Russian

The Art of the Swamp (Smile Through)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The setup, via Jonathan Chait:

Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)Earlier this month, when Michael Avenatti reported that Michael Cohen’s Delaware shell company received half a million dollars from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch, it looked quite shady. But the firm, Columbus Nova, quickly asserted the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, had only a tangential relationship to it, and had not used it as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova released a statement insisting it was “owned and controlled by Americans and not Vekselberg, and denied that Vekselberg had ever owned the company or used it as a conduit for payments.” So maybe it wasn’t a Russian bribe. Maybe it was just an investment firm, which happened to have a large Russian client, looking to get influence with the administration the way many businesses do.

As more information has dribbled out, the innocent explanation has looked less and less plausible.

And the punch line, from the New York Times:

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another during the inauguration festivities, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said.

Days after the inauguration, Mr. Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Mr. Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Mr. Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

(Rashbaum, Protess, and McIntire)

Such as it is, something about gravity goes here. There is a certain point at which it is not so much the notion of everything going downhill from there, but, rather, the appearance of trying to smile through a screaming, flaming plummet into a cursed abyss. No, really, there is even a clown car taxi joke in there having to do with a “series of coincidences” that really does sound like a its own manner of comedic setup about how there they all were minding their own business when all of a sudden . . . .

Something, something, #WhatTheyVotedFor.

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Image notes: Top — Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)  Right Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)

Chait, Jonathan. “Did a Russian Oligarch Funnel Money From Russia to Michael Cohen?” New York. 25 May 2018.

Rashbaum, William K., Ben Protess, and Mike McIntire. “At Trump Tower, Michael Cohen and Oligarch Discussed Russian Relations”. The New York Times. 25 May 2018.

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Sixty Million Dollars, and Probably Still Counting

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016; the Donald Trump campaign aide would eventually become campaign manager. (Detail of image from NBC News)

The headline from NBC News, that “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”, might actually be understated:

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.

(Petropoulos and Engel)

The important point, then, might well be the sum of known dealings. In other words, the headline could soon need updating to a larger number. Then again, that would be kind of like the problem with trying to follow the sad, epic ballad of Paul Manafort, which, in turn, is much like trying to keep up with the spectacular disaster that is the Donald Trump Experience; things go downhill so quickly that if you stop to make the point it is already obsolete.

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Image note: Paul Manafort appears on Meet the Press, 10 April 2016. (Detail of image from NBC News)

Petropoulos, Aggelos and Richard Engel. “Manafort Had $60 Million Relationship With a Russian Oligarch”. NBC News. 13 October 2017.

Another Puti-Toots Adventure

In the Kremlin, John’s proposal could be taken literally. The Russian leadership believes in a worldwide gay conspiracy, even a backroom global gay government that is trying to take over the world. Back in December 2013, when the Russian parliament was discussing the protests in Ukraine, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Alexei Pushkov (who will be accompanying Putin to the UN), warned that if Ukraine moves toward the West, it will become part of 'the sphere of influence of gay culture' — as directly opposed to the Russian sphere of influence. Reporting on John’s speech in Kiev last week, Russia’s highest-circulation daily stated that John 'invited Ukraine to join the gay community.' So the same newspaper could imagine that if Putin had, indeed, picked up the phone to call John, he would have secured a direct line to the gay rulers of the world — and he could communicate to them that he was a reasonable man who shouldn’t be criticized quite so harshly. (Marsha Gessen, Reuters, 17 September 2015)

To the one, no, I did not pay attention to that bit with Elton John, because … er … ah … well, you know? It’s Elton freakin’ John and Vladimir freakin’ Putin, why would I?

This is my comeuppance:

Enter Elton John. The singer attended a political conference in Kiev last week, met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and talked LGBT rights with him. He seemed to be positioning himself as a sort of global LGBT ambassador. Vladimir Putin wants his seat back at the world's table. How far will he go to get it? (Masha Gessen, detail of Reuters.com 22 September 2015)Over the weekend, John told the BBC that he would like to meet with the Russian president and discuss the issue with him as well.

In the Kremlin, John’s proposal could be taken literally. The Russian leadership believes in a worldwide gay conspiracy, even a backroom global gay government that is trying to take over the world. Back in December 2013, when the Russian parliament was discussing the protests in Ukraine, the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Alexei Pushkov (who will be accompanying Putin to the UN), warned that if Ukraine moves toward the West, it will become part of “the sphere of influence of gay culture” — as directly opposed to the Russian sphere of influence. Reporting on John’s speech in Kiev last week, Russia’s highest-circulation daily stated that John “invited Ukraine to join the gay community.” So the same newspaper could imagine that if Putin had, indeed, picked up the phone to call John, he would have secured a direct line to the gay rulers of the world — and he could communicate to them that he was a reasonable man who shouldn’t be criticized quite so harshly.

(Gessen)

Well, you know … this is Puti-Toots, after all. And what part of the Puti-Toots Adventure actually makes any sense?

(more…)

The Danger of the Closet

Ah, Russia ....

A memorial to Apple Inc founder Steve Jobs has been dismantled in the Russian city of St Petersburg after the man who succeeded him at the helm of the company, Tim Cook, came out as gay.

Vladimir Putin, the most dangerous closeteer.The two-metre (more than six-feet) high monument, in the shape of an iPhone, was erected outside a St Petersburg college in January 2013 by a Russian group of companies called ZEFS.

Citing the need to abide by a law combating “gay propaganda”, ZEFS said in a statement on Monday that the memorial had been removed on Friday — the day after Apple CEO Cook had announced he was homosexual.

“In Russia, gay propaganda and other sexual perversions among minors are prohibited by law,” ZEFS said, noting that the memorial had been “in an area of direct access for young students and scholars”.

“After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy, the monument was taken down to abide to the Russian federal law protecting children from information promoting denial of traditional family values.”

(Golubkova)

Believe it or not, this nonsense actually makes sense if we acknowledge reality. That is to say, it is a real fact that the Russian government believes straight men will somehow become gay and leave their wives if homosexuality isn’t suppressed.

Putin reiterated his concern that Russia must get rid of the-gay, lest the country’s birthrate not rebound sufficiently. Which is to suggest that somehow gay people will steal otherwise heterosexual Russians away from their opposite-sex spouses. And the only people who think that straight men would gladly leave their wives for a gay guy are men who would gladly leave their wives for a gay guy. They’re called bisexuals (or closeted homosexuals).

Welcome to the club, Vlad!

(Aravosis)

And, well, right; this is why Putin’s government is acting like a self-loathing closet case.

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Golubkova, Katya. “Russian memorial to Apple founder dismantled after CEO comes out”. Reuters. 3 November 2014.

Aravosis, John. “Putin wants to ‘cleanse’ Russia of gays, may have just admitted he’s bi”. AmericaBlog. 20 January 2014.