April 23, 2018

Why real estate deals are important to investigators

Sam Smith - As the Review has been expecting for some time, the Trump real estate empire is attracting serious investigatory attention. While the reasons for this are not clear and no current charges have been leveled, it is helpful to understand why federal agents are interested in such matters. 

Basically, real estate can serve as a crook's bank either thanks to the ability to hide the source of funding or through the use of cash at a level not permitted at a bank. For more on this latter point: 

Business Insider - All you have to do to capture the IRS' attention is make multiple large deposits that are less than $10,000 in your account.

Banks that get deposits of more than $10,000 have to report those deposits to the federal government. A person who purposely tries to evade these reporting requirements is guilty of a crime known as "structuring" (or "smurfing.") It's a crime to purposely duck these reporting requirements even if the money comes from a legal source.

If the IRS even suspects you're guilty of restructuring, it can take your cash.



Roger Morris & Sally Denton, Penthouse Magzine - According to l.R.S. criminal investigator Duncan, secretaries at the Mena Airport told him that when [major drug dealer Barry] Seal flew into Mena, "there would be stacks of cash to be taken to the bank and laundered." One secretary told him that she was ordered to obtain numerous cashier's checks, each in an amount just under $10,000, at various banks in Mena and surrounding communities, to avoid filing the federal Currency Transaction Reports required for all bank transactions that exceed that limit. Bank tellers testified before a federal grand jury that in November 1982, a Mena airport employee carried a suitcase containing more than $70,000 into a bank. "The bank officer went down the teller lines handing out the stacks of $1,000 bills and got the cashier's checks." Law-enforcement sources confirmed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were laundered from 1981 to 1983 just in a few small banks near Mena, and that millions more from Seal's operation were laundered elsewhere in Arkansas and the nation.

Quora - About $1,000,000 a million dollars in Benjamin Franklin $100 bills would fit in an average briefcase, perhaps a little bit less or more depending on the size of your briefcase. $1 million dollars weighs 10kg exactly.

While nothing of this sort has been charged against the Trump Organization, it illustrates the role cash can play in criminal activity and why real estate becomes a useful haven. Now, about hiding ownership:


Nation 2014 - Since 2008, roughly 30 percent of condo sales in pricey Manhattan developments have been to buyers who listed an international address—most from China, Russia and Latin America—or bought in the name of a corporate entity, a maneuver often employed by foreign purchasers. Because many buyers go to great lengths to hide their interests in New York properties, it’s impossible to put a number on the proportion laundering ill-gotten gains. But according to money-laundering experts as well as court documents and secret offshore records reviewed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, New York real estate has become a magnet for dirty money.

Public officials and real-estate operatives in New York have mostly applauded the city’s influx of mega-rich homesteaders from overseas, with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg leading the chorus during his time in office. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” he told New York magazine in September.

Combine that give-us-your-rich ethos with state and local policies that lavish tax breaks on Manhattan’s wealthiest homeowners and federal policies that let real estate agents off the hook, and the results are predictable: New York is a magnet for the super-rich homebuyers from other lands bearing money of sometimes dubious provenance.


...US authorities don’t put up many roadblocks for foreigners who want to launder money through American real estate. Escrow and real estate agents aren’t required to find out the true identities of property buyers—the real people behind the front men or corporate shells. The Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks, requires that banks, securities houses and other financial firms follow stringent anti–money laundering rules and report suspicious transactions to law enforcement. Real estate and escrow agents were included on the list, but a loophole in the law gave an opening for the US Treasury to “temporarily” exempt the real estate industry from these requirements. A dozen years later, the exemption still stands.


... Among the assets that US authorities went after in the wake of the investigation was a condo at New York’s Trump Park Place tower. Clarita Garcia and a third son, Timothy, purchased Unit 6A in the luxury building for $765,000 in 2004. US prosecutors said the money, funneled through a joint account held by mother and son at Citibank, had been amassed through the general’s corrupt activities.


In late 2012, federal prosecutors in Manhattan won a court order turning over control of the Trump Park Place unit to the US Department of Homeland Security. 

Guardian, 2917 - The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower soars over Panama City bay, a 70-storey skyscraper shaped like a sail. Donald Trump’s first international hotel venture, it opened in 2011, a mix of condominiums, hotel rooms and a casino.

As one of the tallest structures in Latin America, it was a bold and lucrative expression of the Trump brand, earning him as much as $13.9m in management fees and royalties in the last three years.

By day it glints in the tropical sunshine, an apparently shining testament to the US president’s business savvy.

But a curious thing happens at night. Many of the lights stay off. The restaurants are near deserted; the corridors silent. The skyscraper appears to be largely empty – a dark tower.

Many of those who bought the condos, it turns out, did so not to live there but allegedly to launder illicit money – Russian gangster money, drug cartel money, people-smuggling money.

A joint Reuters-NBC News investigation alongside a report by the non-profit Global Witness said the skyscraper with Trump’s name had ties to international organized crime.


Alternet  -  The property, which the lead broker Alexandre Ventura Nogueira describes as “Ivanka Trump’s baby,” listed units for three times the going rate in Panama City, thanks to the Trump name. Nogueira worked closely with the Trump family; he claims he attended at least 10 meetings with Ivanka Trump, who challenged him to sell 100 units in the building. “The agreement was, I had a week to sell 100 units,” Nogueira told Reuters. “I said, ‘I’m going to do better, I’m going to sell without telling (the buyers) the price.'”

Nogueira later fled Panama after he was arrested for unrelated charges of real estate fraud. From his European asylum, he told NBC that at least half of his Trump Ocean Club customers were Russians, including some with “questionable backgrounds." Only later did he learn of their ties to Russian organized crime circles.

NBC reports that Mauricio Ceballos, a former prosecutor in Panama who investigated Trump’s business associates for financial crimes, called the Trump Ocean Club “a vehicle for money laundering.”

Among the shady buyers are:

David Murcia Guzmán, founder of a large Colombian marketing company, who purchased 10 units in the Trump Ocean Club. Guzmán is now in U.S. custody, convicted of laundering money on behalf of drug cartels, and will be extradited to Colombia. Guzmán also has financial ties to the terrorist organization FARC. Louis Pargiolas, who pleaded guilty in 2009 in Miami to conspiracy to import cocaine. Stanislav Kavalenka, a Russian national charged in Canada for compelling women into prostitution. Arkady Vodovozov, convicted in Israel of kidnapping, according to Reuters.

By 2010, Donald Trump had made approximately $74.2 million through his association with the hotel. From 2014-2017, he was paid as much as $13.9 million.

As Global Witness explains:

“The warning signs were there from the outset. The Trump Ocean Club, one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals to date, was announced in 2006 and launched in 2011, a period when Panama was known as one of the best places in the world to launder money. Whole neighborhoods in Panama City were taken over by organized crime groups, and luxury developments were built with the purpose of serving as money laundering vehicles.

“Moreover, investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely. Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere.”

The Trump Organization has shrugged off responsibility in a statement following the news, but legal experts say it should have done its due diligence into the backgrounds of buyers. Arthur Middlemiss, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and a former head of the global anti-corruption program at JPMorgan, blames the Trumps directly:

“Those who do business there should perform due diligence on others involved in their ventures. If they fail to do so, they risk being liable under U.S. law of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.” 




Climate change affecting Miami house prices

Planetizen -"Concerns over rising sea levels and floods are beginning to reshape one of the country’s largest housing markets, with properties closer to sea level now trading at discounts to those at higher elevations," reports Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores.

The article is sharing news of a new study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal and authored by Jesse Keenan, a real-estate professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

The study "shows that single-family homes in Miami-Dade County are rising in value more slowly near sea level than at higher elevations, as buyers weigh the possibilities of more-frequent minor flooding in the short term and the challenge of reselling properties that decades from now could be permanently submerged."

April 22, 2018

Word: First Earth Day poster, 1970

No automatic alt text available. 

Trump regime has separated more than 700 immigrant children from their parents

NY Times -For months, members of Congress have been demanding answers about how many families are being separated as they are processed at stations along the southwest border, in part because the Trump administration has in the past said it was considering taking children from their parents as a way to deter migrants from coming here.

Officials have repeatedly declined to provide data on how many families have been separated, but suggested that the number was relatively low.

But new data reviewed by The New York Times shows that more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.

65 percent of 18-29 year olds think abortion should be legal in all or most cases

Democratic campaign workers join union

NPR - The newly formed Campaign Workers Guild claims to have helped organize at least a dozen Democratic campaigns and one political consulting firm. "It's been far too long that workers in this industry have been exploited. And now we're finally standing together to put an end to that," said Ihaab Syed, the union's secretary.

Bernie forces seeking end to Democratic super delegates

Buzzfeed -A top Bernie Sanders official is asking Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, to sign a draft letter recommitting to vastly shrinking or effectively eliminating the party’s controversial “superdelegates” system — and ultimately changing the presidential nominating process.

The effort to make Democratic primaries more fair — a process that has spanned two years, two committees, and dozens of arcane rules about how to make changes to the rules — is nearing its long-awaited end. Next month, the party’s Rules & Bylaws Committee convenes to begin drafting the final language that DNC members will or will not approve in a vote this summer.

At stake is the future of “superdelegates,” the 700 or so party leaders entitled to cast votes as “unpledged delegates” for the candidate of their choosing.

Sexual abuse starts early

NY Times -Research shows that 43 percent of middle school students experience sexual harassment from their peers. And a third of teenagers report experiencing relationship abuse. Rates may be even higher in kids with disabilities and those who identify as L.G.B.T.Q.

April 21, 2018

Bernard College students vote for Palestinian rights

Electronic Intifada - In a major victory for the Palestinian rights movement on US college campuses, students at Barnard College in New York City voted nearly two-thirds in favor of a referendum supporting divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s human rights violations.

Barnard, a partner of Columbia University, is a prestigious women’s college with a large Jewish student population.

More than 64 percent of voters approved the referendum \.

Police lobbying for anti-protest legislation

In These Times -  Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll told In These Times that he lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to advance a statewide law clamping down on protests—legislation that civil liberties advocates say targets Black Lives Matter.

The pending bill, HF 390/SF 676, would significantly increase fees and jail time for protesters who block highways, a common civil disobedience tactic, including at protests against police killings. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, the proposed legislation “chills dissent” and constitutes an “attempt to silence Black Lives Matter movement.”
Kroll has faced numerous accusations of racism for, among other comments, likening protests against police killings to “the local version of Benghazi” in 2015 and calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” in 2016.

Minneapolis police aren’t alone: According to research conducted for In These Times in partnership with Ear to the Ground, law enforcement in at least eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming—lobbied on behalf of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. The bills ran the gamut from punishing face coverings at protests to increasing penalties for “economic disruption” and highway blockage to criminalizing civil protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines.

Emboldened by the Trump administration, at least 31 states have considered 62 pieces of anti-protest legislation since November 2016, with at least seven enacted and 31 still pending.

Flotsam & Jetsam: When television took over politics

Sam Smith - It's been my long held thesis that few things have altered American politics more than the arrival of television's popularity as a source of news and opinion.  As noted here before, for example, it had a profound effect on political corruption. Prior to television, corruption was a feudal arrangement i.e. politicians were permitted corruption but it was assumed that they paid back to the people in services. With television advertising, service to the voter took a distant back seat to image as seen on TV supported by huge sums of advertising money largely unrelated to the average citizen.

Even more serious was the arrival of cable news domination. Both CNN and Fox began during the Reagan administration, a fair time to designate as the start of America's modern decline. And MSNBC began in  1996, in the midst of the Clinton years - a time that marked by the decline of the Democratic Party.

But it all really began with the first presidential debate on television - between Richard Nixon and John F, Kennedy in 1960.  Kennedy's performance clearly gave him the edge on TV, but at least one survey indicated that Nixon had proved more popular on radio.

These thoughts come back to mind because I recently discovered a poem I wrote in October 1960 that showed I was already worried about what television was doing to politics:

I'll Take My Candidate Without Cream or Sugar, Thank You

Pollster, spare that candidate. 
Give him a chance to run. 
Free from all percentage points, 
Safe from statistics' gun. 

Make-up men, leave them alone
Stop your foolish fixin' 
Just look at the mess you made
Painting Mr. Nix'n

Television men you goofed,
You made the veep too hot. 
You brought poor Dick cruel age 
With a misdirected spot. 

Ghostwriters, I do not care
How you'd run the States.
Just let me hear the voices of
Unhaunted candidates 

But Dick and John are hidden
A glance is all I see. 
With too damn many people
Between those two and me.

Another story on this topic 

Police kill a higher percentage of blacks

Police killings by race. 
 
 



Who's benefiting from Trump's tax scam

Alternet - According to new analysis by the Associated Press, six big Wall Street banks made an additional $3.59 billion dollars so far this year thanks to the tax law.

Arizona teachers vote to strike

Popular Resistance -Teachers in the southwestern US state of Arizona have overwhelmingly voted to strike to demand improved wages for educators and support staff, and restore more than $1 billion in school funding cuts over the last decade. At a press conference Thursday night, officials from the Arizona Education Association announced that 78 percent of the 57,000 educators who cast ballots over the last three days voted for strike action.

April 20, 2018

Trump names anti-scientist to run NASA

The Maven -President Donald Trump has appointed Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to lead NASA, America's preeminent scientific agency, tasked with exploring outer space and the Earth's atmosphere.

There are a couple of issues with this appointment:

1) Mr. Bridenstine wants to strip “expansion of human knowledge” about space & Earth from NASA objectives according to the American Institute of Physics. Bridenstine proposes that NASA amend its institutional objectives, which would include eliminating current objectives for the “expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space” and the conduct of studies on “the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.”

2) Mr. Bridenstine is a pro-supernatural, anti-science, evangelical bigot who is against the reproductive rights women according to New Civil Rights Movement: "Bridenstine is everything you'd expect of a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma. He's anti-gay, opposes same-sex marriage, opposes ObamaCare, opposes a woman's right to choose, denies climate change is real and even opposes supporting alternative energy, he "pals around" with far right wing extremists like Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, wants fetuses to have the same civil rights as people who have been born, wants a federal law banning same-sex marriage and thinks states should have the right to ban it."

3) While Mr. Bridenstine doesn't care much for science or education, he does care a lot about what people are doing behind closed doors. He is radically bigoted against the LGBT community and believes fetuses should have the same rights as people who've been born. The Oklahoma Congressman, unsurprisingly, is against comprehensive sex education in favor of abstinence only. He is against a woman's right to choose.

4) On top of all of this, Mr. Bridenstine is an extreme climate denier, who is even anti-renewable energy. The role of NASA chief is to be a non-partisan expert in science, the Congressman from Oklahoma fails overwhelmingly at this.

Monsanto-Bayer merger not healthy for earth


Friends of the Earth - Glyphosate -- a.k.a. Monsanto’s Roundup -- is the most-used pesticide in history. Usage jumped from only 11 million pounds in 1987 to nearly 300 million pounds today.

Monsanto is making huge profits off this highly toxic chemical. And now, Monsanto is trying to increase its power over our food system by merging with Bayer -- one of the largest producers of bee-killing neonicotinoids.

93% of farmers surveyed think this mega-merger is a bad idea. Over 1 million Americans have called on the Justice Department to stop it. But despite widespread opposition to the merger, the European Union approved it. And the Department of Justice recently followed suit.