April 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Michael Cohen and the Busting of the Trump Crime Family (Jonathan Chait, 4/16/18, New York)

The most shocking-but-not-surprising aspect of James Comey's account of meeting Donald Trump is the ease with which he drew upon his experience prosecuting organized crime. Meeting Trump, he told George Stephanopoulos, "I had a flashback to my days investigating the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra." Trump's leadership style eerily tracked that of the mob bosses he had studied. "There's an expression in the Mafia -- there's a distinction between a friend of yours and a friend of ours. A friend of yours is someone on the outside of the family, a friend of ours, an 'amica nostra' is the way they talked about it in Sicilian, is part of the Family, capital F."

It is a pure coincidence, but a revealing one, that Comey's story has come out at the exact same time that Michael Cohen has emerged as a first-tier, and perhaps pivotal, figure in the prosecution of Trumpworld. Cohen has called himself Trump's consigliere and is the most palpably moblike character in Trump's orbit. The severe legal risks he poses to Trump help recenter the story as a mafialike drama that owes as much to The Sopranos and The Americans. Organized crime is somewhere between a metaphor for the ethos that Trump has imposed upon his world and a literal description of the way his business operates. The investigation of Cohen, in particular, will reveal just where along that continuum the truth lies.

One of the ways in which Trump's business closely resembles organized crime is that, because it relies so heavily on morally and legally dubious business ventures, its human-resource strategy de-emphasizes qualifications and relies heavily on loyalty. Or, to put it differently, a person's willingness to engage in, and keep one's mouth shut about, Trump's dubious activities is the most important qualification. This explains why Trump is not known for hiring bright young minds from leading business schools and relies so heavily on his children, as a mafia boss would. It also explains why he retained the legal (or quasi-legal) services of Michael Cohen, a graduate of the worst law school in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Before Trump was anti-Cuba, he wanted to open a hotel in Havana (William M. LeoGrande, 4/16/18, The Conversation)

Relations between the United States and Cuba have grown tense under the Trump administration, which tightened economic sanctions against the Communist Caribbean island in 2017.

"We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba," Trump declared in June 2017. "We will enforce the ban on tourism. We will enforce the embargo."

Those who follow Cuba-U.S. relations closely, as I have for 40 years, may recall that Trump has not always been so antagonistic toward Havana. Back when he was a real estate mogul, he was happy to overlook the embargo - twice, in fact - for a chance to open a Trump-branded hotel or golf resort in Cuba.

In September 2016, when Trump was the Republican presidential candidate, Newsweek magazine revealed that in 1998, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts hired a consulting firm to explore business opportunities on the island.

Reportedly acting with Trump's knowledge, representatives from Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. traveled to Cuba, which was then led by Fidel Castro.

There, they met with government officials and business leaders. The goal, a former official with Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts told Newsweek, was to get a jump on the competition if President Bill Clinton opened up Cuba to U.S. business. Ever since President John F. Kennedy imposed an economic embargo on Cuba in 1962, the Cuban market has been closed to most American companies, including the hospitality sector.

Because their business trip violated the embargo, Seven Arrows advised the Trump organization to disguise its payment to them as a charitable project, according to documents obtained by Newsweek.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Sean Hannity Is Michael Cohen's Secret Third Client. Why That Matters. (ISAAC CHOTINER, APRIL 16, 2018, Slate)

Longtime Fox watchers (at least those of us who watch ironically), as well as those who enjoy engaging in Kremlinology around the network, are no doubt giddy today, but this wasn't exactly predictable. For many years, Hannity was known as the "nice" alternative to Bill O'Reilly. Sure, Hannity was a cheap bigot who made millions by exploiting the racial resentment and stupidity of his audience; but he was also, by all accounts, a decent(ish) guy. While sex scandals brought down Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, and while both men were known for treating people around them like dirt, Hannity had a certain folksy charm that was known to arise whenever the camera turned off. Guests were apparently treated well; shouting was kept to a minimum. If you stopped him on the street, I was once told, he didn't care if you were a radical anarchist, and was always happy to take a photo.

But the last couple of years have been gruesome. There was a sexual harassment allegation. And his Twitter persona has gone from silly to borderline unbalanced, much like the persona of his political hero. We don't know exactly what Cohen did for Hannity, but given that his other two clients are the president and the disgraced Republican bigwig Elliott Broidy, it's unlikely to have been offering advice on anniversary gifts for the missus. (Hannity noted on his radio show that his ties to Cohen had become known, but did not directly address the matter; he told the Wall Street Journal, "We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael.")

Meanwhile, of course, Hannity has not only become increasingly fanatical in his defense of Trump, but also particularly deranged in his coverage of the FBI's investigations of various aspects of Trump world.

When a man publicly hates immigration and Islam, how can any of his private vileness surprise you?

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Cohen Isn't the Biggest Catch from Trump World: Other players know far more about the president's dealings than his lawyer does. (Timothy L. O'Brien, April 16, 2018, Bloomberg)

The problem is that Cohen may not know many of those things. There was a lawyer at the Trump Organization who did have to sign off on almost every significant deal -- and that guy wasn't Cohen. His name was Jason Greenblatt.

Greenblatt specialized in real-estate law at a major New York firm before signing on with the Trump Organization in 1997. He soon became Trump's true in-house counsel and the company's executive vice president. Everything that mattered in the Trump Organization, every sizable deal or sensitive transaction, required Greenblatt's signature, not Cohen's. Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, has played a similar role when it comes to the company's finances.

At the end of 2016, Greenblatt left the Trump Organization after the president made him a special representative for international negotiations. Weisselberg still helps Trump's sons manage the business while Trump is in the Oval Office. Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for business records, his investigators may get around to interviewing Greenblatt and Weisselberg, who almost certainly have more expansive information on the president's business activities than Cohen does.

If that happens -- or if the U.S. attorney's office in New York takes a similar interest -- then the media might have to reassess its take on Cohen and the role he's playing in the broader drama surrounding the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


How Pep Guardiola stuck to his principles and was proven right at Manchester City (Jack Pitt-Brooke, 4/16/18, New Statesman)
English football has always been as anti-intellectual as any other aspect of our national life. Pragmatism and common sense have been the values, winning football matches the only goal. Woe betide the foreign manager who arrives talking about a 'philosophy' of football he intends to implement. Andre Villas Boas and Louis van Gaal had their faults but they were both always fighting a losing battle, for the temerity of having an idea.

This is nothing new and nor is it limited to football: it is part of who we are. "As Europeans go, the English are not intellectual," George Orwell wrote in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' in 1941. "They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic 'world-view'". Ideas, especially foreign ones, have never taken much root in our culture. Even the history of the Labour party, as Harold Wilson said, owed more to Methodism than to Karl Marx.

All of which explains why when Pep Guardiola arrived in England in 2016, with his own ideas and his own philosophy, so many people told him to compromise. Possession football might work abroad, he was told, but England was different. Every Premier League champion had power at the core of the team, as Gary Neville famously said. The revelation that Guardiola did not "train tackles" after his team had lost 4-2 to Leicester City despite having 78 per cent possession was met with incredulity. Jamie Redknapp described it as "one of the most bizarre statements" he had had ever heard in football, saying City could not win this way. [...]

Of course City do not play like the Barcelona team that won the 2009 and 2011 Champions Leagues. How could they without Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta? This team plays with wingers, and has found a route to goal that is difficult to stop: David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne through to a wide player, who cuts the ball back for a simple finish. 

Wingers crossing the ball back to the middle is the essence of British soccer.  The point is that he can't just walk the ball through the middle the way he'd prefer.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


The heir to Blair? Macron is more like the French Thatcher: The French president's agenda of tax cuts and privatisation is actively corrosive to the progressive dream of Europe. (MICHAEL CHESSUM, 4/15/18, New Statesman)

As a fresh faced, charismatic technocrat, he often draws comparisons to Tony Blair. In terms of his real ambitions and France's less neo-liberalised economy, he is more like a French Thatcher. As Francois Hollande's economy minister, he oversaw labour market reforms, which, among other things, made it easier for employers to sack workers.

Now, his policy is to increase taxes on pensions, undermine trade union representation and power in public services, and introduce performance-related pay for civil servants as a means of undermining general wage increases - all on top of reforms last year which attacked collective bargaining. Simultaneously, the French government has introduced controversial selection practices in higher education, and, perhaps most significantly, paved the way for the privatisation of French railways.

Thus far, most of the commentary in Britain has focused on a rather wonkish analysis of whether or not Macron can get his reforms through - whether he can "win". Like the British miners' strike, this is a race between the unity of the French labour movement and the government's resolve. But the reality is that, regardless of who wins, Macron's policies are a disaster for the ideals he claims to be fighting for - most obviously his Europeanism.

When introducing its package of reforms to the railways, the French government has argued that the dismantling of the working conditions of staff is simply a part of readying the state train network, SNCF, for being opened up to competition and liberalisation under the EU's latest railway directive.

The new EU rules do not really require Macron to do what he is doing - and in any case, the directive could simply be opposed and amended if the French government had the will to do so. And yet, when confronted with the privatisation of the railways, the average French worker finds themselves opposing not just the French government, but, seemingly, the concept of the EU as well.

This is a classic example of how technocratic neo-liberalism operates. Governments with an agenda of privatisation use their seat at the table of trade deals or transnational institutions (in this case the EU) to create rules which supposedly force them to privatise public services - and then claim merely to be following those rules. Fans of privatisation and opponents of state intervention are quite open about the role that state aid rules play - they provide the excuse for right wing governments to do what they want.

All recent successful governments of the left--Clinton, Blair, Obama, etc.--govern from the right. History Ended.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Comey, in Interview, Calls Trump 'Morally Unfit' and 'Stain' on All Around Him (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and PETER BAKERAPRIL 15, 2018, NY Times)

[M]r. Comey called Mr. Trump a serial liar who treated women like "meat," and described him as a "stain" on everyone who worked for him.

He said a salacious allegation that Mr. Trump had cavorted with prostitutes in Moscow had left him vulnerable to blackmail by the Russian government. And he asserted that the president was incinerating the country's crucial norms and traditions like a wildfire. He compared the president to a mafia boss.

"Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country," Mr. Comey told ABC's chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos, on the program "20/20." "The most important being truth. This president is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be president." 

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


The Most Newsworthy Part of ABC's Comey Interview Was an Unaired Detail About His Infamous Hillary Email Letter (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 16, 2018, Slate)

What the FBI would discover in October 2016 was that it had inadvertently located a cache of Clinton emails on her aide Huma Abedin's computer during the unrelated investigation of Abedin's husband Anthony Weiner for sending obscene material to a minor. The detail that Comey explained to Stephanopoulos--which he had alluded to previously but never, to my knowledge, explained at this length--is that the Abedin cache specifically included emails from the period of Clinton's State tenure just before she set up the private server. That period would have been the exact time, Comey explained, when Clinton was most likely to have been warned not to set up a private server, because it would constitute mishandling classified material:

What [FBI investigators] told me was, "We have found, for reasons we can't explain, hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. And something much more important than that. Thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton's Blackberry domain."

She used a Blackberry for the first three months or so of her tenure as secretary of State before setting up the personal server in the basement. And the reason that matters so much is, if there was gonna be a smoking gun, where Hillary Clinton was told, "Don't do this," or, "This is improper," it's highly likely to be at the beginning.

In other words, the Abedin cache wasn't just a random sampling of Clinton emails that weren't expected to differ in any relevant way from the thousands that had already been reviewed, but were rather from the exact period most likely to contain explicit, actionable content that could have convinced the FBI to reverse its recommendation that she should not be prosecuted.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Cops use stun grenades as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews riot in Jerusalem (Times of Israel, 4/15/18)

Four policemen were lightly injured as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted outside the IDF draft office in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

Cops used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the protesters, after normal crowd control methods failed.

The protesters were demonstrating over rumors of the arrest of a young woman from the Har Nof neighborhood for draft-dodging, the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim reported.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Trump, a reluctant hawk, has battled his top aides on Russia and lost (Greg Jaffe, John Hudson and Philip Rucker, April 15, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump seemed distracted in March as his aides briefed him at his Mar-a-Lago resort on the administration's plan to expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies.

The United States, they explained, would be ousting roughly the same number of Russians as its European allies -- part of a coordinated move to punish Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

"We'll match their numbers," Trump instructed, according to a senior administration official. "We're not taking the lead. We're matching."

The next day, when the expulsions were announced publicly, Trump erupted, officials said. To his shock and dismay, France and Germany were each expelling only four Russian officials -- far fewer than the 60 his administration had decided on.

The president, who seemed to believe that other individual countries would largely equal the United States, was furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.

Comic gold.