Trump Says Sears Was Mismanaged. Mnuchin Was on Its Board for Years

President Donald Trump said that Sears Holdings Corp. had been mismanaged for years before it declared bankruptcy. Among those responsible for its management: his Treasury secretary.

Steven Mnuchin was a member of Sears’s board from 2005 until December 2016, and before that was a director for K-Mart Corp., which was acquired by Sears in 2005.

“Sears has been dying for many years,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House on Monday to inspect hurricane damage in Florida. “It’s been obviously improperly run for many years and it’s a shame.”

Treasury didn’t immediately respond to questions about Mnuchin’s service on the company’s board.

Mnuchin was a college roommate of Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert, who attended Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing for Treasury secretary in January 2017. Mnuchin cut his ties to Sears when he joined the Trump administration.

Mnuchin said during his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017 that he had invested about $26 million in Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc. He defended Lampert’s management of Sears, which he said “was already a failing issue” before Lampert invested in the company.

As Treasury secretary, Mnuchin sits on the board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which considers applications from companies to terminate their pension plans. During the hearing, Mnuchin told Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, that he would recuse himself if the PBGC receives an application from Sears. Menendez noted that would leave the PBGC board with just two voting members.

“I’m not sure that the remaining two can ultimately make a decision on such a case which involves 200,000 people’s pensions,” Menendez told Mnuchin.

The retailing icon filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday and said it will attempt to reorganize around a smaller number of profitable stores. Lampert resigned as CEO, but he is negotiating a financing deal with the company.

“Somebody that is of my generation, Sears Roebuck was a big deal,” Trump said. “So it’s very sad to see.”

[Bloomberg]

Trump On Trade Wars With China, U.S. Allies: ‘We’ve Been the Stupid Country for So Many Years’

During his broad-ranging interview with 60 Minutes, President Trump said America has been a “stupid country” in the past, while also defending his approach to international economics and foreign policy.

Lesley Stahl pressed Trump on his escalating trade wars with China and their retaliation across multiple markets. Trump disputed her “trade war” characterization and that eventually led to a chat on the Trump Administration’s tariffs against American allies.

“I mean, what’s an ally?” Trump said. “We have wonderful relationships with a lot of people. But nobody treats us much worse than the European Union.”

Stahl continued to ask about this “hostile” approach, and whether Trump would consider dissolving the western alliance under NATO.

“We’ve been the stupid country for so many years,” Trump said. “We shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe, and then on top of that, they take advantage of us on trade.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Booted Foreign Startup Founders. Other Countries Embraced Them

A master’s degree from Yale and angel investments in his startup weren’t enough to protect Mezyad AlMasoud from Donald Trump. A little more than a year ago, Trump moved to kill a nascent visa program meant specifically for company founders with capital in hand, such as AlMasoud. The Kuwaiti’s immigration lawyer called his Wall Street office to tell him that without the startup visa, which could have been granted under a plan known as the International Entrepreneur Rule, he had two weeks to leave the U.S. That afternoon, AlMasoud spent hours sitting by the East River, looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge. The thought running through his mind: “How do I tell my 5-year-old daughter I failed?”

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Flair Inc., his financial technology startup, incorporated in June and is starting to hire engineers who can develop its money-management web services for pro athletes. It’s just not in the U.S. Flair is hiring in Vancouver, where AlMasoud was one of the first people accepted to a startup visa program that looks a lot like the fast-track Obama plan Trump blew up. In the past 18 months, similar programs with a range of perks have sprung up in at least a dozen countries, including the U.K., China, Japan, Israel, Germany, Estonia, Australia, and New Zealand. As with many of his peers, the first choice was always America, says AlMasoud, whose startup is among 130 created by people admitted to Canada’s new visa program since February.

Immigrant founders and co-founders have a strong track record in Silicon Valley (see Google, Tesla, EBay, Stripe), as do the children of immigrants (Apple, Oracle, Amazon.com). But the Valley’s fabled Sand Hill Road is no longer the center of the venture capital world, and as the Trump administration continues to increase restrictions on most forms of immigration, other locales are even more eager than usual to frame themselves as the next great innovation hub. Startups are doing a lot more venue-shopping than they used to, says Merilin Lukk, who runs Estonia’s recruiting program and has brought at least 160 founders to the country since last year, creating about 440 jobs.

Countries have offered all kinds of perks to differentiate themselves. A new program in Israel throws in $20,000 relocation bonuses, a local accountant, Hebrew classes, yearly flights home, and paid cellphones. Other offers include low-interest loans, six-day visa processing, and, most important, the equivalent of a green card. “The fight over tech talent is not something that is coming in the future. It’s happening right now,” says Kate Mitchell, the founder of Scale Venture Partners in Foster City, Calif. “And we are losing.”

That’s a bit of an overstatement for the time being, but the U.S. certainly isn’t trying to match those offers. The Trump administration derailed the legacy Obama program a week before its planned rollout last year, and although a lawsuit by the National Venture Capital Association managed to force the feds to eyeball an initial handful of applications, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the program “does not adequately protect U.S. investors and U.S. workers” and that the agency intends to officially scrap the program as soon as it has finished reviewing public comments on the matter.

The move is part of a broader set of moves to restrict visa immigration, including the H-1B visas that have historically gone overwhelmingly to tech workers. Critics of the program, including labor advocates as well as Trump-style nationalists, say the visas have too often been abused by outsourcers and companies that simply want to pay workers less. There may be some truth to that: More than 50 percent of the country’s working science and engineering Ph.D.s are foreign-born. But another way to look at those numbers is that America needs immigrants.

Canada is one of many countries that seem less conflicted, says AlMasoud, who’s enjoying his weekend hikes in the Vancouver area without looking over his shoulder. The Canadian immigration agency says it has approved 200 applicants for permanent residency since February, and AlMasoud is hoping he’ll be on that list soon, too. For now, he’s trying to get Flair to a point where he can apply for approval from American financial regulators and start showing it off publicly. Only occasionally, as when he reminisces about NBA games or his bygone ’67 Pontiac GTO, does he grow wistful about the opportunities he left behind. “It had always been my dream to start a business in the U.S.,” he says. “Because of what Trump has done, now I have to hire Canadians.”

[Bloomberg]

Trump Reacts to Iran Snubbing His Offer to Meet: ‘It Doesn’t Matter – It is Up to Them’

On his way to a rally in Ohio on Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted about Iran.

“Iran, and it’s economy, is going very bad, and fast!” Trump wrote. “I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!”

Trump’s tweet appeared to be in response to the news from earlier this week that Iran had rejected an offer to meet with Trump.

In addition, according to the Fox News report — which just so happened to air a segment on the topic shortly before Trump tweeted — Iranian officials snubbed an offer from Trump who “this week said he would sit down with the country’s leader without any preconditions.”

The report also featured National Review columnist John Fundinsisting Trump’s offer to meet with Iranian’s leader amounted to “shadowboxing” and was not actually going to happen anyhow.

“So Donald Trump is trying for a third [meeting] with the deplorables of the nations of the world,” Fund said. “He knows the Iranians are not going to meet because they have no incentive to meet…This is shadowboxing.”

The chyron underneath Fund also reinforced Iran’s snub, reading: “Iran rejects President Trump’s offer to meet without any pre-conditions.”

[Mediaite]

The EU reportedly used colorful flash cards to explain trade policy to Trump

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly used colorful cue cards to explain issues of global-trade policy to President Donald Trump during their meeting earlier this week.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal on Thursday evening, Juncker and his team used the cards to simplify complex issues for the president as a means of getting their points across as effectively as possible.

The Journal’s report says Juncker “flipped through” more than a dozen cards, which had minimal information on them, and all focused on a single issue. These included the automotive trade, and regulatory standards for medicines, the report added, saying that there were a maximum of three figures per card.

“We knew this wasn’t an academic seminar,” a senior EU official who was at the meeting told the Wall Street Journal. “It had to be very simple.”

Trump and Juncker on Wednesday agreed to the beginnings of a deal that would end the previously growing trade tensions between the US and the EU.

During the meeting, the EU agreed to import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas. Both sides agreed to work to decrease industrial tariffs and adjust regulations to allow US medical devices to be traded more easily in European markets.

“This was a very big day for free and fair trade,” Trump said at a press conference after the pair’s meeting.

The EU’s use of flash cards is not without precedent. Trump is well-known for his distaste for lengthy documents, and is said to prefer single-page memos when deciding on policy.

In May 2017, a report from Reuters said that Trump likes “single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.” A source quoted by Reuters said aides also strategically put Trump’s name into “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned.”

[Business Insider]

Trump-Created European Trade Crisis Averted by Fake Deal

Last night, the Trump administration announced with maximum fanfare that the trade war with the European Union was over. “This was a big day for free and fair trade!,” tweeted an excited President Trump. For all the hype and surprisingly credulous press the announcement attracted, it amounts to little more than a face-saving truce. If you’re looking for any details as to how this will work, too bad, they don’t exist.

The trade “deal” follows the script of the ballyhooed North Korean nuclear “deal” from last month. The cycle begins with bellicose Trumpian threats designed to increase American leverage. This leads to negotiations, which produce an impossibly ambitious and thoroughly vague “solution” that allows Trump to boast that he has averted a crisis of his own making.

In North Korea’s case, the “agreement” involves a nonverifiable promise to denuclearize the Korean peninsula at some future date. The trade “deal” is a promise to eliminate tariffs between the United States and the European Union. In theory, it would be possible to eliminate all tariffs between the E.U. and the U.S., but the process would take many years to complete — the European Union has 28 member states, all of which have internal political dynamics and constituent business interests to navigate.

In the meantime, the practical meaning of Trump’s deal is that both sides will halt the cycle of retaliatory tariffs. Despite Trump’s belief that his methods had produced valuable leverage for his own position, the spat had imposed acute pain on his own constituents — especially farmers, who have suffered dire costs from retaliatory tariffs. The president had taken to pleading with his supporters to stop complaining and let him sue for peace:

He was begging his allies to stop complaining about the tariffs. Like a dog!

Trump’s campaign adviser Stephen Moore told the Washington Post yesterday, “The one thing I do know about Trump is that he’s not going to back down.” Characteristically, the one thing Moore knows turned out to be completely false.

But it is easy to see how Trump plans to turn this shambolic retreat into another famous victory. Begin with the assumption that the European Union has been screwing the Great Companies of the United States with one-sided and very, very unfair tariffs for decades. (This is not true.) Then proceed to the assumption that Trump has produced a deal to eliminate all these tariffs. (Completely unrealistic.) By stacking the two fantasies atop each other, you arrive at a reality in which Trump has made a Great Deal to make Americans win again.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/07/trump-created-european-trade-crisis-averted-by-fake-deal.html

Trump’s Turnberry getaway: A little golf, a lot of promoting

President Donald Trump did not let the pressure of his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin stand in the way of his typical Saturday routine: Tweeting followed by golf on a Trump-branded course.

“The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible!” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, promoting his own money-losing property in Turnberry.

Trump did not plug his business from the official government account of the President of the United States, which he does not use. Instead, he gave the property a boost from his personal account, from behind the walls of his private club.

To ethics experts who criticized the president’s use of his office to promote his business, the account he uses marks a distinction without a difference. But it was the latest sign of Trump bending the presidency to fit the old lifestyle he misses — even down to sticking with his own account — rather than being shaped by the demands of the office he occupies.

During the course of his trip, Trump has conducted himself more like his pre-presidential self than ever before, while traveling. In England, he turned to the familiar pages of a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid to mouth off about a world leader — before his election, Trump’s favorite newspaper to call up and chat with was the New York Post. This time, however, he later tried to walk back his comments criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations when he seemed to realize that intervening in the fragile government of an ally was a mistake.

At a black tie dinner on Wednesday night at Blenheim Palace, he made sure that the dinner included some familiar faces from home, among the Brits — including Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and Trump friend, Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.

Later, he mugged for his press secretary by taking a seat in Winston Churchill’s chair while meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers, a casual photo that gave the impression of a Churchill-loving tourist, rather than a visiting head of state.

But his turn at Turnberry has been long planned, aides said. Over the past 18 months in office, associates said, he has often talked about scheduling a visit here to check on his properties.

Trump loves his Scottish clubs, friends said, and typically visited them about once a year in his old life as a private citizen with a mouthy Twitter account. Friends said he has an emotional connection to the clubs here, and often mentions his mother, who was born in Scotland, when he brings up the Trump links at Turnberry and Aberdeen.

Ahead of his trip abroad, he told associates that he was eager to hang out in Scotland and check in on his properties, noting he was frustrated he had gone too long without a visit. (He lasted visited Turnberry as a presidential candidate in 2016.)

One former adviser noted that the Scotland and England portions of the trip were meant to entice Trump to even attend the NATO Summit in Brussels, which he approached with dread, like a dessert he earned after eating his vegetables.We

At home, Trump spends most of his time away from the White House at his own properties: Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach during the winter; the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster during the summer; and the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia, or the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., on the weekends he stays put.

His two-day break in Scotland, some downtime between from international meetings, however, marked the first time he has spent a weekend at one of his own properties while traveling abroad as president.

On Saturday morning, he tweeted that he was going to be busy with “meetings and calls” at the club, noting that he would squeeze in golf if he had the time. But just like at home, “meetings and calls” appeared to mean more time on the course. Shortly after his tweet, he was spotted playing golf with his son Eric Trump, whose “Trump” branded plane had been waiting on the tarmac when Air Force One landed here on Friday night.

[Politico]

Trump on Whether We Believe Kim Jong Un: ‘I Shook Hands With Him, I Really Believe He Means It’

During his big Fox News interview with Maria Bartiromo, President Donald Trump talked again about his relationship with Kim Jong Un.

Bartiromo asked him about the historic summit with Kim in Singapore just weeks ago, saying North Korea should be telling the U.S. “exactly where their facilities are” soon to see how serious Kim is.

“I think they’re very serious about it,” the President responded. “We had a very good chemistry.”

He again talked about ending the “unbelievably expensive” “war games” and insisted, “We gave nothing.”

Trump said he god along very well with Kim before having this exchange with Bartiromo:

BARTIROMO: But do we believe him, Mr. President?

 

TRUMP: I made a deal with him, I shook hands with him. I really believe he means it. Now, is it possible––have I been in deals, have you been in things where people didn’t work out? It’s possible.

[Mediaite]

Trump threatens Harley-Davidson: If it moves operations overseas, ‘they will be taxed like never before!’

President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday that Harley-Davidsonwill be “taxed like never before” if the motorcycle maker moves production overseas. He claimed that the iconic U.S. company was using increased trade tensions as an excuse to justify planned changes in manufacturing.

“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” Trump said in a tweet.

Harley said Monday it was moving some production overseas due to increased costs from the EU’s retaliatory tariffs against the Trump administration’s duties on steel and aluminum. No production will be moving to Europe as a result of the tariffs, according to the company. Harley’s overseas manufacturing plants are in Brazil, India, Australia and Thailand.

[CNBC]

Trump says China agreed to good deal for American farmers

President Trump touted in a tweet on Monday China’s promise to buy more US agricultural products following trade talks between the two countries, calling it a good deal for American farmers.

“China has agreed to buy massive amounts of ADDITIONAL Farm/Agricultural Products – would be one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years!,” the president posted on his account, one of three tweets about China.

In another tweet, he questioned why former President Barack Obama failed to take action against China for the trade imbalance and suggested that he would work with Senate Democrats on developing fair trade policies.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?,” Trump wrote. “They did NOTHING! With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue! Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

A third tweet said: “On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time. ”

About two hours later, he reiterated his earlier tweet that American farmers would benefit.

“Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce,” Trump said.

The final tweet said: “On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time. ”

In the joint US-China statement issued Saturday, China pledged to “significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services.”

“This will help support growth and employment in the United States. Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports. The United States will send a team to China to work out the details,” it said.

The statement followed two days of talks involving Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

On Sunday, Mnuchin said the US was putting a trade war with China on hold by not imposing major tariffs after the concessions by Beijing.

“We’re putting the trade war on hold. So right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” But Mnuchin and Lighthizer said that could change if China doesn’t follow through on its commitments.

“As this process continues, the United States may use all of its legal tools to protect our technology through tariffs, investment restrictions and export regulations,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

Trump during the presidential campaign railed about how China’s trade policies hurt American business, and his administration has been trying to get Beijing to take steps to lower its trade deficit with the US by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020.

[New York Post]

Reality

China agreed to the same deal we had before, with no commitment to buy a specific amount of any goods, and their “concession” was to buy the same products it was going to buy anyway.

Trump claimed he could easily win a trade war, yet got nothing he wanted, the trade gap hasn’t shrunk, and we just spent months harming US agriculture so we can be back to where we were before.

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