By ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. government has long warned that Russian organized crime posed a threat to democratic institutions, including “criminally linked oligarchs” who might collude with the Russian government to undermine business competition.
Those concerns, ever-present if not necessarily always top priorities, are front and center once more.
An ongoing special counsel investigation is drawing attention to Russian efforts to meddle in democratic processes, the type of skullduggery that in the past has relied on hired hackers and outside criminals. It’s not clear how much the probe by former FBI Director Robert Mueller will center on the criminal underbelly of Moscow, but he’s already picked some lawyers with experience fighting organized crime. And as the team looks for any financial entanglements of Trump associates and relationships with Russian officials, its focus could land again on the intertwining of Russia’s criminal operatives and its intelligence services.
Russian organized crime has manifested itself over the decades in more conventional forms of money laundering, credit card fraud and black market sales. Justice Department prosecutors have repeatedly racked up convictions for those offenses.
In recent years, though, the bond between Russian intelligence agencies and criminal networks has been especially alarming to American law enforcement officials, blending motives of espionage with more old-fashioned greed. In March, for instance, two hired hackers were charged along with two officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service in a cyberattack on Yahoo Inc. in 2013.
It’s too early to know how Russian criminal networks might fit into the election meddling investigation, but central to the probe are devastating breaches of Democratic email accounts, including those of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. U.S. authorities have blamed those hacks on Russian intelligence services working to discredit Clinton and help Trump – but have said the overall effort involved third-party intermediaries and paid Internet trolls.
Former law enforcement officials say Russian organized crime has been a concern for at least a couple of decades, though not necessarily the most pressing demand given finite resources and budget constraints. The threat is diffuse and complex, and Russia’s historic lack of cooperation has complicated efforts to apprehend suspects. And the responsibility for combatting the problem often falls across different divisions of the FBI and the Justice Department, depending on whether it’s a criminal or national security offense – a sometimes-blurry boundary.
“It’s not an easy thing to kind of grasp or understand, but it’s very dangerous to our country because they have so many different aspects, unlike a traditional cartel,” said Robert Anderson, a retired FBI executive assistant director who worked counterintelligence cases and oversaw the criminal and cyber branch.
“You have to know where to look, which makes it more complicated,” he added. “And you have to understand what you’re looking for.”
Federal prosecutors continue to bring traditional organized crime cases, such as one last month in New York charging 33 members and associates of a Russian crime syndicate in a racketeering and extortion scheme that officials say involved cargo shipment thefts and efforts to defraud casinos. But there’s a heightened awareness about more sophisticated cyber threats that commingle the interests of the government and of criminals.
“An organized criminal group matures in what they do,” said retired FBI assistant director Ron Hosko. “What they once did here through extortion, some of these groups are now doing through cyberattack vectors.”
Within the Justice Department, it’s been apparent since the collapse of the Soviet Union that crime from that territory could affect national security in Europe and the U.S.
A 2001 report from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, a research arm, called America “the land of opportunity for unloading criminal goods and laundering dirty money.” It said crime groups in the region were establishing ties to drug trafficking networks, and that “criminally linked oligarchs” might work with the government to undermine competition in gas, oil and other strategic networks.
Three months later came the Sept. 11 attacks, and the FBI, then under Mueller’s leadership, and other agencies left no doubt that terrorism was the most important priority.
“I recall talking to the racketeering guys after that and them saying, ‘Forget any focus now on organized crime,'” said James Finckenauer, an author of the report.
Besides cyber threats, Justice Department officials in recent years have worried about the effect of unchecked international corruption, creating a kleptocracy initiative to recover money plundered by government leaders for their own purposes.
In 2014, then-Attorney General Eric Holder pledged the Justice Department’s commitment to recouping large sums believed to have been stolen during the regime of the Russia-backed government of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president chased from power that year.
That effort led to an FBI focus on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman who did political consulting work on behalf of Yanukovych’s political party and who remains under scrutiny now.
But those same foreign links have also made cases hard to prove in court.
In many instances, foreign criminal hackers or those sponsored by foreign governments – including China, Iran and Russia – have remained out of reach of American authorities. In some cases, judges have chastised U.S. authorities for prosecutorial overreach in going after international targets.
A San Francisco federal judge, for instance, in 2015 dismissed an indictment involving two Ukrainian nationals who’d been accused of trying to bribe an official at a United Nations agency responsible for creating standards for machine-readable international passports.
The judge said he couldn’t understand how the government could apply a foreign bribery law to conduct that had no direct connection to the U.S.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The investigation into Russian influence on the last election reached an absurd apogee on June 16, as President Donald Trump tweeted that he was under investigation for firing FBI Director James Comey (“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt”), and then Trump’s lawyer denied Trump was under investigation at all.
It happened amid a subplot: rumors that Trump was looking for a way to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director and Justice Department veteran who is leading the Trump-Russia investigation, while the Republican right was seeking to discredit the Dubya-appointed registered Republican as a partisan Democrat.
Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy U.S. Attorney General (and former Maryland U.S. Attorney) whose memo describing Comey’s sins provided the pretext for Comey’s ouster, told the Senate Intelligence Committee he would not fire Mueller without good cause, then reportedly told a colleague he may recuse himself from overseeing the investigation—that memo Trump referred to in his tweet makes him a potential witness.
It is telling that the focus is now on the theory that Trump, in firing Comey, committed obstruction of justice. As the old saw goes, “the cover-up is worse than the crime,” and a tidy obstruction case could be the fastest and simplest way to get Trump out of office—which appears self-evidently to be Mueller’s brief.
But what of the crime itself?
If Trump colluded with Russian government agents to interfere in the U.S. election, should not the details be made public in the broadest and clearest way possible? And what of Trump’s historic ties to Russia—to its government officials and to its mobsters? And what of his financial ties to Russian oligarchs and criminals?
It all looks complicated: hard to investigate and harder to turn into criminal charges. But the complications of Trump’s Russia ties could go farther than that: They could implicate top officials of the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI itself.
And that is the best reason to believe that Mueller’s investigation will not go there.
The Independent Counsel, chosen last month by increasingly embattled Rosenstein, has been praised by members of Congress. Republican Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, called Mueller “a great choice,” while Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) called him “somebody we all trust.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) says Mueller has “the guts and backbone to stand up and speak out against any kind of political influence.”
And, indeed, Mueller is a proven quantity. His tenure as FBI director, which began a week before the Sept. 11 attacks, was famously extended two years past its normal term by President Barack Obama. During his four-decade career as a high-powered lawyer in both government and private service, he’s demonstrated a steady hand, judicious reasoning, and a narrow focus on the business at hand—in sharp contrast to, say, Kenneth Starr, whose mid-’90s investigation into a failed real estate deal involving the Clintons spiraled into an absurd inquiry focused on the president’s ejaculate.
But Mueller’s habit of keeping his investigations tidy may not serve the nation well this time. It may not have served us well in the past, either. Several times in his career, Mueller could have sent more people to prison and shed important light on American policies and practices—but that would have been politically inconvenient (if not disastrous) for important people.
Two of those cases—the prosecution of Manuel Noriega and the investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International—illustrate the issues (money laundering, spies, dubious deals cut by the Justice Department) that, just below the surface, also animate l’affair Trump/Russia.
Trump and Mueller have never crossed paths before, but they have both spent their careers in the power vortex where politicians, criminals, and spies mingle—the lawless nexus where billions of dollars are sloshed around the world in pursuit of covert aims, and high crimes routinely go unpunished in the name of “national security.”
Notwithstanding what most inside-the-beltway commentators seem to believe, Trump did not spring fully-formed from the November 2016 news void, or from Comey’s speech about Hillary. A careful examination of Trump’s career leads to the conclusion that he long had connections that could be very relevant to his current predicament.
In that, Trump could turn out to be very much like the late General Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator who died last month in prison. Mueller was Attorney General Richard Thornburgh’s pick in 1989 when President George H. W. Bush dispatched the 82nd Airborne Division to arrest Noriega, a fellow head of state, on drug trafficking and money-laundering charges. The case could have been complicated—or even compromised—because Noriega had been on the Central Intelligence Agency’s payroll for decades, and Noriega wanted to argue that point in his trial. The information was explosive and could have harmed Bush’s re-election chances (as well as any number of ongoing U.S. intelligence operations). But at Mueller’s behest, the judge ruled against him, saying testimony about Noriega’s CIA ties would “confuse the issues before the jury.”
Noriega was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mueller also oversaw the investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which collapsed in scandal in 1991. The bank, funded by Saudis, managed by Pakistanis, domiciled nowhere, acted as a money-laundering supermarket for drug-and-arms dealers (Noriega included), spies, and international mafiosi, a full-airing of the details of which could, again, have upset U.S. diplomatic interests, intelligence operations, and high-level political careers. Happily for all involved, BCCI was also a sloppy ponzi scheme, its Florida branches a hive of low-level scumbags, and so Mueller focused mainly on that—and stonewalled on the important stuff.
“In the U.S. investigators now say openly that the Justice Department has not only reined in its own probe of the bank but is also part of a concerted campaign to derail any full investigation,” Time Magazine reported in a 1991 cover story on the bank. “Says Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, who first launched his investigations into B.C.C.I. two years ago: ‘We have had no cooperation from the Justice Department since we first asked for records in March 1990. In fact they are impeding our investigation, and Justice Department representatives are asking witnesses not to cooperate with us.'”
Mueller “strongly disagreed” with the basic facts, telling then-Sen. John Kerry, on ABC’s “Nightline,” that a plea bargain with a minor BCCI player in a Tampa money laundering case was a major victory for the Justice Department. He ignored Kerry’s questions about how tapes of his investigator’s interviews with top BCCI officials, in which they allegedly discussed political bribes and its secret ownership of a politically wired Washington, D.C. bank, went missing. He ignored “Nightline” host Ted Koppel’s attempt to get Kerry’s questions answered as well.
The stonewalling of the BCCI investigation did Mueller’s career no harm. He soon took his place among the nation’s top white-collar defense attorneys, prosecuted murderers in D.C. and, in the 2000s, served his extended turn as head of the FBI, beginning it just before the World Trade Center fell to the biggest terrorist attack in history—and not long after the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan secretly dispatched Felix Sater, a twice-convicted Russian mobster, in search of terrorist missiles. Sater would soon come to work from Trump’s office tower, allegedly using Trump’s name to fleece thousands of Americans out of hundreds of millions of dollars, right under Mueller’s nose.
But Trump’s own association with mobsters and informants dates back much further than that—as does the FBI’s bewildering lack of curiosity about Trump’s many alleged crimes.
Trump and FBI Sources
For at least 35 years Trump used sources at the FBI (and was used by them) to facilitate the making of cases and careers—and fortunes. The history of Trump’s connections to the Mafia Commission case of the 1980s, and other New York intrigues, has not yet been told in full, but their outlines are revealed in the comb-over-shaped voids in the public record concerning the cases against a number of mafia families, some of whom were taken down in large part with the aid of Sater.
What follows are some key examples of the connections among Trump, the FBI, and mobsters of various national stripes—including some who have never been prosecuted and others who were major informants for the Bureau. Taken together, they raise questions about federal law enforcers’ reluctance to target the clownish mogul—and Mueller’s likely effort to avoid focusing on these connections and events.
The “Labor Consultant”
Consider what happened after FBI Special Agent Walt Stowe walked into Trump’s office with Daniel Sullivan, a mob-connected “labor consultant” Trump had previously hooked up with through his lawyer, Roy Cohn.
The year was 1981, and Trump was lining up his ducks to build his first casino while simultaneously developing (in an eyebrow-raising alliance with a mob-controlled concrete workers’ union) Trump Tower in Manhattan. He offered to help the FBI with their mafia investigations.
This story has been recounted many times, most recently by the Washington Post and Tom Robbins for The Marshall Project.
“Stowe welcomed the attention, but it was not primarily a friendship he was seeking at that time,” the Post’s reporters wrote last year, having tracked down Stowe. “Having a contact like Trump was a valuable asset for a rising star at the FBI. Trump was ‘a guy who knew people,’ Stowe said.”
What happened next was perhaps the least one should expect when trusting Trump with sensitive information: Questioned by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement about Sullivan, Trump promptly blew the longtime informant’s cover, thus preemptively scuttling any chance of a long-term investigation leading to the New Jersey gambling regulators.
The feds shook it off and, as the Post reports, “Stowe, now retired, became a gaming executive after rising through the ranks of the FBI.”
The Mafia Commission
Flash forward a few years, and the feds in New York are gangbusters, rolling up Fat Tony Salerno, Paul Castellano (both fellow clients, with Trump, of Roy Cohn) and six other top mobsters, charging them with inflating concrete prices in Trump’s E. 61st Street building.
Castellano was rubbed-out before trial by John Gotti (another Cohn client); the others were convicted in 1986 of murder, racketeering, payoffs, etc., in a sensational case called The Mafia Commission Trial.
It made a household name of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani—soon to be a tight pal of Trump and, after that, New York City’s mayor.
“Our approach,” Giuliani said, “is to wipe out the Five Families.”
The Mafia Commission case did not do that, but it weakened them and the so-called commission never met again, one mobster told a jury in a 2011 murder case.
Nearly everyone involved in the case became famous. Working under Giuliani, Michael Chertoff prosecuted the mob’s “concrete club.” He remained a prominent national figure for decades. In 1990 he became U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and in the mid ’90s became special counsel to the Whitewater Committee investigating President Bill Clinton—where James Comey, another veteran of the New York office, served as his deputy special counsel.
Later he prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui, co-authored the USA PATRIOT Act, and become the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The FBI’s lead investigator on the Mafia Commission case, James Kallstrom, later became the head of the Bureau’s Manhattan office, and rose to the rank of assistant director. He went into finance, returned to law enforcement after Sept. 11, and has lately been seen on Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-wing outlets attacking Hillary Clinton and supporting Trump. He is known as an expert in wiretapping.
Trump’s name only came up in the Mafia Commission Trial as a victim, though he had sold units in Trump Tower to several people connected with mafiosi, a pattern that began when the building was finished. What is not clear from the available record is whether Trump was merely being extorted, or was in business with mobsters. The distinction is not always clear, even to the players.
But if Trump was not obviously cordial with the Gambinos, Luccheses, and Genoveses, there was one mafia family whose members he partnered with unambiguously. And it happened to be the family whose most murderous member worked directly for the FBI for more than four decades, and the family that taught the Russian mafia how to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the government.
The Colombos and The Grim Reaper
Trump connects to the Colombo crime family through at least two reputed members: John Staluppi and John Rosatti, business partners in numerous car dealerships who, in the mid-’80s, contracted with Trump to build a Trump-branded limousine—his first foray into personal branding of a non-real estate product.
Staluppi also operated a company called Dillinger Charter Service, which supplied helicopters to the Trump Organization (along with another colorful convict named Joe Weichselbaum). Staluppi and Rosatti also went into the yacht business, buying custom-built high-speed megayachts for themselves, naming them all after James Bond films and, they claimed, selling them after a couple years for a profit.
This may make them the only people in the history of boating to earn money by buying boats new and selling them used.
While Staluppi and Rosatti were building their wealth and enjoying their yachts, another Colombo capo, Gregory Scarpa, was racking up murders in Brooklyn under the watchful eye of his FBI handler, Lindley DeVeccio.
Known as “The Grim Reaper,” Scarpa remained on the FBI’s payroll as a “Top-Echelon Informant” from the early ’60s through the ’90s, even as he started a gang war within the Colombo family. In his massive book, “Deal With The Devil,” journalist Peter Lance presents evidence that DeVecchio knew Scarpa was killing people but abetted and protected him in order to make cases against other mobsters. He did this, Lance argues, eventually with the connivance of his superiors in the Justice Department. DeVecchio was at first cleared in an internal probe, and he was not charged with murder until a decade later—and that case ended in a bizarre mistrial. Lance argues in his book that the FBI kept the Scarpa revelations under wraps to protect its institutional reputation, as well as a number of dubious mob convictions.
Trump’s Colombo business partners, Staluppi and Rosatti, remained unscathed—even though Rosatti was busted by the FBI in 1994 and charged with being a felon in possession of a gun, and Staluppi was mentioned on wiretaps the feds had during the Colombo war.
Their mob ties are seldom mentioned these days.
But a close Colombo associate of theirs says he was a mentor to the Russian gangsters who dominated the 1990s. Those Russians connect to Trump—and to a Russian gangster called “The Boss of Bosses.”
And one of those same Russian mobsters—Felix Sater—worked for the FBI as an informant in anti-terror cases that remain secret even now.
The Colombos and the Russians
In the ’80s, as the Five Families’ influence waned, new organized criminals moved in. A faction of the Colombos had allied with the Russian mob, and capo-turned-informant Michael Franzese has claimed he personally taught them how to run a sophisticated gasoline bootlegging racket to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars by evading state and federal fuel taxes.
The world of Russian mobsters in ’80s and ’90s Brighton Beach was small, with many cross-connections—and connections to Trump. Consider David Bogatin, a career scammer who bought five units in Trump Tower directly from Trump. Bogatin was convicted in 1987 of a gasoline bootleg/tax fraud. He fled New York and was returned to the U.S. in 1993 for resentencing. His crew was allegedly commanded by Vyacheslav Ivankov, who also resided briefly in Trump Tower and reportedly had, in his personal phone book, the number to the Trump Organization.
Ivankov, known as “Yaponchik” (“Little Japanese”) and reputed to have ties to Russian intelligence services, began operating in Trump Tower in 1992. He was allegedly sent by Semion Mogilevich, reputed to be Russia’s “Boss of Bosses” to organize and lead those same Brighton Beach mobsters Franzese said were the “best partners I ever had.”
Ivankov was hard to catch, but the feds eventually tracked him, three years later, to the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which was ever a Mecca for mobsters and money launderers.
When the FBI arrested Ivankov, the agent handling the matter described the bust in curiously diplomatic terms: “This is not a huge blow from the standpoint on the impact of the day-to-day operations of the Russian mob tomorrow or week from now,” James Kallstrom, then assistant director of the New York FBI office, told the Washington Post. “We didn’t go out and arrest 300 people and seize property. But it’s a shot across their bow.”
Just why Kallstrom’s FBI “didn’t go out and arrest 300 people and seize property,” but instead wanted only to “send a message,” was not clear. Kallstrom, remember, made his bones in the Mafia Commission case, is now a regular on Fox News, cheering for Trump and, not too long ago, exalting Comey’s ouster.
The Russian gangsters didn’t exactly cower. David Bogatin’s brother, Jacob Bogatin, partnered directly with Mogilevich as he bribed his way onto the Toronto Stock Exchange and ran up a penny stock with a fake company called YBM Magnex in an epic pump-and-dump scam operated from a Pennsylvania office. Indicted in Philadelphia in 2003, he was not extradited and remains in Moscow.
During the Clinton years, the FBI’s focus shifted from organized crime to terrorism and national security. But many of the same players remained in the game. Scarpa, by then in prison, was enlisted to dig up terrorism information—as was another mobster-turned-informant, Russia-born Felix Sater.
The Russians and the Feds
Sater was a stockbroker in 1993 when he stabbed a man in the face with a broken margarita glass during a bar brawl. After a year in prison, he went into the stock swindling business with members of the Genovese and Bonnano crime families, pleading guilty secretly in 1998 in a $40 million RICO case.
And then Sater’s case disappeared from the docket.
Sater changed his name to Satter and went to work as a federal informant in terrorism cases. In 2002, he was hired as Chief Operating Officer of the Bayrock Group, operating from Trump Tower and in partnership with Trump. The company would go on to defraud investors of about half a billion dollars, according to various lawsuits. And the feds, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, stood by and let it happen.
Sater’s FBI handler, Leo Taddeo, told a judge in the case that he “was well familiar with the crimes of Sater and [Sater’s] father, a Mogilevich crime syndicate boss.”
He did not respond to City Paper’s request for an interview.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch (who as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York had overseen Sater’s stock fraud bust) said Sater “provided valuable and sensitive information” for more than 10 years and that his work had been “crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra.”
By 2012, federal judges were ordering the civil complaints sealed, saying they endangered Sater’s life. One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Richard Lerner, filed a remarkable writ of certiori with the U.S. Supreme Court, calling out the decade-long cover-up, wondering why the government would protect a criminal of his stature while he committed new crimes under Donald Trump’s name.
The Questions That Linger
As with the Scarpa cases of more than two decades before, the Sater/Trump cases implicate high Justice Department officials in a conundrum: People were injured because they put a career criminal on the street in hopes of snaring others, and stood by quietly as he partnered with Trump to allegedly multiply his frauds.
Trump has said he hardly knows who Sater is. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump testified in a 2013 video deposition for a civil lawsuit. This, even though he had dispatched Sater to chaperone his son, Don Jr., and daughter Ivanka around Moscow for a 2006 scouting trip. And even though Sater contributed the maximum amount allowed to Trump’s campaign, and visited the candidate at Trump Tower last summer.
These and many other examples of Trump’s close proximity to criminality certainly brought Trump to the attention of top federal law enforcers many times over the past four decades. That he has never before faced a publicly known criminal investigation, despite multiple documented instances of money-laundering and fraud, raises an obvious question: Was Trump enlisted as some kind of asset for federal law enforcement, as he obviously volunteered to be way back in 1980?
Comey should know all about Trump’s connections. He worked as deputy chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan from 1987-1993, during the peak of Giuliani’s career-making (and Trump-connected) mob take-downs, and took over as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2002, just as Sater took over Bayrock and moved into Trump Tower—and just as Mueller settled into his chair as FBI director.
The reporting on Mueller’s investigation has so far spotlighted his potential conflicts of interest as a lawyer with Wilmer Hale, the powerhouse Washington firm he’s been with since his FBI stint. Wilmer represents Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter; Paul Manafort, the lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, all of whom have Russian ties.
On May 23, federal ethics officials cleared Mueller to move ahead as special counsel, saying he was not involved in the firm’s work with those clients.
There is no similar process for vetting any conflicts Mueller may have because of his previous roles in the Justice Department. In the past, congressional investigators have watchdogged him, as in 1991, when Sen. Kerry badgered Mueller about his lackadaisical BCCI investigation.
On the Trump investigation, Mueller reportedly intends to make sure congressional investigators give him the lead.
As special counsel, Mueller has broad investigative power, but he’s under no obligation to reveal the results of any part of the investigation that does not yield criminal charges.
And, of course, there is no guarantee Mueller will even be around to conduct an investigation. On June 19, Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, reminded reporters that Rosenstein holds his job at Trump’s pleasure.
If getting rid of Trump is necessary to the functioning of the United States as a nation, understanding the full extent the Justice Department’s involvement with both Trump and Russian operatives over the past several decades might be even more necessary.
After all, Trump’s rise in politics was fueled in part by a general distrust in America’s institutions, from Congress to the banking sector to the criminal justice system itself.
But Mueller’s history as a lawman and prosecutor, and the FBI’s tendency to protect criminals, makes it far from certain that such a reckoning is likely soon. There is the looming possibility that, at some point, there will be one cover-up too many.
Mueller probe could draw focus to Russian crime operations
And as the team looks for any financial entanglements of Trump associates and relationships with Russian officials, its focus could land again on the intertwining of Russia’s criminal operatives and its intelligence services. Russian organized crime …and more »
trump russian money – Google News
Americans are observing Independence Day, a federal holiday marking the United States’ independence from Britain. As millions of people celebrate America’s 241st birthday throughout the U.S. with traditional fireworks displays parades, concerts, cookouts and other activities, law enforcement agencies are taking new and traditional approaches to keep celebrants safe. In the northeastern city of Boston, Massachusetts, where the American Revolutionary War began, police are deploying a tethered drone for the first time to capture aerial views of the 500,000 people who are expected to gather for the city’s fireworks display. New York City police are placing dozens of sand-filled trucks near popular viewing sites during its fireworks show and other events. Officials say the trucks are being deployed in response to the Bastille Day massacre last July, when 86 people were killed by a terrorist who plowed a truck into a crowd during a fireworks show in Nice, France. In Washington, authorities are also preparing for vehicle-related attacks during the National Independence Day Parade, the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival and a fireworks show on the National Mall. The National Park Service has placed large fences around the Mall and established security checkpoints for people entering the area. President Donald Trump celebrates the holiday by hosting a cookout for military families, followed by a viewing of the fireworks show for the families and White House staffers. Trump wished holiday revelers well with a tweet Tuesday that included a video of a new worship song that was named after his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The song premiered at a Washington evangelical Christian rally Saturday that was co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas, a mega church pastored by Robert Jeffress, a staunch supporter of the president. Trump praised the church choir that sang the song, saying “Your music honors our heroes more than words will ever do.” But the song was criticized by Jonathan Aigner, Director of Music Ministries in a Presbyterian Church USA congregation. “Pledging allegiance to God and to America in the same breath, melding together the kingdom of God and self, they pray blasphemous prayer to a red, white, and blue Jesus,” Aigner wrote in a blog post. The July 4th celebration takes on new meaning for nearly 15,000 immigrants. They will be sworn in as new citizens in more than 65 naturalization ceremonies across the country, a reminder the country has attracted immigrants since its inception. The ceremonies come at a difficult time for those who want to immigrate, as the Trump administration institutes a scaled-back partial travel ban that places new restrictions on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries who want to enter the U.S. A record number of people are traveling to commemorate the holiday this year. More than 44 million Americans are traveling at least 50 miles from their homes between Friday and Tuesday, according to the American Automobile Association. History On July 4, 1776, representatives of the 13 American colonies officially adopted the Declaration of Independence announcing the severing of ties with Britain. The rebellion began the previous year and would continue until the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which formally recognized the independence of the United States of America. Although the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the document was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner who later became the third U.S. president. Jefferson was not the only slave owner to sign the document. About one-third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, from the north and the south, owned or had owned slaves. George Washington, who also signed the decree and later became the country’s first president, owned nearly 125 slaves, whom he freed in his will. John Adams, the second president and Washington’s vice president, did not own slaves and supported a gradual process of abolishing slavery. Slavery in the United States was not outlawed until the Civil War ended nearly 80 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Voice of America
BERLIN In their campaign program for the German election, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have dropped the term “friend” in describing the relationship with the United States.
Four years ago, the joint program of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), referred to the United States as Germany’s “most important friend” outside of Europe.
The 2013 program also described the “friendship” with Washington as a “cornerstone” of Germany’s international relations and talked about strengthening transatlantic economic ties through the removal of trade barriers.
But the words “friend” and “friendship” are missing from the latest election program – entitled “For a Germany in which we live well and happily” – which Merkel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer presented on Monday ahead of a Sept. 24 election.
Instead, the United States is described as Germany’s “most important partner” outside of Europe. CDU officials were not immediately available to comment on the change in wording.
The change in wording underscores how relations between Berlin and Washington have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump entered the White House in January.
During his campaign for the presidency, Trump said that Merkel was “ruining” Germany with migration policies he described as “insane”.
He has repeatedly denounced Germany’s trade surplus with the United States, accused Berlin and other European partners of owing “massive amounts of money” to NATO, and unsettled western partners with his decision last month to pull out of the Paris climate accord..
A survey by the Pew Research Center last week showed that just 35 percent of Germans have a favorable view of the United States, down from 57 percent at the end of President Barack Obama’s term.
Merkel is due to host Trump and other leaders at a G20 summit in Hamburg later this week.
In place of the 2013 passage about strengthening economic ties, the 2017 program refers to historical U.S. support for Germany after World War Two and in the run-up to German reunification.
The new CDU/CSU election program also repeats a line that Merkel used in a speech in Munich in late May after a difficult summit of G7 leaders, where Trump resisted pressure from six other nations to stay in the Paris agreement.
“The times in which we could fully rely on others are, to a certain extent, in the past. We Europeans must take our fate into our own hands more decisively than we have in the past,” the program reads.
While affirming Germany’s commitment to the NATO military alliance, the program says that the EU must be in a position to defend itself independently if it wants to survive in the long run.
It also adds a special section entitled “Germany and France as the Motor of Europe” which vows to “reinvigorate the friendship” between the two countries.
“We are ready, together with the new French government, to further develop the euro zone step by step, for example through the creation of its own monetary fund,” it reads.
But it also rules out the mutualization of debt in Europe and says that “solidarity” will only be possible if EU countries stick to the rules of the bloc’s Growth and Stability Pact.
(Reporting by Noah Barkin, editing by Larry King)
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The last few days of June were hectic across the broad expanse of Russia as demonstrations and protest marches filled the streets of cities and towns in a demonstration of the dissatisfaction of the Russian public, primarily the young, with the levels of corruption in the Russian political and economic systems. There had been extended demonstrations and protests against corruption earlier across Russia in May 2017.
These were a reaction to the airing of a documentary on the subject which highlighted the corrupt gains of Prime Minister Medvedev. The documentary was created by Russian opposition politician and 2018 presidential candidate Alexei Navalny and his Fund for the Fight Against Corruption.
On March 2, Navalny released his most recent and explosive report, exposing in damning detail prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s expansive estates and extravagant sneaker collection. The 45-minute film profiled the lifestyle excesses of the diminutive prime minister and revealed his hidden and presumably stolen wealth compared to Medvedev’s declared annual income of $132,144. The video version of the report has now been viewed more than 22 million times.
In late March, Navalny was able to bring thousands of people into the streets in anti-corruption protests. And then he called for even larger protests on the June 12 anniversary.
These protests by ordinary citizens are relatively new but the corruption in Russia is not new at all. The current level of corruption is a direct product of the system which preceded it. It is the result of continuity, not decline. The protests are becoming more political as the 2018 elections approach but the system of domestic crowd control inherited and improved on by Putin make the creation of a ‘coloured’ revolution in Russia unlikely. The protests of the young and the dissatisfied democrats in Russia are serious, but the ability of the United Russia repressive system to manage dissent, with increasing brutality, seems unlikely to be dislodged by protests.
However, there are two groups in Russia which Putin and his associates fear more than the youthful protestors; two groups who are able to threaten real changes in the system. It is the rising conflict in Russia between the state and the Russian labour movement and the continued unrest in the Russian military which strikes fear in the councils of state. Both derive from the increasingly parlous state of the Russian economy and the absence of liquidity which does not allow Russia to pay its internal obligations.
The Difficulties in the Russian Economy
The last three years have been very difficult for the Russian economy. As the price of oil dropped to below thirty dollars a barrel in a very short period, and natural gas prices with it, the Russian economy lost the revenue from its overwhelmingly dominant part of its national income. Even now, with prices up by a small margin, the squeeze on Russia’s economy by low energy prices continues to constrain its revenues. Beyond the fall in the market price for energy Russia also suffered the blow of economic and technological sanctions from the U.S. and Europe as a result of its attack on Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea. The value of the national currency sank like a stone making it much more expensive to import goods. Recently the currency has picked up slightly.
In 2015, the estimated number of Russians living below the subsistence poverty line was calculated to be 20 million — a sharp increase of 2 million since 2014. Countersanctions imposed by Russia, especially on agricultural products, meant that the domestic prices of goods rose even faster, leading to a further decrease in consumer demand. By 2016 the GDP had fallen by around by 3.7 percent and the value of the rouble falling about 127 percent; all components of the domestic demand continues to shrink, and the economy continues to be in recession.
The federal government has already agreed to freeze total spending for three years. To reach an economic-growth target of 4 per cent, authorities need to reallocate funds and raise expenditure by a total of 3 percent of GDP for education, health care and infrastructure. In an attempt to keep the deficit within limits, the government froze wages and pensions, and is cutting investment and current expenditure. As it is prevented by sanctions from borrowing sufficient funds in the international financial markets, and unwilling to embrace privatization, the government is now heavily reliant on its “reserve fund,” which may be soon depleted as soon as the first half of 2017.
Under current conditions, the main reserve fund will disappear in a couple of quarters. In early January 2016, the government ordered all Russian ministries to submit plans for a 10 percent reduction in their expenses. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov warned that without such steps, one of the country’s major reserve funds, which currently has a balance of $59 billion, would soon be empty.
Russia has a second emergency fund, which will allow the deficit to be financed for another 1-1.5 years, that is, providing budget expenditures are stable. No reform program currently implemented is likely to boost economic growth to 4-5 percent next year. That means the federal budget will be short of funds in the next 2.5-3 years at the very least.
The Russian government has little flexibility in adopting an economic program to address the demands made on it. Not only does it have a shrinking economy, a stagnant oil price, a haemorrhage of funds flowing out of its reserves, but a daily bill of about three million dollars a day in its posturing and aggression in the Donbas and Crimea plus another four million dollars a day in the Syrian campaign.
When the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union had a total population of nearly 290 million, and a Gross National Product estimated at about $2.5 trillion. At that time, the United States had a total population of nearly 250 million, with a Gross Domestic Product of about $5.2 trillion. That is, the population of the United States was smaller than that of the Soviet Union, with an economy that was only twice that of the Soviet Union. Two decades later, Russia’s population is about 140 million, with a GDP of about $1.3 trillion, while the population of the United States is over 300 million, with a GDP of $13 trillion. Today, the population of the United States is twice that of Russia, and the US economy is ten times as large.
Global tables of male life expectancy put Russia in about the 160th place, below Bangladesh. Russia has the highest rate of absolute population loss in the world. According to a recent paper by Kudrin and Gurvich for the Economic Expert Group, the Russian population is aging, and Russia remains in the throes of a catastrophic demographic collapse despite the Kremlin’s decision to throw money at the problem. The population posted 14 years of decline before rising by 23,300 to 141.9 million in 2009. However, it is expected to fall to 139 million by 2031 and could shrink 34 per cent to 107 million by 2050.
Eight out of ten elderly people in residential care have relatives who could support them. Nevertheless, they are sent off to care homes. Between two and five million kids live on the streets (after World War Two the figure was around 700,000). Eighty per cent of children in care in Russia have living parents, but they are being looked after by the state.
Drug use in Russia exploded after the fall of the Soviet Union, though heroin addiction had already begun to grow among soldiers returning from Moscow’s ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, currently the world’s largest producer of opium. Today, Russian officials estimate there are more than a million heroin users, though experts say the true number could be double, if not higher. HIV rates have kept pace.
In addition to axing spending, the government has targeted the pension system. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that preparations were underway to raise the retirement age, citing the fact that the country’s lifespan had risen to 71. In 2016 payments to retirees were raised by just four percent, well below the rate of inflation and three times lower than in 2015, resulting in a cut in their real value. Rising costs for food, medicine and utilities, along with pension arrears, are driving Russia’s elderly population into destitution.
The average monthly retirement income for 2016 was just 13,132 roubles, or $166 (about $50 more than the official poverty line for a single person). It was lower, however, for pensioners who continued to work, as their retirement payments are not indexed to inflation at all. In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, pensioners who went to the post office in January to collect their monthly check were notified that due to “underfunding” and “cash flow” problems, they would not be able to collect their payments at all. Wage arrears have also become widespread. According to official statistics, 2016 began with 3.89 billion roubles in unpaid wages nationwide, а number that has been steadily growing since June 2012. It is still growing.
Corruption is the rule in Russia. Practically every interaction between the citizen and the state (bureaucracy, police, tax bureau, banks, etc.) involve some form of extra-legal payment for what should be a free or regulated service. It is not a surprise that a new wave of labour militancy has exploded across Russia as people have run out of money, pensioners have seen long delays in receiving their pensions, prices have continued to rise and the government seems unwilling or unable to take the kind of action which would relieve these tensions.
These problems which affect individuals in Russia are compounded by the need for the government to deal with the massive commercial debt owed by Russia’s regions. The list of regions with burdensome debt has not changed since last year. There are 12 regions which hold debt equalling 80 to 100 percent of their revenue, seven hold debt totalling 100 to 120 percent of revenue, Moldova’s debt equals 185 percent of revenues.
The cost to the regions for servicing their debt to the state has doubled over the last three years, and the cost of paying down the debt has risen 360 percent to 2.3 trillion roubles. That total is almost equivalent to the size of the debt itself. The regions are operating with a “cash gap,”. The regions have already received 220 billion roubles, or 70 percent of the 310 billion roubles in cheap federal loans that Moscow had promised them for 2016, according to Finance Ministry data but that enables them to stand still, not to reduce their debts. The fundamental problem is that their nominal incomes rose by only 2.7 percent, whereas expenses grew by 5.7 percent. There only a shrinking or disappearing tax revenue base of income taxes, corporate taxes and property taxes due to the deflation of the economy and there is no place they can go to raise the region’s income.
One of the key areas of social concern has been the shrinkage of the hospital care system which has led to massive hospital closures and a decrease in the quality of medicine in Russia. By 2021–2022, the number of hospitals in the country is likely to drop to the level of the Russian Empire. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of hospitals in Russia halved, dropping from 10,700 to 5,400, according to the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPR), based on data from Rosstat. In a report entitled “Burying Healthcare: Optimization of the Russian Healthcare System in Action,” CEPR analysts note that if the authorities continue to shutter hospitals at the current pace (353 a year), the number of hospitals nationwide will have dropped to 3,000 by 2021–2022, which was the number of hospitals in the Russian Empire in 1913.
It is not only the hospital closings which have affected Russian lives, the number of hospital beds also decreased during the fifteen-year period: on average by 27.5%, down to 1.2 million, according to the CEPR’s calculations. In the countryside, the reduction of hospital beds has been more crushing: the numbers there have been reduced by nearly 40%. This is not because there have been alternative health care provisions made; even out-patient clinics have ben closing. During the period from 2000 to 2015, their numbers decreased by 12.7%, down to 18,600 facilities, while their workload increased from 166 patients a day to 208 patients.
The CEPR’s analysts write that the lack of medicines in hospitals reflects another problem in Russian healthcare: its underfunding. The Mandatory Medical Insurance Fund has seen its actual expenditures falling by 6% in 2017 terms of 2015 prices. Compounding these shortfalls of hospitals, clinics and medicines is the suppression of wages among medical professionals. Taking into account all overtime pay, physicians make 140 roubles [approx. 2.30 euros- $2.43] an hour, while mid-level and lower-level medical staff make 82 and 72 roubles [approx. 1.36 euros $1.43 and 1.18 euros $1.25] an hour, respectively. The report continues, “A physician’s hourly salary is comparable, for example, to the hourly pay of a rank-and-file worker at the McDonald’s fast food chain (approx. 138 roubles an hour). A store manager in the chain makes around 160 roubles an hour, meaning more than a credentialed, highly educated doctor” According to a survey of 7,500 physicians in 84 regions of Russia, done in February 2017 by the Health Independent Monitoring Foundation, around half of the doctors earn less than 20,000 roubles [approx. 330 euros $349] a month per position.
Despite the compulsory health insurance scheme by the government, compulsory medical insurance rates do not cover actual medical care costs, which means that patients have to supplement the insurance coverage with cash. The report cites the fact that a basic blood test costs around 300 roubles, whereas outpatient clinics are only reimbursed 70 to 100 roubles on average for the tests under the compulsory medical insurance. Hence the growing number of paid services. Thus, the amount paid for such a shortfall grew between 2005 and 2014 from 109.8 billion roubles to 474.4 billion roubles.
There is the additional dimension of wealth inequality in Russia. A recent Credit Suisse report showed that 10% of Russians own some 89% of total household wealth in the country. Over the past year this figure has increased by 2%, and is significantly higher in countries such as the United States and China (78% and 73%, respectively). Moreover, 70% of Russia’s adult population is among the poorer half of the global population, with a quarter in the poorest 20%. The average Russian adult has some $10,344 in net assets: roughly $2,000 in financial assets, $10,000 in non-financial assets, and $2,000 in debt. On average for 2016, the wealth of Russians shrunk by 14.5%, due primarily to the devaluation of the rouble.
The Russian government has little flexibility in adopting an economic program to address the demands made on it. Not only does it have a shrinking economy, a stagnant oil price, a haemorrhage of funds flowing out of its reserves, but a daily bill of about three million dollars a day in its posturing and aggression in the Donbas and Crimea plus another four million dollars a day in the Syrian campaign.
The Failure of the Russian Business Model
One of the key aspects of Russia’s inability to address its economic problems comes from the unique business model it has created. Its business structure is seriously flawed. Despite the notion that Communism died with the fall of the Soviet Union, the state, its agencies and its companies are populated by the Undead; the unreconstructed nomenklatura of the failed communist system.
In his book, Capital, Marx wrote that ‘capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour’. He coined the term ‘Vampire Capitalism”; of corporations whose exploitations ‘only slightly quenches the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour’, and that ‘the vampire will not let go while there remains a single muscle, sinew or drop of blood to be exploited’. What Putin has created is a society of Vampire Communism where the Undead suck the life blood from private corporations and government agencies; leaving drained and powerless structures behind them.
The new and powerful people in charge of these new companies and agencies (the ‘siloviki’) have been almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the ‘Chekists’. A ‘Chekist’ is a general, if pejorative, term for those who are or once were employed in the security operations of the Soviet state – KGB, GRU, MVD, FSB etc. (the ‘Organs’) Dzerzhinsky’s original agency was the Cheka.
Under Putin, these new ‘siloviki’ have been firmly installed in the corridors of power. Under Putin, the Chekists, primarily the St. Petersburg flavour of Chekist, openly took power as ministers, government advisors, governors, bankers and politicians. There may be as many as six thousand of these Chekists in powerful positions in the Russian state. They are not a united force, nor do they follow a single ‘party line’. There are more factions of siloviki than there were factions of the Trotskyites. They are oligarchs in epaulettes.
What is important about the siloviki is that they have created a system of parastatal corporations in Russia; semi-private corporations controlled by state-appointed directors. Theoretically these state-owned companies are the responsibility of a board of directors and management appointed by the state, but their retained capital and cash-flows are controlled outside of the company structure. This effectively removes the linkage between the individual performances of a private company, a parastal or an industry from the funds it generates. Because of the configuration of the siloviki economy the profits from the various producing entities and service industries are not kept in the name of the generating company or service but effectively put into a central pot (like the ‘obschak’ of the Russian Mafia) for distribution by the political leadership.
This divorce from a direct line between earnings and capital accumulation makes corporate planning a subject of political discussion and debate. This is inimical to the notion of ploughing back profits towards R&D, maintenance and the renewal of plant and equipment. This is the central weakness of the Russian economy and a powerful reason for the stranglehold of the siloviki on the direction of the economy.
This has proved useful when the state wishes to purchase more shares in companies. The state uses mirrors and smoke and fake transfers to acquire companies like Yukos; pretending that these funds have been made available to Rosneft or Gazprom. There are enormous amounts of funds transferring around the Russian economy for share purchases; but no cash. The state can acquire companies this way, but they cannot make them work. Work requires investment in capital equipment; cash for repairs and maintenance; money for research and development, etc. The re-nationalised companies are all competing for the small cash reserves of the state and are dependent on which group of competing siloviki has the ear of the keepers of the purse string.
Many of the previous ‘oligarchs’ are still in business but they have virtually no political power. Russian businessmen and siloviki have been pulling their money out of Russia as fast as they can. Russian flight capital is of epic proportions.
What Putin has created is a society of Vampire Communism where the Undead suck the life blood from private corporations and government agencies; leaving drained and powerless structures behind them.
On-Going Strikes and The Growing Strength of the Independent Labour Unions
This system has made the role of trades unions very difficult. It has always been difficult to be a working-class man in Russia; now it is even worse.
In the Soviet and other communist systems, trade unions played a different role than those in the West. Soviet trade unions had a distinctive relationship to the state. They were government organized, state-controlled bodies which performed “dual functions.” They had management and administrative functions and were also charged to protect and defend workers’ interests. They were designed both to represent the workers and to increase workers’ production. Trade unions controlled housing, day care, health care, access to vacation spots, recreation and cultural areas and, most importantly, social security funds and pensions.
The Soviet working class had made a tacit agreement to trade social security for political compliance, a “social contract.” In this contract, the regime promised full and secure employment, low and stable prices on necessities, a wide range of free social services (day cares, hospitals, schools, etc.) and egalitarian wage policies. In exchange for economic and social security, workers accepted the monopoly of the Party on interest representation, agreed to the centrally planned economy and to the dictates of the authoritarian system. The erosion of the social contract during the late Soviet period led to a system in which there were fewer shared values. The lack of consensus or tradition of discussion on what a society or government should or should not do led to a dramatic rise in labour unrest and political activism.
Unions were organized on an industrial as opposed to a craft basis. There were fifteen industrial unions affiliated to the central union organisation the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (AUCCTU). The unions had a state-granted monopoly in their respective industries. This type of organization allowed for maximum Party control and also precluded any choice on the part of union members. The AUCCTU was led by high level Party functionaries; Alexander Shelepin, the former head of the KGB, became the head of the AUCCTU. The labour movement was a key part of the Party’s control of the government and the economy.
The one major labour impact of the post-Soviet political turmoil was the transformation of the state-run unions in 1990 from a constellation of plant level unions into ‘independent’ trades unions. These essentially took over the assets of some of the Soviet labour unions and maintained them for the workers affiliated to these unions. These unions formed the Federation of Independent Trades Unions (FNPR in Russian) in 1990. They included in the bargaining unit both white collar as well as blue collar workers plus middle management.
Since the formation of the Soviet labour system in 1920 there has always been the distinction between the narrow, ‘bread and butter’ unionism best known as the US model and the broader, more political unionism of party, unions and social organizations encompassed in the term ‘professional associations’. In Russian, the pejorative term ‘tred unionizm’ has always referred to narrow economic unionism as opposed to the Soviet term ’profsoiuz’ which covers a far broader spectrum.
The state unions are still operative in Russia but there are also a wide variety of independent unions which have developed which have taken on the role of labour militancy for economic, social and legal rights for Russian workers. Their militancy has posed serious and immediate problems for Putin.
Despite heavy-handed tactics by the government there is a nationwide truck strike in Russia. More than a million truckers have gone on strike across the country. The latest strike started on 28 March 2017 and is continuing despite a showdown on April 15 when even higher charges on the trucking industry took effect. The origins of the protest were the unilateral imposition of a new tax on trucking by the government in 2015. This system (known as the ‘Platon’ system) was introduced to offset what the government said was ‘wear and tear’ on the nation’s road which is so dependent on trucks. The Platon tax applies to all trucks over 12 tons. This is in addition to all the other taxes paid by the truckers. The truckers have resisted paying this tax because they see the revenues earned going, not to repair of the roads, but directly to the pocket of Putin’s closest friend (and judo partner) the billionaire Arkady Rotenberg whose son owns the Platon system.
The current protest was sparked following a government decision to double the Platon fee to over 3 roubles per kilometre ($0.05) starting in mid-April. However, Medvedev was forced to reduce the hike after protests. Drivers argue that the taxes are constraining their incomes and the situation is set to get worse. On April 15, the tax increased from 1.53 roubles per kilometre ($0.027) to 1.91 roubles ($0.033). The government initially planned to increase the rate to 3.06 roubles ($0.05), but has since abandoned the idea. Russia’s transport ministry said the Platon system could gather 23 billion roubles ($406 million) in 2017.
On March 27, the truckers began the rollout of the strike. The police responded with violence and jailing of the leaders. Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and the duly elected leader of the long-haul truckers opposed to the Plato road tolls payment system, was subject to the harshest crackdown. On March 27, he was put under arrest for 14 days. He spent five of them in a jail before he was released, but during that time the authorities nearly removed his four children from their home and almost caused his pregnant wife to have a miscarriage. On April 5, Rustam Mallamagomedov, leader of the Dagestani truckers, was detained in Moscow.
According to Bazhutin, Dagestan is a particular hotbed of protest. “In Dagestan, 90% of the drivers are private carriers. The republic is small, and so the strike is in everyone’s face. We have strikers spread across the entire country, but Russia is so vast that it’s not so noticeable, although a huge number of people are on strike.” Across Russia the roads are filled with truckers blocking lanes. They are stopping traffic in many of the cities by stopping their trucks in the roads. They have filled all the parking lots with trucks. Despite this there is poor coverage in the state-controlled press and media but it is obvious to anyone in the country who drives. Meanwhile there are shortages of goods and produce across Russia.
There are strikes all over Russia, primarily among workers who haven’t been paid their wages for months at a time. This has been going on for over five years; including doctors, construction workers, teachers, car workers, and factory workers. There was a desperate strike in the pizzeria restaurants who are on a hunger strike in Moscow. It is a good example of the problem, where workers have not been paid for a long period and management refuses to deal with the problem constructively. The workers are desperate because they do not know how to get their hard-earned money. They have been kicked out of rented flats and have no way to pay back their debts, and there is no one and nowhere they can borrow any more money.
Instead of doing everything they can to pay the money they owe their workers, the real employers have been hiding behind “strange” managers, straw men who have been installed as the notional ownership of the restaurants. Practically speaking, there is no one with whom workers can negotiate. The union says it wants to negotiate with the new owners who say that back wages are not their responsibility. In the meantime, strikes continue across Russia.
The inability of the Russian State to fund its internal obligations has become obvious even in Moscow where the medical doctors have been on extended strike (more like a work-to-rule). The Moscow health care reform launched last year shook the city’s medical community to the core. Leaked plans showing that City Hall intended to shut down 28 hospitals in Moscow and the Moscow region, laying off more than 7,000 medical staff, sparked massive street protests by doctors and nurses in November 2014. The strike began on March 24, 2015. It was the first strike in Moscow’s hospitals since the ambulance strike in 1993. It continues largely unresolved.
The traditional solution to labour shortages has always been the employment of migrant labour, but the millions of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks who power Moscow’s huge economy are leaving in droves. There are many migrant workers working in Moscow. They man the construction sites, shovel snow and drive the hordes of “gypsy cabs” that take Muscovites home at night. More than a million of these workers are officially registered in the city, most from the former Soviet Union, and the actual number is likely much higher. In countries like Tajikistan, a major source of labour for Moscow, more than half the GDP is remittances sent home from Russia.
Immigrant life is hard. Wages are low, and workers face discrimination and are poorly integrated into Russian society. Times have recently got more difficult than ever. The rouble has plummeted, and with falling oil prices and western sanctions, Russia is in recession. Added to that are strict new regulations that cut further into migrant labourers’ earnings, leaving workers rethinking their future. “Everyone’s leaving. Wages are small and many places are cutting salaries. Other workplaces are cutting jobs.” Citizens of former Soviet republics (besides the Baltics, Georgia and Turkmenistan) can enter Russia without a visa. But a new system that came into effect on 1 January requires migrant workers to get a “patent,” or work permit, for which they must take a medical exam against contagious diseases, get medical insurance and present Russian ID. They also must pass a test on Russian language, culture and history.
Employers often employ migrant workers under the table, but the new system shifts the onus to pay tax largely on to the workers. A monthly fee – essentially an advance tax – must be paid to keep the permit open. In Moscow, it costs 4,000 roubles a month. For a migrant worker making 20,000 to 25,000 roubles a month, that’s a lot. The permit cost has worsened an already tough situation for migrant workers, who often face discrimination and persecution by crooked employers, officials and landlords. A quick search of rental announcements in Moscow will reveal that most listings are for Russian or “Slavic” people only.
The downtick in workers has put pressure on Moscow’s economy. Industries involving cleaning, selling fast-moving consumer goods and construction are especially reliant on migrant labour. As the population ages, there will be fewer people to work, and few Russians want the kinds of jobs migrants typically do. There’s a contraction of labour resources in general. If you look at immigrants who do construction, finding replacements quickly is hard. Local estimates are that almost 40% of these migrants have gone home.
As these nationwide strikes expand and involve many more people, the independent unions of Russia are gathering their collective strengths to pose a real threat to the existing political system. The police and military may club and beat young protestors and put them in jail or hospital but they can’t club a worker into working anymore; still less a thousand workers. If wages are not being paid by employers or delayed indefinitely, the workers have nothing to lose. They can be militant by doing nothing. Putin hasn’t developed a response to that. Russian independent labour unions pose a real threat to Putin’s control.
Putin may think he can beat and bludgeon the youthful followers of Navalny but it is very unlikely that he can beat down the pressure of an organised work force in the independent unions and the might of the Russian Army. The unions have the ability to shut things down; the military have the weapons and the training.
The Military Threat To The Putin Regime
By far the greatest threat to Putin and his unique system of governance is the growing dissatisfaction in the Russian military with the charade of investments in new equipment and budgets promised by Putin.
One of the most important goads to military dissent is the practice of installing political ‘hangers-on’ into the highest ranks of the service and giving them military ranks. The structure of the Russian military establishment is that it is run by people who have had virtually no contact with actual soldiering. They are politicians; apparatchiki who have worked their way up the political ladder to be entrusted with high military office. They call themselves ‘generals’ but were originally mayors, heads of political parties and hangers-on in the Russian equivalent of Tammany Hall. This is true for many in the highest ranks in the Army. The KGB has always been staffed by people who give themselves military rank by decree. Virtually none of the top leaders had any personal military experience.
The FSB is no different. When the post-war soldiers died out and retired they were replaced by ‘careerists’. The current Minister of Defence, Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu is one of those. Very much like the “Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon” in Washington their backgrounds and tasks are administrative and far removed from war-fighting.
The Russian military has been underfunded since the end of the Warsaw Pact. For years after the end of the USSR and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact forces the Russian Government failed to provide adequately for the returning soldiers. When the Wall collapsed, the third largest army in the world, the East German, was out of business. Massive quantities of East German (e.g. ex-Russian) military supplies were being offered at cut prices to the world as the re-unifying German state moved to change over to NATO equipment. One of the Soviet Union’s major industries, the arms industry, had the bottom fall out of its market. This was coupled with the enforced withdrawal of Soviet forces stationed in bases across Eastern and Central Europe. The Warsaw Pact disappeared; the COMECON disappeared and there was not enough money in the reserves to keep paying, unilaterally, the costs of keeping Russian troops outside of Russia.
The soldiers were never paid much to begin with but the fall of the Soviet Union meant that they had very little indeed. These soldiers sold, with the connivance of their commanding officers, anything that wasn’t nailed down. They sold it for food and they sold it for trophies that they would carry home as they were demobilised. Most importantly there was no place in the physical Russian military establishment where these troops could be stationed. There were not enough bases inside Russia where the returning troops could be housed. There were no jobs for thousands of trained officers and NCOs. The offset costs for the Soviet Occupation paid by their former ‘satellites’ were no longer forthcoming. There were too many mouths to feed and too few bases in which they could be sheltered.
No one was sure what to do but everyone recognised the danger of a disgruntled army full of people with grievances and with nothing to do. The answer was to keep the numbers down and to keep them poor, weak and demotivated. There was no money or market for new planes and ships; no money for maintenance and very little money for food and shelter.
After the fall of the Soviet Union the military was kept in a state of dereliction and constraint. Russia had suffered greatly as a result of the Afghan War. By the time of Gorbachev’s accession to power the war in Afghanistan had deteriorated badly. Resources were draining from the USSR budget and military progress had stopped and containment was the policy. Gorbachev told the military that they had a year to sort things out. They embarked on a policy of creating an Afghan Army which would notionally take over from Soviet troops, who would then be free to return home. This did not work so, at the end of 1986, they prepared to bring their troops home. The first contingent returned to the USSR from May to August 1988 and the rest from November 1988 to February 1989. It was an expensive and humiliating experience.
After the war ended, the Soviet Union published figures of dead Soviet soldiers: the initial total was 13,836 men, an average of 1,537 men a year. According to updated figures, the Soviet army lost 14,427, the KGB lost 576, with 28 people dead and missing. Material losses included: 118 aircraft; 333 helicopters; 147 tanks; 1,314 IFV/APCs; 433 artillery guns and mortars; 1,138 radio sets and command vehicles; 510 engineering vehicles; 11,369 trucks and petrol tankers. It was a very costly business. Not only was it costly, there was no budget to rebuild the armed forces.
The armed forces had been forced to leave their bases in Eastern Europe to return home. Russia’s most immediate neighbours, those who had been part of the Warsaw Pact, were nervously testing their degrees of freedom from the Soviet embrace. The invasions by Soviet tanks of the East Germans in 1953, the Hungarians in 1956, the Czechs in 1968 and the long history of Polish – Soviet conflict were too recent for these countries to forget.
When Putin came into office he cut the military budget even more. What little remained was devoted to Putin’s new thrust into Chechnya which used up a substantial part of the military budget. Since then Putin has been promising new funds for the military but only small quantities of these funds have arrived. One reason they haven’t arrived is that Russian military prosecutors have found that about 20 per cent of Russian defence spending is stolen by corrupt officers and officials. This should surprise no one as the only way that the officers could maintain their lifestyles was to steal money to do so. They saw what the politicians were stealing so felt little inhibitions.
The anti-corruption campaign in the military has been going on for several years. A large part of the effort is directed at firms that manufacture weapons whose prices to the government are disparate with the market. Last year, this led to a curious confrontation which resulted in Russian shipyards refusing to build submarines for the Russian Navy. The Russian shipyards were in such bad shape that the government tried to buy four Mistral class vessels from France.
On 8 May 2015, the former Defence Ministry official Yevgenia Vasilyeva was sentenced to five years in a penal colony Vasliyeva, who worked as an aide to former Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, was found guilty on eight charges including fraud, money laundering and exceeding and abusing her authority. Four others who worked with her at the state-run Oboronservis holding, where she controlled the sale of Defence Ministry property also received prison sentences, the most severe of which was four years and three months. The group had faced allegations that Oboronservis sold off property cheaply, often to well-connected insiders, depriving the state of 3 billion roubles ($60 million).
Vasilyeva and her accomplices were also convicted of conspiracy to commit the crimes and deceive Serdyukov, who was fired from his post as defence minister in November 2012 and suspected of negligence in using government funds for a private road. Serdyukov was one of President Vladimir Putin’s most loyal courtiers and was granted an amnesty. There have been several other cases in which the politically-connected were let off and the military and defence civil servants were fined or jailed (or both)
Efforts to purge the forces of over 100,000 unneeded (and not very effective) officers ran into stiff resistance. The senior generals and admirals wanted to at least let these men remain until they reach retirement age, and leave with dignity, rather than being, in effect, fired.
Most of the submarine fleet is scrap and unusable. Tanks are no better. Except for the new Armata Tank, only a very few of which have been produced, the most modern tank Russia has is the T-90, which entered service in the early 1990s. Most of the 20,000 tanks (72 per cent of them in storage) in the Russian army are T-72s and T-80s. Russia planned to replace most of those T-72s and T-80s with T-90s and a new design, the T-95, by 2025 but the money ran out. On March 25, 2012 Major-General Alexander Shevchenko announced the massive scrapping of Russia’s tanks, APC and trucks, including T-80, T-64, T-55, tanks as well as a number of army trucks. Similar schemes were scheduled for the Russian air force.
The problems of supply are not just quantitative; the biggest problem is quality. Arms manufacturers are in no position to use the funds even if they get them. Take, for example, Uralvagonzavod, the country’s only tank manufacturer. Putin himself bowed to pressure to place an order for 2,300 tanks to be built over the next 10 years despite a statement by General Staff head Nikolai Makarov that the military would not be purchasing any tanks in the next five years due to their substandard quality. In an article in RIA Novosti on 15 March 2012, Ground Forces Chief Col. Gen. Alexander Postnikov said that the most advanced weapon systems manufactured for Russia’s ground forces are below NATO and even Chinese standards and are expensive; “The weapon models that are manufactured by our industry, including armour, artillery and small arms and light weapons, fail to meet the standards that exist in NATO and even China,” He said that Russia’s most advanced tank (at that time), the T-90, is in fact a modification of the Soviet-era T-72 tank [entered production in 1971] but costs 118 million rubbles (over $4 million) per unit. “It would be easier for us to buy three Leopards [Germany’s main battle tanks] with this money,” Postnikov said.
More importantly, it has invested very little in military R&D or at least an R&D with a workable product. The industry has faltered from lack of funding, a lack of R&D and the disappearance of a substantial portion of its skilled labour force. An overwhelming fraction of the defence workforce drifted away some time ago, in search of better career opportunities, and those who remain are generally older workers contemplating retirement. Increasingly elderly design and production facilities are suited for legacy weapons, rather than world standard designs. The emerging Russian Rust Belt cannot sustain a world class machine tool industry, which would be the foundation on which a Russian arms industry might be revived.
Ironically the most developed facilities for military production were in the Ukraine. The military-industrial complex of Ukraine is the most advanced and developed branch of the state’s sector of economy. It includes about 85 scientific organizations which are specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment for different usage. The air and space complex consists of 18 design bureaus and 64 enterprises. In order to design and build ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy, 15 research and development institutes, 40 design bureaus and 67 plants have been brought together. This complex is tasked to design heavy cruisers, build missile cruisers and big antisubmarine warfare (ASW) cruisers, and develop small ASW ships. Rocketry and missilery equipment, rockets, missiles, projectiles, and other munitions are designed and made at 6 design bureaus and 28 plants.
Ukraine has certain scientific, technical and industrial basis for the indigenous research, development and production of small arms. A number of scientific-industrial corporations have started R&D and production of small arms. The armour equipment is designed and manufactured at 3 design bureaus and 27 plants. The scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine makes it possible to create and produce modern technical means of military communications and automated control systems at 2 scientific-research institutes and 13 plants. A total of 2 scientific-research institutes and 53 plants produce power supply batteries; 3 scientific-research institutes and 6 plants manufacture intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment; 4 design bureaus and 27 plants make engineer equipment and materiel.
Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Sich. It has been the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produces these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm Antonov is based in the Ukraine and is one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports.
The ability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies for its exports. Losing control of the Eastern Ukraine has jeopardised Moscow’s ability to fulfil multibillion-dollar international contracts without Ukrainian inputs. It also supplies the engines for the jointly-produced AN-148 planes. Ukraine and Russia had plans to produce 150 planes of this type worth $4.5 billion. Other exporters to Russia include Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which sells several types of turbines to Russia, including those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Hartron, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles.
The Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk was the only service provider for Satan missiles that Russia uses. The Ukrainians are also the main supplier of spare parts which its armed forces desperately need. Russia is scrambling to supply domestic factories with the technology needed to produce these components inside Russia. However, much of the higher inputs of technology, especially in the electromechanical area, are sourced in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S.; now effectively closed off to Russia by sanctions. Despite efforts by the Russian troops in the Eastern Ukraine many of the existing plants were attacked and damaged by the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. Additionally, the skill set of the Russian factories has been degraded by the demographic crisis of Russia and the ageing population. Now Ukraine has re-engineered its military and analogous plants to provide weapons, aircraft and electronic systems to the West.
One of the biggest problem for the Russian military, however, is manpower. A problem in relying on conscript soldiers is their term of service. At the beginning of 2014 the services were only 82% manned – a shortage of nearly 200,00 personnel. This was exacerbated by the reduction in 2013 of the term of conscription to one year of service as opposed to the previous three years. Since these terms of service are so short, military adventures have to be timed with the availability of soldiers in their cycle of enlistment. More importantly these conscripts are untrained which has meant that they do not have the experience or training to fill the important jobs of operating and maintaining the sophisticated weapons systems used by the special forces units like the Air Assault Troops (VDV) and other elite forces. There is a deep deficit in Russian Reserve units which are used to carry out the training of conscripts despite the establishment of a new Reserve Command in 2013. There has been a reduction in the numbers of conscripts successfully evading the draft; a frequent Russian problem.
However, there is another manpower problem which is even more difficult to handle. Putin has been firing large numbers of the Russian military leadership. On the 29th of June 2016 Putin’s Ministry of Defence suddenly announced it was firing 50 naval officers, including Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov. They were both fired for ‘cause’, as were several other unnamed senior officials from their posts in the Baltic Fleet. This came as a great shock to the country as such a purge of serving top commanders had not been seen since the days of Stalin, during the Yezhovshchina of 1936-38. Earlier, Admiral Viktor Chirkov had been removed in November 2015 officially because of ‘health concerns’. Chirkov, who had been Kravchuk’s patron in the navy for many years, was rumoured to have also been removed due to complaints about inadequate readiness in some units.
In late 2014 there had been a smaller purge of the Russian military when Putin dismissed twenty generals from their posts. In February 2014 Putin had dismissed six other generals. These generals were dismissed by a presidential decree announced through the Gazette and without fanfare. The officers dismissed included the lieutenant general of police, Sergey Lavrov, as well as the head of media relations in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andrei Pilipchuk. Another was the first deputy commander of the central regional military command, Vladimir Padalko. Some other lower-rank officers were dismissed as well at the time.
The top Russian military leadership has not bene afraid of complaining about Putin and the political interference in the military, despite the exaggerated promises of an expanded budget, new equipment, and the modernisation of the Russian military might; very little of which the economy can afford. It soon became apparent to the military that they had been sold a kukla (in Russian slang kukla is a roll of paper with large denomination bills on the outside to suggest a wad of real money. Inside this roll of bills is only scrap paper).
Even more importantly the Russian military has a history of defiance of political controls when it has become a clash of principles. They said it was wrong to use Russian troops against Russian people. The Russian military did not want to fight the war in Chechnya under Yeltsin, Gorbachev and Putin. Yeltsin’s adviser on nationality affairs, Emil Pain, and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Boris Gromov, both resigned in protest at the invasion, as did Gen. Boris Poliakov. More than 800 professional soldiers and officers refused to take part in the operation; of these, 83 were convicted by military courts and the rest were discharged. Later Gen. Lev Rokhlin also refused to be decorated as a Hero of Russia for his part in the war. This is why, under Yeltsin, the war in Chechnya was fought almost entirely by the military forces of the MVD (Ministry of the Interior) not the Army.
This is important in today’s battles in that the conflict between the Russian Army and the MVD has become institutionalised. In April 2016 President Putin announced the creation of the National Guard, (‘Rosgvardia’) a powerful structure that includes more than 180,000 interior ministry troops plus special police units. Putin’s shakeup creates a military and police force of up to 400,000 well-trained servicemen loyal to him personally. The newly appointed commander is one of Putin’s most trusted men, a former undercover KGB agent named Victor Zolotov. Putin has created a vast Praetorian guard, loyal only to him. He has announced that the Rosgvardia is superior to the military and its needs take precedence over any military body; indeed, it can investigate and prosecute the military without judicial review.
The only comparison to the role of the Rosgvardia is the introduction of the Oprichnina by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in Russia between 1565 and 1572; a policy of secret police, mass repressions, public executions, and confiscation of lands. There was terror in the land at the presence of the Oprichniki (see the opera of that name by Tchaikovsky). There is no guarantee that the Russian military will demonstrate the same fear and every chance that they will continue their policy of opposing the MVD and Praetorian Guards.
So, Putin may think he can beat and bludgeon the youthful followers of Navalny but it is very unlikely that he can beat down the pressure of an organised work force in the independent unions and the might of the Russian Army. The unions have the ability to shut things down; the military have the weapons and the training.
Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News
Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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http://ow.ly/6QK230dftFwPutin’s struggle amid a Russia in the throes of change
Russian President Vladimir Putin has his hands full battling a shrinking economy, a hemorrhage of funds, an organized work force, and a restless…
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on May 29. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)
ALTHOUGH PRESIDENT TRUMP likes to rely on his instincts, this week’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, calls for careful preparation and straight talk. Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters that “we have no specific agenda” and “it’s whatever the president wants to talk about.” This is far too casual and risky.
While Mr. Putin’s actions at home and abroad are often objectionable, an exchange in person with him can help avoid mistrust and misperceptions, of which there are plenty. Mr. Trump should set aside his stated admiration for Mr. Putin’s strongman tendencies and instead confront the Russian president with difficult questions. This meeting is not about being friends but about urgent business. The agenda is rather full.
Mr. Trump simply cannot fail to admonish Mr. Putin for Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. He must make clear the United States will not tolerate it, period. Naturally, this is a difficult issue for Mr. Trump, who reaped the benefit of Russia’s intervention and now faces a special counsel’s investigation, but nonetheless, in his first session with Mr. Putin, the president must not hesitate to be blunt. He should not be overeager to give back the two Russian compounds used for espionage that were seized by the United States in December in President Barack Obama’s belated response to the election meddling.
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On Ukraine, Mr. Trump must also display determination. Russia fomented an armed uprising and seized Crimea in violation of international norms, and it continues to instigate violence in the Donbas.Mr. Trump ought to make it unmistakably clear to Mr. Putin that the United States will not retreat from the sanctions imposed over Ukraine until the conditions of peace agreements are met.
The leaders ought to discuss the Syrian conflict with an eye toward avoiding direct hostilities, even as Washington and Moscow pursue dramatically different military goals. Mr. Trump should at least try to persuade Mr. Putin to acknowledge the need for a government not headed by Bashar al-Assad and a region not dominated by Iran. Mr. Trump might also fruitfully bring up an idea floated recently by former Democratic senator Sam Nunn and former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, among others, to restart broader Russian-American military-to-military communication. It would also be in the interest of both countries to resume cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and to resolve the standoff over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union communicated with each other, and the need is no less today. A meeting will probably satisfy Mr. Putin’s desire to be seen as a global leader, and he will be probing Mr. Trump for signs of weakness. Mr. Putin suffers from long-standing misunderstandings about the West and the United States, and it can only help to speak to him directly, if the message is carefully prepared.
Still, the “Baby Driver” results are modest by summer standards. Why should studios invest in originality when sequels like “Despicable Me 3” (Illumination/Universal) usually make more money?
“It keeps our business vital,” said Josh Greenstein, Sony’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution. “When something original, surprising and new comes out of nowhere, it’s a big win for everyone.”
Modi Wiczyk, a co-founder of the TV and film studio Media Rights Capital, added: “When very special artists come together to make something like this and a studio like Sony fully embraces it, our currency with global audiences is refreshed. All of today’s great franchises were yesterday’s great originals.” Sony and Media Rights Capital spent $34 million to make “Baby Driver,” after factoring in rebates. The soundtrack was the No. 3 album on iTunes on Sunday.
A new comedy called “The House,” co-starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, also offered insight into what ticket buyers want — or don’t want: “The House” (New Line/Warner Bros.) flopped with about $9 million in ticket sales, joining “Baywatch,” “Snatched,” “Rough Night,” “CHIPS” and “Fist Fight” in a parade of studio comedy misfires.
Some studio executives are blaming Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site that has become an indispensable tool for many ticket buyers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, “The House,” which cost about $40 million to make, received reviews that were only 17 percent positive. No live-action studio comedy has received a score above 50 percent so far this year.
All of these comedies have been rated R. Perhaps people have had all the crude humor they can take? Some analysts wonder whether younger audiences are getting more of their comedy online; Netflix has notably been scoring with Adam Sandler films.
Among the other theories: Studios are relying too heavily on aging stars (Mr. Ferrell, Ice Cube, Goldie Hawn); the comedic setups have gotten too outlandish (“The House” finds a couple opening a casino in their basement); or perhaps the comedic marketing of Warner, where most of these failed comedies have come from, is not strong.
Whatever the reason, there are two more studio comedies arriving this summer, “Girls Trip” and “Logan Lucky,” that will either add to concerns or vanquish them. Until then, Hollywood can take some comfort from the indie comedy “The Big Sick” (Lionsgate/Amazon), which took in $1.7 million in 71 locations, for a new total of $2.2 million.
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Intelligence officials and lawmakers are concerned that the State Department is dragging its feet in implementing a crackdown on Russian diplomats’ travel within the U.S., despite evidence that Moscow is using lax restrictions to conduct intelligence operations.
The frustration comes amid bipartisan concern that the Trump administration is trying to slow down other congressional efforts to get tough on Russia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a House committee last week that a new Senate sanctions package designed to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election would limit Trump’s “flexibility” and impede possible U.S. “dialogue” with Moscow.
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At issue separately is a provision already signed into law, as part of Congress’ annual Intelligence Authorization Act, approved in May, which requires the State Department to more rigorously enforce travel rules for Russian diplomats inside the U.S. The Kremlin’s U.S.-based diplomatic corps, according to several U.S. intelligence sources, has been known to skip notification rules and use the lax restrictions to roam around the country, likely engaging in surveillance activities.
The law includes a requirement that the State Department work with the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to ensure that Russian diplomats notify the State Department of their travel plans and actually go where they say they’re going.
But intelligence officials say there are early indications that the State Department, which is trying to avoid an escalation in tensions with Russia that might prevent friendly dialogue, is resisting the new measure, which formally goes into effect on Aug. 2. The officials wouldn’t give specifics, but said there has been little forward progress on actually implementing the new policy, which also includes notifications between the State Department and Congress, and is relatively easy to put into place.
While the State Department still has time before the deadline, much of the officials’ frustration comes from months of perceived inaction by State as Russian diplomats traveled freely throughout the last year and a half, and there’s little optimism that will change.
The State Department said it is taking the new requirement seriously.
“The Department is aware of the mandate in Section 502 of the Intelligence Authorization Act and is discussing it internally and with other U.S. government agencies,” A State Department official said. “The Department understands the importance of strict enforcement of travel protocols and procedures applicable to Russia’s accredited diplomatic and consular personnel.”
Russia hawks in Congress are already publicly voicing concern that the State Department is not doing enough ahead of the deadline to start cracking down on Russian diplomats’ movements inside the U.S.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pressed the FBI on the subject at a recent open hearing, and asked whether the State Department was being more cooperative with the agency, which also plays a role in tracking foreign diplomats’ whereabouts.
“I’d rather not comment on that here,” Bill Priestap, the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division said. “We’re still working through the implementation.”
The new restrictions were proposed in Congress last summer after it was found that the Kremlin’s diplomatic corps frequently waited until the last possible moment to notify the State Department of their travel plans, as required by law, if they notified the State Department at all. Often, the diplomats wound up in places they hadn’t disclosed they were going.
Priestap declined to discuss specifics of the travel notification issue, but said the notion of Russian diplomats wandering around the country unchecked would be a concern for the bureau.
“If that were to happen, that would absolutely complicate our efforts,” Priestap said, declining to comment on the existence of the problem.
But U.S. intelligence officials tell POLITICO that the burgeoning issue has absolutely affected U.S. counterintelligence efforts at home. And there is tangible frustration that the State Department is fighting implementation of an overall easy fix of ensuring the Russians adhere to basic travel guidelines.
One frustrated U.S. official complained the State Department has mistakenly assumed its mandate is to keep foreign governments happy. “That’s not their job,” the official said, adding that the State Department is too worried about “rocking the boat.”
The new requirements aren’t stringent, nor completely new — instead, they underscore procedures that are already supposed to be in force. For example, Russian diplomats are allowed to travel with appropriate notification. Rules require that diplomats notify the State Department 48 hours before they travel, if they intend to travel more than 25 miles outside their posting. The State Department is then supposed to notify the FBI.
Still, intelligence officials say the State Department has shown little appetite for actively cracking down on Russian personnel, fearing backlash from Moscow.
With the departure of former Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama’s State Department ranks, there was guarded optimism among the intelligence community that new leadership might be more willing to crack down where Kerry — hopeful for counterterrorism cooperation with the Russians — wouldn’t. But Tillerson’s comments and State’s apparent lack of interest in enforcing the travel restrictions has effectively muted that.
For years, there has been tangible frustration among intelligence officials and even some foreign service officers at the Obama administration’s reluctance to undertake aggressive counterespionage methods at home, especially as the Kremlin aggressively goes after U.S. diplomats based in Russia. In a well-publicized incident last year, Russia’s internal security agency, the FSB, beat up a CIA officer returning to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, hurting him so badly he was immediately flown from the country for medical treatment.
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The U.S. Senate recently passed additional sanctions targeting Russia for their alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Though the bill has yet to pass the House of Representatives, it is already receiving criticism not only from Russia – as one would expect – but from Germany and Austria as well.
Current Russian sanctions are in response to Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the downing of a civilian airliner by pro-Russian militants. Germany and Austria are both highly dependent on Russian natural gas and receive a substantial amount via the Nord Stream pipeline.
Under the proposed sanctions, a penalty would be imposed on both nations for using a Russian product. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern claim that the sanctions are nothing more than an attempt by Washington to replace Russia as the primary source of energy to the European market.
Germany Now Pursing National Interests More Strongly
This claim is essentially nonsense. However, it represents the shift in German thinking over the past two decades. The Cold War is over, Germany has been reunified and Germany is a “normal country,” in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In referring to Germany is a “normal country,” Merkel is stating that Germany must pursue its national interests. At times, that will mean Berlin will be at odds with Washington.
This issue with sanctions and energy is an example. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian energy. But the Nord Stream pipeline and the future Nord Stream 2 bypass the Baltic States and Poland to deliver natural gas.
Washington is at odds with this deal. The deal allows Russia to disrupt natural gas deliveries to former Soviet states and influence countries currently aligned with Washington without interfering with deliveries to Western Europe.
Moscow Trying to Regain Influence in Nearby Countries
Russia has done this type of deal for decades, but the disruptions also affected Western Europe. Now, Moscow is primarily concerned with regaining its lost influence in the former Soviet states.
The Nord Stream projects allow Russia to pursue economic relations with other nations such as Germany, but retain a lever to influence those nations unfortunate enough to be in Russia’s vicinity. Unsurprisingly, Poland and the Baltic States vehemently opposed the Nord Stream project because of this issue.
Trump and Obama May Have Inspired Germany’s Move to Assert Itself
It is only in the last few years that Germany has asserted itself in its national pursuits. Some experts have chalked this up to U.S. President Donald Trump pushing NATO to meet the agreed-upon spending threshold.
Trump is hardly alone, however. Former President Barack Obama made a similar push shortly after his first election.
German Chancellor Merkel Tells NATO That Europe Can’t Rely on Allies
Germany’s current trajectory is merely the functioning of an independent state. Merkel’s response following the recent NATO summit in Brussels is telling in this regard.
Chancellor Merkel stated, “The times in which we could rely fully on others – they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days. We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”
Merkel made her pitch to Europe at large, but the interests of NATO members are diverging quite dramatically, regardless of the U.S. position. Merkel sees Germany as the economic leader of Europe and is positioning her nation to expand that leadership into defense as well.
It’s wishful thinking. Berlin can align the interests of Europe, but it cannot supplant U.S. leadership in NATO.
What Is Germany’s Place in Europe?
Before Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck unified Germany into a modern nation-state in 1871, the Germanic people lived in various duchies in the dysfunctional German Confederation. Some contemporary accounts referred to these duchies as the Germanies; they were part of a larger, ever- shifting empire.
The German Question originated during the revolution of 1848. It referred to the debate over where the borders of the future German state should lie. However, the topic of what a unified Germany would mean to Europe was less discussed and likely of greater importance.
If place informs behavior, then it follows that the question of German borders is also the question of Germany’s role in Europe. This question still hasn’t been answered, despite two world wars and a 50-year Cold War.
Other Countries Financially Dependent on Germany
Today, Germany is the de facto leader of the European Union. Its economy is dependent on the E.U. continuing to function as it has since the late 1990s.
This is why Merkel refers to the future of Germany and Europe synonymously. Germany is so plugged into the success of the E.U. that it has bankrolled several bailouts for other countries. When some of these troubled European countries need cash or austerity relief, they go to Berlin instead of Brussels.
Germany’s Actions during 2008 Recession Caused Other Nations to Question German Leadership
Since its reunification in 1990, Germany has done quite well economically. This financial prowess was growing unchecked until the financial crisis of 2008.
German banks were engaged in risky lending across the Eurozone and helped contribute to that crisis. However, Germany didn’t own up to its role in the recession.
Instead, Germany forced numerous EU members to enact austerity measures to stabilize some of their economies. This event caused many of these nations to question German leadership and led to the rise in formerly fringe Euroskeptic political parties that gained power via a continent-wide populism movement.
Germany’s Economic Dependence on US and France
Germany has tempered much of this behavior, much to its credit, but it is facing a more profound problem. Germany needs energy from Russia, but its export-oriented economy is heavily dependent on buyers in the U.S. market.
Berlin floated the idea of taking retaliatory measures against the U.S. for levying sanctions on Russia, but half of Germany’s GDP is exports and the majority of those go to the U.S. and France. Germany is in a bad position and finding its balance will not be easy.
German Government Trying to Maintain Its EU Leadership
Germany must find balance in its foreign policy and economic interests if it is to be truly independent. Currently, Berlin has courted Russia extensively while it tries to hold onto the reins of the E.U.
Holding on to the E.U. is problematic because of the natural skepticism that arises from a close German-Russian relationship, not to mention the strong U.S. support for nations like Poland. For this continued leadership gambit to work, Berlin must reorient its economy away from its export dependence and offer some security guarantees to the former Soviet states. This action, by extension, would help to assuage Washington.
This is easier said than done, however. But if any nation on the planet can pull off an economic remodel in short order, it is Germany.
Furthermore, Russia may accept some German influence in its vicinity if it helps to keep the Americans at bay. There are numerous moving parts in Berlin’s attempt to satisfy the question of Germany’s place in the world and it has never been successful in finding the necessary balance.
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany has done something that none of her predecessors managed to do since the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Basically, the Chancellor has taken on the role of European leader without firing a shot.
Germany will continue to struggle with this role, however. The failures of Germany’s past occurred for good reason. Nothing in Europe is easy.
Like US, Germany Growing Less Dependent on Electrical Power
The U.S. is set to be a net energy exporter in the next one to two years. There has been a boom in shale production, but another factor to consider is that U.S. now uses less electricity because of a demographic shift. As people age, they tend to use less energy. Currently, the U.S. has more citizens over the age of 65 than under the age of five.
Germany is also using less electricity for the same demographic reasons, though Germany’s demographics are in worse shape. Germany is also concerned about energy, but some of this concern is a matter of choice.
Germany Relies on Coal Power Plants, Despite Solar Energy Use
A few years ago, Germany began taking its nuclear power plants offline and investing more money in solar energy. It looked like a great move on paper, but several factors have led the ostensibly green Germans to rely more on coal-fired power plants.
Most of Germany sits north of the 50th parallel, which is further north than most major Canadian cities. The result is shorter daylight hours during much of the year and less solar power to be harvested.
Germany Still Needs Russian Natural Gas as Short-Term Energy Source
Germany has enough solar panels in place to generate nearly all of its electricity needs (about 40 gigawatts). But these panels only supply 6% of Germany’s current electrical usage.
Ultimately, Germany will still rely heavily on Russian natural gas to replace coal-fired plants in the short term. That dependence will require Germany to exercise caution in its diplomatic relations with Russia, the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Donald Trump’s plans for his first 100 days in office are raising eyebrows around the world, but of all the items on his agenda it is the reopening of the 9/11 investigation that will provide the greatest earthquake for the establishment.
Trump believes that 9/11 has not been properly investigated and he plans to get to the bottom of it. “First of all, the original 9/11 investigation is a total mess and has to be reopened,” Trump said.
The election of Donald Trump has rocked the establishment and things are only going to get rockier for them during his first term. There is a reason George W. Bush didn’t vote for Trump in the election, leaving the presidential line blank and voting Republican down-ballot. Trump has pledged to investigate 9/11 in a way it has not been investigated before.
For the first time 9/11 will be investigated by someone who isn’t part of the establishment, with skin in the game and plenty to lose.
“First of all, the original 9/11 investigation is a total mess and has to be reopened” Trump announced to supporters. “How do two planes take out three buildings in the same day? I never got my head around the fact that nothing is mentioned about the destruction of Building 7 in the 585 page document,” he explained, talking about World Trade Center 7 which also collapsed – inexplicably – during the September 11 attacks.
Donald Trump has also taken cracks at former president George W. Bush. There will be no covering up for former presidents on Trump’s watch.
“The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush,” he said in a February debate. “He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe.”
“Why did the administration at the time not take legal means against Saudi Arabia? Weren’t 19 of the high-jackers from Saudi Arabia? Americans deserve answers and I will definitely request a new investigation so that this horrible tragedy never happens again.”
Donald Trump and the 9/11 Truth movement
While Trump might be railing against the establishment in reopening the 9/11 investigation, he has received support on this issue from a number of public personalities who have demanded the case be revisited – and not behind closed doors.
Former Senator Bob Graham has been demanding a new, transparent investigation “For years I have been campaigning for the release of the 2002 Joint Congressional Intelligence Committee 9/11 Inquiry’s report, to no avail” explains the former Governor of Florida. “These missing pages point to the direct involvement of the government of Saudi Arabia. Why are these being kept secret? Who has to gain from these games of secrecy?” he asks.
“I have read these documents myself and if the American public knew what was in these documents, there would be a revolution tomorrow in the streets of America” he acknowledged during a radio interview. “Americans deserve to know the truth” he concluded, visibly angered by the whole affair.
Since 2002, the release of a number of 9/11 Commission Report documents is hindered because they are congressional records, hence they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The long withheld 28 pages were partially released to the public this year – heavily redacted – and the Saudi government claimed the release proved they were not responsible for supporting or financing the attacks. But it’s not as simple as that. There are direct ties to the Saudi hierarchy in the 28 pages. There are a lot of questions that need answering, and they were never going to be addressed under a Clinton presidency with all her ties to Saudi Arabia.
But with President Trump’s executive powers, everything has changed. The establishment are on edge. More than half the country doesn’t believe the official version of what happened that day. There is now a renewed belief that this biggest of lies and cover ups is about to be dismantled.
The establishment did all it could to destroy Trump the outsider’s election chances at election. Now they are on edge.
The Maryland Democrat wants to create an 11-member commission made up of mostly physicians and psychiatrists — more formally called the “
The panel would carry out a medical examination and determine whether the President was physically or mentally able to do the job.
Two of the commission’s members would also be former high ranking officials, such as presidents, vice presidents, attorneys general or secretaries of state.
It’s a provocative and long-shot effort, but Raskin is citing as his legal backup the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which was adopted in 1967 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to establish procedure in the case a president is incapacitated. About two dozen Democrats have signed on to the effort as of Thursday.
Raskin is zeroing in on one section of that constitutional amendment, which allows the vice president to assume powers if either the majority of the Cabinet or “such other body as Congress” finds that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of office.” (The vice president would also have to agree to the assessment of the President’s abilities.) Raskin is proposing his commission to serve as that “body.”
The President could appeal the decision, and a whopping two-thirds of both the House and the Senate would then need to agree with the commission’s assessment in order to keep the President out of office. If two-thirds fail to agree, then the President would be allowed to resume the powers and duties of the office.
CNN reached out to the White House for comment on the proposal and has not yet received a response.
Raskin, a former professor of constitutional law, first introduced the bill in April and before this week it had 20 co-sponsors (all Democrats). Another three Democrats joined as of Thursday, according to Raskin’s office.
The two co-hosts, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, frequently questioned the President’s emotional and mental state.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued Thursday the President was merely trying to fight “fire with fire,” reiterating that he often hits back when attacked.
Raskin took to Twitter himself on Friday to raise the specter of the 25th Amendment once again.
Trump’s “incapacity must be seriously addressed,” he wrote, also posting a screenshot of his bill.
“The President should take a break from watching TV and read the #25thAmendment to the Constitution. There are ways out of this,”
along with a screenshot of more of the President’s tweets.
Friday that Raskin also sent out an email to his colleagues Thursday, just hours after the President’s tweets, trying to collect more support for his bill.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.
Russians line up to see Saint Nick’s rib
In Moscow, believers flock to Christ the Savior Cathedral to be in the presence of what is thought to be a revered saint’s rib. In Moscow, believers flock to Christ the Savior Cathedral to be in the presence of what is thought to be a revered saint’s rib. (David Filipov, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
(David Filipov,Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
They have come to pray for the health of loved ones. They have come to ask for help to pass a tough exam or just to get by in hard times. But mostly, they have come to be part of a once-in-a-millennium spiritual event: Saint Nicholas has come to town.
Since relics of Russia’s most beloved saint were brought to Moscow on May 21, more than a millionpeople have waited in line as long as 10 hours to spend just an instant at the gilded ark that holds one of his ribs.
This mass act of devotion provides a snapshot of how important the Orthodox Church has becometo Russians’ contemporary sense of identity.
Lines to see the saint Russians call “the miracle worker” have stretched up to five miles from the giant, onion-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral, a reconstruction of a cathedral demolished by the Soviets in 1931.
Some waited to ask for a miracle from Saint Nicholas, whose life inspired the legend of Santa Claus. But for many, the arrival of the relics, on loan for the first time from the Italian city where they rested for 930 years, is in itself a miracle worth witnessing.
“It’s important to be close to the grace of Saint Nicholas,” said Denis Knyazyev, 32, who drove four hours from his home west of Moscow to stand in line for Saint Nicholas last week. “All saints are special, but this is the one most dear to us.”
What they see at the ark is an icon of Saint Nicholas, under a panel of bulletproof glass, with a crescent-shaped opening in the middle through which a bone is visible. As priests and burly security guards look on, a choir chants a harmonious prayer that echoes through the cavernous, ornate cathedral. But the music is drowned out by the stentorian instructions of volunteers in fluorescent-green vests.
They warn worshipers to cross themselves before they reach the ark and to have their prayers ready, to avoid backing up the line. As soon as the faithful bend to kiss the glass, a volunteer grabs them by the shoulders and nudges them, usually lightly, toward the exit. Those who linger get a special shove and an order to move on. Another volunteer wipes the glass with a cloth.
But if this brusque treatment bothered anyone, it did not show. People coming out of the cathedral on a recent Friday expressed something resembling a combination of bliss over what they had seen and relief that they had survived the ordeal.
“We were so afraid we wouldn’t make it,” a pregnant woman said through tears, as her husband comforted her.
Danila, a 14-year-old Muscovite, said he had “a magical feeling.” His mother, who like many of the people visiting the relics did not give her name to an American reporter, added that “it was like God had heard me.”
More than 70 percent of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, more than double the number at the time of the 1991 Soviet collapse. President Vladimir Putin, who has aligned his vision for his country as a bastion of conservative values with that of the Russian Orthodox Church, visited the relics the day they arrived in Moscow.
But many Russians consider themselves only “partially religious,” said Natalya Zorkaya, a researcher for the Levada Center, Russia’s independent pollster. “The interest in the relics represents a desire to become part of the process, to participate in an event organized not just by the Orthodox Church but also by the state.”
Russia is slowly starting to come out of a recession, and people frustrated by low living standards or corruption-ridden government are always looking for somewhere to turn. About 2 million wrote to Putin for his annual “Direct Line” call-in show in June to ask for things such as higher salaries, better roads and improved health care.
But people go to see Saint Nicholas not just because they are frustrated and hoping for a miracle that Putin can’t give them. The experience really appears to make them feel like they are part of something bigger.
Zorkaya agreed, saying, “This is a manifestation of a certain state identity with religious coloring.”
VTsIOM, a government-linked polling agency, found that only 10 percent of visitors to the relics ask for something more specific than good health for themselves and loved ones. One of those was Ruslan, 20, a law student who said that he had come because “I’m in the middle of exams and I hope it goes well.” Another woman who rushed by quickly said that she was praying “to get by in times like these.”
Russians have stood in lines by the hundreds of thousands before to witness religious relics. When a belt thought to have belonged to the Virgin Mary came to Russia in 2011, more than 3 million people saw it.
But Saint Nicholas is special, said Maria Korovina, head of the Orthodox Church’s media center for special events, because of the role he plays in Russians’ lives — and the way these relics got here.
“For 930 years, no one has seen them,” she said. “This is as though Saint Nicholas himself has come to Moscow.”
Nicholas, who died in A.D. 343, was the bishop of Myra, which is now in southern Turkey. One legendary attribute that led to the story of Santa Claus was his habit of giving gifts in secret.
Believers say his remains produce a liquid called manna, or myrrh, said to have healing powers. In 1087, Italian sailors spirited the bones to Bari, Italy, where the remains have been kept in a crypt ever since.
The decision to remove a rib and send it to Russia was a result of a historic meeting last year between Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill — the first such encounter since the 11th-century Great Schism that divided Christianity.
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The remains will be taken to St. Petersburg on July 12 and returned to Italy at the end of the month.
On a recent Sunday evening, as the line meandered along a fenced-off sidewalk on the Moscow River embankment, through well-guarded police checkpoints and past well-stocked food kiosks and portable toilets, people wrote down prayers for the health of their loved ones as they whiled away the hours.
Some fretted over whether they would get in before the cathedral closed for the night. But there was no need to pray for a miracle. The doors stay open until the last worshiper in line has made it inside.
Natalya Abbakumova contributed to this report.
For two decades, a vast amount of Russian money has been spent to undermine Western democracies and create corrupt business ties.
NBC4 Washington–3 hours ago
New York’s PIX11 / WPIX-TV–2 hours ago
Highly Cited–New York Times–1 hour ago
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TwitterDr. Henry Bello.
Dr. Henry Bello, a physician who resigned after facing termination, was named as the gunman who opened fire on other doctors at Bronx’s Lebanon Hospital after hiding a rifle under a white lab coat.
Fox 5 New York confirmed the name of the ex-employee who had worked in family medicine before he opened fire with an M16 semiautomatic rifle on five floors of the hospital. At least one person, believed to be a female doctor, has died and as many as six people were shot.
Other news stories reported the name as Henry Bellow, but he’s listed as Dr. Henry Bello on the hospital’s website.
Police responded to the reports of multiple doctors shot by an active shooter wearing a doctor’s coatand carrying a rifle around 3 p.m. at Lebanon Hospital. The hospital is located in the Bronx in New York.
The mass shooting unfolded at 173rd Street and Grand Concourse in the Mt. Eden section of the Bronx hospital, which is one of New York’s busiest.
A graphic photo has emerged of Bello lying dead on the hospital floor. You can see it below, but be aware that it’s disturbing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bello Was Previously Arrested for Sexual Abuse & Police Followed a Trail of Blood
There were major warning signs in Dr. Bello’s life before the mass shooting, which spanned multiple floors as the physician opened fire on hospital employees, including, some reports said, other doctors.
According to Pix11, Dr. Bello had three prior arrests, including one for sexual abuse. The New York Post reported that Bello was arrested in August 2004 in Manhattan “following an incident in which a 23-year-old woman said an assailant grabbed her crotch, held her arms, lifted her up and carried her off, saying, ‘You’re coming with me.’”
Bello was “charged with sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment, sources said. The disposition of the case was unclear,” reported The Post, which added that records against Bello in a 2009 case are sealed.
Bello’s medical license was suspended.
New York records list his medical permit as “expired.” However, although he was listed as a doctor on the hospital’s website, “he wasn’t licensed to practice medicine in New York, according to databases maintained by the state Health and Education Departments,” reported The New York Post.
In 2002, Bello was listed as a respondent in a California divorce that listed minor children.
According to The New York Daily News, police followed a trail of blood at the scene of the shooting, which is being investigated by police as a workplace violence incident, not terrorism.
“Due to reports of a shooting incident at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, avoid the area of 1650 Grand Concourse,” NYPD tweeted. The ATF tweeted that it was responding to the scene to assist the NYPD. According to a tweet from NBC News, “Officials say the shooter in the Bronx, attempted to start a fire on the 16th floor of the hospital. Sprinklers knocked it down.”
One woman posted a photo on Instagram showing her barricaded in a room at the hospital.
According to NBC 4, the shooter was wearing doctor’s attire. He “was dressed in a white doctor’s-type coat,” reported the television station.
“At least one doctor was being treated by people inside the hospital who had tied an emergency fire hose as a tourniquet,” according to The New York Times, which added that “police had described the gunman as a tall, thin man wearing a blue shirt and white lab coat. A police official said he had a long gun.”
2. The Shooter Is Believed to Be a Family Physician Who Resigned Before Being Terminated
The shooter was described as an “ex-employee using an M-16 type rifle,” reported The New York Daily News.
According to NBC, Bello “resigned from the hospital in 2015 in lieu of termination.”
Bello was listed as a family physician on the hospital website. However, despite the fact that Bello is listed as a doctor on the hospital website, The New York Post reported that “there are no state records of a Henry Bello with a medical license.”
A Dr. Henry Bello comes up as a “student in an Organized Health Care Education/Training Program” in the National Provider Identifier Database.
“I heard two doctors got shot 20 times, both of them,” said Jasmine Mercado, 24, to The New York Daily News. “They said the person was going from the ninth floor to the eighth floor shooting.” The New York newspaper reported that two of the victims were women, and at least one was dead.
3. Up to Six People Were Shot by the Gunman Clad All in Black Under a Lab Coat
Bello was dressed all in black under the lab coat.
News reporters tweeted that police said at the scene that numerous people had been shot. The New York Post reported that those shot were doctors and that as many as three people were shot. CNN reported that “six people were wounded on the 16th floor, and five of those are in serious condition from gunshot wounds.”
The New York Times reported that those shot were doctors, and their condition was not known. PIX 11 later reported that one of the victims has died.
4. Doctors and Nurses Hid Inside the Hospital & a Woman’s Body Was Found Near the Shooter
According to CBS, there were reports that doctors and nurses had barricaded themselves inside the hospital as the gunfire broke out.
There were also reports that the suspect had barricaded himself inside the hospital with a rifle. However, police then confirmed that the suspect was down.
According to CNN, the suspect had ID on him, and “shot himself on the 16th floor.”
“The body of a woman who was shot was found near the body of the shooting suspect,” CNN reported.
“One shooter is deceased at the hospital,” a police spokesman confirmed on Twitter.
Police said that the shooter used an M-16 type rifle.
“Active shooting in Bronx Lebanon Hospital… Man dressed all in black. Smoke from the 16th floor,” the NYPD Special Operations Division tweeted.
5. The Shooter Died at the Scene as Panicked People Posted to Social Media From Inside the Hospital
There were reports that the shooter was loose, but then police confirmed that he was down at the scene. The shooter is dead, police confirmed.
One person trapped at the hospital posted a video to Instagram in Spanish, saying, “just a guy stuck in a room in the hospital.”
According to PIX 11, “The 120-year-old hospital claims nearly 1,000 beds spread across multiple units. Its emergency room is among the busiest in New York City,” and it’s located near Yankee Stadium.
“I was in the middle of getting an X-ray when security alerted us to the active shooter situation and locked us in,” patient Felix Puno told the Daily News. “Police are here doing a floor-by-floor sweep.”
Krystal Rivera, 23, a hospital patient, told CNN she heard gunshots.
“I barricaded the door with an IV machine, two chairs and my whole bed,” Rivera said to CNN, which described her as seeing a man wearing “a white lab coat” with a rifle.
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A disgruntled former hospital worker armed with a rifle barged into the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center Friday and opened fire, wounding six people, one fatally, before he killed himself, according to the NYPD.
The suspect, identified as 45-year-old Henry Bello, was found dead on the 17th floor of the facility, New York City police officials told NBC News.
“This would appear, preliminarily, to be a former employee dressed in a hospital jacket similar to what you would see a doctor wearing, who is familiar with the hospital, which makes the situation a lot more problematic,” former NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told MSNBC as the drama was developing.
Multiple senior NYPD officials said the suspect had a rifle, possibly an AR-15 type assault rifle, and had previously worked at hospital.
Just before 4 p.m., J. Peter Donald, assistant commissioner for communication for the NYPD, announced the search for the suspect was over.
“One shooter is deceased at the hospital,” he said.
Before killing himself, Bello tried to start a fire on the 16th floor that was doused by the hospital’s sprinkler system, a senior official with direct knowledge of the incident told NBC News.
The FBI announced in a tweet a little over an hour later that “there is no nexus to terrorism.”
CBS New York–5 minutes ago
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Acting FBI boss Andrew McCabe faces pressure, probes, uncertain future
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is under mounting scrutiny and increasing calls for him to step aside amid allegations of politicized leadership, conflicts of interest and significant investigative missteps at the nation’s top law enforcement agency …and more »
FBI politicization – Google News
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is under mounting scrutiny and increasing calls for him to step aside amid allegations of politicized leadership, conflicts of interest and significant investigative missteps at the nation’s top law enforcement agency.
McCabe’s close alliance with Trump nemesis and former director James Comey, the well-chronicled fact his wife took a huge campaign donation from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a general suspicion of the Obama intelligence community brass are all leading to pressure on FBI Director-Nominee Christopher Wray to not keep him around, according to former FBI insiders.
The latest challenge is coming from a former FBI agent who told Fox News that McCabe has created an overly politicized environment at the bureau, and her career suffered because of it.
“There is no way McCabe can survive. I’d be surprised.”
– Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom
“McCabe is vicious to anyone who either stands up to him or is a threat to his ‘power’ and [he] is a screamer,” said former Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz, who lost her job after 16 years with the FBI investigating some of the most high profile terrorist incidents in recent history, after getting tangled up with her superiors, who pushed her out and pulled her security clearance.
One of those superiors was McCabe.
“He saw me as a real threat to his climb because I knew my stuff and had been close to John Pistole, the prior deputy director. Andy resented that big time,” Gritz told Fox News.
According to Circa News, Gritz’s sexual discrimination and retaliation complaint is one of three such administrative inquiries faced by McCabe.
Perhaps more damning, former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said McCabe, who President Trump interviewed for the top job after firing Comey, may not have the bureau’s rank and file behind him.
“McCabe is where he’s at because he’s very good at relating up the chain of command, but not down the chain of command, and that’s very typical of bureaucracies,” Kallstrom said. “McCabe told Congress FBI morale is high. I have not heard one person from the bureau tell me the FBI is happy because the investigative unit was thrown in front of the bus.”
Kallstrom was referring to McCabe’s reported role in several controversial probes during the 2016 election. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was McCabe who told lower-level FBI investigators to “stand down” in their inquiry into whether illegal influence-peddling or financial crimes were being committed at the Clinton Foundation. Meanwhile, McCabe did not recuse himself from the investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, despite an apparent conflict of interest involving his wife.
Jill McCabe’s losing campaign for a Virginia state Senate seat reportedly received $700,000 from Clinton allies at the same time that McCabe was second-in-command at the FBI during the investigation into her use of a personal email server for State Department business and alleged mishandling of classified information.
Comey declined to bring charges after determining that Clinton “lacked criminal intent.” Comey’s handling of the case was sharply criticized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the memo outlining the rationale for firing Comey earlier this year. Kallstrom believes McCabe should have recused himself from any decisions involving the Clinton probe.
“I’ve talked to numerous agents that have some knowledge of what’s going on inside the FBI,” said Kallstrom. “The appearance of conflict of interest is substantial, and you can’t have a high position in the bureau and have even the apparent conflict of interest.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, believes McCabe also has a conflict of interest in the ongoing probe into alleged Trump collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. The probe already cost retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn his job as Trump’s national security adviser.
But even before the FBI eyed Flynn, he and McCabe had a history together, at the center of which was Gritz.
“McCabe wrote false and nasty comments on numerous documents about me when he had not one bit of proof of any lack of performance,” Gritz told Fox News, “I was always rated in the top two ratings.”
Flynn spoke out in her defense at the time, since the two had worked together when he led the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“I thought she was a real pro,” Flynn told NPR. Flynn was one of several top generals, including Stanley McChrystal and Keith Alexander, who wrote commendations for her counter-terrorism work, said Gritz.
In a June 29 letter addressed to Rosenstein, Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked why McCabe did not recuse himself from the probe into Flynn’s connections to Russia. Justice Department protocol advises employees to recuse themselves from investigations if their involvement creates even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
With Flynn a potential witness for Gritz, Grassley wondered in his letter if McCabe “had any retaliatory motive against Flynn for being an adverse witness to him in a pending proceeding.”
The FBI, DOJ and the government’s Office of Special Counsel would not comment for this report.
With all of the various controversies swirling and President Trump under pressure to “drain the swamp” and fight back against the so-called “deep state,” Kallstrom is not betting on McCabe lasting much longer at the bureau. Wray, who was formally advanced by the White House this week, is expected to be confirmed when the Senate takes up his nomination.
“There is no way McCabe can survive,” Kallstrom said. “I’d be surprised.”
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As Donald Trump’s Russia scandal has evolved, one of the key questions is whether the Republican presidential campaign cooperated in some way with our adversary’s attack on the American election. It is, of course, a matter of ongoing investigation.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/29/17, 9:00 PM ET
GOP operative sought Russian hacker help against Clinton: WSJ
Shane Harris, national security reporter for the Wall Street Journal, talks with Rachel Maddow about his new reporting about Peter Smith, a Republican activist who sought the help of Russian hackers who may have found Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and…
at the top of last night’s show, this line of inquiry took an important turn with
thisWall Street Journal
Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.
In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.
So, what we have here is a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who assembled a team in the hopes of obtaining Hillary Clinton’s emails. Smith and his team reached out to people they believed to be Russian hackers, affiliated with Russia’s government, because Smith and his cohorts thought these hackers may have stolen the materials.
The point, of course, was to then use the stolen documents in the United States, exploiting materials from Russia to affect the American election. In other words, we’re talking about a group of folks who, in a rather literal sense, tried to collude with Russia as part of the country’s attack on our election.
There is nothing to suggest that Smith was officially part of Trump’s presidential campaign. That said, Smith told multiple people at multiple times that this project was coordinated with Michael Flynn – who at the time was a senior adviser to Trump, and who went on to become the White House National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.
In fact, the WSJ article added that Smith reportedly told a computer expert he was “in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son” while the project was ongoing.
Trump World’s reaction to the report seemed especially notable: “A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.”
As for the broader political landscape, in recent weeks, several White House allies in conservative media have begun pushing the line, with increasing vigor, that even if the Trump campaign colluded in some capacity with Russia, that wouldn’t be a crime.
It’s a curious response to the allegations. For one thing, such cooperation could, in fact, be illegal. For another, have you noticed the rhetorical trajectory?
1. Russia didn’t intervene in the election to help put Donald Trump in power.
2, Well, OK, maybe Russia did intervene in the election to help put Trump in power, but no one from Team Trump was in communications with Putin’s government during Russia’s attack.
3. Well, OK, maybe people from Team Trump were in communications with Putin’s government during Russia’s attack, but no one associated with the campaign colluded with the attackers.
This does not inspire confidence.
The expansive investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with Trump associates has grown so vast that no fewer than nine congressional committees and federal agencies are now examining some offshoot of the controversy.
And despite the inquiries to date having produced no indictments or hard evidence of collusion between the president’s men and a foreign power, even more officials and entities are looking to bite off a piece of the probe.
“The main problem is that after months and months of multiple investigations, no one has found any evidence of collusion,” a congressional source told Fox News. “So the Democrats are trying to shift the focus from collusion to obstruction, and since it doesn’t look like that will pan out for them either, they surely have some new accusation ready to put out there. It’s in their political interest to drag out these investigations as long as possible.”
Proponents of the probes warn nothing less than democracy is at stake — but the frustration in Trump World is palpable.
Anthony Scaramucci, the former Trump adviser who was the subject of a since-retracted <a href=”http://CNN.com” rel=”nofollow”>CNN.com</a> story on Russia, on Thursday called the narrative a “bunch of nonsense.”
The investigation, though, shows no sign of abating, amid a steady drip-drip of news reports on questionable Russia contacts that only feed the curiosity in Washington.
The furthest-reaching of all the investigations would be the special counsel probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, appointed in May to examine any connections between Trump associates and Russian officials in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s crew, which immediately absorbed several high-powered lawyers, joined eight other investigative bodies examining aspects of the Russia controversy.
- Treasury Department
- Department of Defense inspector general
- Senate Intelligence Committee
- Senate Judiciary Committee
- House Intelligence Committee
- House Oversight Committee
- Senate Armed Services Committee
Other groups are looking to get in on the action.
Democrats on the financial services committee have requested bank records in an effort to tie Trump to Russian interests. Trump’s own Election Integrity Commission is facing calls from New Hampshire’s and Maine’s secretaries of state to examine Russian interference. Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub wants to find out if Russia pushed anti-Hillary Clinton ads on social media.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy,” Weintraub, a Democrat, wrote.
Several congressional probes are bipartisan in nature, though the focus of Republicans and Democrats on those committees varies. Members of both parties are concerned about Russian meddling, but the collusion claims are being pursued more aggressively by Democrats.
The DOJ, specifically, is looking into any links or coordination between Team Trump and Russia – but also has leeway to investigate any matters that might arise from that investigation. That means, by the end of Mueller’s term, charges could materialize that have little to do with Russia or the presidential election (a not uncommon outcome to which former President Bill Clinton and former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby can attest).
The CIA, meanwhile, is focused on the foreign aspect and actors involved in the alleged Russian plot to meddle in the election. The Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit is scrutinizing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the Department of Defense’s inspector general is examining payments from Russia and Turkey made to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
In the Senate, the intelligence committee is trying to broadly analyze exactly what Russia did to influence the election. Some on the judiciary committee, in the wake of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, wants to know if former Attorney General Loretta Lynch interfered in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the armed services committee is inquiring about how to improve cybersecurity and defend against future hacking attempts, such as the type allegedly perpetrated by Russia.
The House intelligence committee wants to answer: What did Russia do, did it have links to political campaigns, what was the U.S. government response and how/why has classified information about the meddling been released? At the same time, the oversight committee is looking into Flynn. The intelligence committee may be the most controversial of the congressional probes due to Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., temporarily recusing himself over ethics violations accusations. Nunes, who denies the charges, also made news after a source showed him classified documents which Nunes said bolstered Trump’s contention that Obama administration officials leaked damaging information to the press about the Trump team.
The plethora of probes has not only led to a never-ending news cycle in which some committee or department is questioning some witness or having some information leaked to the press, but the investigations have also battled for access to the same witnesses at times, never mind the same information.
“The jurisdiction’s pretty fragmented, and that’s kind of a problem,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told BuzzFeed in February.
Case in point: Comey testified before the Senate intelligence panel on June 8, but rejected a request to appear in front of the judiciary committee. The judiciary panel also lost out to intelligence on testimony from Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“The Judiciary Committee has primary responsibility for FBI oversight,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in May. “If former Director Comey testifies, he should do so before both the intelligence and judiciary committees.”
But, to Trump supporters, the biggest danger of the investigative maelstrom is the inevitability of some charges being filed – even if they don’t have anything to do with collusion.
“This is like watching an old-fashioned Western movie. This is an Indian hunting party,” Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on “Hannity” earlier this month. “They’re out looking for a couple scalps, and they’re not going to go home until they get some.”
Officials describe the investigation into the Chelsea bombing as a template for how the F.B.I. and the New York Police Department have learned to temper big egos and manage chain-of-command quandaries. It was also the product, in part, of Mr. Fernandez’s two decades’ experience courting foreign dignitaries and swaying his counterparts in American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while he investigated attacks by Al Qaeda beginning in the late 1990s.
He will retire from the F.B.I. on Friday as leader of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, in what amounts to a one-man exodus of operational know-how. Only a small number of counterterrorism agents involved in early Qaeda cases remain at the bureau. The New York task force, composed of about 500 investigators from dozens of local and federal agencies, is the oldest and largest such unit and handles cases in Canada, Western Europe and Africa.
“He was able to build relationships and build trust,” said Ali Soufan, who, as lead investigator of the bombing of the naval guided-missile destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000, supervised Mr. Fernandez. “I think he was able to do something many other F.B.I. bosses for the J.T.T.F. were not able to accomplish to the level he did.”
Mr. Fernandez, 50, investigated two decades of major attacks, from the bombings of United States Embassies in East Africa in 1998 to the Paris attacks in 2015.
And he passed an unofficial test that agents who know the challenges of working in underdeveloped countries often use to judge their bosses: Did they take much Cipro, the antibiotic often used to treat intestinal infections? “He took a lot of Cipro in his life,” Mr. Soufan said.
Mr. Fernandez started his career on cases impeded by the wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I. and ends his tenure at the bureau with connections across government, among them to the former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan, whom he met regularly as a top F.B.I. official assigned to the intelligence agency.
In Afghanistan around 2004, a Marine colonel several times declined the help of Mr. Fernandez and a colleague, Jeffrey Ringel, in interrogating people. But a casual comment by Mr. Fernandez about a Marine vehicle nearby ignited a conversation about the two agents’ service in the Marines. Eventually the colonel invited them on missions.
Mr. Ringel and Mr. Fernandez mentored Marines on how, instead of rounding up military-age men, they could use evidence and careful questioning to tie a few people to an attack.
“What he learned from his early days in Yemen is you can’t do this alone, you have to work as a team,” Mr. Ringel said. “And that’s what he did.”
Turf battles in New York could also be treacherous. As leader of the local terrorism task force, Mr. Fernandez was charged with further tightening bonds once badly frayed by the Police Department’s expanding counterterrorism mission after Sept. 11.
He sent emails to police colleagues starting at 3 a.m. and sped up information-sharing, said John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.
After the Chelsea bombing, Mr. Fernandez had F.B.I. technicians work alongside the city bomb squad, and the F.B.I.’s evidence team worked alongside the city’s crime-scene unit.
J. Peter Donald, a Police Department spokesman, said Mr. Fernandez had endeared himself to colleagues by working long hours with them.
“You can have all the memorandums of understanding in the world, and they really don’t mean anything if people don’t like you,” said Don Borelli, a former assistant special agent in charge of the international counterterrorism branch in New York.
Mr. Fernandez brought back senior agents for a lecture series to pass on institutional memory. He credits his approach to what he learned from Mr. Soufan; James K. Kallstrom, the former F.B.I. assistant director; and John P. O’Neill, who led major investigations into Osama bin Laden and was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I certainly didn’t want our people to repeat the same mistakes that were made in the past,” he said in an interview this week.
Mr. Fernandez, who recently became eligible to retire, said that though he would have liked to see the Chelsea bombing case through, he chose to take an attractive offer in the private sector. He will become chief security officer at the entertainment conglomerate Viacom.
Mr. Fernandez said the experience of his parents in Cuba before they fled around the time of the revolution colored his commitment to handling investigations in the courts. “Hearing about my family members just being unilaterally arrested by the government without due process certainly had an impact on me and wanting to join the bureau,” he said.
Mr. Soufan said Mr. Fernandez had an easy manner with sources and refused to let a mission keep him from helping someone. In Yemen, not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, the pair received word that an American child about 10 years old had been kidnapped and was in the country. With no other agents on the ground, they put aside the terrorism case they were working, recovered the child and found a judge to sign paperwork they needed to fly him out of the country.
That the judge’s chambers were on the same block as a Qaeda outpost, Mr. Soufan said, did not deter Mr. Fernandez.