—–ON THE AGENDA—–
LATVIA’S THIRD LARGEST BANK FAILS, EMERGENCY MEETING TODAY
Reuters reports, “Latvian authorities will gather for an emergency meeting on Monday following the failure of the country’s third-largest bank, the Prime minister said on Saturday, as the country kept watch for any fallout on other banks.” Reuters adds, “ABLV Bank is failing or likely to fail and will be wound up as saving it is not in the public interest, the European Union’s Single Resolution Board and the European Central Bank (ECB) said separately on Saturday. Accused by U.S. authorities of large-scale money laundering, ABLV scrambled this week to come up with a survival plan, but failed as customers fled and management could not come up with sufficient cash, despite offers of emergency central bank liquidity.” Reuters adds, “Other banks at risk in Latvia are those that, like ABLV, specialize in accepting foreign deposits” which includes “a list of more than a dozen lenders”.
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
POLITICO reports, “Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide, pleaded guilty on Friday to felony charges of conspiracy and making false statements as part of a plea bargain hammered out with prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Gates admitted to taking part in a conspiracy to hide tens of millions of dollars that he and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, obtained for their lobbying and consulting work related to Ukraine. Gates also acknowledged that, during a debriefing with the special counsel’s office and the FBI earlier this month, he lied about the pair’s Ukraine-related work.” POLITICO notes, “The plea deal leaves Manafort alone fighting charges in the ongoing Mueller investigation.” Just delicious. Everyone get ready for a fish fry! POLITICO adds, “U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson released two new indictments against Manafort, one returned last week and the other returned earlier Friday, removing some foreign-account-reporting charges that prosecutors have effectively transferred to Virginia as part of another indictment, unveiled on Thursday, that is focused on tax and bank fraud.” POLITICO reports, “Jackson accepted Gates’ guilty plea Friday afternoon but set no immediate date for sentencing. The plea agreement says that if prosecutors deem Gates to have provided ‘substantial assistance’ to the government, they’ll file a motion that could increase Gates’ chances of getting a more lenient sentence than the roughly four and a half to six years likely to be called for by federal sentencing guidelines.” Meanwhile in the land of Trumpistani covfefe lies and delusions, “The White House insisted on Friday that the development was of no concern to President Donald Trump,” POLITICO adds. Hence Twitler’s big boy totally innocent tantrums.
Bloomberg reports, “Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates just admitted to lying to U.S. investigators about a March 19, 2013, meeting between his boss, Paul Manafort, and an unidentified U.S. congressman. Public filings show a meeting that day between Manafort and Dana Rohrabacher, a Russia-friendly Republican congressman from California.” Rohrabacher is Putin’s favorite congressman.
NBC News reports, “Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort was hit with new charges on Friday, including an allegation he secretly recruited and funded a group of former European politicians to lobby in the United States on behalf of Ukraine. The superseding indictment was filed just a couple of hours after Manafort’s business partner, former campaign aide Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators — even while he was negotiating a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.” NBC News adds, “Further squeezing Manafort, Mueller lodged new accusations in a five-count superseding indictment Friday that charges him with conspiracy, money-laundering, being an unregistered agent for a foreign entity and making false statements. The most significant allegation is that Manafort assembled what he called a ‘Super VIP’ group of highly influential Europeans who could push Ukraine’s agenda ‘without any visible relationship’ with the Ukrainian government, according to an email obtained by Mueller.” NBC News notes, “Manafort paid the politicians 2 million euros from offshore accounts in 2012 and 2013 to lobby members of Congress and other U.S. officials. It’s illegal for Americans to direct foreigners to lobby the U.S. without informing the Justice Department.”
From NBC News.
RING OF FIRE
The New York Times reports, “Former European leaders who tried to bring Ukraine closer to Europe before a 2014 uprising there reacted with shock on Saturday after a federal indictment accused Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, of secretly paying former European officials some two million euros in 2012 and 2013 to lobby on the country’s behalf.” The New York Times notes, “The indictment, released on Friday by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election in the United States, did not name the former officials, but it set off furious speculation about who they might be.” The New York Times adds, “The indictment says the lobbying effort was managed by a former chancellor of a European country, identified as ‘Foreign Politician A,’ in coordination with Mr. Manafort. On Saturday, Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy, said in an interview that he and an ex-chancellor of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer, had worked to try to bring Ukraine and the European Union closer together. But Mr. Prodi said the funds he had been paid by Mr. Gusenbauer did not come, to his knowledge, from Mr. Manafort.” The New York Times notes, “In a statement to the BBC, Mr. Gusenbauer, who led Austria from January 2007 to December 2008, denied any involvement in Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine but acknowledged that he had met him twice and talked to European and American politicians about Ukraine, as Mr. Prodi had also done.” The New York Times adds, “In an interview on Saturday with the Austrian Press Agency, Mr. Gusenbauer said that he had been ‘remunerated’ for his work on behalf of Ukraine, but he did not say by whom. He added that he had never worked for Mr. Yanukovych and that he had only met Mr. Manafort two or three times.” The New York Times reports, “Mr. Manafort did not inform the Washington lobbyists with whom they worked that the European politicians were being paid for their efforts”. The New York Times adds, “The group of senior former politicians, according to the indictment, was informally called the Hapsburg Group, after the Austro-Hungarian dynasty, the Habsburgs. The plan, according to the indictment, was for the group to ‘appear to be providing their independent assessments of Government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine.’” The New York Times recalls, “In 2012 and 2013, Mr. Yanukovych was trying to negotiate an ‘association agreement’ with the European Union, which was made difficult by his jailing of political opponents, like Yulia V. Tymoshenko, Valery Ivashchenko and Yuri V. Lutsenko in 2011 and 2012.”
From The New York Times.
KNOCKIN’ ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
Reuters reports, “Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s indicted former campaign chairman, asked for court permission on Saturday for release from home confinement to attend the funeral of his father-in-law. In a filing in federal court in Washington, Manafort said his father-in-law died on Saturday and that he would like to travel from his Virginia home to Long Island, New York, to attend the wake, funeral and burial services.”
INTEL WAR: RUSSIAN FALSE FLAG OP OLYMPICS HACKED BY NK
The Washington Post reports, “Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a ‘false-flag’ operation”. The Washington Post notes, “Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible.” The Washington Post continues, “Analysts surmise the disruption was retaliation against the International Olympic Committee for banning the Russian team from the Winter Games due to doping violations.” The Washington Post adds the information “is consistent with reports from private-sector analysts who have said they saw signs Russia had targeted the 2018 Olympics.” The Washington Post reports, “The GRU hackers are thought to work for the agency’s Main Center for Special Technology, or GTsST, according to intelligence agencies. That unit has been highly active in information warfare against the West and was behind the NotPetya cyberattack that crippled computers in Ukraine last year.”
From The Washington Post.
TRUMP PASSES THE BUCK TO KELLY ON PRINCELING JARED’S CLEARANCE
POLITICO reports, “President Donald Trump said Friday the decision over whether to give Jared Kushner a waiver on his security clearance will be ‘up to’ chief of staff John Kelly.” In other words, if Kelly signs it, he is implicated in every crime of princeling Jared’s potential making. POLITICO adds Trump additionally said, “Gen. Kelly respects Jared a lot and Gen. Kelly will make that call. I won’t make that call.’” Remember: most decisions about our government are either being made by Kelly or the Russian government. The Washington Post notes the White House was first alerted to trouble with princeling Jared’s interim clearance becoming permanent on a “Feb. 9 phone call from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to White House Counsel Donald McGahn came amid growing public scrutiny of a number of administration officials without final security clearances.” Recall, this is part of an ongoing tug of war between princeling Jared, Aryan princess Ivanka, the Russian mafia state and related transnational mafia actors and oligarchs and/or plutocrats and the loyal American patriots who comprise The Deep State and fight to eject this cancer from our system each and every day.
TRUMP-LINKED FIRM BAYROCKS A SETTLEMENT IN RACKETEERING CASE
Bloomberg reports, “A real estate development firm linked to President Donald Trump reached an agreement to resolve a racketeering lawsuit filed by a former executive who claimed the company defrauded him of money he was owed and concealed the criminal history of one of its principals.” Bloomberg adds, “The Bayrock Group, the developer of the Trump Soho building in Manhattan, agreed in principle to settle a lawsuit filed in 2010 by former finance director Jody Kriss, according to a filing Thursday in federal court in New York. Kriss said in his original lawsuit and in interviews that he left the firm after becoming convinced that it was laundering money. He also accused the company of skimming cash, dodging taxes and cheating him out of millions of dollars.” Bloomberg notes, “But Kriss later discarded some of those claims in amending his lawsuit, and the judge dismissed other allegations. The judge allowed the case to proceed under racketeering laws. Kriss negotiated for months to settle his case against Bayrock and two of its principals, Tevfik Arif and Felix Sater. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed in court filings.” Bloomberg notes, “Bayrock worked with Trump and his two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, on a series of real-estate deals between 2002 and about 2011, the most prominent being the troubled Trump Soho hotel and condominium. In his lawsuit, Kriss also claimed that Arif and Sater defrauded the Trump Organization by not telling it about Sater’s racketeering conviction and the payments to Sater.” The best people.
MEMO WARS: DEMOCRATS COUNTER DARKNESS AT NUNES COVFEFE
The New York Times reports, “House Democrats released a heavily redacted memorandum on Saturday that was drafted to counter Republican claims that top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide.” The New York Times recalls, “President Trump blocked the memo’s outright release two weeks ago, with the White House counsel warning that the document ‘contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.’ Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee had since been haggling with the F.B.I. over redactions.” The New York Times adds, “People familiar with the Democratic document said that it contends that the F.B.I. was more forthcoming to the surveillance court. It says that while the F.B.I. did not name the Democrats or Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, the agency did disclose to the court that it made use of information that was gathered through politically motivated means.” The Washington Post adds, “The memo from committee ranking member Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) states there was ample evidence to conduct surveillance of Carter Page entirely apart from the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele,” and that, “the suspicious activities included not merely the trip itself but activities in Moscow”. The Washington Post notes, “The memo confirms that the FBI investigation began on July 31, 2016, well before the receipt of the dossier, and that it was based not only on information about George Papadopoulos’s efforts to reach out to Russians but also on information about ‘Russia’s aggressive covert operations to influence our elections, which the FBI was already monitoring.’” The Washington Post adds, “The Schiff memo also makes clear that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was told the dossier was funded by a political operation”. CNN adds Twitler reacted not well as, “President Donald Trump hit back at top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff in an interview Saturday night, dismissing a Democratic memo on FBI surveillance released earlier in the day as ‘a nothing.’ ‘He’ll leak all sorts of information. You know, he’s a bad guy,’ Trump said Saturday in an interview on Fox News.” Don’t you wish he could bring himself to say that about Putin?
TRUMP APPOINTED JUDGE COOL RUNNING FUSION GPS CASE INTERFERENCE
ABC News reports, “A Trump-appointed federal judge who donated to the Trump campaign and worked on his presidential transition team has rejected requests to recuse himself from overseeing a legal battle involving Fusion GPS”. ABC News adds, “U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, who sits on the bench in Washington, D.C., made two donations to Trump’s presidential campaign totaling $1000 in October 2016 – both coming within three weeks of Election Day, documents filed with the Federal Election Commission show.” ABC News notes, “McFadden said he does not know Trump and has ‘never met him in any capacity,’ but Fusion GPS has argued that the connection is significant. Before Trump nominated McFadden for a federal judgeship, Trump selected McFadden to serve as his Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice. McFadden remained at the Justice Department until the Senate confirmed his nomination to the bench last October.” The suit involves “Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian businessman named in the dossier,” and BuzzFeed, which published the dossier. Of note, “The research firm also argued that, during McFadden’s prior employment as an attorney at the multinational law firm Baker & McKenzie – where he worked until January 2017 – he represented a company controlled by Russian billionaire business magnate Mikhail Fridman of the investment firm, Alfa Group. Fridman shares control of Alfa Group, which has a separate lawsuit pending against Fusion GPS”. Last week, Robert Mueller indicted Alex van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of another partner in Alfa Group, German Khan.
From ABC News.
SYRIA: STATE DEPARTMENT CALLS RUSSIAN PLAN A FARCE
The Washington Examiner reports, “The State Department on Thursday mocked Russia’s plans to bring peace to Syria as a ‘farce.’” The Washington Examiner notes, “Russia coordinated with Iran and Turkey to establish four regional cease-fires in Syria as part of a process that the Russians hoped would sideline any potential U.S. efforts to broker a political settlement leading to the end of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s reign. But violence has reached a fever pitch in Eastern Ghouta, a district outside of Damascus that was supposed to be covered by those agreements.” The Washington Examiner adds, “‘So much for that de-escalation zone,’ State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. ‘They have starved people there. They have prevented humanitarian aid from getting in. We have seen innocent civilians killed. We’ve seen barrel bombs. We’ve seen this devastation and destruction. That is certainly no de-escalation zone.’” The Washington Examiner adds, “Several hospitals in the vicinity have been targeted for air strikes by pro-Assad forces, drawing comparisons to Russia’s attack on Aleppo in 2016. Russia has denied carrying out the airstrikes in Eastern Ghouta, however.” Yeah, right.
From The Washington Examiner.
RUSSIA’S OLYMPIC BAN ON FLAG AT CLOSING CEREMONY UPHELD
The Washington Post reports, “The International Olympic Committee on Sunday dealt Russia one final punishment at these Winter Games, upholding a ban on Russia’s Olympic federation and preventing the country’s athletes from marching in the Closing Ceremonies with their tricolor flag.” The IOC said “Russia squandered the chance to carry its flag in the Closing Ceremonies when two of its athletes, over the last two weeks, tested positive for banned substances”. (More on Russia at the Olympics in “RADIO MOSCOW”.)
From The Washington Post.
RUSSIANS MARCH TO MOURN BORIS NEMTSOV
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, “Demonstrators marched in Russian cities on February 25 to commemorate slain Kremlin critic and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Rallies were held in numerous cities across Russia ahead of the third anniversary of Nemtsov’s murder, which drew international condemnation and highlighted the dangers faced by Russians who oppose the Kremlin.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recalls, “Nemtsov, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on a Moscow bridge overlooking the Kremlin on February 27, 2015.”
DERIPASKA’S ESCORT IN NAVALNY VIDEO DETAINED IN THAILAND
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, “Police in Thailand have detained a Russian woman who was at the center of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s recent report about an alleged meeting between a billionaire metals tycoon and a longtime former senior adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Media reports in Thailand said on February 26 that a total of 10 Russian nationals who claimed to be sex experts running a course on lovemaking were detained on February 25 in a hotel in the resort of Pattaya.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds, “Police were quoted as saying that one of the detained Russians was charged with overstaying in Thailand, three with unlawful entry into the kingdom, and the rest with working without permits.”
—–KNOW YOUR ENEMY—–
THE CASE FOR COLD WAR II AGAIN (NO IT’S WARM HYBRID)
Richard Haass, the venerable head of the Council on Foreign Relations, makes the case in Project Syndicate that Cold War II is upon us. Can the next generation proffer up the suggestion that this time it is warm hybrid with a coup in America and troops in Ukraine and actual military confrontation registered in Syria? Haass’ writes, “It is true that the US could and should have been more generous as Russia made its painful transition to a market economy in the 1990s. Nor is it clear that NATO enlargement was preferable to other security arrangements for Europe that would have included Russia.” Russia needs to first liberate itself before it can be part of the free world. Economic collapse was not the supple soil from which true democracy could grow so instead there is the so-called “managed democracy” of Putin, and as Haass rightfully points out, “the lion’s share of the responsibility for the emergence of a second Cold War is Russia’s, and above all Vladimir Putin’s. Like many of his predecessors, Putin viewed the US-dominated world order as a threat to his rule and to what he regarded as his country’s rightful place in the world.” Haass concurs with resistance sentiment that “Americans must recognize that defense is not enough”. As TRUMPISTAN WATCH has long argued, “If Trump, for whatever reason, continues to coddle Russia, then Congress, the media, foundations, and academics should publicly detail the corruption that characterizes Putin’s rule. Circulating such information might increase internal opposition to Putin, persuade him to hold off on further interference in US and European politics, and, over time, buttress more responsible forces within Russia.” More importantly it gives the Russian people and the world something to envy: an open society where corruption is exposed and, Mueller willing, the thieves and crooks in jail.
From Project Syndicate.
THE STATE OF “UNCIVIL MILITARY RELATIONS”
Defense One looks at the state of defense after one year of Trump. Last week Lawfare blog asked a series of questions about “uncivil military relations,” and this is somewhat of a follow up. Defense One opens, “If President Donald Trump came to Washington to upend the system and bring radical change, so far he has failed miserably at the Pentagon.” So, “what change Trump hath wrought”? Defense One notes, “he approved the request of U.S. generals to loosen the reins on how the military fights terrorist groups. But as more ISIS fighters began dying, so too did more civilians. In Afghanistan, instead of ending the U.S. war, he ordered yet another American escalation, but this time with air power and specialized Army battalions that will put Americans back on the ground fighting with Afghans (as “advisors,” but outside of the wire in a way not seen by conventional forces since 2014.) Lest you think that was Trump’s leadership, know that these changes were in the works before his inauguration; they came up from senior military leaders, not from the incoming administration’s political appointees or policy leaders. Trump signed the orders Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford recommended.” Defense One adds, “Trump also has continued to use a type of rhetoric unheard of by any Western leader, much less an American president. Exhibit A: North Korea. The president has provoked, prodded, practically dared (remember the bigger nuclear button?) North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un to keep pursuing nuclear weapons or else the U.S. would — do something.” Defense One keenly observes, “The one consensus seems to be the view that, under Trump, America is no longer the world’s clear leader. And that is a titanic change.” America First is a giant scam! The Pentagon is not deceived.
From Defense One.
SNYDER ASSESSES ONE YEAR OF TRUMP-STYLE AUTHORITARIANISM
Salon features an interview with Yale Professor Timothy Snyder who is asked to assess the state of Trumpistan as it is. Snyder is correct, “what people have done in the last year has made a tremendous difference. Things are bad and they’re going to get worse before they get better, but if it weren’t for the marches, local activists, lawyers defending people’s civil rights, citizens calling their representatives and investigative journalists doing their jobs, things could be a lot worse than they are. As a whole, America has not done a great job of reacting to Trump, but some Americans have done a great job. If we all get tired and say we can’t do it anymore, then things will go south very quickly.” Snyder wisely notes, “If you’re a Trump-style authoritarian you are not trying to make a big powerful state. What you’re trying to do is make the state dysfunctional and then at the end of the crumbling, you and your friends are at the top. What you also do is discredit the resistance actively both by calling people names, whether that’s African Americans or Native Americans or women or any other group. You say that protesters are paid, and journalism is all fake news. Insofar as Mr. Trump has a domestic policy it involves shaking people’s belief in reality and the facts, because if you do that then everybody just has their own opinion. Money will be the only thing that matters in terms of ‘the truth.’ In the end the Trump-style authoritarian who creates the greatest spectacle is going to win.” Snyder compares Twitler to Hitler: “One of the ways that Hitler came to power is that the conventional conservatives thought, ‘You know, with this guy we can have a majority, we can get our stuff done. Of course we will get rid of him in the end.’ But there was enough of a base in Germany for Hitler to stay in power. This is roughly the same size of the base that Trump has in the United States, roughly a third of the population. I’m surprised by how few Republicans care about how they will be described in the history books.” Snyder expresses concern, “that there will be something that happens around the time of the midterms. This will allow Trump and his allies to say that the midterms don’t really count or that we have to have the midterms under exceptional conditions. Take note of how Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said that the Russians are going to hack the 2018 election and we really can’t do anything about it.” Snyder adds he “was not sure if Trump’s administration was going to try true national socialism, which would be a welfare state for white people, or whether it was going to be an effort to increase inequality and blame other people for it. It’s now clear that the second option is Trump’s preferred strategy. Many Americans have reacted better than the Germans did in 1933. This would include physicians, lawyers and journalists. We are still in the early stages of an authoritarian regime change. We still have an aspiring authoritarian leader.” Achtung!
WITH DUTERTE’S DRUG WARS AS HIS GUIDE
Axios reports, “In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for drug trafficking offenses. And President Trump loves it. He’s been telling friends for months that the country’s policy to execute drug traffickers is the reason its drug consumption rates are so low.” Axios adds Trump “often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty.” Axios notes, “Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he’s privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system.” It is good he feels some restrictions on acts of mass murder – for now.
RULES DON’T APPLY TO THE FAMILY, NOT AN EXTORTION RACKET EDITION
CNBC reports, “Soon after the Republican National Committee came under pressure for paying legal bills for President Donald Trump and his eldest son in the special counsel’s Russia probe, it started covering expenses for the president’s re-election campaign.” CNBC adds, “The RNC is using campaign funds to pay Trump’s company more than $37,000 a month in rent, and to pay thousands of dollars in monthly salary to Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew, John Pence, party officials confirmed this week. The rent pays for office space in the Trump Tower in New York for the staff of Trump’s re-election campaign. John Pence is the Trump campaign’s deputy executive director.” CNBC notes, “Campaign finance experts who spoke to CNBC said this type of spending by a party committee on behalf of a campaign is highly unusual but legal, and it appears the RNC disclosed it correctly.”
TROUBLE IN PANAMA
The Washington Post reports, “The majority owner of President Trump’s only hotel in Latin America abruptly ordered Trump employees out of the property on Thursday, triggering a confrontation in which Trump employees refused to leave and asked police to intervene, according to the Trump Organization and local news reports.” The Washington Post adds, “This attempt at a takeover by Orestes Fintiklis — a Cypriot businessman based in Miami — marked a sharp escalation in his months-old effort to re-brand the Trump International Hotel Panama and replace the Trump Organization as its manager. Fintiklis blames Trump’s brand and Trump’s company for declining revenue and empty rooms.” Last Thursday, “Fintiklis and a group of others arrived at the hotel, seeking to deliver letters of termination to the staff. That caused at least one confrontation, which included yelling but no physical altercation, according to a Trump Organization official. The police came, the Trump Organization official said, but did not allow Fintiklis to eject the staff.” Power was off at one point. Alan Garten, the Trump Organization attorney, called it an example of “rare thuggery” and said the Trump Organization preferred to settle things professionally, which is to say, with a goon squad of lawyers.
From The Washington Post.
THE NRA IS THE NEW IVANKA
NBC News reports, “The backlash began on Thursday after the First National Bank of Omaha (FNBO), which has an NRA-branded Visa credit card, said in a statement that it had decided not to renew the contract. Shortly afterward, other companies announced they would end their NRA membership discount programs.” NBC News reports, “Among those cutting ties with the NRA were the car rental groups Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and Budget; the insurance giant MetLife; the software firm Symantec; and the Boston-based home security company SimpliSafe. Delta and United also said in statements Saturday that they will no longer offer travel discounts for the NRA. Each airline asked that related information be removed from the NRA website.” If the Parkland kids provoked even a moderate corporate boycott of the NRA they will have done more than most all of the adults in the room. Meanwhile, our fake Russian bullshit president was trolling away, tweeting on Saturday, “Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.” So many klicks out to sea and passed the point of genuine madness, that one.
From NBC News.
THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT + RUSSIA: REASSESSING AFTER BILLY GRAHAM
The Economist reports, “On America’s religious right, and in particular on the isolationist right, a powerful groundswell of opinion applauds Vladimir Putin on at least two grounds: the Russian president’s self-appointment as an international guardian of traditional values, with respect to marriage, sexuality and reproduction, and his advocacy of the rights of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, a Russian concern that goes back to Tsarist times.” The Economist notes, “Consider this extraordinary reversal. It was at a gathering of America’s National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 that, with his famous denunciation of the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’, President Ronald Reagan implied that the cold war was a moral contest rather than a misunderstanding in which both sides bore blame. Some 30 years later Pat Buchanan, a conservative pundit, noted with some approval that Mr Putin was turning that accusation on its head by denouncing Barack Obama’s America as a realm of sinfulness, where decadent ideas like same-sex marriage were on the march.” The Economist adds, “No evangelical has been as defensive of Russia, and of American relations with Russia, as [Billy Graham’s son] Franklin Graham, a preacher and White House confidant.” The Economist recalls, “In a rare act of defiance of the Republican establishment, Billy Graham accepted an invitation to a peace conference in Moscow in 1982 (where he is pictured, above) at a time when the cold war was entering its final, bitter phase. Critical friends, including the then vice-president, George H.W. Bush, said his visit could be a propaganda gift to the Soviet authorities.”
From The Economist.
CASTING MUELLER AS PRESIDENTIAL
The Washington Post profiles Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller side by side in a way that does not flatter Trump and casts Mueller in a very presidential light. The Washington Post piece begins, “They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead. They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him.” Both “have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them.” The Washington Post continues, “Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth, while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.” So what do we learn of Mueller’s background? Well it seems he is cut from the very traditional cloth of U.S. presidents historically as, “Mueller was born to a social rank that barely exists anymore, a cosseted WASP elite of northeastern families who sent their sons to New England prep schools built with generations of inherited wealth.” Then there is the fateful choice a generation of young American men made – or had made for them — as, “Mueller enlisted in the Marine Corps, a rare choice for an Ivy League graduate at a time when many young men were casting about for ways to avoid the draft.” It was, “In April 1967, as he led his platoon in evacuating fallen Marines from a battleground, Hackett was shot in the back of the head by a North Vietnamese sniper. Mueller to this day speaks of Hackett’s death as a turning point, as the event that pushed him to a career of public service,” After “Mueller spent the first two decades of his legal career putting bad guys behind bars,” including Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega and the those responsible for bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, he went to work “in the $400,000-a-year luxury of a white-collar litigation job in the Washington office of a Boston law firm, Hale and Dorr.” And he was not happy. He volunteered to take on DC homicide cases instead and then district local prosecutor Eric Holder (later Obama’s Attorney General) hired him but also gave “him a title — senior litigation counsel — and eventually made him head of the homicide section.” The Washington Post notes Mueller “got a kick out of answering his phone, ‘Mueller, Homicide.’” Most critically though it led to the biggest boost his career had. The Washington Post notes, “He was sworn in on Sept. 4, 2001, one week before the planes hit the twin towers,” as the nation’s FBI Director. And now he is investigating a sitting president.
From The Washington Post.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: MANAFORT’S DIRTY LOANS
American Banker reports Paul Manafort’s banker Stephen “Calk contributed money to a handful of Republican campaigns, but he was never a significant political player. On the rare occasions when his name appeared in the newspaper, he was likely to discuss the latest interest rate hike or another industry-centric topic. He is not known to have any foreign ties.” American Banker adds, “Donald Trump’s presidential campaign included a number of political neophytes, and Calk served as a member of his economic advisory team in late 2016. The Trump campaign described Calk, a onetime Army helicopter pilot, as a champion of increasing homeownership among military veterans.” American Banker notes, “Yet Calk has been swept up in the Russia probe because his small, Chicago-based bank made $16 million in mortgage loans to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2016 and early 2017.” American Banker reports, “In court filings, The Federal Savings Bank, the $341 million-asset institution where Calk serves as CEO, has been portrayed as a victim of Manafort’s alleged lies.” American Banker continues, “Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Calk agreed to make the loans in exchange for the promise of a job within the Trump administration. The bank denies that such a quid pro quo was ever proposed. Calk was never offered a White House post, though The Wall Street Journal has reported that he did seek to be named Army secretary.” American Banker reports, “Before the financial crisis, Calk and his brother, John, were the owners of a nonbank lender called Chicago Bancorp. The company recorded annual, pretax profits of $1.7 million to $2.9 million between 2007 and 2011, according to court documents. One buyer of Chicago Bancorp’s loans was Citigroup’s mortgage division. Between 2009 and 2011, CitiMortgage identified 11 loans that it said were faulty for various reasons, including misrepresentations of income, inadequate income documentation and misrepresentations of employment.” American Banker adds, “CitiMortgage demanded that Chicago Bancorp either cure the defects or repurchase the loans. When Chicago Bancorp failed to do so, CitiMortgage filed a lawsuit in February 2012, alleging that Chicago Bancorp owed it in excess of $2 million.” In court filings, CitiMortgages alleges “the Calk brothers carried out a scheme to transfer Chicago Bancorp’s assets to themselves and The Federal Savings Bank, and out of the reach of CitiMortgage.” American Banker notes, “At Federal Savings, Stephen Calk and his brother, who serves as vice chairman, have continued to focus on mortgage lending. As of Sept. 30, more than 90% of the bank’s $295 million loan portfolio consisted of residential mortgages. Home loans backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are an area of focus. In 2017, The Federal Savings Bank was the nation’s 18th-largest VA lender, generating loan volume of $1.74 billion.” By 2016, “Federal Savings had also begun to target more affluent homeowners in the New York metro area, where Manafort got his loans from the bank.” American Banker adds, “One of Calk’s contacts in New York was Howard Lorber, the wealthy CEO of the holding company Vector Group and a longtime friend of the future president.” That relationship soured too even though both men sat on the president’s economic council. The loans are also tied up in his divorce case, Chicago’s ABC News affiliate reports, and curiously, “Calk has not been seen at the addresses on file for him or at the west side Chicago bank where he is chairman.”
LOVE-HATE THE DEEP STATE? PREPARE TO HATE THE PARALLEL STATE!
The Moscow Times reports, “When confronted with evidence of Russian citizens fighting with the Syrians or against Ukrainians or trolling American voters ahead of an election Russia’s official response is: those are private citizens, they have no military rank, they are traveling at their own risk, they are enthusiastic about what they do.” The Moscow Times adds something Putin “actually considers important: There is a legal boundary between an official government project and a private effort, whatever the connection between two.” The Moscow Times notes, “Russia’s projects that engage non-state actors are highly visible and politically important,” therefore, “an indication that the Kremlin’s private-public partnership is not a bug but a feature. Moscow has been consistently deploying non-state groups not only to avoid bureaucratic procedures and accountability that the state, even in Russia, provides for, but also to create plausible deniability.”
From The Moscow Times.
MEET THE MERCENARIES!
BBC News reports, “Russian mercenaries are reported to be in the thick of the fighting in Syria, helping President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. One shadowy group in particular, called Wagner PMC (Private Military Company), hit the headlines because of a clash on 7 February that resulted in dozens of Russian casualties.” BBC News adds, “In June 2017 the US Treasury added Wagner PMC to a long list of Russian individuals and entities subject to sanctions because of their involvement in the Ukraine conflict.” In addition, “The US also identified Dmitry Utkin as Wagner’s ‘founder and leader’ and placed him on the list.” According to Russian media reports cited by the BBC, “Utkin earlier served in a special forces brigade of Russian military intelligence, the GRU. Then in 2013 he went to Syria with a group of fighters recruited by a company called ‘Slav Corps’.” Security sources quoted by Russia’s RBC News said, “The GRU secretly oversees Wagner”. BBC News reports, “Wagner is estimated to have as many as 2,500 men in Syria. Its officers serving in Syria are reported to earn up to 300,000 roubles (£3,800; $5,300) a month.” Strategically for Russia, “The mercenaries can be deployed in especially tough ground fighting alongside Syrian government troops. And as the Russian government does not officially recognise the mercenaries’ existence it can deny or play down any Russian casualties,” BBC News notes. RBC reported, “when Russia helped Assad forces to recapture Palmyra it was the Wagner men who went in first,” and ex-officer with the firm told the publication, “First Wagner’s guys go to work, then the Russian ground units come in, and then the Arabs and the cameras”. BBC News notes it ties to our current saga involving the traitor trash in the White House as, “Wagner is believed to be funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rich businessman close to President Vladimir Putin. Mr Prigozhin is on the US sanctions list because of his links to the eastern Ukraine separatists. In December 2016 the US Treasury said Mr Prigozhin had ‘extensive business dealings’ with the Russian defence ministry and was linked to the construction of a new military base near Ukraine.” Citing a report in The Washington Post last week, BBC News notes, “Mr Prigozhin was in close contact with the Kremlin in the run-up to the assault on the Syrian Democratic Forces base in Deir al-Zour region,” the February 7 incident. The Washington Post report stated, “intercepted communications showed that Mr Prigozhin was also involved in the operational planning with Syrian officials, ahead of the attack.” And, “The US government links him directly to Russian interference in US politics and the 2016 presidential election.” BBC adds, “On 16 February US federal prosecutors indicted 13 Russians, including Mr Prigozhin, accusing them of ‘fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes’.”
From BBC News.
RUSAL SHOOT OUT LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF THE NINETIES
Bloomberg reports, “United Co. Rusal is readying for a potential shoot out deal for MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC that could resolve a dispute between billionaire shareholders going back to the last decade. Rusal released a statement on Friday laying out certain steps it could take in the event of a shoot out, a type of forced auction in which the losing bidder must sell his stake to the winner. The Russian aluminum maker controlled by Oleg Deripaska is embroiled in a legal fight with Vladimir Potanin’s Interros Holding Co. over a potential sale of shares in Norilsk Nickel.” Deripaska was just featured in a video by Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny that tied him to a Kremlin aide, Sergey Prikhodko, and an escort on a yacht off the coast of Norway one month after it was reported then Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort offered to brief him on the 2016 election. Call this punishment as Deripaska used to control Rusal but abdicated his steel throne last week.
REVISITING MUNICH IN RUSSIAN: LEARNING ABOUT MASKIROVKA
Foreign Policy reports, “just because we don’t know that many poleznye— useful — Russian words doesn’t mean they’re not out there”. Foreign Policy notes, “Last weekend at the Munich Security Conference, H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s now-embattled national security advisor, dropped a heavy-duty cluster of Cyrillic syllables. Referring to the concerted and ongoing Kremlin campaign to influence the American electorate through information warfare, he called it an example of ‘modern-day maskirovka.’” Foreign Policy continues, “Russophone listeners on the ground in Bavaria would have known what McMaster was talking about — particularly Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who scornfully dismissed charges of Russian interference as ‘blabber.’” Foreign Policy adds, “When Lavrov dismissed those charges as ‘blabber’ (different publications variously translated that colorful word, trepotney, as ‘blather’ or ‘claptrap’), he was participating in a form of maskirovka himself by indulging in a time-honored, dust-in-their-eyes Russian tradition known as vranyo. The word vranyo is arguably better known in Western circles than maskirovka. You could say vranyo means ‘lies,’” which, “David Shipler, the longtime Moscow correspondent for the New York Times,” defines as a Russian friend had, “‘You know I’m lying, and I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know, but I go ahead with a straight face, and you nod seriously and take notes.’” Foreign Policy goes in for the clean kill: “In the United States since 2017, spokespeople for Trump — from Kellyanne Conway (who coined the phrase ‘alternative facts’ on Jan. 22, 2017, as she defended the president’s lies about his inauguration attendance) to Sean Spicer to Sarah Huckabee Sanders — have energetically adopted the policy of vranyo. The list of Trump-era American exponents of vranyo could go on for pages, headed by the president himself, who continues, like Lavrov and like the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, to deride Russian interference as a ‘hoax’ — or, as Kislyak put it, ‘fantasies’ — despite a mountain of persuasive evidence to the contrary.” Foreign Policy points to one big historical victory of the technique at Stalingrad as, “Multifront maskirovka allowed Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s Red Army to destroy the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in 1942 and 1943 by building false airfields and phony bridges to draw German fire (the Soviets staffed the locations with dummy soldiers to confuse reconnaissance), hiding heavy equipment with tarps, disguising an ammunition supply point as a farm village, making tanks look like hay carts, and disseminating fake news by radio, sometimes imitating German channels.” And of course it was used to profound effect and everlasting consequence on American democracy to keep Hillary from the White House.
From Foreign Policy.
DOCTORED IMAGES IN RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA BEAT BIG TECH FILTERS
The Wall Street Journal reports, “This use of doctored images was a crucial and deceptively simple technique used by Russian propagandists to spread fabricated information during the 2016 election, one that exposes a loophole in tech company defenses.” The Wall Street Journal adds, “Algorithms designed by big technology companies are years away from being able to accurately interpret the content of many images and detect indications they might have been distorted or taken out of context. Facebook says detecting even text-based content that violates its standards is still too difficult to automate exclusively. Facebook and Google continue to rely heavily on users to flag posts that contain potentially false information.” The Wall Street Journal notes, “Users, meanwhile, are less likely to doubt the legitimacy of images, making distorted pictures unusually effective weapons in misinformation campaigns”.
From The Wall Street Journal.
PETERSBURG IN PALO ALTO
BuzzFeed reports, “A former manager of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian ‘troll factory’ and propaganda operation accused of meddling in the 2016 election, has lived in the United States for the past two and a half months, according to a Russian news outlet,” TV Rain. BuzzFeed adds, “Agata Burdonova, 31, was an English-language specialist who worked as a manager at the IRA, according to TV Rain, an independent Russian news agency that has broken a number of stories about the IRA. She moved to Bellevue, Washington, on Dec. 7, and has thoroughly documented her move on her social media accounts.” However, BuzzFeed notes, “TV Rain said she denied that she had worked for the IRA and refused to comment on her move to the United States,” adding, “Burdonova is not among the 13 Russians that the Department of Justice’s special counsel has accused of violating a series of US laws in connection to the 2016 election.” BuzzFeed adds, “Her former coworkers told TV Rain that Burdonova worked under Katarina Aistova, who was interviewed by the New York Times about the IRA in 2015 before she became the head of its media department. Burdonova posted a picture of herself with Aistova on Facebook and on VK and said she’d had a farewell party as she prepared to fly to the other side of the world.” Adrian Chen, who first wrote about IRA for American media in 2015 for The New York Times Magazine wrote on Twitter Aistova is “the Internet Research Agency employee who set me up with a neo-Nazi when I was reporting this article.”
—–RADIO MOSCOW: STORIES FROM THEIR PRESS AND OURS—–
ESTONIA CELEBRATES ITS CENTENNIAL
The AP reports, “Estonia is celebrating the centenary of its independence declaration with festivities and a military parade. The celebrations on Saturday started with Estonia’s blue, black, and white flag being hoisted atop the same downtown Tallinn tower it was flown from in 1918.” The AP recalls, “Like its Baltic neighbors, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire and briefly Soviet Russia before it declared independence 100 years ago. The small country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and by Germany for three years during World War II.”
From the AP.
HAPPY DAY OF THE FATHERLAND’S DEFENDER?
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports Friday was “Day of the Fatherland’s Defender, which also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Red Army.” Joy! Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes, “The Red Army, established by the Bolsheviks in 1918, became the Soviet Army in 1946, after the end of World War II.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds, “During Soviet times, February 23 used to be called the Day of the Soviet Army and Navy, and was renamed Day of the Fatherland’s Defender in 2002, more than 10 years after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. In a solemn ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid flowers on the grave of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin.” Of note, “Communists and other leftist organizations marched in downtown Moscow to mark the occasion.”
OLYMPIC ATHLETES FROM RUSSIA + THEIR FANS AT THE OLYMPICS
The New York Times reports, “169 Olympic Athletes From Russia, as they are officially known, arrived in South Korea for the Pyeongchang Games. After the scandal over Russia’s state-controlled doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games, it seemed as if there would be no athletes from that country at all. Watching them over the past two weeks has been to witness strange things. The letters OAR replaced RUS on outfits and uniforms as if some newly born nation were competing.” That’s sweet. It must have been degrading when “The Olympic flag has been shown next to the athletes’ names on television and also raised at medal ceremonies”. And it was “Not until Day 14, with the victory of Alina Zagitova in the women’s figure skating, did Russia claim its first gold medal.” Nonetheless Russian fans “have been particularly visible at the hockey games, where cheerleaders have whirled pom-poms and they have belted out Russian folk songs,” but who knows if they are fans or KGB really. Then there was also “the country’s Sports House (it was prohibited from calling it Russia House), near the cluster of venues in coastal Gangneung. Gigantic Matryoshkas adorn the walls, Russian pop karaoke pumps up the atmosphere and fans gather to watch games on a giant screen,” The New York Times notes. Check out the wonderful photos by James Hill, who also provided the text.
From The New York Times.
CRAZY COCAINE STORY OUT OF THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN ARGENTINA
The New York Times reports, “A former Russian diplomatic worker and an Argentine police officer were among six people arrested on Thursday after a 14-month investigation triggered by the discovery of hundreds of pounds of cocaine at the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires.” For once, the crazy in the Americas is not emanating from the orange one in Washington or Mar-a-Lago! The New York Times adds, “the seizure of 389 kilograms of cocaine, more than 850 pounds, was made at a school on the grounds of the embassy in December 2016, leading to an investigation by Argentine border guards, the Buenos Aires police and the Russian Interior Ministry. The cocaine, she said, was valued at more than $60 million.” The New York Times notes, “The Russian ambassador to Argentina, Víktor Koronelli, and three members of Russia’s Federal Security Service alerted [Argentina’s Minister of Security] Ms. Bullrich on Dec. 13, 2016, to what they thought were 16 pieces of luggage filled with drugs.” The New York Times reports, “The other members of the trafficking ring included an unidentified person, whom Ms. Bullrich referred to as ‘Mr. K.’ This person, who supplied the drugs to an embassy contact for shipping to Russia, remains at large in Germany, where there is an international order for his arrest”. Of note, “Mr. K’s contact at the embassy was Ali Abyanov, a former embassy official who was detained at his apartment in Moscow on Thursday”. The New York Times reports, “Mr. Abyanov, who has left his diplomatic post, helped plan the shipment with the aid of two Russian-Argentine citizens, she added. One of them was Iván Blizniouk, a Buenos Aires City police officer who provided the contacts to get the shipment through Argentine customs.”
From The New York Times.
RESISTANCE ADVICE: REMIND THEM THEY ARE KNOCKING FROM BELOW
Haaretz reports, “Mona Charen, one of the founders of the ‘Never Trump’ movement, made headlines at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday night when she went off-script and openly criticized the Republican Party’s approach to sexual [sic] harrasment.” Haaretz notes, “During a panel discussion called ‘#UsToo: Left out by the Left,’ National Review writer Charen was asked ‘what fires her up the most’ about the left’s treatment of women. Her response elicited boos from the audience when she said, ‘I’m actually going to twist this around a bit and say that I’m disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women.’” Oh why was she even invited? So they could have their two minutes of hate within the larger festival of hate? Haaretz adds, “‘This was a party that was ready to endorse Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester,’ Charen continued, as women in the audience could be heard shouting ‘Not true!’” as if it were not in fact so very true. Haaretz continues, “Charen’s words angered so many in the crowd that, according to Politico’s Tim Alberta, three security guards had to escort Charen out of the conference hall for her own protection once the panel concluded.” That tent has ballooned to the size of a mob of intolerant demagogues threatening physical violence who pledge allegiance to a violent and irrational leader. That is what is known as a death cult. On Sunday in The New York Times, “Charen wrote of her appearance, ‘It must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.’” Courage! Taking a cue from Michelle Obama, “While Charen never mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump by name, she landed a powerful attack on him only a day after Trump addressed the same crowd.”
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