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TBR News May 29, 2019

May 29 2019

The Voice of the White House Washington, D.C. May 29, 2019: “Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.

When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.

I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.

He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.

He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.

His latest business is to re-institute a universal draft in America.

He wants to do this to remove tens of thousands of unemployed young Americans from the streets so they won’t come together and fight him.

Commentary for May 29:”With Trump, it isn’t mental or emotional problems, it is actually highly advanced money laundering with members of the Russian mafia, not the Russian intelligence agencies. Hints that Trump was snagged by Russian official agencies is incorrect but he was easily gotten at by the Mob. The problem is that Trump has a paper asshole and if cornered by American authorities, will open up like a sick clam and tell them everything he knows (which is plenty) so if this becomes evident, look for a ‘Presidential accident’, a period of national mourning and the new President Pence screaming about the imminent arrival of Jesus in Bangor, Maine. If it isn’t one it’s the other. A criminal president or a self-deluded one.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Bannon described Trump Organization as ‘criminal enterprise’, Michael Wolff book claims
  • If Trump Is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It Works
  • Mueller says Trump was not exonerated by his investigation
  • The preachers getting rich from poor Americans
  • Fiction and Reality: The Jesus Myth
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

Bannon described Trump Organization as ‘criminal enterprise’, Michael Wolff book claims

Former White House adviser says financial investigations will take down president in sequel to Fire and Fury

May 29, 2019

by Edward Helmore

The Guardian

The former White House adviser Steve Bannon has described the Trump Organization as a criminal entity and predicted that investigations into the president’s finances will lead to his political downfall, when he is revealed to be “not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.”

The startling remarks are contained in Siege: Trump Under Fire, the author Michael Wolff’s forthcoming account of the second year of the Trump administration. The book, published on 4 June, is a sequel to Fire and Fury: Trump in the White House, which was a bestseller in 2018. The Guardian obtained a copy.

In a key passage, Bannon is reported as saying he believes investigations of Donald Trump’s financial history will provide proof of the underlying criminality of his eponymous company.

Assessing the president’s exposure to various investigations, many seeded by the special counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation of Russian election interference, Wolff writes: “Trump was vulnerable because for 40 years he had run what increasingly seemed to resemble a semi-criminal enterprise.”

He then quotes Bannon as saying: “I think we can drop the ‘semi’ part.”

Bannon, a leading promoter of far-right populism, was a White House adviser until August 2017, when he was removed. He was a major source for Fire and Fury, also first reported by the Guardian. Among other claims in that book, he labelled as “treasonous” an infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer.

Amid publicity surrounding Fire and Fury, Bannon was ejected from circles close to Trump and his position at Breitbart News.

In Siege, Wolff pays close attention to Trump’s financial affairs. Investigations into Trump’s business dealings, spearheaded by the southern district of New York, have shuttered the president’s charity and seen the Trump Organization chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, receive immunity for testimony in investigations of Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney and fixer who is now in jail in New York.

This month, the New York Times obtained tax information that showed Trump’s businesses lost more than $1bn from 1985 to 1994.

The newspaper subsequently reported that in 2016 and 2017, Deutsche Bank employees flagged concerns over possible money laundering through transactions involving legal entities controlled by the president and Kushner. Some of the transactions involved individuals in Russia.

The bank did not act but Congress and New York state are now investigating its relationship with Trump and his family. Deutsche Bank has lent billions to Trump and Kushner companies. Trump has attempted to block House subpoenas for his financial records sent to Deutsche Bank.

In Siege, Wolff quotes Bannon saying investigations into Trump’s finances will cut adrift even his most ardent supporters: “This is where it isn’t a witch hunt – even for the hard core, this is where he turns into just a crooked business guy, and one worth $50m instead of $10bn.

“Not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.”

Wolff also details a 2004 Palm Beach property deal involving the now disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and the Putin-friendly oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev that, the author writes, earned Trump “$55m without putting up a dime”.

Epstein, he writes, invited Trump to see a $36m Palm Beach mansion he planned to buy. According to Wolff, Trump went behind Epstein’s back to buy the foreclosed property for around $40m, a sum Epstein had reason to believe Trump couldn’t raise in his own right, through an entity called Trump Properties LLC, which was entirely financed by Deutsche Bank.

Epstein, Wolff writes, knew Trump had been loaning out his name in real estate deals for a fee and suspected that in his case Trump was fronting for the property’s real owners. Epstein threatened to expose the deal. As the dispute increased, he found himself under investigation by the Palm Beach police.

According to Wolff, Trump made only minor improvements and put the house on the market for $125m. It was purchased for $96m by Rybolovlev, part of a circle of government-aligned industrialists in Russia, thereby earning Trump $55m without risking any of his own money.

Wolff presents two theories as to how the deal worked: first, perhaps “Trump merely earned a fee for hiding the real owner – a shadow owner quite possibly being funneled cash by Rybolovlev for other reasons beyond the value of the house”.

Second, he suggests the real owner of the house and the real buyer were one and the same. “Rybolovlev might have, in effect, paid himself for the house, thereby cleansing the additional $55m for the second purchase of the house.”

“This,” Wolff writes, “was Donald Trump’s world of real estate.”

 

If Trump Is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It Works

by Garrett M. Graff

Wired

For Donald Trump, there was the purchase of the $12.6 million Scottish estate and the $79.7 million for golf courses in the United Kingdom, not to mention the $16.2 million for the Northern Virginia Winery. All in cash.

For Michael Cohen, it was the lucrative day in 2014 when he sold four Manhattan buildings for $32 million—three times what he’d paid for them less than three years before.

Recent days have been filled with a seeming tidal wave of fresh revelations from the spiraling investigation around Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, particularly around suspicious financial transactions involving Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who appears to have used the same shell company LLC to pay hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels, collect six- and seven-figure consulting deals from companies like AT&T and Novartis, and receive payments from a company with close ties to oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The subtext of many of the recent tales—from Donald Trump’s massive cash-spending spree to Cohen’s $32 million flip of New York real estate—is that the atypical transactions are worthy of greater scrutiny. After all, why was the self-proclaimed “King of Debt” suddenly waist-deep in cash and on a spending spree in the midst of the global real estate crash? Where was Cohen’s money coming from—and where was it going?

It’s the old adage from the Watergate investigation: “Follow the money.”

The implication, particularly in the more fever-swampy portions of Twitter, is that there was money laundering afoot—probably Russian in origin. The “quid” perhaps, before the election and the “pro quo” afterward. But is that a real possibility—and if it was money laundering, by whom and how?

The payments appear to mirror suspicious activity that led to the earliest charges and investigative avenues of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, the money laundering and conspiracy charges leveled against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates. (Gates has since pleaded guilty; Manafort’s case continues to move forward toward trial later this year

But to Treasury officials and law enforcement who have long pursued money laundering and terrorist financing probes, it’s not what Donald Trump or Michael Cohen did in any single transaction that raises red flags—it’s how they conducted business day in and day out. The layers of shell companies, the contracts involving pseudonyms, the law firm cut-outs to make deals.

“Many of the activities, when viewed in aggregate, point to a deliberate attempt to create opacity,” says Amit Sharma, who used to work on countering terrorist financing after 9/11 at the Treasury Department. “When you take two steps back, you see a murkiness and level of complexity with which the Cohen and Trump companies have operated—what are they hiding? Why are secondary and tertiary entities signing under pseudonyms and ‘cover’ names? Truly legitimate, transparent companies don’t need to do that. Does this point to corruption and/or conspiracy? It certainly looks that way! Are all activities pointing to specific money laundering transactions? Not necessarily.”

The fundamental approach to Trump and Cohen’s empires should raise eyebrows—and evidently has with Mueller’s probe and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York—precisely because of the apparently great lengths they undertook to evade basic transparency. While not necessarily illegal—some of the tactics are, in fact, regular parts of complex businesses—the pattern of activity points to an attempt to evade one of the basic precepts of modern banking and anti-money-laundering efforts: Know your customer.

“What we call ‘covered institutions,’ that’s any financial institution overseen by US financial regulations, they have to have a comprehensive anti-money-laundering regime. It basically come down to one central question: Do you know your customer? Who’s behind the account, who has control over an entity or can facilitate transactions on its behalf, what are its sources of funds, and what is the normal, expected nature of its business or pattern of activity for that person or entity?” Sharma says. “Anytime a bank or financial institution spots activity that doesn’t match the regular pattern, they’re required to file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department.” (Those exact type of reports were triggered by odd withdrawals and payments by the Russian embassy around the time of the US election, and are the subject of part of Mueller’s probe, according to Buzzfeed.)

Yet while regulations—especially since 9/11—require in-depth documentation and identification for basic banking for individuals, it has been much easier—until literally today—for corporate entities to hide their identities behind lawyers and shell companies. “Financial institutions are mandated to collect all this data on its customers, but up until now, financial institutions have not had to do the same for companies,” Sharma says. “For companies, often it has simply been the business location and Tax ID number and we don’t know the underlying ownership. We don’t know whether it’s a Russian oligarch.” (In fact, new Treasury Department rules that require stronger due diligence on banks to understand who actually owns—or has a controlling interest in—a company only come into effect today, May 11, 2018.)

As Sharma says, “Trump and his companies have exercised this practice for many years—it seems that every new project, every product, every new building, he’s starting a new company or legal entity to manage it. This has been the case for overseas operations and activities as well. People do this to protect themselves from liability and to create protective measures that don’t roll directly up to them personally. In any given structure, he may own a portion of a parent company that owns a controlling interest in a holding company that may own a portion or receive economic benefits of the real estate.”

In 2016 The Wall Street Journal’s Jean Eaglesham, Mark Maremont, and Lisa Schwartz outlined a specific example of just that sort of structure: “Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland. To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99 percent of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99 percent of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red ‘TRUMP’ on the side of its fuselage.” All told, the Journal reported, 15 entities were used at that point to “own” Trump’s fleet of two airplanes and three helicopters.

Layer on layer of corporate structure makes it hard for investigators, tax officials, or prying lawyers to figure out who owns what, the underlying source of money for specific transactions, whether taxes are being appropriately paid in a given jurisdiction, or who might be partners in what enterprises.

That’s where “Section 311” comes in.

In 2001, as part of the USA Patriot Act, the Treasury Department was given a new tool against money laundering, known as “Section 311,” after the relevant section of the law, to designate foreign financial institutions, jurisdictions, or entities as “of primary money laundering concern.”

A Section 311 designation was meant to help authorities highlight suspicious patterns of activity without having to prove any single transaction was illegal—it’s the rough equivalent for money laundering of the criminal RICO statute, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, that allows prosecutors to take down entire mafia families, drug cartels, and street gangs without having to prove everyone involved knew about or participated in all the various individual crimes.

“We deliberately put these tools together to go after really bad people—organized crime, terrorists, dictators, Chinese Triads,” Sharma says. “You didn’t have to point to a single illegal transaction. The totality of the transactions should give you pause enough that we would want to be sure US institutions scaled back or ceased doing business with them.”

The designation, which effectively forces US financial institutions to sever ties with the entity, makes it all but impossible for an entity to participate in the global financial system. In the years since, the US Treasury Department has used Section 311 to go after the banks and front companies that help North Korea evade sanctions, to go after Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism financing, to isolate Syria, to punish banks that helped Saddam Hussein launder money, and to pressure off-shore havens, like the Pacific island of Nauru, that the US believes are complicit in money laundering.

Sharma says that if what we have seen with Michael Cohen’s business dealings existed anywhere overseas, where it intersected with an investigation or a politically exposed person or national security issue of import to the US, it would ring all sorts of alarm bells at Treasury. What seems to be continually revealed is a pattern of atypical financial transactions, and too much of it seems structured specifically to hide and evade critical information or people involved.

That desire for opacity, though, doesn’t necessarily point to money laundering. A specific charge of “money laundering” requires that the initial funds be traced to a so-called “predicate,” a recognized serious crime. “It could be fraud, smuggling, selling high technology, proceeds of child pornography. There are hundreds of predicate crimes in the United States; the global standard is ‘all serious crimes,’” explains former Treasury agent John Cassara. The complexity of tracing money all the way through the financial system, from a legitimate asset back to a crime, or vice versa, makes these cases some of the most challenging investigators undertake. “These are very, very difficult cases—it takes a lot for the investigators, the prosecutors, the US attorney to understand,” Cassara says.

Part of the reason the cases are so tough is that there are plenty of other, nonillegal reasons wealthy people create opacity, including to minimize taxes, to limit personal or corporate legal liability, or to shield assets in divorce proceedings.

The truth of the matter is that the global financial system is simply too large for officials to look at very closely.

Money laundering is a huge—literally physically huge—problem: Illicit drug sales in the United States alone are estimated at around $60 billion to $100 billion a year, which translates, Cassara says, into about 20 million physical pounds of currency, far too much to be moved easily or spent easily. “The bad guys have a logistics issue. They want to try to get into a bank or nonbank financial institution, so they can spend it,” he says.

Globally, the International Monetary Fund estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is laundered money from illicit activity. “The number I normally use is the total is in the range of $4 trillion to $5 trillion, about the amount of the entire federal government budget,” says Cassara, who spent 26 years investigating such cases and has written multiple textbooks on anti-money-laundering efforts.

Given that scale, the hard work of thousands of investigators and tax officials the world over amounts to a drop in the proverbial bucket; authorities only seize or charge about 1 percent of suspected money laundering cases. “By any measurement, we do a terrible job of enforcing this,” Cassara says. “I have the utmost respect for my colleagues, but if you just compare the bottom line with the results, as [financial crime expert] Raymond Baker used to say, total failure is just a decimal point away.”

That shockingly low level of enforcement helps explain how Manafort’s scheme—which Mueller’s team says involved more than $18 million, funneled through entities that included oriental rug shops just a few miles from the Treasury Department itself—ran undetected and unprosecuted for so long.

Each year, the Treasury Department fields upward of 18 million pieces of financial intelligence, including more than 2 million suspicious activity reports from banks and financial institutions—far more than it can effectively process. Globally, there are 145 foreign financial reporting centers, like the Treasury Department’s so-called FINCEN, its intelligence and enforcement unit, which translates into tens of millions more reports and warnings. It’s relatively easy for even large-scale financial crimes to hide in that mountain of evidence. “Your inbox was always full,” Cassara says.

Today, Cassara says, money launderers have to be incredibly stupid or incredibly unlucky to be caught. “Since 9/11, the amount of financial intelligence has grown exponentially, so bad guys are taking steps to evade those efforts,” Cassara says.

But what’s the point of buying, say, $934,350 in oriental rugs (as Manafort is alleged to have done), or buying luxury condos in London (as Russian oligarchs are said to be fond of)? How exactly do money laundering schemes work?

While it’s easier to grasp how to hide cash at the street level—like in Breaking Bad, when Walter White purchases a cash-intensive car wash and simply cooks the book to show he’s washing more cars than he is—money laundering at the global level follows the same three-step process:

Step 1: Placement

The first challenge is simply getting the money somewhere into the global financial system, which is often easier said than done. Banks are required to file reports anytime someone deposits more than $10,000 in cash, so sneaking large amounts of cash into the financial system can pose a huge challenge. Breaking large transactions into smaller ones, say multiple deposits of $9,999, to evade the transaction reports is known as “structuring” or “smurfing,” and is illegal itself. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert spent time in prison for “structuring,” as part of his effort to pay hush money to one of the men he sexually abused as a high school coach, rather than for the underlying abuse. “Placement is where criminals are most vulnerable, because the money is closest to the original crime,” Cassara says. “It’s much easier to catch them at the crime than to say ‘there’s a suspicious shopping center or golf course’ and work backwards.”

Tracing “laundered” money back to illicit proceeds is key to any investigation

Step 2: Layering

The second challenge is hiding the origin of the illicit money. That’s where the layers of LLCs can be helpful. Every time money moves—from one entity’s account to another, from one bank to another, from one country to another—it helps hide the original source. “It’s confusing and makes it difficult for investigators, tax officials, or a former wife to follow that money trail. It’s using this labyrinth of LLCs and tax havens, in the US and overseas, to make it difficult and time-consuming to trace,” Cassara says. “It gets hard because of issues of [investigative] competence, venue, jurisdiction.”

Often, this “layering” step takes place with the help of lawyers and law firms; the revelations of the Panama Papers and the follow-on Paradise Papers laid out just how large a global business it is to help elites hide their assets. “Many of these folks have go-to structures and lawyers they use to go through the layering process,” Sharma says. “A lot of laundering happens through nonfinancial businesses and professions.…The Russians use a ton of folks in Turkey, UAE, and Cyprus. That fact pattern is well-known and long-standing.”

While the Panama and Paradise Papers revelations focused primarily on overseas entities and tax havens, the United States is actually one of the worst global offenders: The so-called “Delaware company” structure is notorious for its lax documentation and opacity, as NPR’s Planet Money found out when they set up shell companies in Belize and Delaware in 2012.

Step 3: Integration

Once the money is in the global financial system and its origins properly obfuscated, the final challenge is making the money accessible—that is, integrating it into the legitimate economy. At the high end of money laundering, this often means purchasing real estate.

“Real estate is a big issue for money laundering and has been for a long time,” Cassara says. “If you’ve got a condo or a shopping center or a golf course, the money has already been placed, it’s already been layered, it’s the final stage—integrated. The authorities aren’t going to look at that. Once you see property, in whatever form it is, it’s assumed that’s good, that’s a legitimate investment.

Large-scale money laundering, like what corrupt regimes or oligarchs need, requires—like any good investment portfolio—a well-balanced portfolio. “If you’ve got that much money, you need diversification,” Cassara says. “You’re going to put so much into gold, so much into stocks, so much into golf courses. By that point, they’re many steps away from illicit proceeds.”

Real estate is particularly attractive for money laundering because of the large numbers involved—a single large transaction to purchase a golf course, a luxury condo, or shopping center is an easy way to make a whole lot of money look legitimate at once without raising any eyebrows with banks or regulators. It’s also a good way to evade so-called “capital controls,” which limit, for instance, the amount of money Chinese citizens can transfer out of the country.

The goal in such efforts isn’t necessarily to have access to immediate cash—sometimes the end goal is simply to own a physical asset. “Parking” illicit gains from corrupt regimes, including Russia or China, in luxury real estate in the West is a common pattern because it historically holds value and, if you’re the buyer, you only trigger taxes by selling, not with the initial transaction. “Real estate tends to hold its value, luxury real estate typically even goes up—it’s a great way to preserve it without losing it,” Sharma says.

Such absentee owners—more interested in parking their assets than actually occupying a residence—has led to the phenomenon of what locals call “lights out London,” entire luxury buildings or wealthy neighborhoods where hardly anyone is ever home. More than 85,000 offshore shell companies own British real estate, and one report last year found nearly $6 billion worth of properties owned by politicians and public officials with “suspicious wealth.”

Similar concerns have been raised about Libyan purchases in Dubai, Chinese purchases in Vancouver, and Russian purchases in Miami, among other cities. It’s such a problem in New York real estate that the Treasury Department is moving to end anonymous all-cash purchases.

And then there’s the oriental rugs. Perhaps the oddest part of the lengthy, detailed indictment of Paul Manafort is the nearly $1 million he evidently funneled through various antique rug shops. As Adam Davidson wrote at The New Yorker last fall, “It’s hard to imagine a person who spends $12 million over six years but only shops at a handful of stores, and nearly always happens to have a bill that ends in multiple zeroes: $107,000, then $20,000, then $250,000. At an unnamed men’s-clothing store in New York, Manafort spent $32,000, $15,000, $24,000, and other multiples of a thousand. For money-laundering experts, this fact alone would be cause for suspicion. It is extremely rare for even a single purchase to end in three zeroes.”

The rugs and clothing appear to be an example of what officials call “trade-based money laundering,” using physical goods to evade currency reporting limits. There are, after all, only three ways to move money around the globe: Through bank transfers, through cash, or through physical trade. “I argue that trade-based money laundering is actually the largest of the three money laundering ideologies but it’s the one we’ve done the least to enforce,” Cassara says. “When a buyer and a seller are working together, the price of an object can be whatever they want it to be—it could be pens, it could be gold, it could be carpets….The reason it’s so effective is that global merchant transactions is in the tens of millions of dollars [a day]. Try to find the suspect transaction in that sea.”

It’s relatively easy for a determined money launderer to falsify invoices, either inflating or deflating price, with the willing cooperation of a commercial partner—like an oriental rug store, where you purchase a rug that’s worth $5,000 for, say, $20,000 and the store owner returns the difference to you in cash. Or buy a rug worth $20,000, and buy it from Shop A for $5,000 and sell it to Shop B for the full price—the difference becomes all clean money. “I sold those rugs to another shop, that cash from Shop B, paid to me, is effectively washed,” Sharma explains.

That so many of the transactions and behaviors of the Trump business empire and Michael Cohen’s empire appear to hew so closely to the well-known patterns and stages of money laundering deeply troubles Sharma.

“It falls into fact patterns that we’ve seen in other areas of Russian and Eastern European organized crime,” he says. “We’re staring at a government—that goes right to the top—that engages in very way of doing business and the exact same fact patterns that we set these tools up to combat. That’s mind-boggling to me.”

Money laundering is a process that criminals use to disguise their illegal profits as legitimate capital.

It’s how they transform money made from drugs, illegal gambling, and human trafficking into dollars they can spend freely.

There are three main components: placement, layering, and integration.

Say you are a Russian oligarch. Maybe you’ve amassed a fortune through nefarious means. Maybe you can’t move your money into the U.S. because of sanctions.

First, you place your money into the financial system in ways that avoid suspicion from banks and law enforcement agencies.

Second, you shift, or layer, your money through numerous transactions to complicate the paper trail and confuse investigators — often using multiple wire transfers or shell companies.

Finally, you integrate your money back into the economy – after it’s been “cleaned” in such a way that it can’t be traced back to its criminal origins.

So how do Trump’s businesses fit in?

Buying real estate has long been a preferred method for criminals to launder money, especially Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

Real estate has fewer regulations than other businesses, it allows you to move large sums of money, and you can pay for it in cash or through shell companies to keep your identity hidden. You just need to find a property owner willing to turn a blind eye and not ask questions.

The Trump Organization has a reputation for looking the other way and readily accepting cash. In fact, some Trump properties are designated in such a way that you have to pay in cash.

Now that you have your property, it’s time to sell it. While the money you used to buy the real estate came from criminal activities, the money you received from the sale is clean, and the transaction is legitimate.

This matters. It’s more than just shady business practices. It’s illegal. And there have been documented cases of money laundering across numerous Trump properties:

  • Trump condo sales that show signs of money laundering total $1.5 billion.
  • In Panama, Trump convinced the investment bank Bear Stearns to issue a bond based on pre-sales of units, many of which were sold to Russian gangsters.
  • His Taj Mahal casino violated 106 anti-money laundering laws in its first year and a half of operation!

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has expressed concern over Trump’s connections to money laundering. “If the Russians were laundering money” through the Trump Organization, he said, “that would be a very powerful lever the Russians would have over the president of the United States.”

For his complicity in these financial crimes, or even his knowledge, Trump could be blackmailed. Or perhaps he already has been. His vulnerability begs the question: Who is he really working for?

Money and Corruption

The rampant corruption of Donald Trump, his family, and his administration surpasses anything in our nation’s history. Since taking office, Trump has violated the Constitution by profiting off the presidency and allowing the open influence of foreign governments. He spent a third of his first year in office at his private properties. The legacy of his understaffed, unqualified government will be marked by gross displays of nepotism, cronyism, scandal, and failed promises. And as special counsel Robert Mueller delves deeper into Trump’s sordid history as a failed businessman, his past business practices, partnerships, and connections to organized crime may shed light on our president’s unsettling relationship with Russia

 

Mueller says Trump was not exonerated by his investigation

If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,’ special counsel said

May 29, 2019

The Guardian

Robert Mueller has said he believed he was constitutionally barred from charging Donald Trump with a crime, but emphasized that his report detailing the findings of the Trump-Russia investigation did not exonerate the president.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” the special counsel said at an extraordinary press conference on Wednesday. “We did not however make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

Mueller broke his silence to make his first public statements since his appointment as special counsel two years ago, when he and his team began investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Mueller explained that the investigation was bound by longstanding Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. He said it would have been “unfair” to accuse someone of a crime when that person would not have the opportunity to stand trial and defend themselves.

In the highly anticipated and explosive report released with redactions last month, Mueller’s team described 11 instances in which Trump or his campaign engaged in potential obstruction of justice and suggested Congress might prosecute these acts as crimes.

The statement on Wednesday came amid demands for Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill about his findings, and tension with the attorney general, William Barr.

Mueller did not rule out testifying before Congress but is serving notice that he does not intend to go beyond what has already been revealed in his report. Mueller said Wednesday he and the special counsel team chose their words carefully in the report and “the work speaks for itself”.

Trump, who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt”, tweeted: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Mueller announced that the investigation has been formally closed and that he is resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.

 

The preachers getting rich from poor Americans

May 29, 2019

by Vicky Baker

BBC News in Texas and Alabama

Televangelist Todd Coontz has a well-worn routine: he dresses in a suit, pulls out a Bible and urges viewers to pledge a very specific amount of money. “Don’t delay, don’t delay,” he urges, calmly but emphatically.

It sounds simple, absurdly so, but Coontz knows his audience extremely well. He broadcasts on Christian cable channels, often late into the night, drawing in viewers who lack financial literacy and are desperate for change.

“I understand the laws that govern insurance, stocks and bonds and all that is involved with Wall Street,” he once said, looking directly into the camera. “God has called me… as a financial deliverer.”

Crucially, he always refers to the money as a “seed” – a $273 seed, a $333 seed, a “turnaround” seed, depending on the broadcast. If viewers “plant” one, the amount will come back to them, multiplied, he says. It is an investment in their faith and their future.

In 2011, one of those desperate viewers was Larry Fardette, then based in California. Larry watched a lot of similar televangelists, known as prosperity preachers, who explicitly link wealth and religion. But he found Coontz particularly compelling. He assured quick returns. He seemed like a results man.

And Larry needed some fast results.

The Fardette family was going through a tough time. Larry’s daughter was seriously ill and he had health problems of his own. His construction business was struggling, and to make matters worse both his van and his car broke down irreparably within the same week. When a local junkyard offered him $600 for the van, he thumbed the bills thoughtfully and remembered Coontz’s rousing speech.

Maybe he should invest the sum as a “seed”?

He instantly recalled the specific number that Coontz had repeated again and again: $273. It was a figure the preacher often used. “God gave me the single greatest miracle of my lifetime in one day, and the numbers two, seven and three were involved,” he once said. It is also – perhaps not coincidentally – the number of Coontz’s $1.38m condo in South Carolina, paid for by his church, Rockwealth, according to local TV channel WSOC-TV.

Larry has now come to realise there was no foundation to Coontz’s promises that donated cash would multiply, but at the time the stirring speeches gave him hope. He did not see any other way out.

He sent off two cheques: one for $273 and another for $333, as requested. Then he waited for his miracle.

Televangelists are not as talked about today as they were in the 1980s and 1990s, when many rose to fame and fortune through mushrooming cable channels.

But they have never gone away. Even after numerous press exposés, the rogue elements have often bounced back. Some have got even richer. Many have taken their appeals on to social media.

A number of those making the most persistent pleas for money tap into something called the prosperity gospel, which hinges on a belief that your health and wealth are controlled by God, and God is willing you to be prosperous. Believers are encouraged to show their faith through payments, which they understand will be repaid – many times over – either in the form of wealth or healing.

For followers, it is a way to make sense of sickness and poverty. It can feel empowering and inspiring amid despair. The hard-up donors are often not oblivious to the preachers’ personal wealth – though they may not know the extent of it – but they take the riches as a sign of a direct connection with God. If seed payments have worked for them, maybe they can work for you too?

And if the seeds never flourish? Some are told their faith is not strong enough, or they have hidden sin. In Larry’s case, he often interpreted small pieces of good fortune – a gift of groceries from a neighbour, or the promise of a few extra hours of work for his wife, Darcy – as evidence of fruition.

He estimates he gave about $20,000 to these operators over the years. A little here, a little there. A few years ago, he started tallying it all up. The list is like a who’s who of all the established players, including those who have made headlines for their lavish lifestyles – those such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, who have asked followers to fund their private jets.

Larry’s own life could not stand in greater contrast. These days he and Darcy live in the small town of Cullman, Alabama, about an hour’s drive north of Birmingham. Their spartan living room is furnished with just a desk and four dining-room chairs. The monotony of the wall’s bare magnolia paint is broken only by a couple of mounted crosses and a small, framed Biblical verse. “Be anxious for nothing,” it reads (Philippians 4:6).

“Life is not easy but we are blessed,” says Larry, in a rasping, lived-in voice. “We have food in the refrigerator, we have two cats that love us. My wife’s got part-time work in a store and I get disability benefits.”

Larry’s painting and remodelling business fell apart when scoliosis started twisting his spine about eight years ago – roughly the same time he scrapped his van and car and made his donation to Todd Coontz. He and Darcy still lived then in his home state, California, and employed former drug users as workers. He was an ex-addict himself, and his Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous sessions had strengthened his religious beliefs.

After deciding to “follow Christ’s path”, he became an avid viewer of religious channels and specifically “praisathons” – fundraising events with multiple guest speakers. He became, in his words, “hypnotised” by the hosts. He was not just a passive spectator, he felt like he knew them.

Many of these pastors also ran prayer lines – where callers would speak one-on-one with an operator and they would pray together. If a request for money followed, Larry was happy to contribute – even if he did not have much to give. He was under the impression that the money was going to worthy projects at home and abroad, and he hoped that if he were ever in a desperate position, he would be helped too.

In 2013, that moment came.

His daughter’s health, which had long been poor, had become critical. Larry had promised to help her financially, but his “seeds” had not flourished. He wrote a heart-wrenching, five-page letter to several ministries he had contributed to over the years, pleading for help.

“We had been faithful to these ministries. They called us partners, friends, family,” he explains today. “We thought they’d be there for us.”

In the letter, he detailed how his daughter’s health insurance would not cover the extensive and costly treatment she needed. One doctor had suggested they waited for her organs to fail, as only then would he be able to intervene.

“As a father, I am presently helpless,” he wrote. “Would you please consider sponsorship to save our daughter’s life?”

The replies drifted in. Some were instant email responses, others came through the post after prompting. All were rejections. “They said things like, ‘Our ministry mandate prevents us from helping you,'” he recalls. He remembers the reaction of one specific office manager, from a ministry that had publicised its funding of medical treatments in the US: “In a haughty voice, she took a deep breath and said: ‘You know we get six or seven of these calls a week and if we help you, we are going to have to help everyone.'”

By summer 2014, Larry and Darcy had exhausted all their funds. They had sold all their belongings to travel from California to Florida to be with their daughter, and ended up homeless. Wracked with guilt for having failed to provide the promised help to his daughter, Larry couldn’t understand why he had been let down.

It took another year for things to become clear. In August 2015, the couple were channel-hopping in a Jacksonville motel room, when they caught an episode of John Oliver’s satirical news show, Last Week Tonight.

“I never watched John Oliver. I had never even heard of the guy,” says Larry. But his attention was immediately caught by a skit that ripped into money-grabbing televangelists. Larry and Darcy sat up in shock, recognising all the names.

They say they felt as though God was lifting a veil. “We had been so ignorant,” Larry says, shaking his head.

The next morning they went to a local library to find out more online. In just a few clicks, they came across the Texas-based Trinity Foundation, which had assisted Last Week Tonight with its research.

Larry called the phone number, slightly apprehensively, not sure whether a friendly voice would pick up.

The man on the other end listened patiently as Larry reeled off the names of the preachers he had come to know.

He told him they knew every single one of them. Not only that, they kept files on most of them, detailing what was known of their estimated fortunes.

Stunned, Larry stayed on the line talking through his experiences, relieved to find someone who understood.

In its early days, in the 1970s, the Trinity Foundation was a wild place.

It was a home church but far from the twee set-up you might imagine. Here Bible classes were so fiery they could end in fist fights.

The dominant figure was the foundation’s extraordinary creator, Ole Anthony (pronounced Oh-lee). At 6ft 4in, with penetrating blue eyes, he was a former teenage delinquent who had dabbled in arson and taken heroin – and had gone on to become an Air Force intelligence officer, a failed Republican election candidate and the owner of a PR firm, all before the age of 33. Then he underwent a sudden religious conversion, renounced wealth and devoted his life to Christ.

A friend, John Bloom, later wrote that Ole had assumed old business colleagues would join his Bible study groups. “But Ole was a little too ‘out there’ for most three-piece-suit North Dallas Protestants,” Bloom explained. He was also based in a “fleabag office” in a rough part of town. Consequently, he mostly attracted troubled characters with nowhere else to go.

It was during these sessions that Ole started to note a common thread. When people were on the verge of homelessness in the heart of the Bible belt, a surprising number offered the last of their cash to televangelists who promised them financial salvation.

Ole, who always had a have-a-go approach to problem-solving, felt an urge to step in. First, he tried approaching the ministries on behalf of the penniless donors, thinking he could explain the circumstances and get the money refunded. However, like Larry, he found no-one willing to talk.

So he took it to a Christian broadcasting association – but it didn’t want to get involved. Then he approached local district attorneys, who explained that many preachers were protected by the First Amendment (guaranteeing freedom of religion and free speech), so there was nothing they could do. So he turned back to the media, this time major networks and publications, which said investigations would be too time-consuming.

Ole was faced with a multibillion-dollar industry built, as he saw it, on exploiting the poor – and it was completely untouchable.

And this is how a community church became an investigations office. The Trinity Foundation felt compelled to tackle the prosperity preachers because no-one else would.

It is hard to imagine brawls at the foundation these days. Most of its members are at retirement age – Ole himself is 80, and in failing health – and the operation has moved from its “fleabag” office to two adjacent houses in a sleepy part of east Dallas. On one side is the gentrifying Junius Heights neighbourhood, on the other rows of slightly run-down bungalows.

Every day there is an early-morning Bible study session, a group dinner at 5pm, and more theology in the evening, including prayers with guitar-led hymns. The mixed bunch of devotees now includes a Mexican economist and a veteran of Desert Storm.

“Our members have taken over a whole block,” says Ole incredulously, as he smokes a pipe on the front porch. Their semi-communal way of living has led to allegations that they are a cult, but he dismisses this as nonsense. “A lot of people don’t like me, you know,” he says, more than once.

Ole’s dogged work has steered the foundation into an unusual niche, forming a bridge between the Christian world and the media. Though journalists originally pushed him away, they later found his foundation could provide the springboard for their investigations. Gradually it morphed into a watchdog, maintaining detailed files on wealthy evangelists.

“We have done a lot of weird things,” Ole concedes, between hacking coughs.

Over the years, they have gained a reputation for their gung-ho approach – diving into dumpsters outside ministry offices, in search of potentially incriminating paperwork, and going undercover.

Collaborating with ABC News in the early 1990s, Ole posed as a small-scale pastor trying to learn how big-money ministries work. Accompanied by a producer with hidden cameras, he went to a mailing company working for televangelist Robert Tilton and was told how posting gimmicky gifts to potential donors had boosted returns.

It was a well-known technique – sending things such as “vial of holy water” or even dollar bills to prompt people to send a financial gift back – but it was rare to hear someone admitting it.

When the TV reports aired on Diane Sawyer’s Primetime Live show in 1991, Tilton denied wrongdoing and attempted to sue the network – but he failed and his TV shows were eventually cancelled.

(Today, the Tilton ministry is still active but on a much smaller scale.)

A couple of years later, the Federal Communications Commission reportedly came close to introducing a “truth-in-advertising” clause for religious solicitations. This would have meant that any claims of boosting finances or curing disease would have to be verifiable, and Ole took various trips to Washington to lobby for it.

Ultimately the idea was dropped, which Ole puts down to the fact that the Republicans won the House of Representatives in 1994, with the help of votes from the religious right.

“We’ve tried a lot of things, but we haven’t been very successful,” he says, ruefully.

He doesn’t think much will ever change, but asked if this makes him frustrated or angry, he laughs. “Why would I make myself angry? That is all there is in this world, injustice.”

Pete Evans – a bespectacled believer with a gentle, apologetic manner – is now the foundation’s lead investigator. One of his specialities is tracking the movements of private jets, aiming to discover when pastors are using them recreationally, instead of for church business.

Pete took Larry’s first phone call. He remembers being moved by it, and starting a crowdfunding page for him. It raised about $2,000. “Less than what we had hoped for, but enough to tide them over,” he wrote on the website at the time.

Pete says that just over a decade ago there was great excitement within the foundation, when the US Senate’s Finance Committee began to question whether evangelists were taking advantage of their tax-exempt status to break Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines.

While other tax-exempt organisations – notably charities – must at least fill in a basic form, known as the 990, churches don’t have to. This means they are not required to detail their top employees’ earnings or list how much is spent on philanthropic projects. Their inner workings can be entirely unknown.

But in 2007 the Senate committee appeared to think that some ministries were abusing this privilege and violating an IRS rule that church earnings may not “unreasonably benefit” an individual.

The Trinity Foundation shared all its research with the committee, and attended meetings with its officials.

The group – led by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley – decided to focus on six well-known figures: Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and Paula White – who is now President Trump’s spiritual adviser.

All six denied wrongdoing. Four failed to co-operate satisfactorily, according to the committee (White, Copeland, Dollar and Long). Larry had donated to three of them.

“We really thought it was going to come to something,” says Pete.

Yet by 2011, the investigation had lost steam. Senator Grassley drew no specific conclusions. Instead he asked an evangelical group – the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) – to study ways to spur “self-reform” among ministries.

“The whole thing frittered away,” says Pete. He believes the 2008 economic crash played a part; the financial world suddenly had much bigger issues to deal with. “But we were extremely disappointed. After years of hanging on, it felt like they just punted the ball.”

The ECFA refused a BBC request for an interview, but said it stood by past statements on its website. In 2009, it told Senator Grassley that filing full tax returns would be an “intrusion on the most intimate recesses of church administration”.

The Senate committee has shown no sign of taking up the subject again, and no government agency has taken a strong interest in it.

Paid-for television channels also fall outside the remit of the national regulator, the Federal Communications Commission – unlike in the UK, where Ofcom might step in.

Meanwhile, an anonymous source at the IRS told the BBC that the service feels its hands are often tied. “We can’t knock on doors because then it is ‘government overreach’,” he said. “And if you think someone is going to thank you for closing down their church…”

But, although it is rare, sometimes a pastor does come within the IRS’s sights.

In 2013, one of Todd Coontz’s neighbours called a local TV channel to complain that he was taking up too many spaces in the car park outside his luxury South Carolina apartment block.

“He was not a known name around here,” says Kim Holt, who runs the investigations unit at WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. “But the caller then started mentioning Coontz’s church and the ‘seed’ giving. And that’s when we got interested.”

The channel got in touch with the Trinity Foundation, which provided background on Coontz and the prosperity gospel. The foundation also shared recordings of his TV appearances – it keeps an archive of televangelist broadcasts, taking notes on the programmes to monitor new techniques.

“There is a peculiar thing about people turning the TV on in the middle of the night,” says Pete, adding that this is when many pastors broadcast their pleas for seed donations. “They are lonely or hurting. They might have medical condition or be unemployed.”

When WSOC-TV’s report on Coontz aired, it went far beyond the parking dispute, detailing his personal wealth and casting doubt on the legitimacy of his fundraising tactics.

Todd Coontz is not in the same league as some of the other prosperity preachers. He does not have a megachurch, a private airfield or even his own jet. He preaches at other people’s live events, rather than holding them under his own name.

But his lifestyle is certainly opulent. He has posted photos on Facebook of his stays in hotel rooms overlooking Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. He has spent tens of thousands on jewellery and diamonds. He also has, or at least had, a fleet of luxury cars, including three BMWs, two Ferraris, a Maserati and a Land Rover, plus a speed boat.

Meanwhile, he has continued to target his operations at those on the breadline. Under the title Dr Todd Coontz, he has written a series of books: Please Don’t Repo My Car, Supernatural Debt Calculation, There Is Life After Debt.

In the same year as the TV report aired, a federal probe led by the IRS criminal investigation unit also began.

“That certainly does not seem like a coincidence,” says Pete. “I think someone saw the report and thought, ‘This is crazy. We can’t let this go.’ It was such a public display of the misuse of donor money.”

The IRS did not delve into his “seed” operations or his tax-exempt church, Rockwealth, but into his taxes for various personal side projects.

He was making large profits from freelancing as a speaker for other ministries and his two for-profit businesses, selling his books, CDs and DVDs. For these, he had needed to file accurate tax returns.

During a four-year investigation, prosecutors dug up all sorts of irregularities, ruling that Coontz had been underreporting his income and exploiting expenses claims.

He had developed various ploys, such as flying economy but sending fake first-class invoices to the ministries he was freelancing for, so he could pocket the difference. He would also claim expenses twice, once from his own ministry and once from his client. He claimed for thousands of dollars spent on clothes (suits are not a permitted business expense) and for 400 cinema tickets, which the IRS also considered unreasonable.

On 26 January 2019, Coontz was sentenced to five years in prison for failing to pay taxes and assisting in the filing of false tax returns. He was also ordered to pay $755,669 in restitution.

He reported to jail in early April, but was freed by the judges, pending appeal.

Coontz did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment, but he has previously denied wrongdoing. On his website, he also claims to have given more than $1m to charity.

His Twitter account is still posting daily (with no reference to his jail sentence) and he has taken to preaching – via the Periscope app – from the front seat of his Maserati.

“Are you calling to sow your $219 seed today?” was the immediate response when the BBC called Rockwealth’s hotline. The operator was not able to share the significance of that figure and would not answer questions about how many people had called to pledge. “Not so many today, but there are several of us answering calls,” she said. It is not clear whether the switchboard was serving only Rockwealth or other churches too.

The Trinity Foundation has recently filed a long report to the IRS, calling for Rockwealth to lose its status as a tax-exempt church. As always, it feels like a shot in the dark and it does not expect to hear back.

Both Ole and Pete says the work they do often falls flat – and not through a lack of effort at their end. They once helped a woman get her $1,000 donation back from a ministry, only for her to donate it all over again. “She called us afterwards, asking to get it back again,” recalls Pete, saying they had to decline the second time. “My feeling is she was addicted. She just got hooked back on to the TV and believing what they said.”

Ole remains disappointed that the authorities still allow the vulnerable to fall into these traps.

“We hoped for change,” says Ole. “But it didn’t work. I guess they didn’t want change.”

As for Larry and Darcy, they are also still donating, despite their meagre income, but only to their local church.

“Plant your investment of your time, talent and money into the local community and you are going to find people who need help,” says Larry, adding that he knows his neighbourhood pastor personally.

Their daughter is alive, but, after Larry was unable to pay for her medical treatment, a rift arose between them and they now rarely talk.

The couple say they want to share their story with others to make them think twice about where their money could be going.

“We found out the hard way. These are money-making industries,” says Larry vehemently.

Darcy, sitting on one of the dining room chairs in the middle of the empty room, nods in agreement. “You have got to see some of the houses they live in,” she adds, pursing her lips together. “Must be nice.”

 

Fiction and Reality: The Jesus Myth

May 29, 2019

by Christin Jürs

From the Dead Sea scrolls, we learn that Jesus was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to an Egyptian Jewish father and Egyptian mother.

He was not born in a stable in Bethlehem nor were there any wise men visiting nor a special star hovering overhead.

The basis of all of this revisionist material is clearly set forth in a scroll found at Cave #3 on the Dead Sea in 1953.

It is on parchment (used only for important documents…the rest were on papyrus) and was written at the time of Jesus, about 50-55 CE.

The document is the only extant period reference to Jesus; all the others were created, often out of whole cloth, two hundred years later, and in the case of significant paragraphs in Josephus, later Christian forgeries.

This revealing scroll has been forensically tested as to age, type of ink, handwriting etc and was very clearly created at the time and place indicated.

The text of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in four different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean.

The scroll in question here, from cave #3 is in Nabataean, used from the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE

From this we discover that Jesus was a Jew but born in Alexandria, Egypt, ten years after the date ascribed in the Gospels to his nativity.

‘Bar Nasha’(son of man) was Jesus name for himself.

Jesus was not a Nazerene, as is often stated in the New Testament, but an Alexandrian Jew. His parents immigrated to Palestine, and the young Jesus joined the Essene religious movement where Jesus’ elder brother was a member of this religious and agricultural cult.  He subsequently became heavily involved in their revolts against the occupying Roman power, was one of the leaders in a revolt attempt, fled when the Roman troops attacked in a pre-emptive strike, leaving many of his fellow cult members to be captured by the Romans and all later crucified.

He escaped with a small number of Essenes to the desert where he remained until he died.

The interesting aspect of this is that the Essene cult was an all-male agricultural commune and very specifically homosexual in nature and practice.

In the scroll, Jesus’ sexual orientation is specifically addressed and names of his male lovers covered.

It should be noted that the scrolls themselves were prepared by members of the Essene cult who were themselves homosexuals and therefore not critical of Jesus orientation.

During the Procuratorship of Antonius Felix (52 to 58 CE) Jesus amassed a mob of about 30,000 Palestinian Jewish dissidents, planning to attack Jerusalem and drive out the Roman garrison. One of Jesus’s Essene close associates, a man named Judas, informed Felix of the impending raid and it was stopped by Roman troops with a heavy loss of life for the rebels. Many were taken prisoner, tried and later crucified for rebellion against the Roman government but the period records show, very clearly, that their leader, Jesus from Alexandria, escaped and vanished into the desert.

Roman period writings show that this man came out of the desert with a force of 30,000 and went up the Mount of Olives in order to fall on the city of Jerusalem, expel the Roman garrison and become ruler. Felix engaged the Egyptian and his followers in battle and dispersed them, taking most of them prisoners.

Josephus, who lived and wrote during the period, wrote about this plot of an Egyptian Jew under the procurator Felix.

The history of Josephus is full of similar occurrences.,which show the state of mind of the Jewish population at the time of Jesus.

An attempted putsch by the Alexandrian Essene prophet, Jesus, would be fully in accord with it.

If we think of Jesus’ activism as such an attempt against Roman authority, the betrayal of the Essenes to the Roman authorities by Jesus’ co-conspirator, Judas, becomes understandable as well.

Marcus Antonius Felix was the Roman procurator of Iudaea Province 52-58 CE, in succession to Ventidius Cumanus.

The period of his rule was marked by internal feuds and disturbances on the part of the Jewish population, which he put down with great severity.

On returning to Rome, Felix was accused of using a dispute between the Jews and Syrians of Caesarea as a pretext to slay and plunder the inhabitants, but through the intercession of his brother, the freedman Pallas, who had great influence with the Emperor Nero, he escaped unpunished.

Porcius Festus succeeded him as procurator of Judea.

The Essenes

After his move to Judea, Jesus became an Essene, and Christianity as we know today evolved directly from this sect of Judaism, with which it shared a majority of ideas and symbols

The Essenes were a religious sect of Judaism that existed from the 2nd century BCE to the the 1st Century CE, in Qumran, a plateau in the Judean desert along the Dead Sea.

The origin of the name Essene is debated. Some credible possibilities are either a version of the Greek word for “holy,” or an Aramaic dialect term for “pious.” In their writings, they refer to themselves as the “Sons of Light”.

The Essenes are discussed in detail by Josephus and Philo. Scholars very clearly believe that the community at Qumran, that produced the Dead Sea scrolls, were Essenes that Jesus was an Essene, and Christianity as we know it today evolved from this sect of Judaism.

The Essenes were, in any case, an agricultural community that had a communistic approach to their life style. There was a common purse and shared wealth and much, if not most, of the first expressed Christian dogma came directly from the Essenes.

Unfortunately for religious acceptance reasons, like the Spartans and Zulus who were essentially a military community cult, the agricultural Essenes were male-oriented and firmly homosexual in nature.

The Essenes were finally outlawed by the Romans following their participation in on-going revolts, and many members were subsequently crucified in a general crackdown under Titus, not because of their sexual practices but because of their political opposition to Roman rule.

The small remnants of the Essenes either retreated to their Dead Sea area and eventually died out or changed their names and joined other more acceptable Jewish religious groups.

 

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Richard & Ernestine Markoll

 

Richard Markoll

One would expect that quacks, frauds and promoters of alternative medicine would have found ways to promote magnets as a miraculous cure for all sorts of ailments, and sure they have. There is, of course, no scientific basis or evidence to conclude that small, static magnets can relieve pain or influence the course of disease, and the magnets suggested by promoters of magnet therapy (a good survey here) do not even produce any significant magnetic field at or (much less) beneath the skin’s surface.

Richard Markoll and his wife Ernestine are, together with one David H. Trock, M.D., central promoters of the nonsense known as pulsed signal therapy (PST), through an outfit called Bio-Magnetic Treatment Systems (BMTS). Or at least they used to be: in 2001 they pled guilty to criminal charges in connection with a scheme involving pulsed magnetic therapy and fraudulent billing codes to seek payment from Medicare and other insurance plans for PST treatment with a device (Electro-Magnetic Induction Treatment System) that did not have FDA approval; more details here. The device in question was invented by Richard Markoll, who does not appear to have a medical license but is a graduate of the Grace University School of Medicine, a Caribbean medical school. Trock, who was formerly principal investigator for the Magnetic Therapy Center, has co-authored studies claiming that PST is effective for treating pain. It isn’t PST is still promoted, however, though apparently mostly for pets. Quackery, once released, is rarely contained again.

Diagnosis: Well, they were convicted, so that should be enough. Hopefully neutralized, but being convicted of a scam is not always enough to keep suckers at bay.

 

Patrick Marsh

Patrick Marsh is a former employee of Universal Studios and the design director for the Ark Encounter (Mike Zovath headed the management team; comprehensive description here), which is “a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible” in Kentucky and the subject of well-deserved, international mockery, partly since the resulting wooden box sort of piles on further evidence – if more were needed – that the Ark myth is, indeed, completely and utterly a myth. Although scientists have cataloged 1.3 million species of animals, the Ark Encounter figured that Noah could have brought on just 1,000 to 2,000 pairs to represent every animal “kind” (the pseudoscientific study of Biblical “kinds”, baraminology, is accordingly notable mostly for unintentionally providing further evidence for evolution). Of course, they don’t think too hard about e.g. insects or aquatic species, but neither does the target audience, presumably. The Ark Encounter was initially supposed to include a lot of other exhibits about antediluvian life, though those are apparently not yet in place.

Anyways, “[w]e’re basically presenting what the Bible has to say and showing how plausible it was,” says Marsh, which the encounter to some extent actually does, but not in the way Marsh intends, making Marsh’s assertion that “this was a real piece of history – not just a story, not just a legend” sound a bit desperate. According to Marsh the whole Ark encounter is really about evangelism to the unchurched: “the Bible is the only thing that gives you the full picture. Other religions don’t have that, and, as for scientists, so much of what they believe is pretty fuzzy about life and its origins.” Apparently, Marsh also wanted to show that early man was not primitive (he doesn’t believe in non-human hominid fossils). For instance, “Adam one of the most brilliant people that ever lived on this earth. In a very short period of time he named all of the animals that there were,” which assumes a non-standard interpretation of “brilliance”.

Apparently the Creation Museum itself was Marsh’s brainchild as well; the theme park (not a museum) was supposed to present the story of Creation as “faithful to scripture” as possible, except for that pesky thing about nudity in the Garden of Eden, which they wished weren’t there.

Diagnosis: Seriously crazy fundie. How much his theatrical theme parks will manage to sway those not already lost to seriously crazy fundamentalism is a different matter, however.

 

The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

May 29, 2019

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks. ”

Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas in 1993 when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publication.

 

Conversation No. 84

Date: Tuesday, May 27, 1997

Commenced: 10:07 AM CST

Concluded: 10:32 AM CST

 

GD: Good morning to you, Robert. How goes it with you today?

RTC: Quite well, thank you. And yourself?

GD: I can always complain but then there is the alternative. I’ve been going over this Kennedy business and I was very curious to know why it is that the role of certain people never became public. Or why such silly stories about Oswald’s non-visit to Mexico and his certainly non-visits to the Russian or Cuban embassies were never challenged.

RTC: Well, we have such a lock on the media here that no paper would ever publish anything about this if we asked them not to. And, of course, we did. And when the Warren Commission report came out, terribly flawed as it was, the New York Times raved about it and turned it into a best seller.

GD: They put it in the fiction section, naturally.

RTC: No, they treated it like what it was: A precious revelation of the truth, cutting through a jungle of lies. Actually, we also created the jungle of lies.

GD: Ah yes, one hand washing the other.

RTC: Precisely. I mean, Gregory, one could not cover up such an action unless one had complete control over the media and the major publishing houses. And some of the really nut books were done for us just to create literary smoke screens. And besides, the further away we get from the actual happening, and this was way back in ’63, don’t forget, the safer we all are. The circles of fanatics and nuts will always remain but the chance of their uncovering anything of importance is growing more impossible. The public has other things to think about, Gregory. More silly stories about whether this bimbo actress is in love with some pretty boy actor who actually is a cocksucker. No, that business is buried in a jungle of vines and palm trees and no explorer wants to go there. Hell, they can talk about Clinton’s latest muncher instead. And don’t forget the most important fact of all Gregory. Kennedy is still dead. And so is his pest of a brother although Hoover did him, not us.

GD: I have a friend who was a cook at the Ambassador Hotel on the night Bobby was offed and he saw the whole thing. Down in the kitchen . Sudden eruption of people, loud voices,, television lights, jostling, pushing and so on. And this man jumps out and shoots at Kennedy. Screaming, stampeding masses of idiots. He said the main chef, some Swiss, jumped over the steam tables and tackled Sirhan. The autopsy said the fatal shot was fired from about two inches away from the back of Bobby’s head but my friend said Sirhan was shooting at Kennedy with, as he called it, some little popgun and was never closer to Bobby than four to five feet. He was right there and saw the whole thing. Knew nothing about the autopsy and when I told him, he said flat out that the shooter was never, ever, that close to Bobby.

RTC: I told you Hoover had it done. One of the bodyguards did it. Latrine rumor but then they did Sullivan in because he was threatening to talk. Mistaken for a deer, poor Sullivan was. Some kid shot him right through the head using a telescope rifle. I suppose the telescope didn’t show the red jacket very well. That’s the way it goes. No, your friend was right but that’s another story that will never see the light of day. Good riddance to both of them. And God took care of old Joe the bootlegger. Sat around in a wheelchair in his dignity pants until God decided he needed another janitor up in Heaven and off Joe went. I hope he suffered, the vicious old fuck.

GD: Such violence Robert.

RTC: Gregory, you have no idea what a bad person Joe was. I put some of his background into that box I sent you. You read it?

GD: Read everything. None of that surprised me. I mean none of it. Very Renaissance Italy in nature. Machiavelli said that it was fine for the leader to be hated only so long as he was feared.

RTC: I’m told you are feared.

GD: Me? Why I’m a mixture of the Easter Bunny and some of the holier saints in the calendar. Never hurt a man in my life.

RTC: I said nothing about hurting people. Injured people can identify you.

GD: Yes, Robert, they can. But I’ve never had that problem.

RTC: No, I would think not. But you understand why Kennedy had to die, don’t you?

GD: I can see why you and your friends thought so.

RTC: Treasonable swine. And Kennedy, I mean Jack, disgraced the office.

GD: What about Clinton?

RTC: Seedy, very seedy. Back seat of an old Chevvy type.

GD: He should have kept sheep. Then the Christian right nut fringe wouldn’t get so hysterical over a blowjob or two. There idea of sex is face to face in bed with your wife, once a year, fully clothed and followed by a good bath and long prayers. God, I would hate to have such freaks as parents. I would either spike their elderberry wine with rat poison or run off and become a shill in a carnival. Which I did, by the way, when I was fourteen.

RTC: Did your family, Gregory?

GD: No, ran off and worked in a carnival. Much fun and very instructive.

RTC: You are always a source of entertainment and surprise. The Kimmel people would have us believe you were suckled by a werewolf but I always defended you. I said it was a vampire.

GD: Oh the horror of it all. What we have now is a situation wherein the lunatics are running the asylum. And Monica saved her stained dress.

 

(Concluded at 10:32 AM CST)

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Conversations+with+the+Crow+by+Gregory+Douglas

 

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