Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Businesstrumpanzee... And American National Security


I bet there were a lot of pissed-off Republicans who read the Daniel Larison piece in the American Conservative this week, Trump's Plunder Doctrine. This wasn't about Señor Trumpanzee's personal business empire, but about how he thinks the U.S. government should be run-- the notorious, and oft repeated, "take the oil" notion. Trump doesn't understand the concept of international law, let alone why the U.S. participated in the Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions that provide guidelines on the rights and duties of occupying powers which include the protection of civilians, treatment of prisoners of war, and property rights both before and after the occupation is in effect. For example, "the confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited. Also, "the destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities."

Larison starts by pointing out Bruce Riedel's Daily Beast post about Trump's proposed seizure of Iraq's oil, which he wrote would "reinvigorate the global jihad, and it would disgrace our fundamental values as a nation... [and guaranteeing] the Republican Party would own the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history."
Trump’s "take the oil" rhetoric is notable for being one of the few consistent foreign policy positions he has held over the years. It unites both his support for military interventions in the region (so that we could then take the oil) and his later criticism of how those interventions were conducted (they were failures because we didn’t take the oil). He makes the same complaint about the Libyan and Iraq wars, and if his "take the oil" idea were put into practice it would guarantee open-ended wars in both countries, each of which would probably be more costly to the U.S. than the previous two interventions put together. It’s a thoroughly unjust idea, and it would be completely illegal to do, but more than that it is a phenomenally stupid policy to favor. It should be a reminder that there is no aggressive policy too reckless or provocative that Trump wouldn’t support so long as the U.S. can extract payment or resources along the way, and it tells us that acquiring plunder is what he thinks U.S. foreign policy is for.

Like many of his fanboys [refresh your memory with the video just above], Trump is a primitive and backward character, who has channeled much of his savagery, until recently, into enriching himself at the expense of anyone and everyone he comes in contact with. Behind the brutal exposé in the new issue of Newsweek, How The Trump Organization's Foreign Business TIies Could Upend U.S. National Security is the observation that many have made that Trump is, at heart, a barely civilized predator. I noticed when I was in Azerbaijan recently that, although Trump Tower had completely shut down within a week of opening because of the toxicity of his name, he had aligned himself with one of the powerful and blatantly corrupt local bandit/mafia clans, widely hated throughout the country and seen as vicious oppressors. Trump is allied with characters like this across the globe. In the Newsweek cover story, Kurt Eichenwald frets, sensibly, that Trump will "choose to be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States... A close examination by Newsweek of the Trump Organization, including confidential interviews with business executives and some of its international partners, reveals an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals, although there is no evidence the Trump Organization has engaged in any illegal activities. It also reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled. If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires."
[T]he Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year. Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners. (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for the names of all foreign entities in partnership or contractually tied to the Trump Organization.) Trump’s financial filings also indicate he is a shareholder or beneficiary of several overseas entities, including Excel Venture LLC in the French West Indies and Caribusiness Investments SRL, based in the Dominican Republic, one of the world’s tax havens.

Trump’s business conflicts with America’s national security interests cannot be resolved so long as he or any member of his family maintains a financial interest in the Trump Organization during a Trump administration, or even if they leave open the possibility of returning to the company later. The Trump Organization cannot be placed into a blind trust, an arrangement used by many politicians to prevent them from knowing their financial interests; the Trump family is already aware of who their overseas partners are and could easily learn about any new ones.

Many foreign governments retain close ties to and even control of companies in their country, including several that already are partnered with the Trump Organization. Any government wanting to seek future influence with President Trump could do so by arranging for a partnership with the Trump Organization, feeding money directly to the family or simply stashing it away inside the company for their use once Trump is out of the White House. This is why, without a permanent departure of the entire Trump family from their company, the prospect of legal bribery by overseas powers seeking to influence American foreign policy, either through existing or future partnerships, will remain a reality throughout a Trump presidency.

Moreover, the identity of every partner cannot be discovered if Trump reverses course and decided to release his taxes. The partnerships are struck with some of the more than 500 entities disclosed in Trump’s financial disclosure forms; each of those entities has its own records that would have to be revealed for a full accounting of all of Trump’s foreign entanglements to be made public.

The problem of overseas conflicts emerges from the nature of Trump’s business in recent years. Much of the public believes Trump is a hugely successful developer, a television personality and a failed casino operator. But his primary business deals for almost a decade have been a quite different endeavor. The GOP nominee is essentially a licensor who leverages his celebrity into streams of cash from partners from all over the world. The business model for Trump’s company started to change around 2007, after he became the star of NBC’s The Apprentice, which boosted his national and international fame. Rather than constructing Trump’s own hotels, office towers and other buildings, much of his business involved striking deals with overseas developers who pay his company for the right to slap his name on their buildings. (The last building constructed by Trump with his name on it is the Trump-SoHo hotel and condominium project, completed in 2007.)

...The idea of selling the Trump brand name to overseas developers emerged as a small piece of the company’s business in the late 1990s. At that time, two executives from Daewoo Engineering and Construction met with Trump at his Manhattan offices to propose paying him for the right to use his name on a new complex under development, according to former executives from the South Korean company. Daewoo had already worked with the Trump Organization to build the Trump World Tower, which is close to the Manhattan headquarters of the United Nations. The former Daewoo executives said Trump was at first skeptical, but in 1999 construction began on the South Korean version of Trump World, six condominium properties in Seoul and two neighboring cities. According to the two former executives, the Trump Organization received an annual fee of approximately $8 million a year.

Shortly after the deal was signed, the parent company of Daewoo Engineering and Construction, the Daewoo Group, collapsed into bankruptcy amid allegations of what proved to be a $43 billion accounting fraud. The chairman of the Daewoo Group, Kim Woo Choong, fled to North Korea; he returned in 2005, was arrested and convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years in prison. According to the two former Daewoo executives, a reorganization of Daewoo after its bankruptcy required revisions in the Trump contract, but the Trump Organization still remains allied with Daewoo Engineering and Construction.

This relationship puts Trump’s foreign policies in conflict with his financial interests. Earlier this year, he said South Korea should plan to shoulder its own military defense rather than relying on the United States, including the development of nuclear weapons. (He later denied making that statement, which was video-recorded.) One of the primary South Korean companies involved in nuclear energy, a key component in weapons development, is Trump’s partner-- Daewoo Engineering and Construction. It would potentially get an economic windfall if the United States adopted policies advocated by Trump.

Eichenwald went on to delineate serious conflicts of interest in India, Turkey, the Kurds, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine, all with shady characters. Let me just use Azerbaijan as an example, although Eichenwald doesn't seem too be aware that Trump Tower Baku was completed, opened briefly and was quickly shut down and disgraced and sits like a big monstrosity in the middle of the city. What he does get right is Trump's relationship with the criminal clan he went into partnership with.
Another business relationship that could raise concerns about conflicts involves Azerbaijan, a country the State Department said in an official report was infused with “corruption and predatory behavior by politically connected elites.” According to Trump’s financial filings, the Republican nominee is the president of two entities called OT Marks Baku LLC and DT Marks Baku Manaaina Member Corp. Those were established as part of deals the Trump Organization made last year for a real estate project in the country’s capital. The partner in the deal is Garant Holding, which is controlled by Anar Mammadov, the son of the country’s transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov. According to American diplomatic cables made public in 2010, the United States possessed information that led diplomats to believe Ziya Mammadov laundered money for the Iranian military. No formal charges have been brought against either Mammadov.

Once again, however, this exposes potential conflicts between Trump’s business connections and national security. While the development is currently on hold, it has not been canceled, meaning that Anar Mammadov could soon be paying millions of dollars to Trump. If American intelligence concludes, or has already concluded, that his business partner’s father has been aiding Iran by laundering money for the military, will Trump’s foreign policy decisions on Iran and Azerbaijan be based on the national security of the United States or the financial security of Donald Trump?
Do you follow @LOLGOP on twitter? I do; he's good. His name is Jason Sattler and he did an OpEd yesterday for USAToday calling for the shutting down of the Trump Organization. He notes the widespread clamor to separate the Clintons from the Clinton Foundation and wonders why no one in the media doing all that clamoring calls for a Trump Organization divorce from anyone named Trump, despite the likelihood that Trump would be, if he won the presidency, "the most indebted major party candidate for president in U.S. history, while also being the least transparent nominee since Watergate."
Voters still have no idea how much self-proclaimed billionaire Trump wants to cut his own taxes. Without his tax returns, which he has promised and failed to release two dozen times since 2011, voters have no idea if the Republican nominee for president even pays any taxes.

Americans have more information than that about the size of his … hands.

We do know Trump’s companies represent a vast array of properties, investments and licenses around the world. And these businesses also appear to hold at least $650 million in debt to a variety of lenders, including Goldman Sachs, the Bank of China and Deutsche Bank, which is probably not German for “America First.”

Despite the reportedly huge debt and Trump’s six corporate bankruptcies, we have to assume the exclusive goal of these ventures is profit-- at least for him. He received millions in compensation as his casinos went broke.

The Trump Organization’s golf courses, resorts and various other holdings don’t get in involved with anything as sordid as saving the lives of AIDS patients. Even so, anyone who cares about the office of the presidency should be calling for Trump and his family to completely divest from his business interests should he be elected president.

The candidate's three oldest children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., are all executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization. He has suggested that they will take over day-to-day operations of his company, shunning the “blind trust” that nearly all modern presidents have relied on to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest.Instead of avoiding suspicions, Trump is-- as usual-- encouraging them.

But even if it's strangers instead of his kids running his business, it’s impossible to separate Trump’s interests from the Trump Organization.

“To put your identity into a blind trust is a little bit difficult,” government professor Andrew Rudalevige told NPR.

Trump’s identity is literally his business.

Much of the value of the conglomerate is immediately tied not only to Trump’s name but also to Trump’s mood. In a 2009 deposition, he explained that his net worth “goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings.”

With his wealth and his “feelings” on the line, American policies will become inextricable from the president’s business strategy. Would a country win favor from the most powerful nation in the world by propping up Trump businesses? Would the president avoid conflict with a nation that offers him sweet tax credits?

How many people believe that a fortunate son whose entire life has been about leaving his even more fortunate kids a conglomerate larger than his parents left him-- and now eliminating any taxes they might pay on their inheritance-- would put the nation’s interests over his own?

Probably about as many as those who believe that Mexico will pay for Trump’s imaginary border wall-- 13% in a recent poll.



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