Putin Overplays His Hand

On July 6, Greece announced that it had “irrefutable evidence” that Russia was trying to undermine the Prespa agreement, by attempting to buy off officials and otherwise intervening in Greece’s internal affairs. In a pointed statement, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias accused Russia of also funding protests within Greece, and declared that his country would not be bullied. Greece has now expelled two Russian diplomats, leading Russia to cancel an upcoming visit to Athens by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and to announce the expulsion of Greek diplomats from Moscow.

.. Russian mischief has also been detected north of the Greek border. According to Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Russia has funded anti-government protests and pushed Russian-oriented businesses in Macedonia to foment violence in the run-up to the September 30 referendum.

.. Russia has made no secret of its desire to weaken NATO. By opposing the Prespa agreement, it may be hoping to prevent Macedonia from joining the alliance. But even when pressed, Putin’s Russia will not acknowledge that it opposes Greek-Macedonian rapprochement, let alone apologize for taking active measures to interfere in Greek and Macedonian domestic affairs.

.. The irony is that Putin has long criticized the United States for overreaching and attempting to impose its values on others. In the Balkans and elsewhere, Putin has tried to present himself as a reasonable partner who will not ask questions about human rights or insist on respect for any particular set of values.

Yet it is now clear that neither friend nor foe should tolerate Russia’s foreign policy. The Kremlin has stepped up its policy of interfering secretly in other countries’ political processes. It has tracked down and attempted to murder former members of its security services inside NATO member states. And it has apparently tried to scuttle a hard-won agreement between two Balkan neighbors who are trying to overcome decades of mistrust.

.. Looking ahead, it will be important to remember that Russia’s foreign policy is motivated not just by spite and bitterness, but also by a nagging awareness of its own decline.

The Don and His Badfellas

The Trumps have often been compared to a mob family. Certainly, in the White House, they have created a dark alternative universe with an inverted ethical code, where the main value is loyalty to the godfather above all else.

An anti-Trump group called Mad Dog PAC has a billboard reading: “MAGA, Mobsters Are Governing America.”

.. As Michael Daly noted in The Daily Beast, “Traditionally, rats begin wearing a wire after they get jammed up.”

.. In the taped call, Cohen tells Trump that he has talked to the mogul’s trusted money manager and “Apprentice” guest star, Allen Weisselberg, about how to set up a company to reimburse David Pecker, the National Enquirer owner, for buying off Trump goomah Karen McDougal. Federal investigators in Manhattan now want to interview Weisselberg.

“Long term, this could be the most damaging,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me, “because it gets into Trump’s wallet.”

.. Cohen the Fixer claims Trump knew about the Russian meeting during the campaign with his son and Paul Manafort. The president hit the mattresses on Twitter, denying it all.

.. Rudy Giuliani has somersaulted from a RICO-happy prosecutor to a man acting like a Mafia lawyer, telling Chris Cuomo that Cohen is an “incredible liar” when only three months ago he pronounced him “an honest, honorable lawyer.”

.. If the White House seems more and more like “Goodfellas,” it is not an accident.

Trump has a very cinematic sense of himself,” O’Brien said. Like many on social media, he is driven to be the star of his own movie. He even considered going to film school in L.A. before he settled into his father’s business.

.. O’Brien recalled that Trump told him that he thought Clint Eastwood was the greatest movie star. “He and Melania model their squints on Eastwood,” the biographer noted. Trump also remarked, while they were watching “Sunset Boulevard” on the Trump plane, that a particular scene was amazing: the one where Norma Desmond obsessively watches her silent films and cries: “Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them!”

.. Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as

  • “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,”
  • “Goodfellas” and
  • “The Godfather.”

.. As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box:

  • George Steinbrenner,
  • Lee Iacocca,
  • Frank Sinatra,
  • Roy Cohn,
  • Rupert Murdoch,
  • Cary Grant.

He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.

.. “In his first big apartment project, Trump’s father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families,” said Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer. “He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.

.. “When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad — which was the only time he got to spend with him — he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about ‘Goodfellas’ — people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn’t have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk.”

As Steve Bannon noted approvingly, Trump has a Rat Pack air, and as O’Brien said, Trump was the sort of guy who kept gold bullion in his office.

.. Trump’s like a mobster, D’Antonio said, in the sense that he “does not believe that anyone is honest. He doesn’t believe that your motivations have anything to do with right and wrong and public service. It’s all about self-interest and a war of all against all. He’s turning America into Mulberry Street in the ’20s, where you meet your co-conspirators in the back of the candy store.”

 

Trump May Kill the Global Recovery

In a sharp departure from this time last year, the global economy is now being buffeted by growing concerns over US President Donald Trump’s trade war, fragile emerging markets, a slowdown in Europe, and other risks. It is safe to say that the period of low volatility and synchronized global growth is behind us.

.. In 2017, the world economy was undergoing a synchronized expansion, with growth accelerating in both advanced economies and emerging markets. Moreover, despite stronger growth, inflation was tame – if not falling – even in economies like the United States, where goods and labor markets were tightening.
.. Stronger growth with inflation still below target allowed unconventional monetary policies either to remain in full force, as in the eurozone and Japan, or to be rolled back very gradually
.. Markets gave US President Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt during his first year in office; and investors celebrated his tax cuts and deregulatory policies. Many commentators even argued that the decade of the “new mediocre” and “secular stagnation” was giving way to a new “goldilocks” phase of steady, stronger growth.
.. Though the world economy is still experiencing a lukewarm expansion, growth is no longer synchronized. Economic growth in the eurozone, the United Kingdom, Japan, and a number of fragile emerging markets is slowing.
.. while the US and Chinese economies are still expanding, the former is being driven by unsustainable fiscal stimulus.
..with the US economy near full employment, fiscal-stimulus policies, together with rising oil and commodity prices, are stoking domestic inflation.
.. the US Federal Reserve must raise interest rates faster than expected, while also unwinding its balance sheet.
.. the prospect of higher inflation has led even the European Central Bank to consider gradually ending unconventional monetary policies, implying less monetary accommodation at the global level. The combination of a stronger dollar, higher interest rates, and less liquidity does not bode well for emerging markets.
..  Despite strong corporate earnings – which have been goosed by the US tax cuts – US and global equity markets have drifted sideways in recent months.
.. The danger now is that a negative feedback loop between economies and markets will take hold. The slowdown in some economies could lead to even tighter financial conditions in equity, bond, and credit markets, which could further limit growth.
.. Since 2010, economic slowdowns, risk-off episodes, and market corrections have heightened the risks of stag-deflation (slow growth and low inflation); but major central banks came to the rescue with unconventional monetary policies as both growth and inflation were falling.
.. These risks include the negative supply shock that could come from a trade war; higher oil prices, owing to politically motivated supply constraints; and inflationary domestic policies in the US.
.. this time the Fed and other central banks are starting or continuing to tighten monetary policies, and, with inflation rising, cannot come to the markets’ rescue this time.
Another big difference in 2018 is that Trump’s policies are creating further uncertainty. In addition to
  • launching a trade war, Trump is also
  • actively undermining the global economic and geostrategic order that the US created after World War II.

.. the Trump administration’s modest growth-boosting policies are already behind us, the effects of policies that could hamper growth have yet to be fully felt. Trump’s favored fiscal and trade policies will crowd out private investment, reduce foreign direct investment in the US, and produce larger external deficits.

  • His draconian  will diminish the supply of labor needed to support an aging society.
  • His environmental policies will make it harder for the US to compete in the green economy of the future.
  • And his bullying of the private sector will make firms hesitant to hire or invest in the US.

.. Even if the US economy exceeds potential growth over the next year, the effects of fiscal stimulus will fade by the second half of 2019, and the Fed will overshoot its long-term equilibrium policy rate as it tries to control inflation; thus,

achieving a soft landing will become harder.

.. By then, and with protectionism rising, frothy global markets will probably have become even bumpier, owing to the serious risk of a growth stall – or even a downturn – in 2020.

.. With the era of low volatility now behind us, it would seem that the current risk-off era is here to stay.

For Whom the Trump Trolls

Even with his casinos, Trump wasn’t a gambler, either, saying he’d rather own slot machines than play them.

And yet, in a strange twist, Trump has ended up an addict.

.. Lanier, who met Trump a couple of times back in the real estate developer’s New York heyday, thinks the president’s addiction to tweeting is rewiring his brain in a negative way. As Trump picks up speed on Twitter, the Oval Office is becoming a Skinner box. Like other “behavior modification empires,” as Lanier calls social media sites, Twitter offers positive reinforcement for negativity.

.. “Twitter addicts take on this kind of nervous, paranoid, cranky quality, sort of itching for a fight,” Lanier said in an interview. “Trump used to be in on his own joke, and he no longer is. He’s just striking out every morning, fishing for somebody to harass or seeing who’s harassing him.

“I do think it creates a terrifying situation because somebody who is addicted is easy to manipulate. It’s easier for the North Koreans to lie to him than if he wasn’t an addict.”

.. I saw a report on PBS about a mother on the border who was reunited with her 14-month-old child after 85 days. “The child continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go,” the mother wrote. “When I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”

On the occasion of America’s 242nd birthday, we must ask who we are, if we can see accounts of infants snatched from their parents and returned covered in lice, and not worry about our country’s soul.

.. We have a president who is an addict running a country overflowing with opioid and social media addicts. (In an interview with The Times a few days ago, our tech reporter Nellie Bowles said she dealt with her smartphone addiction by graying out her screen, noting, “These phones are designed to look and work like slot machines — hit us with bright colors and little pings to activate and please,” and “we all have to figure out little hooks to pull back into the physical world.”).. hopes people will resume a sense of decorum when they realize “there’s very little long-term profit from a viral tweet.”

.. He figured out how to dominate Twitter, not with the cool-kid arch style of making fun of someone, but by being school-yard-bully mean.

His tweets propel the story on cable news and shape the narrative for reporters — who are addicted to the First Addict.