Sunday, January 7, 2018

Today's Links

1-- Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role

The Baltimore-area buildings in which Menora invested were the subject of an article by a ProPublica reporter in the The New York Times Magazine last year that documented the poor living conditions and aggressive tactics used by Kushner Companies, including garnishing the bank accounts of low-income tenants and turning off heat and hot water....

Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Mr. Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.
The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Kushner’s firm. While Mr. Kushner has sold parts of his business since taking a White House job last year, he still has stakes in most of the family empire — including the apartment buildings in and around Baltimore.
The Menora transaction is the latest financial arrangement that has surfaced between Mr. Kushner’s family business and Israeli partners, including one of the country’s wealthiest families and a large Israeli bank that is the subject of a United States criminal investigation.
The business dealings don’t appear to violate federal ethics laws, which only require Mr. Kushner to recuse himself from narrow government decisions that would have a “direct and predictable effect” on his financial interests. And no evidence has emerged that Mr. Kushner was personally involved in brokering the deal....

In April, The Times reported that the Kushners had teamed up with at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey. The family’s best-known member, Beny Steinmetz, is the subject of a United States Justice Department bribery investigation. Mr. Steinmetz has denied any wrongdoing....

And the Kushner family’s foundation continues to donate money to a settlement group in the West Bank.

Mr. Kushner’s close relationship with Israeli officials has even come up in the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Michael T. Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser, spoke with the Russian ambassador ahead of a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s building of settlements in late 2016, according to court documents filed by Mr. Mueller’s office. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had asked the Trump transition team to lobby other countries to help Israel, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

A “very senior member” of the presidential transition team directed Mr. Flynn to discuss the resolution, the court documents said. Mr. Trump’s lawyers believe that unnamed aide was Mr. Kushner, according to a lawyer briefed on the matter.
And the Kushner family’s foundation continues to donate money to a settlement group in the West Bank.
Mr. Kushner’s close relationship with Israeli officials has even come up in the investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Michael T. Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser, spoke with the Russian ambassador ahead of a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s building of settlements in late 2016, according to court documents filed by Mr. Mueller’s office. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had asked the Trump transition team to lobby other countries to help Israel, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

A “very senior member” of the presidential transition team directed Mr. Flynn to discuss the resolution, the court documents said. Mr. Trump’s lawyers believe that unnamed aide was Mr. Kushner, according to a lawyer briefed on the matter......

2-- It's about time, isn't it? NYT makes the case to talk to North Korea

The intelligence agencies are also intently focused on not missing the next big milestone: the moment North Korea learns how to design and build a warhead that can survive the heat and stresses of re-entry into the atmosphere, continue to plunge downward and succeed in destroying its target....
Dr. Hecker, the former director at Los Alamos, recently argued that North Korea needs “at least two more years and several more missile and nuclear tests” to perfect a weapon that can threaten American cities.

“We are witnessing the persecution of human rights defenders for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief, as well as in retaliation for their work,” the experts said.

3-- Worrying' clampdown on human rights: UN condemns Saudi Arabia

Research by Reprieve has shown that several smaller, serial executions were held in Saudi Arabia last year. About 70% of the 141 executions carried out in 2017 happened after Mohammed bin Salman took over in June, it said....
In a statement on the second anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s last mass execution, of 47 adults, UN human rights experts and groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have decried the latest crackdown on dissent, which began after Prince Mohammed bin Salman became the new crown prince in June.
In a statement, five UN experts condemned a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention” through the Gulf kingdom’s use of counter-terrorism and security laws.

“The government has ignored repeated calls by UN experts and others to halt these violations, rectify them, and prevent their recurrence.”..

“Despite being elected as member of the [UN] Human Rights Council at the end of 2016, Saudi Arabia has continued its practice of silencing, arbitrarily arresting, detaining and persecuting human rights defenders and critics,” the experts said.
The five UN investigators have global mandates on human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, the right to freedom of opinion or expression, freedom of religious belief and protection of human rights while countering terrorism

4--Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama.

Democrats.... elected a President of the United States (Obama) who would see Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq and raise him Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, along with a tenfold increase in drone strikes. Libya collapsed into a failed state where a slave trade now runs rampant, and half a million people died in the Syrian war that Obama and US allies exponentially escalated.
Eight years later, a reality TV star and WWE Hall-of-Famer was elected President of the United States by the other half of the crowd who was sick to death of those warmongering Democrats. Trump campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy, saying America should fight terrorists but not enter into regime change wars with other governments. He thrashed his primary opponents as the only one willing to unequivocally condemn Bush and his actions, then won the general election partly by attacking the interventionist foreign policy of his predecessor and his opponent, and criticizing Hillary Clinton’s hawkish no-fly zone agenda in Syria

Now he’s approved the selling of arms to Ukraine to use against Russia, a dangerously hawkish move that even Obama refused to make for fear of increasing tensions with Moscow. His administration has escalated troop presence in Afghanistan and made it abundantly clear that the Pentagon has no intention of leaving Syria anytime soon despite the absence of any reasonable justification for US presence there. The CIA had ratcheted up operations in Iran months into Trump’s presidency, shortly before the administration began running the exact same script against that country that the Obama administration ran on Libya, Syria and Ukraine....

A year into Trump’s presidency, and not only did the apocalyptic predictions of national genocide fail to come true, he’s not even deporting as many immigrants as Obama. He is, however, out-bombing him.
We were promised another Hitler. Instead, we got another Obama, who was himself another Bush. The march into corporatist Orwellian police state at home and globalist oligarchic hegemony abroad continues unhindered for the United States of America...

They didn’t get a Nazi, they got another shitty neocon. And since the Dems have been paced into alignment with the neocons there’s no one left to oppose their agendas, which is why we’re seeing so little pushback on Trump’s Iran saber rattling....

I get Trump supporters telling me that he’s fighting the deep state, but the only way you can believe that at this point is to redefine “deep state” to mean “Democrats and their supporters”, which would actually just be more partisan bickering, which is all we’re actually seeing at this point. The only people you see pushing the collusion narrative and working for impeachment at this point are Democrats and Never-Trumpers; now that Trump has proven himself a good, compliant little boy the intelligence community has been putting its energy into the anti-detente propaganda effort to manufacture support for its new cold war escalations instead.

(Saying "Hi" to a Russian now makes one a suspect in the Russiagate dragnet)
Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly looking into an interaction between a Russian lawyer and Ivanka Trump surrounding a controversial Trump Tower meeting during the campaign.
While the first daughter and now-White House adviser did not take part in the June 2016 meeting, she exchanged greetings with the Russian attorney and a lobbyist who attended the meeting as they stepped off an elevator, a person familiar with the exchange told the Los Angeles Times
Mueller's team is looking into any interactions the attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, had with President Trump's family members and inner circle, the Times reported 

 The Washington Post wrote that President Trump, who had the best jobs creating year since Bill Clinton, earned high marks with 1.8 million new jobs created. For December, nonfarm payroll jobs rose by 148,000, while private sector employment rose by 250,000; the latter boosted the Dow Jones to close above 25,000 for the first time yesterday.

Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Unemployment is at a near two-decade low. Fourth quarter economic growth pretty much hit four percent. And over 100 companies did what Democrats thought they wouldn’t do: dole out bonuses to their workers. A lot of crow is being eaten by left-wingers, who decided to vote against the American worker, middle class, and economic growth in order to undercut the president. Taxes will go down for 80+ percent of Americans. Oh, and Apple, who has been waiting to repatriate $250+ billion in overseas money, now sees a chance to do so. CEO Tim Cook always thought bringing that money back was good for the country, but added that the current tax rate was just too insane to make a move. Now, with Trump, the door is open. This was a good jobs month. A good jobs year for the Trump administration, and a good economic year for the country. CNBC’s survey that was released prior to Christmas found that for the first time in 11 years, a majority of those polled were optimistic about the economy. 

A key source for that information is the Office of Financial Research (OFR), a Federal agency created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010 to keep key government regulators like the Federal Reserve informed on mounting risks.
On December 5, the OFR released its Annual Report for 2017. It was not nearly as sanguine as Yellen. In fact, it flatly contradicted some of her assertions. The report noted that numerous areas were, literally, flashing red and orange (OFR uses a color-coded warning system) – raising the question as to why Yellen would attempt to downplay those risks to the American people.
Market risk is in the red zone. The report notes the following:
“Market risks from a sharp change in the prices of assets in financial markets are high and rising.
“Rising prices and falling risk premiums may leave some markets vulnerable to big changes. Risk premiums are returns in excess of returns on risk-free investments.
“Such market corrections can trigger financial instability when the assets are held by entities that have excessive leverage and rely on short-term debt and other liabilities.
“Each of our annual reports has highlighted the risk that low volatility in market prices and persistently low interest rates may promote excessive risk-taking by investors and create future vulnerabilities. In 2017, strong earnings growth, steady economic growth, and increased expectations for a U.S. fiscal policy that stimulates economic growth have fueled the rise in asset prices.
“Stock market valuations are at historic highs, according to several metrics.
“Prices are also elevated in bond markets, suppressing yields. Risk premiums for corporate bonds have nearly fallen to the lowest point since the financial crisis. At the same time, long-term interest rates in the United States remain low, despite a long span of steady economic growth, low unemployment, and gradual increases in benchmark interest rates by the Federal Reserve.
“The low rates have increased the risk of loss by bond investors if interest rates rise, but two factors mitigate the potential systemic risk from rising rates. First, investors such as pension funds and insurance companies have long-term liabilities, including pension obligations and life insurance coverage that allow them to tolerate any short-term market losses on bonds. Second, the Federal Reserve has clearly stated its intention to raise interest rates gradually…
“Nonfinancial corporate debt continues to grow, although at a slower pace than in 2016. Measures of firms’ debt-to-assets and debt-to-earnings ratios are red on the monitor heat map.”
Overall credit risks, according to the report, are flashing orange. However, a number of sub-components are flashing red. According to the OFR report:
“Some measures of credit risk have moderated since last year, reflecting crosscurrents of positive and negative developments. Credit risk from debt by nonfinancial corporations remains elevated. Nonfinancial corporate debt continues to grow, although at a slower pace than in 2016. Measures of firms’ debt-to-assets and debt-to-earnings ratios are red on the monitor heat map.

(The so called "Kremlin-linked" attorney who met with Trump Jr was not Kremlin-linked at all. She was representing a big-time Russian embezzler)
The  request also covers a period in which Fusion was paid $523,651 by a law firm for a Russian businessman whose company, Prevezon Holdings, Ltd. settled with the U.S. Justice department for $5.9 million in a money laundering an embezzlement scheme involving high level Russian officials. The Russian's attorney was none other than Natalia Veselnitskaya of Trump Tower meeting fame...
Hours before the Trump Tower meeting, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson met with Veselnitskaya....Fusion GPS was paid $1,024,408 by DNC law firm Perkins Coie, which acted as an intermediary for Hillary Clinton and the DNC, to create the salacious 34 page dossier.

With everyone talking about the Russia story again, fed by Michael Wolff’s bombshell new book on the Trump White House, it must be pointed out that the book documents that a foreign leader not Vladimir Putin pushed one of the Trump administration’s most grievous foreign policy moves, the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the supposed capital of the Jewish people. Benjamin Netanyahu influenced that decision, and so did Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. And they are also pushing Trump to end U.S. policy of opposing the Israeli occupation.
In his new book, Fire and Fury, excerpted in New York Magazine, Wolff reports on a meeting between Trump adviser Steve Bannon and the late Fox News boss Roger Ailes at a dinner party in Greenwich Village a year ago, during the transition after the 2016 election.
Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon” — Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender — “is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”
“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” said an amused Ailes...

Sheldon Adelson– who is very close to Netanyahu and a major player in Israeli politics– has been personally pushing the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty since Camp David threatened to divide Jerusalem, in 2000, and using his wealth to do so. George W. Bush reportedly put Adelson off his agenda at that time by saying that he supported Israel but he couldn’t be more Catholic than the pope.
The vision of the Middle East here is the neoconservative one supported by Israeli rightwingers: Let Jordan absorb Palestinian population areas in the West Bank, or encourage Palestinians to leave Palestine; let Palestinians vote in Jordan.
Adelson’s influence reflects the fact that according to the Wolff book, he was willing to put more money on the possibility of a Trump presidency than Trump himself. Trump, a shrewd businessman, did not believe that he was going to win, and was reluctant to loan the campaign even $10 million, Wolff says. But Adelson is a fervent ideologue, far wealthier than Trump; and he and his wife spent upwards of $25 million on the Trump campaign and inauguration. So no wonder the embassy decision was announced…
No one gives Adelson credit for this influence because such reports would feed the idea that a rightwing militaristic Israel lobby is influencing U.S. policy in the Middle East, a supposed anti-Semitic canard. But that just happens to be true

11--Hmmm? I didn't know that

Benjamin Netanyahu tried to help Mitt Romney beat Obama. Sheldon Adelson held a fundraiser in Jerusalem for Romney.
Netanyahu didn’t stop there. After Romney lost, Netanyahu came to Congress to tell the Congress to reject President Obama’s nuclear deal. That was an unprecedented interference of a foreign leader in our policy-making, enabled by the Israel lobby; but there were never any investigations about that. Subsequently Chuck Schumer said he was torn between a Jewish interest and the American interest, before voting against the president, and he paid no political/reputational price for it; while President Obama said that it would be an “abrogation” of his constitutional duty if he considered Israel’s interest ahead of the U.S.; for which Obama was called an anti-Semite

12-- Economic optimism soars, boosting Trump's approval rating: CNBC survey

NOTES--- Russia lawyer denies any connection to the Kremlin
The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other high-level members of the Trump campaign last summer denied in an interview this week having a connection to the Russian government and possessing “dirt” on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Speaking to NBC News on Tuesday, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya simply replied “nyet” — the Russian word for “no” — when asked if she had any connection to the Russia government or if she possessed damaging information about Clinton
The Kremlin does not know Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya and was not aware of her reported meeting with US President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., which he said occurred during the 2016 election campaign.
“No, we don’t know who [Natalya Veselnitskaya] is, and obviously we can’t track the meetings of all Russian lawyers at home or abroad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
The New York Times was the first to publish reports that Donald Trump Jr., together with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort met with Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016.
The US media said “it is unclear whether the Russian lawyer… actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton.”
A spokesman for Donald Trump's legal team, Mark Corallo, said that the now US president wasn’t present at the meeting with Veselnitskaya and was unaware that such talks took place.
Trump’s campaign statements on the need for better relations with Moscow led to a wave of accusations that he and his team secretly colluded with the Russian authorities to win the US presidential election last year.
READ MORE: CNN’s Van Jones calls Russia ‘nothing burger’ video ‘edited, right-wing propaganda’
The claims, which have not been backed up with any convincing proof, have been repeatedly denied by both the Trump team and Moscow. The US president’s administration is currently under a congressional investigation over alleged collusion with Russia.
Now Veselnitskaya is ready to testify to the Senate. Her only condition is that she receives security guarantees.
“If the Senate wishes to hear the real story, I will be happy to speak up and share everything I wanted to tell Mr. Trump,” she added, referring to the economic crimes that Browder is suspected of in Russia.
"I will share everything I know about this situation when millions came into my country and billions left it – and nobody paid taxes.”
Browder was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for tax evasion. According to the 2013 court verdict, Browder together with Magnitsky failed to pay over 552 million rubles in taxes (about US$16 million).
The businessman was also found guilty of illegally buying shares in the country’s natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, costing Russia at least 3 billion rubles (US$100 million).
The Magnitsky Act is a 2012 law that allows the United States to seize assets from a number of alleged Russian human rights abusers, as well as barring them from entering the country. Russia retaliated by prohibiting American families from adopting Russian children.

Andrew J. Bacevich, in the UK Spectator. Untrue. “In fact, we are now witnessing a dramatic escalation in the militarization of US foreign policy in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan. This has not been announced, but it is happening, and much of it without … any debate in Congress or the media.”

Obama declared that the Afghanistan War was over, but Trump has renewed it. For the past 4 years, Trump made all sorts of strong unambiguous statements against being in this war. He favored hitting the exits and getting out of it. He’s now changed his mind, which seems to be a president’s typical habit concerning war-making. He’s sending many thousands more American soldiers to Afghanistan and into this 16-year old war.

Trump has embraced the concept of a “war on terror”. He’s working from that concept. The results will be as bad as they already have been in the first 16 years of this “war”.

Iran’s public prosecutor has accused the CIA of being behind the recent unrest in Iran. The detail of the accusations is extraordinary. The credibility of his statements needs to be assessed and that requires some preliminary background and context, which follows.
o war in iran, pepe
Trump is not interested in disentangling the United States from foreign conflicts. Instead, he continues and expands them, as well as stoking new crises that could erupt into conflict. Trump is easily persuaded to accept conventional foreign policy positions so long as they are the more aggressive alternatives available. When he does break from consensus views, he does so in a unilateral and nationalist fashion that repudiates diplomatic compromises, rejects the legacy of his predecessor, and panders to some of his core constituencies at home....
Senior members of the Trump administration bizarrely seem to believe they can take military action against North Korea without it escalating into a major war.

EU breaks with US on cuba

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