Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross benefits from business ties to Putin’s inner circle

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. has a stake in a shipping firm that receives millions of dollars a year in revenue from a company whose key owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian tycoon sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department as a member of Putin’s inner circle.

Ross, a billionaire private equity investor, divested most of his business assets before joining President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in February, but he kept a stake in the shipping firm, Navigator Holdings Ltd., which is incorporated in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. Offshore entities in which Ross and other investors hold a financial stake controlled 31.5 percent of the company in 2016, according to Navigator’s latest annual report.

Among Navigator’s largest customers, contributing more than $68 million in revenue since 2014, is the Moscow-based gas and petrochemicals company Sibur. Two of its key owners are Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin’s youngest daughter, and Gennady Timchenko, the sanctioned oligarch whose activities in the energy sector, the Treasury Department said, were “directly linked to Putin.”

Another powerful owner is Sibur’s largest shareholder, Leonid Mikhelson, who controls an energy company that was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department for propping up Putin’s rule.

In the aftermath of the election, investigations by Congress and the U.S. Justice Department have explored potential business ties between Russia and members of the Trump administration. While several of Trump’s campaign and business associates have come under scrutiny, until now no business connections have been reported between senior Trump administration officials and members of Putin’s family or inner circle.

During his confirmation process, Ross was asked repeatedly about his business ties to Russia, mostly related to his former role as vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has a long history of financing Russian oligarchs. “The United States Senate and the American public deserve to know the full extent of your connections with Russia and your knowledge of any ties between the Trump Administration, Trump Campaign, or Trump Organization and the Bank of Cyprus,” a group of five Democratic senators wrote Ross after the hearing but prior to his confirmation. Ross responded briefly to a question submitted for the hearing, saying the Russians who invested in the bank “were not my partners,” but he didn’t respond to the senators’ letter.

Commerce and conflict

The commerce secretary’s indirect business connection with Putin’s son-in-law and oligarch allies emerges from an examination of public records and a leak of millions of offshore financial documents from the Bermuda law firm Appleby obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its global network of media partners. They represent the inner workings of Appleby from the 1950s until 2016. The files include documents from Appleby’s corporate services division, which became independent in 2016 under the name Estera.

The leaked files showed a chain of companies and partnerships in the Cayman Islands through which Ross has retained his financial stake in Navigator.

The fact that Ross’ Cayman Islands companies benefit from a firm controlled by Putin proxies raises serious potential conflicts of interest, experts say. As commerce secretary, Ross has the power to influence U.S. trade, sanctions and other matters that could affect Sibur’s owners. Likewise, Sibur’s owners, and through them, Putin himself, could have the ability to increase or decrease Sibur’s business with Navigator even as Ross helps steer U.S. policy.

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said Ross might have to recuse himself from a range of sanctions decisions. He added that while there was no inherent violation in Ross’ holdings, the Navigator arrangement warrants closer scrutiny.

Read the complete article on the Internation Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Image source: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

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3C of warming will leave world cities below sea level

How Shanghai would look with a rise of just 2C: the UN warned this week of a potential 3C scenario. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers around the world face their cities being inundated by rising seawaters if latest UN warnings that the world is on course for 3C of global warming come true, according to a Guardian data analysis.

Data from the Climate Central group of scientists analysed by Guardian journalists shows that 3C of global warming would ultimately lock in irreversible sea-level rises of perhaps two metres. Cities from Shanghai to Alexandria, and Rio to Osaka are among the worst affected. Miami would be inundated – as would the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.

South Beach, Miami, would be mostly underwater. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

In Miami – which would be almost entirely below sea level even at 2C warming – the sense of urgency is evident at city hall, where commissioners are asking voters to approve a “Miami Forever” bond in the November ballot that includes $192m for upgrading pump stations, expanding drainage systems, elevating roads and building dykes.

A 3C rise would lead to longer droughts, fiercer hurricanes and lock in sea-level rises that would redraw many coastlines. Depending on the speed at which icecaps and glaciers melt, this could take decades or more than a century.

At least 275 million city dwellers live in vulnerable areas, the majority of them in Asian coastal megacities and industrial hubs such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, is projected to lose its business and entertainments districts of Umeda and Namba unless global emissions are forced down or flood defences are built up. Officials are reluctantly accepting they must now put more effort into the latter.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper site.

José Andrés Fed Puerto Rico

The chef José Andrés walking through water to deliver dinner to a 91-year-old veteran in Loíza, P.R., whose house was cut off from the street because an electric pump wasn’t working. Credit Eric Rojas for The New York Times

José Andrés was walking along a dark street in a stained T-shirt and a ball cap, trying to decompress after another day of feeding an island that has been largely without electricity since Hurricane Maria hit a month ago.

He’d gone barely half a block before two women ran over to snag a selfie. A man shouted out his name from a bar running on a generator and offered to buy him a rum sour.

The reaction is more subdued in rural mountain communities like Naguabo, where Mr. Andrés and his crew have been delivering supplies so cooks at a small Pentecostal church can make 5,000 servings of arroz con pollo and carne guisada every day. There, people touch his sleeve and whisper, “Gracias.” They surround him and pray.

“He’s much more than a hero,” said Jesus R. Rivera, who was inside a cigar store watching Mr. Andrés pick out one of his daily smokes. “The situation is that still some people don’t even have food. He is all that is keeping them from starving.”

Since he hit the ground five days after the hurricane devastated this island of 3.4 million on Sept. 20, he has built a network of kitchens, supply chains and delivery services that as of Monday had served more than 2.2 million warm meals and sandwiches. No other single agency — not the Red Cross, the Salvation Army nor any government entity — has fed more people freshly cooked food since the hurricane, or done it in such a nurturing way.

Nothing prepared Mr. Andrés for what he faced in Puerto Rico. After taking one of the first commercial flights to the island after the storm, he realized that things were worse than anyone knew.

He found his friend Jose Enrique, the chef who has been leading Puerto Rico’s farm-to-table resurgence. Mr. Enrique had no electricity to run his Restaurant Jose Enrique, in the Santurce district of San Juan. Rain poured through the roof. But he had food in the freezer. Other chefs did, too. Someone had a generator.

Mr. Andrés didn’t realize that his was the biggest hot-food game on the island until a week or so after they started. Someone from the Salvation Army pulled up and asked for 120 meals.

“In my life I never expected the Salvation Army to be asking me for food,” he said. “If one of the biggest NGOs comes to us for food, who is actually going to be feeding Puerto Rico? We are. We are it.”

Mr. Andrés, who often rolls right over regulations and ignores the word “no,” clashed more than once with FEMA and other large organizations that have a more-seasoned and methodical approach. In meetings and telephone calls, FEMA officials reminded him that he and his people lacked the experience needed to organize a mass emergency feeding operation, he said.

Mr. Andrés flew home to Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “This has been like my little Vietnam, but now I need to go back to normal life,” he said.

He never intended to stay as long as he did, he said. Or to feed an island.

“At the end, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try to do what I thought was right,” he said. “We need to think less sometimes and dream less and just make it happen.”

Read the complete article in the New York Times.

Inuit throat singer to perform at Carnegie Hall – video

Throat singing can be heard around the world in various forms, but Inuit have developed a very unique style, methods and sounds all their own.

Throat singing was traditionally performed between two women. The songs are sung as a friendly competition; played as a game. One person sets the rhythm, the pace the sound and the other follow. The first person to outlast or not laugh is the winner, as each song tends to end in laughter.

Many throat songs were created to mimic the sounds of daily life or surrounding natural elements and wildlife. As an example a song called “The Cleaning” mimics the sounds you would hear as the rails of the Qamutik was being cleaned; while another mimics the sound of a saw. These games helped to entertain children and women while the men were out hunting. Throat singing was banned by the Christian clergy for decades but in modern day has been accepted. Since then throat singing has seen resurgence in modern Inuit culture and is being restored to its former place of importance in Inuit culture. Many celebrations within Inuit communities be they northern or southern community events are accompanied by the sounds of throat songs.

Today throat singing is being passed on to the younger generation to be sure that this amazing piece of Inuit culture remains an honored tradition. It was traditionally passed on to daughter but now young boys are also taking their turn trying out the great game.

Click on image to watch video

Republican official ‘would have shot’ Guardian reporter attacked by Gianforte

A Montana Republican party official “would have shot” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs if he had approached her as he did Greg Gianforte, who assaulted Jacobs one day before he was elected to Congress.

Jacobs approached Gianforte in May, in a room where he was about to give a television interview. The Republican slammed Jacobs to the floor, breaking his glasses, and then punched him several times.

“If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him,” Karen Marshall, vice-president of programs for Gallatin County Republican Women told the Voice of Montana radio program on Thursday.

Marshall also described herself as a “friend” of Gianforte. According to federal records, a Karen Marshall from Bozeman, Montana, donated the federal maximum of $2,700 to Gianforte’s campaign for Congress.

The altercation occurred in a private room at a campaign event, after Jacobs asked Gianforte a question about healthcare. Several reporters were invited to the event, a picnic.

“That kid came on private property, came into a private building, and went into a very private room that I would not even have gone into,” Marshall said. “It was a setup. A complete setup. He just pushed a little too hard.”

Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told the Helena Independent Record: “Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

The Artless Dodger

Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger, is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Dodger is a pickpocket, so called for his skill and cunning in that respect. He is the leader of the gang of child criminals, trained by the elderly Fagin.

The Artful Dodger is characterized as a child who acts like an adult.

Today the world has The Artless Dodger, a child who acts like an adult but, unlike the Artful Dodger, is completely lacking in skill and cunning.

Donald Trump: pointing the way toward … more of the same, actually. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The Art of The Schlemiel

Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Donald Trump’s time in office had been a spectacular failure, like a schlemiel. Here’s a very short list of promises made by Donald Trump which have stalled in legislation.

Call for an international conference to defeat ISIS
Repeal Obamacare
Increase visa fees
Move U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
Replace J-1 Visa with Inner City Resume Bank
Cut taxes for everyone
Eliminate the carried interest loophole
Impose death penalty for cop killers
Enact term limits
Appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton
Make no cuts to Medicare
Make no cuts to Social Security
Make no cuts to Medicaid
Eliminate Common Core
Add additional federal investment of $20 billion toward School Choice
Open up libel laws
Build a safe zone for Syrian refugees
Close parts of the Internet where ISIS is
Bring back waterboarding

There are many, many more promises which the Donald has uttered and has failed to pass through legislation at this point in time in office. His “Art of the deal” book should have been titled “The Art of The Schlemiel”.

Schlemiel, noun, (US, slang) an awkward or unlucky person whose endeavours usually fail.