21 July 2017

Minnesota: White Lives Matter?

An Australian yoga instructor, Justine Diamond was shot dead in Minneapolis, by the police officers who responded to her 911 call.

Don and Justine Damon

She was reporting a rape.

The shooting is a non-event in the US. It is routine.

Last year, 968 people were killed by police. This year, so far, 554.

There were several issues with this one though.

Otherwise it would not have made the headlines.

First, she was a white woman.

Second she was from Australia, an English speaking and relatively powerful country where the media can ask questions.

Finally, the officer who shot her was called Mohamed Noor.

Remember Philando Castile? Also in Minnesota.

And countless others.

But I predict that this time they will indict the officer.

And throw the book at him.

Because he shot a white woman from Australia while being Mohamed Noor.

12 July 2017

Kushner's Qatar Involvement and Donnygate: A Surkov Moment?

I sometimes wonder if Trump is pulling a Surkov.

I mentioned Vladislav Surkov two years ago in connection with "Oh Dear" theory of political discourse.

He is the avant garde performance artist who became Deputy Prime Minister and then Putin's senior advisor. His work is guided by Jean Francois Lyotard's "postmodern condition" which is "characterised by the recognition of multiple perspectives and micro-narratives. For Lyotard, in this diffuse situation, dominance of information is power."

In practical terms, this means that Surkov removes facts and truth and beliefs from the political discourse and sets the daily agenda by feeding a dizzying array of fake, contradictory and seemingly true narratives through various associations, small parties and news media outlets he controls.

These multiple and often incomprehensible narratives prevent the opposition from forming a cohesive and intelligible response. They also allow Kremlin to push its own version of reality as the actual truth.

Surkov, for instance, orchestrated a complicated media campaign prior to the annexation of Crimea which gave the impression that the whole peninsula was rooting for unification. This was how the whole situation was reported in the West without anyone realizing that it was a wholly fabricated Surkov theater.

He is also very good at changing the subject: when corruption accusations against Putin got traction, Surkov got him to pass a "gay-propaganda law" and next thing you know, everybody was discussing that.

These examples are from a recent Vanity Fair article about him that examines the possibility that Trump's unhinged tweets and fact-free statements might be part of a Surkovian strategy.

Now, I believe Trump is too dumb to be able to do it himself but Prince of Darkness Steve Bannon and Boy Blunder Jared Kushner might be the ones pulling a Surkov.

I will give you a perfect illustration.

Last week, the Financial Times published a follow up piece to their October 2016 investigation which had concluded that "one Trump venture has multiple ties to an alleged international money laundering network."

The new report discusses the Trump connections to the Bayrock/Sapir group which financed Trump Soho and Feliz Sater, a Russian born businessman who helped Viktor Khrapunov move last sums of money into US real estate companies, including the Trump Organization.

I summarized some of these shady deals in a recent post.

The FT piece suggested that Robert Mueller was focusing on these questionable arrangements.
Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief running the investigation, recently hired Andrew Weissmann, an experienced fraud prosecutor to work on the probe. Mr Weissmann, then an assistant US attorney in New York, signed Mr Sater’s 1998 plea deal. Other reported hires have expertise in tracking illicit money flows from the former Soviet Union. 
When I read this, I thought, well, this should be rather worrisome for Trump.

Then something else popped up.

The Intercept published an investigative expose about Kushner's infamous 666 Fifth Avenue building.

You might remember it, as I recently discussed the story of that building and how Anbang, a shadowy Chinese conglomerate almost saved Kushner's seriously underwater investment by agreeing to put in a sum of money several times more than the actual value of the building.

The deal eventually collapsed amid "conflict of interest" outcries.

It turns out that there was more to it than the Chinese connection.

Apparently, Kushner tried to raise the money for his troubled building from Qatar.

The former Emir's Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (for the entire duration if his reign), Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (known as HBJ) is one of the wealthiest men in the world and he has an investment company known as Al-Mirqab.

HBJ was willing to put up $500 million provided that Kushner raised the rest of the money needed. When Anbang pulled out, HBJ's condition was unmet and the deal collapsed.

According to the Intercept, the two events seemed connected as the Saudi blockade came out of the blue since a few days earlier the Emir of Qatar was in Jeddah before Trump's visit and things seemed fine.

When the Saudi ultimatum was announced Trump immediately sided with the Saudis and tried to take credit for stopping terrorist financing. Which, as I said, made as much sense as siding with Hitler against Petain in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Rex Tillerson, possibly not wanting to contradict his boss, tepidly called  for mediation and an end to blockade.
Within hours, Trump, at a White House ceremony, contradicted Tillerson, slamming Qatar again and claiming it had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
Interestingly, according to Mark Perry writing in the American Conservative, Trump's remarks were authored by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba and delivered to Trump by Kushner.
Tillerson’s aides, I was told, were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement was U.A.E. ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Rex put two-and-two together,” his close associate says, “and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.”
Now, think about it for a second.

Qatar was supposed to lend Kushner money to save his building.

They failed to deliver and next thing you know, Trump is slamming the country which is hosting the largest US military base in the region, which happens to be the first line of defense if hostilities broke out between Iran and Israel.
If the deal is not entirely dead, that means Jared Kushner is on the one hand pushing to use the power of American diplomacy to pummel a small nation, while on the other his firm is hoping to extract an extraordinary amount of capital from there for a failing investment. If, however, the deal is entirely dead, the pummeling may be seen as intimidating to other investors on the end of a Kushner Companies pitch.
And an American President is turning what a UAE Ambassador said into official US policy pushing aside his own Secretary of State.

Just to secure a real-estate deal.

This is very serious stuff indeed.

So, going back to "pulling a Surkov."

The week where serious allegations of Trump money laundering surfaced and possibly criminal misuse of American foreign policy by Boy Blunder to secure a deal was revealed, what did we talk about?

Fredo's inane email exchanges with a Russian attorney.

Maybe there is a method to Bannon's madness after all.

If Donnygate was Chelseagate

Imagine a scenario whereby a British impresario with Russian clients approached Chelsea Clinton during last year's presidential campaign.

And communicated to her that a Russian lawyer with dirt on Trump would like to meet with her.

In his email he said this: "obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for [Ms Clinton]"


And Chelsea Clinton responded “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” implying that they should leak it closer to election time.

Chelsea Clinton then agreed to meet with a "Russian government attorney" accompanied by her mother's campaign manager and a trusted family member.

Can you imagine the shitstorm if something like this came to pass?

The "liberal media" going into a "lock her up" frenzy?

The Republican Congress frothing at the mouth with accusation of treason, colluding with a foreign power against an American citizen and a presidential candidate?

Fox News wall-to-wall covering the story and adding salacious bits everyday with angry pundits calling for every kind of punishment permissible.

With Fredo?

Nothing.

He was so confident that nothing would happen to him, he published the whole exchange with that British impresario.

That's why the Republicans win elections and Democrats lose them.

They cannot even capitalize on an American citizen asking/accepting the help of a foreign government to win an election.

Also, too IOKIYAR.

01 July 2017

Qatar's Insurance Policies Against Saudi Invasion

As I concluded in my last post, all of the main players are volatile characters in the Qatar - Saudi rift and things could escalate into a regional war very easily.

The ultimatum given by the four Sunni countries (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt) will expire on 3 July.

Qatar is digging in and their Minister of Foreign Affairs just announced that it would not give in to these demands.

In response, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir simply reiterated that the 13 demands put forward were non-negotiable and Qatar had no choice but comply with every one of them.

Clearly, something has to give.

Some analysts believe that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is planning to invade Qatar and Tillerson's muted response and Trump's idiotic tweets might have been perceived as an April Glaspie moment.

They think that as Saudis are strapped for cash (largely because of MBS' disastrous war in Yemen) grabbing Qatar's natural gas fields would be a perfect way to make things nice again.

I wouldn't put it past Muhammad bin Smirk.

But Qatar has three solid insurance policies against such eventuality. He might still do it but the consequences of such a foolish move would be catastrophic.

The first policy is Iran.

Iran is highly unlikely to accept such a land grab. Sharing their South Pars field with the House of Saud hellbent on destroying them is not a palatable option for them.

Tellingly, the Islamic Republic dropped their initial cautious stance and made their position very clear.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the Qatari emir in a phone call on Sunday that “Tehran will stand by Qatar’s government” and that the “siege of Qatar is not acceptable for us,” said the website of Rouhani’s office. “Iran’s air space, ground and sea will be always be open to Qatar as a … friendly nation,” said Rouhani, adding that “pressure, threats and sanctions” are not the way to resolve the crisis.
They have also been sending 1100 tons of fruits and vegetables daily to Qatar.

Would MBS start a war with Iran?

He would very much like to. In fact, just last May, he threatened to bring the "battle" to Iran.

But the Saudi army is a colossal joke and Saudi Arabia is not capable of defeating Iran. And the Iranian Minister of Defence bluntly reminded them of this fact:
"If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina," Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying.

"They think they can do something because they have an air force," he added in an apparent reference to Yemen, where Saudi warplanes regularly attack Iran-aligned Houthi forces in control of the capital Sanaa.
The second insurance policy for Qatar is the newly enlarged Turkish military presence.

Besides fast-tracking the expansion of the Turkish military base in Qatar, Turkey's bombastic President Tayyip Erdogan took a much firmer stance towards Saudi Arabia than is customary:
“To ask Turkey to pull out its troops from Qatar is firstly disrespectful behaviour towards us,” he said in Istanbul on the first day of a three-day holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. “We don’t need permission from anyone to establish military bases among partners. We endorse and appreciate Qatar’s stance towards the 13 demands. It’s a very, very ugly approach to try to interfere with our agreement.”
Turkish pundits were taken aback by Erdogan's brusque tone given the Saudi financial largess in the past and his deferential posture towards Salman the Senile.

I am not so surprised. Erdogan knows that the Saudis are in a financial tight spot and with a disastrous war in Yemen and a long list of client states, headed by Egypt, they are not going to be able to give Turkey much money.

In fact, after the Trump military deal, they may not have much left for their client states.

Qataris, on the other hand, as Erdogan believes, will pay more, and more often, as they need Turkey's protection.

What about the unpredictable Orange Man, you might ask.

He hates Iran, he is egged on by Netanyahu to destroy them and MBS just gave him 350 billion reason to side with Saudi Arabia against Iran.

Fully cognizant of that last possibility, Qataris signed a third insurance policy with Russia. And it was a brilliant move.

Do you remember Trump advisor Carter Page? Last August, according to former MI6 guy Christopher Steel,  he was in Moscow discussing the sale of 19 percent of oil and gas behemoth Rosneft.

Then Trump got elected and Carter Page was back in Moscow in early December for the announcement of the sale of 19.5 percent of Rosneft for $11.5 billion.

The identity of the buyer was not clear. Reuters headline was "How Russia sold its oil jewel without saying who bought it"

Putin said it was a Singapore investment vehicle made up of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund and Swiss oil and gas trading firm Gleencore and the split was 50-50.

Two interesting bits here.

First:
Glencore contributed only 300 million euros of equity to the deal, less than 3 percent of the purchase price, which it said in a statement on Dec. 10 had bought it an "indirect equity interest" limited to just 0.54 percent of Rosneft.
And second:
Qatar's sovereign wealth fund is Glencore's largest shareholder.
There is one more wrinkle to this story.
Russia's sale of one-fifth of its state-owned oil company to Qatar and commodities giant Glencore PLC last year had an unusual provision: Moscow and Doha agreed Russia would buy a stake back, people familiar with the matter said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the EUR10.2 billion ($11.5 billion) sale of the PAO Rosneft stake in December as a sign of investor confidence in his country. But the people with knowledge of the deal say it functioned as an emergency loan to help Moscow through a budget squeeze.
Do you know when we became aware of that "buy back clause?"

Two days after the Saudi ultimatum. Google it, you'll see: everyone reported it on 7 June. There is nothing before that. Obviously, someone wanted the world to know this bit of information.

Here is why I thought that the whole thing was a brilliant move.

Qatar and Russia are on the opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. In fact, the whole thing stemmed from their competition over European gas market.

Despite this, when Qatar realized that, due to low oil and gas prices, Russia was financially squeezed and in need of money, they approach them using a Trump advisor to negotiate a deal for Rosneft. Clearly they were aware of the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Then they waited for 8 November. When Putin's Poodle became POTUS they signed the deal within one month.

While the deal includes the option to buy back shares, it is either a verbal commitment or something enacted in a secret memorandum (which allowed Glencore to deny such a clause existed and Russia to shrug it off).

Now, if Qatar were invaded to become a Saudi province, as Qatar's sovereign wealth fund would be taken over by them, Russia would have the House of Saud as a shareholder in one of their most important companies.

Moreover, Putin's handshake deal with the Emir to buy back those shares would simply vanish.

But most importantly from Qatar's perspective, if Putin had a big incentive to not see Qatar invaded, he would push Trump to stop MBS dreams of invasion.

And now he does.

That is what I call an insurance policy.

However, if despite all that, MBS invades Qatar, that regional war could rapidly escalate into something much bigger and terrifyingly destructive.