Trump intervenes on behalf of a Chinese state-owned telecom days after a $500 million Chinese government investment in a Trump property is announced

Like a lot of folks, I was puzzled as to why Donald “America First” Trump had begun advocating for the Commerce Department to intervene on behalf of a Chinese telecom company – especially one that stands accused of espionage by members of our intelligence community – demanding that we act fast in order to save tens of thousands of jobs in China.

OK, before I go on, here are two quick responses to this edict from Trump.

1. “It’s striking that (Trump) is overruling the judgment of his own national security apparatus in order to help a Chinese company succeed.” -Abraham Denmark, the director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

2. “I am speechless. I’m highly confident that a [US] president has never intervened in a law-enforcement matter like this before.” -Kevin Wolf, the assistant secretary of commerce in the Obama administration who oversaw the launch of the ZTE case

Having read a bit about the situation in Fortune earlier this evening, it struck me that this could have less to do with the loss of Chinese manufacturing jobs, and more to with the fact that enormous American electronics companies that supply components to ZTE, like Qualcomm and Intel, are getting hit hard by the federal restrictions levied against the Chinese company… but then I read this headline from this past Friday’s South China Morning Post.

And now I think this probably has more to do with keeping the Trump Organization afloat than Chinese factory workers employed.

Here, for those of you who don’t subscribe to the South China Morning Post, is an excerpt from the article.

A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia’s MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project, the company said on Thursday.

The deal is the latest to raise questions about the extent of Trump’s financial exposure to Beijing.

The park – expected to be backed with up to US$500 million in Chinese government loans – is part of an “integrated lifestyle resort”, known as MNC Lido City.

The project includes Trump-branded hotels, residences and a golf course, as well as other hotel, shopping and residential developments…

So, yes, it looks as though it was announced on Friday that Trump’s Indonesia project would be financed by way of $500 million in Chinese government loans, and, three days later, our president took to Twitter to demand that our Commerce Department disregard the warnings of our intelligence community and the fact that ZTE had violated U.S. sanctions against both Iran and North Korea, and get the company up and running at full capacity again… Sounds totally legit, right?

Posted in Corporate Crime, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 73 Comments

When EMU privatized their parking, no one apparently considered how doing so might adversely affect local businesses along Cross Street

Remember how, a while back, we were discussing how Eastern Michigan University wanted to privatize their parking enforcement, selling off the rights to their 9,700 parking spaces to an out-of-state firm for a term of 35 years in exchange for a big up-front payment of $55 million? Well, as of yesterday, this new for-profit company has taken over, and, as I hear it, business owners along Cross Street, just opposite the University, are not too happy. You see, it would appear as though this new, for-profit parking enforcement company has decided not to honor the decades-old agreement that EMU had with the city to make their downtown parking spaces open to the public in the evening, and on weekends. So, last night, while people were dining out at Tower Inn, getting coffee at Sweetwaters, and drinking beer at the Wurst Bar, employees of this company were out ticketing all of their cars. And, right now, business owners aren’t sure what they’re going to do, as they’ve lost about 63 parking spots overnight, without any warning… Following is a message left for City Council member Pete Murdock by Tower Inn owner Rois Savvides.

Murdock responded to Savvides as follows. “This was not specifically discussed (at City Council),” Murdock said, “but the assumption was that there would be no changes to existing arrangements between the City and EMU.” He then went on to say that he’d already reached out to EMU to see if we could work something out. [As you might recall, given the structure of the deal between EMU and the corporate entities purchasing the parking concession, they had to have the blessing of City Council before they could finalize the bond funding at the heart of the deal. There was some debate, fueled in part by the fact that many on the EMU campus were against the privatization, but Ypsilanti City Council eventually voted in support of the arrangement.]

Hopefully I’m wrong, but my guess is that the out-of-state company that put this deal together won’t be terribly sympathetic to the desires of our local business community, especially when there’s money to be made issuing parking tickets… For the sake of everyone involved, though, I’m hopeful that a compromise can be reached. Because, without it, I’m afraid that we might loose local businesses along that block of Cross Street, and the jobs that they provide. And I know it’s probably not in EMU’s best interest to have boarded up storefronts across the street from their campus.

To give you a sense of how significant of an issue this is, check out the map above, which shows the two EMU lots in question, both of which have been open to the public for decades in the evenings, and over weekends… I didn’t do a detailed count, but, having talked with a few people who work in the area, I think there are about 50 metered spots in the vicinity of the block in question, and limited non-metered parking spots. So, I think it’s safe to say that the loss of 63 spots isn’t trivial.

update: Councilman Pete Murdock just shared the following in the comments section. It’s a letter from the parking company to EMU leadership.

I spoke with the owner of the Tower Inn yesterday and then again today. I told him that we were looking into the agreement and speaking internally to see if we can find a solution. In the meantime (until Monday at the earliest), we will only issue citations for permits in the lot between 6am and 5pm on weekdays. Our intention is to propose a long term solution that does not keep the general population from accessing these businesses. I will contact the owner of the Tower Inn today to let him know that we will continue to limit citations to the hours of 6am through 5pm until mid-June as we do our best to work toward a long term resolution.

Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

From Stormy Daniels to Ice Cube… the investigation in Trump administration corruption takes yet another surreal turn

OK, I’m not quite sure I have a firm grasp on this, but here goes… It looks as though we’ve finally moved on from porn stars and playmates. The most recent chapter in the ever-unfolding Trump saga involves rapper turned family-friendly actor Ice Cube.

Apparently, Ice Cube, whose real name is O’Shea Jackson, along with his business partner Jeff Kwatinetz, started a three-on-three basketball league called BIG3. And, somewhere along the line, they brought Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon in on the action. Well, it would appear that, at some point in the narrative, an investment firm tied to ruling family of Qatar, in an effort to curry favor with Bannon, came forward to finance the deal through a company that they set up called Sports Trinity.

Sports Trinity, however, never made good on their promise to Jackson and Kwatinetz, investing only $7.5 million of the $20.5 million they’d promised. And this, in turn, led to a damages claim against Sports Trinity and Qatar Investments in federal court in the amount of $1.2 billion. Well, while the suit against Qatar Investments, the $100 billion fund operated by the Qatar Investment Authority, has yet to be decided, court filings have been made public, and they’re quite interesting… Take, for instance, this excerpt from the sworn testimony, in which Kwatinetz says, “Mr. Al Rumaihi (a former Qatari diplomat who presently heads the nation’s investment fund) requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government, and Steven Bannon, and to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support.”

[note: If you’d like to read more of the court filings against Qatari Investments, all of the documents can be found here.]

If Kwatinetz can be believed, he refused to set up the meeting with Bannon, calling it a “bribe.” Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, according to Kwatinetz, then responded by saying that Kwatinetz was naive, and that White House national security advisor Michael Flynn had already taken their money. Here’s the exact quote from Kwatinetz… “Mr Al Rumahi laughed and then stated to me that I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘do you think Flynn turned down our money?'”

And that’s where things stood as of yesterday afternoon, when Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti posted the following to Twitter.

The bald man in the background, according to Avenatti’s subsequent tweet, was none than Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, who was visiting Trump Tower on December 12, 2016, alongside Michael Flynn and Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

So, if Kwatinetz can be believed, Rumaihi, who was trying to bribe Bannon by way of an investment in BIG3, admitted to him that they’d already successfully bribed Michale Flynn, and, now, thanks to Avenatti, we have images from December, 2016, which appear to show Rumaihi at Trump Tower, flanked by Cohen and Flynn. Seems worth looking into, right?

And here’s where it really gets interesting. Do you remember, in the Steele dossier, when former MI6 agent Christopher Steele talked about how the Russians were selling 19% of the state oil company Rosneft, and how Trump was set to get a piece of the deal in exchange for lifting U.S. sanctions against Russian oligarchs? Well, it was Rumaihi who bought that 19% on behalf of Qatar Investments, and this visit of his to Trump Tower took place just 48 hours after the deal closed. [Assuming Trump got .5% of the deal, his cut would have been $282 million.] And, as Seth Abramson just noted on Twitter, it gets even weirder than that. “According to the NYT,” Abramson writes, “the day after Trump and/or two of his top aides secretly met with the Rosneft buyer at Trump Tower, two top Trump aides—and for all we know Trump himself—secretly met Putin’s banker Sergey Gorkov at Trump Tower.”

It would appear, my friends, that all the threads are finally coming together to form a pretty significant net.

Oh, and Qatar, by the way, recently bought a $6.5 million apartment in Trump World Tower in New York City.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Cohen’s $600,000 from AT&T illustrates just what a joke it was when Trump promised to “drain the swamp”

Trump ran for president as a populist reformer. He told people that he was going to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C., and restore the government to the people of America. In October of 2016, right before the election, Donald Trump told a campaign rally in Wisconsin, “It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. This is why I’m proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again.” Those ethics reforms, of course, never came. Instead, when Trump came to power, he appointed an army of lobbyists, investment bankers and the like, and handed the legislative function of the executive branch off to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnel, who immediately set out to take health care from millions of Americans and transfer over $1 trillion in wealth to America’s super-rich by way of tax cuts. In spite of all of this evidence to the contrary, though, some still see Trump as a populist reformer… not because of anything he’s done, of course, but because he continues to talk of “transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”

It doesn’t stand up to reason, though…. Take, for example, the case of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. After receiving a $670 million income tax windfall thanks to the GOP tax cut, the Republican donor, as a sign of gratitude, turned around and cut a $30 million check to help Republicans hold onto Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. Not exactly what you’d expect from a party run by a populist who promised to “drain the swamp,” is it?

Or take the case of AT&T, one of the companies that we know attempted to buy favor with the incoming president. AT&T, as you might recall, was attempting to pull off a merger with Time Warner as Trump was coming into office. And Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, had said that he thought the Department of Justice should kill the deal. [Trump, as we all know, hates CNN, which is a Time Warner company.] Well, in hopes of salvaging the $85 billion deal, AT&T, it would appear, agreed to pay Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, $600,000.

While we still don’t know the extent to which Trump was involved in the negotiations, or what might have been promised in return for the $600,000, we know that the money was wired to the same “Essential Consultants” account from which Stormy Daniels, the President’s porn star mistress, was paid her hush money from. [Personally, I can’t image a scenario where Trump didn’t get a cut of the money that Cohen was bringing in by reaching out to companies with business before the federal government and promising access, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the Cooley Law grad flips on Trump and testifies to know for sure.]

For what it’s worth, the AT&T merger still hasn’t happened. And, this, according to Trump White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is “evidence that Trump is draining the swamp.” The implication, of course, is that if Trump hadn’t drained the swamp, he would have made good on the deal after taking the $600,000 pay-off… Here’s Sanders explaining it.

And Sanders wasn’t the only one make this case… holding up as evidence the fact that the merger has yet to go through, to prove that Donald Trump is not corrupt. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Huffington Post last night, “He did drain the swamp… The president denied the merger. They didn’t get the result they wanted.”

Of course, if Giuliani is right, and Trump himself “denied the merger,” this would also be a violation of the law, as the President isn’t supposed to interfere with Department of Justice investigations.

And, so, today, we saw the White House having to walk back the “Trump couldn’t be corrupt, because, after taking their money, he killed the deal” defense…. “The Department of Justice (not the President) denied the deal,” Sanders told reporters this morning.

For what it’s worth, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson issued a statement yesterday calling the payment to Cohen “a big mistake.” Oh, and here’s the best part, according to recent reporting, Mueller has known about all of this for over six months now. God only knows how many other companies he’s aware of that were asked to pay tribute.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Might I suggest a pot of tea and a Joan Crawford double feature on this rainy day

On non-school nights, after reading a bit from The Three Investigators library, Arlo and I usually break out the computer and watch a little something before falling asleep. Seeing as how he’s six, he generally advocates for something involving either monsters or robots, which, for those most part, I’m OK with, as long as it’s not too recent. Lately, though, I’ve been invoking parental privilege and making us watch scenes from early Joan Crawford movies, especially ones that involve her dancing. Last night, between Little Rascals shorts, we watched this scene from 1931’s Dance Fools Dance. [And, yes, before anyone sends me the link, I have read the Onion article, “Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation.”]

I’ve always been a fan of Crawford’s later work, like Mildred Pierce, which has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that I picked up a copy of Grand Hotel and became interested in her early career… an interest which was rekindled recently, when I discovered that Karina Longworth had dedicated six episodes of her incredible “You Must Remember This” podcast to Crawford. And, now, I’m kind of temporarily stuck in a Joan Crawford loop… to the point where, I’m afraid, I might be transferring my obsession onto my six year old son by subliminally working these short video clips into his weekend media diet.

At any rate, I mention this as it’s cold and rainy outside today, and I figure some of you might be looking for a good video or two to watch. If that’s the case, I’m recommending Grand Hotel, followed by Mildred Pierce. [As I’ve seen both dozens of times, I’m thinking about renting 1931’s Possessed with Clark Gable.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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