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TBR News November 22, 2019

Nov 22 2019

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. November 22, 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.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.
Commentary for November 22:”Rudy Giuliani is not what on would call a wholesome person. He is, like Cohen, Trump’s legal hit man and neither of their hands are clean. If Rudy gets tagged by the courts for his activities, watch Trump dump him and run away as fast as he can. “Why I barely knew the man. I only talked with him once. Another Big Lie made up by the Evil Deep State!!!’ And having been dumped, Rudy will turn. Be interesting, but not surprising, what he will have to day. It might even give Donald the Final Heart Attack.”

The Table of Contents
• Surprised about Mark Zuckerberg’s secret meeting with Trump? Don’t be
• Sondland Pressed Ukraine to Smear Biden at Trump’s Direction, Diplomat Says
• Trump says had Giuliani work on Ukraine because he is ‘great crime fighter’
• Trump says envoy Marie Yovanovitch refused to hang his photo
• Are Republicans preparing to cut Rudy Giuliani loose to save Trump?
• Russians Own Over $98 Million in Trump Properties in Florida
• The War on Words in Donald Trump’s White House
• Netanyahu calls decision to indict him an ‘attempted coup’
• The Season of Evil

Surprised about Mark Zuckerberg’s secret meeting with Trump? Don’t be
The Facebook CEO views all politics as merely instrumental to the fortunes of his company
November 22, 2019
by Siva Vaidhyanathan
The Guardian
What are Mark Zuckerberg’s politics? Based on recent events, one might assume the young billionaire favors American conservatism, even explicit Republican positions.
On Thursday, NBC News revealed that the CEO of Facebook had a secret dinner at the White House in October with President Donald Trump. Zuckerberg was accompanied by Facebook board member and long-time mentor Peter Thiel. Thiel is notorious among Silicon Valley billionaires for explicitly endorsing Trump in 2016 and speaking at the Republican National Convention that year. Thiel, a libertarian who runs a company that enhances government surveillance efforts, has also questioned the value of women voting.
That October dinner was the second in two months at which Zuckerberg dined with Trump. It followed a series of dinners at Zuckerberg’s home in California with conservative pundits and activists like white supremacist Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
Recently, Zuckerberg has warned his employees that the potential election of liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren to the presidency would be an “existential” threat to his company. And when Senator Bernie Sanders suggested taxing his fellow billionaires to fund essential government programs, Zuckerberg responded that billionaires might know better than government-sponsored scientists how to deploy resources as precious as funds for research.
But if I had asked that question about Zuckerberg’s politics in 2016, I could have listed such incidents as his full embrace of immigration reform and an increase in the sort of visa that allows immigrants to work for US technology companies in large numbers. Zuckerberg used to march in pride parades and Facebook was among a number of companies that filed briefs supporting the court case to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.
President Barack Obama and Zuckerberg were close throughout the eight years of the Obama presidency. They appeared together at several public events and Zuckerberg even called the president after the revelations from Edward Snowden showed that the US government had tapped Facebook’s system to surveil private communications.
And, despite all the panic about Cambridge Analytica allegedly using Facebook user data to help Republican electoral efforts, Obama’s 2012 campaign also exported data on millions of voters and deployed them to target get-out-the-vote efforts.
It’s safe to say that Zuckerberg’s politics are issue-specific and generally party-agnostic. He has always wanted US immigration policy to supply his company with exploitable foreign labor. He wants his taxes to be low so he and his buddies can decide how to fund schools and efforts to fight climate change.
Zuckerberg generally takes the sort of libertarian view toward the free movement of people around the globe. His social milieu has always been elite, educated, multicultural, and wealthy. He has learned his politics from mentors who take a “noblesse oblige” attitude toward the world.
Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard after two years. Zuckerberg has enrolled for the past decade at the University of Davos, where rich people pretend they are smart and smart people pander to the rich. If someone chooses to study world politics from Henry Kissinger, you can assume that he will have some twisted views of how the world works.
Zuckerberg’s politics favor two things: the interests of Facebook and people like him. So it’s no wonder Zuckerberg got close to the two American presidents who have served over his company’s history. Since the the world abandoned its mindless worship of Facebook and Silicon Valley in recent years, Zuckerberg has been on a constant if unsuccessful campaign to save face and stem efforts to regulate or fracture his company.
So the problem with Zuckerberg’s politics is not just that they seem to have turned to the right. His politics have not changed at all. The world has. The problem is that by choosing an amoral set of principles and positions he has become deeply immoral.
Facebook placed staff in the offices of Rodrigo Duterte when he ran for president of the Philippines in 2016, even though Duterte ran on an explicit platform of vigilante violence and extrajudicial killings – a pledge he has kept since riding Facebook’s communicative power to victory. Zuckerberg had business reasons to help Duterte, and did not let Duterte’s brutality get in the way.
Zuckerberg has hugged Narendra Modi, who has ruled India since 2014 by stirring up Hindu nationalist sentiments and crushing the interests of Muslims. Zuckerberg has never expressed misgivings about that alliance, and Modi, like Duterte, rode Facebook and WhatsApp to victory in his elections.
Facebook placed staff with the 2016 Trump campaign as well, even though Trump made racist statements in his campaign launch speech in 2015 and his administration has proceeded to kidnap children from their parents by the thousands and to brutalize those who seek asylum in the United States. Zuckerberg’s most dangerous political belief is his firm conviction that what’s good for Facebook is good for the world.
At the very moment when the US House of Representatives reveals overwhelming evidence that Trump used his power as president to support his re-election campaign and bolster his friend Vladimir Putin by withholding support from Ukraine, Zuckerberg continues to treat the Trump White House as just another potential regulator who must be charmed.
Democracy is in retreat around the world. Ethnic and racial violence – often state-supported – is on the rise. The social fabric is fraying. Our ability to think clearly about our great problems recedes a bit farther every day. Facebook has played a part in all of that. Yet the company’s leader, who was until recently lauded as a role model for the young, stays out of the fray.
Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to take a stand for basic human decency, his insistence that all politics are merely instrumental to the fortunes of his company, and his belief that he knows best, show him to be political in the most craven ways.
Siva Vaidhyanathan is a professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia and the author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy

Sondland Pressed Ukraine to Smear Biden at Trump’s Direction, Diplomat Says
by Robert Mackey
November 21, 2019
The Intercept
Donald Trump’s point man on Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, admitted during a conversation in July that the president had directed him to press Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, to open a sham investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a State Department official testified on Thursday to the House impeachment inquiry.
The official, David Holmes, is a career foreign service officer who said in his opening statement that Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., told him over lunch in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on July 26 that President Trump’s main interest in relations with Ukraine was the “Biden investigation” publicly demanded by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
The conversation in Kyiv took place one day after Trump had directly asked Zelensky to do him “a favor” by investigating a discredited Republican conspiracy theory that Biden had abused his power as vice president in 2016 to block a corruption investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that employed his son Hunter on its board.
If Holmes’s account is accurate, it suggests that Sondland lied in his own sworn testimony to the House panel on Wednesday. Sondland insisted that when he pressed Zelensky and his aides to investigate Burisma throughout the summer, he had done so at the direction of Trump and Giuliani but had no idea that Biden would be a subject of the probe.
As in the private deposition he gave on Friday, Holmes clearly indicated that he was directly quoting what Sondland had told him about the target of the investigation demanded by Trump being Biden.
Holmes testified that his conversation with Sondland took place after the ambassador had taken out his cellphone during lunch at a restaurant in Kyiv and called Trump to brief him on his meetings earlier that day with Zelensky and his senior aide Andriy Yermak. Holmes, who had attended the meeting with Zelesnky and other officials as the embassy’s note-taker, said that he had been excluded from Sondland’s private meeting with Yermak, the Zelensky aide who met directly with Giuliani in Madrid a week later.
According to Holmes, when Sondland was patched through to the president, the volume of Trump’s voice was so loud that the ambassador held the phone away from his ear — a gesture the witness mimicked for Congress — making both sides of the conversation audible to others at the table.
“I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kyiv,” Holmes recalled. “I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelensky ‘loves your ass.’ I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it.’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.’”
Sondland testified on Wednesday that he did make that call to the president — on an unsecured line from a public place in a country where the phone calls of American diplomats have been intercepted and posted online by Russian intelligence — and acknowledged that the president had mentioned “investigations,” which he called unsurprising at the time. “I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President’s concerns,” Sondland told the House panel. “However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.”
Sondland’s claim that he did not understand, in late July, that Burisma was connected to the Bidens is almost impossible to believe. That’s because, as Holmes also noted in his testimony, news coverage of Ukraine had been dominated for nearly three months by Giuliani’s claims that Joe Biden’s role in getting Ukraine’s chief prosecutor fired in 2016 was a major scandal that warranted criminal investigation.
“Mr. Giuliani was also making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens,” Holmes noted. “For example, on May 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani had ‘discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersections with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor.’ On May 9, the New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani said he planned to travel to Ukraine to pursue investigations into 2016 election interference and into the involvement of former Vice President Biden’s son in a Ukrainian gas company.”
In the wake of those two front page reports in The Times, as other news outlets, including The Intercept, debunked the conspiracy theory, Giuliani appeared repeatedly on cable news channels to call for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in relation to Burisma.
In May and June, Holmes pointed out, Giuliani “also issued a series of tweets, asking ‘why Biden shouldn’t be investigated,’” and “attacking the ‘New Pres of Ukraine’ for being ‘silent’ on the 2016 election and Biden investigations.”
Another witness who testified to the inquiry on Thursday, Fiona Hill, who was the senior Europe and Russia expert on the National Security Council until mid-July, said that the connection to Biden was clear to her, in large part because of Giuliani’s media appearances. At a July 10 meeting in the White House, Hill recalled, she heard Sondland tell Yermak and Oleksandr Danyliuk, Ukraine’s national security adviser, that there was “a deal” with Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s chief of staff, to schedule a White House visit for President Zelensky “if the Ukrainians open up or announce these investigations into 2016 and Burisma.”
“By this point, having heard Mr. Giuliani over and over again on the television,” Hill explained, “by this point it was clear that Burisma was code for the Bidens, because Giuliani was laying it out there.”
Hill went on to say that “it is not credible to me at all” that Sondland could have been “oblivious” to the fact that he was working to get an investigation started into Biden.
All of which is to say that Sondland would have to have been living in a total information black hole to really have had no idea, in late July, that the aim of the sham investigation into Burisma he was working so hard to get Ukraine to announce was to tarnish Joe Biden, the Democrat seen by Trump as the main obstacle to his reelection.
That’s true generally for anyone who had even the slightest interest in U.S. relations with Ukraine or American politics, but it is particularly hard to believe for Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former special envoy for Ukraine. The two diplomats, who exchanged calls and text messages with Giuliani all summer, worked with the president’s lawyer on the text of a statement Trump wanted Ukraine’s president to deliver on CNN, in which he would announce investigations of Burisma and supposed Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sondland, who is no doubt eager to avoid going to jail for perjury, has already revised his testimony twice, offering the excuse that his memory is hazy without access to all of the State Department records he needs. But it seems more likely that he and Volker were both shading the truth when they first testified under oath that they did not set out to smear Joe Biden, and now find themselves forced to stick to that story, even as further testimony renders it preposterous.
The politics of impeachment might help Sondland and Volker get away with lying that they were too dim to realize what they were doing as they carried out a scheme to coerce a foreign leader into opening politically motivated prosecutions of the president’s rivals. Republicans on the House intelligence committee are engaged in an effort to deflect attention from the damning admissions from Sondland and Volker, who are both also Republicans, that they were indeed carrying out orders from Trump, and that the vice president, the secretary of state and the White House chief of staff were all “in the loop.” Democrats, on the other hand, probably don’t want to confuse matters by saying that two of the witnesses who provided useful testimony implicating Trump also lied about their knowledge of the scheme.
Sondland’s own Twitter feed, however, makes it obvious that he was deeply engaged with Ukraine diplomacy in May, when the newly elected Ukrainian president reportedly convened an emergency meeting of advisers to figure out how to deal with the public demands from Giuliani.
On May 2, the same day Giuliani’s embrace of the conspiracy theory about Biden and Burisma first appeared on the front page of the Times print edition, Sondland and Rick Perry, Trump’s energy secretary, met in Brussels with senior advisers to Zelensky, including Danyliuk and Ruslan Riaboshapka, who is now Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Five days later, Sondland met with Olena Zerkal, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, who continued in that role after Zelensky took office.
Twelve days later, Sondland was in Kyiv, to attend Zelensky’s inauguration as part of the U.S. delegation that was supposed to have been led by Vice President Mike Pence, until Trump ordered Pence not to go, in what was perhaps an early element in the campaign to hold back U.S. support for the new leader.
The following week, when Sondland, Perry and Volker met Trump, the president directed them to “talk with Rudy,” to find out what needed to be done before he would agree to host Zelensky at the White House.
As a result, the three men who now claim that they had no idea that Giuliani linked Biden to Burisma spent much of the summer talking to him about what he wanted them to get Zelensky to do.
Speaking to The Washington Post last month about his role in crafting language for the statement Trump wanted to see Zelensky deliver on CNN, Giuliani suggested that it was obvious what he meant when he said that the goal was an investigation into Burisma. “I said it should include collusion and Burisma,” Giuliani said of the draft text he worked on with Sondland and Volker. “It’s quite possible we never mentioned Biden. Of course, Biden was part of that.”

Trump says had Giuliani work on Ukraine because he is ‘great crime fighter’
November 22, 2019
by Lisa Lambert and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday offered an explanation for his use of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to work on Ukraine policy – a pivotal issue in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry – by citing Giuliani’s crime fighting reputation and calling Ukraine a corrupt country.
Trump made his remarks the day after the fifth and final scheduled day of public impeachment hearings that put a spotlight on Trump’s controversial decision to give Giuliani, a private citizen with no formal job in his administration, an outsized role to shape U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
The impeachment inquiry threatens Trump’s presidency even as he seeks re-election in November 2020.
A key question in the inquiry is why Trump used his personal lawyer in such a role and not the usual government channels. During the hearings, current and former White House officials and diplomats voiced alarm at Giuliani’s activities such as trying to push Ukraine to carry out two investigations that could harm Trump’s political adversaries.
Trump called Ukraine corrupt and said Giuliani was the right person for the job.
“He’s like an iconic figure in this country for two reasons. He was the greatest mayor in the history of New York and he was the greatest crime fighter probably in the last 50 years,” Trump said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” program of Giuliani, who previously served as the mayor of the largest U.S. city and as a federal prosecutor.
“He’s also a friend of mine. He’s a great person,” Trump added. “ … When you’re dealing with a corrupt country – if Rudy Giuliani – he’s got credentials because of his reputation. … When Rudy Giuliani goes there and you hear it’s a corrupt country, I mean it means a lot.”
A focus of the inquiry is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open two investigations.
One involved Joe Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by Trump’s allies that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to hurt his candidacy and boost Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined that Russia used a campaign of propaganda and hacking to interfere in the election to try to help Trump win.
Testimony in the impeachment inquiry has shown that Trump in May instructed top U.S. officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy. This came after the president removed Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at Giuliani’s urging even as the former mayor was pressing officials in Kiev to conduct the investigations that could benefit Trump.
Democrats also are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine – a vulnerable U.S. ally facing Russian aggression – as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting investigations politically beneficial to Trump. The money – approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country – was provided to Ukraine in September only after the controversy spilled into public view.
“You have to look at corruption,” Trump told Fox News. “Are we going to be sending massive amounts of money to a country and they’re corrupt and they steal the money and it goes into everybody’s bank account?”
Trump said Ukraine is “known as being the third most corrupt country in the world.”
Ukraine ranked 120 out of the 180 countries measured in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2018. Its score of 32 out of 100 on the index, which is widely-used by companies when deciding where to do business, indicates the country has serious corruption issues.
The hearings may pave the way for the Democratic-led House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump of those charges and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for removing Trump.
“I want a trial,” Trump told Fox News.
Trump said that among the witnesses he would like to hear from in a Senate trial would be the whistleblower from within the intelligence community whose complaint about Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president triggered the impeachment inquiry, which was launched in September. The whistleblower’s identity remains secret.
Reporting By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis

Trump says envoy Marie Yovanovitch refused to hang his photo
November 22, 2019
BBC News
President Donald Trump has pilloried an envoy who testified in the impeachment inquiry, claiming she refused to hang his photo in the US embassy in Ukraine.
Mr Trump told Fox News’ morning show former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch “didn’t want to hang my picture in the embassy” in Ukraine.
The president did not offer further details about the matter.
Ms Yovanovitch testified last week that she was fired over “false claims” by people with “questionable motives”.
She was one of 12 witnesses to testify over the last two weeks in the impeachment inquiry, which is looking into alleged abuse of power by the president.
In a phone call to Fox and Friends on Friday morning, Mr Trump referred to Ms Yovanovitch as “the woman” and said he had heard “bad things about her”.
“This ambassador, who everybody says was so wonderful,” Mr Trump said, “she wouldn’t hang my picture in the embassy.
“She’s in charge of the embassy, it took, like, a year and a half, two years.”
He added that his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, “didn’t say good things” about her.
Mr Giuliani has come up repeatedly in the impeachment hearings as witnesses say he pursued an irregular channel of US-Ukraine relations.
“She said bad things about me, she wouldn’t defend me, and I have the right to change the ambassador,” Mr Trump added.
“The standard is you put the president of the United States’ picture in the embassy,” he continued. “This was not an angel, this woman, OK?”
It was not the first time the president has attacked Ms Yovanovitch.
The Republican president lambasted her in a tweet while she was testifying last Friday – a move that Democrats argued amounted to witness intimidation.
A career diplomat, Ms Yovanovitch was recalled as the American ambassador to Kyiv in May, two months before a phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the congressional inquiry that may seek to remove the US president from office.
A rough transcript of July’s call revealed that Mr Trump urged President Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Democratic White House contender Joe Biden and claims of 2016 election meddling.
The president spent a significant portion of Friday’s television interview discussing a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine – not Russia – meddling in the US 2016 presidential election.
These claims were branded “a fictional narrative” by Thursday’s impeachment witness, former White House intelligence official and Russia expert Fiona Hill.
Mr Trump mentioned the “deep state” several times to Fox and Friends, and repeatedly claimed Ukraine had wanted him to lose the 2016 election.
“Don’t forget – Ukraine hated me, they were after me in the election, they wanted Hillary Clinton to win,” the president said. “When I won, all of a sudden they became so nice, they had to make up.”
On Thursday, Ms Hill did say that Ukrainian officials had spoken disparagingly of Mr Trump, but only because they expected Hillary Clinton to win the White House.
Sondland was involved in a “domestic political errand” for Trump
She warned elected officials not to promote “politically driven falsehoods” that seek to cast doubt on Russia’s alleged interference in US elections.
In his interview on Friday, Mr Trump also defended his decision to dispatch Mr Giuliani to Ukraine.
He said the former New York City mayor “is a great crime fighter” and “legendary figure”.
“When you’re dealing with a corrupt country, Rudy Giuliani’s got credentials because of his reputation,” the president said.
What next with the impeachment inquiry?
After sprinting through seven public hearings with 12 witnesses over five days, the House Intelligence Committee is now writing a report to submit to the Judiciary Committee, which is then expected to draft articles of impeachment.
The committee would begin writing the impeachment articles – or the charges of wrongdoing against the president – in early December.
After a vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, a trial would be held in the Republican-controlled Senate.
If Mr Trump was convicted by a two-thirds majority, he would become the first US president to be removed from office through impeachment.
The White House and some Republicans want the trial to be limited to two weeks. President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial lasted five weeks.

Are Republicans preparing to cut Rudy Giuliani loose to save Trump?
Impeachment hearing questions took a sudden turn as GOP appears to put distance between Trump and his lawyer
November 21, 2019
by Igor Derysh
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani lashed out at Republican impeachment counsel Steve Castor over his questions to European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland as Republican lawmakers signaled that they may point the finger at the former New York City mayor to help President Donald Trump.
Sondland testified Wednesday that he and other administration officials were unhappy that Trump directed them to work with Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and said Giuliani pushed for what Sondland described as a “quid pro quo.”
Tweeting on Wednesday, Giuliani insisted that Sondland’s testimony under oath was speculative, and declared “no quid pro quo!”
He also took issue with a question posed by Castor, who asked Sondland during the hearing if he knew “that Rudy Giuliani has private business interests in Ukraine
“Republican lawyer doesn’t do his own research and preparation, and is instead picking up Democrat lies, shame,” Giuliani tweeted. “Allow me to inform him: I have NO financial interests in Ukraine, NONE! I would appreciate his apology.”
Castor appeared to be referring to reports that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether Giuliani stood to personally profit from a Ukrainian energy firm pushed by associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Parnas and Fruman, who were later indicted on charges that they illegally funneled foreign money into U.S. elections, also helped Giuliani search for incriminating information on former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine.
Castor mentioned that Giuliani was involved with “Messrs. Parnas and Fruman” in their business ventures. He also noted that former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker testified the previous day that Giuliani “was doing his own communications,” suggesting that he was trying to distance President Trump from his attorney.
This line of questioning is notable because it signals that the Republican strategy may shift to one of “blame Rudy” following Sondland’s damning testimony.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President,” Sondland testified, referring to investigations Giuliani wanted into the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., told reporters outside of the hearing room that he has “some questions about what Mr. Giuliani was doing.”
Lamborn suggested that if Giuliani was “off on his own mission doing things that people didn’t know about, kind of like a loose cannon, then that’s a Rudy Giuliani thing, that’s not a President Trump thing.”
Top House Republicans told Axios before the hearings began that “Rudy will be cut loose because he was rogue.”
“This is not an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani, it’s not an impeachment of Ambassador Sondland. It’s an impeachment of the president of the United States,” a Republican member of one of the impeachment committees told the outlet. “So the point is as long as this is a step removed, he’s in good shape. . . .If it’s a step removed from the president, he doesn’t lose any Republicans in the House.”
Republican sources similarly told The Washington Post that Giuliani’s “business interests in Ukraine” may show that he was “motivated by personal gain” and not “loyalty to Trump.”
These claims are contradicted by the public evidence that Giuliani was acting at the behest of the president, who remains his client.
Giuliani bragged to The New York Times back in May that he was planning to go to Ukraine to push for investigations that could help Trump. Trump appears to have personally pushed for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. He also called Sondland a day after the July 25 call with Zelensky to press him on the status of “the investigations,” U.S. diplomat David Holmes testified to the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., pressed Sondland during his Wednesday testimony on who stood to benefit from the “quid pro quo” with Ukraine.
“I assume President Trump would benefit,” Sondland testified.
It would be difficult to distance the president from his own attorney, especially given Sondland’s testimony implicating numerous top administration officials.
“To a certain degree, [Sondland] took out the bus and ran over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said of Wednesday’s testimony. “He implicates all of them.”

Russians Own Over $98 Million in Trump Properties in Florida
At least 63 Russian oligarchs purchased $98.4 million in properties in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in South Florida. They included businessmen with deep ties to the Putin regime and suspected criminals.
None of the buyers are members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The Russian ownership is much higher than is publicly known, as about a third of the owners are LLCs (limited liability companies) who routinely hide the identities of property owners. And the nationalities of some of the buyers is not publicly known.
The South Florida area has a large concentration of Trump-owned and/or branded buildings. Sunny Isles Beach, which has six of the seven Trump-branded residential towers, has one of the highest concentrations of Russian-born residents in the US.
Six of those seven Trump properties in Florida are the result of an agreement between Trump and the father-and-son development team of Michael and Gil Dezer. Gil Dezer says that the project generated some $2 billion in initial sales, of which Trump received a commission, 4%, for an estimated profit of anywhere between $20 and $80 million. In March 2017, one of those properties, the Trump International Beach Resort, continued to generate profits for Trump.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in 2017: “While [Trump] has denied having invested in Russia, he has said little or nothing about Russian investment in his businesses and properties in the United States or elsewhere. This should concern all Americans and is yet another reason why his refusal to release his tax returns should be met with considerable skepticism and concern.” Some of the Russians who own Trump-branded property are using the properties to “stow cash,” in the words of the team of Reuters journalists who authored the initial report.
One buyer, Pavel Uglanov, is a former deputy minister for industry and energy in the Saratov regional government of central Russia. He bought a 3-bedroom apartment in Trump Hollywood for $1.8 million in 2012, and sold it for $2.9 million two years later. Uglanov struggled to keep businesses running in America. In August 2016, Uglanov posted a photo of himself on Facebook standing with Alexander Zaldonostov, leader of a motorcycle gang calling themselves the “Night Wolves.”
During the course of the G-20 conference held in Osaka, Japan on 28-29 June, 2019, Donald Trump, the American President, had a brief, private talk with Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.
This talk lasted eleven minutes.
President Trump requested that Ms. Merkel halt the official German investigations into the activities of the Deutsche Bank with regards to the possibility of their assisting in the laundering of Russian drug monies.
Trump said that he had been doing business with “numerous” Russian businessmen and a great deal of money was involved. He said that he had no idea that their support of his real estate ventures involved laundering Russian illegal drug money and that if the investigations became known to the public, it would injure his chances for reelection.
Mrs. Merkel advised President Trump that it was her understanding that the investigations were extensive and on-going but the best she could do would be to restrict their findings only to competent German agencies.
President Trump stated very firmly that he wanted these investigations to cease immediately and he also demanded that he be given any reports they had prepared.
Mrs. Merkel said she would investigate this matter but felt that she could not control either the investigation or interdict its findings.
Mr. Trump then advised Mrs. Merkel that he planned to build a large luxury hotel in Germany and that if Mrs. Merkel was able to satisfactorily address his needs, he would guarantee that Mrs. Merkel herself or a designated member of her family could manage the hotel to her economic advantage.
Subsequent to this meeting, Mrs.Merkel advised competent German authority of the incident.
The large German financial conglomerate Deutsche Bank, later to become one of Donald Trump’s favored institutions, became entangled with Russia after the bank bought boutique investment bank UFG in order to gain entry into Moscow’s financial markets. UFG’s chairman, Charles Ryan, was an American banker; his partner was Boris Fyodorov, formerly Russia’s Finance Minister in the Yeltsin administration. Deutsche’s future co-CEO, Anshu Jain, was the one who wants Deutsche to become more involved with Russia.
Other investment banks soon found Deutsche’s business practices suspicious. Christopher Barter, at the time the CEO of Goldman Sachs Moscow, said later: “They were doing some very curious things. Nobody could make sense of their business. We found the nature and concentration of their business with VTB (Vneshtorgbank) quite galling. Nobody else could touch VTB.” VTB was known to be deeply connected to Russian intelligence, the FSB.

The War on Words in Donald Trump’s White House
How to Fudge, Obfuscate, and Lie Our Way into a New Universe
November 22, 2019
by Karen J. Greenberg
These days, witnessing the administration’s never-ending cruelty at the border, the shenanigans of a White House caught red-handed in attempted bribery in Ukraine, and the disarray of this country’s foreign policy, I feel like I’m seeing a much-scarier remake of a familiar old movie. The cast of characters and the headlines are different, but the thinking underlying it all is, in many ways, eerily reminiscent of what we as a nation experienced during the early years of the Global War on Terror, particularly when it comes to the interactions between the White House and the public. As then, so today, there is distrust, there are conflicting facts, and there is little in the way of a widely agreed upon narrative about what’s happening, no less how to interpret those events.
The most blatant attack on facts comes in the form of the unabashed lying of President Donald Trump, who obfuscates and changes his many stories with impressive regularity. By this October, after almost 1,000 days in office, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s database, he had made 13,435 false or misleading claims. He had lied about immigration, the stock market, the impact his sanctions and tariffs were having on the American economy, U.S. troop withdrawals from the Middle East, the size of his crowds, and even the weather, which, of course, is just the beginning of a far longer list.
Still, despite the breadth of his falsehoods, the president’s behavior has actually been anything but novel at a fundamental level. After all, President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, took this country to war based on an outright lie — that there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s arsenal in Iraq — a falsehood which cost the U.S. more than a trillion dollars and took staggering numbers of Iraqi and American lives, a war that has never really ended and is widely seen (as Trump and Bernie Sanders have both said) as the worst mistake in our history.
The corrosiveness of official lying has long been the subject of philosophers. Hannah Arendt, writing about the Pentagon Papers and the corrosive effects of falsehoods back in 1971, called “the right to unmanipulated factual information” basic, one “without which all freedom of opinion becomes a cruel hoax.” But it’s important to note that, when it comes to the Trump presidency, there is so much more to the strategy of degrading public discourse and debasing the facts than anything as simple and straightforward as mere lying. Political scientist Kelly Greenhill has aptly termed Trump’s assault on the truth “extra-factual information,” pointing to “distraction, threat conflation, normalization, and repetition” as among the methods he employs to make facts anything but what they used to be.
For Trump, lying is but the tip of the iceberg and in this he reflects far more than his own predilections. He reflects as well our moment, our age. George Orwell, that prescient twentieth-century observer, warned in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” about one key aspect of such a lying mindset: the way “lack of precision” in language can pose a danger to society and to political stability.
When it comes to imprecision today, the dangers couldn’t be more real. In fact, the strategies employed in Washington to confuse and mislead the public have subtly eaten away at the country’s collective mindset, creating fertile ground for Trumpian-style lying to successfully take root. In many ways, the focus on Donald Trump’s blatant and persistent lying only serves to obfuscate other no less destructive methods of deceiving the public that preceded him into the White House and helped create the conditions that make the president’s lies so destabilizing.
Consider just six ways in which, in this century, imprecision and cloudiness have come to define American political discourse.
The Recasting of Language: The gutting of the customary uses of language and the substitution of new, imprecise replacements has, as Orwell warned, set the stage for lying and duplicity to multiply. Officials of the Bush administration, for instance, redefined basic legal terms specifically to circumvent the law. Instead of “prisoners” at their Guantanamo Bay detention center, they had “detainees.” Instead of “lawful enemy combatants,” they just had “enemy combatants,” a term without a commonly understood or precise definition that conveniently skipped the idea of lawfulness entirely.
In her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt reminded us how new “language rules” became part and parcel of the Nazi propaganda world in ways meant to confuse the public about the changing German reality. The forced imprisonment of Jews in concentration camps was, for instance, referred to as a “change of residence.” In The Death of Truth, Michiko Kakutani reflects on Trump’s version of such an “assault on language,” his penchant, in particular, for “the taking of words and principles intrinsic to the rule of law and contaminating them with personal agendas and political partisanship.” As examples, she notes his use of words “to mean the exact opposite of what they really mean,” particularly the way he took the words of his accusers and robbed them of meaning by turning them back on the accusers themselves. For instance, Hillary Clinton “colluded” with Ukraine, not he with Russia (ditto, of course, for Hunter and Joe Biden). Words, in other words, become exactly what he cares to make of them.
Uncertain Numbers: Numbers, which otherwise might seem so precise, have similarly been used to create a sense of imprecision in Washington. A short trip down memory lane should remind us of some of the ways in which vagueness and imprecision were instrumental parts of the war on terror in particular. For Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, numerical precision of a distinctly imprecise sort provided an effective means of refusing to offer any meaningful information to the media on the administration’s illegal acts. He had, for instance, a penchant for referring to the number of detainees at Guantanamo in approximate rather than specific terms. “More than 150,” for instance, sounded innocuously close to precise, but also served his purpose — creating a lack of transparency around the administration’s war on terror.
The detention of migrants at the border in the Trump years echoes Rumsfeld’s refusal to share real numbers, but has gone even further in creating a kind of numerical imprecision around reality itself. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has, for instance, been strikingly obstructionist when it comes to announcing the numbers of migrants in its custody. Last July, for instance, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan claimed that fewer than 1,000 children had been separated from their parents. As it turned out, he wasn’t even close to accurate. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions alone, 2,800 families had been separated in this fashion. Only recently, a suit brought by the ACLU led to the release of government statistics showing that an additional 1,500 families had, in fact, experienced such separations.
Willful Ignorance: Hiding or ignoring facts has been yet another tactic integral to the deception of these years. The Bush administration, for instance, purposely disregarded then-CIA Director George Tenet’s comments about the striking lack of certainty regarding the presence of nuclear and biological weaponry in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Instead, they relied on false claims about the presence of WMDs in Iraq as the premise for invading that country.
Sometimes, Bush officials quite deliberately put their heads in the sand rather than face reality. For example, when the first accounts of the grim abuse of Iraqi captives at the American prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq were reported by CBS News (and later even by Fox News) in 2004, according to journalist Andrew Cockburn, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith “sent an urgent memo round the Pentagon warning officials not to read [such reports], or even discuss [them] with family members.”
More recently, upon the release of the Mueller Report, President Trump expanded on this strategy, applying it to himself when he boasted that “I have not seen the Mueller report. I have not read the Mueller report. I won. No collusion, no obstruction.”
Unabashedly choosing to bury his head in the sand in a similar fashion, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told the media that he wouldn’t read the transcripts of witnesses at the initial closed Congressional impeachment proceedings when they were made public. “I made up my mind… There’s nothing there.” Several Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have similarly said that they won’t be watching the House impeachment hearings, claiming they have “better things to do.”
Withholding Evidence: In addition to ignoring facts and embracing ignorance, withholding evidence has been one obvious path to blunting awareness. From the first Abu Ghraib photos to today’s military commissions at Guantanamo, evidence of torture has, for instance, been purposely withheld or misrepresented. Likewise, the Trump administration has consistently withheld documents and records about its migrant detention system and the methods used in it, as illustrated by a determination to claim absolute immunity for officials refusing to testify in Congress on the subject. Similarly, ICE has refused to release records of the agency’s surveillance and data-collection methods, including the use of facial-recognition software at the border. It’s no surprise then that the White House has employed the same tactic — not allowing officials of all sorts to testify before Congress — in the ongoing impeachment hearings. As the whistleblower in the Ukraine quid pro quo bribery scandal has informed us, White House lawyers were directed “to remove the electronic transcript [of Trump’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president] from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.”
The Destruction of the Record: A fifth tactic meant to confuse and enable governmental lying in these years has been the destruction of the facts themselves. Worse than linguistic sloppiness, omissions, and willful ignorance has been the actual destruction of potentially incriminating documents. (We, of course, only know about examples of this that have come to light.) The Bush administration pioneered such tactics. We know, for instance, that Jose Rodriguez, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, destroyed tapes of sessions with war-on-terror prisoners in Agency “black sites” around the world in which so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (acts of torture) were used. Prosecutor John Durham, who is now tasked by Attorney General Barr with looking into the origins of the Mueller Russia investigation, was asked by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey and then Obama Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the destruction of those tapes, only to conclude that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue charges.
Under Trump, a strategy of destroying government records has evolved into one of not creating such records to begin with. In 2017, for instance, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a suit charging the Trump administration with violating the Presidential Records Act (PRA) by using an encrypted application designed to delete the contents of the president’s email messages. This May, the two groups, along with the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, filed a complaint against the White House for violating the PRA and the Federal Records Act by failing to create records of conversations with foreign leaders. Last month, the plaintiffs intensified their efforts by asking a judge for an immediate injunction to require the White House to preserve the records of all calls with foreign leaders.
Spreading Conflicting Facts: Trump and his team have added a new layer of confusion to all of this by making the spreading of contradictory stories a normal part of everyday life in Washington. The impeachment hearings are a case in point. Potential administration witnesses say one thing one day, only to contradict it without blinking soon after. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, for instance, said that there had indeed been a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, only to retract his statement hours later. Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who became a key figure in the Ukraine negotiations, first claimed that there was “no quid pro quo,” only to later revise his testimony. “I now recall” otherwise, he acknowledged, in a supplemental declaration issued three weeks later. Military aid had, in fact, been withheld pending a Ukrainian agreement to investigate Hunter Biden and Burisma.
This is increasingly the norm and not just in relation to the impeachment hearings either. Only recently, for instance, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow told reporters that China and the U.S. had reached an agreement about reducing tariffs, only to be contradicted within hours by the president’s senior trade advisor who swore that no such agreement existed. And so it goes in Washington as 2019 comes to an end.
The New Norm in Washington
Of course, neither George W. Bush nor Donald Trump invented such methods of compromising truth and facts, but in recent years this has become something like the new norm. Through the centuries, as Orwell and Arendt made clear long ago, the connection between the integrity of language, the validity of facts, and the strength of any country has been acknowledged. The Greek historian Thucydides, writing about the Peloponnesian Wars thousands of years ago, associated the gutting of language with the dissolution of the state. “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally… moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any.”
Historically, the degradation of words has gone hand in hand with the undermining of stability for which the accepted meaning of things remains essential. Armed with the integrity of words, knowledge can be shared among a citizenry, otherwise chaos becomes the order of the day. In his farewell to the nation, George Washington, himself an admirer of the classical thinkers, tied such diffusion of knowledge, the means by which the government could “give force to public opinion,” to the strength of the republic.
Today, in Donald Trump’s Washington anything goes, linguistically speaking. Sadly, words are more important than we as a nation seem to believe. They are the bedrock on which facts are built and facts are the bedrock on which nations stand in order to make decisions. The Trump administration has little respect for the integrity of words, no respect for educating the public with the facts, and every intention of clouding the space between fact and fiction, certainty and uncertainty.
Perhaps the best strategy for finding our way forward is to hold one another accountable, first and foremost, for the very words we use.

Netanyahu calls decision to indict him an ‘attempted coup’
Enraged PM goes on the offensive, slamming AG and police investigators, who he claims were ‘after him’; 2 other defendants, Elovich and Mozes, also issue statements expressing their disappointment over what they see as unfair charges
November 21, 2019
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called a criminal indicment against him an attempt at a “government coup” and he will continue to “lead Israel.” It is the first time in the country’s history a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday formally charged Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, throwing the country’s paralyzed political system into further disarray and threatening the long-time leader’s grip on power. Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals.
In a televised speech shortly after the indictment was announced, Netanyahu, 70, claimed that the investigation against him was tainted by bias, saying the police investigators “weren’t after the truth, they were after me.”
“This evening we are witnesses to an attempted government coup against the prime minister, using false allegations and stained investigations,” said Netanyahu. “You must have noticed that the attorney general’s decision was made and announced at an unprecedented speed, and I would say during the most sensitive time for our political system since the establishment of the state,” he said.
“The process is intended to topple an incumbent prime minister from the right. It was designed to bring me down. Me, who unlike many of my opponents and the media, wants to see a free market here not only when it comes to the economy but in the media as well,” he added.
“It is time for the public to receive clear answers about all of this and also about the tainted investigations conducted against me, in which they were not after the truth, they were after me.”
Netanyahu then went on a lengthy rant, accusing the investigators of threating and blackmailing state witnesses until they told them “what they wanted to hear, which isn’t what actually happened.”
The prime minister finished the defiant speech by saying he will not resign and urged to “investigate the investigators.”
Other defendants
The other defendants in the indictment have also issued statements expressing their disappointment over Mandelblit’s decision.
Shaul Elovich and his wife Iris, both indicted on bribery charges in Case 4000, said they “regret” the attorney general’s decision to indict them
Based on the evidence in the case, we are convinced that an indictment could have been avoided, said Attorney Jack Chen, who represents Elovitch. “Once the case is passed for judicial review, we hope that the three-year-long slanderous accusation and leaks will finally stop,” he said.
“We trust that the court will reach the conclusion that, based on the evidence, Shaul and Iris Elovich did not commit the offenses attributed to them.”
Arnon Mozes, indicted on bribery charges in Case 2000, said the interpretation of the relationship he had with the prime minister as bribery is a “distorted interpretation” of facts.
“Moses did not offer Netanyahu any benefits,” said attorneys representing Mozes in a statement. “The conversation between the two shows that Moses tried to convince Netanyahu to be interviewed, and suggested a writer who would occasionally write opinion pieces in the newspaper, which was clearly in the interest of Yedioth Ahronoth,” said the statement. “That was offered to Netanyahu even before the conversation that is at the heart of the case.”

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019
Chapter 5.

During the two weeks before the Winrods were to return to their private showing of Chaos and Old Night, Chuck and sometimes-Lars entertained themselves by buying new clothes and shoes to replace the ones that were destroyed in the Great Redecoration project.
Neither one of the artists had the slightest intention of returning to the scene of their crime but a daily reading of the Los Angeles “Times” proved fruitless. Evidently the Winrod neighbors were not curious or the running water had flooded the interior of the first floor up to the level of the ceiling without escaping, which might have proven interesting when the front door was eventually opened by a returning Winrod family and, hopefully, dog.
Chuck mused on this aspect of his recent crime at some length.
“Just think, Lars, what would happen if old Art opened the front door and was washed down into the storm drains with all their luggage. Estelle would be standing by their car as Art shot past, not knowing what to do. I can just hear her shouting, ‘Art, Art, toss me the keys!’ as he disappeared down the drain.”
“What if they went inside and drowned in the living room, Chuck? I don’t think the water would get that high. I think the windows would break first.”
“Well, the water has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? It isn’t just going to hold its mud for two weeks. Maybe it flooded the alley but then if it did, the neighbors would call someone. At least I think they should. What do you do with a river in the alley?”
In fact, the water poured out of the house, having broken the glass in the dining room doors, and after flooding the back yard, coursed out into the alley. After two days of a thick stream of water pouring past their garage, Myron Ginzburg, a neighbor, called the Los Angeles water department.
The dim-witted minority who took the call was too busy trying to set up a cocaine buy from her brother and forgot to report the presence of a brand-new trout stream complete with strange foreign objects such as lumps of reeking cow manure, pages from destroyed books, the contents of Estelle’s late mother’s sewing basket, small jars of spices and an occasional piece of a ripped and bleached garment.
A pine martin stole lay partially wrapped around one of his garbage cans for over two weeks because he thought it was just another cat that the neighbors had poisoned.
The rest of the flotsam from the house was eventually deposited on the street close to the Winrod disaster but was totally ignored by everyone. In Los Angeles, it was considered bad taste, and certainly dangerous, to meddle in other persons’ businesses.
Last year, only two blocks away, a severed human head had lain, sightless, in the gutter for two days after a hostile ghetto bill collector had deposited it there late at night, before a friendly neighborhood German Shepherd dragged it home to eat at his pleasure on his very own front lawn. By the time anyone had noticed the grotesque scene, the relic was entirely unrecognizable and the first police officer on the scene suggested, only partially in fun, that the dog should be allowed to finish his meal and save him a good deal of time-consuming paper work.
On the day appointed for the return of their masters, the employees stood in a muted group in the parking lot behind the store. No one loved Art and Estelle but all of them enjoyed eating and rummaging for cheap but relatively respectable clothing in the local salvage shops.
The jewelry store was not known for its high pay scale and a year before, one of their salesmen was caught by the police passing out clothes to his waiting wife from inside a Goodwill cast-off clothing deposit box in a church parking lot.
Both Cyril, who preferred to be known to Chuck and Osvald, who preferred to be called anything but his given name or late to dinner, were standing at the back of the group of depressed workers.
Both were wearing new shoes and articles of clothing that did not look like they had come from a rummage sale at a mortuary. Over the past several days, they had given a good deal of mirthful thought to the state of mind of their employers when they waded into what by now must be an urban swamp complete with pond scum, rampant mould, alligators and floating furniture, but today they kept their merriment to themselves. Some things do not need to be shared with anyone, especially with vindictive and treacherous fellow employees.
The store was supposed to open at 9:30 a.m. for the staff so by 10, the sheep were bleating softly to each other while looking at the expensive watches that Art and Estelle insisted they purchase from the company for the purpose of advertisement.
By 10:30, an overweight and overwrought woman who had been voicing apprehensions that Art and Estelle had died of food poisoning in Las Vegas or had been killed and devoured by a minotaur, lumbered to a pay phone in the back of the neighboring shop that sold very expensive unisex leather undergarments to members of the clergy.
She returned several minutes later with the news that Art and Estelle were not answering their phone and that at least one of her Cassandra-like predictions must have come true.
By 11, all of the other employees had departed to wait in a coffee shop on the next block, leaving Chuck and Eric alone with their thoughts and Chuck’s high quality lock pick set.
It took the best salesman only a minute to pick the lock and another minute to turn off the burglar alarm before it could alarm the police.
“I didn’t know you could turn that thing off,” said Eric as he closed the door behind them.
“I can do many mysterious things, friend, as you know. Art and Estelle probably got back about 11 last night, walked through the front door and drowned in the flood. By now, the neighbor’s cocker spaniels are munching on their bloated corpses. If no one has come down here yet, I figure we have about twenty minutes to clean the place out and leave the others to take the blame.”
And without further ado, he picked the lock into Art’s office, located the combination to the huge walk-in safe in which anything of value was kept that clever Art hid on a small card cunningly taped on the inside of a desk drawer and five minutes later, he pulled open the gray steel doors to the amazement of his companion.
“Oh my, Chuck, look at all the nice things! I wish I knew something about jewelry so I would know what to pick out.”
His crime partner pushed him to one side.
“Look, go stick your penis into a clock. You understand them, don’t you? Let me clear out these trays and be a good man and bring me that big canvas bag Art keeps in his closet for deposits. I am about to make a major withdrawal.”
Pulling open drawers full of jewelry, he tossed some pieces into the bag and ignored others. Watches, bracelets, necklaces, rings, brooches and gold coins began to fill out the flabby contours of the canvas bag while Eric, or sometimes Lars, was engaged in pilfering a drawer of Patek-Phillipe and Rolex watches, stuffing them into the pockets of his garish new sport coat.
“Hey, hey, compadre, that’s all community property. I know what that stuff is worth. Share and share alike, buddy. Didn’t we split the money I found in Mamma Mary’s statue?”
Lars was annoyed.
“Of course I’ll share with you…oh my, look at the diamonds on this little jewel…but we need to get out of here. Someone walked by and I could see them peeking in through the window.”
Chuck wheeled around but could not see the door.
“What are you talking about, turd head? You can’t see the door from here.”
“No, but if you look in the glass on that case, you can see a reflection.”
“True. Look, I have just about everything in the bag. What do you want to do with the fake stuff?”
The Winrods kept a large selection of faux jewelry to sell to slipping movie personalities who had sold the real pieces years before but still liked to keep up appearances.
“Why not bring it too, Chuck? If we only take the good stuff, someone might think we knew what we were taking.”
“Good point. Sorry I called you a turd head. Try to find a nice container that looks uncommitted and we can take everything else.”
Chuck left behind a number of items and insisted on taking all of the jewelry cases with store’s logo stamped into them.
“Why are you leaving some things behind? And wouldn’t be easier to take the jewelry without the boxes?”
“I suppose you have a point, Lars,” Chuck said as he closed the safe doors but did not lock them. “You see, I figure either the employees or especially the local cops, will take what is left when they discover the thefts and a few days later, I can dump all the boxes in a place that will do us the most good. Trust me, Lars, I know what I’m doing.”
“Do you think the police will steal things, Chuck? I never knew they did things like that.”
“Maybe not in Minnesota but they certainly steal in Los Angeles. And when they’re not stealing, they’re beating blacks, beaners and winos to death. At least in New York, they only stick broom handles up black’s bungholes for fun. But mostly, they don’t rob rich people who can make trouble. They rob drug dealers of their nice watches, cash and above all, Lars, they take the drugs so they can sell them later on. And if they see someone they don’t like with a nice, expensive car, they can always stop the idiot for a broken taillight, hide some of their own coke under the seat and confiscate the car for personal use. They also take homes and other valuable things. Now up in San Francisco, the cops like to shoot people just for fun so I think the citizens of LA are not so bad off, as long as they are white and live in the right neighborhoods. Look, this is what we can do. We turn the sign in the door around to say ‘OPEN’, unlock the door and let anyone in who wants to spend their money with us. In the meantime, we go out the back, over to the next block and put all of this stuff in the trunk of my car.”
Lars opened the back door and peered out into the disinterested parking lot.
“It’s safe now, Chuck. And then we go to your place and see how much we got?”
“No, we go back to the coffee shop and wait for one of the twits to notice that customers are going into the shop. They’ll be so eager to grab their petty commissions that they’ll all rush over. Notice how we both wear gloves? They don’t and sooner or later, someone will discover the safe is open. Think of all the fun then. When that happens, I have some wonderful ideas.”


This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

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