Here’s Why We Shouldn’t Laugh at Donald Trump’s 100-Day Faceplant

By Jon Schwarz

It’s tough to imagine any two human beings more different than Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
One’s black. One’s white. One writes books. One doesn’t read books and may not be sure what books are. One grew up on the periphery of the U.S. empire and it made him deeply cosmopolitan. One grew up in New York City and it made him a provincial hick.

One has the self-control of a 1,000-year-old Zen monk. One responds to any stimulus like an amoeba. One’s a slender athlete. One’s a fleshy endomorph with whorls and folds in his face like a Shar Pei.
But their elections have one critical thing in common: They both came out of NOWHERE to become president, with characteristics that previously would have throttled their chances before they delivered their first speech in Iowa.

There’s no need to recount everything from Trump’s florid life and campaign that sensible people were sure disqualified him. But we’ve forgotten how the sensible people at first saw Obama in much the same way, and for reasons that went far beyond him being African American. He’d been a senator for just two years when he started running and would have to beat the entire party establishment. His father was Muslim. He wasn’t just not named Henry Smith, his middle name was Hussein. He’d even used cocaine, and openly admitted it.

Yet both Obama and Trump vaulted over everyone and everything into the White House. Tens of millions of Americans were willing to place their lives in the hands of political anomalies whose central pitch was that they would deliver profound change. The rise of Bernie Sanders, who’s proven that you can become the most popular politician in the country without owning a comb, demonstrates the same thing.

What does this mean?

I’d say it means that something has gone incredibly wrong with this country’s political system, that large numbers of us are desperate, and are willing to hand over power to absolutely anyone. That’s brings us to the peculiar reality that it’s not just Obama and Trump’s elections that had something significant in common, it’s likely their presidencies.

Obama said American healthcare was in crisis and that “plans that tinker and halfway measures now belong to yesterday.” Obama was also outraged by pharmaceutical companies gouging Medicare.

According to Trump, “People all across the country are devastated” by the healthcare system, but if we put him in charge, “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” Trump was also infuriated by Big Pharma and just like Obama vowed to crush them.

Yet Obama delivered a halfway measure that tinkered with the problem, and never went after drug manufacturers. Trump is now poised to give America … literally the same thing.

Obama called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” in 2008. In 2016 Trump said NAFTA had caused “devastation” and was “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed.” But Obama didn’t renegotiate NAFTA. Trump just announced he’s not going to pull out of it, and it seems clear the odds of any real renegotiation are slim.

Obama attacked Wall Street, and so did Trump. Both then stocked their administrations with bankers.
And Obama and Trump both ran against the Iraq War, and both of their constituencies understood them to mean they would rethink our entire policy toward the Middle East. Both Obama and Trump then faithfully continued the Afghanistan War, bombed Syria, and helped Saudi Arabia starve Yemen.
This doesn’t make Obama and Trump the same, of course. Obama’s policies made life better for many regular people at the edges. Trump’s will unquestionably make them worse — and that’s the best case scenario, in which he doesn’t accidentally terminate human civilization.

But it does mean that on the core issues of politics — the ones about which the one percent/globalists/Bilderbergers/disguised space lizards truly care — Obama did not produce genuine change. And, it now seems more and more likely, neither will Trump.

Given Trump’s atrocious methods and goals, it’s impossible not to take joy in this. “Now that we have vanquished the Dhimmicrats and cuckservatives,” Steve Bannon proclaimed, “we shall —” and then tripped on his shoelaces and fell down 97 flights of stairs.

We can’t enjoy this for long, though. If left unaddressed, the anguish that Americans demonstrated by voting for both Obama and Trump will not evaporate. I once believed there could never be a worse, lazier, more frightening president than Ronald Reagan. Then I was sure of the same thing about George W. Bush. Now I’ve learned my lesson. We have to get busy creating a place for this country’s anger and despair to be used constructively, or it will eventually birth something even worse than Trump.

What happens to an American dream deferred? We lucked out once when it elected Obama. We may survive it electing Trump. But if we keep deferring it, it is absolutely certain that one day it’s going to explode and take the whole world with it.


Donald Trump has 'dangerous mental illness', say psychiatry experts at Yale conference

Mental health experts say President is 'paranoid and delusional'

Donald Trump has a “dangerous mental illness” and is not fit to lead the US, a group of psychiatrists has warned during a conference at Yale University.

Mental health experts claimed the President was “paranoid and delusional”, and said it was their “ethical responsibility” to warn the American public about the “dangers” Mr Trump’s psychological state poses to the country.

Speaking at the conference at Yale’s School of Medicine on Thursday, one of the mental health professionals, Dr John Gartner, a practising psychotherapist who advised psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, said: “We have an ethical responsibility to warn the public about Donald Trump's dangerous mental illness.”

Dr Gartner, who is also a founding member of Duty to Warn, an organisation of several dozen mental health professionals who think Mr Trump is mentally unfit to be president, said the President's statement about having the largest crowd at an inauguration was just one of many that served as warnings of a larger problem.

“Worse than just being a liar or a narcissist, in addition he is paranoid, delusional and grandiose thinking and he proved that to the country the first day he was President. If Donald Trump really believes he had the largest crowd size in history, that’s delusional,” he added.

Chairing the event, Dr Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in the Yale Department of Psychiatry, said: “As some prominent psychiatrists have noted, [Trump’s mental health] is the elephant in the room. I think the public is really starting to catch on and widely talk about this now.”

James Gilligan, a psychiatrist and professor at New York University, told the conference he had worked some of the “most dangerous people in society”, including murderers and rapists — but that he was convinced by the “dangerousness” of Mr Trump.

“I’ve worked with some of the most dangerous people our society produces, directing mental health programmes in prisons,” he said.

“I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousness from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert on dangerousness or spend fifty years studying it like I have in order to know how dangerous this man is.”

Dr Gartner started an online petition earlier this year on calling for Mr Trump to be removed from office, which claims that he is “psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President”. The petition has so far garnered more than 41,000 signatures.

It states: “We, the undersigned mental health professionals (please state your degree), believe in our professional judgment that Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.
“And we respectfully request he be removed from office, according to article 4 of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, which states that the president will be replaced if he is 'unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office'."

The claims made in the conference have drawn criticism from some in the psychiatric establishment, who say they violate the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater rule,” which states psychiatrists are not to give professional opinions on people they have not personally examined.

They have also been condemned by Republicans, including Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano, who accused the group of “throwing ethical standards out the window because they cannot accept the election results.”

Responding to the criticism, Dr Gartner said: “This notion that you need to personally interview someone to form a diagnosis actually doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. For one thing, research shows that the psychiatric interview is the least statistical reliable way to make a diagnosis.”

A spokesperson for Yale University told The Independent the panel at the conference abided by the Goldwater rule during the discussions, but that the organiser was "troubled" by the "silencing of debate".

“The panel at Yale School of Medicine abided by ‘the Goldwater rule'. Eminent psychiatrists were invited to speak about whether there are other ethical rules that override it, as in ordinary practise," said the spokesperson.

"The organiser, Dr Bandy Lee, agrees with the Goldwater rule but is troubled by its recent expansion (as of March 16, 2017) and the silencing of debate. She hopes that the public and politicians will understand that mental health issues are not to be used as a weapon, just as other health issues are not.
"Dr Gartner was invited as an activist and was not on the actual panel. The organiser emphasises that the event was independently organised and did not represent the views of Yale University or Yale School of Medicine.”

The doctors have said that even if it is in breach of tradition ethical standards of psychiatry, it was necessary to break their silence on the matter because they feared “too much is at stake”.

It is not the first time Mr Trump's mental health has been called into question. In February, Duty to Warn, which consists of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, signed an open letter warning that his mental state “makes him incapable of serving safely as president”.

The letter warned that the  President’s tendency to “distort reality” to fit his “personal myth of greatness” and attack those who challenge him with facts was likely to increase in a position of power.

Obama Steps Back Into Public Life, Trying to Avoid One Word: Trump

CHICAGO — Former President Barack Obama studiously avoided any mention of President Trump or the assault on his own legacy as he returned to his adoptive home on Monday for his first public event since leaving the White House.
What might have been a moment for Mr. Obama to challenge Mr. Trump’s wiretapping accusations, or to assail the Republican agenda, instead became a college seminar on how to engage with a new generation of young people — and urge them to participate in political life.
“The single most important thing I can do,” the former president told an audience of students, is to “help in any way I can prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world.”
Avoiding Mr. Trump was no accident.

Mr. Obama has decided — for now, at least — to steer clear of any criticism of his successor, in part out of gratitude that former President George W. Bush took that same approach. But Mr. Obama and his advisers also have concluded that confronting Mr. Trump now would be a political mistake.

If Mr. Obama were to challenge the president directly, they believe, the former president would become a foil for Mr. Trump’s efforts to rally his supporters. That could end up helping Mr. Trump enact policies that Mr. Obama opposes.

As a result, the session at the University of Chicago, where Mr. Obama once taught constitutional law, was devoid of any Obama-Trump tension. Seated on a stage with six successful young people, Mr. Obama was relaxed and casual, musing about his political life story and offering a few jokes.

“So, what’s been going on while I’ve been gone?” Mr. Obama said, chuckling, at the start. Later, he hinted at the current political climate by recalling his 2004 observation about there not being a “red” America or a “blue” America during his speech at the Democratic National Convention that year.

“That was an aspirational comment,” he acknowledged, prompting laughter from the panel onstage and the audience. “Obviously, it’s not true when it comes to our politics and our civic life.”
Mr. Obama has spent the three months since Inauguration Day on an extended vacation even as his staff begins setting up an office in Washington and planning continues on his presidential library in Chicago. He is also starting to work on a memoir.

But on Monday, the former president began what will be a series of public appearances in the United States and Europe. His next scheduled public event is a May 7 speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where he will accept the library’s Profile in Courage award.

Mr. Obama spoke with the young people onstage here about civic engagement, community organizing and the importance of not withdrawing from the challenges facing society. For more than an hour, he served as talk show host, asking the questions.

He asked Ayanna Watkins, a senior at Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago, about the importance of access to social studies and civic education. The young woman told the former president, “Awareness is something that holds a lot of our youth back from getting involved.”

Mr. Obama wanted to know why Harish Patel, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, had chosen to run for state representative last year as a young man. The answer, he replied, was in part that he did not see very many Patels in office and wanted to fix that.

“There are lot of Patels in India,” Mr. Obama interjected, prompting more laughter from the audience. “There are lot more Patels than there are Obamas.”

And Mr. Obama asked the lone Republican on the panel, Max Freedman, an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, about the issue of political correctness on college campuses. But when Mr. Freedman answered with a personal story from eighth grade — the same time that Mr. Obama was launching his first presidential campaign — the former president interrupted.

“Can I just say? I’m old,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s — but please, continue. Eighth grade!”

As the event unfolded, the participants were free to ask whatever they wanted, and Mr. Obama invited a couple of questions toward the end of the event. But they steered clear of asking any pointed questions about the current political situation in Washington and anything that might have been interpreted as a critique of Mr. Trump.

Ramuel Figueroa, an undergraduate at Roosevelt University in Chicago, did ask the former president about the challenges of getting day laborers to answer questions for a research project because of their increasing fears of being deported by the current administration.

Mr. Obama hinted at Mr. Trump’s aggressive crackdown on undocumented immigrants by saying that Mr. Figueroa needed to find someone the laborers would trust enough to talk to.

“That’s hard to do in this current environment, but it’s not impossible,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama’s choice of Chicago for his return to public life took him back to the place where he began as a community organizer decades ago.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Obama spoke fondly of starting his political career on the city’s South Side, where his presidential library will eventually be built.

“This community taught me that ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things,” Mr. Obama said. “This community taught me that everybody has a story to tell that is important.”

In his final speech as president in January, Mr. Obama also traveled to Chicago and talked about the effect the city had on him as a young man. “It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss,” Mr. Obama said on Jan. 10. “This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.”

Mr. Obama’s conversation on Monday echoed many of the themes he talked about in that farewell address, including his plea that people not take democracy for granted.

Mr. Obama said he still cared about issues like economic inequality, climate change, justice and the spread of violence. But more than anything, he said, it was a lack of leadership that stopped the country from making inroads on solving those problems.

“All those problems are serious, they are daunting, but they are not insoluble,” Mr. Obama said. “What is preventing us from tackling them and making more progress really has to do with our politics and our civic life.”

Mr. Obama briefly mentioned his concerns about the news media and the extent to which people are not exposed to ideas that challenge their worldview. He talked about the value of learning from failure and listening to people in order to learn, not just to formulate a response.

“Yeah, I learned that in marriage, by the way,” Mr. Obama said, grinning. “That will save you a lot of headache and grief. Sorry, just a little tip there.”

Trump condos worth $250 million pose potential conflict


A USA TODAY investigation discovered that anyone could potentially buy multimillion dollar condos from President Trump. The investigation reveals the most complete picture yet of the staggering inventory and value of Trump-owned real estate. USA TODAY

LAS VEGAS — President Trump’s companies own more than 400 condo units and home lots whose sale could steer millions of dollars to Trump, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

USA TODAY spent four months cataloging every property Trump's companies own across the country. Reporters found that Trump’s companies are sitting on at least $250 million of individual properties in the USA alone. Property records show Trump’s trust and his companies own at least 422 luxury condos and penthouses from New York City to Las Vegas, 12 mansion lots on bluffs overlooking his golf course on the Pacific Ocean and dozens more smaller pieces of real estate. The properties range in value from about $200,000 to $35 million each.

Unlike developments where Trump licenses his name to a separate developer for a flat fee, profits from selling individual properties directly owned by his companies ultimately enrich him personally.

Trump has never disclosed a complete, unit-by-unit inventory of his companies' real estate holdings or sales, nor is he required to do so by federal law. Trump says he's separated himself from his businesses, but the trust set up in January is run by his sons. Trump is the only beneficiary and can withdraw funds at any time.

The volume of real estate creates an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people, corporations or foreign interests to try to influence a president. Anyone who wanted to court favor with the president could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay. They could buy in the name of a shell company, making it impossible for the public to know who was behind the sales.
The potential for conflicts is exacerbated by Trump's refusal to release his tax returns or fully separate himself from his businesses, breaking with precedent set by presidents going back four decades. Since Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978, all six presidents from Carter to Obama established blind trusts or limited investments to assets like mutual funds. Trump has not.
The president is exempt from most conflict-of-interest laws that apply to others working in the federal government. He is not required to disclose when units sell or who bought them.

He is barred by the Constitution from receiving gifts from foreign governments or officials. Trump’s assessment that the ban doesn’t apply to market-rate transactions is debated in lawsuits and among ethics experts.

Regardless, it may be impossible for the public to even know who is behind purchase because the rules governing real estate transactions allow for shell companies to make purchases without disclosing who actually paid the money.

“Anyone seeking to influence the president could set up an anonymous company and purchase his property,” said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at Global Financial Integrity, a D.C.-based group aimed at curbing illicit financial transactions. “It’s a big black box, and the system is failing as a check for conflicts of interest.”

Since Election Day, records show Trump companies have sold at least 14 luxury condos and home-building lots for about $23 million. Half were sold to limited liability companies. No names were listed in deeds, obscuring buyers’ identities.

Since launching his White House bid, Trump’s companies have sold at least 58 units nationwide for about $90 million. Almost half of those sold to LLCs.

That doesn’t count Trump's ownership of millions of square feet of some of America’s priciest office and retail rental space in Manhattan, Chicago and San Francisco.

Buyers and renters of Trump properties include companies or individuals tracing to addresses in at least a dozen countries.

The White House refers business inquiries to the Trump Organization, where four separate executives and spokesmen declined to answer specific questions.

Bobby Burchfield, an attorney hired as an independent ethics reviewer for Trump Organization business deals, wouldn’t answer specific questions about transactions.

Trump attorneys have argued that profits from individual real estate sales would route through a maze of Trump subsidiaries and eventually become mixed in a larger pool of undifferentiated money in the president’s trust. That, they say, makes a direct conflict from an individual sale more difficult to imagine. They do not consider sales of U.S. real estate to foreign investors as “foreign deals."
Those in the business of selling Trump-owned real estate say business is up.

“I get a lot more phone calls now that he’s the president,” said Shari Sanderson, a real estate agent that sells units in the Las Vegas hotel-condo tower.

A mysterious bulk buyer

A couple of weeks before the Republican National Convention, a Las Vegas financial firm filed paperwork to found Milan Investment Limited in Nevada.

Days later, the newly minted company went on a buying spree. Milan spent $3.1 million over four months to buy 11 luxury condos in a shimmering golden tower near the Strip that Trump owns with friend and casino mogul Phil Ruffin. Trump Ruffin LLC collected the last of the money weeks before Trump was elected.

Milan Investment tracks back to what appears to be an incorrect address, the strip mall office of a financial services firm.

The owner, Thomas Sullivan, said he never heard of Milan Investment but said a federal “regulatory” agency visited his office in person asking similar questions. He declined to identify the agency.
“We’re completely in the dark,” Sullivan said. “We don’t know if it was a mistake, or they used our address for some reason, but we aren’t associated with them.”

On the deeds from Milan’s purchases, Eric Trump signed for the sellers. An accountant signed for the buyers, and deeds do not identify any people behind Milan.

USA TODAY tracked corporate, loan and property records across Nevada, Texas and Canada to tie three names to Milan Investment.

In Nevada, where rules let anyone form companies without identifying the owners, Milan’s officers are listed as Jun Xu and Qi Huang with an address at an office suite on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
Additional documents underlying the sale give two more addresses, both million-dollar condos in Vancouver, for Xu and Huang. Canadian records indicate they own both and hold a license to rent one. The records list Xu as a “businessman” and Huang as a “housewife.”

USA TODAY contacted every phone number and address found for Xu and Huang in two countries. Reporters also contacted every business associate identified in Nevada public records as having worked with the company or assisted with the condo buys, trying to reach Xu and Huang or find out more about them. Xu and Huang have not responded.

One more name tied to Milan is Chen Huang of Sugar Land, Texas, who signed loan documents “on behalf of Jun Xu and Qi Huang” when they borrowed money using the Vegas condos as collateral. Phone numbers for Chen Huang in Texas were answered but disconnected after a reporter identified himself.

Most Nevada real estate and legal professionals who handled deals would not answer questions. A lawyer who reviewed paperwork for the lender, Michael Wixom, said only, “We file the UCC paperwork and represent the bank locally. It’s all consistent with Nevada state law, and it’s not unusual to not know the name of the owners.”

Reporters sent questions about the identity-obscuring real estate sales to a public relations firm representing Trump in New York, the Trump Organization’s marketing vice president, its vice president of sales in Las Vegas and Eric Trump. None of the inquiries was answered.
The deal in 2016 makes Milan Investment the third-biggest investor in the Vegas building, behind Trump’s own company and Hilton Hotels, which owns 311 of the condos.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert and professor at Washington University School of Law, said there’s a strong argument for requiring disclosure of anyone buying real estate from the president.

“They’re doing it through Trump companies, but nevertheless, if it’s going to benefit the president, I think the public has a right to know who’s paying the president,” Clark said. One solution: making the president subject to the same rules as other public officials.

Who's buying from Trump?

USA TODAY’s review of sales of Trump-owned real estate found dozens of transactions during and since the campaign involving buyers who have business in or connections with foreign countries, or are shielded by purchasing under the name of an LLC. None of the recorded sales prices appeared, on the surface, to be outside market value.

In February, businesswoman Xiao Yan Chen bought one of the president’s penthouses at Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan for $15.9 million, according to city records.

Chen is founder and managing director of Global Alliance Associates, a New York City firm described on its website as “a boutique business relationship consultancy for U.S. companies seeking to establish a presence in mainland China.” She could not be reached for comment.

A few days before Trump’s inauguration, a two-bedroom condo on the 55th floor of the Las Vegas tower sold for $639,000. The buyer of Condo No. 5507 is identified in deeds as Fashion Drive, a New York company named for the street below and formed days before the purchase.

The only real person named in company's corporate filings in New York is Ivan Antonevich, a Ukrainian-educated pain doctor who did not reply to interview requests. It’s unclear whether he owns the condo, represents the buyer, or something else happened.

As part of a federal crackdown on criminals using real estate to hide illicit cash, title insurance companies in a handful of U.S. cities must gather identity information and report all-cash deals above certain amounts to the government. Industry insiders said the opacity of most shell company real estate buys is for practical, legitimate reasons.

“Privacy is a big driver of the LLCs, whether it’s celebrities protecting their privacy or foreign dissidents hiding assets from an oppressive government or law enforcement officers worried about their safety from criminals,” said Steve Gottheim, senior counsel at the American Land Title Association.

Some investors in the Vegas building were easy to track down and willing to talk. One New York couple set up a company, SNJ Properties, to buy a unit in December. SNJ is owned by Susan and John Irwin of East Islip, N.Y., who bought a second condo in the building for vacation and as an investment. They said it didn’t have much to do with politics.

“I’m a big fan of his, but the fact that Trump is president didn’t influence our decision,” said John Irwin, who owns Irwin Construction. Irwin, who met Trump at the hotel once, said he doesn’t worry about other people’s blind purchases of Trump’s real estate. “It doesn’t bother me. He’s a businessman, and that’s who we elected.”

Trump’s leasable space in cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco bring in large sums as well. Commercial space at Trump Tower earned him almost $30 million in 2012, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission to back up a loan Trump took out against the space.
Among the revenue: multimillion-dollar lease payments from the communist government-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China.

The Chinese bank’s lease is one of several transactions flagged in a lawsuit against Trump by an ethics watchdog group, alleging Trump violates the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government officials from taking gifts from foreign powers.

More deals ready to be made

The White House and Trump surrogates have broadly contended that the president is not involved in his business deals and scoff at the idea that a billionaire tycoon could be influenced by individual real estate transactions in the six- or seven-figure range.

The USA TODAY review of publicly available records — including figures provided by the president himself — shows that his individual real estate transactions add up and have substantially driven his income in recent years.

Consider the Vegas tower. In his federal financial disclosure in 2016, the income Trump said he received from the Vegas venture is more than the revenue he reported from all but one of his approximately 500 companies.

USA TODAY’s analysis of the 2016 report indicates Trump’s income includes at least $100 million a year from real estate sales and lease transactions. That number is probably higher because companies’ income is reported in ranges spanning millions of dollars.

Trump and his daughter Ivanka have reported drawing multimillion-dollar incomes from Trump International Realty in recent years. Trump’s financial disclosure reported about $4 million in commissions in 2016, and Jared Kushner’s disclosure reports his wife earns $1 million to $5 million a year in commissions and fees from the firm.

At Trump properties across the country, more deals are ready to be made.

“We’re selling quite a few of those now,” Ruffin said of the partners’ Vegas tower, where he and Trump own 388 condos and penthouses. “It’s picked up, our volume.” Ruffin owns an adjacent lot and is interested in building another tower and casino there, possibly partnering with the Trump Organization.

In total, records show Trump and his family own 32 residential condo units, plus 82 additional smaller units of real estate, including commercial property and storage spaces across New York City. That’s where the biggest money transactions are in the making.

Trump’s realty company lists one of his three-bedroom condos on the seventh floor of Trump Park Avenue for $7 million, touting solid oak floors, handcrafted Italian brass doorknobs, marble baths and “a sleek gourmet chef’s kitchen.” Also for sale: a Trump-owned seven-bedroom penthouse on the 32nd floor. The $75,000-a-month rent gets you “360-degree views of New York City’s stunning landscape.”

At 100 Central Park South, beneath the facade bearing the words “Trump Parc” in gold script, placards recently filled the windows advertising “RETAIL SPACE FOR LEASE.” The rent: $1.3 million a year.

Joanne Podell, the listing agent for Cushman & Wakefield, said that although there has been recent interest, the building’s powerful owner is far less important in attracting tenants as factors like foot traffic and size. “It’s a great location."


Ralph Nader Explains Why United Airlines Has "Total Unbridled Discretion to Throw You Off a Plane"

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. On Thursday, the lawyer for a United Airlines passenger who was beaten and dragged from a flight by airport security guards said his client lost two teeth, suffered a broken nose and concussion, and might need reconstructive surgery. Dr. David Dao sustained the injuries after United Airlines ordered him off the plane, leaving his paid seat on his Chicago-to-Louisville, Kentucky, flight last Sunday. The airline said they needed the seats for their own employees. United then called in Chicago Department of Aviation security officers to forcibly remove the 69-year-old physician, when he refused, and they dragged him down the aisle off the flight.
We turn now to Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, many-time presidential candidate, who, back in the early ’70s, helped force airlines to begin compensating passengers bumped from their flights. I spoke to Ralph Nader last night and asked him to explain how he did this.
RALPH NADER: On a bright morning in April 1972, I went to National Airport in Washington to take an Allegheny Airlines flight to address a large downtown rally in Hartford, Connecticut, at noon. And I got there with a confirmed ticket. And they said, "The plane is full. You can’t get on the plane." I said, "I have a confirmed ticket and a confirmed seat." "I’m sorry, the plane is full." Behind me was an assistant to Senator Ribicoff, whose name was John Koskinen, who’s now the IRS commissioner. And he was bumped, too.
So I found myself a wonderful public interest lawyer, Reuben Robertson. He took it all the way up to the Supreme Court. In a 9-0 decision, the court ruled that if you are bumped with a confirmed reservation, you have a case under the doctrine of fraudulent misrepresentation. And so we went down to the lower court and the Civil Aeronautics Board, and they required the airlines to put a notice on the ticket counter in all of our tickets saying, if we are bumped, we’re entitled to some form of compensation. What form was to be decided by the airlines. And they decided to auction off the seats. And it worked like a charm 99 percent of the time. And where it doesn’t work is where the airline gets chintzy and offers vouchers instead of cash.
And what United Airlines did in the flight from Chicago to Louisville, when they wanted to get four seats empty for four flight attendants deadheading it to Louisville to get on another plane, was offer vouchers that expire in one year. And they got three out of the four, and they picked a doctor, Dao, and called the security when he objected, and dragged him off the plane. And a billion people have seen that.
But why did they do that? Because they didn’t want to offer cash. And why didn’t the customer have a right to stay on? Because the contract of carriage, which is on the UAW website, is 67,000 words long and fine print, and it takes away the rights to be assured that when you have a confirmed reservation and you’re in the seat, you can stay in the seat—total unbridled discretion by the airline to throw you off the plane. So now the stage is set, because so many people are outraged, for getting the passenger bill of rights legislation through Congress, which has been mired for decades because of the airline lobby. So it all started with a lawsuit.
AMY GOODMAN: To see the whole interview with Ralph Nader, you can go to Ralph Nader is the founder of the American Museum of Tort Law, which is located in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. It’s been reported that all the passengers on the United flight have been offered a refund by United—if they sign on the dotted line that they will not sue the airlines. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.


FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.
This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.

The officials spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.

During an interview with the Washington Post editorial page staff in March 2016, Trump identified Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks later described Page’s role as “informal.”
Page has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with the Trump campaign or Russia.

“This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance,” Page said in an interview Tuesday. “I have nothing to hide.” He compared surveillance of him to the eavesdropping that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The White House, FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed in public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last month that the bureau is investigating efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Comey said this includes investigating the “nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Comey declined to comment during the hearing about any individuals, including Page, who worked in Moscow for Merrill Lynch a decade ago and who has said he invested in Russian energy giant Gazprom. In a letter to Comey in September, Page had said he had sold his Gazprom investment.
During the hearing last month, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly singled out Page’s contacts in Russia as a cause for concern.

The judges who rule on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests oversee the nation’s most sensitive national security cases, and their warrants are some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Any FISA application has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Applications for FISA warrants, Comey said, are often thicker than his wrists, and that thickness represents all the work Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents have to do to convince a judge that such surveillance is appropriate in an investigation.

The government’s application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.

Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, officials said. Those contacts had earlier surfaced in a federal espionage case brought by the Justice Department against the intelligence operative and two other Russian agents. In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.

An application for electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act need not show evidence of a crime. But the information obtained through the intercepts can be used to open a criminal investigation and may be used in a prosecution.

The application also showed that the FBI and the Justice Department’s national security division have been seeking since July to determine how broad a network of accomplices Russia enlisted in attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election, the officials said.

Since the 90-day warrant was first issued, it has been renewed more than once by the FISA court, the officials said.

In February, Page told “PBS NewsHour” that he was a “junior member of the [Trump] campaign’s foreign policy advisory group.”

A former Trump campaign adviser said Page submitted policy memos to the campaign and several times asked to be given a meeting with Trump, though his request was never granted. “He was one of the more active ones, in terms of being in touch,” the adviser said.

The campaign adviser said Page participated in three dinners held for the campaign’s volunteer foreign policy advisers in the spring and summer of 2016, coming from New York to Washington to meet with the group. Although Trump did not attend, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a top Trump confidant who became his attorney general, attended one meeting of the group with Page in late summer, the campaign adviser said.

Page’s role as an adviser to the Trump campaign drew alarm last year from more-established foreign policy experts in part because of Page’s effusive praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his criticism of U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.
In July, Page traveled to Moscow, where he delivered a speech harshly critical of the United States’ policy toward Russia.

While there, Page allegedly met with Igor Sechin, a Putin confidant and chief executive of the energy company Rosneft, according to a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer and cited at a congressional hearing by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Officials said some of the information in the dossier has been verified by U.S. intelligence agencies, and some of it hasn’t, while other parts are unlikely to ever be proved or disproved.

On Tuesday, Page dismissed what he called “the dodgy dossier” of false allegations.

Page has denied such a meeting occurred, saying he has never met Sechin in his life and that he wants to testify before Congress to clear his name. A spokesman for Rosneft told Politico in September that the notion that Page met with Sechin was “absurd.” Page said in September that he briefly met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during that trip.

Comey has declined to discuss the details of the Russia probe, but in an appearance last month, he cited the process for getting FISA warrants as proof that the government’s surveillance powers are very carefully used, with significant oversight.

“It is a pain in the neck to get permission to conduct electronic surveillance in the United States. And that’s good,’’ he told an audience at the University of Texas in Austin.

Officials have said the FBI and the Justice Department were particularly reluctant to seek FISA warrants of campaign figures during the 2016 presidential race because of concerns that agents would inadvertently eavesdrop on political talk. To obtain a FISA warrant, prosecutors must show that a significant purpose of the warrant is to obtain foreign intelligence information.

Page is the only American to have had his communications directly targeted with a FISA warrant in 2016 as part of the Russia probe, officials said.

The FBI routinely obtains FISA warrants to monitor the communications of foreign diplomats in the United States, including the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The conversations between Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser, were recorded in December. In February, The Washington Post reported that Flynn misled Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others about his discussions with Kislyak, prompting Trump’s decision to fire him.

In March, Trump made unsubstantiated claims about U.S. surveillance of Trump Tower in New York. Later that month, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a Trump transition official, charged that details about people “associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value” were “widely disseminated” in intelligence community reporting. He said none of the surveillance was related to Russia. The FISA order on Page is unrelated to either charge.

Last month, the former director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that U.S. law enforcement agencies did not have any FISA orders to monitor the communications of Trump, either as a candidate or as a president-elect, or his campaign. But Clapper did not address whether there were any FISA warrants targeting Trump associates.

Three years before Page became an adviser to the Trump campaign, he came to the attention of FBI counterintelligence agents, who learned that Russian spy suspects had sought to use Page as a source for information.

In that case, one of the Russian suspects, Victor Podobnyy — who was posing as a diplomat and was later charged by federal prosecutors with acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government — was captured on tape in 2013 discussing an effort to get information and documents from Page. That discussion was detailed in a federal complaint filed against Podobnyy and two others. The court documents in that spy case only identify Page as “Male 1.’’ Officials familiar with the case said that “Male 1’’ is Page.

In one secretly recorded conversation, detailed in the complaint, Podobnyy said Page “wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language. He flies to Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up. Maybe he can. I don’t know, but it’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.’’

The same court document says that in June 2013, Page told FBI agents that he met Podobnyy at an energy symposium in New York, where they exchanged contact information. In subsequent meetings, Page shared with the Russian his outlook on the state of the energy industry, as well as documents about the energy business, according to the court papers.

In the secret tape, Podobnyy said he liked the man’s “enthusiasm” but planned to use him to get information and give him little in return. “You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go f--- himself,’’ Podobnyy said on the tape, according to court papers.
Page has said the information he provided to the Russians in 2013 was innocuous, describing it as “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents.” He said he had assisted the prosecutors in their case against Evgeny Buryakov, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to act in the United States as an unregistered agent of Russian intelligence.


Legal Experts Question Whether Trump’s Syria Strike Was Constitutional

By Alex Emmons

It has become normal over the past 15 years for the morning news to report that the president has bombed an obscure terror group in a far-flung region of the world. These attacks take place without any public debate or a vote in Congress — despite the fact  that the Constitution gives Congress alone the power “to declare war.”

President Bush and President Obama argued, with little pushback, that they could target a wide array of terror groups, thanks to the resolution Congress passed in the wake of 9/11 that allows the president to use “necessary and appropriate force” against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the al Qaeda terror attacks.

The 2001 resolution has since been used to justify bombing seven countries, deploying troops from Cuba to the Philippines, and conducting wars against groups with loose or nonexistent ties to al Qaeda.

But almost all experts agree that it cannot be utilized as the legal basis for Trump’s Thursday-night cruise missile attack on Syria. While Assad is a butcher and brutal dictator, he has no connection to the 9/11 attacks, and in fact his forces are fighting al Qaeda’s largest affiliate in Syria.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration, sardonically tweeted that whatever the legal basis for the strikes is, it “exceeds all prior precedents under domestic and international law.”

Goldsmith perspective was the same in 2013 when the Obama administration was considering bombing Syria’s government for similar reasons. The available legal justifications, Goldsmith wrote, were so extreme that they would provide “no limit at all on the president’s ability to use significant military force unilaterally.” (Obama eventually sought congressional approval, while simultaneously insisting that he didn’t really need it.)

Louis Fisher, a scholar in residence at the Constitution Project, reacted similarly to Trump’s strike, saying that “President Trump has no constitutional authority to unilaterally commit the nation to war against Syria.”

Hina Shamsi, a top national security lawyer for the ACLU, tweeted that Trump’s strike has “no legit[imate] domestic or international law basis.” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a professor of human rights law at the University of Minnesota Law School, wrote that the attack was “a slide into self-justificatory unilateralism by the United States [that] should not be celebrated nor validated.”

One dissenter among these legal voices is Harold Koh, a Yale Law School professor and former Obama administration lawyer. In 2011, after Congress voted not to authorize Obama’s intervention in Libya, Koh wrote a memo attempting to make the case that the U.S. bombing campaign was nonetheless congruent with the War Powers Resolution, a 1973 congressional attempt “to fulfill the intent of the framers” by keeping the power of introducing the armed forces “in hostilities” in the hands of the legislative branch.

Koh creatively argued that U.S. actions didn’t rise to the level of “hostilities,” largely because Obama was only bombing the country, and the Libyan military was unable to shoot down U.S. planes.
In a later paper for the Houston Law Review, Koh wrote that under his own criteria, he “would guess that few humanitarian crises will rise to the level of sustained ‘hostilities,’” and hence would not need congressional approval.

The White House and the Pentagon have yet to attempt to make a formal case that the strikes were legal. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump told reporters that “it is in the vital national security interest of the Untied States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” A Pentagon press release echoed his comments, saying “the use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.”

In the past, the U.S. has made self-defense a justification for its strikes. But both statements suggest the aim of the strike was to punish Assad, not to defend the United States.

Moreover, the Trump administration is indicating they may launch further attacks against Assad without waiting for congressional approval. At a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, American Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. is “prepared to do more” in Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that “steps are underway” to form a coalition of nations that would look to remove Assad from power.

The administration also appears to be ignoring all issues of international law. Days before the strike, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley touted the fact the U.S. would not seek Security Council approval. “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively,” she told the council on Wednesday, “there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”


Top Democrats Are Wrong: Trump Supporters Were More Motivated by Racism Than Economic Issues

By Mehdi Hasan

IT ISN’T ONLY Republicans, it seems, who traffic in alternative facts. Since Donald Trump’s shock election victory, leading Democrats have worked hard to convince themselves, and the rest of us, that his triumph had less to do with racism and much more to do with economic anxiety — despite almost all of the available evidence suggesting otherwise.

Consider Bernie Sanders, de facto leader of the #Resistance. “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks,” he said at a rally in Boston on Friday, alongside fellow progressive senator Elizabeth Warren. “I don’t agree.” Writing in the New York Times three days after the election last November, the senator from Vermont claimed Trump voters were “expressing their fierce opposition to an economic and political system that puts wealthy and corporate interests over their own”.

Warren agrees with him. “There were millions of people across this country who voted for [Trump] not because of his bigotry, but in spite of that bigotry” because the system is “not working for them economically,” the Massachusetts senator told MSNBC last year.

Both Sanders and Warren seem much keener to lay the blame at the door of the dysfunctional Democratic Party and an ailing economy than at the feet of racist Republican voters. Their deflection isn’t surprising. Nor is their coddling of those who happily embraced an openly xenophobic candidate. Look, I get it. It’s difficult to accept that millions of your fellow citizens harbor what political scientists have identified as “racial resentment.” The reluctance to acknowledge that bigotry, and tolerance of bigotry, is still so widespread in society is understandable. From an electoral perspective too, why would senior members of the Democratic leadership want to alienate millions of voters by dismissing them as racist bigots?

Facts, however, as a rather more illustrious predecessor of President Trump once remarked, “are stubborn things.” Interestingly, on the very same day that Sanders offered his evidence-free defense of Trump voters in Boston, the latest data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) was released.

Philip Klinkner, a political scientist at Hamilton College and an expert on race relations, has pored over this ANES data and tells me that “whether it’s good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump’s appeal.” For example, he says, “in 2016 Trump did worse than Mitt Romney among voters with low and moderate levels of racial resentment, but much better among those with high levels of resentment.”

The new ANES data only confirms what a plethora of studies have told us since the start of the presidential campaign: the race was about race. Klinkner himself grabbed headlines last summer when he revealed that the best way to identify a Trump supporter in the U.S. was to ask “just one simple question: is Barack Obama a Muslim?” Because, he said, “if they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.” This is economic anxiety? Really?

Other surveys and polls of Trump voters found “a strong relationship between anti-black attitudes and support for Trump”; Trump supporters being “more likely to describe African Americans as ‘criminal,’ ‘unintelligent,’ ‘lazy’ and ‘violent’”; more likely to believe “people of color are taking white jobs”; and a “majority” of them rating blacks “as less evolved than whites.” Sorry, but how can any of these prejudices be blamed on free trade or low wages?

For Sanders, Warren and others on the left, the economy is what matters most and class is everything. Yet the empirical evidence just isn’t there to support them. Yes Trump won a (big) majority of non-college-educated whites, but he also won a majority of college-educated whites, too. He won more young white voters than Clinton did and also a majority of white women; he managed to win white votes regardless of age, gender, income or education. Class wasn’t everything in 2016. In a recent essay in The Nation, analysts Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel point out that “income predicted support for McCain and Romney, but not Trump.” Their conclusion? “Racial identity and attitudes have further displaced class as the central battleground of American politics.”

Their view is backed by a detailed Gallup analysis of interviews with a whopping 125,000 Americans, which found that Trump supporters, far from being the “left behind” or the losers of globalization, “earn relatively high household incomes and are no less likely to be unemployed or exposed to competition through trade or immigration.” The “bottom line” for Gallup’s senior economist Jonathan Rothwell? “Trump’s popularity cannot be neatly linked to economic hardship.”

Look, if you still believe that Trump’s appeal was rooted in economic, and not racial, anxiety, ask yourself the following questions: Why did a majority of Americans earning less than $50,000 a year vote for Clinton, not Trump, according to the exit polls? Why, in the key Rust Belt swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, did most voters who cited the economy as “the most important issue facing the country” opt for Hillary over the Donald? And why didn’t black or Latino working class voters flock to Trump with the same fervor as white working class voters? Or does their economic insecurity not count?

To be clear, no one is saying there weren’t any legitimate economic grievances in Trumpland, nor is anyone claiming that the economy played no role whatsoever. The point, however, is that it wasn’t the major motivating factor for most Trump voters — or, at least, that’s what we learn when we bother to study those voters. Race trumped economics.

Defenders of the economy narrative have a “gotcha” question of their own: how can racial resentment have motivated Trump supporters when so many of them voted for Barack Obama, across the Rust Belt, in 2008 and 2012? “They’re not racists,” filmmaker Michael Moore passionately argued last November.  “They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein.”

Klinkner, though, gives short shrift to this argument. First, he tells me, “most of them didn’t vote for Obama. There weren’t many vote switchers between 2012 and 2016.” Second, “working class whites shifted to Trump less because they were working class than because they were white.” Klinkner points out that in 2016, Clinton, unlike Obama, faced a Republican candidate who “pushed the buttons of race and nativism in open and explicit ways that John McCain and Mitt Romney were unwilling or unable to do.”

If Democrats are going to have any chance of winning back the White House in 2020, they have to understand why they lost in 2016, and that understanding has to be based on facts and figures, however inconvenient or awkward. The Sanders/Warren/Moore wing of the party is right to focus on fair trade and income equality; the calls for higher wages and better regulation are morally and economically correct. What they are not, however, is some sort of silver bullet to solve the issue of racism. As the University of California’s Michael Tesler, author of “Post-Racial or Most-Racial?

Race and Politics in the Obama Era,” has pointed out, the “evidence suggests that racial resentment is driving economic anxiety, not the other way around.”

Always remember: You have to identify the disease before you can begin work on a cure. In the case of support for Donald Trump, the results are in: It isn’t the economy. It’s the racism, stupid.


Charmian Gooch: Meet global corruption's hidden players

When we talk about corruption, there are typical types of individuals that spring to mind. There's the former Soviet megalomaniacs. Saparmurat Niyazov, he was one of them. Until his death in 2006, he was the all-powerful leader of Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country rich in natural gas. Now, he really loved to issue presidential decrees. And one renamed the months of the year including after himself and his mother. He spent millions of dollars creating a bizarre personality cult, and his crowning glory was the building of a 40-foot-high gold-plated statue of himself which stood proudly in the capital's central square and rotated to follow the sun. He was a slightly unusual guy. And then there's that cliché, the African dictator or minister or official.  

There's Teodorín Obiang. So his daddy is president for life of Equatorial Guinea, a West African nation that has exported billions of dollars of oil since the 1990s and yet has a truly appalling human rights record. The vast majority of its people are living in really miserable poverty despite an income per capita that's on a par with that of Portugal. So Obiang junior, well, he buys himself a $30 million mansion in Malibu, California. I've been up to its front gates. I can tell you it's a magnificent spread. He bought an €18 million art collection that used to belong to fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, a stack of fabulous sports cars, some costing a million dollars apiece — oh, and a Gulfstream jet, too.

  Now get this: Until recently, he was earning an official monthly salary of less than 7,000 dollars. And there's Dan Etete. Well, he was the former oil minister of Nigeria under President Abacha, and it just so happens he's a convicted money launderer too. We've spent a great deal of time investigating a $1 billion — that's right, a $1 billion — oil deal that he was involved with, and what we found was pretty shocking, but more about that later. So it's easy to think that corruption happens somewhere over there, carried out by a bunch of greedy despots and individuals up to no good in countries that we, personally, may know very little about and feel really unconnected to and unaffected by what might be going on. But does it just happen over there? Well, at 22, I was very lucky. My first job out of university was investigating the illegal trade in African ivory. And that's how my relationship with corruption really began. In 1993, with two friends who were colleagues, Simon Taylor and Patrick Alley, we set up an organization called Global Witness. Our first campaign was investigating the role of illegal logging in funding the war in Cambodia. So a few years later, and it's now 1997, and I'm in Angola undercover investigating blood diamonds. Perhaps you saw the film, the Hollywood film "Blood Diamond," the one with Leonardo DiCaprio. Well, some of that sprang from our work.

  Luanda, it was full of land mine victims who were struggling to survive on the streets and war orphans living in sewers under the streets, and a tiny, very wealthy elite who gossiped about shopping trips to Brazil and Portugal. And it was a slightly crazy place. So I'm sitting in a hot and very stuffy hotel room feeling just totally overwhelmed. But it wasn't about blood diamonds. Because I'd been speaking to lots of people there who, well, they talked about a different problem: that of a massive web of corruption on a global scale and millions of oil dollars going missing. And for what was then a very small organization of just a few people, trying to even begin to think how we might tackle that was an enormous challenge. And in the years that I've been, and we've all been campaigning and investigating, I've repeatedly seen that what makes corruption on a global, massive scale possible, well it isn't just greed or the misuse of power or that nebulous phrase "weak governance." I mean, yes, it's all of those, but corruption, it's made possible by the actions of global facilitators. 

So let's go back to some of those people I talked about earlier. Now, they're all people we've investigated, and they're all people who couldn't do what they do alone. Take Obiang junior. Well, he didn't end up with high-end art and luxury houses without help. He did business with global banks. A bank in Paris held accounts of companies controlled by him, one of which was used to buy the art, and American banks, well, they funneled 73 million dollars into the States, some of which was used to buy that California mansion. And he didn't do all of this in his own name either. He used shell companies. He used one to buy the property, and another, which was in somebody else's name, to pay the huge bills it cost to run the place. And then there's Dan Etete. Well, when he was oil minister, he awarded an oil block now worth over a billion dollars to a company that, guess what, yeah, he was the hidden owner of. Now, it was then much later traded on with the kind assistance of the Nigerian government — now I have to be careful what I say here — to subsidiaries of Shell and the Italian Eni, two of the biggest oil companies around. So the reality is, is that the engine of corruption, well, it exists far beyond the shores of countries like Equatorial Guinea or Nigeria or Turkmenistan.  

This engine, well, it's driven by our international banking system, by the problem of anonymous shell companies, and by the secrecy that we have afforded big oil, gas and mining operations, and, most of all, by the failure of our politicians to back up their rhetoric and do something really meaningful and systemic to tackle this stuff. Now let's take the banks first. Well, it's not going to come as any surprise for me to tell you that banks accept dirty money, but they prioritize their profits in other destructive ways too. For example, in Sarawak, Malaysia. Now this region, it has just five percent of its forests left intact. Five percent. So how did that happen? Well, because an elite and its facilitators have been making millions of dollars from supporting logging on an industrial scale for many years. So we sent an undercover investigator in to secretly film meetings with members of the ruling elite, and the resulting footage, well, it made some people very angry, and you can see that on YouTube, but it proved what we had long suspected, because it showed how the state's chief minister, despite his later denials, used his control over land and forest licenses to enrich himself and his family.  

And HSBC, well, we know that HSBC bankrolled the region's largest logging companies that were responsible for some of that destruction in Sarawak and elsewhere. The bank violated its own sustainability policies in the process, but it earned around 130 million dollars. Now shortly after our exposé, very shortly after our exposé earlier this year, the bank announced a policy review on this. And is this progress? Maybe, but we're going to be keeping a very close eye on that case. And then there's the problem of anonymous shell companies. Well, we've all heard about what they are, I think, and we all know they're used quite a bit by people and companies who are trying to avoid paying their proper dues to society, also known as taxes. But what doesn't usually come to light is how shell companies are used to steal huge sums of money, transformational sums of money, from poor countries. In virtually every case of corruption that we've investigated, shell companies have appeared, and sometimes it's been impossible to find out who is really involved in the deal. A recent study by the World Bank looked at 200 cases of corruption. It found that over 70 percent of those cases had used anonymous shell companies, totaling almost 56 billion dollars. Now many of these companies were in America or the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and so it's not just an offshore problem, it's an on-shore one too.  

You see, shell companies, they're central to the secret deals which may benefit wealthy elites rather than ordinary citizens. One striking recent case that we've investigated is how the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo sold off a series of valuable, state-owned mining assets to shell companies in the British Virgin Islands. So we spoke to sources in country, trawled through company documents and other information trying to piece together a really true picture of the deal. And we were alarmed to find that these shell companies had quickly flipped many of the assets on for huge profits to major international mining companies listed in London. Now, the Africa Progress Panel, led by Kofi Annan, they've calculated that Congo may have lost more than 1.3 billion dollars from these deals. That's almost twice the country's annual health and education budget combined. And will the people of Congo, will they ever get their money back? Well, the answer to that question, and who was really involved and what really happened, well that's going to probably remain locked away in the secretive company registries of the British Virgin Islands and elsewhere unless we all do something about it. And how about the oil, gas and mining companies? Okay, maybe it's a bit of a cliché to talk about them. Corruption in that sector, no surprise. There's corruption everywhere, so why focus on that sector? Well, because there's a lot at stake. In 2011, natural resource exports outweighed aid flows by almost 19 to one in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Nineteen to one. Now that's a hell of a lot of schools and universities and hospitals and business startups, many of which haven't materialized and never will because some of that money has simply been stolen away.

  Now let's go back to the oil and mining companies, and let's go back to Dan Etete and that $1 billion deal. And now forgive me, I'm going to read the next bit because it's a very live issue, and our lawyers have been through this in some detail and they want me to get it right. Now, on the surface, the deal appeared straightforward. Subsidiaries of Shell and Eni paid the Nigerian government for the block. The Nigerian government transferred precisely the same amount, to the very dollar, to an account earmarked for a shell company whose hidden owner was Etete. Now, that's not bad going for a convicted money launderer. And here's the thing. After many months of digging around and reading through hundreds of pages of court documents, we found evidence that, in fact, Shell and Eni had known that the funds would be transferred to that shell company, and frankly, it's hard to believe they didn't know who they were really dealing with there. Now, it just shouldn't take these sorts of efforts to find out where the money in deals like this went. I mean, these are state assets. They're supposed to be used for the benefit of the people in the country. But in some countries, citizens and journalists who are trying to expose stories like this have been harassed and arrested and some have even risked their lives to do so. And finally, well, there are those who believe that corruption is unavoidable. It's just how some business is done. It's too complex and difficult to change. So in effect, what? 

We just accept it. But as a campaigner and investigator, I have a different view, because I've seen what can happen when an idea gains momentum. In the oil and mining sector, for example, there is now the beginning of a truly worldwide transparency standard that could tackle some of these problems. In 1999, when Global Witness called for oil companies to make payments on deals transparent, well, some people laughed at the extreme naiveté of that small idea. But literally hundreds of civil society groups from around the world came together to fight for transparency, and now it's fast becoming the norm and the law. Two thirds of the value of the world's oil and mining companies are now covered by transparency laws. Two thirds. So this is change happening. This is progress. But we're not there yet, by far. Because it really isn't about corruption somewhere over there, is it? In a globalized world, corruption is a truly globalized business, and one that needs global solutions, supported and pushed by us all, as global citizens, right here. Thank you. (Applause)