Column

Starkman: 'The Donald' v 'Comrade Bernie' in Michigan

September 22, 2023, 6:24 PM

The writer, a Los Angeles freelancer and former Detroit News business reporter. This column first appeared in his blog,  StarkmanApproved.com

By Eric Starkman

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Sen. Sanders and ex-President Trump.

When it comes to mainstream media management, Donald Trump is a loser. A bigly loser. In fact, I’ll go so far and say that Trump is the biggest mainstream media management loser since Guttenberg invented the printing press.

There is no organization that despises and detests Donald Trump with all its institutional heart and soul than the New York Times. One might expect that Trump would have come to this realization by now given that the publication shared a Pulitzer Prize for reporting stories about him that proved to be false, but Trump is still hoping to impress the Times’ journalists and win them over. That explains the “exclusive” Trump and his advisors this week handed the Times about his plans to skip the G.O.P. debate and visit Detroit to pal around with striking UAW workers.

What makes the Times’ story even more jaw dropping is the co-byline of Maggie Haberman, who has made a national name for herself writing unflattering stories about “The Donald” and exposing him to much ridicule. Here’s what Trump posted about Haberman on his Truth Social platform last year after Haberman’s book about him was published.

“Maggot Hagerman [sic] of the Unfunded Liability plagued New York Times is my self appointed Biographer, even though she got the Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax & the Mueller Report conclusion completely wrong, & refused to write about the FACT that the Democrats spied on my campaign, Lied to Congress, & Cheated and Lied to the FISA Court,” the former president wrote.

Trump has repeatedly derided Haberman, and I can relate as to why. When I attended summer camp, there was a girl named Elissa Shapiro (name changed) who I had a crush on but who never noticed me. To gain her attention, I’d call her names and do all sorts of obnoxious things that made her recognize my existence. Admittedly, I was only 10 years old at the time, but Trump appears to have adopted my childhood tactic, which isn’t surprising for someone who still insists on getting two scoops of ice cream.

Pure conjecture, but my guess is that Times reporter Shane Goldmacher got the tip that Trump planned to skip the G.O.P. debate and Haberman called her admirer and got him to confirm it. That’s likely why the journalism superstar got second billing on the story.

The Times is an agenda driven publication and its reporting on Trump’s plans to skip the second G.O.P. debate and address some 500 plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, as well as autoworkers in Detroit is true to form. The publication notified its Biden Administration handlers of Trump’s plans and dutifully allowed them to issue a scathing response to a story it hadn’t yet published.

Amaar Moussa/LinkedIn

“Donald Trump is going to Michigan next week to lie to Michigan workers and pretend he didn’t spend his entire failed presidency selling them out at every turn,” said Ammar Moussa, whose title is “Director of Rapid Response at Biden for President,” so no doubt he replied to the Times very quickly.

Not surprisingly, the Times let Moussa’s quote go unchallenged. The undeniable fact is that Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled Congress sold out American union autoworkers with their passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which encourages GM, Ford, and other automakers to accelerate their manufacturing migration to Mexico, where Ford proudly assembles its electric Mustang and GM is building its electric Equinox and Blazer vehicles.

Under IRA, electric vehicles assembled in Mexico are eligible for $7,500 tax credits when sold in the U.S. GM and Ford pay their Mexican factory workers poverty wages, and yet they are still expected to lose billions trying to figure out how to manufacture electric vehicles. Tesla vehicles sold in the U.S. are made in America, and the company is nevertheless considerably more profitable, despite considerably higher EV labor costs.  

Even before taking office, Trump objected to GM and Ford moving operations outside the U.S. In January 2017, Ford cancelled plans to a build a small-car assembly plant in Mexico after Trump repeatedly criticized the relocation. Hours earlier, Trump threatened to impose tariffs on cars made in Mexico by General Motors, which under CEO Mary Barra has become that country’s biggest automotive exporter.

“We are encouraged by the pro-growth plans that President-elect Trump and the new Congress indicate they will pursue,” Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO at the time, told the New York Times. The Times said Fields “made clear” that Trump’s emphasis on tax changes and cutting regulations would have an overall positive effect on automakers such as Ford.

“We have a president-elect who has said very clearly that one of his first priorities is to grow the economy,” Fields said. “That should be music to our ears.”

UAW chief Shawn Fain understandably seems to have no memory of Trump’s objections to moving automotive manufacturing jobs to Mexico.

“Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” Fain told CNN, in response to the Times’ story. “We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.”

This impressive Bloomberg story connected all the dots. The UAW’s communications team includes veterans from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run for president, which included winning Michigan’s 2016 Democratic primary. A tip of the hat to these folks as they’ve managed to stop the media from writing glowing puff pieces about GM’s Barra and Ford CEO Jim Farley and portraying them as the obscenely overpaid CEOs that they are.

As an example of their handiwork, Bloomberg reported that when Stellantis and UAW leadership gathered for the second time last month, Mark Stewart, COO of North America, joined via videoconference from Acapulco, Mexico, where he has a second home.

Fain has co-opted some of Sanders’ positions, including the demand for a 32-hour week and railing about Elon Musk’s “greed” for using his wealth to pursue a dream of landing on Mars. While a 32-hour week makes sense to a millionaire socialist who’s fed from the public trough his entire professional life, the demand is hurting the UAW’s credibility. Negative reader comments about UAW strike stories I’ve reviewed overwhelmingly mention the 32-hour week demand.

Guardian, May 4, 2023

Sanders and his people have so co-opted the UAW that Fain sounds like a Sanders clone, generating the same headlines.

Futurism, March 3, 2022
Fortune, September 18, 2023

Fain rarely, if ever, talks about the harm IRA legislation has caused his members. That’s understandable: Sanders voted in favor of the bill, although to his credit warned it wouldn’t reduce inflation, didn’t address excessive executive pay, or address America’s broken healthcare system.

Ford’s management and affiliates clearly have disdain for Trump. The second biggest 2022 campaign contributions of Ford individuals and affiliates were to The Lincoln Project, a controversial organization dedicated to preventing the re-election of Donald Trump. The biggest individual campaign contributions went to former Michigan Republican Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment.

OpenSecrets/Ford Motor Co.

Ford’s government affairs are overseen by Steven Croley, Ford’s chief policy officer and general counsel, who served as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy. He spent four years in the White House, first as special assistant to President Obama for regulatory policy, then as deputy counsel overseeing legal policy. Chris Smith, Ford’s top lobbyist and chief government affairs officer, also worked for the DOE. In April was named an advisor to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Croley’s and Smith’s connections are paying off big time. In May, Granholm awarded Ford a sweetheart $9.2 billion low interest loan to finance the company’s already heavily subsidized EV projects in Tennessee and Kentucky, despite Ford continuing to pay billions in dividends to its shareholders.

At a tense hearing last week, some Republicans were clamoring for Granholm’s impeachment for failing to disclose that her husband owned Ford stock. One can credibly argue that Ford is the official automaker of the Biden Administration, a company the president repeatedly has spoken highly.

According to a study released Tuesday by Common Dreams, which advocates for tax fairness, over the past five years, GM and Ford made a total of $34 billion and $8 billion respectively but paid an effective federal tax rate of only 1.3% for GM and -0.2% for Ford.

“Over that same period, GM and Ford paid out a combined total of $14 billion in dividends (34 times more than they paid in taxes), spent $3.6 billion on stock buybacks (nine times more than they paid in taxes), and lavished $614 million on top company executives (50% more than they paid in taxes),” according to the study.

Among the reasons GM and Ford can pay such low taxes is they generated deferred tax assets by being unprofitable in the U.S. for years before respectively filing for bankruptcy and undergoing a major restructuring in 2009. Ironically, Trump’s massive corporate tax cuts reduced the value of the deferred tax assets, forcing GM to take a $7.3 billion charge.

Trump’s tax cuts were intended to foster corporate investments and job growth, but GM and Ford increasingly have been moving jobs to Mexico while downsizing their U.S. workforces. By comparison, Toyota used some of its Trump tax cuts to invest $1.6 billion and build a car factory in Alabama.

It will be interesting to see how Trump’s Michigan visit plays out. He still enjoys a lot of support in the state, but Bernie Sanders’ operatives are in a good position to out finesse him. If they have some dirt or unfavorable information about Trump, I’m sure they know who to call at the New York Times.

Reach the writer at eric@starkmanapproved.com. Confidentiality is assured.


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