05 December 2017

Mueller Is Going After Trump: Deutsche Bank Subpoena

From the beginning I maintained that Trump would never be impeached.

Unlike Democrats, Republicans never throw one of their own under the bus and Trump voters are solidly behind him.

Pundits are finally coming around.

But I also argued that Trump's presidency will end because of his past financial shenanigans and money laundering activities.

Five months ago I wrote this:
The Guardian recently reported that Deutsche Bank executives were going to be subpoenaed by Mueller. In case you are wondering what might be behind this move, well, it is a complicated and potentially very damaging tale.

Trump had borrowed $640 million from the bank's real estate lending division before the 2008 crisis. When he was unable to pay the $40 million portion that came due, he sued the bank for its role in the subprime debacle to get out of his liability.

Unimpressed, Deutsche Bank countersued.

Then something amazing happened. The bank's wealth management unit lent the $40 million to Trump in order for him to pay back its own real estate division.

Trump then moved his business from real estate division to private wealth management unit. That unit continued to lend him another $300 million. And this, at a time when no US banks or Wall Street firms would do business with the Trump Organization.

Ivanka and Jared also became clients of the same division. Reportedly, Kushner's mother was given an unsecured $25 million line of credit and Kushner also got a loan of $285 million last year.
Apart from the Trumps and Kushners, Deutsche Bank also has deep ties to Russia. In addition to settling allegations earlier this year that it allowed $10 billion to be laundered out of Eastern Europe, Deutsche Bank had a “cooperation agreement” with Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned development bank that is the target of U.S. economic sanctions.In case the name of the Russian bank sounds familiar that's because you remember it from a meeting between Kushner and its CEO Sergey Gorkov arranged by the Russian Ambassador Kislyak, a meeting he conveniently forgot about until it was leaked.
Deutsche Bank is connected to Russia and money laundering in another way.
. . . in May, federal prosecutors settled a case with a Cyprus investment vehicle owned by a Russian businessman with close family connections to the Kremlin. The firm, Prevezon Holdings, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was among the people who met during the presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. about Hillary Clinton. Federal prosecutors in the United States claimed Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing, laundered the proceeds of an alleged Russian tax fraud through real estate. Prevezon and its partner relied in part on $90 million in financing from a big European financial institution, court records show. It was Deutsche Bank.
Well, it finally happened.
US special counsel Robert Mueller has ordered Germany's Deutsche Bank to provide records of accounts held by Donald Trump, according to reports.
Mr Mueller issued a subpoena to the bank several weeks ago demanding the transaction data, Reuters news agency and a German newspaper say.
He is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. 
Changing the agenda with Jerusalem might not be enough.

Soon Trump might have to bite the bullet and fire Mueller.

It would be interesting to see how Fox News would report the firing.

It would require the mother of all spins.

But with their gullible audience it shouldn't be too hard.

This feels more and more like 1939.

04 December 2017

Will Trump Fire Mueller?

As you might have heard Robert Mueller turned Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to wilfully lying to the FBI.

Flynn is said to be cooperating.

And the consensus among legal scholars is that a plea deal for such a minor crime when more serious charges were available suggest that an arrangement had been worked out to sweep those under the rug in exchange for very damaging testimony against a bigger fish.

What bigger crime?

If you are a regular reader of this humble soapbox, you will remember that Flynn was accused of secretly acting on behalf of the Turkish government or contemplating the rendering of the aging cleric Fethullah Gulen.

This last episode was divulged by former CIA Director James Woolsey last March.

And it came back to the agenda a couple of weeks ago.

Curiously, Woolsey is on the Board of Directors of Flynn's company and he is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

This is such a big deal that Trump recently invited Woolsey to dinner at the Southern White House to discuss, I assume, his role in all this.

Clearly, he is worried.

The charging documents against Mr Flynn state that he was directed to make contact with Russian officials by a "very senior member" of the Trump transition team.
Several US news organisations report the very senior official now under the spotlight is Jared Kushner - Mr Trump's adviser and son-in-law.
For a few months now, the targeting of Jared Kushner was an open secret.

Between Manafort and Flynn, Mueller could build a case that even Fox News could not attribute to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

If Kushner is also pressured, Mueller will have a clear picture of the money laundering operations of the Trump Organization, which is what he fears the most.

And if Trump waits too long, he knows he could be in serious trouble and might be unable to act.

So the Donald we know might make the bold move of firing Mueller.

Think about it.

His base will simply applaud the move as they will stick by him no matter what.

The Republicans will not do anything and they control both the House and the Senate.

Some like McCain or Flake will tweet mild criticisms.

But they are more preoccupied with tax cuts for the rich and destroying Social Security.

Democrats will howl. But Sunday talk shows will only feature Republicans.

Fox News will cover once again Clinton's email scandals.

And various Clinton shenanigans.

And Benghazi.

But if that happens, nothing will ever be the same again.

25 November 2017

Katherine Hartnett White Making America Great Again

A good friend of mine sent me this clip.

Normally, I am more textual than visual and I am not a big clip watcher. But this one is priceless.

It shows how the Orange Man surrounded himself with incompetent people. And how all his special advisers and cabinet members are clueless about their own portfolio.

I only wish that we had a similar video for Governor Goodhair and Bond Villain Mnuchin.

24 November 2017

Do you know who Rukhmabai Raut is?

You should.

She was born in 1864 in Bombay, British India. Her mother got her married when she was 11. Rukmabai refused to go live with her husband. Instead she sued him to get the marriage annulled.

This is an 11 year old girl in 19th century India.

The court rules in favor of her husband.
On 4 March 1887, Justice Farran, using interpretations of Hindu laws, ordered Rukhmabai to "go live with her husband or face six months of imprisonment". Rukhmabai responded that she would rather face imprisonment than obey the verdict. This resulted in further upheaval and social debate.
Undeterred, she petitioned Queen Victoria who agreed to have her marriage annulled.

During the legal proceedings, she also wrote feminist articles in the Times of India under the pen name A Hindu Lady to criticize Indian society's patriarchal attitudes.

Once free, she enrolled to London School of Medicine for Women in 1889 and became a doctor in 1894.

Even though she was one of the first Indian women to work as a physician,
ironically, women didn't want to be treated by her.
But the societal stigma that surrounded her when she left was still there. "Women who knew her and people she had grown up around decided they wouldn't be treated by her," said Dr Patker.
She moved elsewhere in India and worked as a physician until 1930.

Even after retirement she continued to write about women's right and their seclusion (known as the purdah system).

She remained a feminist throughout her life.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It doesn't feel like we progressed much, does it?

18 November 2017

Why ISIS Fighters Were Allowed to Leave Raqqa?

I have always been curious about why the ISIS story was never fully told.

My long time readers will remember me struggling with various questions about this shadowy organization.

In 2013, when ISIS showed up out of the blue with a $4 billion war chest and two professional film studios and several software development units all over the Arab world, I couldn't buy the idea that this slick entity was formed by an unknown preacher called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and staffed by semi-literate thugs from Western European suburbia and disaffected North Africa youth.

The corporate media maintained that the organization was created by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with anger management issues who never met al-Baghdadi and who died in 2006, 7 years before ISIS showed up as an amazingly well run terror machine to replace Al Nusra Front overnight.

They were so good, we were told, that they invaded Mosul, a city of 2 million with only 1,800 fighters. Nobody seemed to be too concerned that it was an impossible feat, as that represented 51 soldiers per neighborhood (Mosul has 35 districts).  Or less than one soldier per street.

Equally dubious were the extraordinary night fighting skills of ISIS soldiers and their ability to use heavy artillery and vehicles with astonishing sophistication.

Finally, no one bothered to point out that their insistence in forming a state and therefore inviting relentless attacks by far more superior forces was simply illogical.

None of it made any sense.

So I pieced together a framework that explained most of these peculiar issues.

According to documents unearthed by Der Spiegel, ISIS was created by Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a colonel in Saddam's Mukhabarat with the explicit aim to rally the Sunni population to rise up against the American occupation.

He found al-Baghdadi in prison and he named him the public face of ISIS. He was also the guy who set up the organizational structure of ISIS and placed Baathist officers in key positions during the expansion process.

The military power was provided by Saddam's Vice Chairman of General Chief of Staff Izzat al-Douri's Naqshbandi Army.

It was that army that invaded Mosul and chased the demoralized Iraqi units. It was also them who did the bulk of fighting while Jihadi Johns and Jihadi Jeans from Europe posed for beheading videos.

The money that paid for the army, the studios, the monthly payments for fighting idiots was provided by Qatar. They needed a pipeline for their natural gas to Europe and both Syria and Iraq had said no to the project.

Al Nusrah Front the precursor of ISIS was not up to the job so ISIS got the mission.

The need for a pipeline is also the reason behind the need for an actual territory.

In other words, ISIS was made possible by the collusion of a lot of players.

Otherwise, do you really think that it is possible to create such a huge and slick monster without anyone noticing?

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all stood to benefit from the creation of a Pipelineistan from the ashes of Syria. And they actively supported ISIS.

Since Qatar's natural gas comes from shared fields with Iran, it represented an additional bonus in the form of weakening the Islamic Republic.

Europe was fine with the plan as well because of their dependence on Russian gas. Putin's often hostile relations with Ukraine indicated that he would not shrink from using gas as leverage. If Qatar's gas could reach Europe, with Norway as another major supplier, Europe could call Putin's bluff when they needed to.

The US was fine with the idea as it weakened both Russia and Iran.

That is why nobody pressured Turkey to close its borders or to stop providing arms and ammunition to ISIS and nobody said a word about the billions of dollars sent to ISIS.

And nobody tried to prevent tens of thousands young people from traveling to Syria to die for the cause.

All of these points are well documented and over the years I wrote a great deal about them. Yet none of this made to mainstream news media. Even the Der Spiegel revelations were not picked up by anyone. As late as last year, Frontline was still talking about Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi as the founder of ISIS.

Why did I rehash all of this one more time?

A few days ago, BBC published a long article in which they revealed that when Raqqa, ISIS' capital fell earlier this year, coalition forces hired lorries and drivers to have ISIS fighters and their families carried out of the city in peace.

When the deal was made with local people, Kurdish-led SDF and British and American officers made extensive arrangements to keep it secret.
Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal. (...)
The Kurdish-led SDF cleared Raqqa of media. Islamic State’s escape from its base would not be televised.
According to the drivers, about 4,000 people consisting of fighters, their wives and children were transported out of Raqqa.
Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles.

Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.
 This is the footage of the exodus made by SDF soldiers.

In case you think that these were beaten down and disillusioned militants, this is what the drivers said.
“They said, 'Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa - we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.” (...)
Almost everyone we spoke to says IS threatened to return, its fighters running a finger across their throats as they passed by.
What is interesting is the fact that they allowed foreign fighters to leave as well.
But foreign fighters – those not from Syria and Iraq - were also able to join the convoy, according to the drivers. One explains:
There was a huge number of foreigners. France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi, China, Tunisia, Egypt...”
The convoys were left alone for the most part and when they reached a predetermined destination, the fighters moved on by themselves. Some used smugglers to get into Turkey, others into Iraq.

The report maintained that senior IS figures were evacuated earlier and they had their own highly paid smugglers.

The one exception was the notorious intelligence chief of ISIS Abu Musab Huthaifa. He was double crossed by his smugglers and was arrested before he could cross the Turkish border.
He says the convoy went to the countryside of eastern Syria, not far from the border with Iraq.

Thousands escaped, he says.

Abu Musab’s own attempted escape serves as a warning to the West of the threat from those freed from Raqqa.

How could one of the most notorious of IS chiefs escape through enemy territory and almost evade capture?
Apparently, before the siege, thousands escaped to Idlib, which is to the West of Raqqa. While some chose to stay others left for their country of origin.
Foreigners, too, also make it out - including Britons, other Europeans and Central Asians. The costs range from $4,000 (£3,000) per fighter to $20,000 for a large family.
According to the spokesman of coalition forces Co. Ryan Dillon they were reluctant to let them go. But they did.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.

“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he says.

While a Western officer was present for the negotiations, they didn’t take an “active part” in the discussions.
Does that make any sense to you?

Next time some of these future "lone wolves" kill tens of innocent civilians, remember this extraordinary decision to let these murderous thugs escape Raqqa and return to their countries.

And ask yourself this: Is there any way the people who made that decision did not know of its possible consequences?

12 November 2017

The Weinstein Effect and It's IOKIYAR Exception

I am immensely enjoying the daily parade of powerful men who are finally shamed for sexually harassing or assaulting women for decades.

And there seems to be no end in sight. The latest being the disgraced FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

Others, as yet unnamed power players, must be shaking in their boots.

The scandal has a name: the Weinstein Effect.

It is also a very different than any previous scandals in two respects: the swift reaction of the companies and the equally swift apologies that followed their dismissal.

Everybody Knew 

In the early days of the Weinstein saga what was puzzling to me was how quickly the associated companies and institutions severed their ties with these predators.

Until now, unless these powerful men would deflect any accusations by categorically denying all allegations. Their publicists would issue carefully parsed denials and their lawyers would quash rumors by sending threatening cease-and-desist letters.

And studios or media outlets would demure and spout homilies about everyone being innocent until proven guilty.

Remember Bill O'Reilly's infamous loofah-falafel incident from 2004? He settled it for a lot of money with scarcely a blemish on his reputation.

He settled five more cases over the years and never suffered professionally.

In fact, as late as this January he had his contract with Fox News renewed (with a raise) after he settled another sexual assault allegation for $32 million.

Then came the Weinstein story and there was a paradigm shift.

Within days, the man was unceremoniously dumped by The Weinstein Company (TWC). And the guy who did so was his brother.

The Academy and BAFTA and TV Academy followed suit.

At first I couldn't figure out why such a dramatic turnaround took place. Then it occurred to me that's because everybody knew.

And they knew that too many other people knew to try to contain it.

You see, for decades, Harvey Weinstein's paid off a large number of victims gagged by ironclad NDAs. And The Weinstein Company (TWC) knew about these payoffs for years.

This is a man who loved belittling, berating and bullying people, especially women. He threw ashtray to his assistants, called them the C-word. And his exploits were the stuff of legend.

As Scott Rosenberg wrote, "everybody-fucking-knew."
You, the big producers; you, the big directors; you, the big agents; you, the big financiers. And you, the big rival studio chiefs; you, the big actors; you, the big actresses; you, the big models. You, the big journalists; you, the big screenwriters; you, the big rock stars; you, the big restaurateurs; you, the big politicians.” He writes, “You know who are. You know that you knew. And do you know how I know that you knew? Because I was there with you. And because everybody-fucking-knew.” 
That's why TWC also knew that they couldn't survive this by denying it.

That is the real Weinstein Effect.

And it is true in all cases.

It seems that every comedian knew about Louis CK and like TWC, many powerful structures protected him.

Same goes for the editors and publishers about the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier. Editor Peter Beinart and owner Marty Peretz knew about Wieseltier and they covered for him.

James Toback was exposed by Spy Magazine as early as 1989 and also by Gawker several times. His autobiography was entitled "The Pick-up Artist." Everybody knew of his habit of accosting women with the cheesy line "I am a famous director and you could be in my next movie."

Brett Ratner jerking off in front of actresses was covered by Gawker many years ago.

At Fox News, it was common knowledge that "the Chairman" was a serial harasser.

Besides Bill O'Reilly there was also Eric Bolling and I am sure there are many more in their current roster of on-air talent who acted the same way.

Google "Kevin Spacey and orgies" and you will find many stories from a few years back. I can't find the links now but I once stumbled upon many more explicit stories. He was notoriously tactile with young assistants or grips on every set.

Once again, "everybody fucking knew."

Which explains why, after Weinstein was fired, Mark Halperin was dropped by NBC, MSNBC, Showtime and his book publisher.

And Louis CK's movie company absorbed the cost of not releasing his movie and FX Network and HBO cut their lucrative relationship with him.

Because they knew that "everybody fucking knew."

With Kevin Spacey, possibly because he was gay and his first accuser was 14 years old at the time of the incident, the reaction was even more drastic. Netflix fired him from its popular and acclaimed franchise House of Cards and Ridley Scott decided to erase him from his latest movie by re-shooting all his scenes.

Then there are the unusual and swift apologies which stood in sharp contrast with previous vociferous denials.

My understanding is that, when these powerful men realized that their enablers did not hesitate to throw them under the bus to prevent people asking questions about how much they knew, they were told by their publicists and lawyers to apologize promptly and whole-heartedly.

Just think of Harvey Weinstein, who, a year earlier hired ex-Mossad agents (and a supposedly feminist lawyer) to destroy the same women. Now, his first reaction to the New York Times piece  was to apologize for all the hurt he caused.

Followed by the previously mandatory check-in to rehab for a non-existent condition.

Where is Amy Winehouse when we need her.

Halperin too apologized right away, as did Kevin Spacey, who claimed to be beyond horrified about his own actions.

Also deeply sorry were Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, Louis CK, Chris Savino (the creator of Nickelodeon's Loud House), Michael Oreskes (top editor of NPR) and "David cop-a-feel" George H.W. Bush.

So far, Roy Price (the head of Amazon Studios), John Besh (celebrity chef) and Lockhart Steele (Top editor of Vox Media) are silent. I am sure their time will come.

One irony about all this is the fact that Weinstein has been telling his friends that his past behavior was designed to bring about these changes.
Disgraced Harvey Weinstein’s been telling what friends he has left that there’s a bigger reason he’s embroiled in his ever-widening sexual harassment scandal: to “change the world,” sources tell Page Six. 
“Harvey believes he is a savior,” a Hollywood insider says.
The source adds that the pervy former Weinstein Co. and Miramax macher has been telling confidantes “that he was born to take the fall for his behavior in order to ‘change the world.’ He is resigned to his punishment — as a martyr for social change.”
That's men for you.

Not A Few Bad Apples

I am glad that these people are exposed and women are having a moment of empowerment. But I wonder how effective this will be since, thanks to the clever maneuvering of the enablers we are focusing on the individual.

This is not a case of a few rotten apples. It is about power structures that foster this behavior.

This is about organizational culture and patriarchal permissiveness. Look at any institutions with men in power and women in subordinate positions, this is the natural outcome.

Universities were horrible in that respect and they still are. And they are also in denial:
A man called Brett Sokolow, who has made a name (and a lot of money) for himself by offering US universities advice on sexual misconduct, picked up on this a while ago. In a 2014 interview with al-Jazeera America, Sokolow explained how, while touring universities over a decade ago, he noticed campuses were very “squeamish” about the word rape and sexual misconduct hearing boards were unwilling to label offenders as rapists. So he tested the phrase “nonconsensual sex” with focus groups and found that it made people a lot more comfortable than a nasty word like rape. Now it has become standard terminology – Sokolow estimates that between 700 and 800 campuses have adopted the language in their sexual misconduct policies. And thank God for that. What a disaster it would be if we used language that made rapists, sorry I mean nonconsensual sexual penetrationists, uncomfortable!
Read the whole piece as it shows how the enablers distorted language at every turn.

The same goes for media outlets.

Remember the Good Girls Revolt? A series inspired by true events at Newsweek around 1970 where women could only do research and all writing was given to men.

Ironically, it was cancelled after one season by Roy Price, the Amazon studio chief who just resigned for sexual harassment. And there are talks to bring it back thanks to Weinstein Effect.

Overall, 45% of women polled said they have been sexually harassed at work. This translates to about 33.6 million women in the US. 
The group that experienced the most harassment were women between the ages 30 and 44 — almost half (49%) said they had been sexually harassed at work. Not far behind, 47% of women ages 45 to 64 said they were sexually harassed at work, followed by 41% of women ages 18 to 20, and finally 40% of women 65 or older.
You already know the so-called "Bro culture" in the largest tech companies. Susan Fowler anyone?

How about the culinary world and its sexist macho kitchens.
In March of that year, Ivy Knight, a Toronto writer and former cook, published a piece on Vice’s Munchies site called “What It’s Like to Be Attacked by Your Sous Chef,” in which she recounted a long list of horrifying stories from her time working in kitchens, including being slammed against a counter and choked after a bad service. A few months later, a cook named Kate Burnham came forward with hideous allegations about her experience as an employee at the Toronto restaurant Weslodge. In her complaint, she alleged, among other things, that three male colleagues at the restaurant had grabbed her breasts, slapped her ass with a spatula hard enough to leave bruises, and that a popular brunch activity for some of the cooks was to spray her face and hair with aerated hollandaise, an act whose inspiration is self-evident.
Read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" it is worth it.

What is positive about the Weinstein effect is that it forces people to review the systemic nature and the power component of sexual misconduct.

But there is one group that is immune to the Weinstein Effect. The Republicans and of course the truly pious evangelicals. The original flip floppers, the group who were fine with abortion until they couldn't stand it.


Last September, as you no doubt remember, a tape was leaked to the media.

It had Donald Trump boasting that he routinely grabbed women by the pussy and forced them to do vile things against their will.

Right after that, former underage beauty pageant contestants revealed that he would barge in on them while they were naked and leer.

24 women came forward alleging various acts of sexual misconduct like forcible kisses, touching genitalia and in one case (Ivana) brutal rape.

When the stories came out the picture on the right was the reaction of Trumpkins.

A few days ago, the colorful racist Alabama judge turned GOP politician Roy Moore was accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old girl when he was a prosecutor.

Three more women came forward to claim that he prayed on them while they were 14-18 years old.
One of the accusers said she was a 14-year-old working as Santa's helper at a shopping centre when Mr Moore first targeted her.
We are talking pedophilia and just days earlier Kevin Spacey was completely destroyed for hitting on a 14 year old.

Do you know what the reaction was to these serious and extremely disturbing accusations?
Alabama's state auditor Jim Zeigler came under fire on Thursday for his remarks defending Mr Moore. 
He was quoted as saying that even if the Washington Post report were true, "it's much ado about very little".
Mr Zeigler told the Washington Times newspaper: "Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."
And many Republicans rushed to his defense.

Unsurprisingly, the evangelicals, Roy Moore's core base were fine with his pedophilia.
As Thomas Edsall recently noted, from 2011 to 2016, the percentage of white evangelical Protestants who believe that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life” shot up, from thirty to seventy-two per cent. Evangelicals went from being the least forgiving religious group to being the most forgiving religious group.
That's IOKIYAR for you.

06 November 2017

Texas Church Shooting

Why do Americans call for stricter Muslim immigration vetting after every murderous act committed by a Muslim but offer only thoughts and prayers after a white male mass shooting.

Shouldn't they ask for stricter vetting of gun buyers and gun owners?

You would think so but no one does.

And no one wonders about it.