Streetwise Professor

November 7, 2017

If the Dems Keep This Up, Ima Gonna Run Outta Popcorn

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:59 pm

The Democratic establishment has gone to DefCon One over Donna Brazile’s (so far only excerpted) blasts directed at the Hillary campaign. The biggest return salvo was in the form of an open letter signed by dozens and dozens, including notables such as Huma Abedin (Hillary’s constant companion, who frequently wore an outfit to match Hillary’s–yeah, I don’t want to know either), Robby Mook (campaign director), and–wait for it–Marc Elias (the Perkins Coie lawyer who was the intermediary between the Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS, which in turn was the connection to Christopher Steele of dossier infamy). The whole thing is a hoot, but this part totally cracked me up: “It is particularly troubling and puzzling that she would seemingly buy into false Russian-fueled propaganda, spread by both the Russians and our opponent, about our candidate’s health.”

I mean it had to be the Russians, right? Had. To. Be.

First, this is now the Democrats’ Theory of Everything: THE RUSSIANS DONE IT. Second, who could possibly have had any doubts about Hillary’s health? That nagging cough? Nothing! The fainting spell (or freezing episode) or whatever it was on 9/11/16? Just “overheating.” Brazil also points out some odd Hillary public behavior, most notably her infamous “basket of deplorables” comment, which led Brazile to wonder whether Clinton was so mentally out of it that she wasn’t aware that she was speaking in public, rather than at a closed event.

In other words, far more than the rest of us, Donna Brazile had the ability to observe closely Hillary’s health, and it raised grave concerns in her mind. Yet Hillary’s phalanx of flunkies denies Brazile’s first hand knowledge, and instead blames her concerns on Russian propaganda.

Unbelievable. The only thing Russian about this entire episode is the Hillary cabal’s obfuscation of her health issues, which brings back memories of the last days of Chernenko or Brezhnev.

For her part, Brazile has been nothing if not entertaining. First, she denied that the word “rigged” is in her book. Well, it is definitely in the Politico piece which is allegedly an excerpt, and everyone who read that concluded that Brazile was accusing the DNC of rigging the process against Bernie: if not, why the candles and the music to put her at peace before the confessional phone call to Sanders? But maybe her book has undergone a quick rewrite (perhaps like James Comey’s letter regarding Hillary’s server, which included the legally damning phrase “grossly negligent” before it didn’t). Or something.

Second, Brazile accuses the campaign leadership of being sexist, and treating her like a slave. Randy Mook in particular comes in for damning criticism. I’m not a big Brazile fan, but Mook is a first class creep, so it’s an easy call regarding whom to pull for here.

Third, she makes some rather odd statements about murdered campaign Seth Rich. This has sent conspiratorial minds–of which there are far too many these days–into paroxysms of theorizing.

There are many conjectures about Brazile’s motives. Self-protection is a leading candidate in the comments section. Shifting blame and making money are others. Revenge is also in the running. Another theory making the rounds is that she is attempting (perhaps at the behest of the Bernie branch of the party) to torpedo a potential Hillary! 2020 repeat. Yes, some think that Hillary is in fact scheming to run again. I can understand many Democrats’ horror at the thought–she would be a very serious contender to tie William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson as three time losers (though Stevenson, of course, only was the party’s standard bearer twice, losing the party’s nomination to JFK in 1960, as Hillary did to Obama in 2008).

I’m going with “all of the above.” I think this is a seriously overdetermined mixture of the personal and the political. Whatever it is, I hope she keeps on it. Though if she does I’ll have to restock the popcorn because I’m going through it like crazy.

Circling back to the Russia obsession. Have you noticed that the Russians are inveterate liars spewing disinformation everywhere, except when a Russian is dishing dirt on Trump, in which case they are telling the gospel truth? The dossier is one example: to the Dems and Never Trump Republicans, it is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John rolled up into one. Another example is the recent story that the lawyer who met with Donald Jr., one Natalia Veselnitskaya, claims that Junior “hinted at a review” of the Magnitsky Act if Veselnitskaya could provide evidence in writing of Clinton skullduggery.

Did he give an exaggerated knowing wink? Or maybe he did the whole “grin, grin, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!”thing. I mean, seriously.

So since when did Veselntiskaya–a Russian!–become unimpeachably credible? Especially in light of numerous revelations suggesting that the Russians were (are?) not acting in a partisan way, but were (are?) merely intending to sow political chaos. In which case (a) they are succeeding beyond their wildest expectations, and (b) Huma and the Gang are accessories after the fact, and are compounding the chaos spawned by whatever Russian interference there was by overreacting to Russian interference.

Another revelation about Veselnitskaya came out today. In Congressional testimony in July, Bill Browder alleged that she hired Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against Browder, a Russian bête noire.* Today it was reported that she met with Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson both immediately before and immediately after the Trump Tower meeting. You know, kinda like a briefing and debriefing. We also know that some time before this the Hillary campaign via Marc Elias had hired Fusion GPS to dig dirt on Trump (“opposition research” we’re told).

I don’t know about you, but to me that screams set-up. The Clinton-Fusion-Russia nexus is just too tight. (Note to the sickening hypocrisy. The outrage over the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting is that he was looking for compromising material on Hillary. First, isn’t that just “opposition research”, per the Democrats’ defense of the Clinton hiring of Fusion? Second, for the people who hired dirt diggers par excellence-Fusion GPS–to get dirt on Trump from the Russians to wax indignant about Trump responding to offers of dirt on Hillary from Russians pegs the chutzpah meter–and mine goes to 11!)

So here’s where we are. Donna Brazile blasted Hillary and her campaign. Hillary’s henchpeople responded by saying that Brazile was a dupe for propaganda put out by those lyin’ no good Russkies. Meanwhile, the Hillary campaign hired a propaganda outfit with deep connections with the Russians, including Russians who just so happened to be in meetings that the Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) claim compromised Trump. But to believe that, you have to believe that the lyin’ no good Russkies are telling the truth. Just this once!

Did I get that right? Pretty sure that I did. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

* Do not consider this an endorsement of Browder. In fact, I am not a Browder fan. I will detail the reasons for my distrust and dislike in an upcoming post.

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November 2, 2017

Donna Brazile Unloads on Hillary, and Gives SWP a Target Rich Environment!

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:16 pm

Donna Brazile–a long time Democratic operative and DNC official–has a book coming out. And the excerpt in Politico is damning of the erstwhile leaders of the Democratic Party.

To me the most interesting reveal is that the Lightworker left the Democratic Party’s finances is an utter, absolute shambles:

Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.

This fits with my image of Obama as Mr. Magoo, who cheerily drove along, always coming out ahead, while leaving carnage in his wake. We already knew about how Democratic officeholders at the state, local, and Congressional levels were scourged during the Obama administration: now we know he did the same to the Democratic Party’s finances.

This, in turn, left the DNC vulnerable to the Clinton mafia, who basically extended juice loans to the DNC. In return for financing the party to allow it to exist, Hillary’s campaign demanded, and received, control over its finances, and most of its key personnel choices. Hillary used this arrangement to launder campaign contributions in a way that clearly was intended to circumvent federal limits on donations to individual campaigns.

Oh, and “launder” isn’t my word choice: it’s Politico’s. Here’s how Brazile explains it:

“Gary, how did they do this without me knowing?” I asked. “I don’t know how Debbie relates to the officers,” Gary said. He described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse. Under FEC law, an individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 directly to a presidential campaign. But the limits are much higher for contributions to state parties and a party’s national committee.

Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn [i.e., Clinton campaign headquarters].

“Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”

Gary said the campaign had to do it or the party would collapse.

“That was the deal that Robby struck with Debbie,” he explained, referring to campaign manager Robby Mook. “It was to sustain the DNC. We sent the party nearly $20 million from September until the convention, and more to prepare for the election.”

The states’ take for being the front for this fundraising scheme? “Yet the states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had amassed from the extravagant fund-raisers Hillary’s campaign was holding, just as Gary had described to me when he and I talked in August.” One percent? Credit card companies collect more for processing payments.

Brazile claims that this was not illegal, merely unethical. I have no doubt that it was unethical. The legality is hardly obvious, given that it effectively allowed the Clinton campaign to blow through the $2,700 limit on individual contributions to campaigns. Blow through by a factor of 13. That’s all. No big deal, right?

Hillary, you might recall, claimed to be a stalwart supporter of campaign finance reform. But here she was playing a shell game that made a travesty of existing contribution limits.

And who is this “Gary”, you ask?

GiGi! That’s right. The Gary is none other than Gary Gensler. The Saint of the CFTC. Crusader for financial probity. Yet he was neck deep in a scheme that not only was a mockery of the campaign finance system, but which also effectively made the DNC the adjunct of the Clinton campaign during the primary season, when it was supposed to be non-partisan.

Ah, what ambition does to a man’s morals, eh there, Gar? Appalling. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . .  but for the Secretary of the Treasury?

Brazile seems to cut Gensler some slack. After all, he didn’t negotiate the deal. He just counted the beans.

Like Al Capone’s accountant.

There’s one other terribly revealing thing about all this. No, not that Hillary is a grotesquely unethical and manipulative woman: that’s hardly news. What’s eye opening is that she was so insecure that she felt that she had to rig the Democratic primaries by suborning the DNC, and making it her creature.

Yet the woman who was so nervous about winning her own party’s nomination wants us to believe that the only way she wasn’t anointed as president must have been the nefarious doings of the likes of the Russians and Jim Comey.

And now that I mention the Russians, consider this. An alternative explanation for the release of the DNC emails is that it was the work of a disenchanted Bernie Bro, not a Russian hacker. I always thought this was plausible, and none other than stalwart Democratic operative Donna Brazile makes it eminently clear that Bernie supporters working in the DNC would have had every reason to be outraged, because their guy was getting shafted the way only the Clintons can.

So by going after Hillary, Donna Brazile has created a target rich environment for the likes of me. Not just Hillary, but Obama, Gary Gensler, and the Russians hacked the DNC conventional wisdom. And that was just an excerpt. I can hardly imagine what the whole book will bring.

I never thought I’d say this, but here it goes: Thanks, Donna!

 

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October 30, 2017

Michael Weiss: Stupid or Dishonest? I’m Going With “Both!”

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:18 pm

The usual suspects spent the weekend wetting themselves over the news of an impending Mueller indictment. This morning the eagerly anticipated event happened: Mueller indicted Paul Manafort and a heretofore nobody–Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates.

BFD. The indictments had nothing to do with Trump, Trump’s campaign, or Trump collusion with the Russians. It involved Manafort’s concealment of his dealings with the Ukrainians (the ousted pro-Russia Yanukovych regime) and moneys associated therewith.

As Andrew McCarthy notes, the indictment seems shaky and overcharged, and a boon to Trump because it is an implicit validation of his assertion of no collusion. He further claims that the indictment is an attempt to pressure Manafort into cooperating.

Well, if that were the intent, it is likely that Mueller failed. Usually such cooperation would be negotiated in advance of an actual indictment, and the cooperator would then plead guilty to a reduced charge: that’s the negotiated quid pro quo. Here, it looks as if Mueller threw everything he had (which isn’t much) against Manafort, and then Manafort pled not guilty–hardly the actions of a cooperating witness.

As an aside, my friend, Houston attorney Tom Kirkendall, the most dogged follower of the Enron prosecutions, has told me that shaky overcharging in order to coerce witnesses is the MO of Mueller assistant Andrew Weissman, who was in charge of the Enron cases. Weissman is truly a piece of work, as detailed in this Rowan Scarborough article.

It is particularly interesting–and appalling–to note that Weissman was head of the DOJ Fraud Section that allowed a Russian the FBI (under Mueller’s and Comey’s directorships) had implicated in a vast bribery scheme connected to the Uranium One deal–including donations to the Clinton Foundation–to plead to a trivial charge (likely in violation of DOJ charging guidelines) with virtually no publicity. Quite a contrast, eh? Quite revealing that the one time where Weissman went against his normal MO resulted in the burying of a case that was highly damaging to the Clintons.

The most damning thing the Manafort indictment indicates is that Trump showed very bad judgment, and a serious lack of due diligence, in hiring Manafort. Another example of Trump’s injudicious choice of associates is one George Papadopolous, a Trump campaign advisor who pled guilty to lying to investigators. Throw in Carter Page, and it is clear that Trump’s campaign was so desperate to attract people that it scraped the bottom of the barrel and didn’t look too closely at what it dredged up. Trump is paying now for that carelessness.

The Papadopolous plea does provide some comic relief, however, for CNN’s Michael Weiss attempts to leverage it into evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. As with most Weiss efforts, it is a laughable failure, making up in gruesome wordiness for what it lacks in substance (or logic, for that matter).

Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with the biggest howler–a classic bait-and-switch. One wonders if Weiss is too stupid to recognize the fundamental logical defects in his argument, or thinks we are so stupid that we’ll miss it:

But “[o]n or about” April 26, 2016, Papadopoulous again met with the Professor in a London hotel. The complaint reads that the Professor told him he had “just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials” where he learned that the Russians “have dirt” on Hillary Clinton; “the Russians had emails of Clinton” — “they have thousands of emails.”

This date is important because The Washington Post only first reported on June 14, 2016, that the hackers working for the Kremlin had penetrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee. And while this correspondence, first published by WikiLeaks in late July, days before the Democratic National Convention, was distinct from Clinton’s personal emails and those she turned over to the FBI as part of the investigation into her use of a personal server to conduct government business while she was secretary of state, it nonetheless caused a scandal within the Democratic Party.

Did you see what he did there? The first quoted paragraph refers to “thousands of emails [of Clinton]” the Russians claimed to have in April. The second paragraph refers to Democratic National Committee emails, the leaking of which was reported almost two months later. Two very different things. Very different. The emails the alleged interlocutor for the Russians mentioned are NOT the emails that subsequently appeared on Wikileaks, meaning that Weiss is either to stupid to know the difference, or so dishonest that he is trying to obscure the difference in order to make a hit on Trump.

It’s trivially easy to see what was going on here. Everybody and his 5th cousin knew about Hillary’s secret server by April, 2016, and there was widespread speculation that the Russians (and the Chinese, and the Iranians, and your Aunt Fanny) had hacked it. The Russians were clearly trying to entice the Trump campaign by dangling the bait of Hillary emails.

This pretty much blows the collusion narrative to smithereens, eh? If Trump (or his campaign) was colluding with the Russians, why would as late as April the Russians have to use an intermediary to attract  Trump’s attention by claiming to have the widely-speculated about Hillary emails?

Obviously: they wouldn’t.

This is a piece with the Trump Tower meeting, where a Russian intermediary again attempted to attract Trump’s attention by claiming to have dirt on Hillary. Again, if the Russians were already providing information to Trump, that would have been completely unnecessary.

Note that the Weiss article makes it plain that the alleged Russian-connected source (who was not Russian, but presumably a Greek or maybe a Cypriot, and who mainly asserted tight connections) was willing to tell whoppers to convince Papadopolous of her ability to deliver the goods: she introduced Papadopolous to a Russian national who claimed to be Putin’s niece. Hilarious. Did she also claim to have connections with Marie of Roumania?

So, according to Weiss, the Russians told outrageous lies, but Papadopolous–and the Trump camp–were supposed to know that the claims regarding Hillary emails were gospel. Gospel I tells ya!

OK. Sure.

But the hilarity has just begun! Note that if the Russians were referring to Hillary emails, if Weiss believes the Russians were telling the truth (as his story requires) that would be an admission that Hillary’s server had indeed been hacked. Andy Kaufmann lookalike Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, who is more absurd than Andy ever was) has made a similar implicit admission.

I really think they are too stupid to have figured that out. LOL.

But there’s more! (Isn’t there always?) The Trump campaign spurned the Papadopolous offer. But it’s even better than that: the alleged mastermind of the Russo-Trump collusive scheme–Manafort himself–is the one who told Papadopolous to pound sand:

In the event, no meeting ever took place. CNN reported in August 2017 that it was in fact Paul Manafort who “immediately dismissed the idea of meeting with top Russian officials and advised Trump to do the same.”

Manafort “[i]mmediately dismissed.” Self-satirizing.

The cherry on top of this comic sundae is this:

Gibbs is quite right to stress in his affidavit that using “nongovernmental intermediaries,” such as academics and think tankers, is one way Russian intelligence advances the Kremlin’s interests overseas. And there’s recent precedence for this in London, as I’ve documented elsewhere.

Uhm, Mike–the US does that too. And I would add journalists to that list: no conjecture there, as this is a widely documented fact. Further, I am highly confident that you fall into the category of U.S. “nongovernmental intermediary” as both a think tanker and a journalist. Heck, maybe this pathetic excuse of an article is just another example of that.

I could go on, but eviscerating this piece (of what, I’ll leave to your imagination) is far too easy. I need a much bigger challenge. So should I shoot fish in a barrel or steal candy from babies?

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October 24, 2017

Maybe the Clinton Campaign Should Have Used a Staten Island Hosting Service Instead

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:48 pm

Today’s breathless “EXCLUSIVE” about Russia’s nefarious plots in the US is from the Daily Beast. In a nutshell, the crafty Russkies used a web hosting service in Staten Island to spread their fake news and propaganda on BLM and other issues.

The shambolic nature of the effort chronicled in the DB (appropriate acronym!) is laughable when compared to the massively expensive digital efforts of the Clinton and Trump campaigns. Here is a long Politico tongue bath slobbering all over the Clinton operation. And Clinton also had the benefit of the efforts of tech titan Eric Schmidt.

Here is a snarky Medium piece, which in the end grudgingly acknowledges the effectiveness of the Trump campaign.  Trump’s efforts specifically focused on Facebook, and at one point in the campaign he was spending $70 million a month on the digital portion of his campaign.

The sophistication and magnitude of the campaign efforts dwarfed anything the Russians did, Staten Island servers or no. Contrasted with the massive Republican and Democratic efforts to jam the airways and inter webs , the Russians’ activities were like a weak electromagnetic signal received from a distant star system. Background radiation at ground zero of a nuclear test.

Yet the hysterics focus on that, because in the end, it’s all they’ve got. It’s hard to know what is more laughable: the story itself, or the fact that anyone takes it seriously. But “journalists” like Miriam Elder at Buzzfeed (deeply implicated in the dissemination of the Steele dossier, an act Mikhail Fridman et al may well soon cause her to regret to the end of her days) cackle in glee at it. They actually think it is significant, a smoking gun. Amazing.

For those needing a schadenfreude booster, I strongly suggest the Politico article, released two months and a day before the election. But be careful! It could lead to a schadenfreude overdose, for virtually every paragraph contains a statement which in retrospect is  a howler that makes the Clinton campaign look very, very bad:

What cities Clinton campaigns in and what states she competes in, when she emails supporters and how those emails are crafted, what doors volunteers knock on and what phone numbers they dial, who gets Facebook ads and who gets printed mailers — all those and more have Kriegel’s coding fingerprints on them.

To understand Kriegel’s role is to understand how Clinton has run her campaign — precise and efficient, meticulous and effective, and, yes, at times more mathematical than inspirational. Top Clinton advisers say almost no major decision is made in Brooklyn without first consulting Kriegel.

So why hasn’t Hillary blamed him yet?

Now, with Donald Trump investing virtually nothing in data analytics during the primary and little since, Kriegel’s work isn’t just powering Clinton’s campaign, it is providing her a crucial tactical advantage in the campaign’s final stretch. It’s one of the reasons her team is confident that, even if the race tightens as November approaches, they hold a distinctive edge. As millions of phone calls are made, doors knocked and ads aired in the next nine weeks, it is far likelier the Democratic voter contacts will reach the best and most receptive audiences than the Republican ones.

“Donald Trump investing virtually nothing in data analytics.” Hahahahaha. Famous last words! It’s just that the Trump people were smart enough to keep their massive effort (which was disproportionately digital and largely eschewed the massive TV ad buys that the more conventional campaign lavished money on–3 times as much as Trump, in fact) under wraps, while the narcissists in the Clinton campaign chose to preen and brag about their superiority.

Karma is a bitch.

But as they say, there’s more!

Some Republicans aren’t just nervous about losing to Clinton in November. They’re alarmed at the possibility of falling multiple cycles, even a generation, behind in creating a culture of data-intensive campaigns. Romney hardly had an autonomous analytics department. Trump has called data “overrated.” Kriegel, meanwhile, is incubating the next generation of Democratic talent — his team rivaled the size of Trump’s entire headquarters operation for much of the primary — the no-name analysts of 2016 who will emerge as the key players in 2018 and 2020.

Think of all that wasted money. Small is beautiful!

And more!

One Democratic strategist, an Obama veteran with knowledge of the Clinton campaign, marveled at Kriegel’s sway in Brooklyn. “I have never seen a campaign that’s more driven by the analytics,” the strategist said. It’s not as if Kriegel’s data has ever turned around Clinton’s campaign plane; it’s that her plane almost never takes off without Kriegel’s data charting its path in the first place.

Apparently Kriegel’s data did not include exotic places like “Wisconsin.”

And I guess Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania weren’t battleground states, ‘cuz otherwise they would have consulted The Amazing Kriegel:

Four years ago, Kriegel similarly won the trust of Obama’s top brass as the battleground states analytics director in The Cave, the much-heralded Obama 2012 data war room. “We didn’t make a single decision about battleground state strategy without first talking to Elan about his numbers,” said Jeremy Bird, then Obama’s national field director and now a Clinton consultant.

Har!:

As Trump has stumped in far-afield states like Mississippi, Washington and Texas, Republicans have implored his team to incorporate some data inputs to something as fundamental as the candidate’s schedule.

So tell me again who had the idiotic schedule?

I can’t stop laughing. The Democrats just KNEW that all tech-y, science-y, big data types were progressives and the Trump people were knuckle dragging idiots licking stamps to fix to mailers printed on a mimeograph machine. But in reality, the Trump people beat them at their own game. Or maybe not. Note that in the Politico article a main focus of the Kriegel analysis was deciding where to place TV ads, whereas the Trump campaign figured out that targeted Facebook appeals would be much more effective. In other words, the Clinton campaign grafted new analytic methods on top of old school media, while the Trump people focused on new media. Clinton played the old game in new ways, and Trump played a new game. Yet the Clinton people–and their media acolytes–were so busy with bragging about their own superiority that they never knew what hit them. Maybe they should have hired Sergey Kashyrin and some Russian trolls instead. It would have been a lot cheaper, in any event!

These different but related stories are a testament to the absurdity of American politics at present. The attention lavished on the Staten Island server specifically, and the fringe Russian propaganda effort generally, shows how unhinged the losers of the 2016 election have become in their desperation to find an explanation and an excuse for their defeat, and a way to try to undo the result of that election. The Politico story reveals unintentionally the real reason for that loss: a smug, self-satisfied elite operating in a bubble, thinking it knew everything worth knowing, and all the while completely oblivious to a seismic political movement that was largely a reaction to them.

 

 

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October 22, 2017

Cranking the Russian Absurdity to 11: Logical Consistency Need Not Apply

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 4:37 pm

The absurdity of the Russia collusion investigation knows no bounds. The most recent iteration is that a Russian troll farm placed Facebook ads that promoted political division in the US. A far cry that from Trump personally canoodling with Putin, but put that aside. Front and center among the most recent allegations is that said troll farm placed material advancing Black Lives Matters themes with the intent of stoking racial division.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are extremely critical of Facebook for failing to derail the ads:

“This is a very fragile moment in time for African-Americans across this country,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the CBC, told reporters. “What we needed Facebook to understand is that they play a role in the perception of African-Americans, and they are influencers that use their platform to influence this country.”

. . . .

CBC lawmakers said they think the Russian ads promoting Black Lives Matter would have been easily flagged, and likely not seen by as many as 10 million people, had Facebook employed more people of color. Sandberg committed to adding a person of color to the board of directors soon, Richmond told reporters.

Several comments about this.

First, far be it from me to defend Facebook, but can you imagine the hue and cry had Facebook blocked similar–or even identical–content from any BLM-affiliated or sympathetic group or individual? The CBC would have been first in line to scream censorship. And does anyone believe that “people of color” at FB would have been more likely to flag and suppress pro-BLM messages? In what universe? Thus, this chin pulling is a case of ad hominem argument: it is not the content that they find objectionable, but who placed the content and for what purpose. (I doubt that the foreign origin of the material matters either: I imagine that the same people would be quite comfortable with similar messages being spread by ideological allies from say, Venezuela or Cuba. The alleged Russian origin only looks problematic in hindsight in the aftermath of the election.)

Second, the Obama administration was very sympathetic to the BLM agenda. Obama hosted BLM leader DeRay McKesson at the White House. I daresay he met privately with DeRay and other BLM leaders more than he met with some cabinet secretaries. Even more outspoken than the president was his Attorney General, Eric Holder. Holder traveled to Ferguson, Missouri at the height of the turmoil there and made remarks that hewed very closely to the BLM line–that was pretty damned divisive.  He gave speeches praising BLM.  BLM played a prominent role at the Democratic convention in 2016, and Holder said “black lives matter” during his speech there.

Again, if such BLM-themed remarks are racially divisive when made in Facebook ads placed by Russians (allegedly) and seen by a relatively small number of people, aren’t they much more so if expressed repeatedly by the president and the country’s chief law enforcement official at a time this issue was very raw, and receiving wall-to-wall coverage in all forms of media? Is BLM-themed rhetoric dangerous per se or not? If it is, that is true regardless of who says it.

And if advancing BLM-related themes is inherently bad, why are the same people criticizing the Facebook ads (and Facebook) the most outspoken defenders of kneeling NFL players, and the most vocal critics of a president who criticizes those players?

The logical fallacies and logical contradictions are rampant.

Third, assuming the allegations re Russia are correct, and indeed, assuming that this was part of a political influence operation run by Russian intelligence, it is nothing new! The Russians/Soviets have done this for years and years and years. The medium–social media–is new, but the methodology is tried-and-true: the Soviets/Russians have always used available media as part of these operations, so it should be no surprise that they have turned to social media given its current dominance. Further, the Russians/Soviets have focused on sowing racial division in particular during periods of racial strife in the US (e.g., the disinformation campaign claiming that AIDS was a CIA plot to kill black people). It is only the historical idiocy of the American establishment/political class that leads them to find something novel and uniquely dangerous in this new iteration of a very old game.

Indeed, when I argued years ago that ZeroHedge was a Russian influence operation it was precisely because it exhibited tells and used methodologies that I became aware of during the height of the Cold War. I noted specifically the seeding of pro-Occupy stories and themes in ZeroHedge as an indication that it was an influence operation. Replace Occupy with BLM and ZH with FB, and the analogy is exact. Again, anyone who thinks this is something new and a unique threat to the Republic is an historical idiot.

Indeed, look at the similarities with what is alleged about the social media strategy and ZeroHedge. ZH has long run very contradictory messages. Yes, there were many Occupy-themed posts. But there were also many Ron Paul-liberatarian posts, and anti-Obama administration posts. The common theme was that the posts addressed controversial issues in inflammatory ways. There was no common ideological line: they pushed everybody’s buttons. This is exactly what is alleged in the Facebook-Russia story.

This hysteria over this recent–and rather mild, by historical standards–iteration on this methodology wreaks of desperation to rationalize a devastating political loss, and an intent to delegitimize the winner of that election.

The triviality and triteness of this alleged conduct is all the more evident when one considers another story–one which the media is doing its damndest to ignore. The Hill–hardly a fellow traveler of Breitbart–has run several stories detailing the myriad links (including specifically financial links) between the Clintons and Russia, which were contemporaneous with the decision by the US government to approve the sale of Uranium One (which owned 20 percent of US uranium production) to Russia. Further, The Hill reports that the FBI had engaged in a thorough investigation of corruption surrounding the deal, which ultimately resulted in an indictment and conviction of one of the Russian principals–something which the FBI and DOJ announced with virtually no fanfare. Further, the plea covered a fraction of the criminal conduct that had been uncovered, greatly undercharged the offense, and was delayed until after it could have scotched the Uranium One deal.  Congress and the government body that must approve foreign takeovers over national security-sensitive companies were kept in the dark about the massive bribery scheme. The US informant has been gagged and threatened with criminal prosecution if he talks to Congress.

The Clinton Foundation was at the center of a nexus of connections between the corrupt parties to the transaction. The fact that many of the main actors in the Trump-Russia imbroglio–Hillary, Mueller, Comey, Rosenstein, and McCabe–were also deeply involved in the events reported by The Hill makes it all too much, really.

Today the Daily Caller–yes, closer to Breitbart than The Hill–notes the potential connection with the Russian spy ring story of 2010.

I’m not going to try to parse these stories–it is not necessary to do so for my present purpose here. Suffice it to say that the connections reported by The Hill–which, in turn, were allegedly uncovered as part of an FBI investigation that resulted in a conviction–are far more substantial and better documented than any of those that involving Trump, despite the assiduous efforts of legions of journalists and investigators to find the latter. What’s more, The Hill allegations involve Hillary Clinton’s actions while she held the most senior post in the president’s cabinet, and the concealment of the details from Congress and the American public required the complicity of Holder and Obama, as well as the FBI. All of which means that if the more flimsy allegations against Trump warrant a special counsel and numerous Congressional inquiries, those against Clinton (and the Obama administration) deserve at least as much, if not more.

Again–is a little logical consistency too much to ask for? That was a rhetorical question, folks.

The upshot of all of this is that the frenzy regarding Russia right now has little, if any, relationship to its substantive importance. The new social media-related allegations are ad hominem in nature: if advancing a BLM narrative is racially divisive, and that is inherently bad, Russian troll farms are the least important offenders. Obama, Holder, and Colin Kaepernick are far more culpable. Further, the alleged conduct is par for the Russian course, and indeed, is exactly the kind of activity that I pointed out in 2009–and which was well known decades before that. Lastly, the Democratic hysteria over Russia has to be the greatest case of projection in political history, when one considers the myriad Clinton-Russia connections.

This cranking of the Russia absurdity to 11 has nothing to do with facts or realities or even logical consistency. In fact, I should say especially logical consistency. The grotesque inconsistencies demonstrate instead that it has everything to do with a peculiarly American disinformation campaign intended to overturn the results of an election, and to kneecap the victor thereof.

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September 25, 2017

Whoops, They Did It Again! After the German Election, the Establishment is 0-for-3.

Filed under: Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:36 am

I am experiencing considerable–what’s that word? oh yes!, schadenfreude–at the German election results. Although Angela Merkel’s party received the largest share of the vote, the results were a shocking setback for her. The CDU/CSU won the largest share of the vote, but this share was the lowest since WWII and represented a double-digit drop from the 2013 vote. Further, the CSU’s leader is mooting a split from the CDU. Merkel is almost certain to have to craft a coalition including three other parties–including the Greens–and this will be time consuming and constrain her power even once the coalition is in place. But the biggest setback at all was due to the stunning surge of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), the nationalist (and typically referred to as “far right”) party, which not only surpassed the 5 percent hurdle for parliamentary representation, but garnered 13 percent of the vote.

On Friday, Merkel was lionized. Now she is a greatly diminished figure. So much for the New Leader of the Western World, the Tamer of Trump, the Vanquisher of Populism.

And it’s not like this should be surprising. This is at least the third major replay of the movie–first Brexit, then Trump, now Merkel/AfD. Like the Remainers and the Democrats, Merkel condescended to the broad strain of popular (and populist) unease at her policies, most notably her immigration policy. Indeed, she and the rest of “elite” German (and indeed, Western) opinion could barely contain their disdain, and indeed revulsion, at any of the hoi polloi who dared question the wisdom of admitting a million plus immigrants from Muslim countries, or who expressed so much as concern at the criminality (especially sex crimes) and terrorism risk associated with the immigration wave: such people were the German version of The Deplorables. To the contrary: Merkel et al used this criticism as an opportunity to engage in a spasm of virtue signalling, not to say moralistic onanism. Those who agreed with them were morally elevated: those who disagreed, or even questioned, were knuckle dragging crypto–or not so crypto–fascists.

And as in the UK and the US, the knuckle draggers had the vote–and used it to take their revenge.

It is hard to discern from biased media coverage just what AfD really is. Perhaps David Goldman (AKA Spengler) is right that it is “an America-hating ethnic nationalist monster crawling with Nazi nostalgia.” I seriously doubt, however, that most of those who voted for it fit that description. But in some ways the party’s alleged ugliness, and the scorn and derision heaped on it by Merkel and the establishment, were a feature and not a bug to those looking to express opposition to the establishment’s policies. In a parliamentary system, voting for a fringe party is a way of sending a message, and what better way to send a message to Angela et al than by voting for a party that makes them recoil in horror because of its often extreme views? The only way to snap them out of their virtue signaling and self-pleasuring reveries is a 2×4 upside the head: voting for an AfD that elite opinion considered beyond the pale did just that. For that purpose, the more reprehensible the party, the better.

Such a smack may be necessary, but it may not prove sufficient. For what the post-Brexit and post-Trump reactions of the elite demonstrate is that they are incapable of reconsideration or self-examination or self-doubt. They are so convinced of their own superiority (especially moral superiority) that they tend to double down on the derision and condescension. Thus, electoral shocks tend to be merely the first battle in a protracted and increasingly hysterical war between the soi disant elite and those they believe it is their right to rule. We see that in the US today, with no respites even on the Sabbath, as the current frenzy over the NFL demonstrates.

My schadenfreude is only increased by the fact that Germany lapped France  as the most annoying country in Europe some time ago. German annoyingness was the product of two currents, one of which is longstanding, the other more recent. The longstanding current is that of various German national neuroses, most notably the need to cope with the awesome responsibility for the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century, the two World Wars, and in particular the crimes committed in the second of these. To prove that they are different now, the Germans have long held themselves out as morally superior judges of everyone else. Notable examples include virulent German criticism of Israel (especially useful because if Israelis are no better than Nazis, the moral valence of the Holocaust is diminished) and of the US in Vietnam, and latterly Iraq. German criticism of lazy southern Europeans is a somewhat less egregious, but nonetheless notable, example of this tendency. Virtue signaling is a natural pastime.

The second current is Germany’s economic ascendance, especially in the context of the EU. Germany emerged from the Financial Crisis as the dominant economy in Europe, by far. Its main rival within the EU, France, fared not nearly so well, and this combined with British exit has left Germany preeminent in the EU. And they have not been shy to exercise this dominance–nor should they have been expected to, given the aforementioned belief in their moral superiority. Germany–with Merkel in the lead–has been the biggest force pushing for MOAR Europe, because in their current circumstances, More Europe means More German Power.

Of particular relevance in light of the election results, one of the most appalling manifestations of this has been Germany’s insistence on imposing its open borders policy on other countries, especially in eastern Europe (notably Poland). For its part, the Polish government knows how to hit Germany where it hurts (in its swollen sense of superiority) by threatening to demand trillions in reparations for WWII. (The issue of WWII illustrates Churchill’s aphorism about the Germans being either “at your throat or at your feet” very well. It is interesting to note how the Germans have been at times groveling to the Russians in recognizing their depredations in Russia during WWII, but have not behaved similarly to Poland, even though German crimes there were probably greater, and Polish responsibility for the war far less than Russia’s.)

German energy policy is another example. The Germans have been intent on forcing Nordstream I and now II on Europe because it benefits Germany, even though it leaves eastern Europe in the Russian energy thrall. Related to this is the schizophrenic German policy on Russia. On the one hand it has insisted on maintaining sanctions on Russia for Ukraine, but on the other hand it freaked out when the US tightened sanctions on Russia because this undermined German attempts to secure gas supplies from the Russians.  The Germans insist on sending a signal–as long as they don’t have to pay a price.

So even if–or especially if–AfD is as bad as Spengler says, its shockingly strong performance yesterday will have major political effects outside of the borders of Germany. It has proven that Merkel has feet of clay. It will lead to a protracted negotiation over a coalition that in the end will leave Merkel diminished and constrained. It will probably spark a vicious political battle in Germany over immigration and Europe that will derail Germany’s attempt at world domination by other means.

And as much as the western establishments will wail, these are good things. In fact, the wailing is probably the best indication of that which one could imagine.

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September 22, 2017

The Mueller Investigation: One Part Abuse, One Part Absurdity. There is No Third Part.

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:32 pm

The Mueller “investigation” of “collusion with Russia” is one part abuse, one part absurdity. There is no third part.

One aspect of the abuse is well summarized by my friend Tom Kirkendall and others quoted in this article:

“Here is a United States citizen where the FBI is coming in, picking his lock, and raiding his home in the early morning, over what? It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. It’s just crazy. We’re not the Soviet Union. It’s appalling,” said Kirkendall, who has worked on cases involving one of the special counsel’s key investigators, Andrew Weissmann.

As Tom noted to me, apparently the irony of using KGB tactics to investigate rumored Russian intelligence involvement in the US election is lost on Mueller and his thugs. The presence of serial prosecutorial abuser Andrew Weissmann is also quite revealing about Mueller’s attitude.

Another aspect of the abuse is the continued and repeated leaking from the investigation, and about Manafort in particular. The leaked information was obtained either by search warrant in a criminal investigation, or a FISA warrant in an intelligence investigation: it is criminal to release either.

All of this is clearly intended to intimidate Manafort into cooperation against Trump. In this effort, they are apparently ranging far afield from anything remotely related to the 2016 election. One (leaked) story is that they are looking into Manafort’s activities dating back 11 years. That might have more relevance to the 2008 election involving current Swamp darling John McCain–Manafort’s partner Rick Davis was McCain’s 2008 National Campaign Manager–than it does 2016’s.

No leaks yet as to whether Mueller is investigating contacts between Manafort and Agamemnon during the Trojan War. Which would be about as relevant to the things he is pursuing now.

Another leak is that–gasp!–Manafort offered to brief Oleg Deripaska about the campaign. I checked my thesaurus. “Brief” and “collude” or “conspire” are NOT synonyms. Furthermore, this is an example of how dishonest and misleading leaks can be. In court they make you swear to tell the whole truth, because partial revelations can be as misleading and deceptive as an outright lie. How many other people from what other nations did Manafort offer to brief? What did these briefings involve? Just revealing a single communication about a possible Russia contact (without even confirming that any briefing actually occurred) is highly manipulative, and presents a distorted picture of what actually occurred.

It is telling that Manafort has demanded that ALL of the material collected about him be released. He no doubt knows that the Deripaska connection would appear trivial when put into the context of the entirety of his activities.

I wonder if they have the measure of their man, however. After all, the whole reason Manafort has come under suspicion is his history of dealings in Ukraine, and on the side of Russia-friendly politicians there. These people are not boy scouts. They are capable of far worse things than no-knock raids. Someone like Manafort who is used to dealing with the likes of Yanukovych and Ukrainian oligarchs cannot be easily intimidated. I’m not saying he’ll go all G. Gordon Liddy, but he’s not likely to collapse into a puddle of tears begging for Mueller’s mercy either.

One last thing about this: the massive leaks give Manafort a colorable claim that he cannot receive a fair trial anywhere in the US due to the highly prejudicial pre-trial (and even pre-indictment) publicity. Mueller et al have to know this, but are willing to leak prejudicially anyways, meaning they don’t give a damn about Manafort qua Manafort. But Manafort (and his attorneys) know this too–which might lead him to resist the pressure.

As for absurdity, it is widely reported that a major focus of Mueller’s investigation is the alleged purchase by Russians (which of the 145 million odd citizens of the Russian Federation has not been revealed) of a piddling sum of ads on Facebook. What connection this has to the collusion allegations that started this whole effort in motion has not been disclosed. But even if there is some remote connection, this is farcical.

The purchase price of the ads was between $50,000 and $100,000. (I have seen both numbers quoted.) To put things in perspective, Hillary spent $400 freaking million on ads. (And every dollar was wasted–hahahaha!) So even assuming the high number, the FB ads represented .025 percent of Hillary’s ad buy: Hillary was spending more per business hour than the entire FB ad buy. This does not count the massive free publicity via the mainstream media, which was highly partisan: that would have cost many billions to buy. Nor does it count pro-Hillary Facebook and Twitter (and for all I know, Instagram) material that was churned out during 2016.

Given that Mueller has hired 14 high-powered lawyers, who always come with a train of support staff, I would not be surprised if he spends more in a day investigating the Great Facebook Conspiracy than the conspirators spent on the ads in the first place.

All of which shows beyond cavil that any putative Russian ad buy on Facebook was about as relevant to the outcome of the election as what Putin had for breakfast on election day. Or put differently, if it did have any impact on the election, every campaign manager and consultant is an idiot and a wastrel for spending vast sums on conventional media buys when spending the campaign budget for a hotly contested school board race on Facebook ads would be sufficient to propel their candidates to the highest offices in the land.

Both the abuse and the absurdity demonstrate the depravity of the independent counsel statute, and the grave disservice that Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions did not just to Trump but to the nation, by appointing Mueller, and in particular, appointing him with a license to look into anything remotely related to Russia. Prosecutorial power must be restrained, or it will be abused: not may be–will be. (This is especially true with US prosecutors.) The most important constraint is that they be limited to prosecuting a specific allegation of criminality. Indeed, given the stakes and the huge ramifications for the operation of the US government, special prosecutors should be particularly constrained. Instead, we are in a situation where this special prosecutor is apparently free of any limitation, and is free to roam at will as a hybrid of Inspector Javert and Frankenstein’s Monster.

The only silver lining in this dark cloud is that the fact that Mueller is chasing chimeras likely means that there is nothing to the collusion allegations that were the reason for his appointment.

The reason I started to write about Russia years ago was that it represented to me a real world dystopia that showed what could happen in the absence of a rule of law, and protections of individual rights: writing about a place where these things did not exist was (to me) an effective way of demonstrating their importance where they do exist. But in the 11 odd years since I started blogging about Russia, the United States has been converging to it from above, and the pace of convergence has quickened in recent years. It is sickly ironic that one of the most disturbing illustrations of this convergence is a special counsel investigation ostensibly motivated by grave concerns about Russian interference in American politics. Pace Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us: we are doing a damn good job at becoming Russia all by ourselves, thank you very much.

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September 19, 2017

Motivated Seller

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:18 pm

I conjectured that Qatar’s sale of half of its Rosneft stake reflected at least in part the dramatic change in the emirate’s circumstances between December (when it initially bought in) and September (when it sold off), specifically the cold war with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (oxymoron alert!) that broke out over the summer. This conflict has put substantial financial strains on Qatar, which would suggest it bailed on Rosneft (at what price???) to raise cash and reduce risk.

This story from Bloomberg is consistent with that: private depositors have been fleeing Qatar’s banks, and the state is stepping in, putting about $11 billion into these banks. Liquidating investments like the Rosneft stake is one way of raising that cash, and reducing debt. (This raises the possibility that if the crisis drags on, Qatar may sell the rest of its 4.7 percent share of Rosneft.) That is, Qatar could have been a very motivated seller–war clouds can do that to a country. And if it was a motivated seller, CEFC probably obtained its position at a good price, perhaps even a fire sale price. That’s not evident from the reported terms of the transaction, which means that there are side deals.

One other thing about the Qatar-GCC standoff. There are reports that Trump kept the cold war from going hot:

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates considered military action in the early stages of their ongoing dispute with Qatar before Donald Trump called leaders of both countries and warned them to back off, according to two people familiar with the U.S. president’s discussions.

The Saudis and U.A.E. were looking at ways to remove the Qatari regime, which they accused of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up to Iran, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Trump told Saudi and U.A.E. leaders that any military action would trigger a crisis across the Middle East that would only benefit the Iranians, one of the people said.

Donald Trump, peacemaker. Not that he’ll get credit. Note that early on, Trump’s pro-Saudi message clashed with Tillerson’s more neutral approach. This story suggests that Trump’s private and public positions may have been different, and that he was really on board with Tillerson all along. Alternatively, Trump initially tweeted his gut reaction, but Tillerson and others quickly persuaded him to moderate his course. Either way, the outcome conflicts with the prevailing narrative about Trump.

 

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State Firms Are Running From Private Banks in Russia: Are Putin’s Hands On or Off?

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:59 pm

Russia’s private banks  are in pretty dire shape. The biggest one, Otkritie, was bailed out. Others have been designated as systemically important (i.e., TBTF), reflecting their size and their marginal financial condition. Further, the FT reports that some private banks are undergoing a run of sorts. Interestingly, the run is being led by state corporations, which are withdrawing billions (of dollars, not rubles)–one unidentified state corporation is leading the way. Such withdrawals sounded the death knell of Otkrite, and are jeopardizing other big private lenders.

In the conventional view of Russia as a centrally directed “vertical of power,” such potentially destabilizing moves by state entities would not take place without Putin’s acquiescence. Indeed, in this view, such moves would most likely occur at his direction.

If that is the case here, one is led to wonder about the motivation given (a) the potential for sparking a banking crisis in Russia, and (b) the cost to the central bank/government of dealing with such a banking crisis: the central bank lent Otkrite about $12 billion over the summer. Certainly, the large state banks (VTB, Sberbank, Gazprombank) would appreciate a reduction in competition for funding, although they are evidently not the only immediate beneficiaries: private bank Promsvyazbank has experienced a surge in deposits from state companies. The inflow to Promsvyazbank followed its designation as a systemically important bank, which may have convinced the state firms that their deposits are effectively backed by the RCB.

So under the power vertical view, this could be perceived as a boon to state banks who may see more deposits from state firms and less competition for funding. It could also reflect bleak choices facing the government and central bank: the weakness of the private banks means that they need to shrink their balance sheets, and the withdrawals by state firms are a way of forcing that outcome. But whence the funds to pay off the fleeing depositors? Asset sales?: fire sales could cause contagion that damages other banks, including the state banks. The central bank?: that would mean that this could be a first step to bailouts and eventual liquidation (or dramatic shrinkage) of the private banking sector.

The alternative explanation is that the state firms are acting on their own hook, and in their own interest, without direction from the top, or without receiving permission despite the potentially systemically risky implications of these moves. In some ways, that would be even more intriguing, as it would suggest a serious degradation of the degree of central control in Russia–or that such control has been overstated all along.

A shaky banking sector will test the RCB, and the government. How it plays out–a relatively orderly wind-down of wobbly lenders directed from the center, or an uncoordinated sauve qui peut by big depositors–will say a lot about the state of the Russian economy, the Russian financial system, and crucially, the true nature of the Putin system. Is the Kremlin orchestrating this behind the scenes, or is it taking place without Putin’s directing hand? Inquiring minds want to know!

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September 16, 2017

The Rosneft Farce Gets More Farcical

Filed under: Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:39 am

A Reuters piece today provides even more evidence of the farcical nature of the Rosneft “privatization.” Specifically, it reports that (a) the CEFC deal was heavily leveraged, and (b) more importantly, a good part of the leverage was from a Russian bank (VTB). The remainder of the debt was provided by the Chinese Development Bank.

Remember Putin’s original injunction to Sechin: the deal should be a real privatization, without participation by Russian banks, and western investors must participate. Remember the triumphant statements of Putin and Sechin at the time of the original deal, and when he awarded Medals of Friendship to two of the big players in the deal: to hear them tell it, the participation of a major western bank, Intensa, was a validation of the legitimacy of the transaction, and an endorsement of Rosneft and Russia as a place to invest.

Of course, those statements were lies when made: Russian banks guaranteed at least Glencore’s debt, so even if they did not provide any funding, they did bear the risk, which is what really matters. Further, the unaccounted for difference between the alleged purchase price and the funds provided by Intesa, Glencore, and QIA also makes it quite possible that Russian banks even chipped in some funding. (VTB was likely one. Gazprombank is another.) And don’t forget that VTB provided bridge financing until Russia cadged Intesa into the deal.

But now the falsity of the original narrative, and original plan, is laid bare. There is not a western entity in sight, unless you count Glencore and its piddling .5 percent stake–which is more than compensated for by generous off take deals and a seat on the Rosneft board. The deal was clearly structured–almost to the kopek–to make Intesa whole, and allow it to flee snowy Russia for sunnier Mediterranean climes (with its CEO Carlo Messina getting a cool Medal of Friendship as a pre-parting gift). A major Russian bank ends up exposed to Rosneft by stepping into Intesa’s place, along with a Chinese state bank. Not a private western investor or lender in sight.

So yes. The Rosneft deal indeed speaks volumes about the company, and about Russia as a place to invest. And what it says is exactly the opposite of the message that Putin trumpeted in December 2016, and again in April (when the friendship medals were awarded).

Think about it. Russia cannot entice private investors to buy into an oil company with access to some of the greatest oil properties in the world. How damning is that?

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