Saddest Quote of the week
Found beneath an Oleta Adams video:
It’s estimated that Americans may have inadvertently spent $40 billion in 2018 on online shopping, while drunk.
(The Pumpkin’s ever-expanding jazz CD collection and ever-shrinking savings can attest, it’s not just Americans…)
If it moves, chop it off
To the annoyance of many Western celebrities, the diminutive Sultan of Brunei, a Mr Bolkiah, who, without wishing to seem racist, resembles a worried-looking marmoset with a very large bank balance, has implemented Sharia in his tiny statelet on the island of Borneo (pop. 440,000) and is proposing to stone gay people to death and cut off the hands of shoplifters, as he needs the votes of the Muslim majority.
Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, his brother Jef:
“…embezzled $15m (£11.5m) from the state during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s. He was revealed to own 600 properties, 2,000 cars, a private Boeing 747 and several works by Renoir, Manet and Degas. Jefri’s flamboyant lifestyle, which came to light in a series of court cases, involved a harem of foreign mistresses, the purchase of erotic sculptures of himself with his fiancee, and a luxury yacht he called Tits.”
All perfectly halal, according to the Qu’ran. Meanwhile the senior brother, Sultan Bolkiah has hastened to assure the human rights brigade around the world that these sentences are very unlikely to be imposed as sodomy in Sharia requires two upstanding independent witnesses for a conviction.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when once we practise to deceive.” – WS
The Great White Whale conspiracy
“The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether $100,000 donated to a Trump-related political fundraising committee originated from a fugitive Malaysian businessman alleged to be at the center of a global financial scandal, according to people familiar with the matter.” – The Wall Street Journal, 13 March, 2019.
So, what’s the Orange Booby got himself into now, with his terrible judgement – or is it just rotten luck at frequently making business connections who often seem to be… a trifle gamey, let’s say?
Well, the “businessman” is a pudgy Chinese-Malay financier, Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low as he is known, aka the “Billion Dollar Whale”, who has vowed not to give himself up to any jurisdiction where his guilt has already been presumed. That’s about six so far. He’s thought to be in hiding in Hong Kong, or maybe as a guest of the Chinese government on the mainland; and rumored to have had plastic surgery to lessen the risk that Interpol will find him. His share of the loot has been put at $10 million, but that’s a likely huge underestimation.
“Low—who became infamous for ripping up Manhattan clubs with $160,000 bar tabs and plied Lindsay Lohan with champagne on her 23rd birthday—was indicted last year in the U.S. on three counts of conspiring to violate foreign anti-bribery laws and launder money. He also faces charges in Malaysia for his alleged role in a scheme to steal billions of dollars …” – The Daily Beast 12 March, 2019.
“Billions of dollars from a state fund (1MDB) meant to help the Malaysian people went missing, disappearing into the shadows of the global financial system.* According to US and Malaysian prosecutors, the money lined the pockets of a few powerful individuals and was used to buy luxury real estate, a private jet, Van Gogh and Monet artworks – and to finance a Hollywood blockbuster. … Authorities in at least six countries (are) probing a vast web of financial transactions stretching from Swiss banks to island tax havens to the heart of South East Asia. Goldman Sachs, one of Wall Street’s most powerful banks, is facing criminal charges in Malaysia – which it says it intends to vigorously defend.” – BBC News special report, 2 April, 2019.
And, oh, look, here’s Trump’s old friend and retired Republican Party charity chugger, Elliott Broidy popping up again:
“The US Justice Department is investigating whether longtime Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy sought to sell his influence with the Trump administration by offering to deliver US government actions for foreign officials in exchange for tens of millions of dollars, according to three people familiar with the probe.
The FBI is: “investigating claims that Broidy sought US$75 million from Malaysian businessman Jho Low if the Justice Department ended its investigation of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the country’s state investment fund.” The Straits Times, 18 August, 2018.
And, again from The Daily Beast, September 2018:
“The team of lawyers and consultants working for Low (in the US) included (New Jersey Governor and former Trump campaign organizer, Chris) Christie, lobbyist Ed Rogers, Trump’s longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz, Trump Organization lawyer Bobby Burchfield, and vice chairman of the Trump campaign’s joint fund with the Republican Party, Elliott Broidy.”
So, in short, what do we get from this? Well, nothing in life is certain, not even in Trumpworld “death and taxes”, but a brief summary of the allegations goes:
In the summer of 2018, as the Mueller Russia probe continues to draw the crowd in its agonizing buildup to ‘nothing to see, folks’, Malaysian playboy, Jho Low is on the run, wanted by authorities for his part allegedly in shaking down a sovereign wealth fund from which $4.5 billion has gone missing.
A fund created by Prime Minister Abdul Razak, ousted in 2018 by the 92-year-old former PM Mahathir Mohammed amid allegations of corruption, and who was subsequently arrested on charges of embezzlement. (His case comes up in court today, 3 April, 2019.)
“Californian businessman” Broidy, who is so close to Trump he took the rap for paying $1.8 million to Shera Bechard, a Playboy model whose baby Trump allegedly had aborted, apparently in turn tried to shake down J-Low for $75 million on a promise to get his friends, the Trump administration to make the FBI’s investigation go away.
Represented by numerous lawyers and influencers directly connected to Trump, J-Low is thought to have subsequently paid/laundered £100,000 illegally as a foreign entity through a named US intermediary into a SuperPAC set up to fund Trump’s bid for re-election in 2020.
You couldn’t make this up, and there’s more.
Before we go on, most Important: “An attorney for Broidy said in a (brusque) statement: ‘Elliott Broidy has never agreed to work for, been retained by nor been compensated by any foreign government for any interaction with the United States Government, ever. Any implication to the contrary is a lie’.”
I think they mean “imputation”, but that’s American lawyers for you. Ever! Depending on who you lie to, lying is no more an offence in law than collusion. And just watch that qualified word, “government”. Not “fugitive Great White Whale”.
Meanwhile, according to the Straits Times report, the Justice Department has subpoena’d records related to Broidy’s financial dealings from another Trump ally and Republican fundraiser, Steve Wynn, billionaire owner of Las Vegas casinos. Mr Wynn has reportedly had to step down from his executive role facing allegations of sexual misconduct and reports of attempts by his company executives to bury them, as Reuters and the WSJ have just reported today (02 April).
His lawyers insisted: “Steve Wynn is completely cooperating with the investigation and he certainly has no reason to believe that anyone acted improperly in anything he knew about or was involved in.”
The way this is going, I should not be surprised if Madam Zhang, the Chinese woman who bluffed her way past lax security into Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, clutching a Chinese passport, announcing she was there for a non-existent event and brandishing a bag containing four Chinese cellphones , a laptop and a USB stick loaded with undisclosed “malware”, wasn’t linked in some way to the local Chinese grubby massage parlor lady, Madam Yang, who has been photographed with and sells access to Trump at his club, and all of them involved in a Chinese government or Huawei technology spy plot.
For, read on….
Oh, no, look, don’t. I’m going to leave you with a link to the Straits Times story at the end of this piece, because Shakespeare was spot-on as usual when he wrote: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when once we practise to deceive.” My brain just won’t stretch to all of this. But, reading between the lines, improbably:
You’ll thrill to the allegations, all obviously vigorously denied, that Broidy also solicited $millions from the Chinese government in exchange for a promise to persuade the Emirati of Qatar to help them extract an exiled billionaire dissident, Guo Wengui from the USA. Guo was apparently spilling the beans over corruption allegations against high-ranking officials in the purportedly squeaky-clean Xi regime. Googling his name turns up three interesting facts: 1, he also calls himself Miles Kwok; 2, he has taken Emirati nationality, and 3, he is a good friend of one Steven K Bannon.
That Broidy subsequently tried to sue Qatar for “hacking his email accounts” after he invented the story, fake news retweeted by Trump, that Qatar was a global funder of terrorism – an accusation that went away only after Qatari investors “loaned” $500 million to Charlie, ex-con father of Trump’s near-bankrupt son-in-law and chief White House policy advisor, Jared Kushner, under helpful pressure from his friend Crown Prince bin-Salman of Saudi Arabia, to whom (to oil the wheels, it’s inferred – source: MSNBC) Kushner had used the clearance Trump granted him – against the advice of security advisors – to slip a top-secret CIA list of names of Saudi dissidents and political opponents who ended up being imprisoned and tortured in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh (MSNBC reports), a list possibly including the murdered Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi…. (That last bit is my own “implication”, but it would explain Mr Trump’s adamantine refusal to point the finger at MBS if it also implicated, a) his son-in-law, and b) his practise of handing out security clearances like candy, wouldn’t it.)
Oh, and (spoiler alert), that Broidy’s wife’s law firm has also provided “advice” to Jho Low.
So somehow, yes, woven through the whole murky tale like a rogue orange thread can dimly be perceived here and there, the bulky figure of President Donald J Trump – who claims to the amusement of the golfing world to have won 18 golf titles, some of which do not even exist.
Welcoming the former Malaysian Prime Minister whose name has been for two years at the centre of the 1MDB scandal, arrested last year and suspected of embezzlement in the sovereign fund he himself created, on 12 September, 2017 the President’s little thumbs had tweeted:
“It was a great honor to welcome Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia and his distinguished delegation to the @WhiteHouse today”.
And praised Najib for “his country’s financial investments in U.S. companies”. (LA Times)
Presumably, the “distinguished delegation” would have been guests at the Trump International Hotel at the old Post Office building in Washington, where foreign diplomats and lobbyists pay up to $170 thousand per room, per night, to hover in the President’s lucrative anteroom; and from which, so far as anyone knows, Trump has not recused himself as the beneficial owner.
So much of this convoluted story contains elements that will be entirely familiar to everyone who has followed what anyone knows of the Mueller investigation, and the extensive, excellent reporting by investigative journalists over the years of the workings of the Trump empire and its global network of pretty fruity business connections. And yet it is a story no-one is piecing together, although it is far more indicative of corruption than Russiagate.
There is of course no suggestion that Mr Trump is personally implicated in the 1MDB scandal, or in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi; although he is suspected of having had some possible knowledge of the Saudi hack of embarrassing sexts from the phone records of his arch-nemesis, Jeff Bezos, owner of the Washington Post – text messages and photos that somehow ended up in Trump’s friend David Pecker’s supermarket gossip-rag, the National Enquirer. And the Post has been most critical of MBS and his role in the Khashoggi murder in recent months.
No, the point of this piece is merely to suggest that perhaps sufficient due diligence is lacking in certain places where US political campaign finance and foreign policy are involved; and that the President and officers of Trump Organization do seem remarkably unlucky in their choice of associates.
When, oh God, will it ever stop?
*And, oh dear, here’s Deutsche Bank again… The bank that, where the Trumps were concerned, never liked to say no.
Bloomberg and others report, a senior former DB official, Tan Boon-Kee is on garden leave after being interviewed in connection with the bank’s role in helping to raise $1.2 billion for the 1st Malaysian Development Bank fund, IMDB, much of which has gone missing.
“Investigators in Singapore have asked Tan about her dealings with Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho. Low, wanted in Malaysia and Singapore for alleged money laundering, has been described by U.S. prosecutors as the man behind the 1MDB scheme, though he has consistently denied wrongdoing.
“The inquiry aims to determine whether Deutsche Bank might have violated foreign-corruption or anti-money-laundering laws.”
Goldman Sachs was also being investigated after billing possibly excessive fees of $600 million for helping to launch the fund. “Tim Leissner, an ex-Goldman executive who pleaded guilty last year for his role in the scandal, has been helping with the Deutsche Bank examination.” Tan is also a former Goldman Sachs banker.
Money, they say, makes the world go around. Principally, it seems, by going around the world.
We all love a winner
The story I love most about Trump cheating at golf is when he managed to win a tournament he wasn’t even playing in.
The tournament was taking place at his Bedminster club in New Jersey. Seeing the strength of the field, he shot off to play a round at a different club in the next county, and later called in to his club captain to ask what the winning score had been. Told it was 73, Trump immediately claimed to have just shot 72 on the other course, which made him the winner, and ordered the poor guy to replace the name of the winner on the board with his own. Later his caddy confirmed, he’d actually shot 84.
This is the President of the United States of America, such an egoist he even has to cheat at golf. Time will surely make him out to be one of the most fascinating psychological studies of any political figure in history.
PS – The Pumpkin’s confident assertion that the famous “oranges” slip-up, when Trump took three goes last week at struggling to pronounce the word “origins” before giving up, after imagining (not for the first time) that his father was born in a “lovely” part of Germany (Fred Trump was born in The Bronx in 1905) is indicative of Alzheimer’s, may not prove correct. “Mini-stroke” seems to be at least worth considering.
Facts, dear boy
An interesting piece on the Politico website today examines the evidence for Trump’s vainglorious claim to be a winner, not just on the golf course, and finds that Washington Post researchers have tracked down well over 60 court cases he has lost in the past two years; mainly on points of law instituted to prevent dictatorial actions on the part of the Executive – America, of course, being the Land of the Free.
Where Presidential edicts are concerned, specifically, they say previous incumbents have had a 70 per cent success rate at defending their policies in the lower courts. Trump’s has fallen to just 6 per cent. Among hideous things he has so far been prevented from doing, are extending drilling rights into the Arctic marine reserve, and forcing people to work for their Medicare.
Of course, we remember the early failures of his nitwitted immigration policy, the discriminatory so-called Muslim ban, that had to go all the way to the more pliable Supreme Court before even a limited version could be implemented.
And it’s all apparently down to the incompetence of the many Trumptards he has casually put into administrative offices for which they have not the slightest interest, knowledge, experience or qualification.
“In case after case, judges have rebuked Trump officials for failing to follow the most basic rules of governance for shifting policy, including providing legitimate explanations supported by facts and, where required, public input. … Two-thirds of the cases accuse the Trump administration of violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), a nearly 73-year-old law that forms the primary bulwark against arbitrary rule.”
Interviewed by Politico, one researcher tellingly observed what others have suggested is a key point about the Trump method of administration:
“…they were more interested in making announcements of deregulatory change than in the change itself, so the risk of a judge blocking their actions didn’t concern them all that much.”
In other words, Trumpism is all about style over substance. Facts and Acts don’t come into it. But the betting is, he has a large enough base of dumbfucks who BELIEVE him when he says he has succeeded against the odds in carrying out these wonderful promises, making America great again, that they will vote for him in 2020 regardless of however little he has actually managed to achieve.
White House aides, however, are pointing to signs that he is too old and tired and disillusioned to really want to run again, and is just going through the motions. It will depend, I suppose, on the outcomes of more cases against him, some of which could see him locked up for life should he leave the relative security of the Presidency.
(He is also going around chuckling that he has already lined up another Conservative replacement for the one remaining liberal voice on the Supreme Court, the ailing, 85-year-old legend, Ruth Bader Ginsberg – whom he expects to die any day now. Prompting the question, in the cradle of Democracy why in the hell is the President constitutionally allowed to pack US courts with his own supporters? What idiot thought that one up?)
Whaddo I know?
Do you ever have one of those moments where you question everything you think you know? It can be disconcerting.
I was working with a group of actors the other evening, when the subject of “Morocco leather” came up. It was mentioned in the script. One of the younger members of the cast wanted to know what it was?
I immediately launched into one of my knowledgable, elderly wise man-splanations. It was, I asserted confidently, that fake leather fabric you find covering Edwardian (early 20th-century brown) furniture, desktops and so on, usually green or maroon and often with gold tooling.
Before I could finish, however, the questioner had whipped out her cellphone, referenced Google and searched online – it took her all of five seconds – and interrupted me with the news that it was actually goatskin, and came with typographical emboldenings:
“Morocco leather (also known as Levant, the French Maroquin, or German Saffian from Safi, a Moroccan town famous for leather) is a soft, pliable form of leather widely used for gloves and the uppers of ladies’ shoes and men’s low cut shoes, but traditionally associated with bookbindings, wallets, linings for fine … ”
I shan’t bother reading on beyond the headline. “Fine” what? I don’t really care what. I am crushed, and never wish to see or hear of another item made from Morocco leather, lest it remind me of my human failings. Except, of course, that it occurs in one of my lines in the play, so I shall have to be reminded of it about thirty times more, nightly.
Needless to say, since that night I have been discomfited; uncertain, twitchy and neurotic. I feel keenly that I have lost my own compass, and my standing within the group as their oracle and sage; the One who Knows Everything, the All-Seeing Eye – the best bloke for the pub quiz team
I’m now just a daffy old man whose opinion and knowledge are not to be trusted on any subject; even one concerning the past, of which I have considerable – possibly too much – experience.
How many other total misapprehensions have I been laboring under for almost 70 years?
Apart, that is, from a belief in a world of certainties?
GW: We should all live in a Yellow Submarine
Iran: The death toll from major floods and landslides over the past 15 days has risen to 62. The southern province of Fars had been hardest hit with 21 dead. 14 people had died in the western province of Lorestan and 8 in the northern province of Golestan. With many unaccounted for the count could still rise. Over 140 rivers have burst their banks, sweeping away roads and bridges. Most of the country has been affected by flooding since March. The north-east was swamped on 19 March before the west and south-west of the country were inundated on 25 March, killing 45 people. (Guardian)
Syria: Flooding has also affected thousands across parts of Iraq and Syria over the last 10 days. Over 6,500 families were affected as flooding hit refugee camps in Northern Syria between 29 to 31 March, 2019. Tents were swept away, and personal belongings were destroyed by the torrential rainfall. 2 people are reported dead. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations said: “The flooding this season has been terrible and combined with the overcrowding in the camps, is making a bad situation much worse. (Many people have lost everything.) … We call on the international community to provide immediate humanitarian aid, assistance and necessities to those affected.” (Floodlist)
USA: More severe weather has been moving up on the jetstream from the Gulf through the southern states, bringing thunderstorms and “baseball-sized” hail. Temperatures in the southwest are already warming up: Phoenix Az. is posting in the high 90sF, 36C.
Southern Europe: As a slow-moving deep low bringing snow back to the British Isles, in some quantity in the north, drifts gradually southwards, “torrential rainfall (up to 250 mm) and excessive snowfall are expected in parts of the Alps and Apennines in SE France, north Italy, western Slovenia and NW Croatia on Wednesday and Thursday. Significant flooding is possible locally”. (Severe-weather.EU) Update Mon 8 April: Heavy rain fell in parts of Greece over the weekend 05 to 07 April, 2019, causing some flash flooding, in particular on the islands of Rhodes and Crete. Around 20 rescues were effected. This is the third wave of flash flooding to affect Crete since mid-February. (Floodlist)
There goes the sun…
A lengthy article in Forbes, the business magazine most quoted for its lists of the wealthiest people you’d hope never to meet, makes for depressing reading on the subject of solar energy.
Unless we can manufacture cheap, steady-state, virtually indestructible solar panels, experts say, we are building up a huge problem for the future with large quantities of waste materials having nowhere to go, other than to dumps in poorer countries, and toxic residues from disposing of old or broken panels.
Even while panels are still working, researchers have found heavy metals like cadmium are leaching into the ground; while panels that get smashed, for instance by tornadoes, require the broken glass to be swept up along with all the soil and stones, that make the processing of glass cullet impractical.
The cost of recycling ought to be born by the manufacturers and suppliers, but the added cost often means they go bust, leaving the public to pick up the bill – which is precisiely the problem in the sunniest countries, that tend to be the poorest, but where there are the most panels to safely dispose of – and the weakest regulation.
Chinese companies have adopted a somewhat cynical solution of selling older, used panels on cheaply to Africa and the Middle East, as they’re not required to operate at peak efficiency.
The replacement life of a solar panel in one of those huge arrays is unexpectedly short – maybe only months. And at today’s raw materials prices and with the difficulty of recovering the more valuable contents, it’s not really economical to recycle them.
Oh dear, what to do?
I’ve got a good idea for Forbes. There’s lots of black stuff in the ground we could set fire to instead.
Easier. Cheaper. More… wealthsome.