Nice way to start off the week (and a jacket photo!): http://wallstreetonparade.com/book-shelf/
Now: the main event: Among the sayings that seem appropriate to so much of modern culture is Oscar Wilde’s definition of fox-hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.” There are just ever so many instances where is applicable, and I just encountered one that struck me as especially, even transcendently relevant when I picked up the Feb. 16 number of The London Review of Books and saw that Mary-Kay Wilmers’ unfailingly engrossing fortnightly has allotted five full pages to letting Clinton acolyte/apologist/catamite Sidney Blumenthal have a go at the Trumps. To connoisseur-worshippers of the u. in pursuit of the u., this truly is like dying and going to heaven.
Blumenthal’s piece is entitled “A Short History of the Trump Family,” https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n04/sidney-blumenthal/a-short-history-of-the-trump-family and I found it pretty workmanlike and unsurprising – until I read the following: “What Gatsby and Trump also have in common are gangsters. Gatsby’s fortune is secretly derived from his bootlegging partnership with Meyer Wolfsheim, a character based on the mobster Arnold Rothstein, who fixed the 1919 World Series. Trump’s business has been dependent almost from the start on real-life racketeers. There was Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul ‘Big Paulie’ Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, who owned the company that provided the ready-mix cement for Trump Tower, used in place of the usual steel girders. There was John Cody, the boss of Teamsters Local 282, who controlled the cement trucks and was an associate of the Gambino family. There was Daniel Sullivan, Trump’s labour ‘consultant’, who in partnership with the Philadelphia crime boss Nicodemos ‘Nicky’ Scarfo’s financier, sold Trump a property in Atlantic City that became his casino. There was Salvatore ‘Salvie’ Testa, ‘crown prince’ of the Philadelphia Mob, who sold Trump the site on which two construction firms owned by Scarfo built the Trump Plaza and Casino. There was Felix Sater, convicted money launderer for the Russian Mafia, Trump’s partner in building the Trump SoHo hotel through the Bayrock Group LLC, which by 2007 had more than $2 billion in Trump licensed projects and by 2014 was no more. There was Tevfik Arif, another Trump partner, Bayrock’s chairman, originally from Kazakhstan. Bayrock’s equity financing came from three Kazakh billionaires known as ‘the Trio’, who were reported to be engaged in racketeering, money laundering and other crimes…There was no art to these deals. Trump’s relationships with the Mob weren’t just about the quality of cement. In his defense it was said that doing business with the Mob was inescapable in New York, but the truth is that there were prominent developers who crusaded against the sorts of arrangement that Trump routinely made. From beginning to end, whether Cosa Nostra or the Russian Mafia, Trump has been married to the Mob.”
What you have here is virtually a Who’s Who of “made guys”, dating back to the days when the membership of the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club hadn’t yet yielded to patrons of various Brighton Beach steam parlors when it came to the management of the more vicious and lucrative forms of organized crime. Most of these are familiar names, although you might not recognize Felix Sater, who seems a particularly unsavory chap. Here’s some dope on him: https://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/02/24/meet-felix-sater-the-russian-bad-hombre-who-works-with-trump.html?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon And if you want a quick run-through on crime syndicates the wide wrld over, you can’t go to a better source than my brother-in-law Misha Genny, author of a number of authoritative works on globalized mafiosi. Here’s a start: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n13/misha-glenny/mobsters-get-homesick-too
Trump made the acquaintance of these people principally thanks to his morality and ethics mentor, Roy Cohn, surely one of the ten worst people ever to stalk the earth. But it would be idle to blame everything on Cohn: doing business in NYC, especially construction/development business, as Blumenthal properly notes, has always been a matter of “knowing a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy” if, say, you want a union to overlook the fact that you’re using scab Polish labor to erect a Fifth Avenue tower. And then there’s this. Back in the day – the ’60s and ’70s – when the world was simpler, younger and more naive, many Manhattan hotshots, rising players on Wall Street and elsewhere, the sort of people Trump hung out with at Le Club (where he and I were on the board!), developed outright crushes on the hard guys who frequented the same bars and nightclubs as they did (think back to the Copacabana scene in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”.) There wasn’t any hanky-panky going on – that would come later – just a matter of buying a drink for and slinging a companionable arm across the shoulders of a guy who hours earlier might have been over in Queens breaking a few legs or torching a butcher shop. There was a kind of prestige to be a Merrill Lynch VP first-naming it with Big Vito or Frankie Torpedo. I thought it was disgusting.
But this is all sort of beside the point. As it happened, when Blumenthal’s article swam into my ken, I was well into Luke Harding’s A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West (Knopf Doubleday), a riveting account of several assassinations orchestrated to impress, and very likely ordered by, another person of Trump’s (claimed) acquaintance, another person with whom, like Gatsby, our President shares a partiality for gangsters.
Here’s a passage from Harding’s book that says it all. “Andrei Kozyrev, who served as foreign minister in the Yeltsin government, now lives in Washington, D.C. He left Russia as it became increasingly authoritarian; he now sees a disturbingly similar pattern in his adopted country. “I am very concerned,” he said. “My fear is that this is probably the first time in my memory that it seems we have the same kind of people on both sides—in the Kremlin and in the White House. The same people. It’s probably why they like each other. It’s not a matter of policy, but it’s that they feel that they are alike. They care less for democracy and values, and more for personal success, however that is defined.” And then there’s this, from Harding’s account of the inquest that established how Litvinenko, a well-known anti-Putin journalist and MI6 agent, was poisoned (polonium-20 in a cup of tea administered by a couple of low-lifes who left a radioactive spoor that ran from Moscow to London and back again). Apparently the Russkies go in for exotic toxicity. Another dissident was sent to heaven by a poison compounded from a plant that grows only in China’s highlands. But these are mainly for extraterritorial use. When working close to home, an ordinary mob hit will suffice, such as the shooting on a Moscow overpass of another leading dissident.
Anyway, when Harding closes with an account of the Litvinenko inquest, he summarizes the prosecutor Emmerson’s summing-up as follows: “This wasn’t about one murder, Emmerson said, rather about a government that had succumbed to a terrible criminal cancer: ‘The intimate relationship that will be proved to exist between the Kremlin and Russian organised crime syndicates around the world are so close as to make the two virtually indistinguishable. The startling truth, which is going to be revealed in public by the evidence in this inquiry, is that a significant part of Russian organised crime around the world is organised directly from the offices of the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a mafia state.’
In fact, the aim is to blur what is true with what is not, to the point that the truth disappears altogether. By noisily asserting something that is false, you create a fake counter-reality. In time this constructed sovereign version of events becomes real – at least in the minds of those who are watching. RT, the Kremlin’s ambitious English-language propaganda channel, uses these same methods for western audiences. Its boss, Margarita Simonyan, argues that there is no such thing as truth, merely narrative. Russia’s narrative is just as valid as the ‘western narrative’, she argues. In this cynical relativistic world of swirling rival versions, nothing is really true.
Elsewhere, not by Harding, Simonyan is quoted as declaring: “There is no objectivity – only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible”.
Sound familiar? Right out of the Kellyanne Conway/Sean Spicer playbook.
Finally, as a gloss, there’s this, from Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen: “As it happens, I have list of nine similarities between Putin and Trump. Let me just focus on the ones that I can reel off the top of my head without looking at my notes. You’re right, they’re very, very different. They’re very different in affect, they’re very different in background. They’re very different in the way that they address the public. One uses raw emotion and the other actually prides himself on never betraying an emotion. And they inherited vastly different political systems and historical legacies. That said, they have a number of traits that are actually typical of autocrats and bullies — and they’re both bullies and they’re both autocrats…One huge one is the way that they lie. It’s taken Americans a while to understand how Trump lies. That he doesn’t lie in order to make you believe what he is saying. He lies in order to assert power over reality. And it’s basically a bully in the playground kind of stance: ‘I’m going to say that it’s not your hat that I’m wearing. What are you going to do about it?’ It’s the ‘What are you going to do about it?’ that’s always the message. And it’s always about power.” http://www.themillions.com/2017/02/surviving-trump-masha-gessen-wants-you-to-remember-the-future.html
So 0there you have it, racing fans. What a wevoltin’ pwedicament, as Elmer Fudd would exclaim. Hardly comforting. Especially if you wrap the foregoing in this MUST MUST MUST MUST read: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/03/06/trump-putin-and-the-new-cold-war
So now to other stuff:
When I read this very shrewd piece, it reminded me that close to twenty years ago I hypothesized then when the great Gibbonian history of the Rise and Fall of the American Republic comes to be written, 1973 will be seen as the defining moment at which our history turned. Not for the reasons adduced in this Aeon article. I looked at 1973 quite differently – as the point at which the three legs of the metaphorical throne of American hegemony were kicked out from under us: with Watergate, our moral hegemony. With OPEC, our economic hegemony. With Vietnam, our military hegemony. No nation in history could withstand a from-all-sides shellacking of this immensity and intensity. (H/T Barry Ritholtz) https://aeon.co/essays/how-economic-boom-times-in-the-west-came-to-an-end
Speaking of which: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-02-26/intellectual-intolerance-stunning-speech-stanford-university-provost-exposes-threat- I hope a copy of this is sent to the pusillanimous president of Yale, Peter Salovey.
I think I’ve posted this before, but never often enough. The opioid numbers are terrifying: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/our-miserable-21st-century/
People say that offstage, Trump is a pleasant person. Unfortunately, you don’t govern offstage: http://ijr.com/2017/02/810965-trump-ditched-the-press-to-have-dinner-heres-how-the-president-acts-when-no-one-is-watching/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social
State socialism on the march. How can this happen? (from Politoco’s Real Estate newsletter – H/T Sally Goldenberg)
HOMEWRECKERS – “Inside de Blasio’s ‘land grab’ aimed at boosting affordable housing data,” by New York Post’s Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein: “Mayor de Blasio is attempting a Soviet-style takeover of 1,200 privately-owned co-op buildings in what critics charge is a blatant effort to artificially boost his affordable-housing numbers. The Stalinesque secrecy of the plot – developed over two years behind closed doors – has alarmed some lawmakers, who wrote to the city last week to put the plan on hold. The private co-ops were once derelict buildings in neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington Heights and the Lower East Side that the cash-strapped city sold to residents beginning in the 1980s for as little as $250 per unit. The city was happy to off-load the headache properties, which had been abandoned by absentee landlords or seized from tax deadbeats.
“They resembled urban war zones, with blown-out windows, no doors, heat or running water and junkies overdosing in the hallways. Over the years, the homesteaders banded together to create livable apartments, and at the same time revitalized blighted neighborhoods. Now, the city wants to seize control of what have become valuable assets, and livid residents are preparing for a legal war to stop it. … The plan would have to be approved by the City Council, and the co-ops believe a measure – likely hidden in a larger, omnibus bill – would be carried by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito before she leaves office at the end of the year. A spokeswoman for Mark-Viverito said ‘We are currently reviewing the administration’s proposal.’ ‘Unless we take steps to protect our stock of HDFC coops, we risk losing one of the most valuable sources of affordable homeownership in the city,’ said Elizabeth Rohlfing, an HPD spokeswoman.”
Following publication of the article, which was the Post’s Sunday wood, titled “Man of Steal” accompanying a picture of de Blasio, City Hall spokeswoman Melissa Grace emailed the following statement: “This proposal is an effort to protect the city’s important HDFC coops. Without strong reforms, we risk losing one of the most valuable sources of affordable homeownership–more than a quarter of which are in the brink of financial insolvency. The goal is to get all HDFCs, which receive significant public benefit, on solid footing and ensure their long-term affordability.” She also said the plan has “has nothing to do with ‘boosting’ the housing plan numbers.” http://nypost.com/2017/02/26/inside-de-blasios-land-grab-aimed-at-boosting-affordable-housing-data/
I’ve been following (reading about, not watching) the hearings to confirm Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce. I’ve known Wilbur for a long time, and consider him a decent fellow, even if he does hang out in Palm Beach a fair amount of the time. It seems to me that Wilbur’s business success implies trade-immigration linkages that never seem to get talked about. While I have no doubt that Wilbur has in a number of instances replaced jobs here with lower-cost jobs there, “there” being Mexico mainly, it strikes me that he has created jobs “there,” Mexico and Vietnam, that would never have been created here. When he builds a textile plant in Vietnam that employs 15,000 people, doesn’t that reduce by some significant fraction of 15,000 the number of people who might seek to emigrate to the USA or elsewhere? Same with Mexico. Jobs made available on home ground eliminate job-seekers heading north. And then there’s this (which certainly doesn’t bear on Wilbur’s confirmation). Everyone talks about the terrible things NAFTA has done to US markets. But what about what we did to Mexican agriculture? Read this, see what you think. http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/AgNAFTA.html Every Mexican farming family put out of business by US-subsidized dumping of soybeans etc. hiding behind NAFTA is a family loose on the land, a family whose eyes must inevitably turn to El Norte. It seems pretty straightforward to me. Globalization creates immigration – but we want to have it both ways, and shut our gates to people whose livelihoods our globalizers have destroyed. Free-trade globalization seems to have had the same effect on Mexico that the potato famine of the 1840s had on Ireland.