Saudi Arabian Power Grab A Perfect Encapsulation of our Catastrophic Times

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Genocide in Yemen, turmoil in Lebanon, major power war, Jared Kushner, and Tom Friedman. We live in terrible times, with Mohammed bin Salman and his techno-tyrant ambitions at the center of them. 

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With New WaPo Revelations, Team of Rats Clearly Acting Like Rats

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Last night, the Washington Post broke the story that the initial wildly misleading and dishonest statement regarding the fabled Don Jr. Russia meeting was dictated by the President himself. The statement, if you recall, basically said “we met one woman and it was all about adoption, and come on, so what?”

This turned out to be not exactly the case.

That’s interesting, because it again shows the President to be an inveterate, indeed instinctual liar, whose relationship with the truth is analogous to the one he has with women, which is: I can do whatever I want to it. It is breathtakingly arrogant, in its assumption that if he says something, we’ll all believe it (or rather, that it will become truth, because he’s Trump, so what he says goes). It’s also incredible in how much it complicates the life of his son.

I don’t know if there are any legal ramifications here; I sort of doubt it. But the real upshot of the story is that while the sources are anonymous, and this will surely be disputed, they all came from within the White House. This isn’t just leaking about how Reince is a jerk or anything like that. These are senior officials saying that the President is deliberately complicit in misleading the American people about his administration’s, and his family’s, ties to Russia.

That’s partly because I would imagine the ship is clearly sinking. Mueller is zooming in on the money, which is what this has always been about. But as much as anything, it is because it is clear that the President has zero loyalty, and is willing to discard anyone to benefit himself. Now, this has been clear literally forever, and anyone who ever believed otherwise is an idiot, but even idiots have to understand the game now.

Here’s the proof. This is my favorite part of the whole thing.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Yup. It was Jared Kushner, who loathes the press, never speaks to it, and who consistently lied on his disclosure forms, who was pushing for transparency and openness. Amazing how he and Ivanka are the ones who come out good in this story. I wonder who the sources would be.

Let’s call him “Jared K.”

Like I said, I don’t think anything will come of this qua this. It might demonstrate that Trump knew more about the meeting than he let on, though it doesn’t have to. He might have heard of it that day, and decided that, in his wisdom, he’d be able to handle it. That’s very plausible!

But the story itself shows the extraordinary dysfunction of this White House, and more than that, the willingness of top inside sources to attack the President himself, and throw him under the bus before they get run down. It’s sort of exciting, but also another reminder of how much a disaster we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. It’s what happens when you have a government of the worst, by the worst, and for the worst.

Jared Kushner, Slumlord, Gets Richer By Destroying Lives

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These men are no different. They are rich vampires who prey on the weak.

The invaluable Alex MacGillis at ProPublica has an in-depth story about one of the ways in which Jared Kushner, he who will solve the Middle East, takes advantage of other people to whom the world has been less than kind. It’ll take some block-quoting.

But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.

In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon.

So how does this make him money? Lawsuits. He apparently has a team of turkey vultures swooping in for any little mistake on the lease, any minor violation, and any discrepancy they could find in order to sue.  A woman who broke a lease early to tend to her dying mother lost thousands of dollars. A woman who didn’t replace her carpet after the sink backed up was sued for $600.

But you don’t even have to be in the wrong to get screwed by Kushner. You just have to be less wealthy than he is, and not able to stand up to him in court.

(Kamiia) Warren sent a letter reporting the problem to the complex’s property manager, a company called Sawyer Realty Holdings. When there was no response, she decided to move out. In January 2010, she submitted the requisite form giving two months’ notice that she was transferring her Section 8 voucher — the federal low-income subsidy that helped her pay the rent — elsewhere. The complex’s on-site manager signed the form a week later, checking the line that read “The tenant gave notice in accordance with the lease.”

So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster LLC.

Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.

JK2, is, of course, Jared Kushner, the most absurd man in an absurd administration. There is something particularly venal about him, a rich New York socialite who yokes himself to evil incompetence for more power, who is using his status to further enrich his family, and who encourages obstruction of justice while doing nothing to rein in the racist cruelty of his father-in-law’s ghoulish entourage.

But that’s probably because he doesn’t want to. This is a mean shark, a rich bully who thinks he’s the underdog. He’s a scion who can drop hundreds of millions on a deal and pretend he’s earned the chip on his shoulder.

Early in the Adminstration, there were stories about how Kushner had become close with the horrible xenophobic racist Jeff Sessions. “Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.”

Jeff Sessions has spent a whole career in pursuit of one thing, and one thing only: white power. Whether that came from jailing black longer and in crueler conditions, protecting police from charges of racial brutality, closing off the border, or cutting welfare from strapping young bucks, his project has been the same. He didn’t wow Jared with his ability to talk the deficit. So what did Kushner consider him to be savant-like about?

This seemed incongruous. But it clearly isn’t. Kushner is a deeply cruel and shallow sociopath. He clearly feels that wealth is for the wealthy and privilege, including racial privilege, is for the privileged.

Look at this nightmare.

Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”

 

The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

That’s right. That’s the way of America’s worst family. Take on those who can’t stand up for themselves, who can’t afford your lawyers. That’s “toughness” to them. They attack the weak. They prey on economic insecurity and exploit it for power. They dig at the margins of society.

America is a terrifying place. The line between getting along and tumbling into unrecoverable poverty is a thin one. There is no way that Jared Kushner will ever notice that $5000, minus lawyer fees. He’ll get, what, a grand maybe? Two? He would scoff at that if he found it in his glove box.

But that’s money that can ruin a life. It can push some down into the cracks, and foreclose on their dreams. It can spiral them into an unstoppable cycle of poverty and despair. It can stop them from finishing school, from opening a business, from providing even the most meager future for their kids. It can take away the roof over their head.

That’s Kushner. That’s the cruel and petty man behind the cruel and petty man-child. If he goes to prison for obsturctuion of justice it will be a perversion of the system. It’s the least of his crimes. This story proves that he represents the worst of the vampire rich, the heartless techno/plutocrats, with his vapid wife and snarling lawyers.

We had the American Psycho wrong with Don Jr. and Eric. It was Jared all along. There’s a reason why he’s the closest to Trump. They’re the same terrible person.

 

Trump Signs Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood; Is a Republican (Or: Why Ivanka Trump Is A Terrible Person)

 

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“We care about people!”

 

The Hill

President Trump on Thursday signed a bill to nix an Obama-era rule that blocked states from defunding healthcare providers for political reasons.

The bill, which Democrats say is really an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, passed the Senate last month after Vice President Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Trump signed the measure behind closed doors in the Oval Office without media present.

When Donald Trump bombed Syria last week, after Ivanka convinced him that some Syrians were people (though not refugees), we got another spate of “Is Ivanka the moderating influence?” stories. This, combined with her hubby Jared seemingly pushing out Steven Bannon, or at least gaining the upper hand in their battle for influence, (all while already being absurdly powerful) led a lot of people to wonder if the admin was going to get more “moderate”.

Now, granting that, politically, Trump had to sign this or face a total revolt, we still have to accept that one of these things:

  1. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually moderate;
  2. Jared and Ivanka aren’t actually powerful, or;
  3. Jared and Ivanka have zero positions except to help Trump succeed in building the family name/brand, whether that means sometimes acting like a normal Republican or sometimes acting like a loon, but taking care to protect their image.

Is there actually any question here?

The thing about Ivanka and Jared is that, regardless of how much they don’t hate gays, are aiding and abetting the most far-right administration in American history. Where was their power when pops nominated Jeff Sessions, an open white nationalist who is bringing white backlash back to power? Or Scott Pruitt, who has pledged to destroy the environment? Or when he signed the Muslim ban, got his ass handed to him, and signed another one? Or when he superempowered ICE and CBP?

No, these pampered self-serving idiots don’t get to have it both ways. Helping Donald Trump get elected damns them, no matter how much they claim to slow down his worst impulses Because, really: what have they done that has been any good? You got a Republican elected, and no matter how many “We Are Relatable Millennial” ads you photoshopped, we have a xenophobic reactionary world-eating government with your unstable sexual-assaulting childish dolt of a father in control. That’s your legacy.

I’m not terribly interested in Ivanka, but her CBS interview did make me realize, fully and finally, that she is her father, only prettier and more polished.

Ivanka Trump: I speak up frequently. And my father agrees with me on so many issues. And where he doesn’t, he knows where I stand. But–

Gayle King: Can you give us–

Ivanka Trump: –it’s not my administration–

Gayle King: — an example of something that you disagree with him on and that you think that by speaking up to him it made him change his position or soften his position? Are you comfortable with that?

Ivanka Trump: I think that for me this isn’t about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn’t elected by the American people to be president. My father is gonna do a tremendous job. And I wanna help him do that. But I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree. … And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.

It’s not just that there isn’t an answer here (I don’t blame her for not saying “I disagree about XYZ”). It’s that she spins her lack of any impact as a virtue, telling us, despite all evidence to the contrary–despite her father’s administration being an absolute horrorshow for issues she pretends to care about–that she’s doing a lot. So much. You’ll see.

Believe me.

Jared Kushner Is The Whole Absurdity

 

Pictured: Take Your Boss’s Daughter’s Husband to a War Zone Day.

 

It’s sometimes hard to really put your finger on what is the most absurd and nonsensical part of the Trump Administration, but then you hear about how Jared Kushner flew to Iraq, and you realize: this is it. The flgarant third-world absurdity, the little petty crime family nonsense, the reliance on pseudo-toughguy “loyalty” over even the most basic competence: it’s everything that’s cheap and flim-flammy about Trumpism in a skinny well-married package.

(Note: this isn’t about what’s cruel and evil in the Administration; that’s virtually everything else. The two are intertwined, but we’re just focusing on absurdity right now.)

This isn’t to say that Kushner isn’t, like, smart. He’s not the dopey son who is suddenly made Lord High General of the People’s Glorious Armed Forces. But, relative to the insane position he’s been given, it isn’t too far off. Kushner, as Daniel Drezner points out, is in charge of:

  • Relations with Mexico, which are a diplomatic minefield, considering his boss/father-in-law based his entire campaign around demonizing Mexico and saying he’d make them pay for his idiot wall.
  • Relations with Canada, which, ok.
  • Peace in the Middle East. This means Israel/Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and the whole Sunni v Shia thing. It’s pretty complex!
  • Solving the opioid crisis, because I’m sure he really gets the white working class. He’s relatable.
  • Fixing the VA. I don’t know, maybe a good businessman can do something good. I doubt that he has the chops for it, but I’ll cut him some slack.
  • Improving the way the government works, which means turning it into a business, which: stupid, and not innovative. People have been saying that for centuries.

This whole thing is madness. Even if he is smart, there’s no way one person could do any of this, much less all of it. Especially because he hasn’t been able to build a staff, mostly because Trump doesn’t want too many people involved. It’s a family business.

And that’s the heart of how malignantly stupid this administration is. The thinking here literally boiled down to “Hey, that kid who married my daughter is bright, and he’s stuck by me. He can probably fix the world by himself.”

Politico on Saturday ran a long piece about how resentful senior White House staff are of Kushner, equal parts annoyance and jealousy. He’s prone to popping into every meeting, acting as Trump’s eyes and ear and hatchet man, and running things like…well, like Trump would. But one wants to ask these staffers: what did you expect? It’s a White House run by Donald Trump, reality show idiot.

But not all is well, as these amazing parts demonstrate.

Kushner’s boosters see him as “a visionary” who is bringing to government a disruptive Silicon Valley mindset that helped him succeed in the technology and real estate industries, as well as on Trump’s unconventional presidential campaign.

It’s always important to remember that “disruptive Silicon Valley mindset” is what dumb people say when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Others are more concerned about what Kushner hasn’t done. One pro-Israel operative who works with the administration said “there were high hopes” that Kushner — an Orthodox Jew and the grandson of Holocaust survivors, whose only picture in his office is of his grandparents — “was a guy who really understood our community” when Trump tapped him as a point person on the Middle East.

What? Why would you think that? Because he’s Jewish? Maybe he “understands your community”, but so do tens of thousands of people, very few of whom have any capability at running a government or, you know, bringing peace to the Middle East.

But, the operative said, those hopes mostly have been supplanted by “deep concern that Jared is not the person we thought he was — that this guy who is supposed to be good at everything is totally out of his depth.”

Why was he supposed to be good at everything? Because he was born rich and got richer? Who are these people?

But if you really want the straight hit on how gross and stupid these people are, get a load of these two paragraphs.

Influential Jewish Republicans including the mega-donor casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson lobbied Kushner to convince Trump to appoint prominent neoconservative foreign policy hand Elliott Abrams as the No. 2 official in Foggy Bottom and to remove Michael Ratney, a State Department official who previously served as U.S. consul in Jerusalem under Obama, from his role handling Middle East affairs.

Kushner was non-committal about Ratney, according to two sources familiar with the lobbying. But Kushner did go to bat for Abrams, only to have Trump veto the appointment because Abrams had criticized Trump during the campaign and was opposed by Bannon. Nonetheless, Adelson, who has spoken repeatedly by phone with Kushner, was disappointed with Kushner’s inability or unwillingness to deliver on the personnel recommendations, as well as the stasis on the embassy, said three Jewish Republicans active in Israel causes.

This is amazing and beautiful and perfect. A terrible, terrible person tried to get Kushner to install a horrible war criminal in State, but was stopped by a bitter white supranationalist on the grounds that the war criminal wasn’t loyal enough. Does anything demonstrate the twisted web of America’s worst people any better?

Well, maybe: Diamond Mark Perrone tipped me off to a long piece on Jeff Zucker, which included this perfect morsel.

Zucker had breakfast with Kushner a few weeks later in Manhattan. Kushner wanted to know why CNN still hadn’t fired anti-Trump commentators like (Van) Jones and Ana Navarro, who said on CNN in October that every Republican would have to answer the question of what they did the day they saw a tape of “this man boasting about grabbing a woman’s pussy.”… Zucker tried to explain that even though Trump won, the network still needed what he described as “a diversity of opinion.”

So enough of the “Kushner is the moderate” or “Kushner is the voice of reason”. He’s a very small cosseted rich dude who married into an even richer family and rode a tide of white nationalism into power. He uses that to try to silence “enemies”, because he thinks that some wealthy simulacrum of omerta is proof of character. They are playacting as a competent administration, playacting as tough guys, and playacting at solving problems.

Kushner is no different. His portfolio is the biggest joke of all. He’s as bad as his odious father-in-law, thinking that being born rich means you can do anything. It’s the idea that if you just leave it to us, it’ll be solved. That’s our government right now. Whatever isn’t truly evil and cruel about is absurd. That the absurdity has real consequences for people who aren’t them only sharpens the cruelty.

 

Kushner, Israel, and the Insulting Madness of Trump

Look at the man to your right, Jared, and the one next to your wife. You helped this happen. You are not a good person. 

The main front-pager in yesterday’s Times was about how Jared Kushner, top trump advisor and son-in-law, is going to be handling peace in the Middle East, especially in Israel, because he cares about it a lot. Well, he cares about Israel. It’s important to him. The Times is fairly delicate about his shortcomings.

Mr. Kushner, on something of a crash course in diplomacy, has been speaking with Arab leaders in recent weeks. But he is a mystery to most Middle Eastern officials. He has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan.

Though Mr. Kushner has visited Israel since childhood, and more recently to do business, he is little known there. He holds strong views about the state of Israel, but he has not been outspoken about them, save for editorials in The New York Observer, the newspaper he owned. His thinking on matters like settlements is not well understood.

The thrust of the piece, and of Trump’s and Kushner’s ideas, is that a coalition of anti-Iran players such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states can form an alliance of sorts with Israel, given a mutual enmity toward Iran, and that can be used to forge peace.

Now, there certainly is an idea there. Mutual enemies are always important. What is left out, of course, is Palestinian national ambition, or how that will actually fit in, and how the governments of these Arab nations will be able to maintain internal peace if they work with Israel without fulfilling Palestinian hopes, which of course will be very hard to do given the tightness team Trump has with Netanyahu, and of course that Kushner seems never to have considered Palestine at all in his equations.

But, for the sake of arguments, let’s stipulate a few things. Let’s stipulate that Kushner is a bright kid. He seems smart, and he did help Trump get elected, which was still a sort of dark genius. Let’s even stipulate that he’s a good person, which I don’t really consider anyone who helped elect a white nationalist know-nothing vacuous reality-show strongman dope to be, but still. Family is family, I guess. This is just for the sake of argument.

Let’s even stipulate that his is taking his crash course very seriously, and that during it, he has found an enormous wellspring of empathy for the plight of the Palestinians, and wants to be an honest broker. Let’s also stipulate that fresh ideas might be best in this stale conflict.

Even stipulating all that, some of which rely on facts not in evidence, it still is the case that Donald Trump, while assuming the most awesome power on the planet, had a chance to consider every single person in the United States to handle one of the most difficult diplomatic challenges on the globe, and came up with the guy who married his daughter.

Think of how lazy that is. Think of how insulting that is. Think of how insular and ridiculous that is. Now, maybe Kushner will turn out to be the exact right guy for this but it would really be a remarkable coincidence that of everyone in the world, including people who have spent their whole lives learning about the region and its players, the one guy who can solve it happens to be in Trump’s Christmas card.

It stands more to reason, one thinks cynically, that Kushner has shown some interest, and that Trump likes him so: sure. Give it to Kushner. If my daughter thinks he’s good enough, so should the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You might love Trump’s politics. But it is hard to argue that this isn’t the single laziest and most insulting Administration we’ve seen.