Goldfinger

At any given time, somewhere on basic cable, it’s Goldfinger – 1964, the third Bond film. Sean Connery is James Bond, Honor Blackman is Pussy Galore (don’t ask) and the nearly spherical Gert Fröbe is Auric Goldfinger, who plans to detonate a dirty bomb inside the gold vault at Fort Knox. That would render the gold there useless for fifty-eight years. The value of his own gold would skyrocket and give his accomplices, the Chinese, an advantage in the economic chaos that would follow. Goldfinger lets it be known that if anyone tries to interfere with his plan he will simply set off that nasty nuclear bomb in a major city. James Bond stops all this nonsense, at the last moment. And it’s really a stupid movie. Gert Fröbe, however, is a wonderful Bond villain – a short, fat, sandy-haired pallid narcissistic sociopath who finds the pain of others rather amusing, and just plain nasty.

And then there’s Timothy O’Brien, the executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion who has been an editor and writer for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and who wrote TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald – the 2005 book that showed that Trump wasn’t a billionaire at all. Trump sued. He was laughed out of court – case dismissed. He filed an appeal. Case dismissed, again. And now O’Brien writes this:

Any remaining thoughts that President Donald Trump has been playing three-dimensional chess while everyone else around him is engaged in less sophisticated pursuits should perish with his sudden abandonment of tariff threats against Mexico.

The only thing Trump got from this stunt was yet another round of abundant attention as everyone tried to decipher the riddle of “what-is-this-unusual-and-loopy-man-up to-this-time-because-he’s-breaking-the-norms-of-generally-accepted-presidential-behavior?”

Stop right there. Forget those rules. This is a Bond film:

By unexpectedly threatening, via Twitter, to impose onerous tariffs on Mexico if it failed to help solve the immigration and humanitarian crisis spilling over from Central America and into the U.S., Trump set the global business and political communities on edge.

And how many of us get a chance to pull off something that cool ourselves? Not just anybody can look and act the part of a Bond villain.

Gert Fröbe could do that and O’Brien thinks that is Trump’s role here:

Trump once told me, while driving together to one of his golf courses, that his favorite Bond villain was Auric Goldfinger, the chunky thug who wanted to wreck the global economy and help China and his own fortunes by tainting the U.S.’s gold supply at Fort Knox. “I thought Goldfinger was just a great character,” Trump said. “To me, he was the best of all the characters. Semi-believable.”

So over the course of a week, Trump got into character and played chicken with global trade, the economy, the southern border of the U.S., the lives of migrants and the financial security of tens of millions of people – before having to cave once the costs and peril of all of this became apparent.

That is what happens to Bond villains. They lose it all, because they’re more than a little crazy, but they can do damage on the way out:

Let’s not kid ourselves that this is an end to the White House play-acting. This has happened before and will happen again. Trade negotiations with Japan and the European Union are coming and tortuous head-butting on trade and tariffs is already underway with China. There’s lots of room for Trump to turn incendiary in all of that. He knows little about policy but a lot about how to stoke the passions and resentments of his base. And he’s content to fabricate things to seduce his supporters into accepting the idea that he never loses and that he always has a secret card to play.

That sounds about right, and Nancy LeTourneau adds this:

Perhaps the reason Trump found Auric Goldfinger to be “semi-believable” is that the two have so much in common. They share an obsession with gold, insatiable greed, and deep ties to Russia, not to mention that both of them play a lot of golf and are known cheaters.

And she also notes that odd association of mental health professionals is still at it:

Beyond previous reports of actions and statements, the Mueller report shows the more compelling patterns of impulsivity, recklessness, a lack of firm grip on reality, manipulation of advisors, absorption in self-interest that overrides national interest, inability to consider consequences before taking action, paranoid reactions, an attraction to violence, and an absence of empathy, as well as apparent cognitive and memory difficulties. Without diagnosing, these make the President clearly a danger in his role as Commander in Chief and one on whom the world relies for steady and wise actions in international affairs…the Mueller report further confirms the reasons why we believed that the president’s condition was severe and would only grow worse over time in his current position.

Seldom do mental health professionals have the quantity of detailed information the Mueller report provides of an individual’s behavior, verified with the caliber of a criminal investigation of the highest order. Now, we can state with a high level of confidence, based on data that vastly exceed what we ordinarily have in clinical practice, that the evidence of the president’s mental incapacity is overwhelming.

Could that be true? Consider this sort of thing:

President Trump has concluded his tariff threat worked and forced Mexico to stop the flow of migrants. On Monday, he pivoted back to his trade fight with China and vowed to hit Beijing with more tariffs if it did not accede to America’s trade demands.

“The China deal’s going to work out,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on CNBC. “You know why? Because of tariffs. Because right now China is getting absolutely decimated by companies that are leaving China, going to other countries, including our own, because they don’t want to pay the tariffs.”

President Trump has concluded his tariff threat worked and forced Mexico to stop the flow of migrants. On Monday, he pivoted back to his trade fight with China and vowed to hit Beijing with more tariffs if it did not accede to America’s trade demands.

Of course there’s no evidence that any of that is true, but that’s how Bond villains talk. Goldfinger said Operation Grand Slam would succeed. It was succeeding already, but this isn’t that old movie:

The president has long favored tariffs as an immediate and unilateral policy tool. But his increasing confidence that the levies have helped accomplish his goals without harming the United States sets up an even more tumultuous period ahead for businesses, consumers and foreign countries.

“Protectionism shows no signs of abating, rather it is intensifying,” said Joshua Shapiro, the chief United States economist at MFR Inc.

And that’s not good, although Trump says otherwise:

The president insisted his tariffs were having their intended effect – pressuring other countries to make deals, prompting companies to move factories back to the United States and generating an enormous amount of money, all without costing American consumers.

“A lot of countries have changed their habits because they know they’re next,” Mr. Trump said.

He said he was prepared to place 25 percent tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods and would do so immediately if a planned meeting with President Xi Jinping of China did not happen this month during the G-20 summit meeting in Japan.

He’s giddy about this:

Mr. Trump has blamed China for “reneging” on a trade deal with the United States, and last month, he raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods as punishment. China has retaliated by raising tariffs on about $60 billion worth of American products, like soybeans. Mr. Trump said on Monday that he saw no downside to taxing nearly everything China sends into the United States, saying it would continue to boost the American economy.

“We’ve never gotten 10 cents from China. Now we’re getting a lot of money from China, and I think that’s one of the reasons the GDP was so high in the first quarter because of the tariffs that we’re taking in from China,” he said, referring to the gross domestic product, which grew about 3.1 percent in the first three months of the year.

No one agrees with that:

Economists and business leaders have rejected Mr. Trump’s claims that the tariffs are doing no harm and say the trade war is slowing global growth and could ultimately trigger a recession.

The World Bank said late last month that global trade growth has slowed to its lowest level in a decade, while the International Monetary Fund warned that reciprocal tariffs between the United States and China could reduce global gross domestic product by 0.5 percent, or $455 billion, next year. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that at their current levels, Mr. Trump’s tariffs would cost the typical American household $831 over a year.

Trump says that’s a lie. China pays the tariffs directly to the US Treasury. It doesn’t, but that’s not worth arguing about. Prices are going up on everything. Trump says they’re not. He’s like that:

The Mexican foreign minister said Monday that no secret immigration deal existed between his country and the United States, directly contradicting President Trump’s claim on Twitter that a “fully signed and documented” agreement would soon be revealed.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s top diplomat, said at a news conference in Mexico City that there was an understanding that both sides would evaluate the flow of migrants in the coming months. If the number of migrants crossing the United States border is not significantly reduced, he said, both sides have agreed to renew discussions about more aggressive changes to regional asylum rules that could have a bigger effect.

That’s it. There is no more:

The public statement served as an official response to several days of tweeting by Mr. Trump, who has reacted angrily to the suggestion that he withdrew his threat of tariffs on all Mexican goods in exchange for a weak deal on immigration…

In a Twitter post on Monday morning, he said, “We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s Legislative body!”

No one, even those on our side, knew what he was talking about, but he did talk on CNBC:

President Donald Trump, energized by the new border deal with Mexico, made it clear Monday that tariffs are a key weapon in his arsenal as he moves forward with trade talks with China and other countries.

“People haven’t used tariffs, but tariffs are a beautiful thing when you are the piggy bank, when you have all the money. Everyone is trying to get our money,” Trump said during a telephone interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box.

He does make things simple:

China is “going to make a deal because they’re going to have to make a deal,” Trump added…

Trump on Monday also took swipes at business groups, particularly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that have criticized tariffs.

The Chamber of Commerce, Trump said, “is probably more for the companies and the people that are members than they are for our country.”

They might beg to differ there, but the Bond villain will say what he says, and makes a mess of things:

Trump’s phone call appeared to be a response to an interview on CNBC earlier in the day with Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Brilliant critiqued what he called the “weaponization of tariffs” which he said “is going to hurt our country.”

Foreign policy experts have also raised concerns that Trump might end up relying on tariffs too much, potentially risking America’s economic power.

“It remains to be seen – in Mexico, China and beyond – how much Trump will gain through his unique willingness to use economic weapons,” Atlantic Council CEO Fred Kempe wrote in a CNBC column. “What’s clear already is that friends and rivals are more interested than ever before in exploring alternatives to the U.S.-dominated system.”

Bond villains dream of world dominance, and lose it. Trump is one of those guys.

And yes, they are all quite mad:

President Donald Trump doubled down on his boast of “large” agricultural sales to Mexico as part of a deal on border security and illegal immigration that averted the threat of U.S. tariffs. But the deal as released had none, and three Mexican officials said they’re not aware of any side accord.

Trump told his 61 million Twitter followers in an all-caps message on Saturday that Mexico had agreed to “immediately begin buying large quantities of agricultural product from our great patriot farmers.” He repeated the tweet shortly after midnight Sunday in Washington.

But the communique issued late Friday by the State Department – the U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration – made no mention of agricultural trade as part of the agreement.

The State Department didn’t respond to an inquiry made through its press department. The White House declined to comment or offer proof to back up Trump’s tweet. The Mexican foreign ministry’s press office declined to comment.

In short, this is getting embarrassing, because there is reality:

Mexico is already a large buyer of U.S. farm goods, including corn, soybeans, pork and dairy products. It had given no indication of attempting to find alternative suppliers during the one-week standoff over Trump’s proposed steep tariffs on Mexican goods.

Mexico buys loads of our farm products and agricultural equipment. They have for three or four decades, and really, no one was even talking about this at all:

Increasing Mexico’s purchases from the U.S. wasn’t discussed during the three days of talks in Washington that led up to Friday’s agreement, said the three people with knowledge of the deliberations who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Mexico has no state-owned agricultural conglomerate to buy food products or handle distribution, or a government program that could buy farm equipment for delivery to producers.

That’s fairly straightforward. But then there’s Donald Trump, so nothing is straightforward. And we seem to be living in that old James Bond movie, with Goldfinger himself.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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