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TBR News July 12, 2017

Jul 12 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., July 12, 2017:” Amidst all the juvenile screaming about what amounted to Hillary Clinton’s totally unanticipated loss of the White House in the last election, what is continually overlooked is the fact that regardless of who released the Podesta documents, they were entirely authentic. It doesn’t matter if WikiLeaks released this data, the Russian GRU or a Girl Scout Troup in Tanzania. What does matter is the accuracy of the release and to date, heartbroken Democrats and the useless left wing print media are still venting their rage over their political, and economic, loss. Also, the WikiLeaks release of highly embarrassing CIA material fits into the same category. Who gives a damn who released it or their motives? What is the issue, or ought to be, is the authenticity of the releases. No one has challenged these because they cannot.”

Table of Contents

  • Was Trump Junior Framed?
  • Sergey Lavrov ‘bewildered’ by anti-Trump accusations
  • Who Is the Real Enemy?
  • Kremlin: Moscow’s patience running out in diplomatic row with U.S
  • Turkish opposition gains new momentum
  • Credit card fraud: What you need to know
  • Stolen by a Russian spy, Dutch painting now returned to German museum
  • Giant iceberg breaks off Antarctica
  • The Vancouver Caper

 

Was Trump Junior Framed?

“Russia-gate” goes nuclear

July 12, 2017

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

As a storm breaks over Washington, and the details of foreign “collusion” and intrigue over the 2016 presidential election break out into the open, I just happened to be re-reading Gore Vidal’s The Golden Age, a novel set in the run up to World War II in which pretty much the same plot line plays out on the same terrain.

The novel is a reminder that nothing has really changed since 1940, except in terms of scale. Washington is still teeming with agents of various foreign powers, and, as in Vidal’s novel, the British intelligence organization plays a key role, but then again the book is set before our much touted “seventeen intelligence agencies” were founded. Vidal takes us through the drawing rooms and editorial offices of Washington, listening in on conversations between characters both real and imagined. It’s as if the National Security Agency was operating at a time when computers existed only in the realm of science fiction, scooping up all our data and giving us a bird’s eye view of how the world works.

The reader meets Wendell Wilkie, the “barefoot boy” from Wall Street, his antipode, the isolationist Senator Bob Taft, mastermind British agent Ernest Cuneo, Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, H. L. Mencken, and of course Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Couple are at the center of it all, pulling strings invisible to the American people but all too obvious to the Washington insiders, who scheme, gossip, and fornicate as they march the rest of the country into the inferno of World War II.

The city is a battlefield largely occupied by the British, who are determined to get us into the war and spare no details in their elaborate campaign. The interventionist Wilkie is their man, a marionette made to order by the British Security Coordination, which deploys a series of ingeniously dirty tricks to get their man the nomination, and thus block the antiwar Taft from giving the American people a choice at the ballot box. Juicy nuggets of historical detail are thrown into the novelistic mix, e.g., the story of the powerful isolationist Senator Arthur Vandenberg, whose turnabout was due to his seduction by a British Mata Hari. The result is a panoramic view of how America was invaded and conquered by a foreign power and pushed into a world war while the isolationist hinterland slept.

“We shall have it all!” exclaims Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s Svengali, and when he’s asked what is “it,” he replies: “The world.” The Golden Age is the story of America on the road to empire, and how the American people were dragged, kicking and screaming, down that bloody highway. Today, having reached our destination, we’re smack in the middle of what seems very much like a work by Vidal, the posthumous capstone of his series of historical novels chronicling the progression of our old republic into a bloated imperium.

The drama now playing out in the headlines has all the same elements: foreign agents plotting to sway the nation’s destiny, the looming threat of war, and dirty tricks aplenty. Speaking of which: just how, exactly, did the three anonymous sources cited by the New York Times come to possess Donald Trump, Jr.’s emails? It is a measure of the Deep State’s desperation that, by this device, they have blown their cover and openly, brazenly, come out as the coup plotters they are. Yes, rumors abound that the sources are in the White House, and this may be superficially true: but of course, unlike Don Junior, the actual sources are smart enough to use go-betweens.

As the machinations and murky allegiances of various swamp creatures come to light, the main players are so much like the characters out of a novel that one wonders if Vidal isn’t up there – or, perhaps, down there – pounding away at some supernatural word-processor, his creation demonically translated into real events.

There is Don Junior, the fresh-faced and rather obtuse presidential progeny, who walks straight into the arms of the clownish Bob Goldstone, a former British tabloid journalist and events promoter, who set up the fateful meeting. There is Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who previously worked with Fusion GPS, the dirty tricks firm employed by the Never Trump crowd that came up with the salacious “dirty dossier,” claiming that Trump had been compromised by Russian intelligence.

As Ernest Cuneo put it in The Golden Age, he had to play “both sides of the fence” in order to pull off the hijacking his British paymasters required, and this old ploy may well have played out in this instance.

There’s the matter of how Veselnitskaya got into the country, having been initially denied a visa by the State Department and then given special dispensation allowing entry. In her affidavit stating why she should be allowed to enter, she said that she was representing a Russian company, Prevezon, in a money-laundering case brought by the US Department of Justice. In this task she was working alongside Fusion GPs, which had been hired by Prevezon to assist in the case. No doubt Veselnitskaya’s history with the folks at Fusion GPs will eventually come out, but they are resisting demands for documents by Sen. Chuck Grassley, citing their First Amendment rights as “journalists.” Given what “journalists” have become these days, one can see their point regardless of the legal technicalities.

As for the incriminating email itself, which – in a burst of novelistic drama worthy of Vidal – was posted along with a statement by Don Junior, its explicitness renders it laughably suspicious. Goldstone informs Junior that he has some juicy information on Hillary’s canoodling with the Russians and that the Russian Crown Prosecutor – their Attorney General – is prepared to release “some official documents” attesting to this. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information,”says Goldstone, “but it’s part of Russia’s and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Do I detect a note mockery it Goldstone’s missive? You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to miss it. Yes, he says, this material is “sensitive,” but I’m going to reveal the identity and motivations of the source in writing, for the record, so that it can exist in cyberspace forever, a message to posterity saying: There’s one born every minute!

The ghost of Gore Vidal isn’t the only one who’s laughing.

The outcome of all this is so predictable that it reads like the kind of script war propagandists have been churning out since the days chronicled in The Golden Age, where Hollywood’s role as the War Party’s instrument is deftly dramatized. The narrative goes like this: evil Trump populists plot with our “adversary,” Russia, to steal the election from the rightful winner, as a White House inhabited by traitors hands the country over to Putin the All-Powerful. Whatever comes out later – the Fusion-Veselnitskaya connection, the real motives of the deliberately stupid Goldstone, the original source of the Goldstone-Junior correspondence – will get lost in the general impression that Trump is some kind of Manchurian candidate, or at least a “useful idiot,” as the old cold warriors used to say.

Indeed, Michael Hayden, the former chief of both the CIA and the National Security Agency – which is the probable source of the Goldstone-Junior emails – called Trump exactly that. The script was written months ago, when it became apparent that Trump would be the nominee – and that he had a real chance of becoming President. Now it is being played out, it all its melodramatic vulgarity.

And while this may be strictly a grade-B production, the producers and financiers behind the show are likely to get some good box office, with multitudinous investigations, commissions of inquiry, and a full-court press. Thus they’ll accomplish their primary objective – blocking any rapprochement with Russia, and heightening tensions to the breaking point – while laying the groundwork for Trump’s political demise. The question we’ll be hearing continuously from the media, which will be doing the oppo research for Rep. Adam Schiff and his fellow grand inquisitors, is: What did Trump know, and when did he know it?

Republicans will fall back on the probable truth that there’s nothing illegal about “collusion” with a foreign power: our lawmakers regularly collude with foreign lobbyists, some of whom are undoubtedly foreign agents (registered and not-so-registered), with Rep. Schiff being a prominent example. His relationship with a Ukrainian arms dealer is less well-known than it ought to be.

The “it’s not illegal” argument, however, won’t pass scrutiny where it counts: in the court of public opinion, and among the chattering classes. The latter are already our most vocal Never Trumpers, but their increased vehemence, broadcast far and wide, will echo throughout the country, with consequences that bode ill for the cause of peace, détente, and a rational foreign policy.

“What should American policy be toward Putin’s Russia?,” asks Cathy Young in her Reason magazine polemic arguing for a new cold war with Russia. In what is the only true statement in her 7,000-word screed, she writes: “The answer to that question depends, above all, on your view of America’s role in the world and of how broadly America’s national interest should be defined.”

Well, at least it’s a half-truth. For the answer to that question as it relates to Russia is to be found at the end of an inquiry into the real nature and intentions of the Russian leadership We must ask: What does Russia want?

According to the embittered Russian immigrants who play an inordinate role in the policy debate, Putin’s Russia is an authoritarian nightmare, where the regime slaughters journalists with clocklike regularity and Putin the All-Powerful exercises even more control over the brain-deadened Russian populace than he does over the Trump administration. The Russian media is totally controlled, elections are rigged, and the secret police take care of anyone who raises his or her head with ruthless dispatch.

The fact that more Russian journalists died under mysterious circumstances under Boris Yeltsin, Putin’s “pro-Western” predecessor, than during the sixteen years of the All-powerful One’s reign, is ignored, as are the contradictions in the neoconservative narrative. On the one hand, we are told that there are no fair elections in Russia, and in any case the Russian media has so indoctrinated the people that dissent is hopelessly marginalized, and on the other hand they say Putin is mortally afraid of being ousted by Western-backed “dissidents,” whose numbers are growing daily.

Yet this is just the build-up, the demonization process that is the prelude to Putin’s full Hitler-ization. Taking off from the nonsensical premise that all dictators are expansionist aggressors, ready to launch a war of conquest at the first opportunity, while liberal democracy is inherently pacific, the Russian leader’s character development morphs into a Genghis Khan-like figure. Putin’s Golden Hordes are portrayed as massing at Russia’s borders, ready to pounce in any direction – Ukraine, the Baltics, Georgia, or perhaps even Poland. And just to make sure the Russians stay in character, a few provocations should rouse the Russian bear.

Perhaps it will happen in Ukraine, where President Poroshenko is busily bombing the citizens of the eastern provinces into submission. Unlike the Syrian scenario, this movie is only playing in small art theaters: the official fiction is that the sole resistance to Poroshenko’s dictates are Russian soldiers out of uniform. The people of the Donbass have been erased, a green light for their execution by the thousands. Or maybe one of those close calls will get much closer, and the collision of a Russian fighter with one of our jets – over Syria? The Baltics? Kalingrad? – will be the spark that sets the world aflame.

As the winds of Cold War II sweep the political landscape, support for peaceful relations with Russia – never mind the de facto alliance envisioned by President Trump – will freeze over. And the witch-hunt now focused on Trump and his immediate circle will broaden, targeting anyone who challenges the central myth at the heart of the Russophobic narrative: that Russia, a declining power that spends one-tenth of our military budget, is aggressive by its very nature, and specifically aims to topple the US from its pedestal. Of course, this view of Russia is highly colored by the assumption that the US is and must continue to be the global hegemonic power, a premise disputed by us anti-interventionists.

This premise is both unwise and untrue: not only is the United States effectively bankrupt, but it has failed to control world events, a capability to be expected of any proper global hegemon. The “world order” we are constantly being told must be maintained simply does not exist, as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria demonstrated to anyone with eyes to see. The primacy of American military power is a fiction: we haven’t won a war since the Japanese surrendered in World War II.

The reality is that we live in a multipolar world, not the unipolar fantasy concocted by Francis Fukuyama and his fellow neooconservative grandees. We have gone from a world divided between two superpowers to a multipolar order, and Putin, the unsentimental realist, is acting accordingly, while US policymakers have yet to make the necessary transition.

Defeated by the United States and its allies – although one could argue, as I have, that the Soviet Union was undone primarily by the impossibility of socialism and its own inner contradictions – the post-Soviet Russian leadership is faced with an Islamic insurgency that threatens to subvert the foundations of the state. Not only the Chechen problem, but the wider conundrum bedeviling Putin is how to deal with a Muslim population in the multi-millions in the age of Islamist terrorism. Probably the majority of the core fighting terrorist force in Syria has come from the Muslim areas of the Russian Federation – which is why the Russians are now in Syria, seeking to eradicate them lest they come home.

And so they turn to the alleged Keeper of the World Order, the target of the 9/11 hijackers’ wrath: we too, they say, are in the terrorists’ crosshairs, as Beslan and the apartment bombings throughout Russia make the San Bernardino and Orlando incidents in the US look like pinpricks. They turn to their old enemies, those who brought down the Soviet empire and have now encircled it despite solemn promises from the Americans that this would not happen.

I don’t know what Putin, whom I’ve characterized as a realist, expected: surely not the warm embrace of our deluded political class, and a national security bureaucracy that has a vested interest in maintaining the illusion of American hegemony. The Russians were rebuffed, for all sorts of reasons that had nothing to do with real American interests, the main one being the overweening arrogance of US policymakers, who chose not to be generous in victory.

The appearance of Donald Trump on the scene upset the plans of the policymakers, who thought they were going to have a smooth road on their way to fatally overextending and bankrupting their invincible empire. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” This sentiment, repeatedly expressed by the GOP presidential candidate, sent shivers down the spines of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment.

Upon hearing this, the Deep State pricked up its ears – and went into high gear. Not just here in the US, but internationally: so far we know that the intelligence services of Ukraine, Estonia, and Britain were involved in a coordinated effort to destroy Trump. No doubt there’s some contemporary version of Ernest Cuneo somewhere, or a gaggle of Cuneos, managing the leaks, the false flags, the dirty tricks according to a script that undergoes daily revisions.

We’re at the beginning of Act II, and it’s going to be a lengthy movie. In any case, it’s a long way from the Goldstone-Junior emails to the DNC/Podesta document dump, but given the guidance of Louise Mensch and Adam Schiff, I’m sure the coup plotters will find their way.

In the face of all this, the real test for the President’s defenders will be over the question of whether or not Russia is an “adversary,” or a potential ally with interests congruent with our own. If the former, “collusion” – such as it is – equals treason: if the latter, then it’s business-as-usual cooperation.

The GOP is divided over this, with the grassroots increasingly amenable to the idea of détente, but the leadership – particularly in Congress – is kneejerk hostile to all things Russian. Just as Trump’s presidential campaign, which was actively opposed and sabotaged by the Republican mandarins on Capitol Hill, owes its success to the Trumpian base, so success in fighting off this assault on his legitimacy will depend on the administration standing up for the ideas that got Trump elected. To fight effectively, Trump and his allies must make the case that Russia is not necessarily an adversary, and that the War Party is simply cashing in on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is unlikely to happen. An entire wing of the administration, in addition to Obama era holdovers, is bitterly opposed to a Russian rapprochement, at the center of which is H. R. McMaster, whose office over at the National Security Council is a veritable fifth column.  His ally, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, runs her own foreign policy, seemingly entirely detached from what comes out of the White House and the State Department. McMaster represents the Army faction, which sees the “Russian threat” as a way to funnel more tax dollars into an already bloated-beyond-all-measure budget. Haley is a stand-in for the old internationalist eastern seaboard “moderate” Republicans, who are anything but moderate when it comes to foreign policy: think Wendell Wilkie in a dress.

With the McCain-Graham chorus yapping in the background, the GOP majority in Congress will be hard-pressed not to override Trump’s veto of the incoming Russian sanctions bill, an issue that will be to this era what the vote on Lend Lease, or the repeal of the Neutrality Act was during the great debate of the 1940s. Whether Trump has the courage to veto, and withstand an energetic – nay, hysterical – campaign to override remains to be seen. In any case, his decision will be the measure of the man and his true character, and an indication of whether his presidency will survive beyond a single term.

While the details of the “collusion” story will shift day-by-day, it’s best not to get caught up in minutiae: surely the public will soon tire of this plot line. The real battle is over policy, and the question of America’s role in the world. Do we want to run an empire that brooks no rivals and take up the burden of enforcing the “world order”? Vidal imagined Harry Hopkins exclaiming “We shall have it all!” Do we want or need it all? Is that even possible?

Trump and his supporters cannot avoid asking – and answering – these questions if they want to avoid defeat and political extinction. It’s as simple as that. This administration has been at war from the beginning, and there is no avoiding it. One may not be interested in war, as Leon Trotsky is reputed to have said, but war is most definitely interested in you. They can’t win the war without making the case for détente.

The Deep State and its attendant swamp creatures play for keeps. The only way to defeat them is on the battlefield of ideas, not by hemming and hawing about matters of law. It must be made clear that the War Party wants to criminalize policy differences: they want to shut down debate, because they know that’s a battle they can’t win. Despite years of strenuous propaganda aimed at painting Putin’s Russia as a modern Mordor, the American people aren’t interested in launching a new cold war. They’ve had enough of war, which is the key reason why Trump won in the first place. If Trump & Co. can keep on this message, they will win. Otherwise they are headed for the dustbin of history.

 

Sergey Lavrov ‘bewildered’ by anti-Trump accusations

The scandal surrounding the meeting of Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer is “making a mountain out of a molehill,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He denied knowing of the meeting before the news broke.

July 12, 2017

DW

Sergey Lavrov defended Donald Trump’s son on Wednesday and said he had learnt of his meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya “from television.”

The media storm surrounding the meeting was an attempt “by serious people to make a mountain out of a molehill,” the Kremlin’s top diplomat said after meeting his Belgian counterpart, Didier Reynerds, in Brussels.

“I was bewildered to find out that the Russian lawyer and Donald Trump’s son are being blamed for meeting each other. I find that to be vicious. What could be the problem for anyone to meet with a lawyer?” he said.

Previously, Donald Trump Jr said he met with Veselnitskaya because he was told by his contact Rob Goldstone she might have some damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The “high level and sensitive information” was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone said in an email published by Donald Trump Jr himself.

However, the president’s son said he received no discriminating info and described the meeting as a “wasted 20 minutes.”

On Wednesday, Donald Trump tweeted to support his son, decrying the scandal as the “greatest Witch Hunt in political history.”

Attempt to ‘redo’ the election

On Wednesday, Lavrov once again denied the accusations of Russian meddling and asked for “at least one fact” to prove it.

“We haven’t seen a single fact,” Lavrov told reporters. “If the journalists are ready to operate on mere accusations and not ready to take into account that there are no facts, there is nothing I can do about it.”

Russia believes that the accusations are an attempt to “redo the results of the election, that was won by Donald Trump,” he added.

Commenting on election meddling issue, Belgian Foreign Minister Reynerds responded with a joke.

“I have explained to Sergey that we do not have any elections scheduled before 2019, so there are no problems yet,” he told reporters.

Moscow repeatedly denied having any links with the lawyer and ridiculed claims of Veselnitskaya working for the government as “inappropriate and absurd.” The lawyer also said she never had any damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

 

Who Is the Real Enemy?

The White House is targeting Iran but should instead focus on Saudi Arabia

July 11, 2017

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

It is one of the great ironies that the United States, a land mass protected by two broad oceans while also benefitting from the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, persists in viewing itself as a potential victim, vulnerable and surrounded by enemies. In reality, there are only two significant potential threats to the U.S. The first consists of the only two non-friendly countries – Russia and China – that have nuclear weapons and delivery systems that could hit the North American continent and the second is the somewhat more amorphous danger represented by international terrorism.

And even given that, I would have to qualify the nature of the threats. Russia and China are best described as adversaries or competitors rather than enemies as they have compelling interests to avoid war, even if Washington is doing its best to turn them hostile. Neither has anything to gain and much to lose by escalating a minor conflict into something that might well start World War 3. Indeed, both have strong incentives to avoid doing so, which makes the actual threat that they represent more speculative than real. And, on the plus side, both can be extremely useful in dealing with international issues where Washington has little or no leverage, to include resolving the North Korea problem and Syria, so they U.S. has considerable benefits to be gained by cultivating their cooperation.

Also, I would characterize international terrorism as a faux threat at a national level, though one that has been exaggerated through the media and fearmongering to such an extent that it appears much more dangerous than it actually is. It has been observed that more Americans are killed by falling furniture than by terrorists in a year but terrorism has a particularly potency due to its unpredictability and the fear that it creates. Due to that fear, American governments and businesses at all levels have been willing to spend a trillion dollars per annum to defeat what might rationally be regarded as a relatively minor problem.

So if the United States were serious about dealing with or deflecting the actual threats against the American people it could first of all reduce its defense expenditures to make them commensurate with the actual threat before concentrating on three things. First, would be to establish a solid modus vivendi with Russia and China to avoid conflicts of interest that could develop into actual tit-for-tat escalation. That would require an acceptance by Washington of the fact that both Moscow and Beijing have regional spheres of influence that are defined by their interests. You don’t have to like the governance of either country, but their national interests have to be appreciated and respected just as the United States has legitimate interests within its own hemisphere that must be respected by Russia and China.

Second, Washington must, unfortunately, continue to spend on the Missile Defense Agency, which supports anti-missile defenses if the search for a modus vivendi for some reason fails. Mutual assured destruction is not a desirable strategic doctrine but being able to intercept incoming missiles while also having some capability to strike back if attacked is a realistic deterrent given the proliferation of nations that have both ballistic missiles and nukes.

Third and finally, there would be a coordinated program aimed at international terrorism based equally on where the terror comes from and on physically preventing the terrorist attacks from taking place. This is the element in national defense that is least clear cut. Dealing with Russia and China involves working with mature regimes that have established diplomatic and military channels. Dealing with terrorist non-state players is completely different as there are generally speaking no such channels.

It should in theory be pretty simple to match threats and interests with actions since there are only a handful that really matter, but apparently it is not so in practice. What is Washington doing? First of all, the White House is deliberately turning its back on restoring a good working relationship with Russia by insisting that Crimea be returned to Kiev, by blaming Moscow for the continued unrest in Donbas, and by attacking Syrian military targets in spite of the fact that Russia is an ally of the legitimate government in Damascus and the United States is an interloper in the conflict. Meanwhile congress and the media are poisoning the waters through their dogged pursuit of Russiagate for political reasons even though nearly a year of investigation has produced no actual evidence of malfeasance on the part of U.S. officials and precious little in terms of Moscow’s alleged interference.

Playing tough to the international audience has unfortunately become part of the American Exceptionalism DNA. Upon his arrival in Warsaw last week, Donald Trump doubled down on the Russia-bashing, calling on Moscow to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran.” He then recommended that Russia should “join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”

The comments in Warsaw were unnecessary, even if the Poles wanted to hear them, and were both highly insulting and ignorant. It was not a good start for Donald’s second overseas trip, even though the speech has otherwise been interpreted as a welcome defense of Western civilization and European values. Trump also followed up with a two hour plus discussion with President Vladimir Putin in which the two apparently agreed to differ on the alleged Russian hacking of the American election. The Trump-Putin meeting indicated that restoring some kind of working relationship with Russia is still possible, as it is in everyone’s interest to do so.

Fighting terrorism is quite another matter and the United States approach is the reverse of what a rational player would be seeking to accomplish. The U.S. is rightly assisting in the bid to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq but it is simultaneously attacking the most effective fighters against that group, namely the Syrian government armed forces and the Shi’ite militias being provided by Iran and Hezbollah. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that at least some in the Trump Administration are seeking to use the Syrian engagement as a stepping stone to war with Iran.

As was the case in the months preceding the ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003, all buttons are being pushed to vilify Iran. Recent reports suggest that two individuals in the White House in particular have been pressuring the Trump administration’s generals to escalate U.S. involvement in Syria to bring about a war with Tehran sooner rather than later. They are Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey, reported to be holdovers from the team brought into the White House by the virulently anti-Iranian former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Cohen-Watnick is thirty years old and has little relevant experience for the position he holds, senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council. But his inexperience counts for little as he is good friend of son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has told the New York Times that “wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government,” a comment that reflects complete ignorance, both regarding Iran and also concerning spy agency capabilities. His partner in crime Harvey, a former military officer who advised General David Petraeus when he was in Iraq, is the NSC advisor on the Middle East.

Both Cohen-Watnick and Harvey share the neoconservative belief that the Iranians and their proxies in Syria and Iraq need to be confronted by force, an opportunity described by Foreign Policy magazine as having developed into “a pivotal moment that will determine whether Iran or the United States exerts influence over Iraq and Syria.” Other neocon promoters of conflict with Iran have described their horror at a possible Shi’ite “bridge” or “land corridor” through the Arab heartland, running from Iran itself through Iraq and Syria and connecting on the Mediterranean with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

What danger to the U.S. or its actual treaty allies an Iranian influenced land corridor would constitute remains a mystery but there is no shortage of Iran haters in the White House. Former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar sees “unrelenting hostility from the Trump administration” towards Iran and notes “cherry-picking” of the intelligence to make a case for war, similar to what occurred with Iraq in 2002-3. And even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster have pushed back against the impulsive Cohen-Watnick and Harvey, their objections are tactical as they do not wish to make U.S. forces in the region vulnerable to attacks coming from a new direction. Otherwise they too consider Iran as America’s number one active enemy and believe that war is inevitable. Donald Trump has unfortunately also jumped directly into the argument on the side of Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which would like to see Washington go to war with Tehran on their behalf.

The problem with the Trump analysis is that he has his friends and enemies confused. He is actually supporting Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the terrorism that has convulsed Western Europe and the United States while also killing hundreds of thousands of fellow Muslims. Random terrorism to kill as many “infidels and heretics” as possible to create fear is a Sunni Muslim phenomenon, supported financially and doctrinally by the Saudis. To be sure, Iran has used terror tactics to eliminate opponents and select targets overseas, to include several multiple-victim bombings, but it has never engaged in anything like the recent series of attacks in France and Britain. So the United States is moving seemingly inexorably towards war with a country that itself constitutes no actual terrorist threat, unless it is attacked, in support of a country that very much is part of the threat and also on behalf of Israel, which for its part would prefer to see Americans die in a war against Iran rather that sacrificing its own sons and daughters.

Realizing who the real enemy actually is and addressing the actual terrorism problem would not only involve coming down very hard on Saudi Arabia rather than Iran, it would also require some serious thinking in the White House about the extent to which America’s armed interventions all over Asia and Africa have made many people hate us enough to strap on a suicide vest and have a go. Saudi financing and Washington’s propensity to go to war and thereby create a deep well of hatred just might be the principal causative elements in the rise of global terrorism. Do I think that Donald Trump’s White House has the courage to take such a step and change direction? Unfortunately, no.

 Kremlin: Moscow’s patience running out in diplomatic row with U.S

July 12, 2017

by Denis Pinchuk

Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday Moscow’s patience was running out in its diplomatic row with the United States that seized Russia’s diplomatic property in the U.S. and expelled Russian diplomats in 2016.

“From the point of view of international law, Russia cannot put up with it for a long time, leaving it without taking any measures of reciprocity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

“But at the same time we expect that in the end our colleagues in the U.S. will finally show some kind of political will to rectify the violations of international law which they admitted.”

He declined to say when Moscow could take its retaliatory action.

Editing by Dmitry Solovyov

 

Turkish opposition gains new momentum

Turkey’s “March for Justice” has marked an unexpected triumph for the Turkish opposition. But its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, will now have to show whether he knows how to build on the momentum.

July 11, 2017

by Ulrich von Schwerin

DW

Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s “March for Justice” scared the Turkish government and electrified his supporters. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people followed the Turkish opposition leader on a march from Ankara to Istanbul. Hundreds of thousands showed up at the march’s end point in Istanbul’s Maltepe district, in what was the biggest protest against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in years. “We will tear down the walls of fear. The last day of our march is a new beginning,” cried the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the cheering crowds. But actual impact of the march remains to be seen.

Clearly, the march boosted Kilicdaroglu’s – and his party’s – confidence. It unified the opposition and reinforced his own position. “The mood in the CHP is very positive”, says Felix Schmidt, office manager of the Istanbul branch of Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Kilicdaroglu, who has been a controversial figure in his own party, has gained a new image and demonstrated that he is able achieve success by trying out new strategies. His march brought him new supporters outside his party and wider recognition in society.

Unexpected success for the opposition

On June 15, when the 68-year-old announced in Ankara that he would march to protest against the imprisonment of his party friend, Enis Berberoglu, almost no one took him seriously. He had to cover a distance of over 420 kilometers in the summer heat. The government ridiculed Kilicdaroglu, saying that he should take the express train instead, but Kilicdaroglu could not be stopped. It seemed like the head of the CHP, who was often criticized for supposedly lacking courage, was growing more and more determined as each day passed.

As the numbers of people joining the march grew, the government became nervous. Erdogan railed against the Kilicdaroglu march for supporting “terrorists,” and adding that there was no difference between him and the coup plotters of July 2016. Other politicians in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) said the government had not built the roads between the country’s major cities for “terrorists”, while the pro-government newspaper wrote of the “march of the traitors.” But the accusations were not really convincing.

New beginning for Kilicdaroglu

“It was difficult for the AKP to discredit the march,” said Kristian Brakel of the Istanbul branch of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a German political foundation. Accusing the established CHP of terrorism is futile. The columnist Murat Yetkin writes in the newspaper Hurriyet that equating the march with the coup attempt does not strike a chord with the majority of people. Surveys have also shown that many AKP voters are also dissatisfied with the judiciary.

In addition to restoring the independence of the judiciary, Kilicdaroglu also demanded that all imprisoned members of parliament and journalists be released, the state of emergency be lifted, the presidential system be withdrawn, and end be put to the one-man regime. “July 9 is not the end of the march, but the beginning of freedom,” said the CHP chief, promising not to give up until all the demands had been met.

The number of CHP voters is limited

“It will certainly be difficult to maintain momentum,” says Felix Schmidt of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. CHP leaders know that further steps have to be taken and that the meeting in Maltepe was only the beginning. “CHP leaders have still not completed a plan for further action, but I have spoken to CHP representatives who are very hopeful that it will be possible to maintain the momentum,” says Schmidt, who has close ties to the party.

However, the CHP can only become a real alternative to the AKP if it expands its electoral base. “The problem, however, is the fact that in Turkey, electoral behavior is still influenced by cultural identity,” Brakel points out. In Turkey, the majority of the electorate votes right of center. For leftist, nationalist and secular CHP, it is difficult to exceed its core electorate of about 25 percent.

No imminent change of course

Yet the rally has made the AKP nervous. On the day after the march, AKP spokesman Mahir Unal accused Kilicdaroglu of playing a “dangerous game” and spreading “anarchy in society”. “When people are told to take to the streets, it is fascism,” said the spokesman, whose party regularly calls for the people to take to the streets. He went on to say that the CHP leader should return to parliament and stop seeking justice on the street.

“The march scares the AKP; otherwise it would not fly off the handle like that. It will now probably try to hush up the march,” says Brakel. On Monday, pro-government media went to great lengths to avoid mentioning the rally at the end of the march. Or the media tried to downplay the march’s success, like the daily newspaper Daily Sabah that interviewed a political scientist who explained why the march would be forgotten in a few weeks.

“The government will now surely try to put on a show of strength on the anniversary of the coup attempt on July 15,” says the political expert Schmidt. He does not believe in a change of course. In fact, it does not look as if the government will give in. In July, the Istanbul courts ordered the arrest of 42 university employees, including a renowned political scientist. Arrest warrants have been issued for another 30 academics.

Credit card fraud: What you need to know

As electronic payments reach massive new consumer populations, cybercriminals are coming up with increasingly creative ways to steal your money. How do you protect yourself?

July 12, 2017

by Bruno Buonaguidi, Università della Svizzera italiana

The Conversation

If you are the owner of a credit or a debit card, there is a non-negligible chance that you may be subject to fraud, like millions of other people around the world.

Starting in the 1980s, there has been an impressive increase in the use of credit, debit and pre-paid cards internationally. According to an October 2016 Nilson Report, in 2015 more than $31 trillion were generated worldwide by these payment systems, up 7.3% from 2014.

In 2015, seven in eight purchases in Europe were made electronically.

Thanks to new online money-transfer systems, such as Paypal, and the spread of e-commerce around the world – including, increasingly, in the developing world (which was slow to adopt online payments) – these trends are expected to continue.

Thanks to leading companies such as Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon India (which together had 80% of the Indian e-commerce market share in 2015) as well as Alibaba and JingDong (which had upwards of 70% of the Chinese market in 2016), electronic payments are reaching massive new consumer populations.

This is a goldmine for cybercriminals. According to the Nilson Report, worldwide losses from card fraud rose to $21 billion in 2015, up from about $8 billion in 2010. By 2020, that number is expected to reach $31 billion.

Such costs include, among other expenses, the refunds that banks and credit card companies make to defrauded clients (many banks in the West cap consumers’ liability at $50 as long as the crime is reported within 30 days for credit cards and within two days for debit cards. This incentivises banks to make significant investments in anti-fraud technologies.

Cybercrime costs vendors in other ways too. They are charged with providing customers with a high standard of security. If they are negligent in this duty, credit card companies may charge them the cost of reimbursing a fraud.

The types of frauds

There are many kinds of credit card fraud, and they change so frequently as new technologies enable novel cybercrimes that it’s nearly impossible to list them all.

But there are two main categories:

  • card-not-present (CNP) frauds: This, the most common kind of fraud, occurs when the cardholder’s information is stolen and used illegally without the physical presence of the card. This kind of fraud usually occurs online, and may be the result of so-called “phishing” emails sent by fraudsters impersonating credible institutions to steal personal or financial information via a contaminated link.
  • card-present-frauds: This is less common today, but it’s still worth watching out for. It often takes the form of “skimming” – when a dishonest seller swipes a consumer’s credit card into a device that stores the information. Once that data is used to make a purchase, the consumer’s account is charged.

The mechanism of a credit card transaction

Credit card fraud is facilitated, in part, because credit card transactions are a simple, two-step process: authorisation and settlement.

At the beginning, those involved in the transaction (customer, card issuer, merchant and merchant’s bank) send and receive information to authorise or reject a given purchase. If the purchase is authorised, it is settled by an exchange of money, which usually takes place several days after the authorisation.

Once a purchase had been authorised, there is no going back. That means that all fraud detection measures must be done during in the first step of a transaction.

Here’s how it works (in a dramatically simplified fashion).

Once companies such as Visa or Mastercard have licensed their brands to a card issuer – a lender like, say, Barclays Bank – and to the merchant’s bank, they fix the terms of the transaction agreement.

Then, the card issuer physically delivers the credit card to the consumer. To make a purchase with it, the cardholder gives his card to the vendor (or, online, manually enters the card information), who forwards data on the consumer and the desired purchase to the merchant’s bank.

The bank, in turn, routes the required information to the card issuer for analysis and approval – or rejection. The card issuer’s final decision is sent back to both the merchant’s bank and the vendor.

Rejection may be issued only in two situations: if the balance on the cardholder’s account is insufficient or if, based on the data provided by the merchant’s bank, there is suspicion of fraud.

Incorrect suspicions of fraud is inconvenient for the consumer, whose purchase has been denied and whose card may summarily be blocked by the card issuer, and poses a reputational damage to the vendor.

How to counter frauds?

Based on my research, which examines how advanced statistical and probabilistic techniques could better detect fraud, sequential analysis – coupled with new technology – holds the key.

Thanks to the continuous monitoring of cardholder expenditure and information – including the time, amount and geographical coordinates of each purchase – it should be possible to develop a computer model that would calculate the probability that a purchase is fraudulent. If the probability passes a certain threshold, the card issuer would be issued an alarm.

The company could then decide to either block the card directly or undertake further investigation, such as calling the consumer.

The strength of this model, which applies a well-known mathematical theory called optimal stopping theory to fraud detection, is that it aims at either maximising an expected payoff or minimising an expected cost. In other words, all the computations would be aimed at limiting the frequency of false alarms.

My research is still underway. But, in the meantime, to reduce significantly the risk of falling victim to credit card fraud, here are some golden rules.

First, never click on links in emails that ask you to provide personal information, even if the sender appears to be your bank.

Second, before you buy something online from an unknown seller, google the vendor’s name to see whether consumer feedback has been mainly positive.

And, finally, when you make online payments, check that the webpage address starts with https://, a communication protocol for secure data transfer, and confirm that the web page does not contain grammatical errors or strange words. That suggests it may be a fake designed solely to steal your financial data.

Stolen by a Russian spy, Dutch painting now returned to German museum

A work by a 17th-century Dutch master was smuggled to North American after World War II. After 75 years, it’s been returned to the German museum where it belongs. Here’s the tale of a painting that’s fit for James Bond.

July 11, 2017

by Gaby Reucher

DW

Museum director Peter van den Brink has known for a long time where Balthasar van der Ast’s painting “Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase” was: It had belonged to a private collector in the US since 1973.

“I’ve known the collector for 30 years and have known the painting since then as well,” he said.

In an exhibition in Delft, van den Brink had even touched it. But he’d had no idea that the 17th-century still life had been looted.

The story behind the work, which was originally part of the collection of the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen and then went missing for 75 years, is fit for Hollywood. Now, van den Brink has brought the painting back from New York and, as of Monday, it is available to be viewed by the public in the museum’s so-called Fireside Room.

Van den Brink estimates the painting’s present value at 4 million euros (over $4.5 million). Balthasar van der Ast was among the best-known still life painters of the 17th century. Flower paintings were en vogue at the time – particularly those depicting exotic flowers and exclusive imports such as the Chinese Wan-Li vase seen in the van der Ast.

Created in the 1620s, the work became part of the Suermondt Ludwig Museum collection in 1910.

Looted by a Russian spy

During World War II, many art collections were put into storage to protect them from the bombings. Van der Ast’s work was brought together with other paintings to a large art depot at the Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen in eastern Germany.

After the war, the Soviet occupiers confiscated the works, but “Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase” and 12 other paintings from museums in Aachen and Dresden were not among them.

Instead, a certain Alice Tittel from Meissen, later known as Alice Siano, had already helped herself to the valuable art. “It wasn’t looted by the Nazis, (…) but was literally stolen,” explained van den Brink.

It wasn’t until 2005 that it became known that Alice Siano was a spy working for the Soviet Union.

She took the artworks to West Berlin, where she came into contact with American troops. In 1951, she received a visa for the US and Canada. Customs documents for the 12 paintings in her possession have been recovered, though they don’t mention the van der Ast work. “It would have been too expensive to pay official customs duties,” explained van den Brink.

Paintings without provenance

In 1954, the Canadian public prosecutor looked into the case after a tip-off that a theft had occurred. Alice Siano showed the authorities her export and import permits. The paintings were supposedly to be exhibited at the Gallery of Fine arts in Windsor, Ontario, which the museum director confirmed.

But he was apparently in on it, since he maintained that the paintings were not valuable. The van der Ast was sold to a New York dealer within three months.

“Alice Siano couldn’t sell it herself because she wasn’t registered as the owner of the smuggled painting,” explained van den Brink. But for a museum director, it wasn’t difficult to sell paintings at the time.

“Many museums have works in their collections without provenance records. We have that here in Aachen too,” according to van den Brink. These works are referred to as “old inventory.” “The items were given as gifts or the old documents simply don’t exist anymore.

A missing fly or the real thing?

In the van der Ast case, the deception went even further. In 1955, a painting surfaced that was strikingly similar to “Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase.” The Dutch art collector Sidney van den Bergh exhibited the work in The Hague. The exhibition catalogue explained that the painting varied slightly from the disappeared work from Aachen – a fly was missing from the upper left corner.

Thought to be a copy with slight variations, that work became part of a private collection in New York in 1973. It wasn’t until 1997 that it was found to indeed be the original missing van der Ast, thanks to Fred G. Meijer from the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD).

“We later confirmed it by comparing details,” said Meijer. “The paint was so thin in some places that the grain of the wood beneath it could be seen.” Due to the visible grain, it was determined that the two paintings were in fact one – and once the work was restored, the missing fly could be seen as well.

Reward for the collector

Once it was identified, it took another 20 years for the work to make its way back to Aachen. The Art Loss Register in London was able to at least roughly trace its path following the theft in Meissen. With evidence in hand, museum director van den Brink was able to go public with the story in 2008.

However, he couldn’t demand the restitution of the painting, since the New York collector had purchased it “in good faith.” Since the purchase had taken place in The Netherlands, it was subject to Dutch law, which stipulated that the collector could keep the work.

However, as van den Brink explained, she wouldn’t have been able to keep it: “The story had been researched and published, so the collector couldn’t sell. Any buyer could have purchased it ‘in good faith’ up until 2008.” Nevertheless, the collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, received a 400,000-euro reward.

For Peter van den Brink and his team, the work is not done. Many aspects of the painting’s journey are still unclear. Plus, there are two other paintings on Alice Siano’s list that are still missing. Van den Brink hopes that they will turn up one day, too.

 Giant iceberg breaks off Antarctica

July 12, 2017

by Nina Chestney

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – One of the biggest icebergs on record has broken away from Antarctica, scientists said on Wednesday, creating an extra hazard for ships around the continent as it breaks up.

The one trillion tonne iceberg, measuring 5,800 square km, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12, said scientists at the University of Swansea and the British Antarctic Survey.

The iceberg has been close to breaking off for a few months. Throughout the Antarctic winter, scientists monitored the progress of the rift in the ice shelf using the European Space Agency satellites.

“The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” said Adrian Luckman, professor at Swansea University and lead investigator of Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf for years.

“It may remain in one piece but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters,” he added.

The ice will add to risks for ships now it has broken off. The peninsula is outside major trade routes but the main destination for cruise ships visiting from South America.

In 2009, more than 150 passengers and crew were evacuated after the MTV Explorer sank after striking an iceberg off the Antarctic peninsula.

The iceberg, which is likely to be named A68, was already floating before it broke away so there is no immediate impact on sea levels, but the calving has left the Larsen C ice shelf reduced in area by more than 12 percent.

The Larsen A and B ice shelves, which were situated further north on the Antarctic Peninsula, collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

“This resulted in the dramatic acceleration of the glaciers behind them, with larger volumes of ice entering the ocean and contributing to sea-level rise,” said David Vaughan, glaciologist and director of science at British Antarctic Survey.

“If Larsen C now starts to retreat significantly and eventually collapses, then we will see another contribution to sea level rise,” he added.

Big icebergs break off Antarctica naturally, meaning scientists are not linking the rift to manmade climate change. The ice, however, is a part of the Antarctic peninsula that has warmed fast in recent decades.

“In the ensuing months and years, the ice shelf could either gradually regrow, or may suffer further calving events which may eventually lead to collapse – opinions in the scientific community are divided,” Luckman said.

“Our models say it will be less stable, but any future collapse remains years or decades away.”

Editing by Toby Chopra

 The Vancouver Caper

Some kind friend sent us an ebook and when we read it, it took days to stop laughing. We decided to look up the enclosed excerpt and found that it was perfectly true, though dramatized. The perps got away with a good deal of money and did not get caught.

The Bloody Adventures of Cyril Rush (The Season of Evil Book 1) Kindle Edition

by Gregory Douglas (Author)

Kindle Price:  $2.99

The print shop was located in a strip mall, wedged between a pet shop that had a dead rabbit and live flies in its window and a telephone answering service with a bright pink door.

Instaprint” had no one at the front desk when Cyril walked in but there was the sound of a loud argument in the back that indicated that the OPEN sign was not lying.

“You filthy fuck!” screamed one voice, “you buggered up the entire fucking order! Jesus, you should have stayed in the fucking nut house!!”

“It’s not my fault Myron, I told you we ran out of brown ink way last week and you didn’t reorder because you got no credit! And I’m not a nut either. I was in a hospital for my nerves! Don’t shout at me!”

Cyril rapped on the counter with his car keys.

“Hello! Anyone back there? I’m a customer.”

There was silence in the back and a tall, thin man with a large paunch came out of the back. He had protuberant, watery blue eyes and a receding chin and wore a filthy T-shirt that was spattered with multi-colored inks and looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

He wiped his long, pale hands on pants that were once a light tan and now looked like the contents of a long-unflushed toilet.

“Customer! Can I help you? We are having some problems here, just problems.”

Cyril looked at the faded wedding announcements stuck to the walls with pieces of masking tape and decided to find another print shop.

“Actually…I don’t suppose you do stationary and business cards?” he said, hoping for a negative.

Another man, short and red of face wearing what looked like an apron stuck his head around the corner of the doorway to the back of the shop.

“Yes, we do, yes indeed. Stationary. Tell him about our special, Edwin.”

Edwin glared at him.

“You tell him, smartass. Just tell him about the ink!”

Cyril turned to go and Edwin shouted at him.

“No, I was only kidding, sir. We do lovely stationary here. This is a first class establishment. We were rehearsing for a play, that’s all.”

“Yes,” said the other one, “just a play.”

And he disappeared again.

Edwin produced a stained book with samples of letterheads, which Cyril reluctantly leafed through.

He found a sample that looked respectable and pointed at it.

“Can you do these?”

“Why that’s easy. A very nice choice if I do say so myself, and I do.”

He whinnied like a horse, displaying chipped teeth.

“I need five hundred letterheads and five hundred envelopes, all in this style.”

The printer nodded fiercely and then whirled around when something smashed in the back.

“Pardon me, pardon me, I have to attend.”

And he vanished leaving Cyril to contemplate a calendar showing a small child patting a large dog.

There was more shouting from the back in which both parties discussed the unmarried state of their respective parents, a discussion punctuated with breaking glass.

Just as Cyril was trying to open the door, Edwin reappeared.

“No problem, something broke. Now how soon do you want the job done? Not tomorrow but the next day perhaps?”

Cyril shrugged.

“That will be just fine. Let me write out the copy for you and give me a price.”

He put down the name of his late cousin, added the phrase, ‘Investment Counselor.’ This phrase seemed to rivet Edwin.

“Are you an investment counselor, sir? Are you actually one?”

Cyril felt as if he was attending a group therapy session filled with amphetamine addicts.

“Yes, I am.”

The printer leaned over the counter and whispered behind his stained hand,

“What do you invest in? Money?”

“Sometimes. How much will I owe you?”

“No, no, I might have a deal for you. Do you deal with foreign money? Like currency from other countries?”

Cyril had no idea what the lunatic Gutenberg was up to but he nodded carefully.

“Why I do handle foreign currency from time to time.”

The printer looked over his shoulder and then lowered his voice.

“Do you buy foreign currency, sir?”

“Depends on the price.”

Edwin nodded rapidly.

“Why of course, sir, I understand. I mean, do you buy foreign currency? Of course at a great discount, a very great discount.”

Cyril, who had absolutely no idea what this manic was about, nodded again.

“Ah yes, you do! I could see right away that you were a man who understands money. Foreign money. I can give you a terrible good price on foreign money.”

He leaned over the counter again and said very slowly,

“At a very good price!”

A loud voice boomed out from the back.

“Don’t sell it too cheap! You always sell things too cheap!”

Erwin why”You shut the fuck up, Myron! Let me handle this and clean up your Goddam mess back there!”

Cyril decided to follow the matter up. The lunatic no doubt had worthless Mexican pesos for sale. As a dollar was now worth six hundred pesos, he could envision a box of them for sale at face value.

The money turned out to be a large box full of Canadian twenty-dollar bills.

Edwin had locked the door and pulled down the broken venetian blind that covered its glass.

“Magnificent specimens, sir, the very best. And a special price just for you. Three dollars apiece. Just three dollars!”

Cyril picked up several samples and initially believed they were original because the serial numbers were different. If it was counterfeit, it was very good.

“There are thirty sets of numbers, sir. Thirty! No one else does this kind of work any more.”

Cyril held a bill up to the light and then looked at several more. They were of superb workmanship. Certainly fake because he found more with identical numbers but very good.

“Is this your work?” he asked, trying to estimate how many were in the box.

“Oh no, sir. It’s illegal to counterfeit. When my associate and I bought this place, we found this box hidden in the back of a closet. Under a grille as a matter of fact. The last owner was arrested by the Secret Service but they overlooked this box…”

He thumped the heavy box with one hand.

“Aren’t they beautiful pieces? An investment counselor would know what to do with these, wouldn’t he?”

“I’ll give you two dollars apiece for all of them. This is all of them?”

“Two dollars!” Myron roared from the back. “That’s robbery. Make it two fifty.”

They finally agreed on two twenty five and Cyril discovered that there were bills totaling three hundred thousand dollars in the old cardboard box.

He examined every one of the fifteen thousand pieces of paper with both Edwin and his gnome-like partner and finally, after an hour of bargaining, paid them thirty three thousand, seven hundred and fifty dollars in cash from a stash of hundred dollar bills he kept under the spare tire of his car.

Cyril took back the copy for his letterhead with his pseudonym and was happy to note that neither printer could see his car nor expressed any interest in noting down its license plate number.

When he left, Edwin and Myron were engaged in a fierce argument about how to divide the money and the last he heard was Edwin advising Myron that he would shove his head into the press and turn it on if he heard another word out of him on the subject.

On his way back to his new apartment, Cyril contemplated his latest venture into crime with some bemusement. Lunatic printers, old but very passable counterfeit at an excellent price. The question was where to pass it or whether or not to wholesale it to professionals at a profit.

If he did this, he could realize a profit of two dollars and seventy-five cents per bill and if he passed it himself, he risked being caught, a probable long jail sentence and a sixteen-dollar profit per bill if he was successful. Given that he would have to buy something with the money, something less suspicious than a package of chewing gum or a pencil, he could probably clear two hundred thousand if he was lucky. That sum, added to what he already had would give him a very nice bankroll indeed.

He balanced the risk against the quality of the money and the important fact that there were thirty different sets of serial numbers. The first bills would be detected by the banks probably the same day or at the latest, the next. That meant he had one full day and possibly part of another to pass nearly five hundred bills. If he could get Claude to pass half of them, that meant two hundred and fifty each. That was highly improbable so perhaps a better solution was to put together packets containing five different serial numbers and then buy expensive items that he could later convert to cash. Gold would do very well as would coins and stamps and there were also items that one could use like expensive luggage, watches, rings, some art, clothes, video equipment, computers and so on.

He would have to hit three major cities as quickly as possible and he thought that he could start in Vancouver and move his way back to Montreal and Ottawa before returning to the States via New York and Chicago.

That meant that there had to be a way to move the loot back to the United States and he decided that a parcel service that served both countries would be the best.

The boxes would have to go to several drop addresses with professional names attached so perhaps several parcel services could be used. The Canadian mail service was notoriously bad so one had to avoid it at all costs. There was no point in enriching criminally inclined Canadian postal employees with the products of his dishonesty.

Then there was the question of disguises. Claude would look much better with some kind of a mustache and he himself could grow a beard. Claude could bleach his dark hair and he could dye his black and no one would remember what they looked like. Fake glasses were a must and a distinctive, removable tattoo on the back of the hand would keep the attention of the victim on the other side of the counter. Perhaps a Masonic ring covered with diamonds would achieve the same effect. Or a fake scar on the side of the face or a clip-on earring with a glittering stone in it. Cyril knew that people would remember a tattoo, a fancy ring or a scar and nothing else. Both observers and their eyes were easily deceived.

And, he had to admit as he drove through the gates and past the friendly guard, the bills were of remarkable quality.

As he parked the car in his space, he calculated that he had a good week and perhaps a few days over, depending entirely on the press coverage. Claude was competent enough but would have to be instructed in the finer points of passing counterfeit money at the same time he was growing a mustache.

“Funny money,” Claude said, staring at the fetch of the Queen.

“Yes, lad, funny money. And very good funny money. Unless you have problem with all this, we are going to Canada and pass it. If we don’t get caught, we can make big money one way or the other. (And we can also pull big time one way or the other but we won’t discuss this with Claude, he thought.)

Vancouver was enjoying a pleasant autumn weekend when the pair drove their large, black rented Cadillac up to a Canadian customs post at Blaine, Washington. Claude had on a baseball hat, which topped his blonde hair, and Cyril looked vaguely professorial with his dark beard. To allay the suspicions of the customs, they had dark glasses, a cooler of soft drinks in a bed of melted ice, a cheap video camera and a trunk full of suitcases, bags and a mesh bag of elderly apples.

The area under the spare tire had been enlarged to accommodate bags of fake money, two handguns and three boxes of ammunition.

The props proved to be useless because the bored official waved them through without even bothering to check their identification. After the drive into Vancouver, they crossed the Burrard Bridge and into the city itself.

They checked into a quiet hotel on Granville Street, registering as the Reverend Marcus MacCall and Dr. Hermann Schacht, an OBGYN from Michigan. As there happened to be both a conference of Lutheran ministers as well as a medical convention in Vancouver at the time, Cyril felt another doctor and preacher would pass unnoticed in the crowd. He had obtained stick-on badges from the convention center at the Bayshore Inn and carefully inked in their new identities.

When they left their room, pockets stuffed with fake money, red and white convention badges stuck to their lapels, they were soberly dressed as befitting professional men and they walked out the front door of the hotel, prepared to add to the growing problem of Canadian inflation. After all, as Cyril pointed out over breakfast, governments print up money that has no backing whatsoever and this worthless paper is accepted on its psychological value alone. There was very little difference between counterfeit money and genuine except the latter was usually of superior quality.

The first stop was the Hudson Bay department store where Cyril bought a nice cashmere scarf, a pair of leather gloves, a Harris tweed sport jacket, an expensive Swiss watch and a leather travel kit. Claude, who had less sophistication and a good deal more anxiety, bought a belt, a box of handkerchiefs, a watch, two pair of expensive sunglasses, a black trench coat and a pair of suede loafers.

There was no problem with the money and Claude was called “Doctor” a number of times while Cyril was able to discuss theology with a graduate student from Simon Fraser University that was moonlighting as a clerk.

This successful initial foray encouraged them to expand their activities and once they had left their new purchases in their room, they returned to the city and its myriad of expensive shops. Between them they had acquired nearly a thousand dollars in change, a sum that rapidly increased as the day progressed.

Before lunch they had purchased twenty three gold coins, jade ornaments, six valuable Japanese ivory minuke including a pornographic one that Cyril put on his key ring, four valuable British and American stamps, a pair of binoculars, two computers, a portable CD player, twenty three CDs, two boxes of condoms with frilled attachments, four boxes of expensive Cuban cigars, several Haida Indian relics, (one of which was authentic), a small box of illegal ivory scrimshaw, a suede jacket, a pair of diamond-studded cufflinks, a large diamond engagement ring and several very rare comic books.

In addition to this, they had taken in a total of ten thousand dollars in return cash.

Their activities continued into the early evening and the hotel room was rapidly filling up with loot. That evening, the pair enjoyed a pleasant dinner of smoked salmon, Beluga caviar, a very dry champagne and chocolate bomb glace au chocolat for dessert.

The only unpleasantness of the day came when a fat man with thick glasses and a label proclaiming Doctor Nestlerod, a proctologist from Miami, encountered them as they left the restaurant and insisted that he knew Doctor Schacht from Stanford medical school. Cyril extracted his crime partner from what could have proven to be an embarrassing situation by saying, as he took Claude by the arm,

“Please excuse us but my friend made a terrible mistake and drank the water here. If we don’t get him back to the hotel, there will be a lake of shit all over this lovely carpet.”

The fat man blinked at him.

“Jeez, I thought the water in Mexico was bad, not here.”

“Oh yes,” said Cyril over his shoulder as they walked out into the night, “that used to be true but things have changed since they’ve been dumping mercury into the drinking water. And watch out for the women. They have more claps than a football crowd. This seems to be the new capital for the Chinese Fall-Apart syndrome.”

The check, which came to nearly five hundred dollars, was paid for with fake bills and the forty-dollar tip came from the same source.

Early the next morning, Cyril put on the television set in his room to watch the early edition of the local news. It was no surprise to discover that the both the RCMP and the Vancouver public safety department were issuing a warning about counterfeit twenty dollar bills. The earnest announcer held up a bill while behind him appeared a list of the serial numbers of identified counterfeits. Cyril hastily scribbled down the information on the inside of a Gideon Bible and while Claude was still deep in sleep, he went through his suitcase of bills and removed all the blown numbers.

The rest of the program was about a famous heart surgeon who had run his car into a crosswalk filled with small children while very drunk.

The possibility of successfully passing bills was rapidly diminishing because soon enough, no one would take a twenty anywhere in Vancouver. That much Cyril determined from the tenor of the broadcast. As usual, arrests were expected momentarily and again, as usual, Cyril contemplated this information and decided how best to profit by it.

Since these bills were of exceptional quality, he decided to try a gambit that very few would have attempted. When he and Claude went out that day, Cyril had packets of bills, all of them either genuine or fakes with safe numbers. His first stop was a branch of the Bank of Canada on Granville Street. Leaving a nervous Claude sitting on a bench at a bus stop, Cyril walked up to a teller and asked to see the manager.

A few minutes later, he was sitting across from a thin man with the healed scar of a harelip and a very bad hairpiece that looked very much like roadkill.

He was still wearing his convention label and to increase confidence, he wore a black suit and a minister’s collar and vest.

The assistant manager was properly polite.

“And how may we help you, sir?”

Cyril pulled a thick wad of bills out of his coat pocket and put them on the desk in front of him.

“In this way, sir. You see I came up here for the conference at the Bayshore Inn and I gave my talk on the Early Days of Jesus. I suppose you’ve heard about that because it was in the ‘Vancouver Sun.’ And when I got here, I changed my money into Canadian currency but now….” he waved his hand helplessly in a small circle, “now, with all this talk of counterfeit bills, I am having the Devil’s own time trying to buy anything. I mean, the clerks get out magnifying glasses and so on. Very embarrassing of course. So, what I wondered was; can I bring in my Canadian money here and exchange it for American money?”

The assistant manager, a Mr. Crowe, picked up the stack of bills and began to examine them. He took a list of serial numbers that the police had been circulating and began to check the bills against it. And in with the twenties were many other denomination bills, all of which were completely genuine.

Although Cyril had nerves of steel, he was very nervous when the bank official began to look at some of the bills with a small magnifying glass.

“Well, Reverend…” he looked at Cyril’s label…”MacCall, I can understand your apprehensions. There’s a flood of bad money all over town and it is causing grave anxiety to the authorities and, of course, the banking community. As far as your money is concerned, I see a very serious problem for you….”

Cyril decided he could make it to the door before the functionary could press any effective buttons under his desk.

“Yes, a problem. You see, the exchange rate is not favorable to you at this point. The Canadian dollar has gone down ten cents against the American dollar in the last two days. I am perfectly willing to exchange these bills for you, sir, but I am afraid you will be taking a small loss.”

Cyril exhaled and smiled. The bank would be taking a large loss instead.

When he came out of the bank, Claude was munching on his finger ends.

“How did it go?”

“It went and so did the money. Oh my, look at that, Claude.”

Eric turned and saw that Cyril was pointing at another bank in the next block.

“Shall we go, Doctor? Willy Sutton was asked once why he robbed banks and he said because that’s where the money is.”

And during the course of the day, the pair visited every bank in Vancouver with the same profitable results.

Before his identity was given to the police, who by now were in a state of animal frenzy, Cyril and Claude checked out of the hotel, pleased that they had worn light cotton gloves in the room so as not to leave any fingerprints, got their rented Cadillac now loaded with loot, out of the hotel garage and moved to the Bayshore Inn. They had different, more casual clothing and they had reversed their hair coloring. Claude was back to his original black hair and Cyril had redyed his hair blonde. They discarded the nametags and got out new identification from the stash in the trunk and became professional photographers covering the dual conventions for “Time” magazine.

Later that afternoon, the local television stations kept interrupting their regular programming to announce that apparently a huge ring of counterfeiters was at work in Vancouver and that Ottawa had sent an entire plane load of RCMP specialists to capture the miscreants. Roadblocks were now being set up at all exits from the city and all passengers leaving at the Vancouver airport were being searched. Cyril watched all of this muted frenzy while demolishing an excellent chicken salad sandwich that room service had just brought to their large suite.

“See how excited people are, Claude? I think I bit off more than I could chew this time. We may have to hole up in Vancouver for a month until the furor dies down. It’s really a provincial town but I don’t think it would be wise to bug out of here with a car stuffed with all kinds of expensive loot and a trunk full of American money. No, I think that would be most unwise. Still, perhaps I can give them something to keep them busy.        Finish your hamburger and I think we can go out and dispose of all the rest of the funny money.”

Claude was apprehensive.

“I don’t think we can pass any more of that stuff, Cyril. I really don’t think we should try to do that.”

“No,” said Cyril as he brushed off pieces of chicken from his lap, ” I had in mind giving it away to the good people of Vancouver. I just can’t shake this minister thing. I seem to want to be a genuine Christian and enrich the lives of all the poor people out there, people just waiting for that miracle that will help them pay off their bills or buy training bras for their nubile daughters. I would say for their sons too but this isn’t San Francisco. Finish that up and we can at least be real Christians who believe it is much better to give than to receive.”

His plan, like all good plans, was very simple. There were many tens of thousands of counterfeit dollars left in their trunk. They were by now completely worthless and very dangerous to possess so it was his idea not to pass the money but to distribute it all over Vancouver in the hopes that others would find it, not be aware of the fake numbers and hopefully get caught passing it. This, he reasoned, would take the heat off of the real operation and besides, Cyril did enjoy a good, creative joke.

During the course of the day, fake money was left in various places in the public library, in the bus terminal, in telephone booths, in various retail stores, in public lavatories, on the floors of restaurants, on the shelves of bank ATMs and dropped into mail boxes all over the city.

After darkness fell, they still had a considerable number of bills left so they made a tour of the residential parts of the city, Cyril driving while a laughing Claude shoveled out handfuls of money through the back windows of the car. In the brisk evening winds that blew in from the Strait, hundreds of twenty-dollar bills fluttered up onto lawns and into the gutters of quiet residential streets like leaves in an early autumn.

They returned to the Bayshore Inn, very tired, had a good meal in the dining room and went to bed before midnight.

They next day, a large team of RCMP specialists arrived in Vancouver and began to completely seal off the city. Cars were searched as were their occupants, known counterfeiters homes were raided, terrified bank officials were relentlessly questioned by stone-faced Mounties and all over the city, innocent citizens were discovering truly amazing bonanzas in telephone booths, in the religious sections of the library and in other welcome places. Small children, on their way to school, found endless treasures on their streets and by noon the police were responding to frantic calls from local merchants who whispered that people as young as five were attempting to pass counterfeits in their stores.

Police cars raced up and down the streets, grabbing a seventy year old grandmother in one place, two Bulgarian immigrants who had found three thousand dollars Claude left in a lavatory at the train station in another, a number of young children who had attempted to buy candy, toy guns and comic books in various stores and a large assortment of the local citizenry who soon found themselves jammed into overcrowded cells at the police stations while being processed as part of what the media was now calling the largest organized crime ring in Canadian history.

Cyril may well have sown the wind but the police were now reaping the whirlwind as the arrests grew into the hundreds. The jail was filled with loudly protesting victims whose statements that they had found the money in telephone booths or on the sidewalks of Vancouver were greeted with rude and sarcastic commentary from both the police and the officers of the RCMP who were running in and out of the building like raiding ants. Lawyers, reporters, television crews, relatives and friends clogged the lobby and every telephone in the building was constantly in use. Police dragging in more suspects jostled reporters and there was now a problem as to where to house the dangerous criminals.

Above the din was heard the high-pitched wails from a mother,

“But he’s only eight years old! He doesn’t know anything about counterfeit money!”

She repeated this like a mantra to unheeding police who had now run out of ink for fingerprinting and were down to their last pack of film for mug shots. The RCMP professionals were triumphant in the knowledge that they now had most of the incredibly diverse gang under lock and key. More arrests were expected as a result of the stringent roadblocks and the airport controls and plans were being made to house the gang members in a high school gymnasium until they could be processed.

That evening, well aware of the havoc they had caused, Cyril and Claude were enjoying their dinner in the hotel dining room. It was filled with an assortment of doctors and members of the clergy as well as a number of uniformed police officials.

A plump woman in a chiffon dress was playing her version of music popular twenty years ago on a piano near the fireplace.

“How many people did they arrest so far, Cyril?” Claude asked as he carefully cut up his asparagus with the side of a fork.

“God knows. The last TV account said over  a hundred and fifty but that was an hour ago. I told you this would create a diversion, didn’t I?”

“Will they stay in jail?”

“Of course. The police never make mistakes, Claude, never. And about half the people they execute down in the States are completely innocent but they never talk about that either. Policemen and priests are never wrong, lad, and don’t forget that. How’s your steak?”

“Very good. Do we use bad money to pay the bill?”

“Don’t be stupid. We have no funny money left, not even a souvenir for your mother. Have some more wine….”

He had drunk most of a bottle of very expensive Chateau Lafitte and was considering ordering another. After all, there was plenty of good money left and he had discovered that American money was certainly much more preferred as a medium of exchange by the businessmen of Vancouver than their own national product. Or even very good copies of it. Cyril had decided that there was no point in leaving Vancouver for at least a week or until the roadblocks were lifted. He did not anticipate any trouble getting into the United States but a great deal in leaving Canada.

As the evening wore on, Cyril became very expansive, telling a series of jokes to Claude that passed over the latter’s head since a number of them were epigrams in Latin and Claude sometimes had trouble with polysyllabic English.

One of the religious diners could be heard singing a hymn in a decidedly off-key voice.

“Listen to that, Claude. As flat as one of your pre-teen lovelies. I can do much better than that.”

And he got up and walked, unsteadily, toward the abandoned piano.

He struck several chords and quite unexpectedly began to sing a hymn in what proved to be a magnificent baritone.

“‘Brightly shines our Father’s mercy from His lighthouse evermore,

But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be beaming,

Cast a gleam across the wave.

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save.'”

This recital went through a number of verses and the depth, volume and quality of the singing riveted the entire room.

This was followed up by,

“‘Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.'”

There was considerable applause when he had concluded and before he could start on another sarcastic venture, a thin woman with prominent teeth came up to the piano.

“Oh, you have such a magnificent voice, sir! Do you think you could sing something for me? I have a piece that I just love…”

Cyril, who was feeling little pain, nodded politely.

“Of course, if I know it.”

“It’s from an opera. You know the one about the woman who dies and her lover goes to the underworld to bring her back. I can’t think of…”

‘Che farò senza Euridice?‘ Gluck’s ‘Orfeo.’ 1762. Here, let me play a few bars.”

She beamed.

“Oh yes! That’s it! Do you know it?”

“Madam, I cut my teeth on it. Let’s see if I remember how it goes…”

The aria was a fine showcase for his voice and he did it full justice with a performance that would have brought down the house at La Scala.

When he finished, the diners rose and applauded him, the woman was weeping into a cocktail napkin and Claude was staring at him in astonishment.

A man in a tuxedo, a very solid looking man with thinning hair joined the weeping woman.

“Excuse me sir,” he said in a very deep voice, “are you Welsh by any chance?”

Cyril shook his head.

“No sir, German and Irish. You?”

“I am Welsh and that was magnificent work, lad. I myself sing base baritone and my assistant over there, Inspector Jones, sings a very good tenor. We Welsh do enjoy singing, we do.”

These were obviously policemen and Cyril suddenly found himself becoming much more sober.

“Let’s try a nice Welch piece for you, sir.”

And he sang ‘The Ash Grove’ that had the other man weeping.

“Oh such a rendition, sir, such a treatment! Look now, do you know ‘Men of Harlech’?”

Cyril nodded and played a few notes.

“Oh yes, that’s it. Would you mind if my associate and I joined in with you?”

There was no problem and the baritone, base baritone and tenor joined in a very credible performance. The Welsh not only liked to sing but also were extremely proficient at it.

Following the concert, Cyril and Claude were invited to join the party of the Chief Inspector of the RCMP, Counterfeit Division, at his table. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Jones were so pleased with having had the opportunity to sing in public that they never considered that the master criminals they had flown across Canada to apprehend were sitting at their table in the dining room of the Bayshore Inn.

“How much longer are you going to be in Vancouver, Inspector?” Cyril asked as he finished off his bottle of wine.

“Oh my, just as long as it takes to clean up this mess. We had no idea it was such a widespread operation. Several hundred are now in custody and the good Lord only knows how many more will be apprehended. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society when ten year old girls are forced into passing counterfeit money, very sad.”

Claude had visions of ten-year-old girls being forced into other activities but he kept his thoughts to himself. In the last few weeks, he had experienced things that he never even dreamed of. There was now enough money lying around hidden in various places to buy a dozen farms in Minnesota. Claude had never been ambitious in the past but the smell of money had a strong effect on him.

Cyril, on the other hand, had little interest in money other than to enjoy what it could buy and at the present time, he was considering how he could use his new base baritone friend to the best advantage.

“I would like to leave town as soon as I can, Chief Inspector, but I’m afraid that I would spend the whole day waiting for the traffic to move through your roadblocks.”

The Chief Inspector looked at the tenor.

“Well, I can see that we should be able to do something about that. Mr. Jones, why don’t you take one of the pool cars and accompany our friend here to the border and see to the roadblocks. Could you do that like a good lad?”

And so, with an official RCMP escort, Cyril drove his Cadillac loaded with loot and bundles of cash towards the State of Washington with Mr. Jones in front of him.

Traffic was indeed backed up for several miles but Mr. Jones drove on the shoulder of the road until finally stopped by grim visaged uniformed men.

He showed his identification and Cyril could hear every word.

“These men are on official business, Sergeant. I have authority to see them through to the U.S. Customs post over there. If you will be good enough to let us pass…”

After being escorted to the border, the tenor shook hands warmly with the baritone and the miscreants drove up to the U.S. side of the border.

There, the Customs officials were so impressed with the performance of the junior inspector that they waved Cyril through without let or hindrance.

“God must really love you,” Claude said as they drove towards Seattle.

“I don’t know about that, Claude, but just as long as He doesn’t interfere with me, I will do just fine.”

“I didn’t know you had such a good voice. I never heard you sing before.”

“I have many sides to my personality my norske friend. Picking locks and running away from frenzied female fatties are not all of my attributes. And now we have to consider what we will do next. I’m sure something will turn up soon enough.”

And all things being equal, it did.

 

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