Bob Schwartz

Month: April, 2018

Is Iran the Next Iraq? Bolton and Netanyahu Hope So.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s PowerPoint presentation “proving” that Iran is lying and secretly continuing to pursue a nuclear program is unsettling—but not in the way he meant it.

It is unsettling, at least for Americans, because it is so reminiscent of the case being made in 2003 that Saddam Hussein had secret Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that only an invasion of Iraq would secure the safe future of Iraq, the region, and the world.

If you don’t know the history of the non-existent “proof” (there weren’t any WMDs), the combination of lies that led us into the war anyway, and the outcomes of that war in Iraq, please look it up.

Among the three power players in this scene—Trump, National Security Adviser Bolton, and Netanyahu—only Trump is ignorant of history, geopolitics, or anything needed to understand the situation. Bolton and Netanyahu know exactly what is going on and exactly what they want to happen.

Both Bolton and Netanyahu would like to take Iran out—not quite in the existential sense, but pretty close. In its current posture, including the non-nuclear deal and freedom from sanctions, Iran is growing as a power. Bolton and Netanyahu want to stop that progress dead in its tracks. Whether or not Iran has a secret program is irrelevant. It is a bad actor and it has to be stopped.

Israel is saying that if the rest of the world won’t stop this, Israel will. Bolton’s position, as he will explain it to Trump in the simplest terms (with pictures), is that Israel and America are threatened by this news, and we should help Israel—no matter what the other weak, Muslim-tolerating European countries think.

It is getting harder to see how the Middle East gets out of this increasingly complicated and tragic mess. Syria. Kurds. Turkey. Israel. Gaza. Palestinians. Jerusalem embassy. Iran. Bolton. Netanyahu. Trump. For starters. Help us Obi Wan Kushner, only you can save us now.

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The Next Trap for Trump: Facts Can’t Be Defamed But People Can

Stormy Daniels released a sketch of the man who threatened her in 2011 to keep her from talking about Trump. In a tweet, Trump called this threat and sketch a “con job.” She has now sued Trump for defamation, claiming he accused her of the crime of making a false accusation of committing a crime against another.

This may seem like grasping at straws, but it isn’t. If Trump had ever said one word directly refuting her account of their relationship—which he hasn’t—he would find himself in a bigger defamation action. But even this smaller one is a harbinger of what may become a new trend.

Defamation is a perfect action to bring in the case of chronic and pathological liars. The essential defense to defamation is the truth of the matter asserted. If the reputation-damaging statement was undeniably made, but the speaker/writer will not or cannot prove that it is true, proof of damage is enough for the plaintiff to prevail. In every instance where Trump is the defamer, and an action is brought, he would be obliged to prove that the damaging words he says or tweets about someone are true. Which in all cases, he either won’t do or can’t do.

It is a shame that all the facts that Trump has brutally attacked don’t have standing to sue (two thousand lies and counting, just as president). But people do have that standing. Stormy Daniels, who has one of the smartest, most creative, most articulate, most media-savvy lawyers of the Trump era, is taking advantage of this vulnerability. Do not be surprised to see more of these defamation actions from all sorts of people who have been publicly maligned by Trump.

Explosive New Book: Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

“Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump’s properties, told me, “Trump’s genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan.””
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump’s daughter. Sater would later boast: “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.”
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Next week, the book Trump/Russia: A Definitive History will be released—and it will be explosive.

Written by Seth Hettena, an award-winning journalist who was a long-time investigative reporter for the Associated Press, it “chronicles the many years Trump has spent wooing Russian money and power. From the collapse of his casino empire—which left Trump desperate for cash—and his first contacts with Russian deal-makers and financiers, on up to the White House.”

The only excerpt available so far was published in Rolling Stone, A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties. That brief excerpt paints one corner of a bigger picture that we will finally be able to see once the Mueller investigation is complete.


From Trump/Russia: A Definitive History:

Michael Cohen’s bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of “Tom,” a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafiya. Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen’s uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump’s election.)

I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993….

Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the “taxi king” Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012…

Cohen was able to purchase a $1 million condo at Trump World Tower in 2001, persuading his parents, his Ukrainian in-laws and Garber to do the same in other Trump buildings. Cohen’s in-laws Fima and Ania Shusterman bought three units in Trump World Tower worth a combined $7.66 million. Cohen later purchased a nearly $5 million unit in Trump Park Avenue. In a five-year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million….

A year after Trump World Tower opened in 2002, Trump had agreed to let Miami father-and-son developers Gil and Michael Dezer use his name on what ultimately became six Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers, which drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. “Russians love the Trump brand,” said Gil Dezer, who added that Russians and Russian-Americans bought some 200 of the 2,000 or so units in Trump buildings he built. A seventh Trump-branded hotel tower built up Sunny Isles into what ostensibly has become a South Florida Brighton Beach.

An investigation by Reuters found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property’s true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump’s Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump’s properties, told me, “Trump’s genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan.” McCallion continued, “It’s not called ‘Little Moscow’ for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal.”

Cohen joined the Trump Organization around the time that the second Sunny Isles tower was being built. A few years earlier, he had invested $1.5 million in a short-lived Miami-based casino boat venture run by his two Ukrainian business partners, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk. Only three months after its maiden voyage, it would become the subject of a large fraud investigation. But Cohen was saved from his bad investment by none other than Trump himself, who hired Cohen as an attorney just before his casino ship sank. A source who investigated Cohen’s connections to Russia told me, “Say you want to get money into the country and maybe you’re a bit suspect. The Trump organization used lawyers to allow people to get money into the country.”…

Michael Cohen’s in-laws, the Shustermans, also bought real estate in Sunny Isles. The development was paying off. Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., would later note, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” There is no question Trump owed his comeback in large part to wealthy Russian expatriates.

Cohen and Felix Sater have known each other for nearly 30 years. They met in Brighton Beach when Cohen started dating his future wife, Shusterman’s daughter, Laura, who Sater says he knew from the neighborhood. When Cohen joined the Trump organization, Sater had become a fixture in the office. Sater was developing Trump SoHo, a hotel-condo in lower Manhattan that later would be consumed by scandal, and had earned Trump’s trust. Trump asked him to look after his children, Ivanka and Don Jr., on a 2006 visit to Moscow. (It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump’s daughter. Sater would later boast: “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.”) When Sater’s criminal past was exposed in The New York Times, Trump suddenly looked and acted like a man with something to hide. Despite laying claim to “one of the great memories of all time,” he seemed to be having trouble recollecting who Sater was. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told The Associated Press in 2015. “I’m not that familiar with him.”

 

Politely Ask Trump to Resign

The majority of Americans think that Trump is a threat to civility, to honesty, to American values, democracy and institutions, and to American and global peace and progress. As one new and untried tactic, we should simply, politely and plainly ask him to resign.

This is not a replacement for any of the other ongoing approaches, including investigation of his wrongdoing, ridicule, humor, and calls for impeachment or action under the 25th amendment. And of course, voting.

It is, however, a civilized way of doing something it is increasingly hard to do: be a better and more civilized person than Trump himself. It is hard not to fall into the sinkhole of being as terrible as our worst nemesis—that is an ancient theme. The pragmatic fact is that it is sometimes unavoidable, if the better is to triumph over the lesser. But when that happens, we are in danger of being just as bad, and our remaining upright and our job of healing and recovering is made that much more difficult.

So let us ask Trump to resign, politely explaining the many reasons it is best for America and Americans, and for the world. Of course he will not do it or consider it, and will mock it, since in his mind any show of decency and quiet reason is a show of weakness. Instead, though, it is a small demonstration that we still believe that decency is a show of strength. Which is something we are understandably starting to forget.

Note:

As is my practice, I asked the I Ching about this proposal. It is appropriate to do that for two reasons. The I Ching itself is in part a philosophical response to centuries of national political changes in China, cataclysms that make a few years of Trump look like a picnic. Second, China itself in 2018 still uses the I Ching for guidance. So why shouldn’t we?

The I Ching says (Alfred Huang translation):

59
Huan • Dispersing

NAME AND STRUCTURE

Originally Huan meant ice breaks, melts, and vanishes. Later on, it came to mean to separate and scatter.

Sequence of the Gua: After happiness and joyfulness, there comes dispersing. Thus, after Joyful, Dispersing follows.

The ideograph of Huan expresses its original meaning. The image on the left represents water. It resembles the primary gua for Water, turned vertically. On the top right is a knife, and on the bottom are two hands with fingers and arms. In the middle are two pieces of ice. Taken as a whole, this ideograph pictures a knife used to break up the ice, with two hands separating the pieces of ice. The ice melts and becomes water, at last dispersing and vanishing. The structure of the gua is Wind   above, Water   below. The wind blows over the water and disperses the waves. The inner gua is Water; its attribute is danger. It symbolizes one’s vital energy blocked within. The outer gua is Wind; its attribute is penetration. Penetrating and breaking the blockage leads to dispersion.

Decision

Dispersing.
Prosperous and smooth.
The king arrives at the temple.
Favorable to cross great rivers.
Favorable to be steadfast and upright.

Commentary on the Decision

Dispersing.
Prosperous and smooth.
The firm comes without hindrance.
The yielding is at the proper place.
It goes out to meet its similarity above.
The king arrives at the temple.
He is in the central place.
Favorable to cross great rivers.
The merit comes from mounting on the wood.

Commentary on the Symbol

The wind moves over the water.
An image of Dispersing.
In correspondence with this,
The ancient king offers sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven
And establishes temples.

SIGNIFICANCE

The gua takes the image of the wind moving over the water to demonstrate the act of dispersing people’s resentment. During the time of dispersing, having a leader with wisdom and foresight is crucial. The king approaching his temple gives us an image of his connection with the spiritual world. Crossing great rivers signifies the hardship and difficulty of the work. Steadfastness and uprightness should be the virtue of a great leader. He has self-confidence, so he is able to live and work in peace. The host of the gua is the solid line at the fifth place. This line represents the king who approaches his temple to connect himself with the Lord of Heaven. During the time of dispersing he is the only one who, in the honored place, is able to establish order throughout his nation. The fourth line represents the king’s minister, while the second line is his officer. They faithfully assist the king to unite the people in the time of dispersing.

During King Wen’s sitting in stillness he meditated upon joyfulness and dispersion. After people had been joyful, their energy dispersed, and their focus was scattered. At such a time, a leader with wisdom and foresight was needed. He arrived at his temple and communicated with the deity. His sincerity and trustworthiness encouraged people to work in full cooperation and with unity of purpose. The Duke of Zhou narrates that to be of help at such a time, one should have the speed of a strong horse. Dispersing self-serving groups led to a union as solid as a mound.

Strands

Strands

Separate the strands of spring song
From these ten thousand birds.
Sweet and strident
Simple and symphonic.
Follow just one
I am already lost
Follow them all
I am gladly ready
To listen and disappear.

©

Dream Butterfly

Did I dream the butterfly last night
Or remember yesterday gazing at it
Or both? Either way
Remembering the dream or the butterfly
Was a sweet syrup shot into my heart,
Which lightly fluttered.
As bad as dreams or days may get
There is a butterfly and a flower to feed from
In the heat of the sun
Or the cool mists of phantasmagoric sleep.

Heschel on Politicians

“I consider the heart of the problem of human existence is to fight against mendacity, against lying. I would like to use a word which may be too often used, but it’s still the most important word—and that is “honesty,” or “sincerity,” or “trust.””

“I am against the word “politician.” I have great respect for the word “statesman.” It’s very interesting, the word “statesman” is not used. “Politician” is used. “Statesman” is a great word….The task of a statesman is to be a leader, to be an educator, and not to cater to what people desire almost against their own interests. To be a leader.”

From an interview with Abraham Joshua Heschel at the University of Notre Dame in 1967, published in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, essays by Heschel.

Q: Your esteem for religious colleagues is greater than your esteem for politicians. I think you once said that the most depressing word in the English language is “politician.” Politicians are necessary, aren’t they? Why disparage them?

A: No, I’m not against politicians in their vocation. I’m against politicians in their tactics. Against the very meaning, the semantic meaning of the word “politician.”

Now let me elaborate. It may take me two minutes to explain it to you. I consider the heart of the problem of human existence is to fight against mendacity, against lying. I would like to use a word which may be too often used, but it’s still the most important word—and that is “honesty,” or “sincerity,” or “trust.”

The tragedy of our time is, we don’t trust each other. The Golden Rule today is not “Love thy neighbor as thyself” but “Suspect thy neighbor as thyself.” We suspect all politicians because we know in advance they don’t mean what they say and they don’t say what they mean.

Q: Is that justified? That suspicion?

A: Ask the people in the country. You’re asking me? I’m only one citizen. I have only one vote.

If you go to the country and ask them, “What do you think of politicians?,” they’ll say a politician is a synonym for a person who is not necessarily truthful. Right? Do you mind my elegant way of speaking?

We have a type of politician today—I suppose we’ve always had, and I don’t want to identify anyone—who tells us that he is doing what the peoples want. And, in fact, that may be so. Of course, that doesn’t reach to the question of leadership. Should our leaders give us what we want, or is there some other role?

I think there is another role. By the way, I am against the word “politician.” I have great respect for the word “statesman.” It’s very interesting, the word “statesman” is not used. “Politician” is used. “Statesman” is a great word.

Now, about doing what the people want—I’ll tell you what the people want. One of the major inclinations in every human being is a desire to be deceived. Self-deception is a major disease.

Q: To be told what one wants to hear?

A: Yes. You want to be deceived.

The task of a statesman is to be a leader, to be an educator, and not to cater to what people desire almost against their own interests. To be a leader.

The great question of today is mendacity. We live in a world full of lies. And the tragedy that our young people—or maybe it’s good—the young people have discovered how many lies are uttered daily and every moment. They can’t stand it. If there’s anything they despise, it’s someone who is phony, false rhetoric. We call it “credibility gap”—what we mean really is lying.

Istanbul Cat

© Bob Schwartz

Crazy Like a Fox and Friends: After the Laughter It Is Not At All Funny

Discomfort and despair has led to dark laughter as we listen to Trump’s half-hour unraveling/meltdown in his call-in monologue on Fox and Friends yesterday. Of course it is not actually funny.

Except for willfully oblivious Republicans, Trump’s instability is obvious to everyone. There is wide agreement not only that the thirty minutes of nearly uninterrupted chatter was often nonsensical and non-sequitur, but that if the Fox and Friends hosts—who were clearly aghast—had not intervened (“you have a million things to do, Mr. President”), Trump might have gone on blathering for hours.

Why Republicans ignore, excuse and put up with just about anything Trump dishes out, including rants that beg for a psychological evaluation, is best told by an old and wise joke:

Guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office. “Doc,” he says, “my brother thinks he’s a chicken.” Doctor says, “Bring him in and I’m sure I can help him.” Guy says, “I would Doc, but we need the eggs.”

Welcome to Bubba,s

© Bob Schwartz