…there’s a line [DOT 12/4/22]

no...the other kind...

…ok…not “there’s a line in the sand” so much as “if you join up the dots”…& it’s definitely not a straight line, either…more…crooked as hell…for a saying as well known as “follow the money”…it’s really not as easy as it sounds

In reality, the shifting funds were part of a vast offshore empire associated with Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov. His connection to those transactions almost a decade ago is discernible only now because of details in secret financial records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with The Washington Post.

Kerimov is one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, a political ally of President Vladimir Putin and a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, representing his native Dagestan. He was first put under sanctions by the United States in 2018. Britain and the European Union followed suit last month as part of a global crackdown in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But the gaping holes in those bank reports — which now reside in a database maintained by Treasury — underscore how difficult it will be to locate, let alone freeze, assets connected to Kerimov and other Russian elites that have been moved into offshore accounts over the past decade.
“Russian elites and oligarchs are probably some of the best in the world at hiding their wealth,” said a senior Treasury official involved in directing the sanctions policy. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject. Luxury yachts, lavish homes and private jets are relatively easy to pursue because they are “out in plain sight,” the official said. “The thing that’s going to be hardest is places where people have set up front companies to hide their assets.”
Kerimov is among more than 4,000 Russian individuals whose names have appeared in vast troves of secret offshore financial records obtained by the ICIJ in recent years. Among them is a collection of more than 11.9 million documents known as the Pandora Papers, which was the basis for an investigative series published by The Post and international partners last year.

Russians outnumber other nationalities on the lists of individuals who have turned to the law firms and financial advisers that cater to global elites seeking to shelter their assets in Panama, the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.
The FinCEN Files, as that [cache of intelligence reports maintained by the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] is known, was obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with the ICIJ.
The Biden administration has requested millions of dollars in new federal funding for forensic teams at Treasury, created a “KleptoCapture” unit at the Justice Department and formed an international task force with allies to share financial intelligence. The name of the task force, REPO, is shorthand for its quarry: Russian elites, proxies and oligarchs.

But despite unprecedented cooperation among Western governments, there are still disparities in the sanctions lists adopted by the United States and its allies, as well as loopholes being exploited by oligarchs.
In its statement, bank officials said that “as a trusted member of the international banking community, we fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations.” The bank did not respond to specific questions about the reports it filed.

The errors in the bank’s SARs and the absence of any reference to Kerimov point to potentially crippling inadequacies in the data collected by FinCEN, the agency that fields SARs, relays the most significant data to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and will serve as the repository for more-thorough ownership records required under new laws. Sanctions authorities expect to rely extensively on this data in their efforts to locate the oligarchs’ assets.

The information gaps “are one of the challenges of FinCEN data,” the senior U.S. Treasury official said. “FinCEN and agencies like it in the U.K. and around the world are probably the critical piece of oligarch tracking.”
But even determined efforts to unmask the true owners of offshore accounts could lead down blind alleys.


…at least it is at a “stands up in court” level of detail…the broad strokes are a lot easier to see

For more than a decade, Trump had held up the kingdom as a prime example of U.S. foreign policy cozying up to nefarious allies of convenience. Almost immediately upon being sworn in, though, Trump shifted in a more Saudi-friendly direction. He held fast to that posture even after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was implicated in the gruesome murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He proceeded to override Congress’s objections to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and pressed forward with arms deals it had rejected.

All along, the motivation was apparent — Trump made clear that his overriding motivation was money — but the benefits weren’t. Trump’s solicitousness of the Saudis appeared to help them more than it helped us, and it ran decidedly counter to his “America First” foreign policy. At the tail end of his presidency, a Washington Post headline summarized the situation this way: “Trump threw Saudi Arabia a lifeline after Khashoggi’s death. Two years later, he has gotten little in return.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment for his Affinity Partners private equity firm from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince. This despite the fund’s advisers heavily criticizing the proposed deal.

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”; the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel.

Especially as the GOP pushes to raise questions about Hunter Biden allegedly profiting off his father’s name and power, it’s not difficult to grasp how sketchy this is. The Times noted that ethics experts said the investment could appear as payback for Kushner’s help in the White House, or as currying favor should Trump be elected president in 2024. The serious reservations raised by the fund’s advisers heighten questions about why the deal would go through.


…although…it’s maybe worth noting that even the saudis had misgivings about getting involved with such a toxic entity

A panel that screens investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund cited concerns about the proposed deal with Mr. Kushner’s newly formed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, previously undisclosed documents show.

Those objections included: “the inexperience of the Affinity Fund management”; the possibility that the kingdom would be responsible for “the bulk of the investment and risk”; due diligence on the fledgling firm’s operations that found them “unsatisfactory in all aspects”; a proposed asset management fee that “seems excessive”; and “public relations risks” from Mr. Kushner’s prior role as a senior adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, according to minutes of the panel’s meeting last June 30.

But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and a beneficiary of Mr. Kushner’s support when he worked as a White House adviser — overruled the panel.
The Saudi fund agreed to invest twice as much and on more generous terms with Mr. Kushner than it did at about the same time with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who was also starting a new fund — even though Mr. Mnuchin had a record as a successful investor before entering government, the documents show. The amount of the investment in his firm, Liberty Strategic Capital — $1 billion — has not been previously disclosed.
The Saudi fund agreed to invest twice as much and on more generous terms with Mr. Kushner than it did at about the same time with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who was also starting a new fund — even though Mr. Mnuchin had a record as a successful investor before entering government, the documents show. The amount of the investment in his firm, Liberty Strategic Capital — $1 billion — has not been previously disclosed.
The Times reported last fall that Mr. Kushner had been seeking a Saudi investment. Now, the internal fund records and correspondence obtained by The Times show the outcome, scale and timing of his firm’s deal as well as the debate it aroused. Those documents and other filings indicate that at this point Mr. Kushner’s venture depends primarily on the Saudi money.
No law or rules constrain the investment activities of former administration officials after leaving the White House; many from both parties have profited from connections and experiences gained in government.
Saudi officials say that the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, which also holds stakes in the ride-sharing company Uber and the Newcastle United Football Club in Britain, operates autonomously, with an elaborate governance structure that includes the investment panel. But Prince Mohammed took control of the fund when he rose to power in 2015 and he is its paramount decision maker.

Mr. Kushner, whose fund has not publicly disclosed a theme or focus, has little experience or track record in private equity. Before working in the White House, he ran his family’s commercial real estate empire, sometimes with disappointing results. His best-known deal was the $1.8 billion purchase of the office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, in 2007; the building’s mortgage became a crippling liability when the recession hit the next year.
Both Mr. Kushner’s and Mr. Mnuchin’s funds treated the Saudi fund as a “cornerstone” investor, the Public Investment Fund documents say, offering the Saudis a discount on the standard 2 percent asset management fee for private equity firms as well as a cut of the firm’s 20 percent share of any fund profits, known as carried interest.

But the Saudis agreed to pay Mr. Mnuchin’s firm only a 1 percent asset management fee, compared to 1.25 percent for Mr. Kushner’s, the documents indicate. On a $2 billion investment, that would pay his firm $25 million a year, not including a share of any profits earned by the Affinity fund.

Before Giving Billions to Jared Kushner, Saudi Investment Fund Had Big Doubts [NYT]

…but…as bryanl pointed out the other day…& I was too busy venting about boris johnson to get into before…some organizations kind of specialize in throwing money at what might look like bad bets

In mid-February, Axos refinanced a $100 million Trump Tower mortgage due in September, a New York City Finance Department document shows. The new loan was made just days after The Trump Organization’s auditor resigned, saying that 10 years of the company’s financial statements could not be relied upon.

In lending to The Trump Organization, Axos is stepping up when other banks have balked. But this is not unheard-of for Axos. An examination of legal filings, internal documents and land records shows Axos has a history of handling atypical loans.

Axos has teamed up with nonbank lenders on loans to small businesses that carried cripplingly high double- and triple-digit effective annual interest rates, loan documents show. The bank has also specialized in loans to foreign nationals, internal documents and its website state, and has offered a type of loan that allows borrowers who paid cash for a property to turn around and instantly take money out. Such loans may pose money laundering risks, banking analysts say.

The bank has also been sued by two former employees who say they were wrongfully fired after they raised questions about its practices. On March 21, Jennifer Brear Brinker, hired in 2018 to review the bank’s loan portfolios for its Governance, Risk Management and Compliance Department, filed suit against Axos in federal court in California.

Brinker accused the bank of intentionally understaffing its compliance department “in an effort to conceal its failure to comply with federal banking regulations” and contends she was terminated in January 2021 while completing a report highlighting deficiencies at Axos including “significant issues in the bank’s anti-money laundering practices.”
Later this month, Axos is scheduled to face a former internal auditor in a wrongful termination case in California federal court. That auditor, Charles Matthew Erhart, 35, was fired by Axos after he raised concerns about its practices, his 2015 lawsuit says. Among other practices alleged by Erhart — Axos allegedly failed to advise regulators of substantial and risky loans to dubious borrowers, did not disclose to regulators that it had received grand jury and other subpoenas, improperly denied that it held documents responsive to a Securities and Exchange Commission subpoena and instructed employees not to communicate with regulatory officials.
With $15.5 billion in assets at the end of 2021, Axos is a relatively small, federally chartered savings institution. J.P. Morgan Chase, by comparison, holds over $3 trillion in assets. Some $12.6 billion of Axos’ assets are loans, including residential mortgages and loans on commercial real estate and multi-family dwellings, SEC filings show.
Axos has been a fast grower and has turned in a torrid stock performance in recent years. In 2018, [Gregory] Garrabrants [a lawyer, former Goldman Sachs banker and McKinsey & Co. consultant. Before joining Axos in October 2007, Garrabrants was an executive at Indymac, a huge California savings & loan that collapsed in July 2008 under a mountain of toxic mortgages, according to bank regulators. Indymac was one of the nation’s biggest bank failures, costing the FDIC fund more than $10 billion, a government investigator estimated.] earned $27 million, just 10 percent less than the $30 million received by Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.


…so far so sounds-dodgy-as-fuck…but…there’s more

Axos is an unusual lender, steeped in controversy. Its CEO and top investors have strong financial ties to the GOP. And Axos appears to be solidifying its position as the Trump-family banker, having previously stepped in as a financier for the family company of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The company has grown aggressively — and left many aggrieved parties in its wake — as it has sought to disrupt traditional banking. The firm rebranded in 2018 as Axos (with the even bro-ier stock ticker AX) in the wake of an SEC investigation and a spate of lawsuits. (The probe closed in 2017 without the regulator taking action.)
Garrabrants and Hankey are both prolific donors to Republican candidates and campaign committees. Federal campaign records show Garrabrants giving heavily to the GOP in 2018, donating to a slew of Senate candidates including Missouri’s Josh Hawley, Texas’ Ted Cruz, and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn. He also supported the campaign of Devin Nunes, the former senior congressman and Trump ally who now runs Trump’s social media company.

In 2020, though, Garrabrants ramped up Republican donations. He gave large donations to Trump’s reelection campaign totaling almost $10,000. He also donated heavily to help Republicans retain control of the Senate, funding David Perdue, the Georgia Republican who lost his Senate runoff election to Democrat Jon Ossoff. He also backed failed Arizona Republican contender Martha McSally and Michigan Republican John James.

Hankey, the Axos investor, has given more than $100,000 to a slew of GOP causes, from numerous state-level parties to national figures including the 2016 presidential campaigns of Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Jeb Bush, as well as Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

…oh, yeah…they also helped out jared a bunch

This flurry of lending to the Kushner Company began when Jared Kushner was senior adviser to his father-in-law, then-president Trump. At the time, Jared had ostensibly stepped back from management of the family business, but, controversially, retained an interest in the company’s finances.

As for Axos, the bank had just emerged from the shadow of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The regulator began investigating Axos — then BOFI — in 2015, during the Obama administration. The probe closed without action in 2017, during the Trump years, according to a timeline produced by Probes Reporter, an investment research firm that specializes in bringing SEC actions to light. The exact contours of the investigation — and the reasoning behind the decision to close it — have not been made public.

…as it happens there’s kind of a lot they’d prefer wouldn’t be made public

The Erhart suit also contains other, far more explosive allegations. In doing an audit of senior executive accounts, Erhart claimed to have “discovered that CEO Gregory Garrabrants was depositing third-party checks… into a personal account, including nearly $100,000 in checks made payable to third parties,” according to the suit. Erhart became concerned as to “whether or not the CEO was reporting the income to the IRS.”
Erhart also alleged that the largest consumer account at the bank was opened under the tax ID of Steven Garrabrants, the CEO’s brother. “The account had a balance of approximately $4 million, and the CEO was the signer on the account,” the complaint contends. “As Steven Garrabrants was a minor league baseball player earning poverty wages,” the suit adds, “Plaintiff could find no evidence of how he had come legally into possession of the $4 million wired into the account. From the foregoing, Plaintiff was concerned about whether CEO Garrabrants could be involved in tax evasion and/or money laundering.”
In addition to this peculiar financial activity from the CEO, Erhart alleged the bank was doing business with unsavory characters “in potential violation” of Bank Secrecy Act rules that require financial institutions to do due diligence on their customers. The lawsuit states that in his audit activity, Erhart was “able to readily uncover information that many of the borrowers were criminals, even notorious criminals… who put the bank at high risk for violating the Bank Secrecy Act’s Anti-Money Laundering Rules.” The customers, he alleged “included very high level foreign officials from major oil-producing countries and war zones.”

Axos has been hounded by lawsuits related to Erharts’ allegations. Litigation originally filed by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System morphed into a class action suit from investors who believed they’d been misled by the bank. In their lawsuit, they claimed that “representations portraying BofI” (now Axos) “as a careful, prudent institution masked a troubled entity that resorted to high-risk lending practices… to fraudulently boost its loan volume and earnings.”

The allegations of “troubling conduct,” the suit continued, “are informed by firsthand witness… a number of whom describe senior management (particularly Garrabrants…) as improperly pressuring or directing… audit personnel to alter or bury their reports and findings so as to hide compliance issues from regulators.”

The litigation has dragged on for years, but a settlement is now reportedly pending in which Axos will pay $900,000 to settle the charges but not admit wrongdoing.

The Totally Dodgy Backstory of the Bank that Just Refinanced Trump Tower [Rolling Stone]

…you’d think maybe that sort of thing would raise a few flags…but…some regulators seem to be willing to grant surprising amounts of leeway?

…but then…the eyes of the law do sometimes seem in need of better glasses

Two Buffalo police officers who shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground during a protest in 2020 have been cleared by an arbitrator, who said the use of force was “absolutely legitimate” because the man, who was hospitalized with a head injury, was “not an innocent bystander.”

The 41-page ruling from the arbitrator, Jeffrey Selchick, was issued on Friday. It came nearly two years after a widely viewed video taken by WBFO, a local radio station, showed the two officers, Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, shoving the man, Martin Gugino, who was attending a protest in June 2020 after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Last year, a grand jury declined to indict the two officers, who had been facing felony assault charges.
The officers had not violated the department’s guidelines, Mr. Selchick wrote, and there was no evidence that they “had any other viable options other than to move Gugino out of the way of their forward movement.” Mr. Gugino, he added, had not complied with an order “to move back, and was making odd physical gestures within a foot” of the officers.
John Evans, the president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement that Mr. Selchick “saw through the political witch hunt” levied against the officers.

“True law enforcement and politics don’t mix,” he said. “That is clear. It is great that they are back to work.”
Both officers testified at the arbitration hearing that they had wanted Mr. Gugino out of their personal space.

Officer Torgalski testified that Mr. Gugino had touched his “bare skin,” causing him to feel concerned about his health because he had “absolutely no interest” in contracting the coronavirus at the time, according to the arbitrator’s ruling.

Officer McCabe told the arbitrator that Mr. Gugino moved his hand close to Officer Torgalski’s weapon, making him feel concerned.

“McCabe described the amount of force he used as ‘very little’ and contrasted the force he used with the force he could have used had he intended on ‘driving’ Gugino back,” Mr. Selchick wrote.


…assuming torgalski wasn’t the one of the pair whose visor seems to be tipped up partway…on account of citing his fear of the virus…I’d note that the old man they shoved was (unlike the officers) wearing a facemask…the sort you might don if, say, you gave a fuck about not potentially passing on that sort of thing to people you encountered…but I think it’s interesting to imagine that line of reasoning in reverse

“well, your honor, it’s like this – the cops were invading my personal space & I had zero interest in catching covid off the no-facemask-having sons of bitches so, yeah, I shoved him…I could have shoved him a lot harder if I was looking to fuck him up, mind…so it ain’t on me that he fell on over & busted his head open & wound up in a coma”

…I’m sure that would be an adequate defense…anyway…speaking of what makes an adequate defense

It seemed an all but futile request. Japan, which has forsworn combat since the end of World War II, had not sent military matériel to another country in the midst of fighting a war in more than 75 years.

But within a week, the Japanese government had modified its rules governing military exports. And in early March, the country’s Self-Defense Forces loaded up a Boeing KC-767 tanker aircraft with bulletproof vests and helmets, bound for the battlefields of Ukraine.

Although it could not compare with the airlift of arms sent by American and European officials, the military aid marked a decisive moment in Japan’s evolution away from the pacifist identity it has embraced since the United States pushed to insert a clause renouncing war into Japan’s postwar Constitution.

Not only has Japan moved swiftly to enact sanctions against Russia in near lock step with the United States and Europe — in contrast to its response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 — but it has also intensified broader security discussions as it confronts rising threats from China and North Korea.

It’s another example of how the war in Ukraine has reordered the world, swiftly changing the stance of nations once reluctant to invest in military power, most notably Germany. There are growing calls among Japanese lawmakers for a significant increase in the country’s defense budget and an intensifying debate about whether Japan should acquire weapons capable of striking missile launch sites in enemy territory.

With Threats All Around, Japan Moves to Shed Its Pacifist Constraints [NYT]

…there’s a lot of reconsidering going around

The Biden administration is vigorously debating how much the United States can or should assist an investigation into Russian atrocities in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.

The Biden team strongly wants to see President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and others in his military chain of command held to account. And many are said to consider the court — which was created by a global treaty two decades ago as a venue for prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — the body most capable of achieving that.

But laws from 1999 and 2002, enacted by a Congress wary that the court might investigate Americans, limit the government’s ability to provide support. And the United States has long objected to any exercise of jurisdiction by the court over citizens of countries that are not part of the treaty that created it — like the United States, but also Russia.

The internal debate, described by senior administration officials and others familiar with the matter on the condition of anonymity, has been partly shaped by a previously undisclosed 2010 memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Obtained by The New York Times, the memo interprets the scope and limits of permissible cooperation with the court.


…& a lot of appeals to weirdly non-specific courts

In response to sweeping financial sanctions imposed on Russian banks since the war in Ukraine began, the Kremlin has said it would pay holders of its dollar-denominated bonds in roubles. However, many investors would view this as a form of default, a situation in which governments are unable to keep up their debt payments.

Siluanov suggested Russia could go to court to argue that the terms of its repayments had been met, without saying where such a hearing could happen. “Of course we will sue, because we have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that investors receive their payments,” he said.

“We will present in court our bills confirming our efforts to pay both in foreign currency and in roubles. It will not be an easy process. We will have to very actively prove our case, despite all the difficulties,” he added.

The credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said last week that it believed Russia had made debt payments on its US dollar-denominated bonds in roubles when payments were due on 4 April. It had been due to make a payment of $649m (£498m) to holders of two of its sovereign bonds, although it was blocked from doing so by US sanctions preventing Russia from using dollars to service its debts.

Investors are not expected to be able to convert those payments into dollars equivalent to the original amounts the Russian government was due to pay. “We think sanctions on Russia are likely to be further increased in the coming weeks, hampering Russia’s willingness and technical abilities to honour the terms and conditions of its obligations to foreign debtholders,” Standard & Poor’s said.


…& some unfortunate parallels

Today’s Brexit Conservatives will hate the comparison, but there are inconvenient parallels between their domestic agenda and Hungary’s newly elected, self-confessed apostle of democratic illiberalism, Viktor Orbán, French uber-nationalist and anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen and Poland’s murky Law and Justice party. All trumpet a boastful nationalism and disregard international law, all aim to create a hostile climate for immigrants, all believe the electoral system should be manipulated for their advantage, all distrust a pluralist media, all want to limit dissent and expand summary policing powers, all incline to traditional views about sexuality and the family and, to varying degrees, all are climate change deniers.

All habitually dissimulate and even lie; criticism is fake news. The Johnson government’s police, nationality and borders and election bills come from these same rightwing, anti-Enlightenment, illiberal roots, as does its assault on public service broadcasting and, of course, the big beast of them all, Brexit. Paradoxically, Brexit Toryism is very European – if Europe at its worst.

Yet for the mainstream centre and liberal left the threat is that electorates, far from caring about this retreat from openness and democracy into nationalist, anti-democratic closure, happily collude with it, even vote for it. Orbán emphatically won two-thirds of the vote in Hungary last Sunday as war raged in Ukraine, even if aided and abetted by a rigged media and voting system. Similarly, French voters, having briefly rallied to President Emmanuel Macron as war leader, are now inclining to Le Pen, who is expected to run him a close second in the first round of the presidential election today. In the final runoff on 24 April, the pollsters are saying the result is too close to call – even if Macron is still considered to be just ahead.


…to dwell on the UK thing again

In the wake of the vote for Brexit, the people who first took control of the Conservative party seemed to have decided on a response to all that resentment. If you want a flavour of the thinking at work, have another look at the speech Theresa May gave to the Conservative conference in the autumn of 2016, chiefly famed for its somewhat ugly jibe at “citizens of nowhere”. May talked about “a sense – deep, profound and, let’s face it, often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them”. She acknowledged “division and unfairness all around … perhaps most of all between the rich, the successful and the powerful – and their fellow citizens”. Part of the answer she offered was about a renewed spirit of common citizenship, and people at the top respecting “the bonds and obligations that make our society work”.

To cite this stuff is not to suggest that it would necessarily have been manifested in policy and political substance, nor that, if May’s time in Downing Street had gone on, she would have more of a sense of purpose than Johnson. She too was faced with questions about spousal tax arrangements: her husband, Philip, worked for an investment firm that paid no corporation tax for eight years, and was linked to offshore tax havens in the Paradise Papers. But her tone and style, at least, were very different from her successor’s. She was a roundhead; Johnson is a cavalier, and since he took power he has recklessly bounced around a political landscape that demands a sensitivity and personal restraint that he and some of his senior colleagues simply do not possess.

To some extent, Johnson has capitalised on voters’ dim view of politics and politicians, which – initially, at least – allowed him to make a pitch to the public delivered via winks and smirks: the suggestion that if all politicians were rogues, people ought to pick one they at least liked. But in his offer of “levelling up”, there is also an echo of the reconnection between power and people that May promised. What he and other Tories have constantly failed to understand is that the credibility of that idea is compromised not just by an absence of funding and detail, but by their conduct. Put bluntly, you are not going to convince people in Middlesbrough and Stoke-on-Trent that you are on their side if what they read about you seems to constantly involve seven-figure sums of money, “tax statuses” and old-fashioned class privilege.

From Sunak’s non-dom problem to Javid’s offshore trusts, will the staggering wealth gap between the government and ordinary Britons finally tell? [Guardian]

…still…if you can’t take these people out of office…then they hold the proverbial reins of power…which leaves the rest of us stuck traveling in the direction they point us all in

Now that we’ve watched Russia launch an oil-fired invasion of Ukraine, it’s a little easier to see this trend in high relief – but Putin is far from the only case. Consider the examples.

Brazil, in 2015 at Paris, had been led by Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ party, which had for the most part worked to limit deforestation in the Amazon. In some ways the country could claim to have done more than any other on climate damage, simply by slowing the cutting. But in 2021 Jair Bolsonaro was in charge, at the head of a government that empowered every big-time cattle rancher and mahogany poacher in the country. If people cared about the climate, he said, they could eat less and “poop every other day”. And if they cared about democracy, they could … go to jail. “Only God can take me from the presidency,” he explained ahead of this year’s elections.

Or India, which may turn out to be the most pivotal nation given the projected increases in its energy use – and which had refused its equivalent of Greta Thunberg even a visa to attend the [climate summit]. (At least Disha Ravi was no longer in jail).

Or Russia (about which more in a minute) or China – a decade ago we could still, albeit with some hazard and some care, hold climate protests and demonstrations in Beijing. Don’t try that now.

Or, of course, the US, whose deep democratic deficits have long haunted climate negotiations. The reason we have a system of voluntary pledges, not a binding global agreement, is that the world finally figured out there would never be 66 votes in the US Senate for a real treaty.

Joe Biden had expected to arrive at the talks with the Build Back Better bill in his back pocket, slap it down on the table, and start a bidding war with the Chinese – but the other Joe, Manchin of West Virginia, the biggest single recipient of fossil fuel cash in DC, made sure that didn’t happen. Instead Biden showed up empty-handed and the talks fizzled.

And so we were left contemplating a world whose people badly want action on climate change, but whose systems aren’t delivering it. In 2021 the UN Development Programme conducted a remarkable poll, across the planet – they questioned people through video-game networks to reach humans less likely to answer traditional surveys. Even amid the Covid pandemic, 64% of them described climate change as a “global emergency”, and that by decisive margins they wanted “broad climate policies beyond the current state of play”. As the UNDP director, Achim Steiner, summarized, “the results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support amongst people around the globe, across nationalities, age, gender and education level”.
Those practical problems begin with the fact that autocrats have their own vested interests to please – Modi campaigned for his role atop the world’s largest democracy on the corporate jet of Adani, the largest coal company in the subcontinent. Don’t assume for a minute that there’s not a fossil fuel lobby in China; right now it’s busy telling Xi that economic growth depends on more coal.

And beyond that, autocrats are often directly the result of fossil fuel. The crucial thing about oil and gas is that it is concentrated in a few spots around the world, and hence the people who live on top of or otherwise control those spots end up with huge amounts of unwarranted and unaccountable power.

Boris Johnson was just off in Saudi Arabia trying to round up some hydrocarbons – the day after the king beheaded 81 folks he didn’t like. Would anyone pay the slightest attention to the Saudi royal family if they did not possess oil? No. Nor would the Koch brothers have been able to dominate American politics on the basis of their ideas –when David Koch ran for the White House on the Libertarian ticket in 1980 he got almost no votes. So he and his brother Charles decided to use their winnings as America’s largest oil and gas barons to buy the GOP, and the rest is (dysfunctional) political history.

The most striking example of this phenomenon, it hardly need be said, is Vladimir Putin, a man whose power rests almost entirely on the production of stuff that you can burn. If I wandered through my house, it would be no problem to find electronics from China, textiles from India, all manner of goods from the EU – but there’s nothing anywhere that would say “made in Russia”. Sixty per cent of the export earnings that equipped his army came from oil and gas, and all the political clout that has cowed western Europe for decades came from his fingers on the gas spigot. He and his hideous war are the product of fossil fuel, and his fossil fuel interests have done much to corrupt the rest of the world.

It’s worth remembering that Donald Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, wears the Order of Friendship, personally pinned on his lapel by Putin in thanks for the vast investments Tillerson’s firm (that would be Exxon) had made in the Arctic – a region opened to their exploitation by the fact that it had, um, melted. And these guys stick together: it’s entirely unsurprising that when Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks and Amazon quit Russia last month, Koch Industries announced that it was staying put. The family business began, after all, by building refineries for Stalin.

…speaking of which…if you’re wondering who else might be sticking around in that russian market…the NYT ran a list the other day

Some of the Biggest Brands Are Leaving Russia. Others Just Can’t Quit Putin. Here’s a List. [NYT]

…anyway…back to the other thing

As a general rule of thumb, those territories with the healthiest, least-captive-to-vested-interest democracies are making the most progress on climate change. Look around the world at Iceland or Costa Rica, around Europe at Finland or Spain, around the US at California or New York. So part of the job for climate campaigners is to work for functioning democratic states, where people’s demands for a working future will be prioritized over vested interest, ideology and personal fiefdoms.

But given the time constraints that physics impose – the need for rapid action everywhere – that can’t be the whole strategy. In fact, activists have arguably been a little too focused on politics as a source of change, and paid not quite enough attention to the other power center in our civilization: money.
The same thing’s true globally. We may not be able to advocate in Beijing or Moscow or, increasingly, in Delhi. So, at least for these purposes, it’s useful that the biggest pots of money remain in Manhattan, in London, in Frankfurt, in Tokyo. These are places we still can make some noise.
Moreover, if we can persuade the world of money to act, it’s capable of doing so quickly. Should, say, Chase Bank, currently the biggest lender on earth to fossil fuel, announce this year that it was quickly phasing out that support, the news would ripple out across stock markets in the matter of hours. That’s why some of us have felt it worthwhile to mount increasingly larger campaigns against these financial institutions, and to head off to jail from their lobbies.
Putin’s grotesque war might be where some of these strands come together. It highlights the ways that fossil fuel builds autocracy, and the power that control of scarce supplies gives to autocrats. It’s also shown us the power of financial systems to put pressure on the most recalcitrant political leaders: Russia is being systematically and effectively punished by bankers and corporations, though as my Ukrainian colleague Svitlana Romanko and I pointed out recently, they could be doing far more. The shock of the war may also be strengthening the resolve and unity of the world’s remaining democracies and perhaps – one can hope – diminishing the attraction of would-be despots like Donald Trump.

But we’ve got years, not decades, to get the climate crisis under some kind of control. We won’t get more moments like this. The brave people of Ukraine may be fighting for more than they can know.


…& how that’s going depends a little on who you ask

[Ezra Klein:]How do you understand how the war has gone militarily for both sides? Has Russia been as weak as they’re often now portrayed in the US? Has Ukraine been as strong? What do you see as the balance of military power and potentiality?

[Fiona Hill:] Well, it’s actually fairly complex. There’s a really good case to be made that the Russian battle plans have not gone as they would have intended, and similarly, that the levels of resistance from Ukraine has been far more than anybody anticipated — certainly on the Western side of things. Look, I mean, I was hearing from many very well-informed analysts of the Russian military that this would all be over — we were all hearing that, right, 48 hours, 72 hours, a week maximum.

And there were others, Russian military analysts, who have also pointed out that perhaps the model for this intervention was actually the models of the intervention that the Soviet army launched against Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. And again, what they were probably planning on doing in Poland in the 1980s, which they went in, in force, in a very large mass — pretty much shock and awe approach, with tanks and large number of military, tried to minimize the shooting, and then basically put down governments that were trying to go their own way in all of these three countries.

And so that was what they were anticipating that they would do in Ukraine. And those of us in the West, myself included, who have described this as a blitzkrieg — so these Russian military analysts were saying were kind of wrong, that they thought that this is much more like the Red Army interventions in the Soviet era against other members of the Soviet bloc. So this is a mistake, still, on the part of Moscow, thinking that Ukraine would capitulate and sort of fade away.

And there wouldn’t be the kind of resistance that they obviously encountered, and that it would be much more like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and this would be over fairly quickly. So there’s all kinds of different dimensions to this. But clearly, whatever planning they had there initially, however they thought about this operation from the Russian side, it hasn’t gone according to plan, because we see this in the terms of the high casualties.
Look, I think it depends on how we define winning, right? I mean, you think about Finland, for example, that won the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1940, when there was an effort very similar to what’s happening in Ukraine to reincorporate them back into the Soviet Union, having won their independence already with the collapse of the Russian Empire.

And the Finns won, in terms of their independence and their freedom, but at great cost, pretty heavy casualties — although they actually wreaked havoc on the Soviet military, on the Red Army, through guerrilla warfare, and the kind of resistance that we’re sort of seeing now. But they lost a huge swathe of their territory in Karelia, and I think there’s obviously a case to be made here, which is — as we’re looking very closely at what the Russians are attempting to do, if they’re going to basically carve off the East and the South.

You can make a case that the Ukrainians will win their independence and sovereignty, which honestly they had up until Feb. 24, with the obviously notable exception of the annexation of Crimea and what was already going on, a hot war in Donbas that had been going on since 2014 — but now, rewinning it again, as the Finns had to do in the 1940s, but at great cost.
And that makes the stakes of the outcome here so much higher. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes to find some workable solution. I think what we’re going to have to do is think about this in phases, that whatever might be resolved now might be temporary. And then, of course, we’ll have to work on whatever we can do to make sure that the Russians can’t press whatever advantage they may think that they may have down the line. That’s why there’s so much discussion about security guarantees to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. What kind of formulations can you have for referenda, for example? If there’s some decision to cede some territory, which there certainly isn’t at this particular point — because the Russians have said, Putin has said, they’ve not really changed the goal posts in many respects.

They’re still saying what they wanted right from the very beginning, which is the recognition of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, but in their full territory. And that would probably be very much a prelude to, let’s just say, absorption into Russia as well. I mean, that seems to be part of the plan as well. They clearly want to have the dismemberment of Ukraine, and that would affect that.
And what we really need is a very large and robust international framework around this as well. When we’re talking about the security guarantees, when the Ukrainians are talking about this, they’re feeling out what is possible. Some people have been surprised — they put the Russians out there, as well as the Chinese. But really what they’re grasping towards is they need a larger framework.

It can’t be just assurances that they’ve had in the past from a handful of countries, like the Budapest Memorandum, which is assurances by the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia that didn’t hold back in 1994 for Ukraine. And in many respects, they’re kind of talking about an Article V type guarantee, not from NATO, because they’re saying that they’re very willing not to be members of NATO. And frankly, NATO doesn’t want to have them as members.

But they want to have guarantees that they’re not going to be subject to this slaughter again. And they certainly want to have the ability to defend themselves. There’s going to be a lot of devils in a lot of details here. This is going to be very difficult to work out.
And so Volodymyr Zelensky is saying, what is the use of the United Nations, which was actually set up precisely to try to push back against these kinds of conflicts emerging again, the abuses that we saw in war. Remember that very famous line, never let a good crisis go to waste. And Zelensky is basically saying, look, here we have another of these crises, these horrors of the conflict here. And the United Nations is just not living up to the task. We really need to do something here. So there’s a much larger, rather implication, out of what we’re seeing here, what we’ve seen in Bucha and in Irpin, and all of the suburbs of Kyiv, and what we’re seeing. But we haven’t got the full picture of what’s happening in Mariupol and Melitopol. All of these cities are going to go down in the annals of history like Aleppo, and all of the cities that we’re thinking about being destroyed during World War II, like Stalingrad and the Leningrad — even in the Soviet Union, the similar sieges and the massive casualties.

And it’s really, basically, a wake up call to all of us that we need to do better. We need to do something about this. Zelensky is saying this every single day. And that’s kind of the implications, is that when we get a grip on this, that we have to really make sure that we’re putting in place institutional arrangements and responses that will make it less likely this happens again. We should all be ashamed in and watching this unfold.


…& I guess I’d be inclined to say she’s right about the “need to do better” part…but…well…as I seem to tend to with some predictability…I’d argue that could be said about some other stuff…& that ramping up the spending (in a whole bunch of countries) on what some like to call the military-industrial complex…which is, at the end of the day, very much as reliant on a petro-chemical foundation as much of the rest of first-world society…arguably drags a bunch of that other stuff in the wrong direction

Unfortunately, debates about distant future decisions and future uncertainties are distracting advocates, policymakers, researchers and the public from their shared, near-term goals. At best, these disputes give observers — especially policymakers and their advisers, who are trying to make tough short-term decisions during a global energy security crisis — a misleading impression that experts disagree about effective steps to decarbonize energy systems. At worst, these disputes can stall progress by delaying policies and incentives that would accelerate clean energy deployment.
The Paris Agreement goal of keeping the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) past preindustrial levels means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly half by 2030, on the way to net-zero emissions by near midcentury. As we pursue these ambitious reductions, debates about how much of our energy can or should come from wind and solar 30 years from now obfuscate a near-consensus on next steps. For the coming decade, rapidly reducing coal electricity and building extensive wind, solar and storage systems are low-cost strategies in many places, regardless of how much energy might or might not eventually come from renewables.
Let’s also not argue about exactly how much carbon removal may be needed by midcentury. Carbon removal and carbon capture have proven to be polarizing among environmental groups; some have resisted state and federal climate policies because of their inclusion. Bear in mind, though, that there are many options for removing carbon from the atmosphere to offset emissions in agriculture, aviation, and industry. Investing in removal-related research and development and exploring commercialization may be valuable near-term steps, but it’s premature to worry about the right balance of carbon removal versus other strategies. Contrary to claims that carbon removal is fundamentally at odds with other strategies, we can spend the next decade simultaneously deploying available clean energy technologies and scaling up removal strategies.

We can also move past the debate over whether we have all the technologies we need. Pilot-scale and commercial projects exist for almost all emissions sources, even for harder-to-abate ones. We’re unlikely to reach ambitious goals like net-zero emissions without making use of all technology and policy tools at our disposal and without continued investments in research and development. Having more options at lower costs could make the energy transition more affordable. Conversely, progress toward mitigating climate change doesn’t depend on any one technology alone, and we’re making strong progress on many fronts. Innovation often breeds more innovation, so positive surprises may yet await us.
The United States pledged in 2021 to cut emissions at least in half by 2030, but emissions surged almost 7 percent in 2021. Although the budget bill is currently stalled in the Senate, over $500 billion in clean energy investments in the bill could, according to a recent analysis, put emissions back on track to meet the 2030 target.
It is also important to consider how well-designed climate strategies may support national and regional economic goals, including jobs, equity, and overall economic activity. For example, while the costs of rooftop solar are decreasing, there have been large disparities in its adoption in the United States by race, ethnicity, and income. The consequences of air pollution from many current energy systems can be inequitable, but a transition to sustainable and low-carbon energy systems may mitigate such disparities. Decarbonization strategies should aim to equalize opportunities for adopting new technologies and to promote just transitions.
The decisions we make now may have an outsize impact on humanity’s long-term future. Climate change threatens to jeopardize communities, public health and the environment. The next steps are clearer and more affordable than they have ever been.

We Are Wasting Time on These Climate Debates. The Next Steps Are Clear. [NYT]

…&…somewhat ironically…there’s a bunch of other stuff I vaguely meant to include that I’m once again clearly out of time to get to…so my next steps are also pretty clear…& predictably involve finding coffee…& tunes



  1. Not hip hop, but this seems appropriate for these times:

    How many truths can you hold on to?
    How many lies have you been told?
    How many times have you been under
    Another system of control?
    Meet me at the edge of the world
    To watch it all burn


  2. Does nobody know this because the press is lazy & not doing its job or because they want him to fail & bring back the man that brought constant headlines?

    Better living through chemistry?


    and finally some good racist Karen news!


    • The batshit racist in that Karen story clearly has dementia or some sort of mental decline. Her behavior is seriously erratic. Old racists in nursing homes will often pull that kind of shit, too, as dementia sets in. She needs to go into a care facility, and not be allowed to wander the streets. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with her punishment, because I do — but she also needs an assessment and be remanded into care.

      In Florida you can Baker Act (verbing the name of the legislation as we do) someone who is a danger to themselves or others and they can be taken into custody and assessed. Threatening harm to another is enough to trigger that.

      • When it first started happening, they had this story on our local news and the lady was a crazy Trump-humper.  This article doesn’t show that she had MAGA shit on her house and would definitely be a good poster child for reasons to sue Fox News.

  3. The Hunter Biden stuff keeps getting funnier because everything they accuse him of — drugs, foreign money, access-peddling — has been done bigger and worse by all of Mango’s progeny and their assorted spouses/hangers-on/dealers. Drugs? You best believe Donj has got that covered, sorted into lines, snorted and re-covered. Foreign money? Billions to Kushner (plus whichever Russians/gangsters floated Trump his money in the first place). Access peddling, literally all of them, constantly.

    “Whataboutism” is a bad argument, and if Hunter Biden tried to cash in on his name — and I am sure he did because that’s what every failson does — he should face reasonable punishment for it (and stronger laws should be in affect to prevent it in the future), but it’s absurd for the media to try and dissect his unproven criminality without a giant chunk of context about the open violations of ethics that came from the previous administration’s kids! I don’t care if there’s a diagram on how to build a dirty bomb on Hunter’s miraculous laptop with a note saying “Sell to highest bidder” — none of that is even in the ballpark of what Kushner has been found to have been doing for years.

    I remember people complaining that Chelsea simply got a job with NBC News, and yes, she got hired for her name, like many, many, MANY people before her. That’s bad! I’m against that! However, you can’t hold that up as somehow being equal in stature to, like, “What if we are owned by the people invading a European country?” or “What if I take $2 billion from people who then have a stake to get me back in the White House?” It’s just not the same shit.

    • And the rare self-reply here: Kids of famous people living off the name is a thing that happens and it always sucks. John McCain’s daughter, of course, a notable example — did you know John McCain is her father?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!÷¡1!?!?!?!?!?!?! — but even seemingly uncontroversial legacy hires can have grave ramifications. Jenna Bush’s hiring by “Today” has done more to burnish W’s image than anything else the GOP ever could have done and I hate it with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns.

      • Not really comparable to reformed sorority binge-drinker Jenna, but what about the delightfully named Lauren Bush Lauren, daughter of Neil and Sharon and niece of George and Laura?

      • To be fair, Trump did more to burnish W’s reputation than Jenna. The man I thought would be the worst president of my lifetime was utterly eclipsed by the citrus-tinted scumbag. W looks positively saintly by comparison.

        • lol, Mango Unchained wishes he were as bad a president at W. Not even close. I’d say ask a million Iraqis living there in 2003 about it but alas half of them are already dead.

          The Jenna thing is more insidious: My wife hated W and marched in anti-war protests with me, etc. etc., once day said “Aw, he’s a cute grandpa, painting pictures and stuff” and I about lost my fucking mind.

Leave a Reply