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[Image: image1-40-700x470.jpg]Photo credit: Becker1999 (Paul and Cathy) / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
As we humans are so busy abusing each other, the constant din of battle seems to drown out an even bigger one: over the survival of life on this planet.
In 2017, Mother Nature took another beating. However, as people in Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida, and currently in California can attest, nature also hit back.
The low point this year was probably the US's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the systematic dismantling of the EPA. However, many other stories did not get nearly enough attention.
Below is a selection of WhoWhatWhy's coverage that we think deserves a second look.

[Image: 1-2.jpg]Photo credit: NPCA Online / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), Sobarwiki / Wikimedia and sipa / Pixabay

Will Activists Be Able to Stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will enrich investors, but it may permanently scar the Appalachian Trail and jeopardize the health, safety, and peace of mind of the region's most vulnerable residents.
[Image: image4-3.jpg]Photo credit: Georgio / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When Toxic Politics Clash With Toxic Chemicals

For 40 years, the federal government has failed to protect the public from toxic chemicals. Last year, a bipartisan Congress passed a law to change that state of affairs. Public health advocates worry that the Trump administration is now undermining it.
[Image: 2.jpg]Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from EPA / Wikimedia and azmichelle / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Can the EPA Survive Trump & Congress?

With draconian budget cuts, behavior causing committed staff to leave, and the passage of laws that would make it impossible for an agency to function under any administration, are Trump and Congress trying to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency?
[Image: image4-5.jpg]Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from AOC / Wikimedia and Konrad Summers / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

House Tax Bill Throttles Renewable Energy, Hugs Big Oil

The House of Representatives votes on Thursday to approve its tax bill, which slashes tax benefits for wind, solar, and electric vehicles, and retains billions in tax benefits for fossil fuels.
[Image: image2-5.jpg]Scientists briefly capture a vaquita calf as part of their efforts to monitor and bolster the vaquita porpoise population. Photo credit: VaquitaCPR

A Sad Countdown: Scientists Watch a Species Go Extinct

Conservationists thought they were close to saving a species on the brink of extinction until their plan took a devastating turn.
[Image: image2-13.jpg]Marine debris throughout the ocean puts endangered species like this Hawaiian monk seal at risk. Photo credit: NOAA

Plastic Ocean: From Thriving Ecosystem to Trash Dumpster

Newborn babies have never touched plastic, but studies of umbilical cords show its chemical residue can be found in them. Like a dangerously virulent virus, plastics have made their way into almost everything into the oceans, into the fish, into us.
[Image: Oregon_Childrens_Trust_1088x725.jpg]Photo Credit: Our Children's Trust / YouTube.

Cities, States and Kids Sue to Stop Climate Change

The courts have the power to set a deadline for federal agencies to slash carbon emissions. Or make Big Oil liable for climate damages. Could Hurricane Harvey be a factor in their decision?
[Image: image00-6.jpg]Photo credit: US Department of Energy

China Invests Big Bucks in Green Energy While US Goes Dirty

Both China and the US are about to change course on how they produce energy. While the incoming Trump administration wants to refocus on fossil fuels, China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy, which could give it a major competitive advantage down the road.
[Image: 2-3.jpg]An Appalachia Rising protest brought thousands calling for an end to the coal industry process of mountaintop removal. Photo taken by, Yassine El Mansouri. Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Kentucky Coal's Adapt-or-Perish Moment

Can a solar farm bloom in the devastation left by an abandoned strip mine? Developments in Kentucky are putting a new face on the energy future of Appalachia even as the Trump administration looks to turn the clock back to the 19th century.
[Image: image2.jpg]Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from campact / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Conflict of Interest Questions Dog Former EPA Official

A former EPA official involved in a controversial study of the health effects of Monsanto's glyphosate is being taken to court by public interest advocates who want to know more about his ties to the company and the chemical industry.
What We Don't Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking

Jackson Lears

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership's failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders's challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump's triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington. Neoliberals celebrate market utility as the sole criterion of worth; interventionists exalt military adventure abroad as a means of fighting evil in order to secure global progress. Both agendas have proved calamitous for most Americans. Many registered their disaffection in 2016. Sanders is a social democrat and Trump a demagogic mountebank, but their campaigns underscored a widespread repudiation of the Washington consensus. For about a week after the election, pundits discussed the possibility of a more capacious Democratic strategy. It appeared that the party might learn something from Clinton's defeat. Then everything changed.
A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton's chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.
The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.
Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free assessment' produced last January by a small number of hand-picked' analysts as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only moderate' confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.' Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those hand-picked' analysts.
It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Timesin legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. fake news') as a tactic for advancing one administration or another's political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had wittingly' spied on Americans a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC's Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump's campaign because they are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique'. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians above all Putin as uniquely, almost genetically' diabolical.
It's hard for me to understand how the Democratic Party, which once felt scepticism towards the intelligence agencies, can now embrace the CIA and the FBI as sources of incontrovertible truth. One possible explanation is that Trump's election has created a permanent emergency in the liberal imagination, based on the belief that the threat he poses is unique and unprecedented. It's true that Trump's menace is viscerally real. But the menace posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was equally real. The damage done by Bush and Cheney who ravaged the Middle East, legitimated torture and expanded unconstitutional executive power was truly unprecedented, and probably permanent. Trump does pose an unprecedented threat to undocumented immigrants and Muslim travellers, whose protection is urgent and necessary. But on most issues he is a standard issue Republican. He is perfectly at home with Paul Ryan's austerity agenda, which involves enormous transfers of wealth to the most privileged Americans. He is as committed as any other Republican to repealing Obama's Affordable Care Act. During the campaign he posed as an apostate on free trade and an opponent of overseas military intervention, but now that he is in office his free trade views are shifting unpredictably and his foreign policy team is composed of generals with impeccable interventionist credentials.
Trump is committed to continuing his predecessors' lavish funding of the already bloated Defence Department, and his Fortress America is a blustering, undisciplined version of Madeleine Albright's indispensable nation'. Both Trump and Albright assume that the United States should be able to do as it pleases in the international arena: Trump because it's the greatest country in the world, Albright because it's an exceptional force for global good. Nor is there anything unprecedented about Trump's desire for détente with Russia, which until at least 2012 was the official position of the Democratic Party. What is unprecedented about Trump is his offensive style: contemptuous, bullying, inarticulate, and yet perfectly pitched to appeal to the anger and anxiety of his target audience. His excess has licensed overt racism and proud misogyny among some of his supporters. This is cause for denunciation, but I am less persuaded that it justifies the anti-Russian mania.
Besides Trump's supposed uniqueness, there are two other assumptions behind the furore in Washington: the first is that the Russian hack unquestionably occurred, and the second is that the Russians are our implacable enemies. The second provides the emotional charge for the first. Both seem to me problematic. With respect to the first, the hacking charges are unproved and may well remain so. Edward Snowden and others familiar with the NSA say that if long-distance hacking had taken place the agency would have monitored it and could detail its existence without compromising their secret sources and methods. In September, Snowden told Der Spiegel that the NSA probably knows quite well who the invaders were'. And yet it has not presented any evidence, although I suspect it exists. The question is: why not? … I suspect it discovered other attackers in the systems, maybe there were six or seven groups at work.' The NSA's capacity to follow hacking to its source is a matter of public record. When the agency investigated pervasive and successful Chinese hacking into US military and defence industry installations, it was able to trace the hacks to the building where they originated, a People's Liberation Army facility in Shanghai. That information was published in the New York Times but, this time, the NSA's failure to provide evidence has gone curiously unremarked. When The Intercept published a story about the NSA's alleged discovery that Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into US state and local election systems, the agency's undocumented assertions about the Russian origins of the hack were allowed to stand as unchallenged fact and quickly became treated as such in the mainstream media.
Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump's people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump's campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump's people and the Russian government an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller's most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump's national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.
So far, after months of bombshells' that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell's claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report's conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.
Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment.
The chatter surrounding the hack would never have acquired such urgency were it not for the accompanying assumption: Russia is a uniquely dangerous adversary, with which we should avoid all contact. Without that belief, Attorney General Jeff Sessions's meetings with Russians in September 2016 would become routine discussions between a senator and foreign officials. Flynn's post-election conversations with the Russian ambassador would appear unremarkable. Trump's cronies' attempts to do business in Russia would become merely sleazy. Donald Trump Jr's meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya would be transformed from a melodrama of shady intrigue to a comedy of errors with the candidate's son expecting to receive information to use against Clinton but discovering Veselnitskaya only wanted to talk about repealing sanctions and restarting the flow of Russian orphans to the United States. And Putin himself would become just another autocrat, with whom democracies could engage without endorsing.
Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.
The consequence is a spreading confusion that envelops everything. Epistemological nihilism looms, but some people and institutions have more power than others to define what constitutes an agreed-on reality. To say this is to risk dismissal as the ultimate wing-nut in the lexicon of contemporary Washington: the conspiracy theorist. Still, the fact remains: sometimes powerful people arrange to promote ideas that benefit their common interests. Whether we call this hegemony, conspiracy or merely special privilege hardly matters. What does matter is the power to create what Gramsci called the common sense' of an entire society. Even if much of that society is indifferent to or suspicious of the official common sense, it still becomes embedded among the tacit assumptions that set the boundaries of responsible opinion'. So the Democratic establishment (along with a few Republicans) and the major media outlets have made Russian meddling' the common sense of the current moment. What kind of cultural work does this common sense do? What are the consequences of the spectacle the media call (with characteristic originality) Russiagate'?
The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump's ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters #the resistance' was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word progressive' to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders's supporters.
For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign.' Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)
that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party's finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.
Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC which had been close to insolvency had been bought by the Clinton campaign.
Another recent revelation of DNC tactics concerns the origins of the inquiry into Trump's supposed links to Putin. The story began in April 2016, when the DNC hired a Washington research firm called Fusion GPS to unearth any connections between Trump and Russia. The assignment involved the payment of cash for trash', as the Clinton campaign liked to say. Fusion GPS eventually produced the trash, a lurid account written by the former British MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele, based on hearsay purchased from anonymous Russian sources. Amid prostitutes and golden showers, a story emerged: the Russian government had been blackmailing and bribing Donald Trump for years, on the assumption that he would become president some day and serve the Kremlin's interests. In this fantastic tale, Putin becomes a preternaturally prescient schemer. Like other accusations of collusion, this one has become vaguer over time, adding to the murky atmosphere without ever providing any evidence. The Clinton campaign tried to persuade established media outlets to publicise the Steele dossier, but with uncharacteristic circumspection, they declined to promote what was plainly political trash rather than reliable reporting. Yet the FBI apparently took the Steele dossier seriously enough to include a summary of it in a secret appendix to the Intelligence Community Assessment. Two weeks before the inauguration, James Comey, the director of the FBI, described the dossier to Trump. After Comey's briefing was leaked to the press, the website Buzzfeed published the dossier in full, producing hilarity and hysteria in the Washington establishment.
The Steele dossier inhabits a shadowy realm where ideology and intelligence, disinformation and revelation overlap. It is the antechamber to the wider system of epistemological nihilism created by various rival factions in the intelligence community: the tree of smoke' that, for the novelist Denis Johnson, symbolised CIA operations in Vietnam. I inhaled that smoke myself in 1969-70, when I was a cryptographer with a Top Secret clearance on a US navy ship that carried missiles armed with nuclear warheads the existence of which the navy denied. I was stripped of my clearance and later honourably discharged when I refused to join the Sealed Authenticator System, which would have authorised the launch of those allegedly non-existent nuclear weapons. The tree of smoke has only grown more complex and elusive since then. Yet the Democratic Party has now embarked on a full-scale rehabilitation of the intelligence community or at least the part of it that supports the notion of Russian hacking. (We can be sure there is disagreement behind the scenes.) And it is not only the Democratic establishment that is embracing the deep state. Some of the party's base, believing Trump and Putin to be joined at the hip, has taken to ranting about treason' like a reconstituted John Birch Society.
I thought of these ironies when I visited the Tate Modern exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which featured the work of black American artists from the 1960s and 1970s, when intelligence agencies (and agents provocateurs) were spearheading a government crackdown on black militants, draft resisters, deserters and antiwar activists. Amid the paintings, collages and assemblages there was a single Confederate flag, accompanied by grim reminders of the Jim Crow past a Klansman in full regalia, a black body dangling from a tree. There were also at least half a dozen US flags, juxtaposed in whole or in part with images of contemporary racial oppression that could have occurred anywhere in America: dead black men carted off on stretchers by skeletons in police uniform; a black prisoner tied to a chair, awaiting torture. The point was to contrast the pretensions of the land of the free' with the practices of the national security state and local police forces. The black artists of that era knew their enemy: black people were not being killed and imprisoned by some nebulous foreign adversary, but by the FBI, the CIA and the police.
The Democratic Party has now developed a new outlook on the world, a more ambitious partnership between liberal humanitarian interventionists and neoconservative militarists than existed under the cautious Obama. This may be the most disastrous consequence for the Democratic Party of the new anti-Russian orthodoxy: the loss of the opportunity to formulate a more humane and coherent foreign policy. The obsession with Putin has erased any possibility of complexity from the Democratic world picture, creating a void quickly filled by the monochrome fantasies of Hillary Clinton and her exceptionalist allies. For people like Max Boot and Robert Kagan, war is a desirable state of affairs, especially when viewed from the comfort of their keyboards, and the rest of the world apart from a few bad guys is filled with populations who want to build societies just like ours: pluralistic, democratic and open for business. This view is difficult to challenge when it cloaks itself in humanitarian sentiment. There is horrific suffering in the world; the US has abundant resources to help relieve it; the moral imperative is clear. There are endless forms of international engagement that do not involve military intervention. But it is the path taken by US policy often enough that one may suspect humanitarian rhetoric is nothing more than window-dressing for a more mundane geopolitics one that defines the national interest as global and virtually limitless.
Having come of age during the Vietnam War, a calamitous consequence of that inflated definition of national interest, I have always been attracted to the realist critique of globalism. Realism is a label forever besmirched by association with Henry Kissinger, who used it as a rationale for intervening covertly and overtly in other nations' affairs. Yet there is a more humane realist tradition, the tradition of George Kennan and William Fulbright, which emphasises the limits of military might, counselling that great power requires great restraint. This tradition challenges the doctrine of regime change under the guise of democracy promotion, which despite its abysmal failures in Iraq and Libya retains a baffling legitimacy in official Washington. Russiagate has extended its shelf life.
We can gauge the corrosive impact of the Democrats' fixation on Russia by asking what they aren't talking about when they talk about Russian hacking. For a start, they aren't talking about interference of other sorts in the election, such as the Republican Party's many means of disenfranchising minority voters. Nor are they talking about the trillion dollar defence budget that pre-empts the possibility of single-payer healthcare and other urgently needed social programmes; nor about the modernisation of the American nuclear arsenal which Obama began and Trump plans to accelerate, and which raises the risk of the ultimate environmental calamity, nuclear war a threat made more serious than it has been in decades by America's combative stance towards Russia. The prospect of impeaching Trump and removing him from office by convicting him of collusion with Russia has created an atmosphere of almost giddy anticipation among leading Democrats, allowing them to forget that the rest of the Republican Party is composed of many politicians far more skilful in Washington's ways than their president will ever be.
It is not the Democratic Party that is leading the search for alternatives to the wreckage created by Republican policies: a tax plan that will soak the poor and middle class to benefit the rich; a heedless pursuit of fossil fuels that is already resulting in the contamination of the water supply of the Dakota people; and continued support for police policies of militarisation and mass incarceration. It is local populations that are threatened by oil spills and police beatings, and that is where humane populism survives. A multitude of insurgent groups have begun to use the outrage against Trump as a lever to move the party in egalitarian directions: Justice Democrats, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, as well as a host of local and regional organisations. They recognise that there are far more urgent and genuine reasons to oppose Trump than vague allegations of collusion with Russia. They are posing an overdue challenge to the long con of neoliberalism, and the technocratic arrogance that led to Clinton's defeat in Rust Belt states. Recognising that the current leadership will not bring about significant change, they are seeking funding from outside the DNC. This is the real resistance, as opposed to #theresistance'.
On certain important issues such as broadening support for single-payer healthcare, promoting a higher minimum wage or protecting undocumented immigrants from the most flagrant forms of exploitation these insurgents are winning wide support. Candidates like Paula Jean Swearengin, a coal miner's daughter from West Virginia who is running in the Democratic primary for nomination to the US Senate, are challenging establishment Democrats who stand cheek by jowl with Republicans in their service to concentrated capital. Swearengin's opponent is Joe Manchin, whom the Los Angeles Times has compared to Doug Jones, another very conservative' Democrat who recently won election to the US Senate in Alabama, narrowly defeating a Republican disgraced by accusations of sexual misconduct with 14-year-old girls. I can feel relieved at that result without joining in the collective Democratic ecstasy, which reveals the party's persistent commitment to politics as usual. Democrat leaders have persuaded themselves (and much of their base) that all the republic needs is a restoration of the status quo ante Trump. They remain oblivious to popular impatience with familiar formulas. Jess King a Mennonite woman, Bard College MBA and founder of a local non-profit who is running for Congress as a Justice Democrat in Lancaster, Pennsylvania put it this way: We see a changing political landscape right now that isn't measured by traditional left to right politics anymore, but bottom to top. In Pennsylvania and many other places around the country we see a grassroots economic populism on the rise, pushing against the political establishment and status quo that have failed so many in our country.'
Democratic insurgents are also developing a populist critique of the imperial hubris that has sponsored multiple failed crusades, extorted disproportionate sacrifice from the working class and provoked support for Trump, who presented himself (however misleadingly) as an opponent of open-ended interventionism. On foreign policy, the insurgents face an even more entrenched opposition than on domestic policy: a bipartisan consensus aflame with outrage at the threat to democracy supposedly posed by Russian hacking. Still, they may have found a tactical way forward, by focusing on the unequal burden borne by the poor and working class in the promotion and maintenance of American empire.
This approach animates Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis, a 33-page document whose authors include Norman Solomon, founder of the web-based insurgent lobby The Democratic Party's claims of fighting for "working families" have been undermined by its refusal to directly challenge corporate power, enabling Trump to masquerade as a champion of the people,' Autopsyannounces. But what sets this apart from most progressive critiques is the cogent connection it makes between domestic class politics and foreign policy. For those in the Rust Belt, military service has often seemed the only escape from the shambles created by neoliberal policies; yet the price of escape has been high. As Autopsy notes, the wisdom of continual war' what Clinton calls global leadership'
was far clearer to the party's standard bearer [in 2016] than it was to people in the US communities bearing the brunt of combat deaths, injuries and psychological traumas. After a decade and a half of non-stop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign's hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and found that even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community's rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.' Clinton's record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump's electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war'. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It's a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

The President Is Mentally Unwell and Everyone Around Him Knows It

By Eric Levitz
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Until recently, the debate over our president's mental health has focused on questions of psychological pathology: Do Donald Trump's flamboyant narcissism, hedonism, and self-delusions add up to a malignant personality or a malignant personality disorder?
Scores of psychiatric professionals di[p]cjc0k2a5v00heo8y6bbra4j7z[i]7ARrma[d]D[r]]say the latter. Some of their peers and a large number of laymen have insisted that the matter can only be settled by a psychiatrist who has personally, privately evaluated the president. That argument has always struck me as nuts.
There is no diagnostic blood test or brain scan for narcissistic personality disorder; there's just a list of observable traits. A mental-health professional simply studies a patient's modes of reasoning and patterns of behavior, and assesses whether they fit the checklist of symptoms for NPD. It's absurd to believe that a psychiatrist who has spent a couple of hours talking to a patient in an office is qualified to make this diagnosis but one with access to hundreds of hours of a patient's interviews and improvisatory remarks, along with a small library's worth of biographical information and testimonials from his closest confidants is not. To insist otherwise is to mystify psychiatric practice; it's to pretend that there is some shamanistic knowledge that mental-health professionals can only access once you provide them with a co-pay.
Further, whether we choose to label any given psychological profile a "disorder" is always, on some level, a value judgement about what it means to function healthily in our society. If an inability to concentrate on tests can qualify one for psychological dysfunction, then it's hard to see why Trump's manifest incapacity to subordinate his hunger for affirmation and attention to basic social norms would not. If a middle-school boy displayed Donald Trump's level of impulse control in the classroom, there is little question that he would be considered psychologically unhealthy.
Regardless, in recent weeks, concerns about the commander-in-chief's cognition have turned to the more mundane, and objectively determinable, question of neurological decline. The president's slurred speech when announcing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital; the exceptional incoherence of his most recent interview with the New York Times; and increasingly erratic (and Freudian) tweets all brought our president's frontal lobe to the forefront of public discourse.
And then Michael Wolff started telling us what he'd learned while hanging around the West Wing last year. Having won the administration's trust (possibly with the aid of these horrendous, anti-anti-Trump think pieces) the reporter was given extraordinary access to the president's closest advisers. On Thursday in the Hollywood Reporter, he added a few new details to the emerging portrait of our president's mental state:
Everybody [in the White House] was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions he just couldn't stop saying something.

… Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all 100 percent came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.
The unanimous assessment of those in Trump's immediate vicinity is shared by clinicians viewing him from afar. On Wednesday, in response to Trump's tweet about the size and potency of his nuclear button, 100 mental-health professionalssigned their names to a statement reading, "We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats … We urge that those around him, and our elected representatives in general, take urgent steps to restrain his behavior and head off the potential nuclear catastrophe that endangers not only Korea and the United States but all of humankind."
On Wednesday, Politico revealed that one of the statement's signatories recently briefed more than a dozen members of Congress last December (all Democrats, save one unnamed Republican senator), on the (grim) state of Trump's mental health. Around that same time, Ford Vox, a physician who specializes in brain-injury medicine, provided the following diagnosis of Trump's condition, in a Stat news column calling for the president to undergo neurological testing:
Language is closely tied with cognition, and the president's speech patterns are increasingly repetitive, fragmented, devoid of content, and restricted in vocabulary. Trump's overuse of superlatives like tremendous, fantastic, and incredible are not merely elements of personal style. These filler words reflect reduced verbal fluency … "You call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it's pretty amazing how many people they have."

The president made that remark in response to a question about the ideal corporate tax rate, demonstrating the degree to which his thinking drifts … If I were to make a differential diagnosis based on what I have observed, it would include mild cognitive impairment, also known as mild neurocognitive disorder or predementia … The key distinguishing characteristic between mild cognitive impairment and dementia is whether the decline is starting to interfere with essential daily functioning. In a billionaire typically surrounded by assistants, who is now the president surrounded by more assistants, whether Trump can perform his necessary daily tasks on his own may be difficult to assess.
Wolff's reporting establishes that Trump's decline is very much interfering with his daily functioning and thus, that his cognitive impairment is likely progressing toward dementia. Meanwhile, Vox's claim that the president's disjointed, superlative-suffused rhetorical style is no deliberate affectation but rather, a product of cognitive decline is readily apparent to anyone who watches decades-old interviews of Trump, in which he displays an equanimity, coherence, and (relative) eloquence wholly alien to his current persona.

For most of his presidency, the conversation about Trump's mental well-being, and consequent capacity to perform the duties of his office, has been characterized by a willed naïvety. The president's signs of senility aren't subtle. His narcissistic self-regard is not mildly delusional; his impulse control is more than a little bit lacking. In October, a Republican senator likened the White House to an adult day-care center; said that he knew "for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him"; and insisted that, in private, most of his GOP colleagues shared this assessment. Wolff's reporting suggests that virtually everyone in Trump's inner circle has witnessed signs of his mental decline, and believes him to be unfit for office.
As a practical matter, liberals have devoted inordinate attention to the 25th Amendment, a provision of the Constitution that allows for the president to be removed from office for being physically or mentally "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," (as opposed to being found guilty of impeachable offenses). While superficially attractive, the "25th Amendment solution" doesn't actually get us past the hurdle that's blocking impeachment: Congressional Republicans do not want to remove Trump from office. A committed Congress would have no trouble finding a credible pretense for impeaching this president; they just don't want to. And the 25th Amendment would require two-thirds of Congress to vote to remove Trump on grounds of fitness after a majority of his handpicked Cabinet members publicly express their desire to do the same. Considering the current political climate, it's delusional to believe that this is a plausible scenario.
And yet, progressives' fixation on the 25th Amendment is far less deluded than the rationalizations that keep Republicans from invoking it. By all accounts, most GOP Congress members recognize that Donald Trump is a pathological narcissist with early stage dementia and only peripheral contact with reality and they have, nonetheless, decided to let him retain unilateral command of the largest nuclear arsenal on planet Earth because it would be politically and personally inconvenient to remove his finger from the button.
You don't need a degree in psychiatry to call that crazy.

Link to new book on the Trump White House put out by Assange. Get while you can.
Lauren Johnson Wrote:Link to new book on the Trump White House put out by Assange. Get while you can.

Interesting interpretation of a 'leak'.
Booked! Trump, staffers who cried Wolff and a week of fire and fury[FONT=&amp]hen the Guardian published extracts of Fire and Fury, Washington was rocked. Now many are questioning the president's chances of staying in the job
by David Smith and Lauren Gambino in Washington

[FONT=&amp][FONT=&amp]P[/FONT]ortraits of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt loomed watchfully. Five US senators with decades of collective experience stood in deference at their chairs. Donald Trump was about to enter the room, a prospect that assures a frisson of unpredictability.
The president strode in, shook hands with Chuck Grassley and patted Lindsey Graham on the back. Graham playfully punched the air.
"Lindsey used to be a great enemy of mine," Trump told the gathering when all were seated a few minutes later, "and now he's a great friend of mine."
[Image: 4166.jpg?w=460&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&]
[FONT=&amp]Trump mounts extraordinary defence of his 'mental stability'[/FONT]

The senator for South Carolina shifted awkwardly in his chair and grinned: "I like me too, so we have something in common." There was a ripple of laughter.
Later, when 71-year-old Trump turned to Senator James Lankford and called him "Tom", everyone pretended to ignore it.
Here in the elegantly appointed Roosevelt Room, cocooned in the West Wing as if in a wartime bunker, Trump and the loyalists who lavished praise on his leadership could maintain the pretence of business as usual. But outside, political fires were burning. The White House had been hit by a bombshell book that portrayed it as a hive of discord, dysfunction and farce, and the president himself as ignorant, capricious and clinically unfit for the office once occupied by the Roosevelts.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, a devastating fly-on-the-wall account of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, has stirred speculation over the mental health of the man who began the week boasting to the world of the size of his nuclear button. "His stability," Carl Bernstein, a veteran Washington Post reporter best known for his work on the Watergate scandal, told CNN. "That's really what this book is about."

Fire and Fury: Key explosive quotes from the new Trump book - videoWolff, who parked himself for long hours on a West Wing sofa, says he interviewed more than 200 people in Trump's inner and outer orbit and they reached a joint conclusion.
"They all say, He is like a child,' and what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification," the author told NBC on Friday. "It's all about him."
On Saturday, he spoke to the BBC. "I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor has no clothes' effect," Wolff said.
"The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can't do his job."
[B]Treasonous' and unpatriotic'[/B]

The new year had barely rubbed the sleep from its eyes when, on Wednesday morning, the Guardian published excerpts of Wolff's book a week ahead of its scheduled publication. It vividly depicted chaos and conflict as a default setting in the administration, even worse than many already suspected. At the centre of the palace intrigue was Steve Bannon, the hardline nationalist who helped put Trump in the White House.

Bannon, former chief strategist, had spilled the beans to Wolff with stunning candour. He described the decision by Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr, to meet a group of Russians at Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic". He predicted that the continuing investigation into alleged collusion with Moscow would run and run: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." And he called Trump's daughter Ivanka "as dumb as brick".
Bannon was not alone in his unflattering verdict. The book also reported that Rupert Murdoch once mocked Trump as "a fucking idiot"over his incoherent views on immigration policy, while Thomas Barrack Jr, a billionaire who is one of the president's oldest associates, allegedly told a friend: "He's not only crazy, he's stupid." (Barrack has since denied this.)
Other claims by Wolff include Melania Trump's reaction to an election win that her husband and his team thought impossible she was "in tears and not of joy"; the couple's preference for separate bedrooms; and Trump's habit of going to bed with a cheeseburger at 6.30pm, watching three TV screens and making phone calls. The president reprimands housekeeping staff "for picking up his shirt from the floor" and "imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush". His paranoia about being poisoned leads him to turn up without warning at McDonald's, according to the book, which Trump has branded "boring and untruthful".
The barrage of damning revelations caught the White House off guard. The Washington Post reported: "Trump spent much of the day raging about the book to top aides, officials and advisers said … As he fumed, some aides were still frantically searching for a copy of the book, and even senior aides like [Hope] Hicks had not seen it by the afternoon, officials said."

Donald Trump has 'lost it', says Michael Wolff videoSaid by officials to be "disgusted" and "furious", Trump launched an abortive legal attempt to block the book, which doubtless boosted sales, and wasted little time in brutally disavowing Bannon. Usually he is content to hammer foes with a vituperative tweet not this time. The White House released a bilious 266-word statement that played down Bannon's role in Trump's electoral success and declared: "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
It was an ugly, very public political divorce, the end of a relationship that had transfixed the political world. In August 2015, Bannon, a former naval officer, investment banker and film-maker, boasted that he had turned the rightwing website Breitbart News into "Trump Central" and joked that he was the candidate's hidden "campaign manager", the New York Times reported. He hosted Trump for friendly radio interviews and, in August 2016, took over as chief executive of his long-shot presidential campaign.
The scruffy, unshaven Bannon came to personify Trump's darkest, nativist impulses on immigration, building a border wall and threatening a trade war; he fanned the flames of "America first", white nationalism and a blow-everything-up philosophy. In a November 2016 interview with Wolff for the Hollywood Reporter, the liberal bete noire boasted of his influence, declaring with relish: "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors." It was grimly prophetic Cromwell was eventually executed on the king's orders.
[B]Sloppy Steve'[/B]
[/URL]The book chronicles feuding between Steve Bannon, second from left, and Jared Kushner, second from right. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty ImagesBannon made two fatal mistakes. One was overreach: he featured on the cover of Time magazine, was portrayed as more powerful than Trump on Saturday Night Live and was dubbed "President Bannon", all bound to infuriate the Trump ego. He also displayed visceral hatred for Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, chronicled by Wolff in lurid detail. After seven months, he was ousted as chief strategist and returned to his perch as executive chairman of Breitbart.
He reportedly continued to speak to Trump by phone; officials say the last such conversation happened in early December. Around the same time, the Bannon-endorsed Roy Moore accused of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls lost a US Senate special election in the Republican stronghold of Alabama, casting doubt on Bannon's so-called strategic genius.
Now, Bannon has not only lost Trump. Soon after, he lost his patron Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire Republican donor, who turned off the financial tap. If, as is speculated, he loses Breitbart too, he could be banished to the political wilderness. Reader comments on Breitbart's site seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the president. The alt-right, of which Bannon was once the rock star, appeared to be uniting around Trump.
In a tweet on Friday night, Trump said Bannon "cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!"
But Kurt Bardella, a political commentator and former Breitbart spokesman, predicted that Bannon may prove difficult to oust from the organisation, and may yet use it as a platform to get back into the president's good graces.
"If there's one thing we know about Donald Trump it's that he's susceptible to being sucked up to," Bardella said. "The ego of Trump would love nothing more than a humbled Steve Bannon coming grovelling for his forgiveness. He may have imagined just that scenario."
On Thursday, Bannon called Trump a "great man", but reconciliation still seems a long way off. His demise has been embraced by the Republican establishment, which had feared an insurgent movement by Bannon-backed candidates with an "America first" agenda ahead of November's midterm elections. Recently, Bannon warned the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell: "You're like a deer that's been shot, you're just going to bleed out, brother." After the White House released Trump's statement denouncing Bannon as a self-aggrandising hanger-on who had "lost his mind", McConnell's campaign account tweeted a gif of the senator with a victorious smirk forming on his lips.
Bardella said: "Steve Bannon's crusade for 2018 is over. Instead of Republican versus Republican, the general election between Republicans and Democrats starts now."
He warned McConnell of a mixed blessing, however: "You may have sidelined Steve Bannon but you still have to deal with Donald Trump. Republicans are going to be responsible for whatever's going to happen going forward. They're not going to be able to say that there were no signs of diminished capacity. They're not going to be looked on kindly by history."
[B]The danger has become imminent'[/B]

Michael Wolff on the set of NBC's Today show. Photograph: Brendan Mcdermid/ReutersWolff's book has revived swirling speculation about the state of Trump's mental health and the 25th amendment, which allows a majority of the cabinet and vice-president to remove the president by deeming him "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office".
The Trump who emerges from Wolff's account is chronically incurious, contemptuous of experts and beholden to his gut instincts. "Trump didn't read," he writes. "He didn't really even skim … He could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post's Page Six." Some allies tried to explain this away as an attribute of his populism. "He was postliterate total television."
In another passage, Wolff recounts how Trump is repeating himself with greater frequency. Whereas he used to repeat, "word-for-word and expression-for-expression", the same three stories every 30 minutes, now it is within 10 minutes. And in another anecdote, he wrote in a column for the Hollywood Reporter: "At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognise a succession of old friends."
Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, briefed a dozen members of Congress last month on the potential risks associated with the president's behavior. Lee said this week she and other psychiatrists were speaking out because they feel "the danger has become imminent".
Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, who attended Lee's presentation and has proposed legislation to create a commission that would determine whether the president is mentally fit for office, said Trump's behaviour was "increasingly delusional". He told CNN: "It's a very dangerous and unstable situation as a number of Republican senators have themselves observed". No Republican in Congress has yet called publicly for an evaluation of Trump's mental state.
Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump, believes the president has attention deficit disorder. "He's easily bored," he told the Observer. "He likes moving around a lot of topics and asking a lot of questions. He's so smart, he's easily bored. It's a big leap to say he's psychologically unfit for office."
Ruddy said he saw Trump several times over the Christmas holidays. "I think he's mentally fit. I didn't see anything untoward. His conversation was consistent with any time I've known him. He seemed to recognise everyone around us. I brought a New York Times journalist, Michael Schmidt, to meet him and at first he didn't recognise him but, when he did double take, he realised who it was."
He added: "I would say Donald Trump's mental acuity in remembering faces and information is much higher than average."
Ruddy, chief executive of the conservative Newsmax Media, accused liberals of trying to use the issue to overturn the 2016 presidential election result. "It's a highly politicised time and they're trying to weaponise psychology and psychiatry. It makes no sense."

Trump made a similar argument in extraordinary tweets from 7.19am on Saturday, accusing Democrats and the mainstream media of "taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook". Reagan, whose record Trump broke as the oldest person to be elected president, came under scrutiny from opponents for forgetfulness and contradicting himself. Five years after leaving office, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
In comments unlikely to have the desired effect of quelling speculation over his own health of mind, Trump continued: "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart... I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star.... to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!"
Debate over a president's erratic behaviour often invites comparisons with Britain's King George III. But Wolff's portrayal of a man prone to wild mood swings, liable to call someone a friend one moment, an enemy the next, is also redolent of actor Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland.
"You're a child," his despairing doctor tells him. "You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that's what makes you so fucking scary."


[Image: image1-12-700x470.jpg]Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from North Charleston / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and JouWatch / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Editor's Note: We publish this lengthy, in-depth, technical piece by a former IRS investigator, knowing it raises more questions than it provides answers. But we believe that is a very useful service, particularly in relation to a complex topic of considerable public import one that may be a key component for special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. We hope in the coming weeks to explore many of these questions in greater depth. And we welcome reader comments.
Martin J. Sheil is a retired branch chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation division.

Acronym Reference
DFS Department of Financial Services
LIBOR London Interbank Offered Rate (calculates interest payments across the globe)
DOJ US Department of Justice
SDNY Southern District of New York
EDNY Eastern District of New York
FinCEN Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
OCCRP Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

President Donald J. Trump claims he has the "absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department." This chilling assertion invites speculation about just what the president has in mind. For clues to what may surface when investigators dig deeper, consider the pending prosecution of banking giant Deutsche Bank over money laundering activities involving Russia.
Recent media reports confirm that Deutsche Bank has been subpoenaed for records in relation to the ongoing Russia collusion investigation. This development immediately raises questions: Chiefly, what did a certain bankrupt but ambitious American real estate developer have in common with predatory Russian oligarchs who had been plundering their own country's industry and generating vast currency flows out of their homeland since the 1990s?
Indeed, Deutsche Bank is a common thread in numerous probes of questionable financial activities including tax evasion and money laundering with ties to multiple oligarchs and their businesses in the US and abroad. So far the bank itself has suffered minimal consequences.
In all the flurry of media attention to the Russia collusion story, little attention has been paid to the Department of Justice's (DOJ) criminal investigation of Deutsche Bank in Manhattan.
What are the ramifications for Deutsche of this potentially explosive investigation? For Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner? For the DOJ?
A recent CNN report noted that the DOJ's money laundering section is participating in the investigation by the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of NY (SDNY). Who at Justice is supervising and coordinating its participation with SDNY? In addition to the money laundering investigation, is there an open criminal tax investigation into Deutsche Bank's involvement in dicey tax shelters? Is the DOJ's own tax division involved? Further, who is running the SDNY investigation on Deutsche?
[Image: image5-1.jpg]Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner (right). Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs / Flickr

On December 22, the New York Times reported that the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of NY (EDNY) has requested records from Deutsche Bank relative to Jared Kushner and his companies. Is this investigation related to any investigations ongoing in the SDNY? Is it related to the investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 election by special counsel Robert Mueller? Who is coordinating all of these investigations? Who will ultimately make the final decision on any prosecution? Why does it all matter? Does the fact that Deutsche Bank is currently on the hook for approximately $360 million in loans to Trump have any bearing on these questions?
We aim to examine all of these questions.

Deutsche Bank A.G. An Introduction

Deutsche Bank was founded in 1870 as a specialist bank for foreign trade. It is considered one of the world's largest financial institutions, with over 20 million clients and 70,000 employees. Its founding principle dictates that "the object of the company is to transact banking business of all kinds, in particular to promote and facilitate trade relations between Germany, other European countries and overseas markets."
The American bank formerly known as Bankers Trust was folded into Deutsche in December 1998, becoming Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas (DBTCA). As the New York Times pointed out in its article on the announcement of the takeover, there were no platitudes about a "merger of equals," nor about the need for deference to cultural and institutional differences."
Because of Deutsche's actions, the bank's elite US clients were able to report approximately $29.3 billion in bogus transactions on their tax returns. This allowed them to evade approximately $5.9 billion in individual income taxes on capital gains and ordinary income.
Deutsche Bank's chairman, Rolf-Ernst Breuer, made clear the values and lines of authority that would shape Deutsche.
"We don't believe in autonomy as an instrument of management and leadership, as far as it goes, we want a centralized management of the business," Breuer told the Times.
Banking analyst Diane Glossman noted at the time that "the goals Deutsche Bank has set for itself including an increase in per-share earnings of 10 to 15 percent by 2001 are incredibly ambitious. … The greatest challenge for Deutsche Bank will be consolidating the cultures in a way that allows them to increase their earnings. That's crucial, and it's an area where Deutsche Bank has dropped the ball before."
How prescient of Ms. Glossman!

Monetary Penalties, Toxic Mortgages, Interest Rate Manipulation, Tax Evasion

Before we explore the relationships between Deutsche Bank and Donald Trump, let us first review some of the enforcement difficulties regulatory agencies have had in confronting Deutsche Bank in just the past decade.
  • In December 2016, Deutsche Bank agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the DOJ over the sale of defective mortgage bonds. The settlement details the awarding of toxic home loans and the deceiving of investors during the period between 2005 and 2007. Deutsche was hardly alone in this business practice, but it played a significant role in the inglorious economic recession of 2008 and 2009.
  • In 2015, Deutsche agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to international regulators and the US Department of Justice through a deferred prosecution agreement over its role in a scheme to rig the London Interbank Offered Rate. The LIBOR is used to calculate interest payments across the globe. In June 2015, an International Monetary Fund report said the bank was one of the biggest "contributors to systemic risks in the global banking system."
  • In November 2015, Deutsche was fined $258 million by New York Department of Financial Services and the US Federal Reserve for violation of US sanctions relative to Burma, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Syria.
  • The banking giant has had to deal with accusations of dodging regulatory concerns when it was accused of violating Dodd-Frank financial reforms aimed at tracking trades of financial instruments, known as swaps. The CTFC filed a civil complaint in SDNY in April 2016 charging Deutsche with multiple swap reporting violations and related supervision failures.
  • Deutsche also suffered civil penalties from two Federal Reserve enforcement actions announced on April 20, 2017, totaling $156.6 million. First, the Fed asserted a $136.9 million fine for Deutsche's unsafe and unsound practices in the foreign exchange markets. Second, it applied a $19.7 million fine for failure to maintain an adequate Volcker Rule compliance program prior to March 30, 2016.
If all of that wasn't enough, Deutsche has had multiple issues with regard to allegations of facilitating tax evasion. Deutsche settled one case in SDNY with US Attorney Preet Bharara regarding its involvement in questionable tax practices through their use of insolvent shell companies. This was paid off in January 2017 for $95 million. It was not Deutsche's only issue with the IRS or SDNY, as Deutsche's untethered pursuit of earnings in the lucrative field of tax shelters drew the government's attention, both at the DOJ and the US Senate.

Non-Prosecution Agreement, SDNY, Basket Options, RenTec

According to a report by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Deutsche was the subject of a series of investigations focused on its participation in abusive tax shelters from 1996 through 2002. These aided and abetted the process of evading an estimated $5.9 billion in unpaid US income taxes.
On December 21, 2010, Deutsche and Bharara executed a non-prosecution agreement related to the bank's involvement with abusive tax shelters. This involvement included Deutsche Bank's participation in approximately 15 tax shelters, engagement in at least 1,300 deals for over 2,100 customers, and implementation of over 2,300 financial transactions related to these shelters. Because of Deutsche's actions, the bank's elite US clients were able to report approximately $29.3 billion in bogus transactions on their tax returns. This allowed them to evade approximately $5.9 billion in individual income taxes on capital gains and ordinary income.
[Image: image4-2.jpg]Deutsche Bank flags. Photo credit: Deutsche Bank / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Under the non-prosecution agreement (NPA), Deutsche paid $553 million to US regulators, while Bharara agreed not to criminally prosecute the bank for participating in abusive tax shelters benefiting its clients from 1997 to 2008, provided the bank met certain requirements.
During the multiple years in which the NPA was negotiated, Deutsche apparently made no mention to its independent monitor Bart Schwartz or anyone else about the "basket options" it began selling in 2000. Basket options are a financial instrument that allows for a highly leveraged investment on the front end, but most significantly, allows the company making use of the option to treat any capital gains as a long-term capital gain, instead of a short-term capital gain, cutting the tax due roughly in half. Basket options were found to have no real economic substance to them by the IRS and also the US Senate Subcommittee for Investigation.
After a Federal Reserve examination identified concerns in 2012, Deutsche, at the insistence of the Fed, brought the questionable product to the attention of the US Attorney in SDNY in August 2012, and engaged in several follow-up discussions and meetings. Aside from these contacts, the Senate Subcommittee was unaware of what, if any, actions were taken by the US Attorney's office in SDNY as of July 22, 2014, while the NPA was still in effect.

The Mercers American Oligarchs

Renaissance Technology is a well-known hedge fund. Its co-CEO, Robert Mercer, is an American oligarch who contributed over $20 million to Republican candidates and PACs during the 2016 election campaign. Between 2000 and 2012, RenTec purchased 29 basket options with a notional value of $46 billion and profits totaling $15.9 billion.
Deutsche Bank risk management executive William Broeksmit expressed his anxiety about the massive risk the bank was taking on relative to the basket options, known internally as "MAPs." In August 2009, he sent an email to Anshu Jain, a leading executive at Deutsche Bank (along with a cc to Satish Ramakrishna, the Global Head of Risk and Pricing for Global Prime Finance at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York). This email effectively demonstrated that hedge funds, such as RenTec, got paid through a tricked-up basket option offered by the bank that magically turned millions of short-term trades into long-term capital gains, saving the hedge fund approximately half the rate of taxes owed on the short-term trades, some of which lasted only minutes.
The email, as well as other materials obtained from Deutsche Bank, were turned over to the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed up at the time by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.). These documents demonstrate knowledge, early on, of the shaky nature of the basket options Deutsche Bank was promoting at the highest levels of executive management.
In 2010, the IRS issued its Generic Legal Advice Memo (GLAM), advising that basket options were not true options and could not be used to treat short-term trading profits as long-term capital gains. Two years later, the IRS sent a 60-day letter to RenTec notifying it of the intended disallowance of the RenTec basket option long-term capital gain treatment on its tax returns. RenTec protested, and as of July 2014, the position by the IRS Office of Appeals remains pending. Recent media articles referenced the likely RenTec tax liability at issue to be in the neighborhood of $7 billion.
"Deutsche Bank was structurally designed by management to allow corrupt individuals to commit fraud."
The Senate subcommittee report noted that, although Deutsche established proprietary accounts for the basket options, those accounts actually functioned as if they were RenTec's own prime brokerage accounts, with RenTec acting in the role of trader rather than option holder. The facts show that RenTec had active and total control over the trading strategy and execution. Senator Levin characterized basket options in June 2014, as "let's pretend" options, since they had no tangible economic purpose.
Before Senator Levin's issuance of his conclusion, his committee took testimony in 2013 from independent monitor Bart Schwartz. He was brought in to SDNY to monitor Deutsche Bank's compliance with the non-prosecution agreement concerning the bank's commitment to avoid sales of any pre-packaged tax shelter products. Schwartz testified that he was unaware of Deutsche's promotion of basket options, which would have come under his purview as independent monitor. The promotion of basket options by Deutsche Bank was clearly an intentional violation of that 2010 deal with the SDNY.
The non-prosecution agreement required Deutsche Bank's continued cooperation with the Department of Justice in its tax shelter prosecution. The NPA also banned Deutsche's involvement with any pre-packaged tax products, which were the type of tax shelters that led to the criminal proceedings. Under the terms, the government was also authorized to prosecute the bank for any violation of the NPA.
Risk management exec Broeksmit committed suicide in January 2014, according to the London coroner. Broeksmit's son, Val, characterized his father's death as "suicide by extortion." A personal doctor's report read at the inquest indicated he had been "anxious" about ongoing investigations of the bank. The day after Broeksmit's body was discovered, Eric Ben-Artzi, who is referenced elsewhere in this article, spoke at Auburn University. Ben-Artzi is a former risk analyst turned whistleblower at Deutsche Bank. He alleged that Deutsche Bank, with the knowledge of senior executives, had hid $12 billion in losses during the financial crisis. Ben-Artzi said the bank had effectively invented assets and hid losses.
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Renaissance Technologies LLC is a New York-based American hedge fund that trades on financial markets. The Southern District of New York is located in the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan (right). Photo credit: Robin Oldfield / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) and Eden, Janine and Jim / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The IRS will not disclose the audit results nor appeal results of RenTec. The SDNY has not responded to queries relative to whether or not criminal prosecution of Deutsche was ever contemplated over the bank's evident violation of the NPA it entered into in 2010.
It is noted here that no permanent US Attorney has been appointed in SDNY since Preet Bharara was terminated in early March, 2017, when all other US Attorneys across the country that had been appointed by President Obama were asked to resign. According to a New York Times article, Bharara's job appeared to be secure. He had met with President-elect Trump, Kushner and Bannon at Trump Tower in November, 2016, when it was widely reported that Bharara had been asked to stay on by the President-elect. Bharara was then fired after he refused to resign. It should be noted that Geoffrey Berman was appointed Interim US Attorney for the SDNY on January 3, 2018. Berman, who was a partner at the same firm that employed Rudy Giuliani, was selected after President Trump, in a clear violation of precedent and protocol, personally interviewed Berman raising the question of DOJ independence.
It is also noted that the term of the IRS Commissioner at the time ended November 12, 2017. David Kautter was appointed Acting IRS Commissioner at this time. Kautter retained his political policy position as Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy when assuming his new position, which raised conflict of interest questions from some.
Several senators questioned Kautter closely at his confirmation hearing as to whether he was involved in a tax shelter scandal when he worked at global accounting services firm Ernst & Young around the turn of the century. The scandal concerned a team of employees at Ernst & Young who developed and sold tax products that allowed wealthy individuals to avoid $2 billion in taxes. The story ended with four people in jail and Ernst & Young paying the IRS $123 million in a settlement that allowed them to avoid criminal prosecution. The "team" began its work in 1998, and, in 2000, Kautter became the head of US national tax services at the company. He went on to say that, following his participation in the Senate investigation into the team's actions, the group "greatly abused the trust that the firm had placed in them. Looking back, I should have been more active."
How active will Mr. Kautter be in reviewing RenTec's $7 billion tax shelter bill on appeal before the IRS?
It should be noted here that Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, who supervises both the IRS and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was an investor in at least two Trump properties when he ran Dune Capital prior to the election.
With that in mind, it's important to know who will be the new permanent IRS Commissioner. Who will select him? Will he or she aggressively pursue the flagrant multibillion dollar tax deficiency generated by RenTec and Deutsche Bank? Will the new US Attorney in SDNY reopen the non-prosecution agreement on Deutsche Bank over its sale of bogus tax shelters?
While the hundreds of millions of dollars in civil fines and penalties issued against Deutsche Bank make for nice headlines, no criminal prosecution has been brought by any of the countries affected by this nefarious $10 billion scheme.
The civil sanctions against Deutsche (several of which occurred in the SDNY), demonstrate a pronounced, aggressive attitude by Deutsche over its institutional risk management and compliance programs, as well as a distinct disdain for regulatory restraints that may threaten the bank's earnings objectives. Accountability for individual executives has clearly been missing in action.
The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported in November 2016 that the bank was looking to reclaim tens of millions of Euros in bonuses from its three most recent CEOs Josef Ackerman, who ran the bank from 2002-2012, and his successors, Anshu Jain and Jurgen Fitschen.

Money Laundering

The Federal Reserve Board announced on May 30, 2017, that a $41 million penalty and consent cease and desist order was asserted against Deutsche Bank to address unsafe and unsound practices in the firm's domestic banking operations. The board identified failures by Deutsche's US banking operations to maintain an effective program to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering laws.
The consent order requires Deutsche to improve its senior management oversight and controls related to compliance with anti-money-laundering laws. This innocuous statement covers some of the same activities and period of time as does the record-breaking penalties asserted by the New York State Department of Financial Services and the United Kingdom's Financial Conduct Authority. The lack of management oversight appears to be a theme when looked at in the context of the delineated litany of civil fines and penalties.
On January 30, 2017, DFS Superintendent Maria T. Vullo announced that Deutsche Bank AG and its New York branch were to pay a $425 million fine for violation of New York anti-money-laundering laws. These involved a "mirror trading" scheme among the bank's Moscow, London and New York offices that laundered $10 billion out of Russia. The DFS's investigation found that the bank missed numerous opportunities to detect, investigate and stop the scheme due to extensive compliance failures, allowing the scheme to continue for years. The DFS report went on to state that the Russian scheme "highlights what has been a pervasive culture at Deutsche of skirting regulations to pad profits and personal bonuses."
At the same time, Britain's FCA announced fines of $204 million in civil penalties against Deutsche Bank. It represented the largest financial penalty ever asserted by the FCA for failings of anti-money-laundering controls. In a damning report, it said Deutsche had failed to have proper controls to stop customers transferring billions from Russia to offshore bank accounts "in a manner that is highly suggestive of financial crime."
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"Deutsche had been unable to determine who many of its customers were, citing missing identification documents, lack of information about corporate ownership and poorly understood foreign-language paperwork," the report said.
The above description of the mirror trades that occurred in Moscow represents the next step in the evolution of Russia-based money laundering techniques. Deutsche Bank is listed by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in its research into the top 50 global banks involved in activities described in their article as part of the "Russian Laundromat."

Russian Laundromat

OCCRP explained that this money laundering technique starts with transactions involving two companies, one of them based in the UK. "The companies sign a bogus contract in which one agrees to lend the other large sums, although no money ever actually changes hands. It is likely that both companies are owned by the same owner but that ownership is hidden behind proxy' figures."
One example cited by OCCRP concerns a UK-registered company owned by murky Belize-registered shareholders, with sums of $100m-800m in each transaction. "The contracts in each case stipulated that the debt was guaranteed by companies in the Russian Federation, almost always run by a Moldovan citizen. This Moldovan gave the operation access to the courts in Moldova, which would ultimately permit the movement of the dirty money into the legitimate banking system," the report said.
Typically, intermediary banks would be used to transfer the money to a friendly bank in a European Union country such as Latvia, also known as "the Switzerland of Eastern Europe." And once it is in Latvia, voila! It is in the European Union, backed by a court order and clean and ready to use," the OCCRP said. Typically, once the money has moved into the EU it will continue on to larger banks such as Deutsche and move offshore to such havens as Belize, BVI, Cyprus and the Seychelles. Commercial Bank of San Francisco and Bank of New York were tied into this scheme at one point, and some notable individuals associated with those banks include Bruce Rappaport and Peter Berlin at BNY, Boris Avramovich Goldstein and Irakaly "Ike" Kaveladze with Commercial Bank of SF. Senator Levin referred to "Ike" as a "poster boy for money laundering."

Mirror Trades

The scheme's intent was to facilitate the transfer of over $10 billion out of Russia for wealthy Russian clients. They did this with mirror trades (Russians use the term "konvert" when employing this scheme) carried out between 2011 and 2015. These trades allowed for the buying of Russian stocks in rubles for a client generally located in the Moscow area, and the near simultaneous selling of the identical value of a security for US dollars for a related customer located in London. DFS outlined a web of trades converting rubles into dollars through security trades that had "no economic purpose." The players involved in these deals stretched from Moscow, London and New York to Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.
The Department of Financial Services found that Deutsche's Moscow traders facilitated the scheme, with most of the trades placed by a single trader representing both sides of the transaction. Traders did not question the suspicious trades because it made for easy commissions. The counterparties involved were closely related, and the trades were routinely cleared through Deutsche Bank. The selling counterparty was usually registered offshore and would be paid for its shares in US dollars.
[Image: image8.jpg]Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Central Bank of Russia / Wikimedia and US Mint / Wikimedia.

The practical effect of these large-scale mirror trades was to physically move a large volume of money out of Russia and away from predator plutocrats and regulatory entities, most significantly Russian tax authorities. Deutsche Bank played a key role in physically moving Russian money out of Russia to the UK, and facilitating Russian tax evasion in the process.
"I have a billion ruble today. … Will you be able to find a security for this size?" the DFS report cited one party to a deal as telling a Deutsche Bank trader in Moscow. The scheme centered on 12 Moscow brokers in Deutsche's Moscow branch who hatched the plan for their wealthy Russian customers, essentially converting Russian currency into dollars.
Many of these dollar-based mirror transactions flowed through the office of Deutsche's New York bank. This provided SDNY an avenue for the money laundering inquiry. More than $10 billion in laundered money was directed toward London and New York from Moscow, investigators found. DFS discovered that the Deutsche executives in Moscow had plenty of opportunities to crack down on the scheme, but did not. The department emphasized that Deutsche's "Know Your Customer" screens, a crucial cog in its compliance department that analyzes the identity and intent of a prospective client, failed on numerous occasions.

Corrupt Surfer Dude May Be Easy Bait

Who was the Deutsche supervisor who allowed $10 billion of "konvert" to go through? An article in the New Yorker identifies Tim Wiswell, an American citizen, as the supervisor on the Moscow equities desk of Deutsche where the suspicious trades were made. According to the piece, Wiswell took millions in bribes to facilitate the scheme. Or, as DFS put it, one supervisor in the Moscow office of Deutsche Bank was paid $3.8 million for "consulting agreements" by the companies behind the trades. It further notes that Wiswell was last thought to be with his family in Indonesia, where no extradition treaty with US exists. He is apparently involved with TakeOff, a surf school run by Russians near Bali.
It is possible that a vigorous US Justice Department prosecutor might extend a deal to Mr. Wiswell that includes a plea to lesser criminal tax charges in exchange for his testimony against Deutsche executives and their likely Russian oligarch clients. Such a deal would allow Wiswell and his family to return to the US and face perhaps limited prison time. It also might allow US federal prosecutors to obtain direct testimony on any possible role by Deutsche executives, up to, and possibly including, such heavyweights as past CEO Josef Ackerman.
Should prosecutors be so fortunate to move up the food chain, what bigger fish could this bait reel in?
One potential target might be Igor Putin, believed to be related to Vladimir Putin as a second cousin. Igor served on the Board of Directors of Promsberbank, which the Central Bank of Russia characterized as being a "key conduit for mirror trades," according to a recent Bloomberg article.
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The Offshore Leaks Database of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveals some interesting links connecting Igor Putin to a British Virgin Island shell company called Parlomedia Corporation. (The Panama Papers are associated with the work of the ICIJ.) The database also documents Deutsche Bank's links to more than 1,000 offshore accounts.

Project Square

Deutsche was so concerned about the breakdown of internal controls surrounding the mysterious mirror trades that its brass directed a full internal inquiry called Project Square. Initiated in February 2015, the inquiry was headed by the chairman of Deutsche's supervisory board and partner at Shearman & Sterling, Georg Thoma. Thoma aggressively tracked and reported on over 2,000 questionable transactions emanating from the bank's Moscow office. Deutsche executives cut his query short, however, and forced his resignation on May 28, 2016, a full two years before his contract was scheduled to end.
Various media reports, including a Bloomberg article, noted that Thoma was left isolated after pushing to investigate Chairman Paul Achleitner and mounting intensive inquiries into Deutsche Bank executives, people familiar with the investigation have said. Deputy Chairman Alfred Herling criticized Thoma for being "overzealous" and spending too much in probing potential wrongdoing. People familiar with the investigation observed that friction arose over Thoma's interest in examining potential links between individual board members and legal cases starting in 2014. Did Thoma get too close? Could premature closure of a productive and revealing internal query provide evidence of executive misconduct, concealment of financial crimes and potential willful blindness of AML controls? Considering suppression of the above may have misled investors, were securities violations at play?
Whistleblower, Eric Ben-Artzi, a past Deutsche Bank employee, was quoted by Ed Caesar in an August 2016 New Yorker article that "there was a cultural criminality" at Deutsche. Ben-Artzi went on to say that "Deutsche Bank was structurally designed by management to allow corrupt individuals to commit fraud."
While the hundreds of millions of dollars in civil fines and penalties issued against Deutsche Bank make for nice headlines, no criminal prosecution has been brought by any of the countries affected by this nefarious $10 billion scheme. Therefore, no deterrence with any bite has emerged that might truly inhibit Deutsche executives or executives of other major banks. The lack of corporate liability laws in Germany suggest that no criminal prosecution will ever be brought against executive management headquartered in Frankfurt.
[Image: image7.jpg]Deutsche Bank press conference. Photo credit: Deutsche Bank / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Harken back to Deutsche chairman Rolf-Ernst Breuer's quote: "We don't believe in autonomy as an instrument of management and leadership, as far as it goes, we want a centralized management of the business."
A $10 billion money-laundering scheme was not run by some rogue cowboy (or surfer dude), but directed by centralized management with little regard to criminal liability. Furthermore, an aggressive internal inquiry was suppressed before executive responsibility could be determined. There have been some passing references in the media to an open criminal investigation by DOJ and the SDNY into the "mirror trading" schemes of Deutsche, but DOJ has refused comment. This lack of comment and activity has not sat well with everyone.
In the next installment, we'll examine how Deutsche Bank's brazen activities got on the radar of Congressional oversight committees. We'll also take a look at Donald Trump's association with the bank since 1998.
To be continued…
"Fire and Fury" Is a Book All Too Worthy of the President

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By Masha Gessen
[FONT=&amp]January 7, 2018[/FONT][/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]Michael Wolff's instant best-seller is part old news, part bad reporting. Its success is symptomatic of our degraded sense of reality under Trump.[/FONT]
The President of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounds himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound. He is manifestly unfit for the job. Who knew? Everybody did.
So why has a poorly written book containing this information, padded with much tedious detail, become an overnight sensation, a runaway best-seller, and the topic of every other political column, podcast, and dinner conversation? It seems we are in bigger trouble with reality perception than we might have realized.
A year in, the Trump Presidency remains unimaginable. To think that a madman could be running the world's most powerful country, to think that the Commander-in-Chief would use Twitter to mouth off about whose nuclear button is bigger or to call himself a "very stable genius," verges on the impossible. If the word "unthinkable" had a literal meaning, this would be it. It also brings to mind the psychiatrist Judith Herman's definition of a related word: "Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud," she once wrote. "This is the meaning of the word unspeakable." The Trump era is unimaginable, unthinkable, unspeakable. Yet it is waging a daily assault on the public's sense of sanity, decency, and cohesion. It makes us feel crazy.
At the end of the day, we sit down in front of the screen and watch the late-night comedians state the obvious: they imagine the unimaginable, think the unthinkable, and speak the unspeakable. There is nothing funny about it, but we laugh with relief. However briefly, the comedians free us from the nagging sense that we are crazy. It's not us, it's him. The laughter becomes hysterical.
This is the appeal of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House." As Virginia Heffernan writes in the Los Angeles Times, Wolff has always specialized in "cartoonish power dynamics among insufferable old men"the sort of spectacle that others rarely find worth a second look. But, she writes, "because the world finds itself at their mercy, we'd do well to hear their fetid locker room talk interpreted by a writer who can stomach it."
The problem is that Wolff's approach is too well-matched to his material. As Andrew Prokop explains on Vox, Wolff's writing is a rehashing of gossip. What the Times' and Washington Post's White House teams have been doing through painstaking reportingproducing stories in which the account of every absurd incident in the life of the Trump Administration is based on conversations with several different sourcesWolff accomplishes by absorbing the ambient noise, the self-aggrandizing statements, the overheard (or surreptitiously recorded) conversations, and reshaping them as a narrative all his own. This tone, more than the substance, is what gives the book the flavor of a peek behind the curtain, the sense of someone finally putting words to an "open secret."
Early tidbits, released ahead of the book itself, have, predictably, proved to be the tastiest morsels. Trump didn't expect to win! Trump is semi-literate! Ivanka wants to be the first female President! Samantha Bee has done segments on all three of these topics. Anyone with access to Twitter or a television has also been able to observe the President's uncertain relationship to the English language and his daughter's unbounded political ambition.
Unlike Bee and the other comedians, who are forever balancing on the angry edge of disgust, Wolff appears to relish observing Trump the Terrible. If the comedians bring reality into sharper focus, Wolff just slaps on broad, sloppy strokes. His writing is comically bad: "a crooked real-estate scam" is a typical phrase; one four-sentence paragraph contains four instances of the word "likely" and six of "unlikely." His logic is ridiculous: he includes, for example, a rumination on why real-estate entrepreneurs have never before become Presidents, and concludes that this is because real estate often involves questionable monetary relationshipsand not, say, because the business does not offer the policy, legal, moral, or intellectual training that is usually expected of high-level politicians.
But, worst of all, Wolff's reporting is not reporting. The book's most resonant revelation so far concerns comments Wolff attributed to Steve Bannon, who supposedly called the June, 2016, Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer "treasonous," said it should have been reported to the F.B.I., and expressed certainty that the Russians had been taken up to meet Donald Trump himself. Of these three assertions, one is stating the obviousthe Russian overture should have been reported to the F.B.I.and two are false. It is not treason to meet with representatives of a country with which the United States is not in a state of war. And, according to my reporting, the Russians who met with Trump's campaign team were not in fact taken up to meet the candidate himself. Wolff doesn't bother with corroboration.
Wolff's book seems to occupy a middle ground: between the writing of White House newspaper reporters, who exercise preternatural restraint when writing about the Administration, and the late-night comedians, who offer a sense of release from that restraint because they are not held to journalistic standards of veracity. That middle ground, where there is neither restraint nor accuracy, shouldn't exist. That "Fire and Fury" can occupy so much of the public-conversation space degrades our sense of reality further, while creating the illusion of affirming it.
From Fire and Fury' to Political Firestorm

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Donald Trump on the South Lawn of the White House last December.CreditAl Drago for The New York Times
Inside the Trump White House
By Michael Wolff
312 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $30.

He is a New Yorker in Washington, far more consumed with the news media and personalities than policy issues. He elides facts, fudges the specifics and dispenses with professional norms in the service of success and status. And while affecting a contempt for the mainstream press, he cannot help dropping the mask to reveal the double game he is playing. I am talking, of course, of the writer Michael Wolff, who with "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" has delivered an altogether fitting, if ultimately unsatisfying, book on the chaotic first nine months of President Trump, another media-obsessed Manhattanite.
Wolff is, to borrow a recent phrase in the news, a sort of perfectly grotesque Boswell to Trump's Johnson. The duo are a match made in heaven, or perhaps due south. "Fire and Fury" has detonated as few contemporaneous political books ever have, gripping an angry president's attention for days, reigniting questions about his mental stability and prompting the excommunication of Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist. Yet what makes Wolff's account at once undeniably entertaining and lamentably unrewarding is precisely what makes covering this administration so frustrating. Politics and elections are my beat, so I can easily get pulled into stories about the Trump White House. But while the accounts can be sublime, at least to a scoop-hungry reporter, they can also leave one unsatisfied.
To put it mildly, it can be hard to attain the unalloyed truth from a president who has long boasted of gaming the press, or from competing courtiers who often wield insider anecdotes as sword and shield in their efforts to protect themselves and bloody their rivals. Then there is the sheer outlandishness of the Trump era: When most anything is plausible it is also printable, but that does not necessarily mean you are getting it right.
Wolff addresses the inherent challenge of reporting on this White House in an introductory author's note, explaining that the recollections of sources can collide with one another and in some cases be untrue entirely. "Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book," he says. To confront his problem, Wolff notes that there are times he lets "the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them." Unfortunately for the reader, he throws up his hands when dealing with three of the most pivotal moments of the Trump campaign and presidency.
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Ivanka Trump with her husband Jared Kushner and Gary D. Cohn, chief economic advisor, left, in the Rose Garden last April.CreditDoug Mills/The New York TimesIn recounting the 2016 gathering at Trump Toweramong Donald Trump Jr., the campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and close adviser, and a group of Russians promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton, Wolff offers several "why-and-how theories of this imbecilic meeting." But he does not settle on any one of them.
Second, in recalling the moment on Air Force One a year later when now-President Trump worked to produce a statement for his son minimizing the meeting, Wolff does not attempt to assess the veracity of the declarations of Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, that they were not part of any cover-up. "Ivanka, according to the later recollection of her team, would shortly leave the meeting, take a pill and go to sleep," Wolff writes. "Jared, in the telling of his team, might have been there, but he was not taking a pencil to anything.'"

Wolff turns to the same device, only from the voice of the opposing camp, in recounting Trump's fateful decision to fire the F.B.I. director James Comey. "It was Jared, in the version told by those outside the Jarvanka circle, that pushed for action," he writes. ("Jarvanka" is Wolff's shorthand, borrowed from Bannon, for Jared and Ivanka.) Wolff's caution may be explained in his acknowledgments, where he gives a glowing tribute to his trusted libel lawyer. It is that sort of book.
Wolff is unsparing in his portrayal of Trump as an aberrant chief executive, not only detached from governance but barely literate. He summons withering on-the-record assessments from ostensible allies of a seemingly infantile president. "If they tell him the whales need to be saved, he's basically for it," says Katie Walsh, a former White House deputy chief of staff, recalling how easily the Kushners could sway Trump. Yet much of Wolff's sourcing is opaque. "I've made stuff up forever, and they always print it," Trump boasts about his long-running media con. But Wolff, with seemingly unintended irony, does not make clear where he harvested such an explosive line.
Wolff is also slippery about whether he was present for some of the conversations he relays or is merely offering a version of events from those who were. He opens the book, for example, with an engrossing dinner conversation that included Bannon and Roger Ailes, the former Fox News president, shortly before the inauguration, offering sentence after sentence of verbatim quotations. Wolff writes that the dinner was held "in a Greenwich Village townhouse," but leaves out that it was his home and he was the evening's host.
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Wolff is a media writer by trade and, like his protagonist, he repeatedly scorns the mainline press for what he suggests is its liberal bias. He singles out this paper for treating the Trump presidency as anomalous. Yet putting aside the irony that his own depiction sketches out a shockingly aberrant White House, Wolff shows that his media-bashing is not on the level when he switches from the Ailes hymnal to a more conventional liberal perspective. In a jab at the media, he calls Richard Spencer, the racist alt-right activist, "catnip for the liberal press," but then effectively makes the liberals' case by giving Spencer an open mic to proclaim "we are the Trump vanguard." And Wolff casually refers to a "virulent, if not anti-Semitic (at least toward liberal Jews), right-wing West Wing."
Wolff is strongest when he's writing on what he knows best: the insecurities and ambitions of Trump and other media fixtures. Yet while much of this presidency does revolve around news coverage, it is still a presidency. And Wolff is far weaker when it comes to politics.
The collapse of the Affordable Care Act repeal in the Senate is dealt with in less than a single sentence, with no mention of Senator John McCain's opposition or Trump's 11th-hour telephone call to him that preceded it. Vice President Mike Pence is largely airbrushed out of the book, which is puzzling given how influential he was in tapping cabinet officials and staff. Similarly, few would see Andrew Card or Erskine Bowles as "larger-than-life" presidential chiefs of staff; the conservative United Nations ambassador Nikki R. Haley is hardly a "Jarvanka Republican"; and at a September campaign rally in Alabama for Senator Luther Strange, Trump did not abandon Strange "for the rest of the speech" after criticizing N.F.L. players for kneeling at the national anthem.

Then there is the sloppiness: The former representative Dick Armey was never House speaker, the Washington lobbyist Hilary Rosen spells her first name with only one "l" and it is Mike Berman, Walter F. Mondale's former counsel, who breakfasts at the Four Seasons, not the Washington Post reporter Mark Berman.
381COMMENTSThe writing is often vivid but Wolff, who tries to hold to a chronological narrative, can be as repetitive as Trump, returning again and again to preferred words or phrases (joie de guerre is a favorite). What ultimately salvages the book are those moments when he all but makes Bannon his co-author, letting Bannon describe West Wing showdowns with his moderate nemesis, Jarvanka, in ways that render this the de facto first insider account of the Trump White House. Of course, the recollections are just those of a single aide, and may include what Trump himself once called examples of "truthful hyperbole."
In the newspaper business, such stories would be deemed "too good to check." But given the popularity of "Fire and Fury," Wolff might call them something else: liberal catnip.