• I’m Not the Man I Used to Be | The Nation

    The reasons for Günter Grass’s silence about his membership in the Waffen SS remain safely hidden in his new memoir.

    July 26, 2007 by Andreas Huyssen

    The onion is not a refined vegetable. It is a cheap, humble staple used in cooking the world over. As a representative of German literature, Günter Grass has always been the onion to Thomas Mann’s artichoke–down-to-earth, exuberantly realistic, picaresque rather than sophisticated or Olympian. Peeling the Onion fulfills such expectations and more. In Grass’s literary memoir the onion is a metaphor for the complex and slippery layers of human memory: “The onion has many skins. A multitude of skins. Peeled, it renews itself; chopped, it brings tears; only during peeling does it speak the truth.”

    In The Tin Drum, the 1959 novel that made his reputation and won him the 1999 Nobel Prize, the onion brought both tears and truth, but there Grass was sending up the clammed-up world of early postwar Germany, which lacked the words–the conscience–to come to terms with its recent past. “In the Onion Cellar,” the title of a famous chapter in the novel, refers to a popular nightclub in Düsseldorf’s Altstadt (Old Town) run by a man whose hobby is shooting sparrows on the banks of the Rhine. At the club, he ceremoniously serves onions with cutting boards and knives to his guests–businessmen, doctors, lawyers, artists, government officials and their wives, mistresses or secretaries–who sit at scrubbed plank tables slicing the vegetable. The ritual produces a flood of bottled-up tears accompanied by confessions, revelations and self-accusations. The onion juice overcomes the post-Nazi inability to mourn, diagnosed by psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich some ten years later as the social pathology of the West German “economic miracle.” But there is something fundamentally suspect about this kind of “overcoming.” Grass’s satire laid bare the ambiguity of such self-serving confessions.

    Düsseldorfers always knew that the model for the Onion Cellar was the artists’ hangout Czikos in the Altstadt. When The Tin Drum was published, the Czikos was still famous for its piping hot, generously peppered goulash, which indeed brought people to tears, if not to confessions and revelations. In Grass’s memoir, the Onion Cellar acquires another dimension. It was at the Czikos in the 1950s that Grass and two friends performed their own version of jazz–a flute, a banjo and Grass’s washboard in lieu of Oskar Matzerath’s tin drum. Czikos, Grass informs us, was also the site of an encounter so typical of the mingling of things German with things American at the time. One evening, after a jam session in Düsseldorf, Louis Armstrong dropped in. Intrigued by the flute’s transformation of German folk songs into jazz rhythms and blues, Armstrong had someone pick up his horn at his hotel, and then sat in with Grass and his friends on a few tunes. Blues in the Onion Cellar: The scene richly suggests how American culture could nurture rebellious–though still apolitical–energies during the postwar restoration under West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

    The Tin Drum, by contrast, was explicitly political, satirizing everyday life under Fascism and the postwar emotional hardening of the collective German mind (evoked by the Onion Cellar’s theater of repression and self-indulgent release). A landmark in postwar German literature, the novel confronted Germans with the legacies of the Third Reich in the ambiguous tale of Oskar Matzerath, the tin drummer. Matzerath’s story spans the war and immediate postwar years–roughly the same period of many of the events retold and transformed in Grass’s memoir. But where the novel creatively transformed life into literature, the reader now witnesses the process in reverse. Here, however, almost fifty years after the publication of The Tin Drum, it is Grass’s legacy as truth-teller that is in question.

    The “revelation” that caused such an uproar late last summer–that for a few months at the end of the war the author served as a drafted member of the Waffen SS–has not been dampened by the crocodile tears shed by the nouveaux riches and bohemian intellectuals gathered in the Onion Cellar. Contrition and self-accusation have never characterized Grass’s work or self-image, and the memoir is no exception. The onion’s “truth” is rather, perhaps, a final footnote to the all too well-known story of the last Hitler Youth generation, the 16- and 17-year-old boys drafted in the closing months of the war to stave off Germany’s inevitable military defeat; those who returned alive successfully established themselves as the first generation of a postwar democratic West Germany after the alleged Stunde Null–Zero Hour, the fall of the Reich, which was experienced as both defeat and liberation. Unlike some of his peers, Grass had never made a secret of the fact that as a member of the Hitler Youth he had believed in the Führer and volunteered for the submarines at 16. But he never made public his service in the Waffen SS, an elite Nazi fighting unit declared a criminal organization at the Nuremberg trials.

    The chorus of denunciations in Germany came from all sides–from those on the right who had always hated Grass’s social democratic politics and “immoral” writing, from those on the radical left who considered him a captive to reformist Social Democrats and from a younger German generation resentful that old-timers like Grass, Martin Walser and Hans Magnus Enzensberger are still stealing the limelight.

    I, too, felt betrayed by a literary idol of my youth when I first heard about Grass’s membership in the Waffen SS. I, too, was tempted to ride the moral high horse: How could Grass, famous since the 1960s for accusing high officials in the West German government of hiding their Nazi past and insisting on public penance, keep this secret for so long? How could he have left even his biographers with the assumption that, like so many other teenagers in 1944-45, he served only as a Flakhelfer, a youth conscript, rather than as a member of the Waffen SS? And why reveal it now, just as his memoir was hitting the market? Was it the need of a writer approaching his 80th birthday to come clean, or was it a clever marketing strategy? Or was it simply his wish, as he claims unapologetically in the memoir, to have the last word, denying his many opponents the pleasure of finding out first? For discovery was inevitable. The POW papers documenting his Waffen SS membership are unambiguous. It was just that nobody, not even his biographers, had bothered to check the details.

    The reasons for Grass’s silence lie safely hidden in the memoir. And in his public statements since Peeling the Onion was published in Germany late last summer, he has been no more forthcoming about his decision to remain silent about this aspect of his past, further fueling the outrage of his critics (not a few of them disappointed admirers). To many, his legacy not just as a public intellectual but as a writer has been seriously damaged. After my initial reaction, however, I felt increasingly reluctant to point the finger at someone whose self-righteous moralizing about German politics had annoyed me time and again over the past few decades–particularly his stubborn insistence on the division of Germany as permanent penance for the crimes of Nazism and his often shrill anti-Americanism. To moralize about Grass’s lack of candor just seemed too easy.

    And when I began to peel the onion by reading the memoir, I was further convinced that my sense of betrayal had overshot its mark. Grass comes down hard and unsentimentally on his inability as a young man to read the signs of the times–the nonconformist fellow student who one day disappeared from the classroom; the Catholic teacher who ended up in a nearby concentration camp; his mother’s hints about the persecution of the Jews. Indoctrinated as he was, he saw and looked away. Günter Grass’s éducation politique was slow in taking shape, and his memoir acknowledges it.

    Reading the skins of the onion, Grass provides a vivid account of his adolescence in the cramped, petit-bourgeois Danzig milieu that made the Nazi promises of heroism and adventure on the seas look like such an appealing escape. The reality was decidedly less romantic: Grass survived by the skin of his teeth and sheer luck in the chaos of the war’s last months, escaping through the woods after his tank unit was decimated in a surprise attack by the advancing Soviet army. Quite plausibly, he claims never to have fired a single shot. The new division of the Waffen SS into which he was drafted fell apart under the Soviet onslaught almost as soon as it was formed.

    This is not the story of an exceptional youth but of a 17-year-old German everyman, viewed unsparingly by the same man six decades later. Of course, there are lapses of memory, uncertainties about details. Grass acknowledges them head-on, if sometimes a bit too coyly. Not everything is written securely in the peels of the onion. But the fact that he describes his youthful self alternately in the first and third person is not evidence of evasion, or of some mendacious effort to blur the line between memoir and fiction, as some have charged. Rather, this oscillation in perspective marks the distance between the memoirist and his teenage self.

    As the narrative moves to the late 1940s and into the following decade, Grass remains true to his earlier self in his descriptions of young Günter’s three desires: real hunger, especially in the “hunger years” immediately following the end of the war; adolescent hunger for sex; and a budding hunger for art. Everything Grass writes about life in Düsseldorf and Berlin at the time resonates vividly, evoked in his signature picaresque tone and with his typical focus on the absurd in everyday life. Of public culture and political history, however, he has strikingly little to say: Neither his later vocal hostility toward the Adenauer restoration nor his engagement with the Social Democrats is evident yet. Like many Germans after the war, Grass shunned politics and found consolation (and, in his case, a vocation) in art, mostly in poetry, drawing and sculpture.

    The chapters on the late 1940s and ’50s revolve around personal reminiscences–his reunion with his parents, who were dislocated to the Rhineland; his apprenticeship as a stonemason, making tombstones; and his study at the Düsseldorf art academy, where Joseph Beuys was also a student. Later there is the Berlin art scene, with its cold war battles over abstraction; his courtship of Swiss dancer Anna Schwarz; and his first success as a literary upstart reading his poems at a meeting of the soon-to-be-famous Group 47. Particularly arresting, and notable for their lack of sentimentality, are his memories of the rather taciturn railroad station goodbye to his unloved father when he left for the war; the great tribute paid to his beloved mother, who died of cancer too early to witness her son’s success; and the account of rescuing his sister from an authoritarian Mother Superior and helping her become a midwife instead of a nun. By contrast, Grass’s tales of his sexual exploits are rather adolescent, without much detail about his sexual partners. The only relationship treated with the delicacy of long-term intimacy and love is the one with Anna, his first wife.

    Interesting though not revelatory are the brief accounts of his literary formation, his love for Cervantes, seventeenth-century novelist Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen and Alfred Döblin, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz. In the 1950s conflict between figuration in painting and Modernist abstraction, Grass sided with figuration, a position that reflected his own practice as a graphic artist. In the existentialist controversy of those years he sided with Camus and the absurd against Sartre’s Marxist politics, but otherwise he remained wary of fashionable existentialist posing. The few pages describing the years spent in Paris in the late 1950s are remarkably pale. Probably because of his limited French and an even more limited budget, he had minimal connections with the Parisian intellectual scene, and his work on The Tin Drum consumed ever more of his time. Even now, it seems that the novel drains energy from the memoir. We hear but don’t learn much about his Paris friendship with poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. The Algerian war rumbles on in the background. In 1958 Grass wins first prize with the Group 47, and in 1959 The Tin Drum appears, to enthusiastic acclaim and public controversy. A year later he and Anna and their children are back in Berlin, and then, all of a sudden, Grass runs out of onions and concludes his memoir.

    Ending his account with the publication of The Tin Drum is, of course, rather convenient, for it allows Grass to evade the lingering and legitimate question of why he never discussed his membership in the Waffen SS until now. Had he done so during the controversy over Helmut Kohl and Ronald Reagan’s 1985 visit to the Bitburg cemetery, with its SS graves, or during the Historikerstreit, the German historians’ quarrel over the uniqueness of Nazi crimes, his voice could have added substantially to the debate. There is no little irony in the fact that the vociferous and inquisitional demand for contrition and breast-beating should now confront an author who never hesitated to make such demands of others. Still, the Grass affair doesn’t tell us much about the quality of his memoir. And his politics always had more bite in his literary writings than in his political pronouncements.

    Peeling the onion, slippery skin after slippery skin, is a surprisingly apt metaphor for delving into one’s memories. It captures the unreliability of all human memory, its layering and restructuring by partial forgetfulness and corrupted recollections. The other recurrent metaphor in the book is amber, evoking another kind of memory. Amber, tree sap hardened into a yellow-brown mineral, often encasing an insect and found plentifully on the Baltic beaches of Grass’s lost Heimat, stands for the unchanging, petrified memory image. To give but one example: Looking at a honey-colored translucent piece of amber later in life, Grass sees not the proverbial encased insect but himself in full-length outline at 14 and naked. The amber serves here as a projection screen of an image of the pubescent boy ingrained in the narrator’s mind, whereas the onion’s skins need to be read one after another. Reading and seeing, writing and projecting the past are the two modes governing Grass’s writing. The play between onion and amber thus brings a new literary dimension to that inevitable weaving together of Dichtung und Wahrheit, as Goethe had it–the mix of fiction and truth in all autobiography and memoir. The power of any memoir hinges on the right mix, and readers will part ways in assessing it. Critics who chide Grass for couching his Nazi past in literary metaphors, for questioning the reliability of his own memories, for admitting forgetfulness and for hiding behind some of the same complex narrative techniques we know from his novels may score political points, but they betray a simplistic understanding of the genre.

    Perhaps the most fascinating thing we learn from Grass’s memoir is how slowly he arrived at the character of Oskar Matzerath, and how hesitantly he moved from an apolitical understanding of art to writing perhaps the most powerful political novel of the postwar period. This section of the memoir reproduces in microcosm the history of the Federal Republic in those years–the initial confrontation with the political and cultural fallout from the Third Reich, culminating in the commemorative obsessions of more recent decades, when the politics of memory became a worldwide phenomenon. When Grass, who was living in Berlin at the time, witnessed the East German workers’ revolt on June 17, 1953, near Potsdamer Platz, he had no hunger for politics or memory, nor any desire to write the great postwar German novel. He kept working as an artist and poet. He first won recognition as a writer almost by default, when he read his poems with the Group 47 in 1955. Expressionist poet Gottfried Benn–himself burdened by his initial support for Hitler but still a major literary figure in the early ’50s–read Grass’s poetry at the time and predicted that he would one day write prose.

    Although Grass never gave up on poetry, he achieved fame for his novels, especially the Danzig trilogy. It is fascinating to read how the novel that ultimately won him the Nobel Prize emerged inchoately, indeed almost by accident. Toward the end of the memoir, Grass explains his shift from poetry to prose as a compulsion to abandon his earlier apolitical and aestheticist stance and to face the German past: “I could easily have engaged in productive time-wasting and made myself look interesting at Group 47 meetings with new artistic devices if the massive weight of the German past and hence my own could have somehow been ignored. But it stood in the way. It tripped me up. There was no getting around it. As if prescribed for me, it remained impenetrable: here was a lava flow that had barely cooled down, there a stretch of solid basalt, itself sitting on even older deposits. And layer upon layer had to be carried away, sorted, named. Words were needed. And a first sentence was still missing.”

    But then the compulsion to write, as he once put it in typically blunt fashion, hit him like diarrhea. The old Grass gave a political twist to the same idea when he wrote in his recent novel Crabwalk: “History, or, to be more precise, the history we Germans have repeatedly mucked up, is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising.” Indeed, this does sum up more than just the origins of The Tin Drum.

    The critic Hans Mayer once divided German artists into martyrs and representatives. If Mann was a representative of German culture in the traditional sense, Grass, who likes to claim persecution by the media, never was a martyr but always a representative of the democratic postwar Western republic, warts and all. Like his Danzig trilogy, the author nearing the age of 80, with his mustache, his pipe and his political pronouncements, stands like a block of lava in the midst of a cultural formation that has become history. In that sense, for better or worse, Grass remains who he was before: a major representative of German post-World War II literature. And he remains so in a perhaps even deeper sense than before the late revelation and continuing evasion in his memoir.

    Andreas HuyssenAndreas Huyssen, Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia, is a founding editor of New German Critique and the author, most recently, of Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory.

    #Allemagne #lettres #histoire #le_tambour #guerre #nazis

  • Joe Biden’s Friends and Backers Come Out on Top—at the Expense of the Middle Class | The Nation

    NOVEMBER 7, 2019, by Joseph N. DiStefano- That’s the “Delaware Way.”

    Delaware is a small place. Two days after statewide elections, the winners and losers pair up in horse-drawn carriages and rattle through Georgetown (population 7,427) to literally bury a ceremonial hatchet. School bands play. The crowd chews ox roast sandwiches.

    It’s a ritual expression of what locals call the Delaware Way, a bipartisan contrast to angry national politics. The Delaware Way can be useful for elected officials—and their friends in business. And family. There’s an axiom often repeated in his Senate years by Joe Biden’s staff: “Joe says that when someone helps his family, it’s just like helping Joe,” recited Sam Waltz, a Wilmington business consultant who covered Biden’s first Senate reelection campaign as a young reporter.

    Soon after Biden was first elected in 1972, banks from three states lined up to finance his brother James Biden’s new disco in suburban Wilmington. When the club defaulted, Joe Biden blamed the banks for exploiting his 23-year-old sibling and for pressing his office to get their money back. (They didn’t.) Despite this, over the years, many Biden-related projects have proved irresistible to local, national, and lately, Chinese businesspeople.
    Joe Biden often talks about his father’s difficult career selling used cars. John Hynansky, the son of Ukrainian World War II refugees, had better luck: He built the Delaware-based car dealership Winner Auto Group. State and federal records show Hynansky, his wife, and his children have donated more than $230,000 to US political campaigns since the 1980s, including at least $49,000 to Biden.

    At a Ford executive’s suggestion, in 1994, Hynansky opened an auto import office in the newly independent Ukraine. Five years later, he opened Winner Ford Kyiv. He later added Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, and what Bentley called “its biggest exclusive dealership in Europe.”

    In 2008, a month before Biden was elected vice president, Hynansky made his biggest political donation: $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee. The next summer, Biden told a roomful of Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv, “My very good friend John Hynansky, a very prominent businessman from Delaware, is here.” That fall, Winner won its first US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) loan, in the amount of $2.5 million.
    A federal agency, OPIC had actually halted lending to Ukraine in 1999 over a disputed insurance claim. The Winner deal helped kick off a round of approvals. Three years later, OPIC boosted the loan to $20 million, so Hynansky could build Winner Autocity in Kyiv. In backing him, OPIC was funding jobs—not in the United States but for Ukrainian salespeople to move cars made mostly in Germany, Sweden, and Britain. By 2011, Hynansky’s firm was selling 20 percent of the premium cars in Ukraine.

    Hynansky has bet not just on Biden but also on members of his inner circle. In 2015, Biden’s former chief of staff Dennis Toner was a leading promoter of the Delaware Board of Trade (DBOT), a digital penny-stock market started after Barack Obama signed a securities deregulation law. Failing to raise money on Wall Street, the group persuaded Tom Gordon, then head of the county government where Biden held his first elected office, to lend DBOT $3 million. Hynansky then joined Toner, a United Arab Emirates sheikh, and a Republican state representative as investors.

    Also that year, according to Florida property records, Hynansky lent $500,000 to James Biden, secured by the latter’s $2.5 million home on Keewaydin Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Biden had landed an executive position at HillStone, a subsidiary of the construction project manager Hill International, which later got a contract to build modular housing in Iraq. Hill chief executive Irvin Richter, convicted of embezzlement in New Jersey 40 years earlier, told Fox Business that the Biden name “helps him get in the door”—and that he would have put Obama on the board if he could have. Alas, the Iraq deal fell apart.

    On Keewaydin, the Bidens added a solar power system, ran up an IRS lien for $589,000, and sought to flip the property for almost $6 million. After it was swamped by Hurricane Irma in 2017, they sold the home to a group that included a Pennsylvania car dealer for just $1.35 million. Hynansky released his mortgage.

    By that time, Delaware’s cozy business-political relations had suffered a scare. After a property dispute between Hynansky and developer Christopher Tigani, the ensuing litigation exposed records of Tigani illegally funneling over-the-limit contributions through his low-level employees to then-Senator Joe Biden; his elder son Beau Biden, then Delaware’s attorney general; and others from both parties. In 2011, Tigani pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and was sentenced to two years in prison. Assistant US Attorney Robert Kravetz blamed the Delaware Way, which he defined as politicians doing favors for well-connected business owners in exchange for contributions after the fact.

    Since he was potentially implicated, Beau Biden recused himself and appointed E. Norman Veasey, a retired Delaware chief justice, to investigate. Veasey’s report cited the conviction of two more Delaware donors and noted that unnamed out-of-staters had also contributed large sums. He didn’t recommend prosecuting the out-of-state donors or the Delaware politicians, saying it wasn’t clear the latter knew these contributions were illegal. (Political reporter Celia Cohen later identified one potential donor as Miami developer Michael Adler, who chaired Joe Biden’s brief 2008 presidential campaign.)

    I visited Veasey the day he released the report, noting that he’d done a lot of work before deciding not to recommend prosecuting any politicians. I asked him why he was still working on a project like this, in his 80s. He looked me in the eye and told me he was helping put his grandchildren through school.

    The Delaware Way looks a lot like what Gilded Age Tammany Hall politicians used to call legal graft. Following the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell vs. United States, which made it tougher to prosecute politicians for taking gifts unless they resulted in “official acts” like legislation or administrative decisions, such arrangements may actually be legal. And given the Trump family’s penchant for mixing personal and official business, it’s tempting to dismiss the Biden clan’s affairs as no crime, no foul. But Biden’s friends and backers have won victories that cost the middle-class Americans he claims to champion dearly.

    Democrats controlled both the presidency and Congress in the late 1970s, when a combination of high inflation and low profits fueled a corporate push to ease federal regulation. Biden worked hard on the 1978 bankruptcy reform bill that first limited recent graduates from claiming bankruptcy protection, and he served on the banking committee that produced the Financial Institutions Regulatory and Interest Rate Control Act of 1978, which stopped states from capping interest charges by out-of-state banks. The Supreme Court’s Marquette v. First of Omaha ruling that year cemented the banks’ freedom to export high interest rates to places that had tried to limit usury.

    Biden’s bank-friendly approach came at a key time. Guided by lawyers from New York, Delaware would soon pass the Financial Center Development Act, cutting bank taxes and ending rate restrictions. Within a few years, many of the biggest banks in at least 10 of the 12 Federal Reserve districts moved their credit card arms to Delaware. The largest, MBNA Corporation, was spun off from Maryland National Bank by chairman Alfred Lerner, whose friend Ace Greenberg, chairman of the now defunct Bear Stearns, issued credit-card-backed bonds, rocket-fueling new loans.

    MBNA offered accounts to people on mailing lists it bought from colleges and professional organizations, eventually passing DuPont to become Delaware’s largest for-profit employer. MBNA executives contributed over $212,000 to Biden’s Senate campaigns, though CEO Charles Cawley and all but two of his 28 top executives were Republicans and gave even more to the national GOP.

    In 1996, Biden’s cozy relationship with the banks was used against him. A Republican challenger for his Senate seat complained that MBNA’s No. 3 executive, John R. Cochran, had bought Biden’s Greenville house for the full $1.2 million list price, despite a weak housing market. MBNA stuck with Biden; even after Wilmington’s News Journal published an internal MBNA letter coordinating employee donations to him, he won reelection easily.

    MBNA then hired his son Hunter Biden, fresh out of Yale Law School, as a management trainee. (He stuck out among the mostly state and Catholic college alumni who worked at the bank.) The New York Times reported that when Hunter Biden left in 2000 for Washington, DC, and a new lobbying firm, Oldaker, Biden & Belair, MBNA kept him on a $100,000 annual retainer—not to lobby his father, he said, but for advice on “Internet and privacy law.”

    With US credit card debt doubling every five years, defaults and bankruptcies rose, too. Joe Biden joined the Republican lawmakers pushing new bankruptcy reforms that would make it tougher for individuals to write off a range of consumer loans. Elizabeth Warren, then a bankruptcy expert at Harvard Law School, warned Biden as early as 2002 that his support for the banks at consumers’ expense and his opposition to easing bankruptcy protections for medical and student debt endangered his presidential aspirations.

    Via e-mail, longtime Sallie Mae chief executive Al Lord recalls Biden’s pro-bank approach as “180 degrees opposite E. Warren’s.” When Warren urged a provision to stop banks from filing suit against debtors in Delaware’s bank-friendly courts and instead make them sue where their customers lived, Biden warned he would kill any bill that hurt Delaware’s legal businesses. His mostly Republican coalition passed a stricter bankruptcy reform act in 2005. In 2011, with Biden as vice president, Sallie Mae moved its headquarters to Delaware.

    Biden and his staff claim he stood in the middle, forcing lenders to add protections for low-wage workers and single moms. But if he won that battle, America lost the war. Researchers like Wenli Li of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia blame the loss of bankruptcy protections for the sharp rise in home defaults and foreclosures that sparked the Great Recession.

    The controversy got personal in 2011, when Beau Biden, as Delaware’s attorney general, sided with his New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, in calling for a probe of mortgage lenders that had fooled borrowers and investors. “Before any broad immunity is granted, the American people deserve an investigation,” he insisted.

    But Delaware Governor Jack Markell gave cover to the bankers and their allies, including Joe Biden. Writing to the National Association of Attorneys General, Markell lamented the hard-line states’ “scattershot approach,” blaming them for scaring banks into “an economic climate that has left millions of Americans” jobless. Only “a strong and vibrant financial services industry” relieved from prosecution would “get our nation’s economy moving again.”

    Nonsense, Beau Biden fired back. “My job is to protect homeowners, investors and all Delawareans” from “the abuses of the mortgage industry that created this economic crisis,” he told me in an e-mail at the time.

    In 2014, Beau Biden announced that he would run for Markell’s job. But the next year he died of brain cancer, at age 46. Joe Biden later wrote that his son “had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out.”

    Biden had been vice president for less than a year when his son Hunter started an investment firm with Christopher Heinz, a stepson of Senator John Kerry, who had replaced Biden as head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Devon Archer, an investor and Heinz’s classmate from Yale. They called their group Rosemont Seneca Partners.

    In 2012, Archer and Hunter Biden met with Jonathan Li, who ran Bohai Capital, an investment subsidiary of the China-based travel giant HNA Group. When Joe Biden visited China in 2013, Hunter Biden, who accompanied his father, introduced him to Li.

    Shortly after, Li and Rosemont Seneca announced a new venture, BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company. “B” was for Li’s Bohai, “H” for Harvest Fund Management, backed in part by the state-controlled China Credit Trust, and “R” for Rosemont Seneca plus the Thornton Group, headed by James Bulger, the son of the Massachusetts Senate’s longtime president (and the namesake of his mobster uncle, James “Whitey” Bulger). The investors paid $4.2 million for a stake in the firm, with the Chinese partners as the two largest shareholders, according to the South China Morning Post.

    BHR focused on “ultra-large-scale and internationally influential projects,” Li told a Chinese newspaper. He picked Archer’s group, he added, because of the partners’ “deep” ties to US politics—including Hunter Biden’s.

    George Mesires, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, wrote last month that Biden has “not received any return on his investment” despite putting up $420,000 for a 10 percent stake. “There have been no distributions to BHR shareholders” since he invested, Mesires added, promising that Biden would leave the fund’s board by the end of the month.

    A check of BHR’s investment list, a Financial Times review of its deals, and other news reports show the fund spread its state-owned parent companies’ capital deep into strategic global industries. Examples include:

    § Megvii (Face++), identified by FT as a “leading facial recognition company whose technology was linked to Beijing’s mass surveillance of Uighurs in Xinjiang.”

    § China General Nuclear, which was blacklisted in August 2019 by the US Commerce Department for “efforts to acquire advanced U.S. nuclear technology and material for diversion to military uses in China.”

    § Tenke Fungurume, a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is such a strategic source of copper and cobalt that the US mining giant Freeport-
McMoRan received $400 million from OPIC (the agency that financed Hynansky’s Kyiv showroom) in 2008 to develop it. But after upgrades, the company and its partners sold their stake to BHR, whose shares were later bought out by China’s state-controlled China Molybdenum.

    § Henniges Automotive, a Detroit-area maker of car parts that was purchased by BHR and a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which makes Chinese military aircraft. The deal, valued at $600 million, was the largest AVIC purchase in Detroit since 2011, and it proceeded even though an AVIC affiliate had been added to a US government blacklist in 2014.

    When other Biden-related investments turned sour, Chinese investors were ready to help. In 2009, Joe Biden announced more than $500 million in Energy Department financing and $21.5 million from the state of Delaware for a California start-up, Fisker Automotive (which at the time was backed by future Biden donor John Doerr’s venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins), so it could manufacture electric cars at a factory 3,000 miles from its headquarters—and just five miles from Biden’s Greenville home. Addressing more than 1,000 laid-off GM employees at the plant site, Biden presented the funding as payback for years of autoworkers’ union support.

    ut the Delaware plant never opened. (It has since been leveled to make room for warehouses.) One blow was the 2012 bankruptcy of Fisker’s battery supplier, which was sold at auction to the Wanxiang Group of Shanghai in a deal that required approval from the Obama-Biden administration. Despite borrowing $300 million from the Energy Department, Fisker itself filed for bankruptcy the next year. Wanxiang bought the firm’s remaining assets.

    US-based companies with ties to China also took over DBOT, the fledgling penny-stock exchange whose backers include Hynansky and former Biden staff chief Toner. Over the past year, Ideanomics (which owns China Broadband Limited and the Chinese pay-per-view service You on Demand—and was previously known as Seven Stars Cloud Group) acquired DBOT in a share swap.

    Ideanomics is a project of Bruno Wu, an entertainment mogul The New York Times once called China’s Rupert Murdoch. His wife and investing partner, Yang Lan, has been dubbed the Oprah Winfrey of China for her government-backed TV show, with guests like Bill Clinton, Elon Musk, and Henry Kissinger. In 2014, one of the couple’s companies, Sun Media, announced a Hollywood investment partnership with Shanghai’s Harvest Fund Management, the “H” in BHR Partners.

    In addition to DBOT, Ideanomics invested in a state-backed redevelopment plan for West Hartford, Connecticut. Ideanomics vice chairman Shane McMahon is the son and business partner of pro-wrestling moguls (and longtime Donald Trump backers) Vince and Linda McMahon. Trump made Linda McMahon his Small Business Administration chief, but she quit this spring to head his reelection super PAC America First Action.

    Though Ideanomics’ share price has fallen since the DBOT deal, company spokesman Tony Sklar said it will zoom if the exchange can get its latest plans approved in Washington. He added that Hynansky, now an Ideanomics shareholder, “is a super, super fellow,” Shane McMahon “is a super, super guy,” and business is looking up.

    Progressive Democrats who think 2020 is their year won’t soon forget Biden’s long fight for the banks and credit card companies against credit card and student debt relief. China hawks will keep pointing to how Chinese investors always seem ready to buy troubled investments from Biden allies.

    President Trump’s conflicts may be bigger and bolder and more likely to spark criminal charges or even corrupt US policy. But is this really the best Democrats can do: to point out that Trump is worse? They tried that in 2016—and it didn’t end well.

    #USA #capitalisme

  • How New York Real Estate Became a Dumping Ground for the World’s Dirty Money | The Nation

    Il est #illégal que l’argent sale aille ailleurs qu’aux #Etats-Unis,

    The Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks, requires that banks, securities houses and other financial firms follow stringent anti–money laundering rules and report suspicious transactions to law enforcement. Real estate and escrow agents were included on the list, but a loophole in the law gave an opening for the US Treasury to “temporarily” exempt the real estate industry from these requirements. A dozen years later, the exemption still stands.