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Sunday, May 28, 2017


I have done the Sunday TIMES crossword puzzle and both the 5 x 5 and 7 x 7 KenKens, so it is time for some idle speculation.  I trust everyone understands that I have absolutely no first-hand knowledge of any of the subjects I shall be speculating about.  Pay attention at your peril!  Here goes.  I write with an air of certainty simply because speculation is no fun if it is hedged round with caveats.

It is now clear that Jared Kushner really did approach the Russians with a proposal to use their Embassy equipment to communicate with the Kremlin.  This follows from the fact that H. R. McMaster and John Flynn have publicly stated that there is nothing untoward about the action.  If this were a Russian trick, they would be condemning the media for publishing false stories.

Why did he do this so close to the time when the Trump team would take over the government anyway?  It is not because he and his colleagues in the Trump White House are inexperienced or stupid or reckless or impatient.  And it certainly is not because he and the Trump team have any substantive national policies that they wish to pursue.  They don’t.

I think I know the answer.  Here it is [for what it is worth.]  Trump and Kushner are real estate speculators.  They are not ideologues, they are not right wing or left wing or middle of the road, they are real estate speculators.  That is who they have been all their lives and it is all they know or care about, leaving aside sociopathic narcissism and all that.

After Trump’s serial bankruptcies, he was forced to seek foreign and dodgy financing for his schemes, because American banks would no longer lend to him.  So he went deeply into debt with DeutscheBank, with a Chinese government owned bank, and with Russian oligarchs hand in glove with Putin.  Kushner took an enormous flyer in high profile Manhattan real estate, paying 1.8 billion for 666 Fifth Avenue at a time when New York real estate was booming.  He borrowed enormous sums at very disadvantageous terms, gambling on high rents and occupancy rates in excess of 90%.  Now, the real estate market is weak, and the building has an occupancy rate of 70%.  He is very close to default on the loans, and has been trying desperately to refinance.  He wanted a secret channel of communication to the Russians because he needs refinancing, and he needs it fast.

Why would the Russians be interested in helping him?  Putin has imperial ambitions.  He seeks to recapture at least some of the former glory of the Soviet Union.  But he is hamstrung by the weakness of the Russian economy.  Russia is a Petrostate, propped up by its oil sales.  Three or four years ago, when crude was selling on the world market for ~$80 a barrel, he had the means to throw his weight around in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, despite the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU.  But oil is now selling at half that price, roughly $40 a barrel or even less, and the sanctions are hurting.  Alternative energy sources are booming, the world economy is plodding along with slow growth, and high oil prices are not likely to reappear any time soon.

Kushner and Trump need Russian money, and Putin needs an easing of the sanctions.  That, I suggest, is why Putin has been wooing Trump camp figures, and that is why Kushner wanted a secure communications channel to the Kremlin.


Anonymous said...

I come here when I want to see how the other half lives. But I hadn't expected to read of real estate speculation. So high tone! My life is full of the banal irritation of landlords and smug neighbors in a sub- code tenement--- only in this country no one seems to understand the concept sub- standard---they lack that and many other items of intellectual furniture I had imagined to be universal. I have spent the past two mornings trying in vain to ignore the noises coming from my neighbor's flat in this 70-something year old high rise. Merely because I would like to peruse a Plato text in the comfort of my own " home" -- but that was too much to ask for---- this weekend and many others...I may yet be evicted for complaining loudly about the noise. This place is blessed with thin walls, and in the winter, inadequate heat. And when I complained about that to the landlord, he told me I was abnormal and must learn to live like everyone else--- or else move out and pay three month's rent for breaking the contract. This is a nastiness independent of this country's "communist" past, longer- lasting and immune to all forms of argument--- a nastiness which demands acquiescence and hears only obeisant words. From the outside, they look like human beings. I have been taken in by the outer appearances, fooled into imagining these were rational creatures rather than sour imitations of humanity. Across the ocean others have leisure, comfort, and silence enough to enjoy the niceties of analyzing the latest buffoonery. I am fighting for my life.

Jerry Fresia said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head. And this is where articles of impeachment ought to be rooted - as the Dutch documentary (that didn't make it to the MSM) clearly pointed out (multiple and deep ties to international illegal business activities).

Also I would like to highlight these of your sentences: "Pay attention at your peril! Here goes. I write with an air of certainty simply because speculation is no fun if it is hedged round with caveats." Simple, yes - and beautifully crafted, rhythmic. Gems, really.

An aside: I find it irritating when prominent Dems try to hush up impeachment talk. Corey Booker just did. A corporate tool if there ever was one. My guess is that he is hoping that The Donald is still around in 2020 to run against.

Jerry Fresia said...

Anonymous, you might enjoy this, from Jeffrey St. Clair at Counterpunch:

"Leave it to the FBI to target Jared Kushner for backdoor meetings with Sergey Kislyak and mysterious interactions with the CEO of a Russian bank , while letting the little slumlord skate on his predatory treatment of the poor tenants in his housing projects…"

Ewan said...

I'm not a troll. I was alerted to this blog by Brian Leiter's recommendation. I came to it to learn about ideology, Marxism, anarchism (and so much more besides). For which, Thank you.

The comments about Russia I find puzzling:

"Putin has imperial ambitions. He seeks to recapture at least some of the former glory of the Soviet Union. But he is hamstrung by the weakness of the Russian economy."

Neither in word nor in deed has Russia shown any imperial ambitions. It is well aware of the weakness of its economy, which is why it spends so much less than the US on the military, why it is very keen not to be landed with the bill for the mess in Ukraine (or the Baltics) - it can barely afford the necessary investment in Crimea after decades of Ukrainian neglect, and why it is so keen on Eurasian free trade (which the US sees as a threat to its power). If you study Russian military doctrine, you will find (as with Iran) that it is wholly defensive. It has been threatened by the ever closer attentions of the US on its borders. It feels the need to persuade the world that it will defend itself (and it will). And after the humiliation of the Yeltsin years, it wants to be treated like an independent state with the right to pursue its interests within the norms of international law.

The one instance of a clear breach of the law is its annexation of Crimea. It was bloodless. It was approved by the bulk of the population (even if you believe only Ukrainian opinion pollsters and ignore the referendum, as you probably should). It was however illegal. We are in no position to complain. We wrenched Kosovo from Serbia without referendum and with much blood (spilled by terrorists and gangsters we funded as well as by the Serbs). Kosovo is a gangster statelet that indulged in ethnic cleansing while we looked the other way, and which now coincidentally hosts the largest US military base in Europe. And try to imagine the US ringed by Chinese bases in Canada and Mexico and its naval access to the Pacific about to be denied it by a coup (sponsored by China) in the relevant locations. How would the US respond? We know from history - and it costs hundreds of thousands of lives.

Compared to the US, Russia is the grown up.

The comments about Trump and dodgy Russian money are nearer the mark. Just one of the many bizarreries of the Trump presidency.

(By the way, I'm from Scotland, so have no love for Trump. He destroyed a unique stretch of our coastline, a stretch rich in wildlife and of great scientific interest, to build one of his hideous golf resorts, and he trampled over the local people to get his way.)

Anonymous said...

sorry. would like to delete first message above.

Danny said...

noting this thought: 'We are in no position to complain.'

I don't know, seriously, what we are grasping at here, in terms of a notion of being 'in a position to complain'. I find the phrase rather ambiguous. Like, am I wondering if I like it or not, that Russia has occupyed and annexed Crimea?

So okay, lots of stuff got thrown at the wall, in reference to whether we are in a position to complain. I'm confused. I think I didn't ask whether we are in a position to complain at all. There are other questions. The basic facts appear to me to be in question. For the moment, I might simply wonder what 'bloodless' means, seeing as how fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,600 people in eastern Ukraine since it began in 2014. From the time the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine began in April 2014, the Ukrainian government referred to Russian interference as terrorism. Officially, Russia has only sent humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine. Yet also, an international criminal probe concluded last year that a missile that destroyed the Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine in 2014 and killed all 298 people aboard was fired from rebel-controlled territory by a mobile launcher trucked in from Russia and hastily returned there. Of course, Moscow denounced the findings of the Dutch-led inquiry, but I'm curious if that strikes you as final, or whathaveyou?

Let's see if we can find agreement on whether Russia generally shown any imperial ambitions, then. In other words, why did Russia annex Crimea? I think the answer fairly obvious! No? The impression that I personally gather, somewhat superficially, is that Russia has been an aggressive state that uses any opportunity to get any territorial gain. . In this specific case, Ukraine was in a turmoil, unable to defend itself, and, being a very peaceful country, was not prepared to defend itself ever. Sebastopol, a military town of Crimea, has Russian military bases, and Russian-speaking population; it has been considered a pride of Russian military glory. I also to be candid, have the impression that following the law was never a strong feature of Russian mentality. I won't insist on the last word, though apparently you agree.

Ewan said...

Daniel Langois
First, apologies to Prof. Wolff for yet another long, long comment. I won't do it again.

"I'm confused. I think I didn't ask whether we are in a position to complain at all."

I'm confused. I'm not aware of you asking me anything. Sorry. Point me to where you asked.

Yes, I did misconstrue what Prof. Wolff was saying. "Putin has imperial ambitions. He seeks to recapture at least some of the former glory of the Soviet Union." I took this to be not just an assertion of fact that happens to be false, but also an expression of the condemnation of Russia rife in Western governments and media. The West does what it condemns, so its condemnation carries little weight ("do as I say, not as I do" surely loses its force when you persist in doing it repeatedly even as you condemn it as wrong). Indeed, the hypocrisy is worse, since the specific events you are referring to were triggered by a US-sponsored coup in Kiev/Kyiv.

Your grasp of the "basic facts" strikes me as sketchy. That sounds obnoxious, I know. I don't say it de haut en bas. It is simply an appeal to authority. I suspect that your understanding comes mainly from the Western media. Can I refer you to the work of a British scholar, Prof Sakwa, who is a specialist on Russia and very much not a fan of President Putin: "Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands". Better than you and me trading factoids for the rest of time.

Ewan said...

"Bloodless" explicitly referred to Crimea.

The Ukrainian attack on its citizens in the east of the country I think you should study in more detail before using it as an instance of Russian wrong-doing against a Ukraine which is a very peaceful country (!). (As an aside, if Russia wanted Ukraine, it could take it in a matter of days.)

Why Russia annexed Crimea does indeed fall into the category of the bleeding obvious. I have tried to convey the reason by suggesting a little counterfactual thought experiment (how pompous am I?). In the real world, the US sponsored a coup in Kiev/Kyiv and the regime it sponsored was advancing on Crimea. Think what the Russians would think of the US controlling its only warm water naval base and its access to the Mediterranean, and NATO ranged along its southern as well as its western border. (Russia had told the US already in 2008 that this was a red line - as Prussian strategist said in the 19th century and as Brzezinski et al. agreed - take Kiev and Russia ceases to be a great power.)

Whether the annexation was legal or not, I really don't know. The US wrested Kosovo from Serbia by bombing Serbia's civilian infrastructure until Serbia capitulated. Yet the International Court of Justice managed to persuade itself that it could see a legal justification. At least half the population did not want secession. They weren't asked. They were ethnically cleansed. In Crimea, the legal forms were observed. The referendum was declared free and fair by international observers. The majority in Crimea saw it as a return to their homeland. No blood was spilt. Seems to me it was not legal, but what do I know - other than that, if I were a Crimean and saw what the neo-Nazis (who had taken a significant role in the regime after the coup) did in Odessa, I would be very grateful to return to Russian citizenship, whether by legal means or no.

MH17. I have no idea who the guilty party is. The official inquiry does not bear scrutiny, as relatives of US victims, among others, understand. Russia proposed a UN inquiry. The US vetoed that and set up the Dutch (and Ukrainian!) inquiry instead. I would hope Russia would provide its evidence in full to the UN. I doubt it would to a US-backed inquiry. The US, in turn, claims to have conclusive evidence, but declined the opportunity to present it at the UN and has yet to present it to the Dutch. Relatives of US victims wrote to John Kerry asking him to publish the information he said he had. The little evidence we have is consistent with the guilt of any of a number of parties, few of whom had anything to gain - it might have been deliberate, it might have been a blunder. I think a proper inquiry necessary, but now unlikely.