is reviewed here is that Jared Kushner has been given an enormous amount of power by Donald Trump (his father in law) since about a year, and seems to have done absolutely nothing useful with it, or at least not for members outside the Trump family.

And the projected deal was not made. What happened then was the following:

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

Of course, I do not know all or most of the deal and its failure, but this has the appearance as if Kushner, after having been led down by Qatar's leading men, used the war powers of the American government to make serious difficulties for Qatar.

As I implied, this is a guess by me. Here is some more on both of the Kushners:

The news of Kushner Companies’ direct pitch to the Qatari government puts a Wednesday report from the Washington Post into broader context. U.S. intelligence services, the paper reported, had determined that officials in four countries — the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — had been privately discussing how to use Jared Kushner’s real-estate investments as a way to gain leverage over him in order to influence official U.S. policy.

Kushner has divested from a small portion of Kushner Companies, but has retained substantial ownership. A balloon payment due in 2018 on the badly underwater property at 666 Fifth Avenue has been a ticking clock on the fortunes of the Kushner family, precipitating the global hunt for capital. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that the father-son pair, Jared and Charles Kushner, speak on a daily basis.

I say. There probably will be more on the deals of the Kushners later, and this is a recommended article.

2. Our Newest Culture Warriors: Activist C.E.O.s

This article is by Aaron K. Chatterji on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

In the wake of the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., companies like Delta, Hertz and Symantec distanced themselves from the National Rifle Association by eliminating benefits to their members.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, which owns 35 Field and Stream stores (which feature hunting gear and supplies), took it a step further: The company announced that it had unilaterally raised the age limit for firearms sales and stopped selling the AR-15, the weapon used in Parkland and other recent mass shootings. The chief executive, Edward Stack, said that the company was “going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.” Less than 24 hours later, Walmart joined Dick’s in raising the age limit on firearm sales (Walmart stopped selling AR-15s years ago).

They exemplify a recent phenomenon, “C.E.O. activism,” in which corporations and their chief executives pick a side in the culture war.

I say, which I do because I am against C.E.O. activism, for a similar reason as I am against them having salaries of millions each year. And while I do not know whether that last fact is true about Dick's Sporting Goods, here is a bit more about it:

C.E.O. activism has typically not brought people together, working from the middle out. Instead, this type of activism, largely from the progressive side, has begun to galvanize conservatives. For example, in Georgia, lawmakers stripped tax breaks for Delta over its decision to cut ties with the N.R.A.

In the short term, Dick’s will become another corporate poster child for how political polarization and so-called negative partisanship — an automatic rejection of members of the opposing party — are infecting our society.
I do not care how the C.E.O.s place themselves politically (most are liars anyway, for one thing), but I do care about the totalitarian climate - the "political polarization and so-called negative partisanship — an automatic rejection of members of the opposing party" - that is part and parcel of this whole movement (except according to Wikipedia, that - totally falsely - insists that only states are totalitarian: Not people, not parties, not ideologies, not language - only states may be totalitarian (and fuck George Orwell and everybody else I have been reading about totalitarianism in the last 50 years: according to the anonymous sadofascist who rewrote the Wikipedia article, they are all completely mistaken. As is the Wikipedia in my eyes.)

Here is more on C.E.O. activism and
totalitarian tendencies in the USA (but not according to Wikipedia):
C.E.O. activism represents a historic shift in the way corporations intersect with national politics. Rather than chief executives shaping political discourse, however, our toxic political environment is dictating corporate strategy. Instead of being cast as practical technocrats who could unite us, chief executives will be swept up in our cultural war, just like university presidents, celebrities, professional athletes and religious leaders before them.

Brands are likely to become even more segmented into red and blue, strengthening the association between liberals and Priuses and conservatives and Cracker Barrel. Corporate brand campaigns could soon resemble political campaigns, with efforts to identify the most intensely loyal consumers for repeat purchases as opposed to attracting new ones.

Quite possibly so, although the shift towards totalitarianism in the USA (but not according to Wikipedia) is not only due to C.E.O.s but - it seems to me - is mostly the outcome of the bad education most Americans get these days.

Here is Chatterji's conclusion:

Much of this is a reflection of who we have become. Corporate America thrives by selling us what we want, and they do that by appealing to our identities. In 2018, for many Americans, our political identity seems to define us more than ever. It already influences whom we socialize with on Facebook, whom we marry, what news we read and where we live. It was only a matter of time before this big sort started to shape our consumer behavior, too.

Well... I have not become what Chatterji insists Americans ("we" says Chatterji) have become. Then again, I very probably do belong to a minority.

3. Trade Wars Are Destructive. Of Course Trump Wants One.

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It starts as follows:

President Trump has been spoiling for a trade war since before his election. Now, he has taken the first meaningful step with his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. And, as with so many other policies he has supported, he appears to have little understanding of this one.

Invoking a rarely used law that allows the president to restrict trade on national security grounds, Mr. Trump said he would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. He made the announcement on Thursday at a hastily convened meeting with executives of those two industries. Many White House aides, including Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, appeared to be caught off guard by the decision; on Wednesday, Mr. Cohn had warned that he might resign if Mr. Trump went through with the tariff plan.

I say, which I do for two reasons: the - in my eyes rather extra-ordinary fact, seeing that the USA is fighting wars it should not fight, because there never was approval from Congress - that Trump appealed to "national security" to implement his trade war, while also (I take it) a trade war may be Trump's way to "Make America Great Again".

And again I do not know but guess. Here is one immediate consequence:

The stock market fell sharply after the announcement because investors feared that the move was the first of several that could result in escalating disputes in which the United States and its trading partners impose new tariffs. Mr. Trump seemed to confirm that fear on Friday morning when he tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” — an argument that contradicts virtually everything we have learned about how such scenarios play out.

I think that the speculators on the stock market were quite correct. Here is some more:

The steel and aluminum tariffs are ostensibly aimed at punishing China, which has been driving down prices for those commodities by producing far more metal than the world can use. But Mr. Trump’s move will have a limited effect on China because much of the steel and aluminum the United States imports actually comes from allies like Canada, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico. Further, the move could hurt American businesses that use these metals, including auto and construction companies, which will now pay more for a critical raw material.

Quite so, it seems to me. And here is the general point of The Editorial Board:

The steel and aluminum tariffs might, on their own, have only a small impact on the economy. But the greater fear many experts have is that Mr. Trump is just getting started and will impose new tariffs on a host of other imports, sending the United States into a much broader trade war, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. That would have a large and devastating economic impact, in the United States and around the globe.

Yes indeed. And this is a recommended article.
4. How to Prevent More Billionaires from Happening

This article is by Thom Hartmann on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

Imagine a society with no billionaires.

Numerous countries have tried to accomplish this, but nearly every time they do, the United States intervenes, sometimes covertly like Reagan did in Central America with the contras, and sometimes overtly and explicitly, as JFK did with the attempted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

We love and defend our billionaires and multimillionaires; after all, we have more of them than any society in the world. The result is that our political system has been corrupted to third-world levels, our middle class has been reduced to servility and deep indebtedness, and a UN representative who recently visited the American South was shocked to find infant mortality, lifespans and hookworm infestations as bad as in some of the world's poorest nations.

And this is the official policy of the United States.

In fact I am not American but Dutch, and in fact I never loved or defended billionaires or multi- millionaires. The last fact is mainly due to the fact that my parents were both communists for 45 years (while both also were quite heroic in WW II) and while I gave up on communism when I was 20, in 1970, unlike anyone I knew at the time, I did not give up on my parents' ideals of far more economic and political equality between people, and in fact I think their ideals  are still mostly correct:

I see no good reason whatsoever - neither in talents nor in anything else - for there being individuals who get 20 times more than then the poor, let alone for persons who claim the hundredfold, the thousandfold or the tenthousandfold of these differences, as is the case now.

Here is more Hartmann:

Prior to the agricultural revolution, roughly 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, virtually all of our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers. As Peter Farb (Man’s Rise to Civilization), Marshall Sahlins (The Original Affluent Society), Daniel Quinn (Ishmael) and others have documented over the years, their societies were broadly equal and egalitarian. They were what we’d today call “communist,” in that the community was the first priority and individual accumulation of wealth was entirely subordinate to the needs of the community.

Potlatch societies across North America prior to Columbus, tribes across Africa (the San are most famous; see the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy), and even European tribes were very much based on the idea that the purpose of organizing into a tribe or community was to benefit all, rather than to benefit one family.

The purpose of government, and of an economy, for that matter, was to benefit society, rather than to create a class of the morbidly rich.

I am afraid that I know a lot more about communism than Hartmann does, and I think the above quotation is misleading:

First, communism does not coincide with the thesis that "the community was the first priority and individual accumulation of wealth was entirely subordinate". And second, both "government" and the "economy" were very different, more than 10,000 years ago.

So I think this was something of a miss by Hartmann. But I think he means well (in terms of my criterions) and indeed here is one important reason to review the present article: The words of F.D. Roosevelt that are quoted:

While Lincoln railed against New York banks and speculators, and Grover Cleveland included in his 1887 State of the Union address a specific criticism of the “iron heel” of “corporate masters” upon the “necks” of working people, the U.S. president who most clearly called out the Morbidly Rich was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Accepting the nomination for his second term in Philadelphia in 1936, the sitting president of the United States called out the modern equivalent of Quinn’s “locking up the food”:

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction.

In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.

The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor—these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small business man, the investments set aside for old age—other people's money—these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in. ...
Liberty requires opportunity to make a living—a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.

A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor—other people's lives.

For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government. ...

I mostly agree with Roosevelt, although I also insist that he was the self-conscious savior of captalism much rather than a socialist. But he was right that the very rich always - in the last 2500 years - followed a similar course: They wanted "an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor—other people's lives", and indeed they also got it most of the time.

Then again, Roosevelt spoke 50 years after Grover Cleveland, and spoke more than 80 years ago today.

And here is the present situation in Thom Hartmann's eyes:

Unfortunately, as a result of a series of legislative, FCC, and Executive Branch actions, most of our major media is now owned outright or controlled in large part by the morbidly rich, so their voices are rarely heard as loudly as those of Paul Revere or Franklin Roosevelt were in their days. (For a vivid example of how this works, check out

While the morbidly rich have had periods of virtually absolute rule in America—during the Andrew Jackson era, the Gilded Age in the late 1800s, and during the Roaring 20s—[there] have always been American patriots (Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, arguably even JFK/LBJ) who have stood up and blocked their plans to turn American into a neofeudal state.

If they’re able to rewrite our constitution, however, even the thought experiment of a nation without billionaires will become impossible. They will have not only locked up the food, but pretty much everything else as well.

The fate of American democracy, and the future of what’s left of our middle class, now hangs in the balance.

And as both FDR and Sanders/Warren/Pocan have repeatedly pointed out, only the power of organized people can restrain the power of organized money.

I think Hartmann is probably more right than not, and he is right that "only the power of organized people can restrain the power of organized money" - and indeed it has to be done
in the coming 10 to 25 years (if these are more or less peaceful), for if it has not been mostly done by then, the few rich will have too much power to defeat them (what with surveilling everyone there is by their secret services).

And this is a recommended article.

5. Missile-gate: U.S. Intel Misses Russia’s Big Advances in Nuclear Parity

This article is by Gilbert Doctorow on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
President Vladimir Putin’s two-hour long address yesterday to the Federal Assembly, a joint session of both houses of Russia’s bicameral legislature – plus large numbers of Russia’s cultural, business and other elites – constituted his platform for the upcoming presidential election on March 18. This, in lieu of participation in the televised debates on all federal television channels in which other seven candidates are busy these days.

But as is the case with many of Vladimir Putin’s major presentations, the speech yesterday was addressed to a far broader audience than the Russian electorate. Many of the estimated 700 journalists invited to attend were foreign correspondents.  Indeed, one might reasonably argue that the speech was directed abroad, precisely to the United States.

The final third of the address, devoted to defense and presenting for the first time several major new and technically unparalleled offensive nuclear weapons systems, established Russia’s claim to full nuclear parity with the United States, overturning the country’s withdrawal from superpower status dating from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.
I say. And I do so especially because of the claim of the Russians that they now have (again - and the bolding is added) "full nuclear parity with the United States", which it had lost when the socialist Soviet Union collapsed in 1992.

Is that claim true? Well... I do not know (and who knows everything or most things about the latests nuclear arms?!), but it does seem rather likely to me. And I have two kinds of reasons to base my guess on.

The first is Putin himself: I do not like him, but he does seem a capable political player, indeed much more so than - at least - Donald Trump. And the second derives from my own interest in mathematics: It would seem to me as if the Russians are somewhat better at doing mathematics than the Americans.

That second fact (as it appears to me) is not due to differences in aptitude between the two countries, but to the differences in education: The Russians - after a partial collapse in the 1990s - do have better education than the Americans have (and the Russians always were quite prominent in mathematics, at least in the last 100 years).

None of my two points makes my conclusions certain, but I do think that they make them more probable than not.

Here is more on Putin's address:
Putin’s address was a “shock and awe” event. I leave to others, more competent than I in military technology to comment on the specific capabilities of the various systems rolled out yesterday. Whether short range or unlimited range, whether ground launched or air launched, whether ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, whether flying through the atmosphere or navigating silently and at high speed the very depths of the oceans, these various systems are said to be invincible to any known or prospective air defense such as the United States has invested in heavily since it unilaterally left the ABM Treaty and set out on a course that would upend strategic parity.
Yes - and I like to remind my readers that (i) the USA has partially surrounded Russia, while in fact (ii) Russia ceased being socialist in 1992, and is now as capitalist as the USA is.

There also is another consequence, which may be rather surprising:
However, still more importantly, the implications of Vladimir Putin’s address yesterday are that U.S. intelligence has been asleep at the wheel for the past 14 years if not longer. It is a national scandal for the country to lose an arms race it was not even aware was occurring.
Again I do not know whether to believe this. Then again, if it is more probable than not that Putin spoke the truth in his address, it would seem that the USA has been missing important things in Russia since 1992, for otherwise much of the "major new and technically unparalleled offensive nuclear weapons systems" that Putin announced in his address would have been known to the USA, while it seems they were not.

Doctorow adds another reason to the decline in the USA's spying powers, at least as far as Russia is concerned:

But a still greater factor in the sharp decline in Russian expertise within US intelligence agencies was the shift from dependence on civil service employees to use of outside service providers, i.e., outsourcing of intelligence work.  This was totally in line with the preferences of the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who introduced outsourcing in a generalized way to deal with the new challenges of the War On Terror.

The same phenomenon affected the U.S. military, especially beginning in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq. Operational security tasks of the U.S. military were outsourced to companies providing mercenaries like Blackwater.
Again I say that I do not know whether this is true, but it may very well be. In any case, here is Doctorow's conclusion from the ending:
As noted above, outsourcing enabled the intelligence community to modernize, gain skills quickly and try to meet urgent new needs. However, judging by the results of intelligence with respect to Putin’s Russia it seems that the outsourcing model has not delivered the goods.  The country has been flying blind while taking outlandish and unsupportable positions to bully the world as if we enjoyed full spectrum dominance and Russia did not exist.
Perhaps. And this is a quite important development, while this is a recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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