11 August 2017

James Damore's Memo and How to Deal With Sexist Discourse

You might have heard that a software engineer at Google by the name of James Damore was fired after producing a 10-page memo that explained why women make lousy coders and why they are not motivated to climb up the corporate ladder.

Basically, he argues that there are fewer women in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering Mathematics) jobs because men and women are different and women's biologically determined traits make them less suitable for these jobs.

I actually read the whole thing. It is churlish text based on Rushton-style dubious science. You know, men are more interested in things and women are more interested in people type of rubbish.

He is probably a well meaning geek who read some sexist conservative text he found persuasive. And he was trying to convince others using the same points.

Once he was fired, he became the newest martyr of the American conservative movement, another victim of rampant political correctness.

Oh dear!

National Review came to his rescue, Julian Assange offered him a job at Wikileaks and he was interviewed by alt-Right's Youtube personality Stefan Molyneux.


Now, my intention is not to prosecute his thesis, as it is an exercise in futility.

I simply want to point out that sexism and discrimination against women is widely tolerated. If someone makes a blatantly sexist argument, people do not react to it the way they would react to blatant racism or anti-Semitism.

And if you object to it, more often than not, the person who made the sexist remark will go into a whiny tirade about rampant political correctness.

So I stopped objecting instead I give them a litmus test to show why their point is sexist.

I substitute the word women with the dominant identity of my interlocutor and construct a similar argument.

For instance, I mentioned this debate (dubbed culture wars in Silicon Valley) to a friend of mine who happens to be Jewish. He said that he disagreed with Google's decision to fire Damore as he was entitled to his opinion.

Besides, he said, the guy made some valid points.

I asked him if I were to substitute the word women with Jews and suggest that Jews were more suited for finance jobs, because "they are good with money" what would he say?

That's anti-Semitism, pure and simple, he cried.

Touché.

But the contention that women are not being suitable for STEM jobs might contain some valid points, right?

On various occasions, I tried the same technique with other people.

Two examples: with Muslims, I repeat the all too common discourse "they are too different to be able to live in Western societies", with Asians "they are good with math so they get all the tech jobs but they are not suited for much else."

Any sexist discourse about women became a horrible slur when it was about their ethnicity, culture or religion.

It works with any group, even LGBT folks.

The only group that is immune is white men. That is because they cannot see themselves as a minority. In their minds, they are the universal human identity and the rest is a bunch of minorities.

And because this also the hegemonic view in our societies, the worst put down is that they can't jump. Unsurprisingly, it was not a good movie.

My point is that women are the last group in the world about whom discriminatory practices and sexist speech are widely tolerated.

In almost every country in the world, women are second class citizens with less access to opportunities and resources than any other group.

In most of the developing world, they have very few rights, they are pushed around, discriminated against, subjected to horrific violence and suffer all kinds of daily indignities.

And that does not move anybody.

No one would lift a finger about women in Saudi Arabia where they have even fewer rights than black South Africans during Apartheid. If you remember, people in the West rallied against that regime.

But women in Saudi Arabia? Who cares.

Instead, we still debate whether women are suitable for senior management roles or tech jobs or or how pregnancy could affect their political careers.

And if anyone objects to that discourse, like former Australian PM Julia Gillard did, she becomes a humorless harpy, a nutjob and, of course, a feminazi.

Even this term tells you how much hate speech is tolerated when it comes to women.

CNN just fired a conservative commentator for tweeting "Sieg Heil" but no one was ever sacked for calling feminists feminazi.

Need I say more?

30 July 2017

Is Scaramucci A Poor Man's Surkov?


If not, please read this Vanity Fair primer. It is worth the detour.

The Vanity Fair article argues that there might be a method to Trump's late-night-attacks-through-unhinged-tweets madness. Like Surkov's communication strategy for Putin, these strange outbursts might be designed to change the subject, subvert the agenda and hijack the media narrative.

Recently, within the context of Donnygate, I wondered if there was a deliberate Surkovian strategy in place at the White House, as it looked like running down Fredo Trump's inane adventures helped hide Kushner's Qatar financial links and a rather scary use of American foreign policy to secure building financing.

But I wasn't sure who was behind it, as Trump is too stupid or senile to be able to pull it off by himself. My money was on the Prince of Darkness Steve Bannon and Boy Blunder Kushner.

Now however, it looks like the dark forces behind the Surkov strategy were Javanka as they pushed for the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci or "The Mooch" as he is known. Steve Bannon was not involved.

He is the new White House Communication Director and unlike everyone else (save Steve Bannon) he reports directly to the President, not the Chief of Staff.

Apparently Kushner felt that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer  and Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were Republican plants who worked for the party and not the President.

Why do I think The Mooch is there to pull a Surkov for Trump?

First let's remember what pulling a Surkov is:
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.

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.
Well, this is what Scaramucci did in his first week.

1) He went on ABC News to cite anonymous sources who claimed that there was no Russian involvement in electoral hacking only to reveal the source was Trump.

2) He seemed unmoved by his own negative Trump quotes from the 2016 campaign. At the time, he had called Trump "another hack politician" and "an inherited money dude from Queens County." And he praised Clinton.


3) He then began deleting those old pro-Clinton tweets. And he acknowledged doing so on Twitter where he endorsed her.

Astonishingly, the Narcissist-in-Chief who demands absolute loyalty sided with him.

4) He told Politico that he was planning to fire assistant Press Secretary Michael Short before telling him. Short resigned when he found out from the media that he was about to be axed.

5) He went on CNN to accuse Reince Priebus as the source of White House leaks. The two men, whose relationship Scaramucci likened to brothers, Abel and Cain, like each other very much, as you can tell from this revealing photo.

You know how that Biblical story ended, right?


6) Finally, to top it all off, he had a very colorful phone conversation with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker:
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” 
As for Steve Bannon, this is what The Mooch had to say:
Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” 
(On that last point, Trevor Noah noted:"I feel like if that were true, Steve Bannon would be a lot more chilled out. Like, I didn’t even know it was possible to drain your own swamp.”)

During the interview Scaramucci predicted that Priebus would soon be fired and it happened two days later.

The next day, The Mooch owned his words and The Donald reportedly loved the whole incident.

While The Mooch was doing with his colorful, contradictory and confusing theatrix, The Donald was busy doing this:

1) He gave a hyper-political and cringe-worthy speech at the annual jamboree of Boy Scouts of America. It was so bad that the Boy Scouts chief had to apologize afterwards.

2) He also held a campaign style rally in Ohio making new promises to his followers.

3) He "landed 3 punches against gay rights"
Without being asked, the Justice Department intervened in a private employment lawsuit on Wednesday, arguing that the ban on sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. (...) 
The move ended a day that began with a tweet from President Trump announcing a ban on transgender people serving in the military, surprising Pentagon leaders and reversing a year-old Obama administration policy. 
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Trump announced that he would nominate Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas and a vocal opponent of gay rights, to be the nation’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
4) He cyberbullied his own Attorney General, the Klan sympathizing garden gnome Jeff Sessions.


Scaramucci's contradictory moves are straight out of Surkov play book. So is Trump's gay bashing, something, as I noted above, Putin used many times to change the narrative.

Why do I suspect that these silly and petulant incidents might be an attempt to hijack the agenda, well look at what was happening at the same time. The Senate tried very hard to repeal Obamacare and it failed dramatically.

John McCain came back from brain surgery and cancer treatment to vote in favor of a procedural measure to have the Senate debate the House draft to repeal and replace Obamacare. It passed only with Mike Pence's tie-breaker vote.

Then, in a very cynical act (to collect maximum "maverick" points) he voted against the House draft, effectively killing the whole repeal idea.

This was, as you know, one of Trump's signature campaign promises.

If it wasn't for the dramatic circumstances (brain cancer patient returns to Washington) and the corporate media's endless love affair with St John McCain, we might not have heard about it as The Mooch and The Donald collectively sucked all the oxygen out of the news media.

Still, Scaramucci's expletive-filled rant with Ryan Lizza and Trump's transgender ban tweet received a lot more coverage than the health care bill.

And maybe that was the point.

After all, Trump voters do not care about how he governs, they like him as a reality TV star who kicks the other side in the teeth.

They don't care if he takes away their health care, as long he deports brown people and removes any safety net for black people and makes sure that black lives don't matter.

To them, Trump is making America white again and he does it with great fanfare and fun. And in the process, he makes liberals mad.

What more can you ask for?

And that is why The Mooch is now the Communications Director and he reports directly Boy Blunder's father-in-law.

A poor man's Surkov.

But The Donald does not deserve a better Surkov anyway.

Nor does his constituency.

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

The Mooch is gone.

The media reports seem to suggest that it was the new Chief of Staff General Kelly who terminated him.

I have a feeling he was used by Boy Blunder to get rid of Priebus.

Something tells me that this is not the last time we see Anthony Scaramucci.

28 July 2017

How Brexit, Trump and Macron Made France Relevant Again


I have to admit that I am in awe of Emmanuel Macron.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan. He is essentially a conservative politician and I am an old pinko who never liked leftwing politics.

Nor do I look at him as someone who could save the world and stop the decline of the American Empire.

It's something else, it's his ability to grasp a context and move quickly to seize the day.

#carpe diem.

Now, he is a lucky man. There is no doubt there.

Think of his meteoric rise from a middling investment banker in London to Minister of Economy and then to President of the French Republic in the span of five years.

This is a guy who has never held an elected office in his life.

Or his unbelievable feat of winning the legislative elections by a landslide with a party that was formed a month earlier, fielding a rag tag group of unknown candidates.

Each of these achievements would be proof of extraordinary luck, and collectively they are the equivalent of winning the Powerball or El Gourdo or Euromillions three weeks in a row.

But the reason I am in awe of him is the way he capitalized on the specific context that was created by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump and the way he positioned himself -in the span of few short weeks- as a world leader and France as a country to be reckoned with.

And that was not an easy achievement given the dismal setting he inherited.

Let me explain my thinking.

Europe and France Before Brexit

A year ago the European Union was a doomed project.

Germany was slowly destroying its weaker economies, the so called PIIGS countries, and was emerging as the dominant leader of the EU.

It was clear that there was an affluent club led by Germany and comprising the Netherlands and most of the Nordic countries and a second club of declining members who would soon be unable to implement the same policies as the first group and keep up with them.

On the Eastern front, the recent EU members made a radical shift to the right and formed a mini union (the Visegrad group) to resist and ignore policy directives from Brussels. They became a major disruption for Europe.

Then there were talks about resurrecting the "intermarium" as "a bulwark not only against Putinist “neo-Bolshevism” encroaching from Moscow, but also against the neoliberal, multicultural, secular and feminist “neo-Bolshevism” emanating from Brussels."

Or as Jon Stewart would have put it, fascism with a slavic accent.

Merkel's demographically motivated but incorrectly explained decision to take in one million refugees did not sit well with the rest of Europe.

France with its own five million Muslims was the target of several bloody terror attacks making French even more opposed to the idea of welcoming more Arabs from the Middle East.

European public were openly hostile to the avowedly only remedy available for EU's problems, i.e. more integration. In fact, the general mood in most member countries was to take back some of the components of their sovereignty.

In short, Europe was already an economically fragmented and politically divided union and, at that juncture, the infamous "Europe a la carte" or "Two-tier union" seemed inevitable.

As for France, the historically important Franco-German alliance was no longer relevant as the wheezing French economy barely kept the country out of the PIIGS club. With its chronic unemployment and underperforming economy, France seemed lost.

The UK, as the second largest economy in the union, was the only counterbalance to the German behemoth, especially since it kept its own currency and the special ties to the sole remaining superpower.

And then Brexit happened.

Why Brexit Was Important?

Essentially, it made the unthinkable possible.

While no one was really enamored with the EU, it seemed impossible to dismantle it and go back to the status quo ante. The UK, in one fell swoop, showed that it was quite possible to do it.

Soon, right wing parties everywhere began to talk about Nexit, Frexit and Italeave.

Moreover, the British exit made the future of EU an imminent issue to be dealt with, sooner rather than later.

What to do with the Euro? Should there be more financial and economic integration? Or should there be a Europe a la carte? What about the Visegrad Group? How to deal with terrorism? What about the refugees?

And of course, as the one of the two European countries to possess nuclear bombs and a decent army, the British departure shone a bright line on the question of European defense.

Putin began a massive military modernization program around 2008 -largely on Nato's prodding- which turned the old and clunky Red Army into an effective fighting machine as shown in the Crimea, Ukraine and Syria deployments.

European Nato members were spending less and less on defense and for the most part ignoring the rising Russian military power. The general feeling was that a membership to Nato was more than enough to protect them.

Take Bundeswehr, the German army.
Underfunding has been at times highly embarrassing, such as the revelation that during a Nato exercise in 2014 Bundeswehr tank commanders covered up their lack of machine guns by using broomsticks painted black.
More importantly, in military terms, Bundeswehr is a joke.
The Bundeswehr, born in the mid 1950s, was a deliberately modest force, meant only to defend West German territory, not fight abroad. Its recruits were taught to think of themselves as "citizens in uniform". 
Indeed the uniform itself, says historian James Sheehan, "really does resemble [that of] bus drivers rather than the old guards' regiments".
And then Trump happened.

Trump and Nato

Image result for trump corleoneWhile running for president, Trump stated that he was not going to take Article 5 seriously unless the member under attack had been spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

I called it the Don Corleone doctrine of collective protection.

He also thought that Nato was no longer relevant: he actually said that it was obsolete.

And then he became POTUS and his Putin connection was revealed.

About the same time, Nato's second largest (and battle hardened) army was dismantled by its own government. In fact, Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe of Nato Curtis Scaparotti raised the alarm about the alliance much weakened capabilities.

Suddenly, there were calls for expanding the burgeoning European Defense Agency into a European Nato.
"NATO can no longer be used as a convenient alibi to argue against greater European efforts," Juncker said. He said the United States is "no longer interested in guaranteeing Europe's security in our place."
Even the traditionally pacifist Germany was in on it.

The first-tier EU members seriously debated a European nuclear deterrent.

Within that context, let's take a look at the French military and France's own military industrial complex.

Here is what a defense analyst says about them.
The French are the only ones in Europe who are almost self-sufficient in producing high quality military vehicles, firearms, ships and aircraft and weapons. Their products have been exported worldwide and have been the star in several major wars.
And he goes on to explain why.
Only 2 countries in the world have developed a self-propelled, self-contained SAM system capable of firing radar guided missiles, France and Russia. [...]

France is the third country in the world after the US and Russia, to develop and deploy long range Land Attack Cruise Missiles on its warships. The Scalp missile is a 1000+ km range missile launched from the A70 VLS and has a 450 kg warhead.
Their Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Mistral ships and their nuclear powered aircraft carriers (the only ones in the world outside the US Navy) are unique in Europe.

In that sense French army is almost self- sufficient, a distinction no other army in the world, besides the US and Russia, can claim.

They are also the third largest nuclear deterrent behind US and Russia.

In 2008 the French military issued a White Paper about the looming terrorist threat and the need to adapt armed forces accordingly. France has now 36,000 troops deployed in foreign territories.

All of these capabilities and attributes existed before Macron. What he did with them is the remarkable bit.

He approached Merkel as an equal and he coolly pushed the defense angle. No more French economy excuses that Hollande had to put forward to explain France's chronic deficit.

He said, we are the supreme military power in Europe and if Nato and Trump won't defend Europe, we are the only credible force you have. Especially with the Brits gone.

So within a month, he got Merkel to agree to develop a European fighter jet in collaboration with France, with French military industrial complex being the main beneficiary as they have the know-how.

Image result for macron and trump bastille day paradeThen he turned around and positioned himself as the natural European interlocutor for Donald Trump, in the absence of Britain.

He invited the Donald, the rich kid from Queens with a chip on his shoulder bigger than Texas, to Bastille Day celebrations, fully aware that the narcissistic President-child might perceive the military parade and procession as something specifically arranged just for him.

He did it at a time when Theresa May could not get Trump to agree to any state visit in 2017.

It is a simple move that turned him into the main European partner of the Orange Man.

And look at the handshake the day before with the Donald shy as a pre-teen girl in a Justin Bieber concert and Macron not letting his hand go in Trump's signature alpha-male move.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and U.S. President Donald Trumps shake hands as they attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The clincher in al this is that with Brexit and the UK gone and Merkel and Trump in a pointless and pointed feud, Macron is now the point man for all EU-US and EU-Nato relations.

All I can say is "wow."

Or as they say in Canada, with characteristic understatement, "not too shabby."

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.