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R.I.P. Monsanto. Our hates will go on.

Welp, this is the end of Monsanto.

Not the end of the seed company, mind you, but the end of its name. The scientists, marketers, and lawyers who work there will keep doing their jobs, they’ll just be employed by Bayer, the big German chemical and pharmaceuticals company that’s slowly swallowing Monsanto.

But we’re losing so much more than just a name. Without Monsanto, who will we blame for the death of bees, the unprofitability of small farms, and the insidious spread of mystery diseases which you probably don’t even realize you have? The natural answer is, of course, Bayer, but outrage is rarely transferable– it sticks to the brand.

Case in point: What’s the military contractor Blackwater called today? How about the tobacco corporation formerly known as Phillip Morris? What became of IG Farben, the company that produced Zyklon-B for use in concentration camps? (Answers at bottom.)*

The name Monsanto itself was a valuable tool for activists who could wield it as a boogeyman to rally people without much knowledge of an issue. Groups like the March Against Monsanto depend on the brand. “Will they still march if there’s no Monsanto?” asked Dan Charles, the guy who wrote the book on the company. March Against Bayer just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Bayer made the deal to buy Monsanto back in 2016, and it’s been jumping through various regulatory hoops since. The deal was among a series of mergers in agribusiness brought on by low food prices and declining profits.

Monsanto was the leader in commercializing genetically modified crops, and today the name is synonymous with GMOs engineered for large-scale agriculture. Before it sold off the chemical business to be a fulltime gene-jockey, the company also created glyphosate, the controversial and most widely used herbicide in the world, though many companies started manufacturing it after the patent expired. Monsanto has done some bad things through its history, developing some nasty chemicals and recently releasing a soybean that encouraged farmers to screw over their neighbors. But it’s also routinely blamed for problems it has nothing to do with.

Monsanto has been the whipping boy for a strange coalition that runs the left-right gamut from anti-corporate greens to fans of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. It was the go-to if you had a problem and needed someone or something to blame it, a point the writer Cirocco Dunlap captured in a satire of new-agey faddism when asking why more people weren’t curing sick children with coconut oil: “It was so nice and so easy; I’m confused why people don’t do this more often. Probably because of Monsanto.”

It’s probably a good thing we won’t have Monsanto to kick around anymore. Much of the animus against Monsanto stems from a sense that corporations are changing food and farming in ways that we don’t understand. The thing is, those corporations have taken the lead in innovation because our government hasn’t been all that interested in funding public-sector research in agriculture. Funding research on destructo swarmbots to slaughter our enemies? That’s a no-brainer. Funding to feed people and keep them from becoming our enemies in the first place? Well, that’s where we tend to tighten the belt.

Perhaps now, instead of searching for an easy villain, we might consider searching for the root causes of our problems and fixing them.

*Philip Morris is now Altria. Blackwater became Xe. IG Farben was broken up after World War II into other companies which have since become parts of five others: Agfa, BASF, Celanese, Sanofi, and … Bayer.

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R.I.P. Monsanto. Our hates will go on.

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Der Spiegel Just Published the Minutes From Trump’s Contentious Meeting With G7 Leaders

Mother Jones

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German magazine Der Spiegel has been given access to minutes from a contentious meeting of G7 leaders in Taormina, Sicily, at the end of May, in which they applied last-ditch pressure on President Donald Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement.

The meeting came toward the end of Trump’s first trip abroad as president—and became an opportunity for world leaders to intensely lobby the American president before Trump’s final decision on whether the United States would leave the historic climate accord.

The leaders told Trump in no uncertain terms that if the United States abandoned the agreement, China would be the direct beneficiary.

“Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries,” said Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected French president, at the outset of the private conversation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then told Trump that the success of repairing the ozone layer proved that industry could be persuaded to act on harmful emissions, according to the account.

Then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought up China: “If the world’s largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese,” she said. According to Der Spiegel, Merkel added that Chinese President Xi Jinping was preparing to take advantage of the vacuum left by America’s exit. Even Saudi Arabia, she added, was preparing for a world without oil.

Trump was unmoved. “For me,” the president reportedly said, “it’s easier to stay in than step out,” adding that green regulations were killing American jobs.

As it became clear Trump would not budge, Macron admitted defeat, according to this account.

“Now China leads,” he said.

The account adds fresh details to the president’s fraught European trip. Following the meeting, the G7 broke with tradition to release a statement where six nations reaffirmed the Paris climate agreement, without the United States. The president also caused a diplomatic scuffle in Italy after accusing Germany of being “very bad” on trade and appeared to literally shove aside a leader of a NATO ally.

In a Rose Garden ceremony last Thursday, Trump announced that the United States would leave the historic Paris climate agreement—promising to “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

In response to the president’s announcement, President Macron of France released a video statement, saying, “If we do nothing, our children will know a world of migrations, of wars, of shortage. A dangerous world.”

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Der Spiegel Just Published the Minutes From Trump’s Contentious Meeting With G7 Leaders

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House Dems Investigating Trump Loans for Russian Connections

Mother Jones

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Since Donald Trump became a presidential candidate, journalists and investigators looking at his business holdings have wondered if there are any Russian connections to the complicated and opaque finances of his real estate empire. So far, no solid evidence of a Moscow link has emerged. But on Wednesday a group of House Democrats took a significant step on this front. They sent a letter to German banking giant Deutsche Bank asking for information regarding the four large loans Trump has received from the bank. In particular, the lawmakers are looking for information indicating whether the Russian government guaranteed any of the Trump loans or if these transactions “were in any way connected to Russia.”

According to financial disclosures made by Trump during the campaign, he owes more than $714 million to several banks. But his biggest lender—by far—is Deutsche Bank, which has provided Trump at least $364 million in financing. Deutsche Bank has regularly clashed with US regulators in recent years, and it is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice for its role in a 2011 scheme to allegedly launder money out of Russia using a complex system of what are known as “mirror trades.” Given that Trump now oversees the Department of Justice, his loans with the German bank are one of his most glaring conflicts of interest.

In February, the Guardian reported that sometime after Trump launched his bid for the presidency, Deutsche Bank undertook a review of Trump’s business with the bank. The review, which has not been made public, reportedly did not find a link to Russia. But the Democrats want to see that review to make sure. Their letter, which was sent to Deutsche Bank’s American CEO, asks for a copy of the review and related documents.

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In the 1990s, as Trump struggled with assorted bankruptcies, his relationship with many Wall Street banks deteriorated. Deutsche Bank remained one of the few major banks willing to lend him money. In 2005, he borrowed $640 million from Deutsche Bank to fund the construction of his Chicago tower, but when the 2008 financial crisis hit, this partnership turned rocky. In November 2008, just as he was about to miss a payment on the loan, Trump sued Deutsche Bank for more than $3 billion, arguing that the bank’s actions on the world market had led to the financial collapse that had hurt Trump’s real estate business. The bank, in turn, counter-sued, demanding that Trump pay back the $40 million he had personally guaranteed on the loan. The dispute lingered in court for several years before finally being settled. Oddly, Trump subsequently worked out four new hefty loans with Deutsche Bank: one for that Chicago tower; two loans totaling $125 million to finance his purchase of the Doral National golf course in Miami; and a $170 million loan for renovating Trump’s new hotel in Washington, DC. The loan for the Washington hotel was issued in August 2015, a couple months after Trump entered the presidential race.

“At a time when nearly all other financial institutions refused to lend to Trump after his businesses repeatedly declared bankruptcy, Deutsche Bank continued to do so—even after the President sued the Bank and defaulted on a prior loan from the Bank—to the point where his companies now owe your institution an estimated $340 million,” the Democratic lawmakers stated in their letter to Deutsche Bank. “Only with full disclosure can the American public determine the extent of the President’s financial ties to Russia and any impact such ties may have on his policy decisions.”

Last fall, a Deutsche Bank spokeswoman confirmed to Mother Jones that all of Trump’s loans from Deutsche Bank came from its “private bank,” a division that caters to high net-worth individuals who typically maintain large personal or brokerage accounts with the bank. According to Trump’s personal financial disclosure, he had at least two brokerage accounts with Deutsche Bank. Additionally, a failed concrete manufacturing business started by Donald Trump Jr. received a loan from Deutsche Bank, and Jared Kushner and his mother jointly have a loan from Deutsche Bank. (Trump eventually purchased from Deutsche Bank the loan it had made to his son’s failed business.)

In the letter, the House Democrats also asked for the bank’s records regarding a 2011 internal investigation of its “mirror trading” operation in Moscow. According to a New Yorker report last summer, between 2011 and 2015, Deutsche Bank employees in Moscow used a complicated trading procedure to help move as much as $10 billion out of Russia, possibly to help wealthy Russians evade sanctions imposed on the Putin regime.

The five Democrats who signed the letter are Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services committee, Daniel Kildee (Mich.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Al Green (Texas), and Ed Perlmutter (Colo.). A spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank did not respond to a request for comment regarding the Democrats’ inquiry.

A full copy of the letter is below.

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Ltr Fsc to John Cryan Deutsche Bank Mirror Trade and Trump Accounts 5 23 17 (PDF)

Ltr Fsc to John Cryan Deutsche Bank Mirror Trade and Trump Accounts 5 23 17 (Text)

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House Dems Investigating Trump Loans for Russian Connections

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Sean Spicer: Hitler "Didn’t Even Sink to Using Chemical Weapons"

Mother Jones

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer attempted to compare Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad to Adolf Hitler on Tuesday, arguing—incorrectly—that unlike Assad, Hitler never used chemical weapons during World War II. When a reporter gave Spicer a chance to clarify his remarks, Spicer followed up with an explanation that was arguably even more problematic.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said in response to a question about Russia’s ongoing support for the Assad regime.

When a reporter asked Spicer what he meant by this comment, Spicer explained that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” Apparently referring to Nazi death camps, Spicer acknowledged that Hitler “brought them into the Holocaust Center, I understand that.”

Reporters and pundits on Twitter quickly pointed out that Hitler justified the Holocaust in part by claiming that German Jews were not really Germans.

Nearly 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust from systemic murder that included the use of gas and shooting, as well as starvation and disease. This included between 160,000 to 180,000 German Jews. The Third Reich also targeted non-Jewish Germans it deemed “unworthy of life,” including people with mental and physical disabilities. These were among the first victim’s of Hitler’s use of poison gas beginning in 1939.

On MSNBC, the chyron fact-checking Spicer’s comments was particularly stunning.

After his briefing, Spicer sent out a second clarification, followed by a third:

And then a fourth:


Sean Spicer: Hitler "Didn’t Even Sink to Using Chemical Weapons"

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"I Gotta Go and Hunt Criminals." On the Road With Ohio Highway Patrol.

Mother Jones

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We’re sitting in the middle of the highway looking for drug mules. Specifically, we’re at mile marker 174 of Interstate 80, which I learn is the interstate with the third most drug traffic in the country, and I’m in a highway patrol car next to a garrulous sergeant who has a square face and close-cropped blond hair and alternates between wads of chewing tobacco and sips of an energy drink. His eyes dart from car to car—sedans and SUVs and big rigs—looking for what, exactly, is hard to tell.

Beyond the shallow embankment on either side of the road are forests and farms and vineyards of northeast Ohio, and beyond that, the drug hubs of Detroit and Cleveland and Buffalo and New York City. “As I tell my guys, there’s bulk loads going by us multiple times a shift every day,” the sergeant says, eyes still on the cars. “Our job is to interdict drugs before they get to our community.” Or, as he puts it later: “I gotta go and hunt criminals.”

Ohio has one of the most robust highway drug seizure programs in the country, with 13,300 drug-related arrests last year—or about one every 90 minutes. In 2016, troopers seized 167 pounds of heroin—the equivalent to about 2 million doses on the streets—and 64,708 opiate pills. “Our approach is to stop a lot of cars,” says Lieutenant Robert Sellers, the public affairs commander for the highway patrol. “What we don’t want our troopers to do is walk away. We want to make sure that whatever they thought wasn’t right is right.”

The sergeant’s job is, in the split second that cars pass by, to look for telltale signs of drug couriers. It’s typical for people to see the car, slow down, and then speed back up once they’ve passed him—those are the people he’s not interested in. He’s not interested in people speeding, or the drivers who look confident and relaxed. He is interested in rental cars, overly cautious drivers who stay below the speed limit, people who look in their rearview mirrors at him as they pass by, cars with tinted windows, drivers who look like they’re scrambling to move or adjust something as they pass, cars with recent fingerprints on the trunk. Cars that move into the right lane or that are closely tailing another are also red flags—they’re trying to distance themselves from the patrol car and blend into their surroundings, says the sergeant. Ultimately, a lot of the job is based on gut instinct: After years of watching thousands of cars go by, “your intuition will tell you when something’s wrong,” says Sellers.

Comments like this make me uneasy: The operation seems like a perfect recipe for profiling. The sergeant makes clear that race is not something that goes into his calculation of red flags—as he says later, “If you do this job based on stopping a certain race or age group or gender, you’re not gonna succeed.” But I cringe a little when, as we pull over the one car that we’ll pull over that afternoon—a sedan that had been closely tailing another car, in the far right lane, with recent fingerprints on an otherwise dirty trunk—the window opens to reveal a black man. (The sergeant lets him go with a warning.)

“Our professional operations policy forbids bias-based policing,” said Sellers. The troopers go through annual implicit bias training as part of their continuing education, he added, and each month, supervisors check the arrest data of their troopers to gauge for abnormally high arrest rates by race. According to highway patrol data online, 14.4 percent of drivers during all Ohio highway patrol stops were black. African Americans make up 12.7 percent of the state’s population.

Highway patrol drug arrests so far in 2017 Ohio State Highway Patrol

If a car catches the sergeant’s eye, he’ll turn onto the road and floor it so he can get a better view. Are the people moving around in the back just toddlers? Did the car speed up after all? If, after this, he’s still interested, then he pulls them over, typically for a minor violation like going over the lane marker or tailing another car. He maintains his friendly demeanor as he talks to drivers through their windows, but he’s also looking for clues: Nervous, sweaty drivers, pill bottles—especially in a different name than the driver’s—the scent of marijuana, recent receipts from a different place than the driver says he or she has been. And if anything looks suspicious, a German shepherd hops out of a squad car to sniff around. The dogs, who live with their handlers when they’re not on duty, are trained to look at or scratch around the area where they smell drugs. The sergeant tells me the story of a recent seizure, when a driver insisted there weren’t drugs in the car, and yet the dog kept calmly staring at the rooftop carrier—where the troopers later found 14 pounds of marijuana.

The day I’m there, troopers in the area use the tactic to find a car with a bucket full of marijuana, and another with two quarts of marijuana Kool-Aid, which I didn’t know was a thing, even as a Californian. The day before, there was a couple in a 2016 Nissan Ultima with more than 200 OxyCodone pills. The state highway patrol website features a strangely captivating running tab of the seizures, complete with photos of drugs in trunks or duct tape packages. There’s also a regularly updated map of drug busts, with a web of tiny blue dots for each seizure.

Marijuana and marijuana Kool-Aid seized by Ohio Highway Patrol in March Ohio State Highway Patrol

Unlike so many tight-lipped cops that make the news, the sergeant is eager to show me his work, and rattles on about recent busts, complete with details of the weight and the type of drug and where in the car it was. He’s seen what drugs can do to families—he was adopted because of his mother’s substance abuse—and he gushes about his daughters, 15 and 20. A few years ago, he says, “I decided I needed a hobby—all I did was eat, sleep, and breathe drugs.” When I ask him what the hobby is, a sheepish grin crosses his face as he mumbles, “fish.” I assumed this meant he liked fishing, but no—he has 16 aquariums with all sorts of exotic fish at his house. After a long day, he’ll sit in the aquarium room—where it’s quiet and things move slowly and there is no addiction or violence—and just watch.

I like the sergeant, yet I can’t stifle the questions that keep popping up in my head as we’re sitting there, looking for criminals. In addition to the profiling concern, there’s the question of efficacy: Are the troopers finding drugs just because they’re making so many stops and drugs are so prevalent, or are they finding drugs because they’re focusing on the right cars? Which is to say, is this even working?

The sergeant says he doesn’t think much about that higher-level question—as he put it, “I’ve got one goal in mind: If they’ve got drugs, to get their drugs.” Sellers admits that efficacy is hard to prove, but he says, “We do know we’ve had an impact.” He notes the heroin seized last year: “That’s 2 million doses of heroin that we took off Ohio roads that were destined for Ohio communities.

And finally, there’s the concern about the casual nature with which troopers arrest and imprison. When he describes a trooper with a particularly high seizure rate whom we’re about to visit, the sergeant simply says, “He’ll probably have someone in handcuffs by the time we get there. He’s that good.” Indeed, he does—when we arrive a half hour later, the trooper has pulled over the car with four pounds of marijuana in a bucket. The troopers playfully compete with each other—as we’re leaving, the sergeant says, “Now we have to find five.” The sergeant routinely calls the drug couriers “bad guys,” as in “the bad guy is in the sergeant’s car.”

I press him on this “bad guys” thing—aren’t some of these folks just desperate people in desperate situations? His face softens and he begins to tell me about an arrest a few weeks ago—a man and young pregnant woman, who voluntarily produced a bag of marijuana and 10 Xanax pills. But watching the video of the couple in the back of the patrol car, the troopers noticed that the woman kept sticking her hands down her pants, adjusting something. When confronted about it, she tearfully reached into her vagina and pulled out a condom full of hundreds of pills. The sergeant shakes his head recalling this. “I would love to see her show up for court looking good, have her act together. But unfortunately, those kinds of endings don’t happen that often.”

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"I Gotta Go and Hunt Criminals." On the Road With Ohio Highway Patrol.

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In Private, It Turns Out That Trump Is Pretty Much the Same

Mother Jones

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Roger Cohen writes about the Trump-Merkel meeting a couple of weeks ago:

When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money—piles of it—for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”

…Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader…Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful.

Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.

I’m sure glad that Republicans are restoring the respect for America that we lost after eight years of that empty suit Barack Obama.


In Private, It Turns Out That Trump Is Pretty Much the Same

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Trump Is Ready to Bless Monsanto and Bayer’s Massive Merger

Mother Jones

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Not even sworn in yet, President-elect Donald Trump is already negotiating the terms for green-lighting what Bloomberg News calls the globe’s “biggest-ever” merger of agribusiness companies—a move antitrust experts say is highly irregular.

US seed and pesticide giant Monsanto and its former German rival Bayer are in the midst of a $66 billion combination, one that immediately raised antitrust hackles because the resulting company would own around 29 percent of the global seed market, and 25 percent of the global pesticide market. Here in the United States, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would have nearly 60 percent of the US cottonseed market.

As I recently explained, such market power wielded by a single agribusiness company threatens to harm farmers and ultimately, consumers. The executive branch is required to vet massive combinations based on such concerns under the Sherman Act. But Trump’s talks with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer apparently had nothing to do with the deal’s impact on competition. On Tuesday, Fox Business News recently delivered Trump’s version of how the negotiation proceeded, quoting incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer from a press conference call:

After Trump’s meeting with Bayer and Monsanto CEOs, Bayer has committed to $8 billion in new U.S. research and development. Bayer will also keep 100% of Monsanto’s 9,000 plus U.S. workforce, and add 3,000 new U.S. high-tech jobs.

Bayer and Monsanto, for their part, on issued a joint statement describing their CEOs’ “very productive meeting last week with President-Elect Trump and his team.” They made no specific pledges on jobs, but did note that the “combined company expects to spend approximately $16 billion for R&D in agriculture over the next six years with at least half of this investment made in the United States,” an investment that “will create several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete.”

If Trump really does bless the merger based on a jobs pledge, dismissing antitrust concerns, it would “signal a fundamental disregard for the law and for due process,” Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, told me. “Antitrust enforcers play the important role of referee in protecting competition and our market system,” she added. “If Trump lets this deal through without any review, it would be unusual and would raise significant concerns.”

According to Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets at the New America and author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would likely “pay for those jobs by ripping off American farmers, hence American eaters,” by leveraging their market power to raise prices. If the jobs deal pans out, he added, “Trump’s team is selling out the long term interests of the United States.”

And then there’s the whole question of what exactly Monsanto and Bayer are promising to deliver. As CNBC’s Meg Tirrell notes, the companies had already announced plans, way back when they agreed to merge in September, to keep the combined company’s Seeds & Traits division, as well as its main North American headquarters, in Monsanto’s hometown, St. Louis.

In that same September announcement, the two companies noted that the combined entity would maintain an annual R&D budget of 2.5 billion Euros, equal to about $2.66 billion. That amounts to about $16 billion over six years—exactly what Monsanto and Bayer said to expect in its recent joint statement.

Then there’s those jobs. Recall that Trump spokesman Spicer said on the press call to that the combined company had committed to “keep 100% of Monsanto’s 9,000 plus U.S. workforce, and add 3,000 new U.S. high-tech jobs.” But the joint statement from Monsanto and Bayer promised no such thing, only offering a vague reference to “several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete.”

It also bears noting that in the joint statement following the merger plan in September, Bayer and Monsanto promised their shareholders “total synergies of approximately USD 1.5 billion after year three, plus additional synergies from integrated solutions in future years.” In corporate-merger speak, “synergy” means cost savings from from combining operations and eliminating overlapping jobs: one of the major motivations for merging in the first place.

I asked a Monsanto spokeswoman whether the Trump team’s depiction of Bayer-Monsanto’s jobs commitment was accurate. She pointed me back to the joint Monsanto-Bayer statement, and declined to comment further.

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Trump Is Ready to Bless Monsanto and Bayer’s Massive Merger

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Trump’s Business Plan Won’t Eliminate His Conflicts of Interest

Mother Jones

At a long-awaited press conference Wednesday, Donald Trump outlined an extensive list of steps he plans to take to separate himself from his business interests. But he stopped short of the one thing that ethics experts agree he needs to do to eliminate conflicts of interest: divest his billions in assets and debts and place the proceeds in a blind trust.

Standing in front of a large stack of papers and manila folders that he said represented agreements he has signed to separate himself from his businesses, Trump steadfastly insisted he did not have to take any measures to avoid conflicts because federal ethics rules do not apply to presidents or vice presidents. According to Trump and a lawyer he retained to devise a plan to limit his business conflicts, he was voluntarily taking steps to make sure there are no questions about whether he is acting in the public interest while in office. Under the plan detailed at the press conference, Trump’s assets will be placed into a trust that will be run by his sons and another Trump executive, and all of the Trump Organization’s deals will be vetted by an ethics adviser who will have the right to veto any new deals that might present a conflict.

But the Trump trust will not be a blind trust—that is, an entity run by an independent third party containing assets the beneficiary is unaware of. It will just be a trust. Many of Trump’s assets are already in a trust—the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust—but according to Trump and his attorney, Sheri Dillon, he won’t play a role in managing the new trust. Dillon said Trump will not be provided with detailed statements showing how his companies are performing. He will just receive updates showing the profits or losses of his assets.

Dillon also attempted to stave off concerns that Trump might violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials from receiving financial benefits from a foreign government. Ethics experts have pointed out that Trump’s financial entanglements may violate this provision. Among other things, he is part of a partnership that owes money to a government-owned Chinese bank. And foreign diplomatic delegations have rushed to book space at Trump’s new Washington, DC, hotel—seen by many as an attempt to curry favor. According to Dillon, Trump will donate all hotel profits connected to any foreign government to the US Treasury.

None of Trump’s proposals seemed to impress his critics. Norm Eisen, who served as a lead ethics attorney in Barack Obama’s administration, said the plan laid out by Trump and Dillon fails all five standards that he and Richard Painter, a former ethics attorney for the George W. Bush administration, laid out prior to the press conference.

“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” Eisen said, calling it “an inadequate and scantily detailed ethics wall.”

“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” Eisen added.

One of Trump’s most intractable conflicts of interest is the debt he owes to lenders around the globe. Trump has reported owing $713 million. His biggest lender is Deutsche Bank, the troubled German bank that recently agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the Justice Department for its role in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The bank remains under investigation by the Justice Department for possibly participating in an attempt to funnel money out of Moscow in defiance of international sanctions. Trump did not address the loans other than to say he believed his company has very little debt.

As he left the stage, Trump said he was happy to leave his sons in charge of his business empire and that he will judge how they have performed when he leaves the White House. “I hope they do a good job,” Trump said in closing, “but if they don’t a good job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired!'”

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Trump’s Business Plan Won’t Eliminate His Conflicts of Interest

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A Guide To Donald Trump’s Huge Debts—and the Conflicts They Present

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump has announced that on December 15 he will hold a press conference to reveal to the world his plan to address the many conflicts of interest between his vast business empire and his new role as president. Trump has indicated that he will remove himself from the daily “business operations” of the Trump Organization—but not sell off his holdings or create a truly blind trust.

Ethics experts have criticized this approach because Trump would continue to own his properties, benefiting from their success and suffering from their losses. He would know when his policy decisions and actions—or those of others (including corporations and foreign governments)—could affect his assets. Consequently, he would not be separating his presidential decision-making from his own personal financial circumstances. Yet, arguably, the biggest conflicts he faces aren’t related to what he owns. Rather, they relate to what he owes.

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All of Trump’s top properties—including Trump Tower, the Trump National Doral golf course, and his brand new luxury hotel in Washington, DC—are heavily mortgaged. That means Trump maintains critical financial relationships with his creditors. These interactions pose a significant set of potential conflicts, for his creditors are large financial institutions (domestic and foreign) with their own interests and policy needs. Each one could be greatly affected by presidential decisions, and Trump certainly has a financial interest in their well-being.

Below is a list of all the financial players that Trump owes money to and how much Trump directly has borrowed from each one. This roster is based on publicly available loan documents. According to his own public disclosure, Trump, as of May, was on the hook for 16 loans worth at least $713 million. This list does not include an estimated $2 billion in debt amassed by real estate partnerships that include Trump. One of those loans is a $950 million deal that was cobbled together by Goldman Sachs and the state-owned Bank of China—an arrangement that ethics experts believe violates the Constitution’s emolument clause, which prohibits foreign governments from providing financial benefits to federal officials.

Deutsche Bank: $364 million

The troubled German bank is Trump’s top lender and has been for years. When the rest of Wall Street essentially abandoned Trump years ago, apparently frustrated by his business tactics, Deutsche Bank stuck by the celebrity developer. Well, not all of Deutsche Bank. In 2005, Trump borrowed $640 million from a group of banks, including Deutsche Bank, to build his Chicago tower. But by 2008, the real estate market had gone bad, and Trump was in financial trouble. Shortly before he was due to pay Deutsche Bank $40 million for a portion of the loan he had personally guaranteed, Trump filed a lawsuit against the German bank, demanding $3 billion to compensate him for the international economic turmoil that Trump claimed the bank had helped cause and that Trump now said was hurting his investment in Chicago.

The dispute was eventually settled, but Trump’s relationship with the division of the bank handling big commercial loans was done. Instead, he began working with what’s known as the “private bank” side of Deutsche Bank—the division that caters to high-net-worth individuals and which has significantly more leeway to lend money. His various corporations now have four outstanding loans from that part of Deutsche Bank, worth a combined $364 million.

Trump’s Deutsche Bank loans include:

$125 million for two mortgages on his Trump National Doral golf course in Miami. Both were taken out in 2012.
$69 million for a 2014 loan tied to the Chicago tower that Trump and Deutsche previously bickered over. This loan is listed within Cook County property records. Trump’s personal financial disclosure form lists a loan that appears similar but doesn’t match the official record. That document notes he has a 2012 loan for the Chicago tower valued at between $25 million and $50 million.
$170 million for a loan related to the Trump’s hotel in the Old Post Office in Washington, DC. Trump doesn’t own the building—he leases it from the federal government—but he borrowed the money to finance the building’s extensive renovation. It’s not clear when Trump borrowed the money, but it was likely after he announced his bid for the presidency.

Trump has an enormous conflict of interest on his hands with Deutsche Bank. As Trump himself noted in his 2008 lawsuit against the bank, Deutsche played a prominent role in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. The Obama administration has targeted Deutsche Bank and other banks for creating and repackaging bad mortgage products, and earlier this fall the Justice Department announced it was seeking to settle claims against the bank for about $14 billion. That was much more than Deutsche Bank was expecting to pay, and the news sent the bank into a tailspin. Its stock price plummeted amid speculation that it could not remain afloat if the Justice Department pressed the bank for such a big settlement.

Negotiations between the bank and the Justice Department over the size of the settlement are underway. But if they are not resolved by January 20, Trump’s administration will be in charge of handling this case. So a federal government run by Trump will have to decide how hard to push the bank that Trump owes so much to and that has been critical to Trump’s personal fortunes.

Ladder Capital: $282 million

Ladder Capital is not a traditional bank or a big name on Wall Street, but in the last several years it has joined Deutsche Bank as a main source of financing for Trump. In fact, since 2012, these two outfits have been the only ones to lend Trump money. Ladder Capital is a small Wall Street firm that specializes in loaning money for commercial real estate projects and, with the help of the big Wall Street banks, combining pieces of these loans into bigger packages that it then sells to investors.

One big issue with Trump’s loans from Ladder Capital is that he appears to be personally liable for at least $26 million of the debt. So if a problem with the loan emerges, Ladder Capital could ask Trump, not his business, to cover this amount personally. Even if Trump does remove himself from the operations of the Trump Organization and lets his adult children run the business, this conflict of interest would not be addressed. The man in the Oval Office would still be in hock to this financial institution.

There’s another major issue with the Ladder Capital loans. As was reported last week, Ladder Capital has hired Citibank to help organize a possible sale. Sources at the firm told Reuters that new federal regulations covering the repackaging of loans were making the company’s core business more complicated.

It’s possible then that if the firm does go on the block, Trump’s loans could end up being bought by another party. It could be an investor or a financial institution based in the United States or overseas. Imagine, say, a Russian bank owning the debt of an American president. In any event, another troubling conflict of interest could exist—and the public might not even know about this at first, for Trump would be under no obligation to update the personal financial disclosure until it was time to file his annual disclosure report.

Trump’s loans with Ladder Capital include:

$160 million for a loan related to Trump’s 40 Wall Street office tower. Trump took out the mortgage in 2015 to replace a similar loan he had from Capital One with a higher interest rate.
$100 million for a mortgage on Trump Tower. This is Trump’s most prized possession and the possible “White House North,” but he only owns a small portion of the property. (Most of the condo units were sold years ago.) This mortgage provides Trump a line of credit secured by the building.
$7 million for a mortgage on several commercial condo units in the Trump International Hotel Tower on New York City’s Columbus Circle. This loan doesn’t appear on Trump’s most recent personal financial disclosure. He filed that document in May, and he borrowed this money in July. The loan replaced an earlier one of the same amount that Trump had obtained from Swiss bank UBS Capital.
$15 million for a mortgage on three condo units in the Trump Plaza apartment building on New York’s upper East Side.

Investors Savings Bank: $23 million

In 2010, Trump combined an earlier mortgage on his Westchester County golf course into a much larger $23 million mortgage that also leveraged his ownership of condo units in the Trump Park Avenue building in New York City.

Amboy Bank: $16 million

In 2010, Trump took out a mortgage on his Trump National Golf Club-Colts Neck in Monmouth County, New Jersey, for $16 million from Amboy Bank, a tiny New Jersey bank.

Chevy Chase Trust Holdings: $10 million

In 2009, Trump purchased a golf course in Loudon County, Virginia, for $13 million. To make the deal happen, he borrowed $10 million from the land development company that previously owned the property.

Bank of New York Mellon Trust: $9.25 million

Trump’s personal financial disclosure lists bonds, first issued in 1996, against a commercial property on New York’s East 56th Street. Paperwork filed with the State of New York shows the due date on the bonds has been extended to 2020.

Royal Bank of Pennsylvania: $8 million

In 1995, Trump purchased a lavish estate in Westchester County, New York, and in 2000 he refinanced that purchase with an $8 million mortgage from the Royal Bank of Pennsylvania. Trump originally planned to turn the large estate into a golf course, but opposition from local residents blocked the project. The property has been used as a family retreat and a playground for Trump’s two oldest sons. Trump has long had a personal relationship with the bank’s founder, and he allowed the banker’s 10-year-old grandson to perform magic tricks at Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

Merrill Lynch: Less than $750,000

In the early 1990s, Trump purchased two houses next to his Mar-A-Lago estate, borrowing about $2 million from Merrill Lynch for these purchases. The loans, which were taken out in 1993 and 1994 and come due in 2019, are now worth between $350,000 and $750,000.

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A Guide To Donald Trump’s Huge Debts—and the Conflicts They Present

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Startup to grow fresh ‘super-local’ food out of recycled shipping containers in Paris

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