Trump Opposes China’s Plans at Economic Leadership

President Trump, already leading the U.S. into a trade battle with China, plans to ratchet commercial tensions higher by barring many Chinese companies from investing in U.S. technology firms, and by blocking additional technology exports to Beijing.

.. the measures are meant to forestall Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan to become a global leader in 10 broad areas of technology

..  With little evidence the escalating trade feud is hurting their economies, the U.S. and China aren’t close to backing down. Before one of them cracks, Heard on the Street columnist Justin Lahart warns, investors may get squeezed.

A New Keeper of Putin’s Secrets

Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin won reelection to another six-year term, there was growing speculation about how he intends to preserve his power and legacy after 2024. But with the nomination of Alexei Kudrin to the government’s central budgeting body, Putin’s long-term plan seems to be taking shape.

.. Putin’s nomination of former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to chair the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation. The selection of Kudrin for this role calls to mind former President Boris Yeltsin’s own search for a successor who would preserve his legacy and protect his family and fortune.

.. Yeltsin had amassed around $15 million while in office, and he ultimately put his trust in Putin – a former KGB man – to protect his children and his money, and to keep him out of prison.

.. Dmitry Medvedev, keep his seat warm until he could return to the presidency in 2012. A far more competent placeholder would have been Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB general. But Ivanov is much taller than Putin, who, at any rate, had only achieved the rank of colonel. An obvious potential threat to Putin’s power, Ivanov was passed over,

.. Despite his years in office, Medvedev is still known more for his fancy ties and expensive watches than for his executive actions.

.. In 2011, Kudrin resigned as finance minister after publicly suggesting that Medvedev was an incompetent fool.

.. Kudrin’s nomination as Russia’s chief accountant matters because it will give him – and thereby Putin – more knowledge of corruption. And with that, Putin will be able to manipulate anyone who may have future designs on the presidency, perhaps with the goal of reinstalling Medvedev as a placeholder after 2024.

..   – former Soviet military and intelligence officers – who make up the bulk of his cabinet and account for the Kremlin’s unchecked power over Russian political life.

.. By championing Russia’s military-industrial complex, Putin can keep the siloviki occupied and on his side. To that end, he has reinstated the World War II victory parades that were discontinued under Yeltsin. The events now grow more breathtaking and grandiose with each passing year.

But recent reports suggest that Russia’s military readiness is more fiction than fact. The “invincible” missiles that Putin has touted have apparently crashed during tests, and are thus little more than militaristic props. One conclusion to draw from these failures is that someone in the Ministry of Defense is stealing. There is no other plausible excuse for failing to deliver the weapons Putin ordered.

..  a new study finds that Russia’s defense and intelligence ministries are among the state’s most corrupt institutions.

.. Kudrin has clearly been installed to ensure that the “trusted” security apparatus can actually be trusted.

.. current defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, is probably now in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

.. Shoigu looks like a man in charge. But that poses a problem for Putin’s own claim to be the protector of the Russian nation. There can be only one brave leader who saves people from Siberian tigers and hang-glides with endangered Siberian white cranes.

.. Though Shoigu’s Siberian-Mongolian ancestry effectively disqualifies him from being elected by the country’s vast majority of ethnic Russians, Putin is not one to take chances.

.. If a rival from the security establishment were to assume the presidency, he could choose to build his own legacy, rather than honor Putin’s. It is up to Medvedev and Kudrin, the rare civilians in Putin’s inner circle, to make sure that doesn’t happen.

 

Why Trump Can’t Quit Steve Wynn

Wynn expressed optimism about Cruz’s chances within the crowded GOP field. Wynn then lambasted Trump, the frontrunner at the time, castigating the real-estate mogul’s record as a “businessman” and “casino owner.” Wynn snickered about how Trump’s Vegas property stood pitifully far from the Strip, the stretch of land coveted by any hopeful casino or hotel owner in the city. “He was just clowning on him,”

.. So when, on the eve of Trump’s decisive victory in the Nevada caucus two months later, the candidate touted his support from none other than Steve Wynn, Cruz’s camp was stunned. Wynn, standing alongside fellow casino mogul Phil Ruffin, beamed from the crowd.

..  In the space of a year, Wynn would become a member of the president’s cadre of informal advisers, his hand-selected finance chair of the RNC, and as such, an indispensable fundraiser for the party.

.. Multiple Republican sources say Wynn’s retreat from the political scene will have a lasting and negative impact on the GOP’s fundraising prowess. “No small number of GOP lawmakers have stayed at Wynn Resorts in the last two years and relied on him for donations,” the Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said. “This could be devastating.”

.. not one seemed to think that the president would simply sever ties with Wynn.

.. The initial bout of friction between Trump and Wynn dates back to the 1990s, when the two engaged in a vicious legal battle over Wynn’s efforts to expand to Atlantic City that included allegations of fraud, money laundering, perjury, and even claims that an investigator working on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. had become a mole for Wynn’s Mirage Resorts,

.. “They hate each other’s guts. It’s like poison,”

.. The president still nurses the wound of those years and the insults Wynn lobbed at him

.. “It was always just billionaire ego bullshit,” said one Trump campaign official who witnessed their exchanges. “Like, ‘Haha, my building is a couple feet taller than your building.’ That kind of thing.”

.. Yet far from keeping Wynn at a distance, Trump seemed insistent on tightening their relationship. “They became pretty close,”

.. the president took great pleasure in how their roles had reversed.

.. During the transition, Wynn bordered on “sycophantic” in his outreach ..  particularly on the topic of China.

.. Wynn, who runs a massive casino operation in Macau, often urged Trump to reconsider his pledge to be “tough on China.”

.. Wynn then volunteered to arrange entertainment for Trump’s inauguration

.. Not even Wynn’s extensive rolodex of celebrities could help him nab the artists he wanted most, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Elton John. “As soon as he’d get close to bringing one on, word would leak out, and they’d immediately deny,” the source said. “Steve got very frustrated. He was clearly upset.”

.. it raised a record-breaking $107 million in the first three quarters of 2017

.. “He’s been a bigger success as a fundraiser than people thought he would be,

.. Wynn spoke with no notes, “as he’s mostly blind.” (Wynn suffers from a degenerative eye disease.)

.. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wynn hand-delivered a letter from the Chinese government urging the return of Miles Kwok, the Chinese businessman who fled the country, seeking asylum in the U.S.

.. But one source directly familiar with the matter remembered notably how Wynn was able “to work Trump up into a tizzy” over the situation, playing into the president’s well-known desire “to get the bad guys out” of the country.

.. “The president will want to keep Steve around him. He likes him—he’s gonna be last to throw a rock at a buddy of his.” Which means that Wynn’s access to Trump could very well continue unfettered—in the shadows, off the schedule, as it largely has been until now.

Coreligionists in Kleptocracy

What Russia and Iran have in common is someday their people will say ‘enough.’

.. Vladimir Putin must get a clammy feeling from the logic of Iranians taking to the streets against a corrupt government conducting costly adventures in places like Syria.

.. The average Iranian in the street doesn’t think the benefits of the nuclear deal failed to materialize. He thinks they were hijacked and hoarded by regime cronies.

.. Widely reported was the Obama administration’s shipment of $1.7 billion in untraceable cash, via cargo plane, directly to Iran’s leaders. Of 110 international business deals touted in the Iranian press as the fruit of sanctions relief, a Reuters accounting showed that 90 went to companies controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or other top officials.

.. the average Russian has seen his real income continue to shrink, no end to sanctions

.. Nor can the Kremlin shield him from the growing phenomenon of internet-based reporting on the absurd luxuries enjoyed by such regime favorites as Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, much less the astonishing offshore wealth of Mr. Putin’s personal “friend,” the cellist Sergei Roldugin.

.. In both countries, normal, patriotic feeling has clearly begun leaching away from leaders whose defining quality is hypocrisy.

.. Under current leadership, 100% of everything is gobbled up in the corrupt power rivalries and overseas adventures of the leadership class (e.g., the Syrian war).

.. Nobody predicted the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew his ally Viktor Yanukovych, or the roadside execution of Gadhafi, an omen that Mr. Putin reportedly dwells on.

.. He was angry at Hillary Clinton for what he considers her efforts to foment a coup against him personally.

.. What the U.S. has over such countries is stable institutions in which to contain unpredictable events and forces.

Jeff Flake’s Defiant Surrender

Republican politicians throughout the age of Trump, and again and again they have chosen to die in the dark.

This was true of Trump’s strongest primary-season rivals, who fought him directly and concertedly during exactly one of the umpteen debates and then, finding open war hard going, chose to lose and bow out as though Trump were a normal rival rather than the fundamentally unfit figure they had described just a few short weeks before.

It was true of the party functionaries, the hapless Reince Priebus above all, who denied the residual Republican forces resisting Trump the chance to fight him one last time in the light of the convention floor.

..  It was true of Paul Ryan; it was true even of John McCain.

.. It was not true of everyone. Mitt Romney and John Kasich declined to fall on the sword of party unity; so did George W. Bush and his father; so did some governors and a few junior senators, Mike Lee and Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.
.. while they refused to make the quietus, to strangle their own convictions in Trump’s ample shadow, they declined many chances to keep up the fight openly as well.
.. The nomination of a figure like Trump, a clear threat to both the professed beliefs of his party’s leaders and to basic competence in presidential government, is the sort of shattering event that in the past would have prompted a real schism or independent candidacy.
.. But Romney couldn’t talk Kasich into being that independent candidate, all the other possibilities demurred
.. Now, almost a year into the Trump presidency, a similar dynamic is playing out. There is a small but significant Republican opposition to Trump, but its leading figures still don’t want to go to war with him directly, preferring philosophical attacks and tactical withdrawal to confrontation and probable defeat.
.. To the extent that there’s a plausible theory behind all of these halfhearted efforts, it’s that resisting Trump too vigorously only strengthens his hold on the party’s base, by vindicating his claim to have all the establishment arrayed against him.
.. In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat
.. an anti-Trump movement that gives high-minded speeches but never mounts candidates confirms Trump’s claim to face establishment opposition while also confirming his judgment of the establishment’s guts and stamina — proving that they’re all low-energy, all “liddle” men, all unwilling to fight him man to man.
.. If Corker really means what he keeps saying about the danger posed by Trump’s effective incapacity, he should call openly for impeachment or for 25th Amendment proceedings
.. If Flake really means what he said in his impassioned speech, and he doesn’t want to waste time and energy on a foredoomed Senate primary campaign, then he should choose a different hopeless-seeming cause and primary Trump in 2020. George W. Bush should endorse him. So should McCain, and Corker, and Romney, and Kasich, and Sasse, and the rest of the anti-Trump list.
.. They should expect to lose, and badly, but they should make Trump actually defeat them, instead of just clearing the field for his second nomination.
.. And not only for the sake of their honor. The president’s G.O.P. critics should engage in electoral battle because the act of campaigning, the work of actually trying to persuade voters, is the only way anti-Trump Republicans will come to grips with the legitimate reasons that their ideas had become so unpopular that voters opted for demagoguery instead.
.. A speechifying anti-Trumpism, distant from the fray, will always be self-regarding and self-deceiving — unwilling to see how the Iraq War discredited both the Bushist and McCainian styles of right-wing internationalism, incapable of addressing the economic disappointments that turned voters against Flake’s Goldwaterite libertarianism and Romney’s “trust me, I’m a businessman” promises.
.. Only in actual political competition can the Republican elite reckon with why it lost its party, and how it might win again
.. I think the G.O.P. is more likely to be renewed by someone who currently supports Trump or someone not yet active in politics than it is by the men resisting the president today.

McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

.. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

.. A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war.

.. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

..In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

.. During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

.. Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

..In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond

..“When it comes to the Senate, there’s an Article 5 understanding: An attack against one is an attack against all,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has found himself in Mr. Trump’s sights many times, invoking the NATO alliance’s mutual defense doctrine.

..Some of them blame the president for not being able to rally the party around any version of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, accusing him of not knowing even the basics about the policy. Senate Republicans also say strong-arm tactics from the White House backfired, making it harder to cobble together votes and have left bad feelings in the caucus.

..White House aides told Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from the state whose support was in doubt, that she could only accompany him on Air Force One if she committed to voting for the health care bill. She declined the invitation, noting that she could not commit to voting for a measure she had not seen

.. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told colleagues that when Mr. Trump’s interior secretary threatened to pull back federal funding for her state, she felt boxed in and unable to vote for the health care bill.

.. But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

.. An all-out clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell would play out between men whose strengths and weaknesses are very different. Mr. Trump is a political amateur, still unschooled in the ways of Washington, but he maintains a viselike grip on the affections of the Republican base. Mr. McConnell is a soft-spoken career politician, with virtuoso mastery of political fund-raising and tactics, but he had no mass following to speak of.

.. Roger J. Stone Jr., a Republican strategist who has advised Mr. Trump for decades, said the president needed to “take a scalp” in order to force cooperation from Republican elites who have resisted his agenda. Mr. Stone urged Mr. Trump to make an example of one or more Republicans, like Mr. Flake, who have refused to give full support to his administration.

.. The president should start bumping off incumbent Republican members of Congress in primaries,” Mr. Stone said. “If he did that, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would wet their pants and the rest of the Republicans would get in line.”

.. But Mr. McConnell’s allies warn that the president should be wary of doing anything that could jeopardize the Senate Republican majority.

“The quickest way for him to get impeached is for Trump to knock off Jeff Flake and Dean Heller and be faced with a Democrat-led Senate,” said Billy Piper, a lobbyist and former McConnell chief of staff.

Report: Ivanka Trump Helped Push Steve Bannon out of the White House

A Daily Mail report cites sources giving Ivanka Trump credit for forcing Steve Bannon out of the White House.

The article references “Washington sources” that Trump’s daughter Ivanka pushed out Bannon because of his “far-right views” clashing with her Jewish faith.

Bannon’s departure, the Daily Mail reports, was “done to save the Presidency,” according to a source close to Ivanka Trump, claiming that Bannon leaving “changes everything” with the Trump presidency.

But according to a report from Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, Bannon had not “meaningfully advised the president about his response to Charlottesville,” although the pair spoke on the phone over the weekend.

.. Bannon also decried the white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members as “losers … a fringe element” that needed to be “crushed” during an interview with The American Prospect.

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” Bannon added, blaming the media for raising their profile.