Friday, June 23, 2017

How Trump Makes Us More Like Russia (Poor Us)

Why are we focused on Russia? "Trump won, shut up." "Why does it matter if Russians helped him?” It matters because Trump’s financial and business history is deeply entangled with Russian criminality, and the criminals who have helped him preserve an appearance of wealth for three decades will demand something in return. Like anyone who gets in bed with mobsters, Trump is being forced to pay them back (to borrow his word) “hugely." He may be paying them with our money, or he may be paying them back by dismantling America's global superiority, enabling Russia to fill that vacuum. Or he may be paying them back by grafting the kleptocratic Russian model onto our economy. Putin the kleptocrat has plenty of admirers here, rich people who see our economy as something to be looted rather than run properly and fairly. Investigators are following the money.

This Bloomberg article follows the rubles down the years through Trump Inc.

"The Post noted that the investigation also includes "suspicious financial activity" involving "Russian operatives." The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts."

Trump promises everything, but how much does he deliver? Ask the people who enrolled their futures in Trump University. Now he's taken that con game to new heights via the White House, where his promises affect Americans' trust in their democratic system and institutions. Money Magazine reports on the Trump jobs promises that were hollow.

"Since his election, Trump has frequently used broad claims to take credit for jobs, especially those for blue collar workers, that the numbers don't bear out."

The massive advantages of people at the top of the economy used to be tempered somewhat by our democratic traditions and norms. But what if those norms and regulations were removed? What if the whole point of the economy was to enrich the very rich and bugger the rest of us? What if working people were the only ones paying for the roads and the bridges and the systems that keep our economy running, leaving the 1% off the hook? The money managers for the rich do a very good job of helping their clients avoid obligations the rest of us have to shoulder. Like those Russian oligarchs who operate as global free agents with no obligations and no restrictions.

The Nation reports on how this scam is operated.

" Part of the inequality problem, however, is that trillions of dollars are being shifted off the ledger, hidden from measurement and taxation. Some of this “hidden wealth of nations,” as Gabriel Zucman calls it, is kept in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Panama that function as secrecy jurisdictions with minimal transparency or reporting requirements. Trillions more has been hidden in trusts and other complex financial arrangements available only to the very wealthy. New research suggests that households in the top 0.01 percent, those with wealth over $40 million, evade 25 to 30 percent of person income and wealth taxes—about 10 times more than the general population.

"This process is aided and abetted by professional wealth managers who facilitate and lubricate the process of hiding wealth. Many of them work in private family offices that serve wealthy families. These are not mom-and-pop financial planners who help protect families from running out of money. We’re talking about the well-compensated professionals that serve the richest one-tenth of one percent of Americans."

But getting back to Trump and Russia––who has been floating Trump while he runs his grift on Americans? Fortune magazine reports.

"Trump said in the deposition that Bayrock’s Tevfik Arif “brought the people up from Moscow to meet with me,” and that he was teaming with Bayrock on other planned ventures in Moscow. The only Russians who likely had the resources and political connections to sponsor such ambitious international deals were the corrupt “oligarchs.” Although Trump claimed that negative publicity about him from O’Brien killed the deals, he still insisted that “we are actually going to be [in Russia] fairly soon.” When asked if he had “concerns about investing in Russia,” Trump answered “No.”

“...The plaintiffs in a 2015 racketeering case against Bayrock, Sater, and Arif, among others, alleged in the civil lawsuit that: “for most of its existence it [Bayrock] was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated,” engaging “in a pattern of continuous, related crimes, including mail, wire, and bank fraud; tax evasion; money laundering; conspiracy; bribery; extortion; and embezzlement.” Although the lawsuit does not allege complicity by Trump, it claims that Bayrock exploited its joint ventures with Trump as a conduit for laundering money and evading taxes. The lawsuit cites as a “Concrete example of their crime, Trump SoHo, [which] stands 454 feet tall at Spring and Varick, where it also stands monument to spectacularly corrupt money-laundering and tax evasion.””

How has Trump gotten away with this? It's complicated and complication makes criminals harder to jail. Complex schemes are likelier to keep the money they've stolen. Look at how the financiers who collapsed our economy evaded jail. Trump's genius is in deception and evasion and big talk. He took the schtick on TV and got big ratings. We loved Trump like we loved Tony Soprano, because he wasn't hurting us personally... so we thought. Enough Americans loved that and bought it to make him a viable candidate in the Republican Party where that kind of scheme is accepted and admired. Where successful criminals are Winners and victims are Losers. Millions of Americans love throwing their money away at casinos and investing in bogus schemes and this scheme was bogus and entertaining. It's not new. What's new is the elevation of flim-flam and racketeering into the White House. If he hasn't yet fully criminalized the White House he has left enough of a criminal trail for investigators to follow. Trump fired Comey and Preet Bharara for investigating him. Will he fire Mueller? Can he? Will we let him? Maybe the Republican Congress will give him time to finish the job.

The New Yorker reports on the deliberate complexity of this kind of crime.

"Donald Trump has long deployed what might be called the chaff approach to evading legal scrutiny in his business dealings. Parts of his labyrinthine business holdings seem to be likely targets of investigation. He was sued for civil fraud over promises made to students of Trump University (a case that was settled after Trump became President). He talked on CNBC about the need to pay bribes when doing business overseas. His Atlantic City casino, the Taj Mahal, was in violation of anti-money-laundering laws when Trump owned it. He has had ties to New York Mafia figures. Yet he has never been indicted nor, for all we know, did any prosecutor consider pursuing a criminal case. Perhaps this is because the structure of Trump’s business has been, like chaff tossed out of a bomber, a remarkably effective defense. There is no one thing to look at when investigating Donald Trump. There’s not one company, there are hundreds, possibly thousands. Every deal he does has its own legal structure, its unique set of participants and business model. Rarely—and less often in the past decade—is Trump the primary owner and visionary of a project. More typically, he has sold a license to put his name on someone else’s project.”

What we are witnessing is a massive criminal takeover of our country, including the public sector––the government––and the economy. While they make us look over there (sparkly object: tweets, empty promises, rallies, boasts, showbiz) they quietly pick our pockets. The GOP Congress is fully engaged: promising Bigger and Better and Cheaper while quietly removing healthcare benefits and guarantees for pre-existing conditions and removing the systems that keep the poor covered and regulations that protect average people from being preyed upon and poisoned and impoverished. And they are doing this to deliver trillions in tax cuts to the top 1%. They are looting America the way Putin has looted Russia.

PBS's Frontline reports on how Putin has looted the Russian economy.

Russian mobsters have been looting the Russian economy since the 1990s when Putin took over. The ones doing it are licensed to loot by Putin himself, who gets a cut of everything. The looted trillions need a place to hide and some of that cash has been hidden in and laundered through Donald Trump’s many failing and dicy enterprises. Because nobody else would finance Trump. The banks refused. When the banks won’t help you, you turn to the Mob. Trump appears to be fully mobbed up.

But the larger pattern is more disturbing: the entire Republican financial scheme, including the healthcare “reform” and tax “reform” and deregulation and reinventing government itself, all seem to be modeled on the old scenario of mobsters taking over your business and looting it. Where is there money? Find it, take it, leave the system that money was operating in as a dysfunctional shell. They are operating on our national economy the way diners work on crab legs at Red Lobster: cracking the shell and sucking out the meat. What’s left is garbage.

They look at an economy full of hard working people and they see the workers as a liability not an asset. Dump them. But fleece them first. Ditch all the promises made to them. Suck out all the benefits and loot their retirement funds. Then replace them with robots, as Carrier is doing in Indiana with the money Trump gave them to save jobs.

Trump and his Republican friends in Congress are hollowing America out, using the Russian model. Like rodents looking for food supplies or missiles seeking targets, they are finding all the pockets of money being used to keep the system running and putting it into the pockets of their richest friends. Because they and their rich friends don’t need that system, they are rich, they are neatly invested offshore. They, like Putin and any of his Russian mobster/international gangster friends, don’t need America except as a source of loot. The America they do need is one with a pliant, obedient, cheap and desperate workforce, eager to mow their vast lawns and do their laundry and clean their homes and wait silently at table. To do the work and expect very little. Who cares if they die younger? Let them die the moment they can’t do the work. The way they do in Russia.

So it really is about Russia. Very much so.

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