The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 1052 — March 5 - 19, 2018

Editorial:
Students Leading the Charge

Mar 5, 2018

After a gunman opened fire in their school, killing 17, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida did something unusual: they did not just mourn their lost friends and teachers; they demanded that something be done. They got angry. And they took that anger to the streets and the state capitol, sparking a nationwide debate on school shootings and gun violence.

Their demonstrations spurred young people across the country to take action, a march on their state capitols and descend on Washington, D.C. by the thousands. A nationwide series of demonstrations is planned for March 24.

What all these students are asking for is perfectly reasonable: to feel safe in their own schools! They are demanding that assault rifles be taken off the market and that systems be put in place to detect prospective school shooters before they shoot. They have every right to demand these and other protections.

The Parkland students and those who join them are already finding that even very minor regulations are hard to pass in a country that prioritizes profit above all else. Assault rifles are the product of the extremely profitable weapons industry, military and domestic. When the U.S. is not carrying out wars itself, it arms and supplies local combatants. War is big business for the U.S., and it’s part of the fabric of American society. We’re all flooded with a huge dose of militarism every single day. People like Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, are created by this society. The fact that they can so easily find a gun is only the last step in that process.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the primary lobbyist for the gun manufacturing industry, which has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Selling assault rifles to the general public is a very lucrative business, after all. The NRA actively mobilizes to support or attack politicians depending on their position on guns.

Republicans are most likely to refuse to pass gun legislation for this and other reasons. But Democrats are little better, since most focus on gun control, ignoring all the other social ills that create the problem.

At this moment, the students are focusing on gun violence and gun regulation. But guns are only the beginning of the equation if the students’ goal is to feel safe and secure. Students across the country are well aware of all that is wrong with their schools, what is causing the stress, confusion and demoralization and even suicide, of other young people like themselves. They can see the lack of support systems in schools and neighborhoods. If some have gotten fed up and have started demanding that something be done about guns today, others can start demanding something be done about the lack of resources in their schools, or the lack of job prospects in their future, or the lack of food on their families’ tables, or the lack of a future they can look forward to, tomorrow.

The students have shown that they see the lies that they’re told about what can and can’t be done. They may learn very quickly that voting is not what changes things. U.S. capitalism constitutes a web in which all the problems are connected to each other. A new system needs to be fought for and put in place, a system not for profit – a system built to protect and nurture human life.

Pages 2-3

The Voices of Reason

Mar 5, 2018

When President Trump vomited the words that teachers should be armed following the Parkland, Florida school shooting, teachers all over the country were quick to respond.

Clearly. Rationally.

Yes, arm us, they said. Arm us with resources, including more school counselors, more mental health professionals. Arm us with lower class sizes and better resources to help students living in poverty.

Arm us with pencils, papers, books, laptops, software, art supplies, notebooks....

The lists are endless. Because the need for more and better resources, from toilet paper, to para-professionals, to counselors, are endless, in the current state of affairs in the school systems around this country.

Teachers, along with the young people, were and are the voice of reason.

Food for Kids

Mar 5, 2018

West Virginia teachers are on strike for affordable healthcare and a pay raise. These teachers have pay that is ranked 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Very serious about their strike, teachers planned ahead of time. They involved community groups and churches in solving a problem that they did not create, but which would be critical to their success. They needed to figure how to keep school children fed during their strike.

The poverty rate for children in West Virginia is 25 percent! Some undernourished students eat only one meal a day – the one they get through their school lunch program. Schools being closed during the strike might have cut children off from a vital source of food. With a quarter of a million students no longer in school, extra child care would need to be organized, and teachers planned for this as well.

Teachers resolve all kinds of social problems every day for their kids. In the U.S., the social safety net has been ripped to shreds. The charity of teachers and individuals has been stepping up to fill the breach for years.

In the wealthiest country in the world, the resources exist for the needs of the population to be met socially, at the level of society. But the money is being given – in one way or another – to the wealthiest tiny percent.

What is going on during this strike may appear to be just another day in the life of a teacher, but actually, what is going on is at a higher level. Strikers are showing that they can organize social remedies above and beyond what governments and businesses would ever do.

Billy Graham:
Preacher for U.S. Capital

Mar 5, 2018

Upon his death, Billy Graham became the first religious figure to be “laid in honor” at the U.S. Capitol. President Donald Trump said that the “legendary Billy Graham” had “helped lift the American spirit.” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, sounding like a preacher himself, called Graham “a happy instrument in the hands of his creator.” And House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed that Graham had helped the country to “find our grace and our strength.”

If the U.S. political establishment was putting on such a show to honor a preacher, it’s because this preacher was in fact one of their own. Over a span of more than 60 years, almost every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama either invited Graham to the White House or visited him, “prayed with him,” and called him a friend and a “spiritual advisor.” And it’s easy to see why all these presidents and other politicians from both big parties were so eager to be associated with Billy Graham. For many decades, Graham was able to fill stadiums for his sermons and presided over a big religious organization, which collected tens of millions of dollars in contributions each year.

But Graham’s rise to fame and fortune was not necessarily his own making. Young Billy Graham may have been a skillful and charming orator; but he still did not find much success throughout the 1940s, until newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst threw his weight behind the young preacher. Hearst wired all his newspaper editors across the country to “puff Graham,” and Hearst newspapers began to publish favorable front-page stories about Graham. Other publishing bosses followed suit, and all this publicity paid off for Graham, when his “tent crusade” in Los Angeles drew 350,000 people over three weeks in 1949. Billy Graham now was a superstar, and national media outlets never stopped promoting him. Over the preacher’s long career, Time magazine alone featured Graham in more than 600 stories!

So it was U.S. capital, the ruling class of this country, that gave Billy Graham his lucrative pedestal, effectively engaging him as a spokesperson. And Graham paid back the favor by putting himself in the loyal service of U.S. capital. Graham always stood by U.S. imperialism, supporting every war the U.S. has fought since the 1950s. During the Korean War he telegraphed President Truman, urging a “Showdown with Communism” in the name of Christianity. In the 1960s and ‘70s, he cheered the U.S. bombing of Vietnam and opposed the anti-war protests. He claimed to have been with President G.H.W. Bush in January 1991, when the U.S. began bombing Iraq in the Gulf War. In domestic politics also, Graham backed every move the U.S. ruling class made to silence opposition. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, Graham gave his support to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. And during the Civil Rights Movement, he criticized “some Negro leaders” for “going too far and too fast.”

And yet, the same Billy Graham more than once said, “I don’t think politics is part of my work.” A true politician!

Oh yes, politics was very much part of Graham’s work, and he always was a staunch, unwavering spokesperson for U.S. capital. That’s why, today’s political mouthpieces of the U.S. ruling class are so enthusiastic about honoring and praising the preacher Billy Graham.

D.C. Police Killing Settlement

Mar 5, 2018

Washington, D.C. reached a 3.5-million-dollar settlement with the family of Terrence Sterling.

Sterling was shot and killed on his motorcycle by D.C. police officer Brian Trainer on September 11, 2016. The killing sparked protests around the city.

One witness described the shooting, stating that Sterling rode into the patrol car door as Trainer opened it. Trainer opened fire at that point, killing Sterling. “They shot him for no reason,” the witness explained.

The police admit that Trainer was in no danger when he shot and killed Sterling.

Three and a half million dollars speak volumes: a D.C. cop killed a man for no reason!

Statewide Strike in West Virginia

Mar 5, 2018

More than 20,000 West Virginia public school teachers and 13,000 additional school employees walked out on strike beginning on Thursday, February 22. Their strike has resulted in all the public schools in 55 counties being closed.

Each day of the strike, bus drivers, cooks and teachers have massed at the State Capitol in the thousands. This has allowed them to measure their forces and strengthen their resolve.

In West Virginia, pay and benefits for school employees must be decided by the governor and the legislature. It is a state where public workers lack collective bargaining rights. Workers aim to pressure the politicians to address fast rising health care costs and they want raises after their pay has been stagnant since 2014.

The strike started over a “raise” that would have left them further behind once healthcare costs were factored in. Teachers say they are fighting for themselves, but also for all state employees who suffer under the same underfunded healthcare system.

A tentative “back-to-work” agreement was reached between the governor and the three school unions on February 27. But because workers had been lied to before, strikers decided that the “deal” was too vague. They suspected the “deal” would not pass both houses of the legislature. They were right on both counts!

No one went back to work, the protests continue and the strike is nearing the end of its 2nd week. Teachers say rising health care costs are what led to their strike and they want to see a way forward for this problem.

What has been done to these West Virginia teachers and school employees – forcing ever more healthcare costs onto their backs while they live paycheck to paycheck – is the road healthcare is on for everyone. This determined fight of 33,000 teachers and school employees is every worker’s fight!

Pages 4-5

Green Vehicles and Smart Devices:
At What Cost?

Mar 5, 2018

Apple, one of the biggest consumer electronics companies, is now in talks to buy cobalt directly from mining companies, according to Bloomberg. Cobalt is a chemical element, and an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries.

The lithium-ion batteries are crucial components in powering high-tech necessities in today's society, such as smartphones and computers. About a quarter of global production of cobalt ends up in smartphone batteries. And, Apple is therefore one of the largest consumers of cobalt. Electric vehicles, which are pushed on the people as “green” vehicles, also critically need lithium-ion batteries in large quantities to be able to move on the roads.

Because of this heavy demand, cobalt production has quadrupled since 2000, skyrocketing its price by 230% only within the last two years, according to the Los Angeles Times. So, every company linked with today's so-called mobile and/or green technologies, like Apple, wants to corner the cobalt market.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt ore, a rare mineral. This African country provides close to 60% of cobalt ore to other companies to reduce it to cobalt and manufacture the batteries.

The mining companies operate cobalt mines in Congo under very primitive conditions reminiscent of those that existed more than 200 years ago when industrialization started. Miners, using picks and shovels, hand dig the cobalt ore from underground. The ores are sorted by hand on the ground. These workers are exposed to high levels of poisonous mine dust, working with no gloves, masks, or even shoes – under life threatening conditions. Child labor is common in these mines. About 40,000 boys and girls, some even younger than seven years old, work in mines across Congo, many of them at cobalt sites, according to UNICEF.

These miners are paid one or two dollars a day.

So-called artificial intelligence, information age, and robotic technologies of the 21st century, touted as smart, green and clean by executives of companies like Apple and Tesla, are no help for these miners who dig the crucial ingredients of these technologies by hand. These very low-income workers never will be able to buy and use these 21st-century products manufactured by their labor. These products may be smart, but the capitalist society, under which these products are manufactured, is certainly crazy and barbaric.

El Salvador:
Teodora Vasquez Freed

Mar 5, 2018

Teodora Vasquez was finally freed on February 16. In 2007 she was sentenced to 30 years in prison in El Salvador … for having a miscarriage!

The courts affirmed her conviction last December. But a protest campaign mobilized local support and international organizations, and proved stronger than the judges. Finally, a court found a legal argument to pardon her.

On her release, Vasquez explained she lost 11 years of her life. She intends to fight this unjust law which views the loss of a fetus whether by miscarriage or by abortion as an aggravated homicide. This law has resulted in convictions ranging from 30 to 50 years in prison. According to Amnesty International, at least 27 women are still in prison in El Salvador for miscarriages.

It’s good Teodora Vasquez is out of prison. But the other imprisoned women have yet to be freed. And most importantly, a law that criminalizes women is the real crime.

Vietnam, February 1968:
When the Tet Offensive Shook U.S. Domination

Mar 5, 2018

In the night between January 31st and February 1st, 1968, during the holiday of Tet (Vietnamese New Year), fighters of the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese guerrilla organization of the National Liberation Front (NLF), rose up against the U.S. military occupation. They took control of more than 100 towns and cities, including the capital, Saigon.

Although, from a military point of view, the disproportionate level of forces did not allow the Viet Cong to hold these cities for more than a month, the world nevertheless viewed the Tet Offensive as an NLF victory. The NLF had proved that it had the support of the majority of the population, whom the ferocious war waged by the most powerful imperialism on the planet had failed to crush.

At the beginning of 1968, there were 500,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Vietnam. They possessed an ultra-modern military arsenal with an unprecedented capacity for destruction and massacre. There was no comparison between this force and what could be put forward by a small country ravaged by French and Japanese imperialism that had already been through 13 years of war.

Despite all this, in one night, some tens of thousands of Viet Cong fighters were able to rattle the most powerful army in the world, deep within its own strongholds in the cities. They went so far as to occupy Tan Son Nhut, the U.S. air base, and even held the U.S. embassy for three hours, as heavily guarded as it was. And they held onto many of the cities they took for almost a month – in some cases even longer.

It was not easy for the U.S. army to retake the occupied cities, since, as in Cuba during the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion, the population stood firm against it. The Viet Cong showed that they were not just implanted in the countryside, but also among the urban workers. The U.S. military command put an end to the occupation only by bombing whole neighborhoods.

After WWII and the defeat of Japan, French imperialism had taken back control of its old colony of Indochina and had come up against the Viet Minh, the movement led by Ho Chi Minh. The French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, then forced to leave Vietnam. The country was divided in two. With the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh in the north, supported by the Soviet Union and China, the U.S. and French installed their government in the south. The “peace” that was negotiated promised a referendum would be organized so people north and south could vote on whether to unify their country. It was obvious the referendum would succeed, and that Ho Chi Minh would be elected to lead the whole country. The referendum was opposed by the U.S. and never held.

The Origins of the U.S. War in Vietnam

When the French left Vietnam, the United States moved in behind them in the south. For the last four years of the French war, the U.S. had already been financing 80% of its cost. This was at the height of the Cold War, when U.S. policy was aimed at stopping independence struggles around the world, preventing the extension of the Soviet Union’s influence. This was particularly true in Southeast Asia, which had been marked by the success of the Chinese revolution, under Mao Tse-tung, in 1949.

The United States installed a puppet government in South Vietnam, along the model of what it had already done in Latin American countries and in South Korea. However, just as happened in other parts of the world, the South Vietnamese leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, revealed himself to be just as brutal and corrupt as the rest, searching for ways to extract the most profit with no regard for the population. Opposition to the regime grew in the countryside, where the peasants, who also had the model of North Vietnam before their eyes, increasingly rallied to the Viet Cong, a movement that respected them and gave them access to land in the regions it controlled.

In 1962, under the pretext of guaranteeing the independence of the Vietnamese population in the face of the “communist peril,” U.S. president John F. Kennedy came to the aid of Diem’s government. This did not change the relation of forces, and did not even save Diem, who was assassinated in 1963. His successors were just as unpopular. The 1954 Geneva Accords had authorized the presence of 685 U.S. advisors. Under Kennedy’s presidency, this number had already climbed to 16,000 and continued to increase until 1965, when the United States intervened directly, sending 200,000 GIs to South Vietnam. It sent the same number the following year. By the start of 1968, there were half a million U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

In the areas it controlled in the south, the U.S. military command implemented a scorched earth policy against any perceived resistance. It carried out bombings to an unprecedented degree, including pulverizing cities in North Vietnam. When they were not demolished by bombs, entire villages in the south were burned, their inhabitants massacred; forests and rice fields were sprayed with defoliants or napalm, cutting off all sources of food and drinkable water for the Viet Cong guerillas – and also for the peasants, among whom they lived. Far from breaking the resistance of the Vietnamese population, the attacks ordered by the U.S. military command increased their hatred for the occupying power and reinforced the Viet Cong.

Opposition to the War

The Tet Offensive also reinforced opposition to the war in Vietnam in the rest of the world, especially in the United States. 20,000 U.S. soldiers had already been killed, and many tens of thousands had already been wounded, with no end to the war in sight. On the other hand, the horror of the massacres committed against a whole people began to touch public opinion.

Starting in 1965, there had been isolated protests and refusals to join the army in the name of pacifism. But by 1968, desertions from the army and refusals to fight in the field increased dramatically. More and more returning soldiers who had fought in Vietnam were denouncing the atrocities they had witnessed or been ordered to commit, in a war that they considered unjust. The feeling of having been sent to die to fight a “rich man’s war,” as one banner held by protestors read, was even more present among the black troops, who had almost no possibility of avoiding the draft and were sent into the most dangerous situations.

It was during these same years – from 1965 to 1968 – that major U.S. cities were hit by insurrection. The rebellion of the black population was reaching its climax as city after city went up in flames. Muhammad Ali refused induction, saying “No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger,” a phrase which was repeated in the ghettoes. In major U.S. cities, demonstrations against this filthy war grew larger and larger. In Vietnam itself, the U.S. army was breaking down under the effect of demoralization, drug use, and disgust with what the soldiers were forced to do.

The Tet Offensive marked the height of the war of the Vietnamese people against the occupation. With U.S. cities burning, and with the situation on the ground in Vietnam untenable for the U.S. army, the U.S. ruling class was forced to make the decision to leave the country. The U.S. began to draw down its troops, even while it intensified the bombing. If the U.S. army could not win the war, it would still make the Vietnamese pay for the defeat they inflicted on the U.S.

This war, which demanded ever more human lives and equipment, created problems for the country's finances, all for a conflict with no end in sight. Above all, the Tet Offensive showed the whole world that even the most powerful government on the planet could not dominate a country whose inhabitants were determined to fight for their independence. The NLF and the Viet Cong held more and more of the country.

In 1975, the U.S. scrambled to empty its embassy, in the capital, Saigon. Its last officials were rushed away by helicopters from the embassy roof, signaling the defeat of U.S. imperialism.

Pages 6-7

Nothing but the Best for the Boss

Mar 5, 2018

Ben Carson, as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, oversees public housing for the poor, the disabled and the elderly. The current budget is set to cut about one billion dollars from Section 8 vouchers, about one and a half billion from public housing funding, and almost two billion from the fund that repairs public housing units.

Yet somehow his office was refurnished with more than $30,000 worth of new furniture. And this, despite a federal law stating the limit on furniture to fix up an office is $5,000.

Think of all the company Carson has: everyone knows of all the state and federal elected officials and mayors and school superintendents who cannot find money for the needs of their districts. But they can find a ton of money to fly first class, eat first class, fix up their offices - without buying the $250 dining room sets from Target and Value City.

Being a top notch hypocrite is practically a requirement of office.

Bitcoin Bubble:
A Bit Con!

Mar 5, 2018

A “magic” word has been haunting the headlines lately: “crypto-currency.” Why magic? Because these mysterious crypto-coins seem to have a property that our dollars and cents do not have: the simple fact of owning some is enough to generate huge amounts of money, without having to do anything for that, except to wait and be patient. Or so we are told.

In fact, the value of the “Bitcoin” has increased 15-fold over the past year alone. Of course, compared to the miserly annual wage increases that workers get, this is “magic.” What makes it seem even more magical is that these crypto-coins cannot be seen nor touched, let alone stashed away under a mattress. They exist only in an electronic form, stored on the hard disks of anonymous computers. And yet, they can be bought and sold – on the internet, of course – for good old dollars or pounds or euros.

The “Magic” of Capitalism

The trick is to buy Bitcoins when their price is low and to wait until their price is high enough, before selling them. Where do the extra dollars come from? How is it possible to get richer without doing anything when, for millions, it takes an hour’s work to earn $8.25?

This is where the “magic” comes in, or rather, the “magic” of capitalism. Indeed, this is, in a nutshell, what the lives of the capitalist fat cats amount to: they get richer and richer doing nothing, or, in any case, doing nothing useful. Whether they’re company owners, shareholders or financial speculators, all they have to do is to wait until they can sell what they own at a higher price than what they paid for it. In a word, that’s the stock market. They get richer on speculation. But whichever way they get their profit, the fat cats ultimately get it from the value produced by workers’ labor.

Capitalism is exploitation plus speculation. The “magic” of crypto-coins is just that. The dollars used to buy Bitcoins come from the value produced by the working class – the Bitcoin being just an intermediate form these dollars take for a while. What drives the price of the Bitcoin through the roof is the fact that there are colossal sums that could be invested in production, but are not. The capitalists would never miss this “magic” opportunity to make such a fat profit out of their pile of unused cash.

Crazy Irrationality

However, while Bitcoin is the star, it is only one of today’s 1,432 different kinds of crypto-currency. Among these, 339 are worth nothing, not even a cent. Only one has a market value of more than 100 billion dollars, the Bitcoin. In fact, for every type of crypto-coin that takes off, dozens fail, causing massive losses. Moreover, the values of crypto-coins change a lot and very fast: even Bitcoin has repeatedly lost 20% or more of its value in a single day.

These huge variations are precisely what attracts rich speculators, because this means they can make even bigger profits provided they move in and out at the right time. But, by the same token, the larger the sums of money used to buy Bitcoins, or obtained by selling Bitcoins, the wilder are the ups and downs of its value. So the vicious circle which feeds the speculative bubble goes on.

There have been many speculative bubbles in the past, from the speculation on Dutch tulip bulbs in the 17th century to the speculation on high-tech shares in the 1990s. And the “dot-com” bubble paved the way for the real estate speculation that caused the 2007 banking crisis. Yet, all these speculative crazes were at least based ultimately on real assets. Whereas this growing crypto-coin bubble is just speculation based on thin air.

When will crypto-coin speculators finally decide that their gambling has become too risky? And what damage will they cause by withdrawing their funds? No one can be sure. But the bubble will burst.

In the meantime, what this crazy fad shows us, once again, is the mad irrationality of a system that is based on profiteering, i.e., speculation, a system that humanity simply cannot afford.

Neglecting Chicago Patients for Profit

Mar 5, 2018

At 11 PM on February 22, police in Dixmoor, a south suburb of Chicago, got a call from residents who said they were locked in at a privatized mental health facility called Mothers House. Police found 30 men with no staff present, living in what the chief called “deplorable” conditions. Residents were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, with no hot water, trash scattered all around, and a severe bedbug infestation. They reported that residents had been locked in and left alone at night for weeks.

This was not the first time Mothers House was brought to the attention of authorities. The mother of one of the residents said she complained to the police in December, and e-mailed other officials. The police chief himself said he had been to the center two weeks earlier to try to shut it down for operating without a business license. And it turns out Mothers House wasn’t even certified to provide residential mental health services!

This is just one example in Mother House’s long history of unpaid bills and of convictions for forgery and theft. In fact, the whole “non-profit” organization seems to have been a scam, used by its director, Eunice Walker, to steal money that was supposed to go to treat mentally ill people.

Walker may be directly responsible for this atrocious situation. But all those politicians who privatized mental health care, and who have for years slashed funding to the Departments of Human Services and Public Health, which are supposed to oversee these types of facilities, are equally responsible.

Page 8

Manafort Indictments
– Politics and Capitalism in Microcosm

Mar 5, 2018

U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought new indictments against Paul Manafort, a former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, along with Manafort’s long-time business associate and deputy campaign director Rick Gates.

Coupled with indictments Mueller made earlier against the two, the new charges show the kinds of financial wheelings and dealings Manafort was involved in.

It appears Manafort has been receiving millions of dollars from all over the world and hiding the money from American tax authorities by moving it through foreign companies and banks in places like Cyprus, the Seychelles, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Manafort is charged with laundering 30 million dollars he received as a lobbyist and consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine. He never registered as a foreign agent while lobbying for Yanukovych, which is among the charges in the indictments. Yanukovych was hoping to stave off opposition against him from the U.S. and to strike a deal between Ukraine and the European Union, but pulled back under pressure from Russia. In the face of protests against his backing out of the agreement, he later fled from Ukraine to Russia.

Yanukovych’s ouster caused Manafort’s income to dry up. To make up for the lost income, Manafort is charged with falsifying his income to obtain more than 20 million dollars in loans and mortgages he took out on homes he purchased with the laundered money from Yanukovych.

Somewhere along the line Manafort may have run afoul of a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, suspected of ties to organized crime. Deripaska’s lawyers filed a petition in the Cayman Islands to recover almost 19 million dollars he says he gave Manafort to invest.

Manafort offered his services to the Trump campaign for free. It appears he saw this as another opportunity to make money. According to the Washington Post, after Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman he emailed Deripaska to inquire, “How do we use to get whole?”

When Mueller handed down his earlier indictments against Manafort, Trump washed his hands of Manafort’s misdeeds by tweeting, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”

The timeline of the crimes charged in the latest indictments, however, runs right into the time Manafort was in charge of the campaign, with Manafort continuing to illegally obtain loan money through 2017.

Whether Trump is able to wriggle free of involvement in the shady dealings of people close to him like Manafort remains to be seen. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the latest indictments, and perhaps he’s banking on his ties to Trump to save him.

Nonetheless, the activities of Manafort and those connected with him demonstrate the ways in which the politicians and capitalism are intertwined.

Kushner’s Windfall of Corruption

Mar 5, 2018

Jared Kushner recently lost his Top Secret clearance. He is considered too great a risk. Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer and White House senior aide, also happens to be Trump’s son-in-law.

It seems that Kushner’s business received large loans after meeting with businessmen at the White House. The New York Times reports that while Joshua Harris, a top executive at private equity firm Apollo Global Management, was meeting with Kushner to discuss infrastructure policy and a potential administration job for Harris, Apollo also loaned Kushner Companies 184 million dollars to refinance the debt on a Chicago property. That is three times the average real estate loan for Apollo.

After Kushner met with Michael L. Corbat, the chief executive of Citigroup, the bank loaned Kushner Companies 325 million dollars for a development in Brooklyn. Two White House meetings gained Kushner over half a billion dollars! Coincidence?

On top of that, Kushner is in debt to the moon and back. As an in-depth report from Bloomberg shows, in 2007 Kushner Companies set a New York record buying the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Ave. for 1.8 billion dollars – all but 50 million of it borrowed. It was a risky deal even before the economy and housing market collapsed and turned it into a black hole. They’ve been losing money on it ever since, covering up the problem by making a frenzy of deals. The entire remaining mortgage is due in less than a year.

Kushner, according to the Washington Post, has also consulted Chinese companies and Russian bankers.

Supposedly, the loans in question were not discussed in these White House meetings. But it certainly appears that Kushner used his political position for personal gain – to the tune of half a billion dollars – to stop his free fall into the bottomless pit of his debt.

Steel Tariff Tip Off?

Mar 5, 2018

Just days before Trump announced his intention to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, multi-billionaire investor Carl Icahn dumped almost a million shares of stock in Manitowoc Company, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of cranes and other lifting equipment that is heavily dependent on imported steel. Within just a couple of days after Trump’s announcement, the stock shares that Icahn sold were valued at about six million dollars less than what he got for them.

Icahn hadn’t bought nor sold any Manitowoc stock for more than three years. How did he know to sell his shares just before their price dropped?

Probably he got a good “tip”. Icahn is a long-time business friend of Trump. He served as a “special advisor” to Trump until he resigned last August just before New Yorker magazine published an article about how he used his White House position to benefit his investments.

Looks like Icahn’s still got the connections to get good “tips.” It’s all still business-as-usual.