17 June 2017

Theresa May's Katrina Moment


58 people were burned alive in the Grenfell Tower inferno.

You know why?

When the building was refurbished just a year ago at a cost of £8.6m, the company acting on behalf of the richest borough in the UK did not install a fire-resistant cladding because it would cost £2 more per square metre.
Installing fire-resistant cladding at Grenfell Tower would have cost just £5,000 extra, it has been claimed, after the spotlight fell on the building's facade as a factor in Wednesday's devastating fire.
And in case you think it was just an unfortunate decision to install a product that is illegal even in the US (and that tells you something), this was not a one-off choice. It was part of a larger trend.
Precise blame comes later in the public inquiry: we are all overnight experts in cladding and sprinklers now. But political blame spreads right through the Conservative party, with no escape on offer. This goes far beyond the precise shockers – the Tory MPs who mockingly rejected housing regulation; the cuts to funding to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; the disregard of coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and even the plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council allegedly blocking its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxiety is just the immediate 
As Polly Toynbee put it, "that tower is austerity in ruins."

For years, every sane economist decried their useless cruelty and massive human cost.

But conservatives pursued them relentlessly because they wanted to destroy the safety net for the poor and the vulnerable.

Like the GOP trying to take away healthcare from millions of people.

The burning of Grenfell and the death of 58 people and the lack of any help for the hundreds of destitute and now homeless people perfectly summed up the conservative mind set.

Kensington Council saved £5,000, who cares if poor people's lives were put in danger.

And this picture juxtaposition made it crystal clear.


Theresa May is surrounded by police officers or fire fighters looking at the building from a distance.

Jeremy Corbyn hugging a survivor.

I don't think she will be able to survive this.

And she may even take the Tories down with her.
_________________________________________

UPDATE

London fire: 'Outrageous' lack of help for Grenfell tower victims
Twenty-four hours after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I arrived to find no international response to speak of. 
But within another 24 hours that response was arriving and was significant there three days after the disaster - teams from around the world flying in, crisis centres and the United Nations in control of feeding points and housing solutions. 
Yes, there were problems. There always are. But the centralised and visible response was in place days later in a relatively remote area. 
That is what appears to be missing in the richest borough in one of the world's leading cities. 
Kensington vs Haiti?

She is history.

__________________________________________

UPDATE 2

This gets worse every day.
Police are expected to announce an increase in that number on Monday.
The BBC understands about 70 may have died. Eighteen people remain in hospital, nine in critical care.
But there is adequate compensation for those who lost loved ones.
The government says all those who lost their homes are to receive £5,500.
Each household will receive at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account as part of a £5m emergency fund first announced on Friday.
That is the same amount Kensington and Chelsea saved on cladding.

12 June 2017

Theresa May: A Bloody Difficult Woman in a Bloody Mess

Theresa May is screwed.

The proper adverb would have been royally but in this instance strongly and stably might be more apt.

A month ago, the Tories looked like they were set to destroy the Labour Party for at least a generation.

Pundits were lamenting "Joseph Stalin Lenin Marx Corbyn" and his disastrously radical policies, you know, commie stuff, like free tuition and publicly owned railways and post office.

Things that existed in the UK a few years back.

Then the proudly "bloody difficult woman" came up with the "dementia tax" which would force older people to give up their homes to pay for their long term care and her lead simply evaporated within a few weeks.

All of this you already know.

Her conundrum is that she is now really cornered with no room of maneuver.

And she desperately wants to hang on to power.

But she may not be able to do so.

Problem Number 1: Hard Brexit vs Soft Brexit?

I have to say that this distinction has always baffled me.

I did a year of graduate studies on the European Union and taught on the topic for a few years so I am reasonably familiar with how things work.

The EU's legal system is largely based on the German and French jurisprudence and neither is remotely flexible. You cannot pick and choose what part of EU legal system you might adhere to.

She and her supporters believe that Hard Brexit means no immigrants (especially swarthy ones), no meddling from EU institution, no payment to them and full access to the common market and full rights to UK citizens in Europe.

The whole thing actually makes sense if you are from the British Isles.

That is because American exceptionalism was built upon British exceptionalism.

You know, the empire on which sun never sets.

From the EU perspective, Brexit has two components.

The first one is Brexit pure and simple, whereby Britain would pay what it owes under its current obligations and vacate the EU institutions. No free movement of goods, labor, services and capital.

They could stop there and World Trade Organization rules would govern the EU-UK trade relations.

The second component will come after the first one is over and it is properly called a trade agreement: it would set new terms for the movement of services, goods and capital.

Both sides could also negotiate new terms for EU citizens in the UK and Brits in EU countries.

In that sense, Theresa May's Hard vs Soft distinction is rubbish. EU will insist on kicking Britain out first and talking about access later.

And don't tell me that the UK does not have to accept those terms.

Without Britain, the EU is composed of 27 member states. We are talking about roughly 450 million people vs 65 million in the UK.

44 percent of UK exports go to the EU and 8 percent of EU exports go to the UK.

Think about it for a minute as a Brexit proponent.

What incentives do they have to treat you according to your idea of British exceptionalism?

Why should they give you access to their market if you offer them nothing?

And why should they allow your citizens to remain in continental Europe when you are free to kick theirs off your islands?

Both Paris and Frankfurt are salivating at the idea of getting those financial institutions out of London, why should France or Germany go easy on Britain?

As you know, service sector represents 80 percent of the British economy. If the banksters go, good luck with everything. Especially the real estate.

What is worse for Theresa May, since the second part of the deal is a trade agreement, any one of the members can simply scuttle the deal.

You see, each member state has a veto power over trade agreements. You know, a country like Bulgaria or Romania or Hungary could say, sorry we don't like it and that would be that.

If I were Tsipras, I would make my vote conditional upon some debt relief. The banksters will get it.

I am just saying.

Problem Number 2: How Do You Negotiate When They Know Your Cards?

Theresa May had a 17 seat majority before the elections, now she has a deficit of 8.

To form a minority government, she needs the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which won 10 seats.

In case you are not familiar with them, the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley and it is a hard core evangelical movement. They oppose abortion, same sex marriage, they are climate change deniers, they want creationism taught in school.

The works.

And they have uncomfortably close links to loyalist paramilitaries who murdered quite a few Catholics in their days.

If you are old enough to remember who Ian Paisley was, none of this should surprise you.

Now, the DUP is opposed to any deal that would establish an actual border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. The BBC calls it the "Hardest Border" because it cuts through villages and fields and sometimes homes.

Which puts Theresa May in a bind.

How do you negotiate a so-called Hard Brexit, i.e. no swarthy immigration, for which your base supported you, when you have an open border with Europe?

There is more.

The Scottish Tories did exceptionally well this time around and ended up with 13 seats. Scotland overwhelming voted for Remain in the referendum and Ruth Davidson, their leader, made it clear that between access to EU market and Hard Brexit, she and her colleagues are firmly in favor of the former.

Reportedly, Davidson was planning to take her Scottish Tory party away from English control. She later denied that this was her intention.

Now if you were the negotiating team for the EU, how would you react to this picture?

Your opponent has a minority government which stays in power thanks to the support of a regional party. But that party is rabidly anti-immigration yet it does not want an actual border with Ireland.

The same government has another regional faction which is opposed to any form of Hard Brexit and between access to market and anything else, including immigration, they would pick access to market every time.

You go this way, this one pulls out and you go that way and that one pulls out.

How do you negotiate when the whole world knows that you do not have a unified team and any shift in either direction could bring your government down?

In fact, May's position is so precarious that even a simple disagreement on LGBT rights between the DUP and Ruth Davidson could spell trouble.

You see, Davidson is an openly gay woman and she wants to marry her partner in the near future. Same sex marriage is something the DUP is categorically against.

You can see how even such an unrelated issue could bring May's minority government down.

Incidentally, the issue was important enough that Davidson sought and received firm assurances in that regard.

If I were the head of the EU negotiating team I would be so happy to face such a weak opponent.

Problem Number 3: Donald Trump

There used to be a time where the UK would be the pilgrimage site for the newly elected US presidents to go to toast the special relationship between their two countries.

Curtsy opportunities for the first ladies before the Queen and imperial photo ops for successive presidents.

The subtext was always, hey, we are closer than you think.

The UK always played the Atlantic card against the EU, as in I don't need you, my big brother will take care of me.

And ever since the UK was admitted into the EU, member states always suspected of a hidden Atlantic agenda.

In fact, this is why Charles De Gaulle was opposed to the UK membership.

So with George Herbert Walker Bush or George Walker Bush or even with Barack Obama, this would have worked.

But the Orange Man is an America Firster.

Sure, when you surrender your hand to a short-fingered vulgarian he will grab it, as he does most things.

But does that mean that he will come to your rescue after the breakup with Europe?

Not really.

And if you were to claim that in your negotiations you might be screwed.

Strongly and stably.

Because the other side knows who the Orange Man is.

_______________

UPDATE:

See what I mean?

The European Union has revealed a draft law to give it the power to move the lucrative euro clearing business out of London and keep it in the EU after Britain leaves the Union in 2019.

London currently processes three-quarters of the trade in this financial sector, providing thousands of jobs.

But European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said Brexit needed "certain adjustments to our rules".

The law will decide if London will have the right to host the work post-Brexit.

London is currently the world leader for the clearing of all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.

04 June 2017

Why Did Trump Withdraw From the Paris Agreement?

Despite the universal outcry, Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement is a non-event from a climate change perspective.

But I believe that it is likely to become a Rubicon of sorts for Trump and the GOP.


Let me explain why this was a stupid decision.

And why it won't change much for the planet.

Why Withdraw?

Pulling out was a stupid decision because, first, Paris Agreement is a non-binding arrangement. If you don't stay within your limits, there is nothing anyone can do. You want to pollute more because you like Loretta Lynn, go ahead and do it.

You don't need to withdraw from the Agreement.

Second, by withdrawing you unnecessarily alienate big business.
Spoiler alert, the coal industry is pretty happy. But apart from that, there has been almost universal criticism from big business. 
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Walt Disney boss Robert Iger have quit their advisory positions in the White House as a result.
We are not just talking about the tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook or Tesla. Take energy companies:
US giants ExxonMobil and Chevron had urged President Trump to stay in the Paris deal. And a tweet from Anglo-Dutch giant Shell said: "Our support for the #ParisAgreement is well known. We will continue to do our part providing more & cleaner energy."
Well, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson is the US Secretary of State.

And you know what:
The secretary of state was, by all accounts, a member of the "Remain Campaign" lobbying against a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. 
So President Trump's "Climate Brexit" was a blow to him - in an ironic twist the fossil fuel company he used to head supports the accord while the government he now represents does not.
Third, it simultaneously diminishes America's stature and turns China into the global leader of the fight against global warming.

This is especially stupid for someone who has been trying to re-assert the super power status of the US vis-a-vis China.

Finally, there is no real public support for the move.

According to a November 2016 poll 7 out of 10 Americans want to stay in the Agreement.

And Sierra Club says that, in every state, the majority of the population is in favor of the Agreement.

That's the map on the right.

Even when you look at party lines the emerging picture is not very good for Trump.
An overwhelming majority of Democrats, 86 per cent, are fans of the deal, while only about 51 per cent of Republicans say the US should take part in the accord, the programme reported. 
So, even the Republicans disagree with the decision.

Will It Change Anything?

Not really.

First of all, the Agreement is structured in such a way that it will take exactly four years to get out of it.

Which means it will take place during the mandate of the next president and I am pretty sure this will not be the Orange Man.

Secondly, large US cities and regions already declared that they will continue to abide by the Paris Agreement. Who cares what Idaho does if California, the world's sixth largest economy, stays within the limits of the Agreement.

Thirdly, Trump's withdrawal will not mean a sudden shift to more coal consumption.

Coal consumption has steadily been declining in recent years because natural gas is cheaper.
Coal as a means of making electricity is declining around the world. In the US, natural gas has overtaken it as a power station fuel, partly due to fracking bringing the prices down .
And renewable energy sources like solar and wind power are tumbling in price, meaning coal is not likely to become a major player again. 
It hasn't been a major source of heat for people's homes for years, either, having been largely overtaken by gas.
Finally, the rest of the world seemed determined to do more with or without the US.
China peaked its coal use in 2013. Since then, they have become the world’s biggest solar market and have been poised to adopt America’s climate leadership role in the event of them pulling out of Paris.
Similarly, India has recently announced it won’t build any new coal plants after 2022 and forecasts that renewables will generate 57% of their power by 2027, far exceeding their Paris pledge.
India's PM Narendra Modi and French President Macron just pledged to go above and beyond the Paris deal.

Germany and EU strongly criticized the withdrawal and declared that they will bypass Washington and work with US companies, cities and regions directly.

And of course, the increasingly cheeky President Macron did this:

Trolling Trump with a clever slogan was also a prefect way of establishing France as a relevant country and emphasizing his status as a young politician who speaks the social media language of the millennials.

Apparently, this was the most retweeted message in France's history.

Incidentally, even Trump's buddy, Vladimir Putin, came out in favor of the Agreement.

What Are the Risks for Trump?

Short term risks are obvious.

Another Katrina or Sandy and you can kiss your presidency goodbye, not to mention any Kanye West endorsements.

Medium term, and by that, I mean next three to eight years, he has an Alaska issue which will soon blossom into a big problem with a finger pointed to him.
Scientists like Prof Walsh say the effects of a warming climate are being felt particularly keenly here in the Arctic - with sea ice and glaciers melting, permafrost thawing and coastal communities at threat from erosion. 
Not only that but the process appears to be accelerating thanks to a so-called feedback loop - the more ice melts, the darker the surface of the planet becomes, with both land and sea reflecting less sunlight and absorbing more heat, and the warmer the world becomes.
Longer term?

This the global map. Take a look at it.

If, as they suggest, the sea level rise is around 7m, a lot of The Donald's New York properties and the Southern White House will be under water.

And scuba golfing will be an Olympic event.


The Donald might be gone by then, but the Barron will be there cursing daddy.

And now the obvious question.

Why Did He Do It?

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, the corporate media has been running stories about how he broke his campaign promises and how he changed his positions.

They periodically run clips interviewing Trump supporters who seem to assert that, despite all the lies and inconsistencies and massive instances conflict of interest, their candidate is doing a fabulous job.

And they seem puzzled by this apparent contradiction. The guy is an unprincipled liar, a buffoon, a bully, and yet every time they expose him, his voters love him even more.

As Atrios explained there is nothing contradictory about this:
For confused reporters, I'll explain it very simply: Trump voters don't care about most of the issues Trump claimed to care about in the campaign. They were just applause lines. If Fox and Breitbart had spent 3 months going on about the "Zipperhead Protocol" they'd have screamed in delight every time Trump mentioned it, without caring what it meant. [...]
Trump supporters have legitimate economic grievances like the rest of us, but they don't really see politics as a way to solve that. They see politics as a reality show in which their guy is winning and stomping on the face of the losing team, a team which includes blah people. Keep the racism going, keep pissing off the loser liberals, keep sticking it to the blah people. That's what will keep them happy. It was never about the ex-im bank or Chinese currency manipulation or whatever the hell, it was about kicking the shit out of loser liberals.
You can add global warming to that list.

It is tribal politics. If your leader does something that is considered outrageous by the people you dislike, you are giddy regardless of the effects of his actions on you and your loved ones.

The push to repeal Obamacare perfectly illustrates this irrational phenomenon: Trump voters will be hit harder than most but they don't care. As long as blacks and other minorities lose their covfefe Trumpistas are happy.

In that sense, pulling out of Paris was Trump's gift to his supporters and they love him for it.
In interviews with Trump supporters and Republicans across the country, the Paris climate agreement news looked far different than it did in Washington, a fact that Bannon reminded the president of, according to a senior White House aide. 
Jenny Beth Martin, the head of the Tea Party Patriots, enthusiastically supported the move. She said her group viewed leaving the Paris agreement as a “part of a larger ‘make America Great Again’ platform that necessitates putting America first.”
Why This One Might Be a Problem?

The problem with this one, it carries the risk of gelling the opposition.

The GOP had a good run because progressives do not have a unified front. They fight each other over nuances and they are unable to let go of minor differences.

The case in point was Bernie voters not being able to bring themselves to voting for Clinton.

But the Orange Man was a horrific wake up call.

They didn't think this was possible: a grifter in charge of the public purse; a racist and sexist as the ultimate arbiter of equality, a climate change denier making environmental rules.

Pulling out of the Paris Agreement might just be the turning point for the progressives.

They might finally say, forget our differences, instead of fighting Elizabeth Warren, we will first fight this guy.

And if that were to happen, it could become a yuge problem for the GOP.

One that no gerrymandering would be able to fix.

01 June 2017

Jaredgate Is Not About Russia It Is About Money

The drip-drip revelations continues as predicted.

This time it was a piece in the Washington Post (which has lately been eating the New York Times' lunch) which placed the president's son-in-law in the epicenter of the Trump-Russia investigation..
Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
The meeting took place in the Trump Tower in NYC in early December with ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Michael Flynn in attendance.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials.
In case it didn't sink in, The Bezos Daily is alleging that the presidential son-in-law asked the Russians to give him access to the embassy's secure communication apparatus so that he could discuss things freely with the Kremlin without risking interception by US intelligence agencies.


Well, this is rather remarkable, don't you think? And not for the obvious reasons.

First thing to note, how did the US intelligence folks know about the content of the meeting?

Clearly, the implication is that the person who leaked it to the Washington Post had access to Kislyak's "secure" channel. "He reported to his superiors," says the piece. The one, according the the same piece, Kushner was asking to use to evade US interception.

In that case, would the US intelligence agencies leak this and risk jeopardizing their access to what the Russians and Kushner believe to be a bulletproof channel?

So my money on intelligence agencies listening in on Trump transition team.

Two, how would that work? I mean, Jared going into the Russian embassy to discuss stuff with Putin?

Would he knock on the door wearing a Zuckerberg hoodie?

Pigeons flying into Russian embassy need code word security clearance or else they are waterboarded on their way out.

Are they kidding us?

Third, why would the Russian agree to that? If you were Sergey Kislyak would you show the president's son-in-law your state of the art encryption facility in the bowels of your embassy?

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that there is no there, there.

There is. But not the "there" they imply.

To me, as the old pinko who always follows the money ("ne cherchez pas la femme, cherchez l'argent" Hercules Poirot fans) the relevant part of the story is the Trump Tower meeting between Jared Kushner and the CEO of Vnesheconombank Sergey Gordov right after Kislyak get together.

Which, incidentally, was also arranged by Kislyak.

Do you know why the bank's name rings a bell?

Just a week ago, I listed all the conflict of interest Trump projects and at the top of the list was Trump's Toronto Towers financed by, you guessed it, Vnesheconombank.

It is a bank controlled by the Kremlin and its CEO is a graduate of the FSB spy school and the bank has been doing some shady work on behalf of the Kremlin.
Between 2012 and 2014, Vnesheconombank was used as cover for Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov as he attempted to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources for Moscow, according to the Department of Justice. Before that, Buryakov used Vnesheconombank as a cover to spy and recruit assets in South Africa.
What Gorkov needed was the lifting of sanctions as Vnesheconombank was very successful until sanctions killed its business.

For his part, Kushner needed serious financing to renovate his money loosing Fifth Avenue building.

From the Russian perspective:
Kushner was also the rare presidential-transition functionary whose family company was searching for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to redevelop a struggling Manhattan skyscraper it owns. 
Hence the meeting with Gorkov.

My guess is that Kushner wanted a secure line to the Kremlin to discuss the lifting of sanctions. But in the end, his request was turned down by Moscow. Why would they do that if, as implied in the reporting, he was asking for a secure channel to pass on information to Russia?

It was about the money and the deal didn't go through because Vnesheconombank simply did not have the exorbitant sums Kushner was asking.

We know how much we was trying to get from his subsequent negotiations with another Eurasian power.

As a prelude to that, do you remember how China moved carefully in the early days of Trump presidency. They reached out to Ivanka who showed up for the Chinese New Year celebration at the Washington embassy.

Alibaba's Jack Ma met with Trump to promise to create one million US jobs.

Beijing leaned on Chinese courts to accelerate the approval of 38 Trump trademarks.

Instead of open confrontation, Xi Ping worked with Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to get Trump to confirm the One china policy.

So in late March a shadowy Chinese company moved to save the Kushner building on Fifth Avenue with a "sweetheart deal."


The investor in question was the Anbang Insurance Group founded in 2004 and it now claims to have assets over $300 billion. Its financing sources are unknown and its CEO Wu Xiaohui (who married Deng Xiaopeng's grand daughter) is very politically connected.
Company records have also shown members of the board to include the son of a top military commander under former leader Mao Zedong and the son of China's former prime minister Zhu Rongji
666 Fifth Avenue is a building Jared purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion, a record for a Manhattan property. When the 2008 crisis hit the building became the proverbial albatross around his neck. So much so that in 2011, a Trump partner, Vornado Realty Trust  acquired %49.5 of the office space for a capital injection of just $80 million. A year later Vornado purchased any available ground floor retail spaces for $707 million.

What is a "sweetheart deal" you might ask.
 The deal would value the 41-story tower at $2.85 billion, the most ever for a single Manhattan building: $1.6 billion for the office section and $1.25 billion for the retail section. The new partnership will refinance $1.15 billion in existing mortgage debt.
"This is a huge, huge exit strategy for an office building," said Joshua Stein, a New York real estate lawyer. "It does sound like a home run of a transaction for Kushner and his group.”
This is not all.
The deal would allow Vornado Realty Trust -- which is partnered with Trump in his two most valuable properties -- to exit a troubled asset with a 10-fold payout on its stake in the building’s offices and a doubling of its investment in its stores. 
There is also this:
An unusual consideration in the refinancing plan is the proposal to pay off a part of the mortgage known as a "hope note," which was for $115 million when Kushner Cos refinanced its debt in 2011. The loan, which was made by Barclays Plc and has since been sold off to investors, is now valued at more than $250 million because of compounded interest. But according to the deal documents, the Kushners will settle the debt for just $50 million. 
The deal would also give $400 million to Kushner and one fifth equity in the new building.

This was such an obvious conflict of interest situation that the outcry that followed the Bloomberg reporting killed the deal immediately.

But they are still looking as the building is losing money and a mortgage payment of $1.2 billion is due in two years.

And China is at the top of the Kushners list.

A couple of weeks ago, Nicole Meyer Kushner was in China looking to raise $150 million for another real estate deal. Just like the previous deal, this one also involved EB-5 visa scheme for the investors.

For its part, China is happy to oblige the Trump klan.

An undercover activist who worked China Labor Watch (CLW) was arrested while checking Ivanka Trump's shoe supplier.
In 17 years of investigating Chinese factories it was "the first time any our investigators have been detained under a criminal process," Mr Li said.
It is their way of saying that they will look after Trump family interests.

So the search for another sweetheart deal continues and either China or Russia will step up.

As I mentioned recently, grift is at the heart of the Trump Administration.

And everything, including American foreign policy, is subservient to that.

28 May 2017

Portland Murders and the Reaction of Prominent Muslims

When I read about two innocent men who were killed by a white supremacist because they defended two Muslim women, my heart sank for their families as I could see myself doing this in a similar situation.

For Muslims or Jews or Christians or Hindus or Baha'is.

Because no individual should be subjected to any public pressure for their beliefs.

Let alone be punished for them.

And I don't believe in a deity.

Then I thought that maybe this could be a turning point for Islamic associations.

Here is a perfect example of Islamophobia and extremely decent behavior by non-Muslims, I said to myself.

Connect the dots and do something about it.

If I were a Muslim and if I was interested in changing people's perception of my religion you know what I would do?

I would start the mother of all fundraisers for the families of the victims.

To tell the world that "we" appreciate their heroism and we will reward people who stick up for "us."

I Googled it.

Do you know how many Islamic organizations reacted?

Just one.

And try to find the fundraiser on their site.

Not easy, is it?

In fact I couldn't find it. I am taking the Independent's word for it.

Incidentally, originally they had a $50,000 fundraiser in mind.

For a father of four and a promising young man who had their throat slashed to protect two Muslim women they did not know.


The association revised their fundraiser upwards to 200,000 as roughly 4,000 people contributed and they are now at $160,000.

Or at least that's what the Independent says they are.

My question is this: where is everybody else?

Where are the wealthy Gulf folks who keep complaining about Islamophobia in the West?

Where is Walid bin Talal?

Where is King Salman who wrote a cheque for almost $400 billion last week for the military industrial complex.

Good on you mates!

--------------------------
UPDATE

Since I posted this a couple of fundraisers showed up on GoFundMe site. One was by Nick Zukin who wrote that
I started this because I was looking around for somewhere to donate to the families of these heroic victims and couldn't find anywhere.  I lamented this online and then thought, well, why shouldn't I just do it.  So I did.
The other was started by Carlos Espinoza on behalf of Micah Fletcher, the third victim who was hospitalized to cover his medical expenses.


As far as I can tell these two men are just ordinary Americans who wanted to express some solidarity for their fellow human beings.

Which  makes my point about the disinterest shown by wealthy Muslims and Muslim associations even starker.

23 May 2017

How Will the Trump Presidency End?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe Donald Trump will resign before the end of his first term.

And he will do so not because he is guilty of obstruction of justice (he is) but because his grift deal with the GOP will have become unworkable.

You know the one whereby they allow him to license his name to any shady businessman in the world, conflict of interest be damned, and he, in return, allows the GOP to have a massive tax cuts for the rich and to shrink health care and to destroy social safety net for the poor.

I believe that, when his long list of financial shenanigans, including his dubious money laundering arrangements with Russian oligarchs are revealed, his ability to make money off the presidency will be severely limited.

Since this will also make him the story, as we saw in the last couple of months, it will hamper his legislative agenda. You can't give goodies to your one percenter friends if everyone is talking about your latest "crooked" deals.

Yeah, #crooked Hillary.

Wall Street banks and funds and corporate America will turn against him because they will realize that he is unable to deliver on his promises.

When that happens, I expect the Republicans to put pressure on him to resign. They might even threaten him with impeachment.

With Mike Pence in place they really have no need for Donald Trump.

Bold predictions, I know, but to me this makes more sense than John McCain pulling a "maverick" stunt and vote for Trump's impeachment. It never happened before and I am not holding my breath.

Besides, much of Trump's tainted deals are already in the public realm and I suspect more of them will surface in the coming months.

This is the price you pay when you start a feud with intelligence agencies.

The Presidential Grift

It has only been five months but Trump has benefited enormously from being president.

Here is a list of projects that are considered, you know, conflicts of interest.

That Tower in Toronto
That Caribbean Villa
Those Condos for Sale
Those Reelection-Campaign Funds
That Second Hotel in Washington, D.C.
That Property in Azerbaijan
That Trump Tower Penthouse
That Resort in the Dominican Republic
That Chinese Trademark
That Meeting at Mar-a-Lago
That Defense Department Trump Tower Rental
That Red Cross Ball
That D.C. Labor Dispute
That Estate in Palm Beach
Those Expansion Plans
That Hotel in Vancouver
That Reality-Television Show
That Pipeline
Those HUD Grants
That Golf Course in Aberdeen
That Other Billionaire New York Real-Estate Developer
Those Indonesian Politicians
That Emirati Businessman
That Virginia Vineyard
That Las Vegas Labor Dispute
That Kuwaiti Event
Those Certificates of Divestiture
That Carrier Deal
That Blind-Trust Issue
Those Fannie and Freddie Investments
That Phone Call With Taiwan
That Deutsche Bank Debt
That Secret Service Detail
That Property in Georgia (the Country)
That Phone Call With Erdogan
That Hotel in Washington, D.C.
That Argentinian Office Building
Those Companies in Saudi Arabia
That British Wind Farm
Those Indian Business Partners
That Envoy From the Philippines

Russian financing is featured prominently on the list.

For instance, the first item on the list the Tower in Toronto is financed by a Russian Canadian, Alexander Shnaider who received millions of dollars from Vnesheconombank, a state owned Russian bank whose transactions are signed off by the Kremlin.

And this is not their first Toronto real estate deal. Between 2004 and 2012, Trump, Shnaider and his partner Val Levitan, another Russian Canadian, collaborated on a hotel-condo project in Toronto.

And curiously, like most of the deals on that list, it was not financially successful.

Trump has always claimed that he had no investments in Russia, implying that we cannot impute his admiration for Putin and his reluctance to criticize Russia to a financial motives.

Well, this is both true and false. He has no investments in Russia but Russia has an investment in him.

Golf writer James Dodson met up with Eric Trump in 2014. Eric, as big a braggart as his father, showed him their new golf course and said that they had access to $100 million for such developments.
“So when I got in the cart with Eric,” Dodson says, “as we were setting off, I said, ‘Eric, who’s funding? I know no banks—because of the recession, the Great Recession—have touched a golf course. You know, no one’s funding any kind of golf construction. It’s dead in the water the last four or five years.’ And this is what he said. He said, ‘Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.’ I said, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.’ Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting.”
Eric denied it, of course, but, as you can imagine, this explains a lot. Besides, it is not just Dodson making such allegations.
“The Trump-Russia links beneath the surface are even more extensive,” Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.”
And we should not forget the Bayrock Group that financed Trump Soho.

Bayrock is owned by Tevfik Arif, "a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan."
“Tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model,” the lawsuit said of the financiers behind Trump Soho. The financing came from Russian-affiliated business interests that engaged in criminal activities, it said.
And it is not a one-off deal.
But Bayrock wasn’t just involved with Trump Soho. It financed multiple Trump projects around the world, Foer wrote. “(Trump) didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Bayrock put together deals for mammoth Trump-named, Trump-managed projects—two in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a resort in Phoenix, the Trump SoHo in New York.”
There is also his extensive commercial ties to Sapir Group, owned by Tamir Sapir, originally from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.
The Times also reported that federal court records recently released showed yet another link to Russian financial interests in Trump businesses. A Bayrock official “brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians ‘in favor with’ President Vladimir V. Putin,’” the Times reported. “The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a ‘strategic partner,’ along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”
In fact, these peculiar financial arrangements are the reason why he fired Preet Bharara two months after promising to keep him as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York:
Another F.B.I. insider points out that while the media has focused on the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, there are actually multiple inquiries in progress. “There’s also a cyber investigation, about the hacking and whether crimes were committed,” he says. “And then there’s the business side: Was there money laundering going on? Money from these Russian plutocrats that’s been washed through Trump’s real estate and businesses? That’s gotten overlooked, but Preet Bharara and the Southern District were supposedly looking into that.” 
Laundering Russian oligarchs' money is a big deal as it has criminal ramifications. Such investments would show up in those returns. And who has them? Well the IRS.

I am keeping my fingers crossed for some judicious leaks in the coming months.

I also expect more of his shady deals to come under closer scrutiny, like the Trump Tower in Baku that was financed by companies linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Citizens for Responsibility and ethics in Washington (CREW) sued Trump using the emolument clause. ACLU is also looking for a plaintiff with standing to launch its own lawsuit.

Regardless of their outcome, these efforts will force the Trump Organization to reveal many dubious arrangements and will seriously affect The Donald's ability to profit from the presidency.

Foreign entities who might be interested in paying a premium while buying Le Chateau des Palmiers at St Maarten in the hope of getting the president's ear might no longer be willing to do that if it carried the risk of attracting unwanted attention to their businesses.

Already the Kushners are finding out that Jared's new position, rather than being a boon, was making life harder for their company: They were in China seeking $150 million in investment and Nicole Kushner Meyer's mention of her brother set off a media storm which forced them to apologize and cancel their upcoming events in China.

Perhaps more importantly, these disclosures are likely to tarnish the Trump brand.

Right now, it stands for something brash, cocky and nouveau riche and it appeals to similarly predisposed people.

If it becomes synonymous with money laundering and shady dealings with criminal or tainted characters it will not be worth much.

Wall Street and Corporate America

Fox News is still feeding Hillary's mail servers line to its viewers (which is why they still love the Orange Man) and hardly mentions White House scandals.

But if Wall Street banks and funds turn against Trump, as they seem to be doing, News Corporation will no longer be able to maintain radio silence on Trump presidency disasters.
Through the various tremors of his first 100-odd days, Trump has frequently ignored various self-created headaches by pointing to the roaring stock market. It’s all he has to show for his time in office so far. But if he loses the support of Wall Street and the financial markets, one thing is sure: he can pretty much kiss his presidency good-bye.
Until recently Wall Street seemed unmoved by Trump's erratic behavior or the crises engulfing his Administration.

But this is changing. Financial Times noted that the markets placed 26 percent chance on Trump being impeached in 2017. And the odds of him staying until the end of 2018 are now 55 percent.

So 45 percent of contract buyers are predicting that he will be history in two-years time.

This is unprecedented.

Wall Street is fidgety. According to the New York Times,
“For the first time, there is real concern that Trump has overstepped his boundaries, which may create some chaos in the market,” said Curtis Schenker, co-founder of Scoggin Capital Management.
When it was reported that Trump asked Comey to shut down the Russia investigation:
The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index sank 1.8 percent, the most since September, and the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” a measure of volatility, jumped 46 percent as investors became pessimistic about Mr. Trump’s agenda. 
VIX has long been very low and this spike is very unusual.

More worryingly for the Trump Administration,
Yet investors, who have shrugged off previous turmoil in the Trump administration, were clearly rattled by the most recent episode. Some on Wall Street speculated about whether the White House’s pro-business pledges to cut taxes, lighten regulation and increase infrastructure would be thwarted by the growing tumult in Washington. Some bank analysts even discussed the probability of impeachment.
What bothers Wall Street and corporate America is the fact that Trump White House will be unable to enact its legislative agenda. They expect a tax code reform, lighter regulations on financial transactions, a new health care bill that will be cheaper.

And it looks more and more that Trump will not be able to deliver.

The Orange Man is toast.

21 May 2017

Will Donald Trump Be Impeached?

Recently, I suggested that intelligence agencies (a.k.a the National Security State) were gunning for Donald Trump and I concluded that he was toast.

Since then you could see on an almost daily basis one crisis after another engulfing this administration.

In fact, this looks like the leakiest administration in US history. Every week there is a new scandal and all of them gain traction thanks to the way these revelations are fed to the corporate media.

The New York Times described it like this:
What unnerves Mr. Trump and his staff the most is the eerily familiar tempo of these disclosures. It is as if some unseen adversary has copied Mr. Trump’s own velocity and ferocity in an attempt to destroy him, several people close to the president said. Sources are shuttling all kinds of information about Mr. Trump to reporters at a pace the White House cannot match.
There is indeed an unseen adversary attempting to destroy him.

The Anatomy of a Trump Crisis

First step is a damaging piece of information shared by anonymous sources.

The White House scrambles to come up with a coherent message. Melissa McCarthy reads some talking points off a paper and Trump associates are dispatched into the wilderness with The Message.


But as soon as they get on Fox News or CNN with that meme, another piece of the puzzle is leaked to contradict their explanation.

Sooner or later, Trump gets on the twitter and offers a whole new line of defense, making his team look incompetent and dishonest and himself highly unhinged.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Take the last fiasco, namely the firing of James Comey and the sharing of codeword-classified intelligence with Russian minister of foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

To get rid of Comey, the White House had asked the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to come up with a memo that indicated problems with Comey's leadership. Rosenstein dutifully prepared the document.

So the official reason for the dismissal was Comey not doing a good job as determined by his supervisor.

Nothing to do with the fact that he had just asked for more resources for the Trump-Russia investigation. Or the investigation itself.

As the White House was pushing that line, Trump bragged that it was his decision and nobody else's. That was because Comey was a showboat, he said. No one liked him.

Then, he showed up on a TV show to acknowledge that he fired him because of that Trump-Russia thing.

He added that he never interfered with the investigation. In a day or two, an earlier Comey memo surfaced indicating that Trump asked him to stop the Flynn Russia inquiry.

The day after the firing, Trump invited Lavrov and Kislyak to the White House with only the Russian media present. As Lavrov put it, "no fake media" referring to American journalists.


A couple of days later someone leaked to Washington Post that in that meeting, Trump disclosed highly classified information to the Russian.

White House issued a denial. National Security Adviser MacMaster declared that he was in the room and nothing like that happened.

As soon as the denials were issued, media outlets found out that Homeland security assistant to the president Thomas Bossert called the CIA and NSA after the meeting to warn them off the breach. In other words, it became clear that classified info was passed on.

To the Russians.

With deniability gone, Trump tweeted "yeah, I did it because I could."

This time anonymous sources mentioned that the disclosed intelligence came from Israel making Trump look especially bad, as both the conservatives and evangelicals for reasons of their own adore the Jewish State.

Trump took to Twitter to claim that the whole Russia affair was a made up story and there was never any contact between Russians and his campaign.

Next thing you know, the headlines informed us that there had been at least 18 undisclosed contacts between Russians and Trump campaign.

With nowhere to go, Trump doubled down and maintained that he never tried to stop the Russia investigation.

The following morning we learned that in the Lavrov, Kislyak meeting.Trump had told them this:
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
At that point, a senior White House staffer and a friend of Donald Trump who worked in his campaign put it like this: "I don't see how Trump isn't completely fucked."

Will He Be Impeached?

Even though I ended my last post on the subject with the verdict that the Orange Man was toast I don't think he will be impeached.

There are many good reasons for that.

Trump is not an ordinary politician.

He ran to prop up his brand and he really didn't expect to win. He won the GOP nomination because the field of candidates he faced were pitiful and CNN and Fox News gave him $2 billion worth of free media time.

And he won the elections due to the massive unpopularity of his opponent, the helping hand of anonymous hackers and above all because he legitimized institutionalized racism by giving up GOP dog whistles in favor of clearly racist statements.

Normally, a man who makes money by selling his name as a brand should not be in the polarization business, as he loses, by definition, half the market.

But Trump saw a clever way to turn this into a major business opportunity.

Here is the plan: Trump will give the GOP everything they want, like rolling back every piece of regulation enacted by Obama, appointing judges who think Scalia was a communist, undertaking yuge wealth transfer from the bottom to the top and taking away the health care plans of tens of millions of people.

In exchange, they will remain quiet about his gigantic conflicts of interest which will be translated into billions of dollars.

He doesn't have to do anything. Since he took office the whole family, including Ivanka and Kushner, have been doing very well and I am not even talking about the doubling of the annual dues for the Southern White House.
The White House has been a remarkable boon for the Trumps. Business, as they’ve noted, is hotter than ever. Ivanka Trump’s brand saw sales through the roof in February, and her new book debuted last week at No. 4 on The New York Times best-seller list. And the Kushners, whose name once evoked an image of an embarrassing political scandal now elevates them to one of the most powerful seats in the world. 
The president himself is not doing too badly either. Here is the most recent crib sheet of his conflicts of interest.

The Republicans were and still are very happy with that deal especially because Trump is and remains a popular president in the eyes of those who voted for him. Those mid-40s approval numbers that everyone cites as indicative of a problem actually correspond to his share of the popular vote in the election and there is hardly any buyer's remorse.

They proudly stand by their man.
Pew Research Center poll last month found minimal Trump voter remorse, only 7 percent. 
A subsequent Washington Post-ABC News poll found even fewer regretful Trump voters, 4 percent. In fact – wait for it – far more voters regretted casting their ballot for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, 15 percent.
You may be surprised to find out that,
In a hypothetical rematch of the November election, Trump easily defeats Clinton in the popular vote, 43 percent to 40 percent.
Moreover, the GOP is a tribal party. Unlike the Dems, they do not throw one of their own under the bus. As one blogger put it, for that to happen Trump would have to push hard for single payer health care policy.

High crimes and misdemeanors won't do.

And don't hold your breath for a Democratic Congress after 2018 doing something about it. First, it is not certain that they will take the House back with all the gerrymandering in place. Second, even if they did, impeachment requires a simple majority in the House and a two thirds majority in the Senate.

So my answer is that impeachment is highly unlikely.

In fact, if it wasn't for his stupid feud with intelligence agencies Trump might have been more or less OK.

But now I believe that he will not be able to finish his first term and he will have to resign at some point.

I will explain my thinking in my next post.