I blogged earlier about Adam Davidson’s revelations in The New Yorker concerning Trump’s partnering with the organized-crime Mammadov family in a Trump Hotel project in Azerbaijan. See Evidence Trump Violated The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As I’ve noted elsewhere (See Donald Trump and Organized Crime), Trump has made of business of working shoulder to shoulder with organized-crime . His mentor was the red-baiting lawyer for Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, who also represented New York crime families before being ultimately disbarred. There’s every reason to believe Trump has sought out the business opportunities in these seedy environments and highly unlikely that his involvement with the Mammadovs was undertaken naively. Even were that the case, however, federal law now requires that such partnerships only be entered into after “due diligence” to ensure the absence of criminal ties. It is thus puzzling that Davidson’s report has received so little mainstream attention. The heart of that matter is that Trump, violated federal law by partnering in a business in which he received money obtained by corrupt practices – a violation for which other businessmen are now in jail.
Now Davidson has followed up in The New Yorker on his initial report in SENATORS ASK FOR AN INVESTIGATION INTO TRUMP DEALINGS IN AZERBAIJAN. Here’s Davidson, “The ranking Democratic members of the Senate’s Foreign Relations, Banking, and Judiciary committees have written a joint letter to several Trump Administration officials asking them to address the possibility that the Trump Organization violated several laws in its dealings in Azerbaijan. ” He continues, “The letter, by Senators Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, Dianne Feinstein, of California, and Ben Cardin, of Maryland, was sent to the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the F.B.I. director, James Comey. The senators wrote, ‘It appears that the lack of due diligence by the Trump Organization described in the article exposed President Trump and his organization to notoriously corrupt Azerbaijani oligarchs, and may also have exposed the Trump Organization to the IRGC’—the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. ‘Even though the Trump Organization appears to have withdrawn from the Baku Tower deal, serious questions remain unanswered about the Trump Organization’s potential criminal liability.'”
Trump’s attorney denies that Trump faces any criminal exposure and the controlling Republicans have yet to respond. But here is what is interesting. If you read Davidson, the prima facie case of a violation of The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act looks strong and the details of the transactions would be available for investigation. Unlike the issues involving Russian collusion over the hacking and efforts to undermine the election, the Azerbaijan case has a paper trail to investigate. Trump can be asked to show that he undertook required due diligence. The money trails can be followed. The case for impeachment based on collusion is growing by the day and Trump is flagrantly violating conflict of interest rules and the Emoluments Clause in public view. And now, here is a case that shows verifiable entanglement with organized crime and which cannot be fogged away. Failure to follow up and investigate would be another crime.
Jackie and I have belatedly discovered Mozart in the Jungle, a TV series set in the milieu of the New York Symphony. Through six episodes, it has been a witty delight, a play on all the passions, egos, frailties, and ambitions that make us human. Also an insight into the lives of artists in the big city and the pressures and pathos of making it. Throw in sex, music, great acting, great writing, and stir – here’s hoping, ever the optimist, that they can keep it up. And if you like Jungle, don’t miss the 2003 Canadian series Slings and Arrows with Paul Gross. Slings and Arrows uses a similar conceit; it revolves around a struggling Shakespearean theatre, not unlike Jungle, but substitute Shakespeare for Mozart. Shakespeare? Mozart? Which do you prefer? Great acting – great music. I’ll take one of each and the Billy Holiday on the side.
Which brings me to Trump. The philistines are not just at the gate, they have stormed and taken the castle. Trump is all about War, and Walls, and gratifying his swelled sense of entitlement. Virtually all that is good about our government – be it support for education, or healthcare, science or the arts – is on the chopping block. His sense of attainment is Scrooge McDuck wallowing in his bank vault. No one is going to throw him out unless we make it happen. No time like the present.
Yesterday Trump issued orders of idiotic proportions rolling back Obama era rules that protect the environment. See Coral Davenport’s report in The New York Times, “Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies.” The orders reflect the clearest indication yet that Trump will carry through on his promise to scrap efforts against global warming. Davenport notes: “analysts say Mr. Trump’s order signals that the United States will not meet its pledges under the Paris deal to cut its emissions about 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. ‘Meeting the U.S. terms of the Paris Agreement would require full enforcement of the current regulations, plus additional regulations,’ said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University. ‘It takes a comprehensive effort involving every country doing what they committed to and more.’”
Damian Carrington in Mother Jones, in “Basically, the Arctic Is Melting, the World Has Gone Crazy, and It’s All Our Fault“, provides a dramatic review of what is going on. Carrington describes how global warming is leading to significant increases in extreme weather events. For example, scientists have found that global warming leads to conditions favoring stalled weather systems under which a given system – drought, or rain – can remain stationary for long periods.
The article notes: “‘Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity,’ said Michael Mann, a professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US who led the study published in the journalScientific Reports.
Kai Kornhuber, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, and another member of the research team, said: ‘We looked into dozens of different climate models, as well as into observational data, and it turns out that the temperature distribution favoring planetary wave stalling increased in almost 70 percent of the simulations.’
Large scale wind patterns are largely driven by the temperature difference between the poles and the tropics. But global warming is altering this difference because the Arctic is heating up faster than lower latitudes and because land areas are heating up faster than the oceans.
Recent changes in the Arctic are particularly striking, with record low levels of ice cover and extremely unusual high temperatures. ‘Things in the Arctic are happening much faster than we expected,’ said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, also at PIK.
‘It is not just a problem of nature conservation or polar bears, it is about a threat to human society that comes from these rapid changes,’ he said. ‘This is because it hits us with increasing extreme events in the highly populated centers in the mid-latitudes. It also affects us through sea level rise, which is hitting shores globally. So these changes that are going on in the Arctic should concern everyone.’
So, while you are contemplating the ever mounting evidence that Trump colluded with Russian operatives to steal the 2016 election, consider the undeniable fact that he is actively leading the fight to increase carbon emissions and bring about climatic disaster.
The proper role of government is to protect and ensure the welfare of the people.
A government is most likely to carry out the interests, and thus welfare, of the people if it reflects the will of the majority – that is to say, if it is democratic.
Our existing government reflects the interests of a rich oligarchy. Its electoral process has been corrupted by the influence of money and has led to a dangerous level of income inequality. Our government protects and benefits the rich rather than the population at large.
Our government should therefore be reformed.
The following principles would ensure a public-interested democracy ;
Campaign finance reform. Private money in elections should be strictly limited. The precise mechanism is less important than the principle. A reasonable approach would be to provide a set amount of public financing to the top four parties in the prior election and limit private donations to $200 per individual per candidate. Corporate money should be prohibited.
Prohibit gerrymandering. In this computer age, gerrymandering – the creation of safe electoral districts – is highly effective in removing accountability. Accountability is the life blood of democracy. Therefore independent commissions should oversee reapportionment of all electoral districts, using advanced computer algorithms to maximize competitiveness.
Prohibit regressive systems of taxation. Government policies must not act to increase income inequality.
Guarantee universal health care. The point of government is the welfare of the people. What could be more central than protecting health?
Guarantee public education through four years of college or the equivalent. Education is necessary to the welfare of both the individual and the society.
Restore the Fairness Doctrine for mainstream broadcasting. Our system of government has been distorted by the twenty-four hour propaganda of media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart which, for ideological purposes, spew a steady stream of false and malicious news. An independent, nonpartisan, commission should review mainstream broadcasts. Intentional broadcasting of political slurs without evidence – such as the Obama birthing movement – should lead to fines or loss of license.
Require adherence to environmental principles of sustainability. Protection of the environment is a necessary precondition to protection of public welfare.
Adopt a parliamentary system of governance similar to those used in Western Europe. The current American system has led to dangerous gridlock when control of Congress and the Executive have been split, while failing to provide useful checks on power when both are controlled by the same party. Its weakness is especially visible at this moment when there is no effective system to limit the authoritarian practices of Mr. Trump, or to remove him without an impeachment requiring proof of crimes or misdemeanors. Importantly, parliamentary systems allow removal of the executive by a vote of “no confidence”. The term of any particular government without election should be limited, perhaps to four years, to ensure accountability to the public.
When Richard Nixon was investigated for his role in Watergate, the underlying story was relatively straight-forward. A group of Republican operatives was caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex. The gist of the investigation was whether Nixon was somehow involved. Basically, there was one act and an ensuing cover up. No one got confused trying to understand which particular malfeasance was being talked about.
Trumpgate is much more complex because the actions that are being unveiled are substantially more wide ranging. Here’s my list for keeping track:
The Trump-Russia Scandal: US intelligence has confirmed that Russian operatives actively undermined the integrity of the 2016 election, among other acts releasing hacked emails and misinformation intended to damage the Clinton campaign. Numerous Trump aides were in contact with Russian officials during this period and many of the contacts were initially denied. Several theories have arisen as to what was going on, including the possibility of direct collusion between Trump and Putin to swing the election, the possibility of an oil deal underlying such cooperation, and the possibility that Trump was compromised by Russian intelligence.
See also Seth Abramson’s Twitter threads. Following these threads is a bit more work – Abramson hasn’t yet collected it together, or if he has I didn’t find it. Still, the threads are compelling and raise questions concerning whether a deal for oil was cut at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, and concerning the Christopher Steele dossier.
Here’s Abramson’s lead: “Information presently public and available confirms that Erik Prince, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump conspired to intimidate FBI Director James Comey into interfering in, and thus directly affecting, the 2016 presidential election. This conspiracy was made possible with the assistance of officers in the New York Police Department and agents within the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All of the major actors in the conspiracy have already confessed to its particulars either in word or in deed; moreover, all of the major actors have publicly exhibited consciousness of guilt after the fact. This assessment has already been the subject of articles in news outlets on both sides of the political spectrum, but has not yet received substantial investigation by major media.”
Read Abramson for the underlying allegations. I found the information concerning Erik Prince new and interesting. Abramson notes that “Erik Prince—the founder of Blackwater private security, one of Trump’s biggest donors, a conspiracy theorist who’d previously accused Huma Abedin of being a terrorist in the employ of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a man who blamed Clinton family friend and former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta for outing him as a CIA asset in 2009″ was actively involved in the Clinton disinformation campaign. Prince, it turns out, is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother. Consider this excerpt: “It seems clear that Giuliani, who was the top surrogate for the Trump campaign and in near-daily contact with the candidate, acted under orders from Trump, and that Prince either acted under orders from Trump or Steve Bannon—well-known to Prince from their mutual association with, and financial investment in, Breitbart and its ownership, including Robert Mercer—and, moreover, that all those associated with the conspiracy were subsequently rewarded. Erik Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, was named Education Secretary by Trump, despite having no experience for the job other than advocating sporadically for charter schools in Michigan. Prince himself was named a shadow adviser to Trump, even though, by November 8th, the fact that his statements to Breitbart had been part of a domestic disinformation campaign was clear. Prince is so close to Trump that he appears to have been present at the election-night returns-watching party to which Trump invited only close friends and associates…”
Violation of The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Third, while the questions of Trump’s collusion with Russia and manipulation of the FBI seem to be the most visible areas of investigation, Adam Davidson in The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal”, presents a strong case that Trump violated The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by partnering with organized crime in a Trump hotel project in Azerbaijan. I am puzzled that Davidson’s piece has gained so little traction in Congress, given that proof could be reasonably obtained through available paper and money trails.
Violation of the Emoluments Clause. Even more puzzling is the failure of Congressional members to pursue Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clause, given that Trump is profiting from a world-wide web of business ventures that create an inevitable tangle of conflicts of interest. Trump, in public view, benefits every time a foreign entity contracts with a Trump facility. There was a brief flurry of headlines when China granted Trump valuable patents. It is difficult to construct an innocent explanation for the Republican leadership ignoring such a direct and visible Constitutional challenge.
“Quietly, while Americans have been focused on the ongoing drama over repealing the Affordable Care Act and the new revelations about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, President Trump has been busy dramatically expanding the American troop presence inside Syria. And virtually no one in Washington has noticed. Americans have a right to know what Trump is planning and whether this will lead to an Iraq-style occupation of Syria for years to come Without any official notification, Trump sent 500 new American troops into Syria, ostensibly to take part in the upcoming assault on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. News reports suggest this deployment may just be the tip of the iceberg, with some saying that the plan is for hundreds more American troops to be added to the fight in the coming weeks. No one actually knows how many troops are inside Syria now, because the administration has largely tried to keep the build-up a secret.”
And yesterday, The Washington Post ran this article by Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris, “U.S. military acknowledges strike on Mosul site where more than 100 were allegedly killed‘” This is The Post lead: “The U.S. military acknowledged for the first time Saturday that it launched an airstrike against the Islamic State in the densely packed Iraqi city of Mosul, where residents say more than 100 people were killed in a single event. If confirmed, the March 17 incident would mark the greatest loss of civilian life since the United States began strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in 2014.”
We don’t need to be rocket scientists to read between the lines. Trump wants to escalate the conflict in Syria and he is not going to wait to develop consensus, or consult allies, or, for that matter, consider consequences. His Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon wants a war. Trump needs a war to distract from his collusion with Russia and his legislative healthcare disaster. As Chris Murphy warns, we are being brought deeper into war, willy-nilly, and with not a whisper to the press – “the enemy of the people”.
In that context, take a look at Abby Martin’s excellent new podcast on Steve Bannon. I’ve suggested in previous blogs that Bannon is an existential threat, not just to us but to all humanity. See Who are Bannon and Trump, McCarthy, Evola, and The Camp of the Saints, and Darth Bannon. Bannon is fascinated by war. He has publicly proclaimed that we are at war with Islam and will be at war with China in five years. He is a primary architect of Trump’s Muslim ban. He wishes to deconstruct our government – that is to say remove the social safety nets, the regulatory system that protects stability in the the economy, and the environmental protections that are necessary to protect the planet. He is also the vehicle of right-wingnut billionaire Robert Mercer, who is brilliantly exposed by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, in The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind The Trump Presidency. What Abby Martin does that you haven’t seen is given depth to who Bannon really is.
With Trump and Bannon at the helm, with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell leading Congress, our country is in serious peril. In the near term, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and thousands more of our own young men may die in Syria and Iraq for no clear or considered policy. Worse still, Bannon puppet-master Robert Mercer is a “nuclear power” enthusiast who proclaimed that those outside the blast-zone at Hiroshima and Nagasaki received “health benefits”. Not kidding. See Jane Mayer’s article cited above. Defeating the foolish right-wing effort to repeal Obamacare is not nearly enough. We need to force an investigation and impeachment of Trump now.
Today, I’d like to cite Michael Tomasky’s article in the April 6 New York Review of Books, “Trump: The Scramble”. Tomasky does perhaps the best job yet in describing the dynamics of Republican complicity with the non-ideological Trump. Here’s an excerpt from his analysis of Mitch McConnell: “McConnell is one thing. He has no policy commitments, beyond his hope that all campaign finance regulation might someday be wiped off the books. He just wants the power of his majority, and if it’s Trump who happens to be the facilitator and guarantor of that power, fine by him.”
And, by contrast, Tomasky on Paul Ryan: “Ryan is another matter, indeed the opposite: he has many policy commitments. You might think that would give him reason to take stands against Trump, but in fact it is precisely his policy commitments that keep him tethered to Trump. Ryan wants to dismantle the welfare state. So the devil’s bargain he has made, and this is true of many congressional Republicans, is that they will support Trump, let him deport Muslims and crack down on undocumented Latinos, let him depart from party orthodoxy on trade, let him pursue risky and maybe even sinister policies with Vladimir Putin, turn a collective blind eye to the manifold ways in which he dishonors the office, as long as the president signs whatever legislation they bring to his desk that rips the bricks out of the wall of the liberal state. They will hope in the meantime that he doesn’t start World War III or hand state secrets to the Russian FSB.”
This is all good stuff. Read Tomasky. Read them all. The journalists are back. I’m hoping they bring Trump and his cronies down.
While Trump drags us into domestic turmoil, taking potshots at access to health care, Meals on Wheels, and “fake news”, nominating cabinet officers who will dismantle their departments and a Supreme Court nominee beholden to the rich, he has succeeded above all in one particular. He has driven coverage of the refugee crisis from the media front page. Yet, even now, the crisis continues to escalate, swamping the resources of aid organizations and European states. The Trump response has been to delay existing efforts to resettle any refugees in the United States, bar entry of any refugees from six Muslim countries, and slash our country’s budget for aid and assistance. Nicholas Kristoff’s op-ed in the Sunday New York Times addresses this national scandal: “‘That Food Saved My Life,’ and Trump Wants to Cut It Off“.
Here’s part of Kristoff’s intro:
“’We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,’ warned Stephen O’Brien, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief. ‘Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.’
How is Trump responding to this crisis? By slashing humanitarian aid, increasing the risk that people starve in the four countries — Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. The result is a perfect storm: Millions of children tumbling toward famine just as America abdicates leadership and cuts assistance.”
“It’s important to note that ‘all of these crises are fundamentally man-made, driven by conflict,’ as Neal Keny-Guyer, C.E.O. of Mercy Corps, put it. And the U.S. bears some responsibility.
In particular, the catastrophe in Yemen — the country with the greatest number of people at risk of famine — should be an international scandal. A Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, has imposed a blockade on Yemen that has left two-thirds of the population in need of assistance. In Yemen, ‘to starve’ is transitive.
The suffering there gets little attention, partly because Saudi Arabia mostly keeps reporters from getting to areas subject to its blockade.”
“Likewise,” says Kristoff, “the government in South Sudan this month denied me a visa; it doesn’t want witnesses to its famine.”
Please take a look at Kristoff’s column in full. It is on point, articulate, and an improvement on anything I paraphrase. I’ll just add my two cents in this: First – the neglect by Trump of our humanitarian obligations, both at home and abroad, is a national disgrace that has and will continue to sully the reputation of this country. There’s no excuse for our failure to address this unnecessary human suffering. Secondly – even pragmatically, Trump is destabilizing such order as remains in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The world is suffering from ever growing populations of millions of desperate people, populations whom Trump visibly disdains and on whom he turns his back. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that what goes around comes around.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who resigned in disgrace after lying about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn is well described by Nicholas Schmidle’s New Yorker article, “Michael Flynn, General Chaos.” Read the Schmidle article for its insights on Trump’s attraction to a right-wing nutcase and Islamaphobe.
Former advisor to the Trump campaign on foreign policy, Carter Page. What you need to know about Page is in the Washington Post article by Julie Pace, “Ex-Trump adviser Carter Page at center of Russia storm“. Like Manafort, Page left the Trump campaign when his Russian connections became too visible.
And Trump himself? How Trump does business, and with whom, is set out in an article in The New Yorker by Adam Davidson, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal“, which presents substantial evidence that Trump, himself, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in partnering with the Mammadov family in investments in a Trump Hotel project in Baku, Azerbaijan.
In July 2016, Trump said the following at a Florida news conference: “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” See “Trump urges Russia to hack Clinton’s email” by Michael Crowley and Tyler Pager in Politico. As I have previously noted, that comment by Trump was more than a tease; it showed an awareness of the ongoing Russian hacking campaign.
As Haberman notes, Trump long-time friend and associate Roger Stone did the same thing, showing advanced awareness of the hacking of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Writes Haberman, “Mr. Stone, 64, is the best known of the Trump associates under scrutiny as part of an F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference in the election. John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman whose hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks, accused him in October of having advance warning of the hacks, which the intelligence community has concluded were orchestrated by Russia. ‘Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel,’ Mr. Stone had mused on Twitter before Mr. Podesta’s emails were released.”
The following from Haberman is all that is needed to understand what is going on: “Mr. Stone… met Mr. Trump through their mutual mentor, the McCarthy-era fixer and lawyer Roy M. Cohn. Mr. Stone learned from Mr. Cohn that all press is good press, and to hit back, hard and often, and he is doing just that.” I’ve focused on the Trump – Cohn connection in several blogs, most recently in Donald Trump and Organized Crime. For someone mentored by Cohn, nothing is unthinkable – even Treason with Russians. But there is more, a further Haberman kicker showing a genesis of the Russian links:
“[Stone] got his real start in national politics with the Reagan campaign in 1979, and was once partner in a white-shoe lobbying firm in Washington, alongside his old friend, Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman and has also been under scrutiny for his ties to Russia.” Manafort is also under investigation for his actions in the Ukraine. See this article on Manafort in Politico, by Kenneth P. Vogel, Josh Meyer, and David Stern: “Manafort sought for questioning – in D.C. and Kiev.” An excerpt (but be sure to read the link for all the allegations against Manafort!):
“Another revelation about Manafort’s work in Ukraine surfaced Monday night, when The New York Times reported on documents that it said appeared to show that the Party of Regions tried to hide a $750,000 payment to Manafort by funneling it through an offshore account and disguising it as a payment for 501 computers.
A Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, who has alleged that Manafort was paid millions of dollars illegally by the Party of Regions, released the documents to the Times, and announced a Tuesday news conference in Kiev ostensibly to highlight them. Before the Times story posted, Leshchenko wrote on Twitter that the documents would reveal ‘how Manafort legalized money paid by ousted President Yanukovych.'”
The pressure in the pressure cooker is building. Stay tuned.