Trump doesn’t want to win

Back in January, before the voting started in the U.S. primaries, I posted on this blog. My belief was that Donald Trump was going to win the Republican primaries and become the Republican nominee for President. This prediction turned out to be exactly right.

In addition, I predicted that Trump would beat Hillary Clinton easily in the general election. Lo and behold, it is Trump versus Clinton. However the current polling shows that Clinton consistently leads Trump.

My belief is that Trump is a much stronger candidate than Clinton. On political instinct alone, he would beat her any day. However observing Trump over the recent months, particularly since he won the Republican nomination, I have come to believe that he does not want to actually win the Presidency. All his terrible statements and apparent personality flaws notwithstanding, Trump is certainly a very clever person. It cannot possibly be that he is unaware of the negative consequences of some of his statements in terms of his own popularity and the reaction from the public.

It may well be that Trump’s runaway success in the primaries was a surprise to himself first. And that he never expected to win the nomination and be in a position to win the Presidency. And once he saw that he is very close to winning the election, he came to a realisation that he doesn’t actually want to do the everyday job of the President which requires extreme concentration and dedication. At this stage, his thinking must be: how do I maximise my own pleasure and utility from this unexpected position I find myself in?

He revels in the glory of being the focus of attention of the whole country, if not the whole world. He wouldn’t trade that for anything. That’s why he’s not planning to withdraw. But he’s also not planning to win. The best way to achieve both ends? Continue making outrageous statements that keep everybody talking about him and make it impossible for him to win the general election.

I think it is highly likely that once Trump loses, he will cash in on his newfound political following. The most obvious way, as a number of commentators have pointed out, is Trump TV. Fox News is a money making machine – the top cable network in the U.S. – sustained by the existence of an army of right-leaning viewers. I’ve no doubt Trump observes its success with considerable interest. He has a ready-made audience of loyal followers right there.

As we’ve seen with Brexit, sometimes victory can be unexpected for the winners themselves. And they may utterly lack a plan. Trump is so good at campaigning that he may win accidentally, despite all the advantages that the Clinton campaign will surely accumulate – data-driven voter turnout operation, endless array of attack ads, a sterling lineup of surrogates. But Hillary is a deeply flawed candidate of the establishment in an election where the electorate craves change. Like Boris and Nigel, against all odds Donald might find himself a winner without a plan. That would be another catastrophe.

Trump as the Mule: will he alter history?

In my previous post, right before the Iowa caucuses, I predicted that Trump and Clinton would win their respective nominations, and that Trump would beat Clinton handily in the general election. Now that the Super Tuesday results are in, my predictions seem to be right on track so far.

Observing the election extravaganza, there is one thing that I find particularly striking. For all his success in attracting the votes of the disenchanted and the angry, Trump’s platform is incredibly vacuous. On issue after issue, we literally don’t know what he really stands for or what he will do once elected.

Yes, he does make some very controversially sounding noises, particularly on race and immigrants. But considering his oft-declared tactic of always making an impossibly high first ask to start a negotiation, we really don’t know what his true negotiating intent might be even on his most controversial issues.

Take healthcare. He declares that he will repeal Obamacare and replace it “with something a lot better”. That’s a position that can obviously be supported by everybody across the board – because everyone can fill it with their own meaning. Given that over the course of his life Trump has expressed a whole diapason of views on all kinds of topics, we truly have no idea what kind of “a lot better” he will go for as it applies to healthcare – or to anything else, for that matter.

In the sci-fi classic Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, the history of the Galaxy is steered in a preplanned direction by hidden Foundations, mysterious power brokers which know how to manipulate the rules of the game. And then a completely unexpected personage, called the Mule, appears. A mutant, possessing strange, near magical powers. The Mule goes on to wrestle control over half the Galaxy, completely upending the plans of the Foundation and throwing history into chaos.

Trump reminds me of the Mule. His unique blend of powers and abilities seems to be the perfect storm from the point of view of those who hold power. Unprecedented celebrity, unassailable wealth and genius for media manipulation – take away any of these ingredients, and his improbable run becomes impossible. But together they put him in a unique position to take control of the United States and implement an agenda that at this point is largely unknown and likely groundbreaking.

One result of such a paradoxical confluence of events is that very powerful interests are now stacked up against him. They may wait till he becomes President to see what he will actually do. But don’t be surprised if an assassination attempt happens early in his Presidency.

After a mighty struggle, the Foundation did overcome the Mule. The history of the Galaxy followed its predicted path.

How the IT revolution reshapes the American politics

With a held breath I’m following the unfolding of the American presidential race this year. Unusually, there is a genuine uncertainty this time as to how the race will develop and who will ultimately win.

It feels as if the lithospheric plates of American politics have began to shift. The unlikely figures, Trump and Sanders, are rocking the stage on both sides of the aisle. What gives? The answer is simple. The internet revolution has finally reached the American political mind.

The trick that both parties used to play with the electorate was essentially to promote whatever sells and then to implement an ulterior agenda while in power, sometimes completely ignoring the population’s preferences. The Republicans would concentrate the voters’ ire on culture wars and limited government while pushing through the agenda of expanding military spending and drastically cutting taxes on the superrich. The Democrats would focus on liberal social policies  while decisively deregulating the financial sector and bailing out banks at taxpayer’s cost. Both parties essentially serving the interests of moneyed elites while largely ignoring the preferences of the electorate in key areas.

That’s no longer possible. The age of (more) perfect information finally affects the United States. People like Trump and Sanders now have an unprecedented direct connection to the voters. In different ways, both of them are products of the information revolution. Trump is the emperor of the media in general and the social media in particular, deftly using both to amplify his message. A message sensibly tailored to the widely shared actual preferences of the Republican voters. Sanders is the king of online fundraising. Both insistently position themselves as not soiled by any super-PAC connection, as if super-PACs were some dirty underworld creatures. Citizens United has been neutralized by the internet revolution.

Trump has skilfully exploited the divide between the voters’ preferences and the official position taken by the party. As an example, the Republican establishment has endorsed the issue of immigration as an area of a convenient political compromise. Turns out, voters would have none of it. GOP politicians were not afraid of hammering on about the deficit, transparently preparing the ground for cutting social programs. But there is no support for touching Medicare or Medicaid among the electorate.

With an equal vigour, Sanders has endorsed Elizabeth Warren-style anti-rich rants. He is an authentic messenger for this creed, in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton. Her ties to financial services industry go back to her husband’s presidency and continue over the years as a steady stream of campaign contributions and speaking fees. Her credibility as an anti-inequality crusader is questionable at best.

Ultimately, the reason why Trump is the overwhelming favourite now to win the Republican nomination is the fact that he represents the voters’ preferences in the way that other candidates don’t. Will Sanders win on the Democratic side? Hillary Clinton is a mediocre politician who was propelled into the pole position by being uniquely connected to two former presidents. She has nevertheless amassed a solid lead in several key metrics: recognition, minority support, supercandidates and endorsements, money. This lead may be too large for Sanders to overcome. But watch out for the power of information technology revolution. Once he wins both Iowa and New Hamphshire, Bern she will feel.

My prediction for the general election: Trumps beats Hillary in a walk.

What does Merkel want? Mass migration is German Chancellor’s secret weapon against aging

The hot topic in the news for the past weeks has been the unprecedented influx of migrants into the European Union. I am surprised by a distinct difference between what my friends from the West and my friends from the East of Europe are saying privately on this question. The Westerners tend to focus on the plight of the migrants and on the ways how we as individuals can help them. The Easterners on the other hand are puzzled by the perceived naiveté of the West. They are honestly wondering if Angela Merkel is irrational, reactive or simply confused. What are her motives to invite thousands, if not millions of poor people from a different culture into her country, seemingly creating a cultural disaster of her own making?

In 2001 CIA prepared a major report that discussed the major worldwide demographic trends and their implications for security and economic growth. (It’s still readily available on their website.) Discussing the dangers of one key trend – aging in developed countries – the report pointed out that to maintain the size of its working-age population, Japan would need nearly 650,000 migrants per year in years 2000-2050. Germany would need 487,000, and Italy 327,000. It literally said that “developed countries will need record levels of immigrants to support their retirees. Immigration to Germany would have to far exceed the 1 million immigrants in 1990 that resulted from unification. Strong public resistance to immigration—especially in Germany and Japan—will fuel political controversy.”

In real life we have not seen anything like these numbers. There have been attempts to create an orderly migration system along the lines of Canada or Australia for Europe, but the political will simply isn’t there – not in Germany and not in the greater European Union.

What we suddenly saw in 2015 was how Angela Merkel seized the sad occasion of a humanitarian crisis in Syria to decisively advance a necessary but painful dynamic. It didn’t hurt that the Syrian population is relatively well-educated. To call for massive migration in order to combat aging (and steal some qualified foreign manpower in the process) just wouldn’t fly. But to invite refugees chased by a terrible dictator was suddenly very popular. “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” were chanting the German demonstrators in the throes of altruistic élan. Flabbergasting many a parochial observer in Eastern Europe in the process. We are beginning to see the backclash caused by inevitable cultural frictions. There will be a lot more of it.

And yet massive immigration into the EU is here to stay. It’s only the beginning. In terms of the numbers, we ain’t seen nothing yet. As developing countries become slightly richer and people get access to information and transport, the migratory flows will become ever stronger. For our aging societies, that might not be a bad thing.

The giant surprise of Haiti: Citadelle Laferrière and Sans Souci palace

An incredible giant fortress was built by the freed slaves for the Black King at the top of a mountain chain to fight back the return of Napoleon. Sounds like an alternative history novel? And yet it’s true. Citadelle Laferrière is located just 30 kilometres to the South of Cap-Haïtien. More than that: at the bottom of the mountain a black Versailles stands in ruins, a large sophisticated palace that was conceived by the black king as the centre of the administration of the newly built black kingdom.

This double attraction is the pride of Haiti and its main tourist sight. Inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is no doubt the most surprising and most impressive fortress built in the Western hemisphere after the “discovery” of America by Columbus. As I wandered around it, I was struggling to comprehend how the slaves that had just gained their freedom could built such a miracle of architecture in the middle of a country destroyed by the civil war? How an idea this brave could be born, what was the key to its methodical implementation?

Clearly, when this fortress was built, when the kingdom of Henri-Christophe just came into existence, the whole history of the world must have appeared very different, and the future too held a very different promise. It was the time when the United States had just been born, the French Revolution had just taken place. The reactionary forces had not yet suffocated the new growths of freedom in Europe. And Africa was not yet divided between colonial empires like a multi-coloured carpet. At that time anyone could be forgiven for thinking that freedom and self-sufficiency were within reach for any hopeful new country.

This is a video I made in Citadelle Laferrière. From its top levels I could see an incredible panorama of Haitian mountains descending towards the Atlantic in the distance. I added a song “Ayiti leve” from an album of Haitian music given to me by a friend long time ago. “Ayiti leve” in Creole means “Get up, Haiti!”

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Cap-Haïtien, once the Paris of the Antilles, and what’s left of it

Cap-Haïtien today is Haiti’s second most important city. However throughout the colonial times Cap-Haïtien was the capital of the French colony Saint-Domingue. And it was not simply a capital. It was the most luxurious city in all of the Caribbean, full of sophisticated buildings and decadent villas. In those days it was called Cap-Français and it was referred to as the Paris of the Antilles.

The secret of all this glory was that the French came up with the most efficient system of mass production of sugar cane of them all. As a result, Saint-Domigue was the richest colony in all of the New World. The rest of the colonisers looked at Saint-Domingue with envy and tried to copy its methods in their own territories.

However these incredible riches were built on two unsustainable factors. Firstly, the system required inhuman exploitation of black slaves. Several tens of thousands of white slaveowners used sadistic methods to enforce the backbreaking work of millions of black slaves. Secondly, the system irrevocably destroyed another resource – the soils that cover most of hilly Haitian countryside. These soils accumulated over thousands of years and were only sustained due to the forests that prevented the erosion from rain and wind. As these forests were cut down to make way for plantations, a quick and irreversible soil erosion followed. Today forests are only 5% of Haiti’s territory which was once all forest. The fertile soils are almost completely gone. This is the inheritance left to Haiti by the colonisers. Yet another inheritance is the “debt” of 90 million golden francs that Haiti would pay back to the French all the way to 1947. (Absurdly, some former French colonies in Africa are paying analogous “debt” to France to this day.)

The rare visitors to Cap often note how badly Haitians take care of their architectural heritage. They forget an important detail – Cap-Haitien was entirely destroyed in 1802 in the course of the liberation war with the French. All the buildings here were built after Haitian independence.

The city is indeed very beautiful and picturesque and obviously in bad condition. The taptap from Ouanaminthe let us out on the outskirts of the city where mototaxis were already waiting. Luckily I had exchanged some dollars to the local gourdes at the border, so I could negotiate in the local currency – and quickly agreed to be taken to my hotel for 50 gourdes (1 dollars). (In fact even that was too expensive.) This is how this and many other trips by mototaxi looked – it’s by far the most operational way to go around Haiti’s towns!

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How I finally got to Haiti: adventures on the border and what is taptap

Don’t be surprised – I’m NOT in Haiti right now! I decided to write a few posts about most amazing travel experiences during this last half-a-year – since the time I updated the blog regularly. A kind of a “Greatest Hits”. They will pop up in a kind of random order. First off – the most exotic of all – HAITI!

A visit to Haiti was in my sights already during my first visit to Santo Domingo. That time I couldn’t make it – despite trying numerous times to buy a bus ticket to Port-au-Prince. There was always a reason – the office of the only bus company that plies the route was unexplicably closed; or they wouldn’t have tickets; or the border was closed and the bus was cancelled – “Huelga!” shouted at me a black saleswoman when I inquired about the reasons.

And yet I was irresistibly drawn by Haiti – it felt like a truly weird place, wild, chaotic, exotic and unknown, a perfect candidate to broaden my own travelling horizons. Haiti is unique as the only country in the history of the world where a slave insurrection has been victorious and has led to independence. The slaves managed to defeat the troops sent by Napoleon himself!

Unfortunately, their hardwon freedom has not resulted in exemplary prosperity. The slave republic has long been an outcast in the world affairs, shunned by all of its colonial neighbours and even forced to pay absurd reparations to its former colonial master, France. In the 20th century constant meddling by the Americans guaranteed no sane leader could remain long in his position, whereas the terrible Duvalier dynasty had a free reign to terrorise the population for decades as long as they played ball with the United States. As if that wasn’t enough, an horrific earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in 2010. Today Haiti, while trying to rebuild itself, remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

So how did I make it there? I changed my tactics and decided to go to Haiti from Santiago de los Caballeros (DR’s second city) instead of Santo Domingo. As I flew to Santiago from Puerto Rico, first thing I did was visit the office of Caribe Tours that was supposed to sell tickets to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second city. That office was a windowless room hidden somewhere in the back of an out-of-town bus station in Santiago. A lone black man sat in the windowless room. As I switched from Spanish to French, his facial expression changed immediately as if he decided that my request to buy a ticket was not a joke. He sold me a bus ticket for the following morning. I didn’t reveal my excitement, knowing how nothing is set in stone when it comes to Haiti.

The following morning I was waiting in the station and – surprise, surprise – the bus arrived almost on time and off we went to Cap-Haitien. To make it all easier for myself, I left my large luggage bag in a hotel in Santiago and only took a small rucksack with me. Each and every passenger in the bus besides myself was black, with one notable exception: a crazy guy from South Korea who didn’t even speak any of the local languages – not Spanish and not French (not even mentioning Creole). Of course we started talking (in English) and it turned out he had also been to more than 100 countries. We did have a lot to discuss, especially considering that his travel collection was very different from mine – he’d been to a lot fo countries in Africa for example.

And yet Haiti did show it’s character. Let me explain. As we were approaching the border, all of a sudden a strange commotion set in inside the bus. A loud discussion turned into an argument turned into a shouting match – in Creole. Finally I managed to grab the travel hostess (yes, these buses feature a hostess who welcomes you on board, serves lunch, and is theoretically responsible for all border formalities). The hostess declared to me that the bus will not go further. Why??? The border is closed. Somebody has been killed and the police has closed the border bridge. The bus goes back to Santiago!!! However, if you want, you can cross the border on foot. And then organise your own transport to Cap-Haitien.

I think something in me already expected something like this. Otherwise why would I have taken only a rucksack with me? So I translated all this story to the South Korean, we looked at each other for a split second and of course decided that we would cross the border on foot. To her credit, the hostess took us in tow and took care of us in the immigration departments of the two countries. On this pic you can see as she leads the way to the Haitian immigration. She is second from left.

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The last island of the Antilles: Grenada

On the last day of our cruise the crew organised a “meeting with the captain”. It was a truly fascinating hour during which the captain, his first mate and a third officer answered all kinds of questions from the audience. For example we learnt that our ship (“Jewel of the Seas”) does not all the time travel in circle in the Caribbean from Puerto Rico to Puerto Rico. Rather, depending on the season the ship will go to different corners from the world. In summer it’s in Alaska, in the fall it’s in the Mediterranean, at some point it even goes to South East Asia. When asked which of the places on the itinerary were his favourites, the captain to my surprise said it was Grenada.

Grenada is the last, i.e. Southernmost island in the Antilles archipelago. Further South is South America with its satellite islands.

Grenada is marketed as the Spice Island due to a huge choice of spices available here. As for me, I knew it mostly as the island which was attacked by Ronald Reagan.

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Saint Lucia, the most authentic of the Caribbean islands

Saint Lucia is rightly considered the most authentic of all the Caribbean islands. Thanks to its population, climate, location and history it has preserved a particular character. Even though it is not the most isolated island and gets its share of visitors, most of it is nevertheless difficult to access and its population 174 thousand is sufficiently large to withstand the sea of tourists.

Saint Lucia was nicknamed the Helen of West Indies due to the fact that no other island changed hands so many times – no less than 14 times it was traded back and forth between the French and the British. Paradoxically, the last military conflict here was won by the French – and yet it was the Brits who stuck with Saint Lucia, thanks to a peace deal signed in faraway Europe. Today Saint Lucia is part of the Commonwealth and the head of state here is the British queen. And yet many of the local names in Saint Lucia are French, starting with the capital, Castries, which is named a French marquess. The locals pronounce it in English manner though, with the stress on the first syllable and without omitting the final “s” as you would in French.

Saint Lucia is remarkable for the fact that it happens to have the most Nobel prize winners per capita! As many as TWO islanders have won the prize – writer Derek Walcott and economist Arthur Lewis. By a strange coincidence both were born on the same day, 23 January.

As for me, it was particularly sweet to visit Saint Lucia as it was my 100th independent country. To reach 100 visited countries was one of my goals for 2015. Done!

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Colourful decay of overseas France: Martinique

Of the five islands on the route of our cruise, Martinique was the largest (population over 400 thousand) and most important in history and economics. On the other hand, unlike Antigua and others, it is not independent. Quite the opposite – it’s a department of the French Republic formally equal in rights and obligations to any other department. It does have an additional special status – département d’outre-mer, or DOM – which means “overseas department” in French. Among other things, it allows Martinique to benefit from rather substantial EU grants.

France keeps a whole laundry list of various tiny territories all over the world – remains of the former giant colonial empire. The French constitution groups them in various clusters, some of which overlap. This complex system was previously referred to as DOM-TOM (“overseas departments and territories”), but following recent reforms this abbreviation has become obsolete – now it would be DROM-COM, though in the corridors the old way is still used.

Welcome to this shard of France stuck in the middle of the Caribbean! Liberté égalité fraternité say hello!

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