This is an overview with short summaries of my posts on Donald Trump, his relationship with the Kremlin, election interference, and so forth. I will keep it updated. As a general note: I do not claim to be an expert on anything, I only use my common sense and public data, and so I don’t have any secret sources or information. Use your own good judgment and check everything, I may simply be wrong.
I mark those posts with an asterisk that I find particularly relevant.
- How to Get Trump to Reveal his Real Net Worth: A well-founded suspicion is that Donald Trump was never as rich as he has claimed, and by far. At certain points in time, he seems to have been in serious financial trouble, and maybe even insolvent. I begin my analysis here, but develop it in further posts. My proposal to get Trump to reveal his real net worth is not realistic and more or less tongue-in-cheek. You could also try to get him to commit 1% of his supposed wealth annually to some cause. But don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do it because probably he can’t. (See also “Assessing Trump’s Wealth over Time,” “Trump’s Record Sale in 2008,” and “Trump’s Visit to Moscow in 1987” below for more details.)
- * Who Has Leverage Over Whom?: This is perhaps a somewhat technical, but in my view very important point that many people get wrong. There is an effort to find connections between Trump and “Russians” (not necessarily Russians, but people associated with the Kremlin in some way) via loans, investments, or sales. That’s fine as far as it goes. But since a common assumption appears to be that Trump is coerced into what he does, any such informaton is then interpreted as leverage over Trump. That makes me cringe because often it is the other way around or there is none. I explain what can and what cannot create leverage here.
- * Michael Flynn on Edward Snowden: This is a story that the media seem to have missed. Flynn was fired as the head of the DIA in spring of 2014, effective in August. That went very fast and the official explanation seems at least incomplete. One of the strange things before his dismissal was that Flynn aggressively pushed a story that Edward Snowden had also gotten his hands on things like battle plans. It is possible I miss something here, but it appears as if Snowden could not do this because he had no access to such information. The story was then walked back after Flynn was out. My suspicion is that he perhaps wanted to distract from a different leak. This may be related to another story that happened around the time, his contact with a Russian researcher in the UK. It seems like he had an affair with her. I will write about an aspect of this story in a further post that has the media have missed: Her employment with a Russian bank and the bizarre severance payment she received.
- Libertarians as Useful Idiots: RT, Sputnik, and other Kremlin outlets have a penchant for pushing libertarians in the US and elsewhere. And unfortunately, many are only too willing to play the assigned role as useful idiots. I supply an analysis of the worst offenders and why the Kremlin is so interested in libertarians.
- My Jobs as the “Inofficial Capitalization Adviser to the President”: On a humorous note: Donald Trump has the weird habit of capitalizing words in his tweets that are not capitalized in English. To many, myself included, this looks like his attempt to go German orthography. But then he does it wrong, and so I explain the rules to him in this post. Seems he has not yet absorbed my lesson.
- * How Far Did Russian Meddling Go?: The implicit assumption of most analyses is that Kremlin interference in US politics only started in 2016 or at most 2015 and was specifically targeted against Hillary Clinton and meant to support of Donald Trump. The latter part is true, but the whole premise is incomplete. I make the case here that Putin’s engagement in other countries went over the longer run and was ideologically promiscuous. Why should the US be an exception here? With this working assumption, I derive which candidates in 2008 and 2012 I would have put my money on as Putin. See below for more posts where I flesh this out, especially “How to Fool Ron Paul” and “Did the Kremlin Support Ron Paul in 2008?”
- * It Began Long Before 2016: Following up on my previous post, I recount my own experience how I first noticed Kremlin propaganda to influence US politics in about 2011/2012, and in this case pushing Ron Paul at the time of the Republican primaries. I document the weird events during his 2007/2008 run in a post below: “Did the Kremlin Support Ron Paul in 2008?”
- * How to Handle Donald Trump: There are four main motivations that can bring someone to work for a hostile foreign government: Money, Ideology, Coercion, and Ego, also known by the acronym MICE. I argue in this post that Ego and even more so Coercion have been vastly overestimated. Basically, the view of many commentators seems to be that Donald Trump lacks independent agency. But for all we know: that is not true. My argument is that Money plays a central role, though not in the sense that many assume, and that Ideology is disregarded for no reason. The problem here is that Trump is a deeply unintellectual person, so ideology seems impossible as a motivation. However, he certainly has a “worldview”: an intuitive understanding of how the world works and that can keep his decisions consistent. I view it as a major shortcoming of many analyses that this important point is overlooked.
- What’s Up With Kushner, Deutsche Bank, and VEB?: Jared Kushner obtained a major loan from Deutsche Bank shortly before the 2016 elections. There are indications that there is also a connection with VEB, a Russian bank. Kushner met with its chairman, Sergei Gorkov, in December 2016. In this post, I try to figure out what was might behind all this, which is speculative given the scarce information. I also reject a facile argument by association: money laundering years ago — Deutsche Bank — Jared Kushner. If there is something to it, it should be far more concrete. It is also conceivable that Deutsche Bank was unwitting, though perhaps negligent, in such a hypothetical scenario.
- Murder of the Mother-in-Law: Whenever I see the lame excuses and pretexts, the “I can’t recall”s and so forth from the Trump people, I am reminded of this sketch from the German comedian Jürgen von Manger. It is about a defendant before a court of law where it is painfully obvious that he has murdered his mother-in-law in cold blood. He then mangles what his attorney has told him. If you believe there is no German sense of humor, this is for you. I think the sketch is very funny, so I have translated it to English.
- * Assessing Trump’s Wealth Over Time: Donald Trump’s claims about his net worth are highly dubious. My hunch is that he may never have been a billionaire, or if so only barely. I take an indirect route to estimating how Trump’s wealth has developed over time by looking at market indices that should be the baseline. My conclusion is that, especially around 2009, Trump must have been in dire straights, and was perhaps even effectively insolvent. See also my post below for more details: “Trump’s Record Sale in 2008.”
- Trump Intended to Lose?: One of the takeaways from Michael Wolff book “Fire and Fury” seems to be that Donald Trump did not want to win the 2016 election and it just went wrong. I argue against this in my post here because Trump’s behavior would have been different under these assumptions: He could easily have slacked, dropped out at the last moment, and he would have had not reason to engage in activities that might become a liability for him. It is reasonable to assume that he did not expect to win, but that does not show he intended to lose. In light of my subsequent post, “Trump’s Visit to Moscow in 1987” (see below), there is another plausible interpretation: Trump wanted the strongest showing possible to improve his bargaining position vis-à-vis Putin, but did not plan for an actual victory.
- Power Tends to Corrupt: I muse about Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” My interpretation is that this is about intellectual and moral corruption, a hollowing out of a sense that there are objective truth and objective morals. I propose various mechanisms how power can lead to such an outcome. This is only loosely related with current events, but still important in my view.
- * Trump’s Record Sale in 2008: I look into the strange sale of a large mansion in Florida, the “Maison de L’Amitié,” to Dmitry Rybolovlev. Donald Trump made an inexplicable gain of more than 100% in the middle of the real estate crisis. My hunch is that the transaction was a way of bringing funds onshore that Trump had offshore, and transferring money in the other direction for Rybolovlev. As I show, Donald Trump must have been in dire straights at the time. There are indications that he had trouble servicing a loan from Deutsche Bank he had taken out in 2005 and desperately needed cash. It also looks like he was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2009, and maybe also effectively insolvent.
- Misconceptions About the Trump-Putin Nexus: My impression is that much of reporting on the “Trump Thing” suffers from groupthink where certain general assumptions are taken for granted although they are not obvious. I discuss several such distortions in this post: (1) Not every outcome is the result of human design, it can also come about by human action, ie. the independent behavior of different actors with their own agendas. Hence (2) not everything has to be a conspiracy although I think there are also concrete conspiracies in this story. (3) As already explained in my previous post “How to Handle Donald Trump” (see above), Money, but not as often interpreted, and Ideology, understood as a worldview, are the main drivers, Ego and even more so Coercion are vastly overestimated. I show how Trump’s worldview can explain many of his actions and his otherwise inexplicable consistency vis-à-vis Putin. (4) As analyzed in my post “Who Has Leverage Over Whom?” (see above), a focus on Coercion can lead to false conclusions that other people have leverage over Donald Trump. They can have that, but not in the naive way many commentators appear to assume. (5) Many also fall for Trump’s boasting: He is not the wheeler and dealer he make others believe he is. His “empire” is perhaps much smaller, and he makes rather few relevant deals. (6) There are also assumptions about Putin’s objectives that in my view can lead to misunderstandings: He is no strategic actor. Consistency may come from a stable environment he reacts to on an opportunistic basis. And Putin is probably not interested in “sowing chaos” in a vague sense. He should be fine if that happens, but his main goals are probably more concrete. (7) There is a problem with what is called “selection bias” in statistics. What looks like a long-term plan could only be that Trump self-selected himself for his role and ended up as the best bet for Putin, not that he or Putin mostly designed it that way.
- * Trump’s Visit to Moscow in 1987: I look into Trump’s first connection with the then Soviet government. My conclusion is that this was mostly about business although I cannot exclude other motivations. I just do not find them very convincing. The visit seems to have a connection with Trump’s decision to explore a run in the Republican primaries for the 1988 elections. It is possible that the Soviets had a hand in it. But my contention is that that was perhaps only in an indirect way. It is plausible that Trump wanted to improve his bargaining position and acted on his own: draw attention to himself with the Soviets, show them his goodwill, and demonstrate that he was a person to be reckoned with. I mostly reject a direct connection with later events apart from an indirect one: Trump’s approach was probably documented and could serve as a blueprint for Putin how to get him to run.
- How to Fool Ron Paul: My hunch is that Ron Paul was one of Putin’s candidates in 2008 and 2012, maybe even the main one. This may have been unwitting on Ron Paul’s side. In a semi-humorous vein, I try to understand how Putin could play someone like him, and I supply evidence that this may really have happened. It is also connected with my previous posts: “Libertarians as Useful Idiots” and “It Began Long Before 2016” (see above) and my subsequent post: “Did the Kremlin Support Ron Paul in 1987.”
- * Did the Kremlin Support Ron Paul in 2008?: There were many strange events during Ron Paul’s run in the Republican primaries in 2007/2008: a spam campaign out of Ukraine, manipulation of online polls and counts on Reddit or YouTube, a corps of aggressive trolls that shouted his critics down and pushed Ron Paul all over the Internet, and also astonishingly large inflows via his “moneybombs.” I present evidence in an overview, which makes the conclusion in my view plausible that there was a coordinated influence campaign by the Kremlin on Ron Paul’s behalf. I have no idea whether there was also coordination with the campaign or it was aware of what was going on. Since I have no evidence, I do not draw this conclusion, but I would not be surprised either if it was the case.