Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: Assassinating Journalist Not Perceived As Hoped by Saudi Arabia… or Donald Trump

Did The Saudis Kill Jamal Khashoggi?


On Tuesday, October 2, Saudi journalist and activist Jamal Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up paperwork for his upcoming wedding. He never came out alive.

Turkey says that they have recordings of his interrogation, torture, and murder by Saudis inside the consulate. Additionally, there is photographic evidence of a 15-man Saudi team arriving in Istanbul just before Khashoggi disappeared, including special forces officers, intelligence officials, and a forensics specialist. Turkey is now upping the pressure on Saudi Arabia.

A story has been floated that Khashoggi’s Apple watch picked up the audio and sent it to the cloud, which is where Turkey got it. But this is probably a cover story to allow Turkey to deny it has listening devices inside the Saudi consulate. Of course, every country bugs every other country’s consulates and embassies. Hard to see why the Turks are being so coy.

David Ignatius has written a long backgrounder on Khashoggi. Khashoggi was devoted to his country, Saudi Arabia. He took some big chances, including joining the Muslim Brotherhood when he was in his 20s, where he met Osama bin Laden. He grew to feel that bin Laden was moving in too radical a direction. He managed to maintain backing by prominent Saudis, which allowed him to continue his truth-telling journalism.

But now Mohammed bin Sultan (known as MBS) is now effectively ruler of Saudi Arabia. Ben Rhodes has written a backgrounder on MBS and US – Saudi relations. He has pursued a bloody war in Yemen to show his opposition to Iranian influence there. American backing for Saudi Arabia dates back to the 1950s, when the United States took over the United Kingdom’s role in the Middle East and Saudi oil was essential. Read more

Donald Trump, Tax Fraud, and His Fellow GOP Thieves/Enablers

Bess Levin, at Vanity Fair, “Republicans: If Dems Release Trump’s Tax Returns, No One Will Be Safe”:

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the Times investigation, Democrats renewed their calls for transparency, with Representative Richard Neal telling The Wall Street Journal his party would use the authority of the Ways and Means Committee to commandeer a taxpayer’s records for confidential review—something that can be done without full approval from the House and Senate. And Republicans are having none of such talk. “This is dangerous,” an incensed Representative Kevin Brady tweeted… “Once Democrats abuse this law to make public @realDonaldTrump tax returns, what stops them from prying/making public YOUR tax returns for political reasons?” For good, fear monger-y measure, he concluded by hashtag-ing “#AbuseofPower” and “#EnemiesList.”

And, sure, Democrats could go after your tax returns for political reasons, but that would probably require you to be a sitting president who’s refused to release them on your own, and who’s been accused of “outright” tax fraud based on an investigation by The New York Times. If that describes you, you might have reason to worry! On the other hand, Congress has had this power for nearly 100 years and has not seen fit to “abuse” ordinary Americans with it it for political gain. One time it was used? In 1974, when Congress investigated Richard Nixon’s returns and determined that he was, in fact, a crook. But we’re sure that’s totally not what Brady & Co. are worried about here…

Professor Krugman, “Trump and the Aristocracy of Fraud”:

Until recently, my guess is that most economists, even tax experts, would have agreed that tax avoidance by corporations and the wealthy — which is legal — was a big issue, but tax evasion — hiding money from the tax man — was a lesser one. It was obvious that some rich people were exploiting legal if morally dubious loopholes in the tax code, but the prevailing view was that simply defrauding the tax authorities and hence the public wasn’t that widespread in advanced countries.

But this view always rested on shaky foundations. After all, tax evasion, almost by definition, doesn’t show up in official statistics, and the super-wealthy aren’t in the habit of mouthing off about what great tax cheats they are. To get a real picture of how much fraud is going on, you either have to do what The Times did — exhaustively investigate the finances of a particular family — or rely on lucky breaks that reveal what was previously hidden.

Two years ago, a huge lucky break came in the form of the Panama Papers, a trove of data leaked from a Panamanian law firm that specialized in helping people hide their wealth in offshore havens, and a smaller leak from HSBC. While the unsavory details revealed by these leaks made headlines right away, their true significance has only become clear with work done by Berkeley’s Gabriel Zucman and associates in cooperation with Scandinavian tax authorities.

Matching information from the Panama Papers and other leaks with national tax data, these researchers found that outright tax evasion actually is a big deal at the top. The truly wealthy end up paying a much lower effective tax rate than the merely rich, not because of loopholes in tax law, but because they break the law. The wealthiest taxpayers, the researchers found, pay on average 25 percent less than they owe — and, of course, many individuals pay even less.

This is a big number. If America’s wealthy evade taxes on the same scale (which they almost surely do), they’re probably costing the government around as much as the food stamp program does. And they’re also using tax evasion to entrench their privilege and pass it on to their heirs, which is the real Trump story.
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Late Night Horrorshow: Oval Office Occupant, for Rent – Cheap

I don’t pretend to understand the foreign policy implications here. (To be honest, since I grew up with Armenian neighbors, my first thought upon hearing about this was This sounds like the sort of torture porn the Turks would dream up.) But I know good old-fashioned American corruption by two-bit grifters entirely too well. Donald Trump is a national disgrace, and I sincerely hope he’s punished for enabling Khashoggi’s (alleged!) murder, among his ever-growing list of impeachable offenses.

Mohammed has billed himself as a reformer and moderating force in Saudi Arabia, and he has become a key strategic partner in particular to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Kushner has tried to promote Mohammed to skeptical national security officials, who have long viewed him as an impetuous and ruthless leader who has an overly simplistic view of the complex challenges the United States faces in the Middle East.

During a bill signing Thursday in the Oval Office, President Trump called Khashoggi’s suspected killing “a terrible thing,” but stopped short of assigning blame.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” Trump said. “We’ll be having a report out soon. We’re working with Turkey, we’re working with Saudi Arabia. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but somehow I tend to doubt it.”…

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Trumpworld Stupidity Open Thread: Another Trial Balloon Made of the Finest Lead

Her hometown paper says Nikki Haley may be up to a million dollars in debt — being UN Ambassador is an expensive hobby! — and (Murphy the Trickster God willing) it’s not gonna be anywhere near as easy to cash in on Trump ‘contacts’ after the midterm elections. And the CREW people are complaining that she took private flights paid for by SC business executives, which would be unseemly for a government executive but not a professional lobbyist.

But, hey, the Oval Office Occupancy will never let a potential publicity/grifting opportunity go to waste!…

Politico is on it!

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Ratfuckers R Us (Open Thread)

Yesterday’s NYT included an article on Manafort deputy Rick Gates’ receipt of a proposal from an Israeli firm to “create fake online identities, to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence” to help Team Trump. The company, Psy-Group, originally came to Gates’ attention at a March 2016 meeting. They submitted a proposal to run influence campaigns to ensure RNC delegates didn’t bolt from Trump to Ted Cruz. Psy-Group wasn’t hired for that job.

But the owner of the company, Joel Zamel, met with Trump Jr. in August of 2016 to propose a general election influence operation. Here’s the NYT’s report on the second proposal:

A second proposal focused on gathering information about Mrs. Clinton and 10 of her associates through publicly available data as well as unspecified “complementary intelligence activities.” Psy-Group promised to prepare a comprehensive dossier on each of the targets, including “any actionable intelligence.”

A third document emphasized “tailored third-party messaging” aimed at minority, suburban female and undecided voters in battleground states. It promised to create and maintain fake online personas that would deliver messages highlighting Mr. Trump’s merits and Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses or revealing “rifts and rivalries within the opposition.”

Though it appears that Trump campaign officials declined to accept any of the proposals, Mr. Zamel pitched the company’s services in at least general terms during a meeting on Aug. 3, 2016, at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. That meeting, revealed in May by The Times, was also attended by George Nader, an emissary from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and by Erik Prince, a Republican donor and the founder of the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.

The report says Nader paid Zamel $2M after the election but that the two have given differing accounts of whether or not Psy-Group provided services to the Trump campaign. Also, remember the witness tampering attempt that led to Manafort being jailed prior to his court date? The witness in question was Eckart Sager, the political consultant who first hooked Psy-Group up with Gates.

The report says it doesn’t appear that the Trump campaign used Psy-Group, and it’s unclear if it would have been illegal if they did. The $2M strikes me as a paltry sum considering the scale of the influence campaign we all saw with our own eyes in 2016, but the measures taken — including the use of trolls to foment dissent between opposition groups — sure looks familiar.

My guess is the Trump campaign chose the free — or quid pro quo — influence campaign provided by the Kremlin instead. The NYT article makes it clear the Mueller team is all over this. Maybe someday we’ll get the truth. But in the meantime, perhaps add “make it illegal for campaigns to hire troll farms to create fake social media identities and spread disinformation” to the post-Trump to-do list.

Excellent Read(s): Trump Is A Thief & A Tax Cheat, As Well As A Lousy Businessman

Well worth the time it takes to read the whole thing. From the NYTimes, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father”:

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show…

But if you’re pressed for time, they’ve provided a Shorter: “11 Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation Into Trump’s Wealth”

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