The Terrible Price Sergei Magnitsky Paid for Reporting Fraud in Putin’s Russia

This is Part Three of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death — and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016.

Today, in Part Three of the series, you’ll read the harrowing details of what Vladimir Putin’s Russia did to Sergei Magnitsky after he uncovered a $230 million tax refund fraud scheme allegedly perpetrated by a group including officers Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov.

MAGNITSKY’S PATRIOTIC REPORTING OF THE SCHEME, AND HIS MURDER

What does a patriotic Russian do when he discovers a fraud against his government on this scale? He reports it. So, after discovering the fraud, Magnitsky went to an Investigative Committee to give evidence against Kuznetsov and Karpov. Trouble was, Kuznetsov and Karpov had been assigned to investigate themselves. Magnitsky gave the evidence to officials anyway, despite the involvement of the suspects in the “investigation” of their own misconduct.

Naively, Magnitsky and Browder still expected the criminals to be caught and punished. But Karpov and Kuznetsov opened up a new case against Browder, and conducted a new set of raids on companies connected to Browder. A well-placed anonymous whistleblower in the Russian government tipped off Browder that the investigation against him was being conducted by the highest levels inside the FSB. So Browder told all his associates and lawyers that they should leave Russia.

Magnitsky was the only one who refused to leave. His position was that he had done nothing wrong. Why should he leave home? He continued to provide evidence against Kuznetsov and Karpov to the Russian State Investigative Committee.

Magnitsky was later arrested by Kuznetsov and Karpov, and was brutally tortured and murdered while in custody. Browder described what happened to Magnitsky in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Sergei’s captors immediately started putting pressure on him to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no windowpanes, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor and sewage bubbling up. They moved him from cell to cell in the middle of the night without any warning. During his 358 days in detention he was forcibly moved multiple times.

They did all of this because they wanted him to withdraw his testimony against the corrupt Interior Ministry officials, and to sign a false statement that he was the one who stole the $230 million—and that he had done so on my instruction.

Sergei refused. In spite of the grave pain they inflicted upon him, he would not perjure himself or bear false witness.

After six months of this mistreatment, Sergei’s health seriously deteriorated. He developed severe abdominal pains, he lost 40 pounds, and he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones and prescribed an operation for August 2009. However, the operation never occurred. A week before he was due to have surgery, he was moved to a maximum security prison called Butyrka, which is considered to be one of the harshest prisons in Russia. Most significantly for Sergei, there were no medical facilities there to treat his medical conditions.

At Butyrka, his health completely broke down. He was in agonizing pain. He and his lawyers wrote 20 desperate requests for medical attention, filing them with every branch of the Russian criminal justice system. All of those requests were either ignored or explicitly denied in writing.

After more than three months of untreated pancreatitis and gallstones, Sergei Magnitsky went into critical condition. The Butyrka authorities did not want to have responsibility for him, so they put him in an ambulance and sent him to another prison that had medical facilities. But when he arrived there, instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell, chained him to a bed, and eight riot guards came in and beat him with rubber batons.

That night he was found dead on the cell floor.

Browder responded to Magnitsky’s murder by dedicating his life to finding and punishing the people responsible for Magnitsky’s death. Browder was the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of people identified as being responsible for Magnitsky’s murder.

Tomorrow, in Part Four, I’ll discuss the reaction of the Russian government to the Magnitsky Act, and why they hate it so much.

This is Part Three of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky.

In Part One, I introduced the series.

In Part Two, I began setting forth the background of the aggressive tax fraud scheme that Sergei Magnitsky discovered, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice.

[Disclaimer]

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The Magnitsky Act and the Woman Who Met with Trump Jr.: Part Two

Today, in Part Two, I discuss the background of the entire Magnitsky affair, as set out in Browder’s book Red Notice. It’s a tale of a hero who uncovered a huge fraud on the Russian government — only to be arrested and tortured for it.

THE BACKGROUND

The story begins with Bill Browder, a finance guy who was interested in emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Russia. He made millions buying shares in Russian companies that the government sold at a fraction of their true value. He made still more money by exposing the actions of corrupt oligarchs who were stealing from companies in which his fund had an ownership stake.

Everything was going great for Browder. He was a multimillionaire with a new attractive Russian wife. Then it all changed in 2005. Upon returning to Moscow from a trip to his home in London, Russian authorities detained him in immigration for hours without explanation, let him sweat it out overnight without food and water, and then dumped him on a plane back to London. He was told he was a threat to national security.

Authorities then raided offices of holding companies connected to Browder’s fund, and seized corporate documents with seals and signatures of the corporate founders. The justification for the raids was trumped-up: a claim of underpaid taxes that was disputed by the actual tax authorities, who said the companies had actually overpaid their taxes. But the raids allowed authorities to seize the sort of documents you would need if you wanted to change the ownership of the companies.

Browder, working with a team of lawyers including tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, learned that the ownership of the companies had indeed been transferred to Viktor Markelov, a man with a manslaughter conviction, and two other criminals who had been granted an early release from prison by Russian authorities.

But the thieves and criminals who had stolen Browder’s companies, using documents that had been seized by police, had a problem. Browder had long since pulled all assets from these companies. For a while, Browder believed that whoever had stolen his companies had done it all for nothing — that they had no way to profit from the theft of the companies.

But Browder was wrong. The thieves had concocted a very clever scheme involving tax fraud. If you prefer to see things in video form, the scheme is described in this video, which was produced before Magnitsky was killed:

Here’s how the tax fraud scheme worked: the thieves had filed phony lawsuits against all of the holding companies, based on forged contracts. The thieves hired lawyers who pretended to represent the interests of Browder’s companies, but who instead affirmed the validity of the fraudulent claims against those companies. In this way, bogus multi-million dollar judgments were secured against Browder’s companies. Since Browder had already taken the companies’ assets out of Russia, these phony judgments could not be collected from the holding companies. But the new owners had a different scheme in mind.

Magnitsky, the tax lawyer, figured out the scheme. He learned that the amounts of the judgments were for the precise amounts of profits that the companies had earned each year. Now each company had a new liability exactly matching the amount of their annual profits. Their new profits for each year were exactly zero, after the phony judgments were applied against the profits.

This meant that the new owners of the companies could apply for a tax refund. Their companies had overpaid their taxes! And they claimed that all the taxes the companies had paid on their profits should be “returned” to them. Sure enough, on Christmas Eve, 2007, the tax “refund” was processed. The total amount of loot stolen by these thieves was $230 million. It was the largest tax refund in Russian history, and was granted without a single question asked — three days after the application for the tax refund had been filed.

The record-setting tax refund was processed in record time by two tax offices, one run by a woman named Olga Stepanova. The money was wired to a bank account at a small bank called the Universal Savings Bank, owned and controlled by a man named Dmitry Klyuev. Weiss, the author of the recent piece on Veselnitskaya, laid out the money trail in this fascinating and detailed piece in the Daily Beast in March 2014, which named the co-conspirators, including tax office head Stepanova and recipient Klyuev:

The conspirators allegedly included the heads of Moscow Tax Offices 28 and 25, Olga Stepanova and Elena Khimina, respectively; Klyuev’s own attorney, Andrey Pavlov; and an Interior Ministry official, Major Pavel Karpov, who had previously investigated Klyuev for attempting to steal $1.6 billion worth of shares of a profitable Russian iron ore company. (Klyuev received a two-year suspended sentence in that case.)

Weiss lays out the damning actions of the co-conspirators after the $230 million fraud was accomplished on Christmas Eve 2007:

Karpov, Pavlov, and Pavlov’s wife vacationed in Istanbul on New Year’s Day 2008. Days later, the Pavlovs flew to Dubai where they met Klyuev, Stepanova and [Stepanova’s husband Vladlen] Stepanov. The husband-and-wife accountancy team reportedly drew on funds from their Swiss bank account to buy $6 million worth of luxury real estate in artificial archipelago Palm Jumeirah. And please keep in mind that, according to Russian Untouchables, the Stepanovs’ combined declared income in 2008 was just under $40,000.

Weiss cites court documents that show that these same conspirators had previously been involved in a similarly fraudulent tax refund scheme worth $107 million involving a company called Renaissance Capital. After that scheme was carried out, Weiss reports,

Klyuev, Stepanova and Stepanova’s husband Vladlen Stepanov all went on holiday together to Dubai, as plane records obtained and published by Russian Untouchables demonstrate. From there, Klyuev and the Stepanovs traveled to Switzerland, where the husband-and-wife team reportedly kept deposits at Credit Suisse in the names of their offshore shell companies. They all returned to Moscow on the same flight. Karpov, Pavlov and Pavlov’s wife, Yulia Mayorova, meanwhile, took a five-day trip to London.

Browder has documented that the officers behind the raids on Browder’s holding companies, Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, ended up living extravagant lifestyles on very meager salaries. Kuznetsov’s parents ended up with fancy condos and other land worth $3 million, despite a combined income of only $4500 per month. Artem Kuznetsov’s wife had a Land Rover worth $131,000 and a new Mercedes worth $81,000. Kuznetsov’s wealth was detailed in this video released by Browder in 2010:

Browder writes that Kuznetsov “made more than thirty trips to eight different countries, including Dubai, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom.” According to the above video, he flew to Cyprus by private jet and stayed in a five-star hotel. Browder writes that Kutnetsov would have to work for 145 years on his salary (about 600 Euros a month) to pay for the assets owned by his family.

The other official involved in the seizure of corporate documents from Browder, Pavel Karpov, was an equally extravagant spender despite a small income. Browder writes in his book that Pavel Karpov had traveled to “the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, the Caribbean, Spain, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Oman, Dubai, and Turkey.” He ate at expensive restaurants in Moscow and partied at the best nightclubs, posting pictures on social media of himself with various scantily clad, attractive women. This video contains some of the details of Karpov’s wealth. The beginning of the video re-tells much of the story that the Kuznetsov video shows, so I am beginning the video for you at 1:48:

According to the video, Karpov’s pensioner mother had a $930,000 condo, other valuable pieces of land, a $47,000 Audi, and a $41,000 second-hand Porsche, despite a monthly income of only $500. Karpov, with a declared income of only $535 a month, somehow managed to drive a $72,000 Mercedes (paid off in one year) and a $126,000 Porsche. Altogether, the Karpov family’s assets were over $1.3 million.

The same pattern followed with Stepanova. Browder released this video that similarly described her astounding wealth despite a small official salary. You have to watch the video to believe it. The amounts of money involved are staggering — even compared to the luxurious lifestyles of Karpov and Kuznetsov. The video accuses the couple of having nearly $39 million in undeclared, illicit income:

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that both officers involved in the fraud — Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov– visited Cyprus, which is “a Mediterranean island nation often used for Russian money transfers.” It was reported in March that a Cyprian bank was looking into possible money-laundering by Paul Manafort, who is now a target of Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible misconduct by Trump advisers connected to Russia.

Tomorrow, in Part Three, I will discuss what Sergei Magnitsky did when he learned about this scheme — and how he suffered as a result.

This is Part Two of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. The springboard for the series of posts is this Michael Weiss article about Veselnitskaya and how she is connected to the Magnitsky case.

In Part One, I introduced the series and Weiss’s conclusions.

[Disclaimer]

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BREAKING: Trump Will Not Withdraw from Paris Climate Deal; UPDATE: Denied by White House

The pivot continues?

The Wall Street Journal is breaking the news.

Trump administration officials said Saturday the U.S. wouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement, offering to re-engage in the international deal to fight climate change, according to the European Union’s top energy official.

The shift from President Donald Trump’s decision in June to renegotiate the landmark accord or craft a new deal came during a meeting of more than 30 ministers led by Canada, China and the European Union in Montreal.

The official, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete, says that the U.S. will “review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement.”

Since the source is an official from the European Union, and not the White House, take it for what it’s worth. No further details are immediately available, but we’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: No sooner does the news break than it is denied:

UPDATE x2: So does the White House denial make this a complete non-story? Not necessary. Gabriel Malor:

Yup.

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California to Become a “Sanctuary State” — But It Could Have Been Worse

The concept of sanctuary cities has worked out so well — just ask the family of Kate Steinle! — that leftists have decided that the time has come to extend the concept to the entire state of California. The Los Angeles Times reports:

California lawmakers on Saturday passed a “sanctuary state” bill to protect immigrants without legal residency in the U.S., part of a broader push by Democrats to counter expanded deportation orders under the Trump administration.

The legislation by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the most far-reaching of its kind in the country, would limit state and local law enforcement communication with federal immigration authorities, and prevent officers from questioning and holding people on immigration violations.

It does appear that the bill might not be as bad as the label “sanctuary state” would seem to suggest, however.

[T]he bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown drastically scaled back the version first introduced, the result of tough negotiations between Brown and De León in the final weeks of the legislative session.

. . . .

Officially dubbed the “California Values Act,” the legislation initially would have prohibited state and local law enforcement agencies from using any resources to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents, unless they had violent or serious criminal convictions.

After talks with Brown, amendments to the bill made this week would allow federal immigration authorities to keep working with state corrections officials and to continue entering county jails to question immigrants. The legislation would also permit police and sheriffs to share information and transfer people to immigration authorities if they have been convicted of one or more crimes from a list of 800 outlined in a previous law, the California Trust Act.

The amendments, if true, complicate the life of the blogger who wants to do a simple post saying: THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! THE DAMNED LEFT WILL GET US ALL KILLED! The State of California may have dodged something of a bullet here. As you know if you have read me for any length of time, I’m not just going to take the word of the L.A. Times for anything. But I’ve looked at the language of the latest amendments, from September 11, 2017 (five days ago), and it does appear that Governor Brown significantly cut back on the most dangerous desires of Democrat senators.

Even with the recent amendments, I agree with the California State Sheriff’s Association that the bill as amended removes too much power from law enforcement to protect the public. The CSSA explains that the “bill does not allow for notification to federal authorities, at their request, of the pending release of certain wanted, undocumented criminals – including repeat drunken drivers, misdemeanor hit-and-run drivers and those who assault peace officers.”

The complaint of the California State Sheriff’s Assocation is accurate. The language of the latest amendments limits, to certain specified situations, the ability of law enforcement to 1) “provid[e] release dates . . . in response to a notification request from immigration authorities” and 2) transfer a person to immigration authorities. For cases where someone is held in jail for “[d]riving under the influence of alcohol or drugs” such notifications or transfers can occur “only for a conviction that is a felony.” Thus, ICE will not be notified of the release date of illegal immigrants who are repeat drunk drivers unless they are convicted of a felony. And in California, DUI defendants can be charged with misdemeanors until their fourth offense.

This is a real problem, because repeat drunk drivers cause a lot of deaths. In May 2007, I began a series called Deport the Criminals First which highlighted specific cases where illegal immigrants had come into contact with law enforcement before committing crimes of violence, but had not been deported. The victims I discussed were true casualties of our country’s immigration failures — because a working system of deportation would have saved their lives. And out of dozens and dozens of posts I wrote over the years about people victimized and killed by illegal immigrants, many of those people had been killed by illegal immigrants who were repeat drunk drivers.

I encourage anyone who might be in favor of a “sanctuary state” law to examine my “Deport the Criminals First” series of posts. Josef Stalin reportedly said: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” So I made sure each victim’s name was mentioned, and tried to find a picture of them if possible. Showing the actual victims of these crimes, I believed, was important, so that these deaths were not ignored as “statistics.” Instead, I hoped, each death could be viewed as the individual tragedy that it truly was.

The last such post I wrote was on July 4, 2015, and was about the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. I laid out in detail how Steinle (who bore an eerie resemblance to my youngest sister) was the victim of San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy, as well as the incompetence of ICE in releasing the illegal to a known sanctuary city.

One Donald J. Trump took up the Steinle case and made it a cause célèbre of sorts, for which I believe he deserves credit. I never consciously thought about ending the series, but now that I think about it, I believe that Trump’s championing of Steinle’s case essentially meant that, as they say, “my work here was done.”

But Kate Steinle is not the only person who has died as a result of our dysfunctional immigration system. And if we adopt irresponsible “sanctuary city” and even “sanctuary state” policies as a matter of course, there will be more Kate Steinles.

As I say, we here in California may have dodged a bullet here. But the new law will probably cause people to be hurt or killed, though nowhere near as many as the original proposal. We must be vigilant, or more people will die.

[Disclaimer]

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Trump: This Stupid President Should Have Issued a Better Travel Ban

Donald Trump took to Twitter this morning to complain about the U.S. President’s travel ban, which Trump said doesn’t go far enough.

If Trump feels this strongly about the matter, he should take his concerns to the President of the United States, who has the power to issue a larger, tougher, more specific ban.

I believe Trump has an unprecedented access to the man holding that office.

He can tell the President that the lower courts may be skeptical, but the Supreme Court has let the smaller, less tough, less specific ban remain in place for the most part. So why not do what you actually think is right? he should say.

In fact, Trump should march right into the Oval Office and say: Look here, Mr. President —

[This is the point at which Graham Chapman, dressed as a British army colonel, stands up and shouts: No, this is silly. The whole premise is silly and it’s very badly written!]

So let’s end the ironic tone, as I can’t really take it any further anyway.

Why is this guy acting like he’s not the President?

When you complain about something, but do nothing when you have the power to do so, some might conclude you don’t want to do it. For example: Republicans hilariously voted for ObamaCare repeal during Barack Obama’s presidency. But we now know that they never really wanted repeal. How do we know? Because they now have the power to pass that repeal, and they didn’t do it.

Trump has the power to issue a larger, tougher, more specific ban. (After all, the Supreme Court is backing his play on the existing one so far.) Yet he didn’t, for some reason. The logical conclusion is that he didn’t want to.

It’s laughable that he goes on Twitter to complain about his own inaction.

And this bit about political correctness — what is he even saying? Is he saying that he is sacrificing the country’s safety for the sake of political correctness? It’s kind of hard to read the tweet any other way.

After puzzling over this issue all morning for the last thirty seconds, I think I have figured out the problem. I think I know why Trump didn’t issue the more comprehensive travel ban that he says he himself should have issued. The reason is simple, if you think about it.

Chuck and Nancy didn’t go for it.

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Report: Trump Considering “Fixing” Rather than Repealing ObamaCare

The Hill:

President Trump was “open” to the idea of a bipartisan ObamaCare stabilization bill but did not make any commitments during a meeting Wednesday with a group of House lawmakers, attendees said.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers, known as the Problem Solvers, pitched Trump on their plan to stabilize ObamaCare markets.

“He was clearly open to it, intrigued,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a co-chair of the group.

Gottheimer said there was some discussion of the possibility that Democrats could call the bill a “fix” and Republicans could call it something else.

“I’ll call it a fix, others will call it what they want, but it matters less about what you call it than actually what it is,” Gottheimer said. “He was very intrigued by that.”

I’m not inclined to engage in a round of “I told you so” with this.

For one thing, it’s hard to know what to make of this. First of all, the only named source here is a Democrat, and the nature of what he is describing is vague.

And from what we know about Donald Trump, it doesn’t seem like much of a pivot. For one thing, he tends not to have terribly consistent messages about policy issues, and often puts himself on several sides of the same issue. In any event, he does not seem to have a deep-rooted philosophical opposition to using government to provide health care. He said during the campaign that he likes the ObamaCare mandate and that he wanted to use government to provide health care for all.

Yes, to the extent this story is accurate, it could be seen as a reversal of his oft-stated position that he was going to let ObamaCare implode. But that was a silly thing to say anyway. Republicans are in charge. They don’t get to let things implode and blame others for it.

What this highlights, more than anything, is the GOP’s failure to pass a genuine ObamaCare repeal. Trump would have signed one. To the extent that we’re now talking about a “fix” rather than repeal, the responsibiity for that lies on the shoulders of turncoats like McCain, Murkowski, Alexander, Heller, Capito, and Portman. (For an explanation as to why I am naming those names, see here.)

I’m sure many will seize upon this story as evidence that Trump is pivoting towards greater cooperation with Democrats. On a day when Trump is upsetting a lot of Trump supporters by confirming his support for a DACA deal that does not include funding for a wall, that interpretation would be a natural one to reach. But I think that interpretation would be a bit lazy and not entirely accurate. So I’m not going there.

P.S. I should add that I’m also not inclined in engage in a round of “I told you so” with respect to the DACA deal with Democrats. I have said that a legislative fix for the DREAMers issue may be appropriate, but creates a potential problem of unintended consequences. Still, a legislative fix is better than the unconstitutional diktat put out by President Obama. As for the lack of wall funding, I never took Trump that seriously about the wall or anything else. It’s not as though the immigration situation would be better under Hillary Clinton, for goodness’s sake. And illegal border crossings have been down — something that probably would not have happened under Hillary.

I just don’t see this as the event that will cause me to jump up on the table and call everyone who supported Trump a sucker. Frankly, I’m not sure any event would. I don’t see most Trump voters as suckers. I see them as people who selected the lesser of two evils.

Sure, there are some over-the-top abrasive types who loudly invested themselves in Trump and obnoxiously denounced anyone who wasn’t aboard the Trump train. I admit to being amused by the tears of some of those people — and the attempts by others to pretend that they never became that invested in him. To the extent my friends are calling some Trump supporters suckers, I suspect this is the type they’re talking about. The #MAGA “everyone who criticizes Trump is a wussy wimpy wussy wuss!” type of cheerleader. Those people know who they are, and today they are a little embarrassed.

But most Trump supporters are just good people who are used to being disappointed by government. They’re trying to do the best they can. If they’re disappointed yet again, they can handle it. I suspect that describes most of you.

[Disclaimer]

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Russ Roberts on the Merits of Civility (Alternate Title: A Post Few People Will Click On)

Russ Roberts has a nice piece on the state of our political world, and what to do about it. If I had to boil down his thesis, it would be: be nice and be humble.

BO-RING! Next!

Just kidding. It’s good advice. In the age of Trump, it is also very difficult advice to follow. And that makes the advice even more important.

This passage does not represent Roberts’s thesis, but just one example of how the Trump era causes people to discard their normal way of behaving, for the worse:

I follow a lot of mildly left-leaning journalists on Twitter who write for major publications and outlets. They are not fringe players. Their employers aren’t either. These reporters aren’t ideologues. They’re just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. They have decided he is dangerous and a liar and they write about it openly on Twitter. They mock him in a way they didn’t mock previous presidents who they didn’t particularly like. They may be right about the dangers posed by a Trump presidency. But their stance which violates long-standing norms of their profession amplifies the feelings of Trump supporters that those supporters are under attack from mainstream American culture.

Here’s a relatively benign but simple example. Trump says America is the most taxed nation in the world. This is not a true statement. But I suspect in Trump’s mind and the minds of his supporters, it’s not a lie. To them, Trump’s claim is a marketing statement, the way a real estate developer would tell you that this corner is the best location in the city. It’s enthusiasm to get you sympathetic to a tax cut.

Politicians lie and dissemble all the time. But they tend not to lie and dissemble about things that can be fact-checked. So this is new and it understandably outrages people and reporters. There is indeed something outrageous about this kind of hyperbole. So when a member of the media tweets or prints a chart showing Trump’s claim is totally incorrect, the chart reminds Haters of Trump that Trump is a buffoon and a liar. But it doesn’t convince the Lovers of Trump. Instead it confirms their view that the media is hostile to Trump. And as the media becomes more self-righteous in its denunciations of Trump, the Lovers of Trump see this as confirmation not of Trumps idiocy but of Trump as victim and the media as the enemy of their friend.

I am not suggesting that the media shouldn’t fact-check the President. But it’s a little like shooting fish in a barrel. And when it’s done with disdain or triumphalism it reinforces the view that Trump is embattled.

I’m not proud of my hatred of, and anger towards, Donald Trump. Hatred is a negative emotion. Anger is a negative emotion. (I’m working on it.) I reject virtually everything Trump stands for on a moral level. It is frustrating to point out his clear ethical failings — evidence of which crops up on a seemingly daily basis — and have people defend him nevertheless. If Trump and his supporters feel embattled, well, they’re not the only ones.

But reading Roberts’s column gives me a picture of how this dynamic can lead the embattled — on both sides, and that means me and you both! — to adopt a self-righteous attitude. I’m guilty of this. So are you. We can all do better. Roberts offers some simple ideas for doing so.

The ideas are time-honored, yet forgotten in our overheated climate. Turn the volume down when confronted with nastiness. Be humble. Imagine that you could be wrong — and that the person you are talking to could be right.

I fail to do these things, all the time. I will try to do better.

I appreciate Roberts setting these thoughts down to (virtual) paper, and I wanted to take a moment to spread the word. I commend the entire piece to you. It’s not the kind of post that will get a lot of clicks, shares, and so forth. But the ideas deserve to be spread. They’re not new with me, or even Russ Roberts. But we could all do with a reminder.

Thanks to reader Simon J. for the pointer.

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Trump Organization Breaks Promise Not to Deal With Foreign Governments

McClatchy reports that the Trump Organization has broken one of the first promises Trump made after his election: to ensure that the organization does not do business with foreign governments.

A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on the latest Trump golf club development in Dubai despite a pledge from Donald Trump that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president.

Trump’s partner, DAMAC Properties, awarded a $32-million contract to the Middle East subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build a six-lane road as part of the residential piece of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project called Akoya Oxygen, according to news releases released by both companies. It is scheduled to open next year.

The companies’ statements do not detail the exact timing of the contract except to note it was sometime in the first two months of 2017, just as Trump was inaugurated and questions were raised about a slew of potential conflicts of interest between his presidency and his vast real estate empire.

The Chinese company, known as CSCEC, is majority government-owned — according to Bloomberg and Moody’s, among others — an arrangement that generally encourages growth and drives out competition. It was listed as the 7th largest company in China and 37th worldwide with nearly $130 billion in revenues in 2014, according to Fortune’s Global 500 list.

At a news conference on January 11, 2017, Trump announced that he would be the beneficiary of a trust holding his assets in the Trump Organization. I cannot find the actual language of the trust agreement online, but the arrangement with the Chinese-owned company violates the terms of the trust agreement as laid out in a white paper prepared for that press conference. The white paper states:

[T]he Trust Agreement prohibits The Trump Organization from entering into any new transaction or contract with a foreign country, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including a sovereign wealth fund, foreign government official, or member of a royal family, the United States government or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or any state or local government or any agency or instrumentality thereof, other than normal and customary arrangements already undertaken before the President-Elect’s election.

Obviously, a contract signed “sometime in the first two months of 2017” was not signed before Trump’s election. Trump defenders may claim that, for all we know, the deal was struck in principle before the 2016 election, and merely set down on paper in the first two months of 2017. But in the press conference, Dillon said already pending deals not yet finalized had been terminated, at great expense to Trump and his family:

Through instructions in the trust agreement, President-elect trust — President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated. This impacted more than 30 deals, many of which were set to close by the end of 2016. As you can well imagine, that caused an immediate financial loss of millions of dollars, not just for President-elect Trump, but also for Don, Ivanka and Eric.

There is really no excuse for this arrangement. It is a financial arrangement made after Trump’s election with a foreign government by the Trump Organization. It violates Trump’s promises to the American people. Trump is simply banking on the notion that nobody will call him on it — or if they do, his supporters will shrug their shoulders, as they shrug at all his ethical lapses.

By the way, in that same press conference, Dillon also claimed:

President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotel to the United States Treasury. This way, it is the American people who will profit.

It hasn’t happened yet. Color me skeptical that it ever will.

I know it makes Trump supporters angry when people point out things like his broken promises and questionable ethical arrangements. That attitude makes it even more important to talk about them. Were this Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, these exact same people would scream to the heavens and never stop — so I’m not terribly interested in listening to them whine about how we should ignore this.

Donald Trump was elected in part on the argument that he could “drain the swamp” — that he could uniquely limit the influence of lobbyists and foreign governments on the workings of government. He promised specific ways that he would deal with the issue of retaining a financial stake in his businesses while occupying the Oval Office. Now that we are learning that he broke that promise, those who actually care about draining the swamp should raise hell.

[Disclaimer]

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New York Times Gives Trump a Taste of That Highly Addictive Media Praise

The New York Times is looking to groom their next chump, with a piece titled Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule. The piece dangles the possibility of media approval in front of Trump like a carrot on a stick tied to the head of a donkey:

Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.

He’s more presidential than anyone, except maybe Abraham Lincoln! The tool who wrote this, Peter Baker, no doubt had that absurd Trump claim in mind when he penned that line. Baker continues to ladle on the praise for Trump’s independence:

In recent weeks, he has quarreled more with fellow Republicans than with the opposition, blasting congressional leaders on Twitter, ousting former party officials in his White House, embracing primary challenges to incumbent lawmakers who defied him and blaming Republican figures for not advancing his policy agenda. On Friday, he addressed discontent about his approach with a Twitter post that started, “Republicans, sorry,” as if he were not one of them, and said party leaders had a “death wish.”

Yesterday I explained (adding my voice to a chorus of others) that Trump is very likely at the beginning of a bromance — not with Chuck Schumer, but with the media. The lure of Strange New Respect is a siren song that cannot be resisted by any aging narcissistic white man who pretends to be conservative but actually leans left in many ways. As I said:

Trump is a media junkie, and he mainlines coverage with his remote. . . . [He] really, really loves good media coverage. And the best way to get it is to tack left.

Just ask Anthony Kennedy. Once you get a dose of that sweet, sweet media approval, you never go back.

As you can see from the above quotes, the folks at The Times are not subtle about what they’re doing. They don’t have to be. They were about as blatantly obvious as they could be with Anthony Kennedy, and it worked like a charm.

But the folks at The Times aren’t dumb. They make clear that the approval is conditional. Keep working with Chuck and Nancy, and we’ll continue to applaud. Pull a fast one, and the Strange New Respect gets it:

None of which means that Mr. Trump has suddenly transformed himself into a center-hugging moderate. More situational than ideological — critics would say opportunist — Mr. Trump adjusts to the moment, and his temporary alignment with Democrats could easily unravel tomorrow. The deal he cut, after all, merely postponed a fight over spending and debt for three months. It did not resolve any substantive disagreements.

If this proves to be a blip, Mr. President, we’ll call you an opportunist. But if you continue to play ball . . . your reputation in the history books as an admirable voice of independence will be secure.

So, Mr. Trump. What’s it going to be?

Here’s how I see this story in my mind’s eye, presented in the form of a short one-act play.

SCENE: A city sidewalk. Donald Trump is walking down the street, approaching a man in an overcoat. The man with the overcoat is oddly wearing a fedora with a giant card that reads in block letters: “MEDIA.”

MEDIA: [In a low, conspiratorial voice:] Pssst! Hey, Trump! Come over here! [Opens overcoat.] I got a little of what you want here. [Voice lowers to a whisper.] Eternal media adoration.

TRUMP: [Starts to reach towards overcoat.]

MEDIA: [Wagging finger.] Uh-uh! Just a taste. All you get is just a taste . . . today.

TRUMP: How do I get it forever?

MEDIA: [Horns sprout from head, knocking the fedora off. Barbed tail slinks out behind him as he produces a contract. At the top is a title: “ETERNAL LEFTISM.”] You get the best deal we offer. Usually we ask for a soul, but . . . well, anyway, never mind. Trust me, this is nothing you didn’t want to do all your life anyway. [Shoves contract forward.]

TRUMP: Where do I sign?

Only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me?

Trump fancies himself to be a guy who makes “great deals.” I fear he is on the verge of making a deal with the media: leftism in exchange for praise.

The con man is getting conned. But the real victim of this particular con is not Trump. It’s you and me.

[Disclaimer]

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Source: Red State


Global Warming Insanity: Environmental Wackos Want Us to Eat “Bug Burgers”

This is your warning that you may not want to be eating when you read this post. The Associated Press reports that the new rage in Switzerland is eating insects. The reason? To fight global warming, of course:

Swallow deeply, pinch the nose and repeat the mantra: “Tastes like beef, tastes likes beef.” Then bite into the burger of rice, chopped vegetables, spices and mealworm larvae.

The Swiss supermarket chain Coop, to a bit of domestic hoopla, has begun selling burgers and balls made from insects. It’s being billed as a legal first in Europe, a continent more accustomed to steak, sausage, poultry and fish as a source of protein.

The goal is to convince leery consumers to try a nutritious, if unusual food that “preserves the planet’s resources,” Coop says.

About one-third of the burger is mealworm larvae. A burger weighing 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has about 10 grams of protein in it — about the same amount found in a child’s-size beef burger.

. . . .

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization has promoted insects as a source of human food, saying they are healthy and high in protein and minerals. The agency says many types of insects produce less greenhouse gases and ammonia than most livestock — such as methane-spewing cattle — and require less land and money to cultivate.

The people who made this recommendation should be force-fed mealworms at their next meeting.

I’d pay to watch that.

According to the article, a law was passed in Switzerland in May to authorize the sale as fool of “mealworm larvae, house crickets and migratory locusts.” Apparently the new bug burgers and insect balls are very popular. And how could they not be, with a description like this?

The burger itself has little white specks of rice inside with traces of carrot, paprika, chili powder and pepper. After a hesitant bite, the main flavors that come out are the spices. The texture is curious, a bit like a meaty falafel with a crunch. An aftertaste lingered — but maybe that was just my subconscious playing tricks.

The insect burgers, like the meat variety, can be accompanied by buns, tomatoes and lettuce. The insect balls — a mixture of mealworms with cilantro, onions and chickpeas — seem to fit best in pita bread, perhaps with a spoonful of yogurt.

Mmmmmm!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a big, thick, juicy, environment-destroying burger.

… a real one. Made from a cow.

[Disclaimer]

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Source: Red State