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The Biggest Beneficiaries of "America First" Are . . . Russia and China

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump is addicted to dramatic announcements, and he’s had a bunch. He killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office. He’s weakened ties with Europe and trashed NATO. He’s cozied up with autocrats and given short shrift to our usual democratic allies. He’s focused all of his attention in Asia on North Korea. Yesterday he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. Who do these actions benefit?

TPP: Mostly China, which was left out of TPP and now has an open road to create its own trading bloc. The benefit to the US is minuscule at best.

NATO: Russia, of course. I assume this needs no explanation?

Paris: Mostly China, which can now take the high ground and bill itself as the global leader in combating climate change. The benefit to America is probably zero or negative.

North Korea: China. They’re pretty obviously stringing Trump along, doling out tiny claims of progress in return for concessions by Trump. I’m guessing their claims in the South China Sea are very safe as long as they keep up this charade with Trump the global bumpkin.

Autocrats: China and Russia, which very much like the idea of the leader of the free world affirming that human rights are for suckers. America gets nothing from this policy of alienating the allies we have in return for kowtowing to autocrats who share no values with us and have no intention of becoming allies.

I’m not saying this is a deliberate policy from Trump. I doubt he really has one. But it’s pretty remarkable that America gets nothing from “America First,” while China and Russia are big beneficiaries.

For a more coherent take on this, check out Max Boot in the LA Times today. He has a pretty clear-eyed read on what’s going on.

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The Biggest Beneficiaries of "America First" Are . . . Russia and China

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Donald Trump Really Likes to Drop Military Secrets Into His Conversations

Mother Jones

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A couple of days ago The Intercept released a leaked transcript of President Trump’s recent phone call with President Duterte of the Philippines. Here’s a piece of it:

BuzzFeed’s Nancy Youssef got some feedback about this from folks in the Pentagon:

Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. “We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movement stealth is key to their mission.

….By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.

Needless to say, Trump wasn’t expecting that his conversation would be leaked. But these things happen—along with other ways that private conversations can end up in the wrong hands—which is why presidents don’t just casually drop military secrets into meetings with foreigners for no better reason than to make themselves look tough. This is now (at least) the second time Trump has done this, and there’s a price to pay:

We’re quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don’t trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know.

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Donald Trump Really Likes to Drop Military Secrets Into His Conversations

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It’s Easter in Mar-a-Lago

Mother Jones

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What’s on our president’s mind on this lovely Easter morning? Let’s check in:

This came after a series of tweets griping about folks who still want to see his tax returns; the paid agitators behind yesterday’s rallies; and China not being a currency manipulator as long as they play ball on North Korea. You can almost feel the morning star of our Savior’s resurrection infusing Trump’s heart with warmth and gladness, can’t you?

Speaking of which, I gather that there was no sunrise service on Trump’s schedule today. That’s OK with me—I slept in too—but it’s kind of funny, especially since Politico informs us that Trump is becoming more Godly now that he’s in the Oval Office:

President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court Justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.

He’s also taken other steps to further cultivate a Christian right that helped elect him, granting new levels of access to Christian media and pushing socially conservative positions that don’t appear to come naturally to him.

Apparently Trump isn’t even a Christmas-and-Easter Christian, but he’s still “cultivating” the Christian right. He may be an atheist in practice—none of us actually believe his recent nonsense about praying more often, do we?—but that won’t stop the Christian right from embracing Trump as long as he’s against abortion and Democrats and says the word “God” once in a while. With practice, maybe he’ll even be able to toss out the occasional Biblical allusion.

It probably sounds like there’s not much warmth in my heart either this morning, and obviously I need to work on that when it comes to Trump. After all, even here in the land of palm trees, light arises in the darkness for us upright folks.

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It’s Easter in Mar-a-Lago

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Today’s Idiocy Roundup

Mother Jones

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There’s so much to learn in the world. A couple of days ago, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services issued this statement regarding CSR subsidies for Obamacare:

The New York Times report is inaccurate. The administration is currently deciding its position on this matter. We have not been contacted by Democrats to help save Obamacare, perhaps because they consider Obamacare to be a losing cause. Democrats need to help solve this failed Obamacare plan.

That sounded really aggressive for an agency statement, and I was a little surprised. How had they picked up the Trump style and rhythm so perfectly? Today I learned the answer via Politico:

Two administration officials said the HHS rebuttal was personally ordered by an incensed Trump, who feared that the Times story hurt his negotiating position. Trump took the unusual step of calling HHS Secretary Tom Price to dictate a blistering statement that challenged the story and swiped at Democrats, one senior administration official said.

Today Trump made his position even clearer. Insurers will most likely pull out of the exchanges or jack up premiums if CSR payments are halted, and Trump said explicitly that he was willing to do this if Democrats didn’t come to the table. I’m not a world-class negotiator or anything, but isn’t it sort of unusual to talk openly about your threat to personally blow up Obamacare unless Dems knuckle under? That makes it hard to subsequently blame Democrats, doesn’t it?

In other news, I’m not the only one who’s been learning new things. A few weeks ago Trump announced that health care was a lot more complicated than he had thought, and today he explained that Chinese President Xi Jinping schooled him on North Korea too:

Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

This is probably something I would have kept to myself, but maybe that’s wrong. I suppose Trump is setting a good example by showing that you’re never too old to listen and learn.

What else? There was this:

That was quick! Hooray for NATO! However, it’s unclear what produced this change of heart. Was it the influence of H.R. McMaster? The alleged Russian collusion in Syria’s use of chemical weapons? Or did the NSA pick up some sigint of Vladimir Putin mocking Trump?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal today, Trump also said he’s changed his mind and now supports the Export-Import bank. He’s also thinking about reappointing Janet Yellen as chair of the Fed. And this:

Asked how he has changed since taking office, the former businessman—who as a candidate touted his ability to cut deals—said: “The magnitude of everything is so big, and also the decisions are so big. You know, you’re talking about life and death. You’re not talking about ‘you’re going to make a good deal.’”

Huh. The presidency isn’t just about making good deals. Since that was basically Trump’s sole alleged qualification for the office, I wonder what role he now thinks he’s going to play?

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Today’s Idiocy Roundup

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The Curious Case of Dr. Donald and Mr. Trump

Mother Jones

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On Fox Business this morning, President Trump said he’s not done with health care after all. In fact, he wants to take another swing at TrumpCare before he tackles tax cuts for the rich. Just for the record, then, here is what Trump’s domestic and foreign policy has looked like over the past two months:


  1. NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever. It must be uprooted and fundamentally reformed.
  2. China needs to stop screwing us on trade and North Korea or they’re in big trouble.
  3. We’re committed to good relations with Russia.
  4. Assad can stay in power. We don’t really care.
  5. Health care is dead, time to move on to taxes.


  1. We have a few modest changes we’d like to make to NAFTA.
  2. We had a pleasant meeting with Xi. It would be nice if they helped out with North Korea.
  3. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, its interference with our elections, and its backing of Assad are intolerable.
  4. Assad is a monster who has to go.
  5. We’re going to try again on health care before we get to taxes.

FFS, does Trump have any idea at all what he wants to do? On health care, I gather that somebody explained to him yet again why tax cuts for billionaires will be procedurally easier if they gut health care first. So now he’s on board with taking another run at it. I suppose that he’ll forget the explanation shortly, though, and make yet another U-turn until someone explains it again.

I dunno. The first few twists in this show were entertaining, but the writers are getting lost lately. In just the past few episodes they’ve given us an EPA administrator who wants additional security to protect him from his own employees; a press secretary whose can-you-top-this bloopers now include a defense of Hitler; a fresh-faced son-in-law they don’t quite know what to do with; and a president who’s ready to go to war because of what he sees on Fox News. I like quirky characters as much as the next guy, but this is getting to be a little much.

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The Curious Case of Dr. Donald and Mr. Trump

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California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

Mother Jones

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After California’s wetter-than-normal winter—and the official end to its drought—you’re probably not thinking much about water scarcity and the food supply. But our food-and-water woes go well beyond the Sunshine State’s latest precipitation patterns, as this new Nature study from a global team of researchers—including two from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies—shows.

The paper notes that the globe’s stores of underground water, known as groundwater—the stuff that accumulates over millennia in aquifers—is vanishing at an “alarming” rate, driven mainly by demand for irrigation to grow crops. You can think of such reserves as “fossil” water, since it takes thousands of years to replenish once it’s pumped out. Once it’s gone, some of the globe’s key growing regions—the breadbaskets for much of Asia and the Middle East—will no longer be viable. Here in the United States, we rely heavily on California’s Central Valley for fruit, vegetables, and nuts—which in turn relies on some of the globe’s most stressed aquifers for irrigation. Tapped-out aquifers point to a future marked by high food prices and geopolitical strife.

The Nature researchers found that the most severe depletion is concentrated “in a few regions that rely significantly on overexploited aquifers to grow crops, mainly the USA, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Pakistan and China, including almost all the major breadbaskets and population centres of the planet.”

The group mapped global food trade flows from these areas with the most-stressed aquifers—places like the California Central Valley, the Midwest’s High Plains (where farmers have for years been draining the Ogallala aquifer to grow corn and cotton), India’s breadbasket, the Punjab, and China’s main growing region, the North Plain. That these crucial resources are being rapidly used up is well established—for example, see the 2014 Nature paper, using satellite data by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, which I discussed here.

What the new paper adds to that chilling assessment isn’t comforting to US eaters, or people who look at long-term geopolitical trends. They name the seven countries where farmers are drawing the most from overstressed aquifers: India, Iran, Pakistan, China, the United States, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Together, agriculture within these countries is responsible for more than 90 percent of the globe’s irrigation water taken from overdrawn aquifers

Such withdrawals rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2010, they found. Three countries drove most of that gain: India, where unsustainable groundwater withdrawals for irrigation jumped 23 percent; China, where such water use doubled; and the United States, where it grew by nearly a third. These rates are higher than global population growth, which was about 13 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Note that the group was looking at data from a period just before the onset of California’s recent drought (2011-2016), which triggered a massive frenzy of water-pump drilling and an epic drawdown of aquifers. The new study underlines a point I’ve made before: Water reserves in California’s Central Valley are in a long-term state of decline—aquifer recharge during wet years never fully replaces all that was taken away during dry times.

The Nature team took withdrawal data and overlaid them with food-trade data. Of those seven countries that use massive amounts of water from dwindling aquifers to grow crops, just three are major exporters of those crops: the United States, Mexico, and Pakistan. Here in the United States, the two farming regions that lean heavily on unsustainable water, California and the Plains, are also major crop exporters. So it’s no surprise that 42.6 percent of US food grown with fossil water is sold abroad. China, a massive buyer of US soybeans and other crops, was the No. 1 destination of such US exports in 2010, the study found.

They also looked at countries that rely most on imported food grown with fossil water. The researchers found that a “vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security.” The countries with the biggest fossil-water footprints for imported food were, in order, China, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The No. 1 source for US imports of aquifer-draining food, which nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, was Mexico, a major supplier of our fruits and vegetables.

Along with Mexico, Iran, and China, the researchers placed the United States among a handful of countries that are “particularly exposed” to the risks of groundwater scarcity “because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers.”

The paper isn’t trying to make the point that food trade is somehow bad. Rather, it’s that global food trade hinges increasingly on a vanishing resource, and that the water footprint of our food supply is largely invisible to both end consumers and policymakers. As NASA’s Famiglietti put it in his 2014 Nature paper, “groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.” As for regulation, a “veritable groundwater ‘free for all'” holds sway globally, and “property owners who can afford to drill wells generally have unlimited access to groundwater,” Famiglietti notes.

And trade means we’re all in this together. Food choices made by consumers in Qatar can have an outsize impact on aquifers in geopolitical hot spots like Pakistan, while decisions made by those who control China’s food system can tax aquifers under Kansas and Fresno County, California. Like climate change and antibiotic resistance, water scarcity is a global problem that requires global solutions.

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California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

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Trump and the Guy Who Invented the Global Warming Hoax Meet in Mar-a-Lago

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by the Huffington Post and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A skeptic of man-made climate change, President Donald Trump would likely shrug at the notion that rising seas could swallow his beloved “Winter White House” at Mar-a-Lago by the end of the century.

Unfortunately for Trump, climate change is not a hoax or a scam. And the president’s denial about what is happening, just feet from his luxury Florida property, doesn’t make the threat any less real.

Trump has chosen Mar-a-Lago as the place to “break the ice” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as a senior White House official put it during a background briefing Tuesday. Starting Thursday afternoon, Trump will host Xi for a highly anticipated two-day summit. It will be the first face-to-face meeting for the leaders of the world’s two largest economies and biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The two have a lot to discuss, including trade tensions and the North Korean nuclear threat, a White House official said. But if Tuesday’s briefing was any indication, climate change—a critical issue on which the U.S. and China recently parted ways—won’t be on the agenda.

Bob Deans of the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council told the Huffington Post that the summit presents an opportunity for the two countries to strengthen their relationship and “make real progress on the central environmental challenge of our time.” And to walk away from that would be a big mistake.

“We’re all counting on these two leaders to take this issue seriously and to take it up at Mar-a-Lago,” he said.

In many ways, the location is perfect. South Florida, including Palm Beach County, is already taking steps to prepare for the effects of climate change, namely sea level rise. A 6-foot rise, on the high end of possible scenarios that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted by 2100, would put a significant portion of Trump’s oceanfront resort below the surface.

“Even though he’s president, Mar-a-Lago is not invulnerable to sea level rise,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, a Republican, recently told Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper.

Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. and China forged a strong partnership in the fight to combat global climate change. Obama and Xi met at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, last September, where they fortified commitments to reduce carbon emissions by formally joining the Paris Agreement and pledged a “continued bilateral climate cooperation.”

That move, along with India’s ratification of the agreement later that month, proved key to the pact taking effect in November.

Today, the story is strikingly different. Obama â&#128;&#149; who believed that “no challengeâ&#128;&#138; poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change” â&#128;&#149; has been replaced by a president who has dismissed the phenomenon as “bullshit” and a “hoax” that was “created by and for the Chinese.”

And where China and the U.S. only months ago found common ground, Trump has chosen to take the country in an opposite, dangerous direction. Since taking office, he has worked feverishly to roll back Obama-era climate policies, and has promised to save America’s dying coal industry, increase oil and gas production and make sweeping cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency that target climate programs.

Meanwhile, China is forging ahead with efforts to move away from coal and reduce emissions, announcing in January that it will invest $360 billion on renewable energy, including solar and wind power, through 2020.

China hasn’t shied away from calling out Trump, both for his Chinese hoax remark and his campaign promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate pact. At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Xi stressed that tackling climate change is a responsibility owed to future generations and urged then president-elect Trump to keep the U.S. in the pact, calling it a “hard-won achievement” that “all signatories should stick to.”

“It is important to protect the environment while pursuing economic and social progress â&#128;&#149; to achieve harmony between man and nature, and harmony between man and society,” Xi said at the time.

Climate change was mentioned only once at Tuesday’s White House briefing about the Trump-Xi summit â&#128;&#149; by a journalist, who asked on what the U.S. and China hope to collaborate now that Trump has reversed course on climate. A White House official said that North Korea is something the U.S. and China could work together on and that there are still “a lot of areas of cooperation,” including public health.

Though there are many unanswered questions about the U.S.-China relationship going forward, one thing that’s become increasingly clear is that China looks poised to lead where Trump is choosing not to.

“Since Donald Trump’s election victory, China has emerged as a potential new leader on the global stage—and today’s address does little to soften the impression that President Xi is taking an increasingly assertive stance on matters of global trade and climate change,” the World Economic Forum noted in a press release about Xi’s January address.

Given Trump’s actions since taking office, it is unlikely he or his team members will strike up a conversation about the threats of climate change. Which means that if the two are to have such a discussion, Xi will have to bring it up. The two will need to look no further than out one of the club’s many windows for the proof.

NASA research shows that global sea levels rose an average of 3 inches between 1992 and 2015. And a University of Miami study last year found that the rate of sea level rise in South Florida had tripled, to about 3/4 inch a year, over the previous decade.

In 2015, in an effort to better prepare for and minimize the effects, Palm Beach County, where Mar-a-Lago is located, hired a “climate change and sustainability coordinator,” urban land use planner Natalie Schneider.

Harold Wanless, chair of the University of Miami’s geological sciences department, understands the situation facing Florida’s coastal areas well. He has co-signed at least four letters to Trump, Mar-a-Lago or a member of the president’s administration, each stressing the urgent need to accept and combat the realities of climate change. None of the letter signees received a response, he told HuffPost.

Wanless can’t understand how Trump could disregard the evidence.

“This is so real,” he told HuffPost. “And it’s so imminent to begin having serious effects on the stability of our coastal environments and its communities and its people. And it doesn’t matter if somebody believes in it or not, it’s happening. And it’s going to be happening at an accelerated rate.”

In a post Wednesday, Melania Hart, director of China policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, listed climate change among the five issues Trump must handle correctly during the summit. She wrote that she expects Beijing will bring up the issue, if for no other reason than to “needle” the Republican president.

“On this issue, the Trump administration is setting the United States up to be the global bad guy, and that will give China leverage to push back against U.S. initiatives on other issues,” Hart wrote. “If the Trump administration denies climate science or refuses to acknowledge the positive role Beijing is playing, that will undermine Washington’s credibility when it claims to be seriously considering new measures on North Korea or trade.”

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Trump and the Guy Who Invented the Global Warming Hoax Meet in Mar-a-Lago

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Germany Unhappy Over New Steel Tariffs

Mother Jones

Germany is upset at new tariffs on carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length plate:

Germany’s foreign minister on Friday morning said the Trump administration is taking a “dangerous step” after the Commerce Department announced a tariff on imports of foreign steel, indicating the tax could become a new source of conflict with the powerful U.S. ally and trading partner.

….“The U.S. Government is apparently prepared to provide American companies with unfair competitive advantages over European and other producers, even if such action violates international trade law,” Gabriel’s statement read. “I very much fail to comprehend the decision.”

FWIW, none of this is really a Trump thing. The International Trade Commission began investigating dumping claims against Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, and Turkey in early 2016, and finished up its work before Trump took office. The vote determining that these countries were dumping product in the US below cost was unanimous.

I don’t know what the Obama or Clinton administrations would have done if they’d had the final decision on this, but my guess is that they would have done the same thing as Trump, and the targets of the tariffs would have complained and threatened to take the case to the WTO. So there’s nothing much new here. It’s just another steel tariff. Because, you know, all the previous ones over the past four decades have been so successful.

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Germany Unhappy Over New Steel Tariffs

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Goldman Sachs Has Been Very Good to Trump’s Top Economic Adviser

Mother Jones

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump the tycoon railed against big banks, claimed he cared passionately about the little guy, and vowed to make the economy work for struggling middle-class Americans. But after winning, he placed the American economy in the hands of Gary Cohn, the chief operating officer and president of Goldman Sachs. In January, Trump named Cohn chairman of the National Economic Council, the president’s top financial and economic whizzes. Cohn would be the highest authority on the economy within the White House. He quit his Goldman Sachs gig, but he left with an estimated $285 million severance package and agreed to sell a $16 million-stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Cohn certainly lives in a different economic reality than most Americans, and thanks to financial disclosure forms released on Friday night by the White House—which cover 180 of its officials and staffers and detail their finances when they arrived at the White House—the public can see just how different.

In 2015 and 2016, according to the form for Cohn, he earned between $39 million and $45 million from Goldman Sachs. This includes salary ($1.8 million last year), annual $5.4 million cash bonuses, and tens of millions of dollars in stock options, dividends, and interest. This doesn’t count what he brought in via various Goldman Sachs-operated retirement accounts. Nor does it take into account the money he pocketed from his sprawling brokerage accounts, which included Goldman Sachs investment funds. Cohn also had millions invested in hedge funds, real estate properties around the country, and numerous companies, including that Chinese bank, a high-end cosmetic retailer, and multiple medical technology firms. All told, it appears Cohn earned as much as $75 million last year.

Cohn is not the only Goldman alum to join the Trump administration. Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury secretary, worked at Goldman for years, and last month Trump hired another former Goldman Sachs top executive to be Mnuchin’s No. 2 at Treasury. The bank has been wildly successful over the last two decades, but it also has become a symbol of Wall Street’s excesses. It played a key role in the 2008 financial crash that led to a nationwide economic meltdown. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was slammed repeatedly—by both her Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders and Trump—for giving paid speeches to Goldman executives. And before he wrapped up the GOP nomination, Trump attacked Republican rival Ted Cruz, pointing out that Cruz’s wife worked at Goldman Sachs and that he had received a loan from the firm.

Cohn’s full financial disclosure can be found below.

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Gary Cohn Financial Disclosure (PDF)

Gary Cohn Financial Disclosure (Text)

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Goldman Sachs Has Been Very Good to Trump’s Top Economic Adviser

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

Mother Jones

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When a Chinese American businesswoman who sells access to powerful people recently purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by President Donald Trump, the deal raised a key question. Was this a straightforward real estate transaction, or was this an effort to win favor with the new administration? The woman, Angela Chen, refused to discuss the purchase with the media. The White House and the Trump Organization would not comment on it. Further investigation by Mother Jones has unearthed a new element to the story: Chen has ties to important members of the Chinese ruling elite and to an organization considered a front group for Chinese military intelligence.

Chen, who also goes by the names Xiao Yan Chen and Chen Yu, purchased the four-bedroom condo in the Trump Park Avenue building in New York City on February 21. As Mother Jones first reported, Chen runs a business consulting firm, Global Alliance Associates, which specializes in linking US businesses seeking deals in China with the country’s top power brokers. “As counselors in consummating the right relationships—quite simply—we provide access,” Chen’s firm boasts on its website. But Chen has another job: She chairs the US arm of a nonprofit called the China Arts Foundation, which was founded in 2006 and has links with Chinese elites and the country’s military intelligence service.

The China Arts Foundation was created by Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, the iconic revolutionary figure and Chinese leader. Deng Rong is what’s known in China as a princeling—a term used for the sons and daughters of former high-ranking officials or officers in the Chinese Communist Party who now hold significant sway in business and political circles. Since 1990, Deng has also served as a vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts, which is an affiliate of the intelligence and foreign propaganda division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China experts say CAIFC exists to cultivate relationships with former leaders and retired military officials and diplomats of various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in order to influence foreign defense policies toward China and the Far East.

To sum up: An influence-peddler who works with a princeling tied to Chinese military intelligence placed $15.8 million in the pockets of the president of the United States.

Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on national security policy with respect to Asia, says CAIFC’s leadership consists largely of retired (and some current) Chinese military and government officials. Stokes, who has written about Chinese political warfare, says CAIFC has become “an important channel of access to Chinese Communist Party princelings.” He adds that “by influencing perceptions” of China (especially in connection to controversial issues, such as China’s stance toward Taiwan), CAIFC hopes to “influence policies of foreign governments, particularly related to defense and national security.”

The China Arts Foundation bills itself as a promoter of cultural exchanges between the United States and China, often involving classical music. The group has a branch in New York, which is run by Angela Chen, and another in Hong Kong. Various members of China’s elite serve on the group’s board, including Wang Boming, one of the founders of China’s stock market; Hong Kong orchestra conductor Long Yu; and Marjorie Yang, a political power broker and textile magnate who’s nicknamed the “cotton princess.” (Yang is reportedly bankrolling the campaign of John Tsang, a candidate for chief executive of Hong Kong, the city’s highest office.) Li Zhaoxing, a former foreign minister, and Guo Shuqing, the chairman of China’s banking regulation commission, were named as board members in a promotional video posted on the website of the foundation’s American branch.

On Tuesday, after Mother Jones made inquiries, the website for the China Arts Foundation International went offline. (You can view an archived version of the site here.)

Angela Chen’s role with the China Arts Foundation has brought her into contact with prominent American and Chinese figures. In 2014, the foundation hosted its Chinese New Year gala at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on behalf of Deng Rong, and the guests included billionaire Chinese real estate developer Zhang Xin, philanthropist and banker Steven Rockefeller, and Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire investor and CEO of the Blackstone Group. The Chinese consul general in New York, Zhang Qiyue, and former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman attended a 2015 benefit dinner hosted by the foundation.

The promotional video indicates that there has been a working relationship between the China Arts Foundation and CAIFC. In it, Chen’s group takes credit for sponsoring numerous international summits, including a meeting of international business leaders and think tank experts called the Sanya Forum, which was organized by CAIFC. Several China experts tell Mother Jones that CAIFC engages in legitimate cultural exchange activities but that it has long been seen as part of the Chinese military intelligence apparatus. In a 2002 article published in the China Quarterly, a peer-reviewed British academic journal, George Washington University professor and China scholar David Shambaugh characterized CAIFC as an offshoot of the intelligence bureau of the People’s Liberation Army. He noted that CAIFC’s offices are located in a Beijing compound used by military units.

In 2012, the Republican National Committee considered a resolution expressing concern about a cultural exchange program organized by CAIFC because of the group’s ties to Chinese military intelligence. The resolution, which was not adopted, was fueled by a report from a congressional committee that studies US-China relations. The report labeled CAIFC “a front organization for the International Liaison Department of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department.”

CAIFC has also prompted concerns at the US State Department. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, an aide to Bill Clinton sought the State Department’s approval for the former president to make a November 2012 speaking appearance co-sponsored by CAIFC and the China Arts Foundation, according to government emails released through the Freedom of Information Act. An official at the State Department noted that CAIFC’s leadership included current and former Chinese government officials and wrote to Clinton’s aide, “I don’t believe we’ve approved Chinese gov’t entities in the past and so we will need to further consider this one.” In the end, Clinton’s aide told the State Department that the former president was backing out of the appearance.

In 2015, a high-ranking CAIFC official was detained as part of an anti-graft campaign by the Chinese army. A South China Morning Post story on the arrest described him as “the chief of a Chinese military intelligence agency.” The paper noted that the official “was in charge of overseas espionage and is better known to the West as the vice-chairman of the government-backed China Association for International Friendly Contact, which used to be the Department of Enemy Work.”

Chen’s purchase of the penthouse unit from Trump was the first deal consummated by Trump’s company since he became president. Prior to taking office, Trump claimed he would remove himself from the daily operations of his business empire, but he remains the owner of the limited liability company that sold Chen the unit. How the deal went down remains a mystery. Chen apparently paid cash, and the apartment she purchased, unlike other penthouse units in the Trump Park Avenue building, was not publicly listed for sale. Chen currently lives in an apartment on a lower floor of the building and uses the unit as a mailing address for the China Arts Foundation and her consulting company. Before moving to Washington, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building. (They are currently trying to sell their apartment.)

Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who, along with Trump’s two adult sons, was handed the task of running Trump’s business empire while he is in the Oval Office, signed the sale documents with Chen. He did not respond to a request for comment. Chen also did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the apartment deal or her relationship with Deng Rong and CAIFC. CAIFC did not respond to an email seeking comment.

When Trump became president, the Trump Organization enlisted an ethics adviser, attorney Bobby Burchfield, to vet potential business deals involving Trump. Burchfield declined to comment about the Chen transaction or explain the vetting process for her purchase of the Trump Park Avenue penthouse.

Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s lead ethics lawyer, says the links between Chen, the foundation, CAIFC, and the Chinese government and military raise “a series of very profound and troubling questions.” He notes that there is no transparency regarding the vetting of business deals benefiting Trump. Without such a process, he points out, there are well-founded questions about the true source of the funds used to buy the $15.8 million condo. “When, as here, the public interest is implicated, we’re left at a loss,” Eisen says. “You shouldn’t be asking these questions about a president.”

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

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