On Friday, Donald Trump set off for a nine-day road trip with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome, Brussels, and Sicily. And, until today, things were actually going relatively well for the president, if we’re grading on a curve. Sure, upon arriving in Israel, he announced that he “just got back from the Middle East,” a comment that clearly left the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. wondering how many times Fred Trump had dropped his son on his head as a child. And yes, the Pope looked less than thrilled to pose for a photo with the twice-divorced, self-professed adulterer to whom His Holiness gifted a copy of his thoughts on climate change knowing full well Trump’s views on the environment. Still, he got out of Saudi Arabia without insulting Muslims worldwide; he visited the Wailing Wall and didn’t once complain about how unfair it is that everyone else gets a wall but him; and he got a great photo-op with The Orb. For a White House that has been absolutely plagued by scandal since Day One, the first half of the trip could arguably be chalked up as a win. And then Donny jetted off to attend a meeting of NATO (an alliance he recently called “obsolete”) in Brussels (a city he recently called a “hellhole”), where the deeply awkward moments quickly piled up, one after the next.
First, there was his wildly uncomfortable handshake with new French President Emmanuel Macron, which lasted even longer than the deeply uncomfortable one with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and involved white knuckles and clenched jaws.
Next, the Internet went wild after Trump appeared to shamelessly shove Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic out of the way so he could be front and center for a group photo.
Then there was Trump’s NATO speech itself, delivered in front of the alliance’s new headquarters, during which the former reality-TV show host, who has repeatedly been accused of stiffing contractors who have worked for him, scolded our allies for not paying their “bills.”
“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump lectured the group, as the assembled world leaders stared awkwardly. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States. And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.”
Continuing his rebuke of the “unsmiling” European politicians aligned before him, Trump went on to say that “with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even 2 percent of GDP”—the amount the NATO members pledged to “move towards” spending by 2024—“is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces. We have to make up for the many years lost.”
The world’s classiest man closed by thanking Germany for contributing a portion of the Berlin Wall, and the 9/11 Museum for a remnant from the North Tower, both of which now adorn NATO headquarters’ new grounds, before adding, graciously, “I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that.”
Lest you thought that was the moment of peak awkwardness, you underestimated President Donald Trump! Because later, this happened:
Trump . . . apparently decided to air his grievances over Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S. “The Germans are evil, very evil,” Trump reportedly complained in the meeting, attendees told German newspaper Der Spiegel. “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. We’ll stop that.” Der Spiegel reported that E.U. Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker disagreed with Trump, defending the merits of free trade for the global economy. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman notes that depending on the translation, Trump may have been calling the Germans merely “very bad” and not “very evil.”
In fairness to Trump, it’s possible that he was simply in a poor mood after Macron said bonjour to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before saying hi to him, a slight the 45th president presumably wants to bomb Paris over.
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Treasury Secretary says administration will totally correct $2 trillion accounting error
Earlier this week, the Trump administration caught some flack when anyone with a rudimentary understanding of math noticed that its 2018 budget used the same $2 trillion in economic growth it assumes will be spurred by tax cuts and then used those savings to both pay for those tax cuts and balance the budget, in a classic “2+2=7” snafu. But it’s O.K., you see. Even though Team Trump relied on a “phony” accounting trick in the proposal it released on Tuesday, by Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had explained to the Senate Committee on Finance that of course they won’t pull that same stunt when this whole thing shakes out.
“I assure you when we present a tax plan, we will not be double-counting the growth,” Mnuchin assured lawmakers.
And about those A.I. comments . . .
In related Mnuchin news, the Goldman banker-turned-foreclosure king-turned-official currency signatory said on Wednesday that he totally gets that the impact of artificial intelligence on human jobs is an issue that needs to be addressed now, despite his “utterly shocking” faux pas in March, when he said that “it’s not even on our radar screen. [It’s] 50-100 more years [away].” He was just confused is all.
“When I made the comment on artificial intelligence—and there’s different views on artificial intelligence—I was referring to kind of like R2-D2 in Star Wars,” Mnuchin explained. “Robotics are here. Self-driving cars are something that are gonna be here soon. I am fully aware of and agree that technology is changing and our workers do need to be prepared.”
Financial services employees think the Internet is a safe space to discuss committing fraud, part 398,028
Are you presently employed by an investment bank or hedge fund? Are you currently considering doing something illegal? Maybe a little securities fraud here, a dash of wire fraud there, and a sprinkling of conspiracy to commit mail fraud to round things out? Here’s a free tip: learn from the mistakes of those who came before you, specifically as it relates to the strangely held notion that any electronic messages you send to people about all the fraud you’re planning to commit magically disappear into the ether, especially if you add “Shhh” at the end of them. A group of former BNP Paribas employees know what we’re talking about.
A giant French bank on Wednesday was fined $350 million by New York regulators after investigators discovered a secret online chat room where traders and salespeople openly plotted to rip off clients — and discussed how they could throw authorities off their track. For six years, BNP Paribas gave a dozen key employees a “nearly unfettered” ability to defraud clients by manipulating currency rates, according to the NY Department of Financial Services . . .
Ten traders, mostly in New York but also in London and Paris, had coordinated their plans to manipulate currency rates in a chat room, called “We Reign,” according to a statement of facts from the DFS. “[W]e got a little cartel really brewing,” wrote one trader, according to the text of the chat room obtained by the DFS. “Please keep your lips sealed thx,” another wrote.
Wall Street giants considering saying something to Exxon about this whole climate-change business
The Wall Street Journal shares the downright shocking story:
BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard Group are weighing a vote in favor of an investor proposal that would seek to pressure the oil giant to conduct a climate “stress test” to measure how regulations to reduce greenhouse gases and new energy technologies could impact the value of its oil assets, the people said . . . If the proposal passes at Exxon’s annual meeting May 31, experts say it would be the strongest signal to date that investors are seeking greater disclosure of the threats that climate change could pose to businesses. Passage would also highlight the emerging power of money managers with large passive investing businesses—and their willingness to wield it.
In a move that we are sure will surprise you, Exxon has reportedly “urged investors to vote against the resolution.”
Wall Street’s Endangered Species: The College Jock (W.S.J.)
Bitcoin “nerds” give way to Wall Street suits at digital currency conference (CNBC)
China Takes Aim at Moody’s After Rating Downgrade (W.S.J.)
Nomura Trader Jury Hears What U.S. Calls Fraud-in-the-Making (Bloomberg)
Fed faces a “surprise” problem on U.S. inflation (Reuters)
Hedge fund that raised $5 billion in 24 hours expects “all hell to break loose” (Clusterstock)
Business Schools Might Have a Tiny Little Psychopath Problem (Dealbreaker)
Lyft Courts Uber’s High-End Clientele With Black Car Service (Bloomberg)
Wells Fargo Sweetens Broker Recruitment Bonuses (W.S.J.)
G.O.P. candidate responds to question about health care by “body-slamming” a reporter (The Hive)