"For the news you want to read (but no one else will print)"


  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, first time, same team. Laver Cup winners.

Front Office Advice For The Week:

Beware the bully who demands that you do what he says, or else. Beware the wheedler who shrugs off accountability as he whines for favors and brags of influence.

Foreign agent Paul Manafort, campaign chairman to the current U.S. President and self-acknowledged "influence peddler", whose client roster included foreign dictators.

From the Front Office: Can We Get A Diagram, Please

Although required by law to register as a "foreign agent" based on his foreign financial dealings, Manafort failed to register as such. With or without a registered scarlet "A" for agent, how long can his influence peddling for and on behalf of foreign powers remain hidden?

Jay Sekulow, the attorney for the United States President has stated that if the investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller digs too deeply or widely, Sekulow will "warn" him "informally." Then if the investigation persists, he will complain to the Deputy Attorney General. Really? Americans want to know the full extent of Russian ties and influence and whether the campaign and thus the U.S. presidency has been or can be compromised by the complex web of deals, explicit or implied, failed or still stickily and firmly in place. This investigation can, should and must include: money laundering, obstruction of justice, disclosure of classified information for the benefit of a foreign government to the detriment of the United States, gifts from a foreign country, fraud, self-dealing and election tampering.

* "He’s like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place, who knows, I don’t know . . . ."--Comment to senior aides on the FBI arrest of Manafort in July 2017

Reckless ignorance or disregard, real or imagined, cannot be a defense. "Knew or should have known" is the standard for a President of the United States.

Is that diagram ready yet?

“He sat down in the sluttish armchair and undid the straps of the brief-case. A heavy black volume, amateurishly bound, with no name or title on the cover. The print also looked slightly irregular. The pages were worn at the edges, and fell apart, easily, as though the book had passed through many hands.

Winston began reading:

Chapter I
Ignorance is Strength

. . . . By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. . . . Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time . . . .

. . . .This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even when there is no practical reason for them. . . .

Winston became aware of silence, as one becomes aware of a new sound. . . .

. . . . He had still, he reflected, not learned the ultimate secret. He understood HOW; he did not understand WHY. Chapter I, like Chapter III, had not actually told him anything that he did not know, it had merely systematized the knowledge that he possessed already. But after reading it he knew better than before that he was not mad. Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad.

There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad." --- Nineteen Eighty-Four
written by George Orwell and published in 1949

T****’s Business of Corruption

What secrets will Mueller find when he investigates the President’s foreign deals?

By Adam Davidson
From the The New Yorker

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating T****, is looking at his past deals.

President Donald T****’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the T**** campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate. The issue will first be raised “informally,” he noted. But if Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President T**** has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings. Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine T****’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the T**** campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that T**** has made in the past decade. T****-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin. Other real-estate partners of the T**** Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.

One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a T**** Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which T**** was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail T****. (Sekulow said that “the Georgia real-estate deal is something we would consider out of scope,” adding, “Georgia is not Russia.”)

The waterfront lot where the T**** Tower Batumi was supposed to be built remains empty. A groundbreaking ceremony was held five years ago, but no foundation has been dug. T**** removed his name from the project shortly before assuming the Presidency; the T**** Organization called this “normal housekeeping.” When the tower was announced, in March, 2011, it was the centerpiece of a bold plan to transform Batumi from a seedy port into a glamorous city. But the planned high-rise—forty-seven stories containing lavish residences, a casino, and expensive shops—was oddly ambitious for a town that had almost no luxury housing.

T**** did very little to develop the Batumi property. The project was a licensing deal from which he made a quick profit. In exchange for the million-dollar payment, he granted the right to use his name, and he agreed to visit Georgia for an elaborate publicity campaign, which was designed to promote Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a business-oriented reformer who could attract Western financiers. The campaign was misleading: the T**** Tower Batumi was going to be funded not by T**** but by businesses with ties to Kazakh oligarchs, including Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s autocratic ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and a close ally of Putin. Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, based on its vast reserves of oil and metals, among other natural resources. Kazakhstan is notoriously corrupt, and much of its wealth is in the hands of Nazarbayev’s extended family and his favored associates. T**** visited Georgia in April, 2012, at a politically vulnerable time for Saakashvili. Nine years earlier, Saakashvili had led the Rose Revolution, which overturned the country’s autocratic post-Soviet leadership.

After assuming power, he initially cracked down on widespread petty corruption and cleaned up the civil service, which had functioned largely on bribes. Then, in 2008, he led a disastrous war against Russia over control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. By then, his fight against corruption had largely ceased, and Transparency International and other N.G.O.s were reporting that élite corruption—in which wealthy, politically connected people receive better treatment from courts, prosecutors, and government administrators—was rampant in Georgia. Under these conditions, few Western investors or brands were willing to put money into the country. Saakashvili himself was increasingly unpopular, and the T**** deal was meant to help salvage his reputation.

Saakashvili showed T**** around Tbilisi, the capital, and Batumi. Georgian television covered the events fawningly, promising viewers that T**** would soon build a second tower, in Tbilisi. One broadcaster proclaimed that T**** was the world’s top developer. At the groundbreaking ceremony in Batumi, Saakashvili said that the tower was “a big deal . . . that changes everything around here.” At another event, beneath a banner that proclaimed “T**** INVESTS IN GEORGIA,” he thanked T**** for being part of the project—which, he said, had a budget of two hundred and fifty million dollars. He also awarded T**** the Georgian Order of Brilliance. T****, in turn, praised Saakashvili. “Everybody in the world, they speak of Georgia and the great miracle that’s taking place,” he said. Upon returning home, T**** appeared on “Fox and Friends.” Gretchen Carlson, the host at the time, asked him, “What are you going to be investing in?” He responded, “I’m doing a big development there—and it’s been amazing.” He said of Saakashvili, “He’s one of the great leaders of the world.”

Virtually none of the things that Saakashvili and T**** said about the deal were true. The budget of the T**** Tower Batumi was not two hundred and fifty million dollars but a hundred and ten. T****, meanwhile, could hardly have invested such a sum himself. He professed to be a billionaire, but a few months earlier an appeals court in New Jersey had shut down T****’s legal campaign against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “T****Nation,” which argued that T**** had wildly inflated his fortune, and was actually worth less than a quarter of a billion dollars. Julie George, a political scientist at Queens College who studies Georgia, told me that, by 2012, Saakashvili’s tenure could in no way be considered a “great miracle.” The country’s economy was floundering, and shortly after T****’s visit it was revealed that the government had been torturing political opponents. (Saakashvili did not respond to requests for comment.)

The announcement of the Batumi tower was handled with cynical opportunism by both T**** and Saakashvili, but that was not the deal’s biggest problem. The developer that had paid T**** and invited him to Georgia—a holding company known as the Silk Road Group—had been funded by a bank that was enmeshed in a giant money-laundering scandal. And T****, it seemed, had not asked many questions before taking the money.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Batumi had been a popular resort town, but by the early aughts it had fallen into disrepair. Its beachfront hotels housed refugees from the nearby Abkhazia region, which had broken away from Georgia in 1992. Batumi was the capital of the semiautonomous Adjara region, which was itself on the verge of declaring independence. Saakashvili saw the redevelopment of Batumi as critical for maintaining Georgian sovereignty there. Batumi residents promised to turn the city into the Monaco of the Black Sea.

But nobody seemed willing to put money into Batumi. Levan Varshalomidze, the governor of Adjara at the time, told me that Saakashvili and other Georgian officials sought financial backers, but they could not get anyone to invest in a run-down Georgian port. Then, in 2005, something remarkable happened. Saakashvili and President Nazarbayev, of neighboring Kazakhstan, announced that B.T.A. Bank—the largest bank in Kazakhstan—was giving several hundred million dollars in loans to help develop Georgia. The loans would pay for the construction of hotels in Batumi, the expansion of the Georgian telecommunications industry, and the growth of a Georgian bank. Curiously, all the loans went to subsidiaries of one company: the Silk Road Group, which specialized not in real-estate development but in shipping crude- and refined-oil products, by rail, from Kazakhstan to other countries. Its senior executives had very little experience in telecommunications, banking, or hospitality. The Silk Road Group, which had annual revenues of roughly two hundred million dollars, was planning, in an instant, to venture into several new industries. Compounding the risk, this expansion involved taking on a debt one and a half times its annual revenue.

That wasn’t the only puzzling thing about the loans. At the time that B.T.A. was lending all this money to the Silk Road Group, the bank’s deputy chairman, Yerkin Tatishev, was apparently crossing an ethical line—positioning himself to exert improper influence over some of the very Silk Road Group subsidiaries that were benefitting from the loans. B.T.A. Bank had representatives on the boards of those subsidiaries, but one representative serving on two boards, Talgat Turumbayev, was simultaneously working for Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, supervising mergers and acquisitions. (Turumbayev told me that serving on the boards wasn’t a conflict of interest, because it didn’t take “a lot of time.”) .

I spoke with people who had knowledge about the subsidiaries. They told me that the subsidiaries were co-owned by the Silk Road Group and secret partners. The source at one subsidiary told me he suspected that Tatishev—who repeatedly participated in company meetings—was a hidden owner.

Tatishev, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth half a billion dollars, left B.T.A. Bank in 2009. He insisted to me that, while he was there, he had no personal financial involvement in the Silk Road Group. But he acknowledged that he “developed a strong friendship” with George Ramishvili, the company’s C.E.O., and “offered to advise him.” He added, “It was the right thing to do, and this is my definition of friendship.” But is it true that Tatishev merely advised the Silk Road Group? The Web site of Tatishev’s company, the Kusto Group, declares that it has been “an outstanding partner for the Silk Road Group” since 2006, noting, “Together we have successfully invested in various sectors of the Georgian economy.” Whenever I pointed out such contradictions to Tatishev, he came up with new answers. In an e-mail, he said that the joint investments were simply “charity/heritage projects.” After he told me that he never served on the committee of B.T.A. Bank that oversees lending, I checked, and confirmed that this was false. He then insisted that he “did not recall” participating. If, as the Web site suggests, Tatishev financially involved himself in businesses funded by the B.T.A. Bank loans, then he and the Silk Road Group may well have committed bank fraud. When bank executives have a personal financial stake in projects that their own bank is financing, it is known as “self-dealing,” and it is a crime in nearly every country, including Kazakhstan. I recently spoke with Sergei Gretsky, a professor at the Catholic University of America, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the Kazakh banking sector. When I asked him if it would be illegal for the deputy chairman of a Kazakh bank to have personal investments in a project that his bank was funding and withhold that information from investors, he laughed and said, “Yes, of course.” .

Richard Gordon, the director of the financial-integrity unit at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, explained that self-dealing represented a central cause of the 1997 global financial crisis. Banks in Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, and Taiwan failed, in part, because bank executives and board members kept lending money to themselves and to their cronies. “This leads to defaults, bank bankruptcies, or government bailouts,” he said. Since then, nearly every nation has made efforts to prevent self-dealing. Gordon said that, at most banks today, the board members and senior staff don’t even have a credit card associated with the bank, in order to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest. .

Lending to companies in which a senior bank executive has a personal stake is a crime because it violates the central trust that makes banking possible. The fundamental business of banking is to borrow money from one group and lend it to another. B.T.A., which had been heralded internationally as a fast-growing bank in a troubled part of the world, had raised money by selling bonds through J. P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, and many other top Western banks. If these Western banks had known that a senior B.T.A. official was heavily involved in the operations of a company that was receiving huge loans from B.T.A., they might have balked. .

In the years before the T**** Tower Batumi deal, B.T.A. Bank became entangled in a spectacular crime. Mukhtar Ablyazov, the bank’s chairman, was a prominent figure in Kazakhstan, and not just because he was a billionaire. He was one of the leading sponsors of a political party opposed to President Nazarbayev. In 2009, when Nazarbayev signalled a desire to seize control of B.T.A. Bank, Ablyazov fled the country for London—taking billions of dollars in bank funds with him. He accomplished this with a diffuse scheme: dozens of offshore companies under his control received loans from B.T.A., and none of the loans were paid back.

In 2010, when a T**** Organization executive, Michael Cohen, began negotiating with the Silk Road Group about licensing T****’s name for the Batumi tower, Ablyazov was facing eleven lawsuits in the U.K. The Kazakh government, which had indeed seized control of B.T.A. Bank, had sued him to reclaim ten billion dollars that he had allegedly siphoned out of the country. The Financial Times covered the case extensively, as did the Times, which described “a scheme by B.T.A.’s former chairman, Mukhtar Ablyazov, to direct between $8 billion and $12 billion worth of B.T.A. loans—about half of the bank’s loan book—to companies that he secretly controlled.” The article noted that Ablyazov was renting “a 15,000-square-foot mansion” in London. .

It would have taken only a Google search for the T**** Organization to discover that the Silk Road Group had received much of its funding from B.T.A. Bank, which, at the time of the Batumi deal, was mired in one of the largest fraud cases in recent history. The Silk Road Group had even been business partners with the central figure in the scandal: Ablyazov and the Silk Road Group were two of the owners of a bank in Georgia. I asked Cohen, who visited Georgia with T****, if he had been concerned about the Silk Road Group’s connection to B.T.A. Bank. “I didn’t even know that B.T.A. was involved in this entire scenario up until the moment you told me,” he said. He added that he was not aware of any information about how the tower would be funded—or even “if there was going to be any funding at all.” He went on, “We had not gotten to that stage of the process. Remember, this was a licensing deal. The financing of the project was the responsibility of the licensee”—the Silk Road Group. .

I recently spoke with John Madinger, a retired U.S. Treasury official and I.R.S. special agent, who used to investigate financial crimes. He is the author of “Money Laundering: A Guide for Criminal Investigators.” When I told him what Cohen had said to me, he responded, “No, no, no! You’ve got to do your due diligence. You shouldn’t do a financial transaction with funds that appear to stem from unlawful activity. That’s like saying, ‘I don’t care if Pablo Escobar is my secret business partner.’ You have to care—otherwise, you’re at risk of violating laws against money laundering.”

A judge in the U.K. ruled repeatedly against Ablyazov, starting in 2009, and ordered him to hand over more than four billion dollars to B.T.A. (The Kazakh government insisted that six billion dollars more remained missing.) The judge, Sir Nigel John Martin Teare, said that Ablyazov’s use of offshore holding companies had facilitated “fraud on an epic scale.” Teare ruled that “there can be only one explanation for the fact that the very large sums of money which were advanced were immediately transferred to companies owned or controlled by Mr. Ablyazov, namely, that the original loans were part of a dishonest scheme whereby Mr. Ablyazov sought to misappropriate monies which belonged to the bank.” Ablyazov was eventually sentenced to twenty-two months in a U.K. prison, for contempt of court, because he had refused to reveal disputed assets. In February, 2012, when T**** was planning his trip to Georgia, Ablyazov fled to France. He is currently fighting extradition. .

The Silk Road Group, which was established in Georgia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, does not have a conventional corporate structure. It is a holding company that controls dozens of corporate entities registered around the world. In total, B.T.A. loaned the Silk Road Group three hundred million dollars, and these funds were dispersed among its many subsidiaries, making the money trail hard to follow. For example, an eight-million-dollar loan was granted to Batumi Riviera Holding, B.V., which was registered in Holland. Batumi Riviera Holding has reported having a sole asset: a company called Vento, L.L.C., which is registered in Georgia. That registration indicates that its creditor is B.T.A., which made loans valued at seventy-five per cent of the initial investment in the company. Batumi Riviera Holding, in turn, is owned by Tbilisi Central Plaza, a company registered in Malta. Tbilisi Central Plaza is owned by Susalike Holding GmbH, which is registered, in Germany, to a Silk Road Group subsidiary.

Giorgi Rtskhiladze co-owns the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance, a subsidiary that focusses on business deals involving the U.S. He brokered the T**** relationship. The Silk Road Group’s leadership in Georgia asked him to represent the company in interviews for this article. I recently met him at the St. Regis hotel in New York. When I asked why the Silk Road Group had such a bewildering structure, Rtskhiladze said, “There are tax reasons, and there are other reasons. To reduce liabilities, if we were sued or have to sue, certain courts are more efficient.” He pointed out that many companies legitimately use offshore jurisdictions to register their firms. .

“That’s true,” Richard Gordon, the financial-integrity expert at Case Western, said. However, he added, “it is difficult to conceive of legitimate reasons for one shell company in an offshore jurisdiction to own a chain of companies established in a series of other offshore jurisdictions.” Such byzantine arrangements add expense, complexity, and uncertainty—the opposite of what businesses normally want—without providing any clear benefit, other than obfuscation. Moreover, by registering in so many different jurisdictions, the Silk Road Group has actually increased its legal risk, because a potential claimant can sue the company in all those jurisdictions. Gordon, who helped write the Republic of Georgia’s tax law, told me that he could think of no reason that this structure would help a Georgian company lawfully pay fewer taxes.

When I described to John Madinger, the retired Treasury official, the various entities and transactions involved in the funding of the T**** Tower Batumi, he said, “That is what you would expect to see in a money-laundering operation: multiple shell companies in multiple countries. It’s designed to make life hard for people trying to follow the transaction.” .

It was difficult to pierce the veil of ownership, but I made some headway by collaborating on a reporting project with an investigations team at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Manuela Andreoni and Inti Pacheco, two recent graduates who are now investigative fellows, have spent months researching the Silk Road Group, Mukhtar Ablyazov, Yerkin Tatishev, and B.T.A. Bank. They have looked closely at relevant lawsuits, and they have obtained and translated property records and corporate registries from around the world. .

Although Tatishev had repeatedly assured me that he was not involved in making decisions about Silk Road Group projects that had been funded by B.T.A. loans, I continued to accrue contradictory evidence. I recently received a cache of internal Silk Road Group e-mails, dating back to 2014, and they make clear that Tatishev has exerted detailed operational control over the company’s activities, including real-estate businesses that were funded by the B.T.A. loans. The e-mail cache shows that David Borger, a German financier who is a top executive at the company, regularly informed Tatishev about delicate internal financial matters and asked him for approval on a wide variety of decisions pertaining to Silk Road Group hotels, casinos, telecommunications infrastructure, and hydroelectric plants. Many of these projects had been initially funded by loans made while Tatishev was a senior official at B.T.A. Bank.

In one e-mail exchange, from earlier this year, Tatishev weighed in on a decision about which investment bank the Silk Road Group should use for a transaction. “We are cool guys,” Tatishev wrote. “And should always work with cool guys.” Borger responded, “Dear Yerkin, in this case can you please help us to get a cool deal with them?” He then asked Tatishev to describe how he wanted the deal to be structured. .

In another recent e-mail discussion, which touched on crucial questions about the ownership and the financing of a major Silk Road Group project, Borger told Tatishev, “I need your ok.” In a subsequent e-mail, George Ramishvili, the C.E.O. of the Silk Road Group, added that Tatishev needed to give his approval. Tatishev did so. In a 2014 e-mail, a Silk Road Group consultant sent Tatishev and Ramishvili a summary of a plan they had devised to settle the outstanding debt owed to B.T.A. Bank. .

Video from T****’s visit to Georgia provides further evidence that Tatishev was a key part of the Silk Road Group—and suggests that T**** recognized his importance. During a speech that T**** gave in Tbilisi, Tatishev can be seen sitting in the audience next to Ramishvili. T**** says, “We have two great partners.” He points toward the seats where Tatishev and Ramishvili are sitting. “And they’re going to do a fantastic job.” (Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive who met me in Manhattan, told me that T**** must have thought it was him, not Tatishev, sitting next to Ramishvili. But Rtskhiladze and Tatishev look nothing alike: Rtskhiladze is clean-shaven, with light-colored hair; Tatishev is nearly bald, with dark facial hair.) Tatishev accompanied T**** to meet Saakashvili at the Presidential Palace, in Tbilisi. When Michael Cohen, the T**** Organization executive, went to Georgia in 2010 to discuss building a tower with the Silk Road Group, he also met with Tatishev. A representative of the Silk Road Group said that Tatishev is a friend of Ramishvili and simply wanted to say hello to a big American tycoon. Inviting friends to important business meetings, the representative said, is common practice in the Caucasus region. .

With minimal due diligence, T**** Organization executives would have noticed that the Silk Road Group exhibited many warning signs of financial fraud: its layered and often hidden ownership, its ornate use of shell companies, its close relationship with a bank that was embroiled in a financial scandal. T****’s visit to Georgia occurred while his company was making a series of similar foreign deals. Until then, the T**** Organization had ventured abroad only occasionally: in 1999, a set of Korean buildings licensed the T**** name; in 2006, T**** bought a golf course in Scotland; the following year, construction began on a T****-branded tower in Turkey. But by 2012 T**** was struggling in the U.S. market. His biggest investment, in American casinos, had proved ruinous, and he was now a minority owner of a near-bankrupt business. T**** had defaulted on loans multiple times, and nearly every bank in the U.S. refused to finance deals bearing his name. And so T**** turned to people in other countries who did not share this reluctance to give him money. In 2012 alone, the T**** Organization negotiated or finalized deals in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. .

At the time, the T**** Organization had only a handful of staff members involved in dealmaking. His children Ivanka T**** and Donald T****, Jr., assumed a management role in many of these foreign projects. According to Rtskhiladze, T****, Jr., helped oversee the Batumi deal. At one point, Rtskhiladze and Cohen held two days of meetings in New York to discuss the project. T****, Jr., dropped by several times. According to former executives at the T**** Organization, the company lacked rigorous procedures for assessing foreign partners. A month after T**** visited Georgia, he agreed to license his name to, and provide oversight of, a luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a deal that I examined in an article in The New Yorker earlier this year. T**** received several million dollars from the brother and the son of an Azerbaijani billionaire who was then the Minister of Transportation—a man who, U.S. officials believe, may have been simultaneously laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In 2013, T**** met with the Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin; that November, they partnered with T**** on the Miss Universe contest, in Moscow, and discussed building a T**** Tower in the Russian capital. In June, 2016, at Emin Agalarov’s request, T****, Jr., met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who has represented Russian intelligence. T****, Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya came to the meeting accompanied by business associates who have extensive ties to Georgia and Azerbaijan. .

In December, 2012, not long after T**** signed the Batumi licensing deal, a company called Riviera, L.L.C., bought the fifteen-acre parcel of land on which the T**** Tower Batumi would supposedly be built. The price was twelve million dollars, and the seller was Vento, L.L.C., which was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by a company that was owned by the Silk Road Group. Riviera, L.L.C., was also partly owned by the Silk Road Group. In other words, the Silk Road Group was selling property to itself. .

The Financial Action Task Force, headquartered in Paris, is led by representatives from thirty-seven nations. In 2007, the task force issued a report about the use of real-estate projects for money laundering. The report makes note of several red flags. It warns of “complex loans” in which businesses “lend themselves money, creating the appearance that the funds are legitimate.” It also warns of the use of offshore shell companies and tangled corporate legal structures, especially those in which third parties are hired to administer a company and conceal its true ownership. These intertwined companies can then trade property among themselves, in order to create inflated valuations: “An often-used structure is, for example, the setting up of shell companies to buy real estate. Shortly after acquiring the properties, the companies are voluntarily wound up, and the criminals then repurchase the property at a price considerably above the original purchase price. This enables them to insert a sum of money into the financial system equal to the original purchase price plus the capital gain, thereby allowing them to conceal the origin of their funds.” .

The report states that money launderers often find that “buying a hotel, a restaurant or other similar investment offers further advantages, as it brings with it a business activity in which there is extensive use of cash.” Casinos—like the one planned for the T**** Tower Batumi—are especially useful in this regard. The casino was to be owned by the Silk Road Group and its partners. .

Alan Garten, the chief legal officer for the T**** Organization, declined to describe the due diligence behind the Batumi tower. When the deal was signed, the general counsel for the T**** Organization was Jason Greenblatt, who is now President T****’s envoy to negotiate Middle East peace. (The White House declined to comment for this story, referring me instead to Sekulow, T****’s lawyer, who also declined to discuss the specifics of the Batumi deal.) .

A representative of the Silk Road Group told me that the company had been eager to assuage any ethical concerns the T**** Organization or other potential partners may have had, and so it had conducted due diligence—on itself. In May, 2012, the Silk Road Group commissioned K2 Intelligence, a firm founded by the investigator Jules Kroll, to produce a report. (This was fourteen months after the T**** Organization signed the Batumi deal.) I recently obtained a summary of the report, which explained that K2 was “asked to probe the background and integrity of S.R.G.’s principal shareholder, George Ramishvili, more deeply than a standard investigative or compliance report might.” However, the report seems to have addressed only one issue: a rumor, circulating in the Georgian media, that Ramishvili had once been a member of the Mkhedrioni, a right-wing militia. K2 concluded that the rumor was false. The summary did not address the Silk Road Group’s funding sources, its complex legal structure, or its relationship to the B.T.A. Bank scandal, which was unfolding in London courts at the time. Other due diligence may have been performed, but the Silk Road Group, K2, and the T**** Organization declined to share specific information. .

Ross Delston, a prominent anti-money-laundering attorney in Washington, D.C., told me that, if one of his clients approached him with the possibility of entering a licensing relationship with the people involved in the Batumi deal, he “would tell him not to walk away but to run away—to run like hell.” He explained, “There are too many aspects of the deal that don’t make sense, and there’s no way, as an outsider, that you could conduct sufficient due diligence to figure out if it is criminal.” .

So many partners of the T**** Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.” (When the T**** Organization cancelled the Batumi deal, it noted that it held the Silk Road Group “in the highest regard.”) .

John Madinger, the former Treasury official, said that, in any deal that might involve money laundering, there is one critical question: “Does the financial transaction make economic or business sense?” In recent years, a lot of residential housing has been built in Batumi, but most of it has consisted of what Colliers, the market-analysis firm, calls “low-segment”—down-market—apartments. The T**** Organization, with its extensive experience in the luxury real-estate market, could surely sense that it would not be easy to enlist hundreds of wealthy people to buy multimillion-dollar condominiums in Batumi. I asked several New York real-estate developers to assess the proposed tower. One laughed and said that the Batumi deal reminded him of “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks movie about two charlatans who create a horrible musical designed to fail. Another New York developer, who spent years making deals in the former Soviet Union, told me, “A forty-seven-story tower of luxury condominiums in Batumi is an insane idea. I wouldn’t have gone near a project like this.” Giorgi Rtskhiladze, the Silk Road Transatlantic Alliance executive, confirmed that the luxury-housing market in Batumi was nonexistent in 2012, when he invited Donald T**** to visit Georgia, but said that the tower’s investors were nonetheless confident that a T****-branded skyscraper would attract buyers. He insisted that the Silk Road Group had not taken part in anything illicit, and said that B.T.A. Bank’s 2005 decision to lend the Silk Road Group several hundred million dollars was hardly suspicious. The company had been working in Kazakhstan for years, transporting oil products, and had become close with the Tatishev family. When the bank that Tatishev helped run, B.T.A., decided to invest in redeveloping Batumi, the obvious partner was the Silk Road Group. “We were the partner they knew,” Rtskhiladze said. “We’re active in the region.” .

Rtskhiladze acknowledged that it was quite a big loan for such a poor country. “Unbelievable,” he called it. And it was true that the Silk Road Group had little experience in hotels or construction or telecommunications when it suddenly entered those industries. But, he pointed out, Georgia was still emerging from the torpid days of the Soviet Union. “You’re talking about a country that had no experience,” he said. “Nobody else had experience.” In any case, he suggested, “real-estate development wasn’t that complicated. You hire third parties, who do feasibility studies. You look at the numbers. It wasn’t that difficult.” He added, “We like to do clean, transparent business.” I asked Rtskhiladze why he had invited T****, who has generally avoided travelling abroad, to Georgia. He told me a story from 1989, when he was a young soldier in the Soviet Army. “They told me, for target practice, to shoot Ronald Reagan’s face,” he recalled. “I refused.” The Army jailed him for several days. Soon after he was released, he said, he saw a magazine with T**** on the cover. He told himself, “One day, I will go to New York and meet this man.” .

He argued that the fact that “there was no luxury in Batumi” was precisely why the idea of a T**** Tower was so smart. The skyscraper, with its “pool and gyms and conference rooms,” would single-handedly create “an entire universe of very New York-style luxury in a seaside town.” The luxury condominiums, he added, were “for international buyers—Saudis, Turks, Russians.” In his “strong opinion,” the T**** brand was “the only brand for them.” (David Borger, the Silk Road Group executive, told me that a study by a well-regarded Turkish firm had concluded that the tower was a good business idea, but he declined to share the name of the firm or the study.) .

Melanie A. Bonvicino, who handles communications for the Silk Road Group, told me that the T**** Tower Batumi deal demonstrated an openhearted vision. “With the Batumi project, T**** was once again able to demonstrate his keen business sense,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Donald T**** in his role as futurist and visionary ordained the region as the next big thing. Mr. T**** had an immediate grasp over the geopolitical significance of the Republic of Georgia and its Black Sea region, acknowledging its vast potential by jointly transforming this hidden gem into the next Riviera. In the élite realm of global residential and commercial real-estate developers, the T**** moniker was and remains synonymous with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Michael Jackson.” .

In 2009, when Ablyazov fled to London, the Kazakh government seized control of B.T.A. Bank. (Tatishev moved to Singapore in 2013.) A lawyer representing the bank, Roman Marchenko, informed the Silk Road Group that he had reason to believe that it had participated in Ablyazov’s loan scheme. The Silk Road Group denied any wrongdoing. A settlement was reached, for fifty million dollars—a bargain price, considering that the loans had totalled three hundred million. Marchenko believes that the Silk Road Group was deeply entwined with Ablyazov, but Kazakh government officials decided to stop investigating. They were pursuing Ablyazov’s stolen assets all over the world, and there was more money in other countries. .

The Kazakh government placed B.T.A. Bank’s assets under the authority of its sovereign-wealth fund. Soon after, Timur Kulibayev—the powerful son-in-law of the country’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev—became the director of the fund. Kulibayev and his staff had access to all the bank’s internal documents. Recently, Kulibayev became the majority owner of the bank, giving him total control over B.T.A.’s archives, as well as ownership of its assets. Kulibayev was surely familiar with the players involved in the T**** Tower Batumi project. In 2011, Giorgi Rtskhiladze and Michael Cohen, the T**** Organization executive, began promoting the idea of a T**** Tower in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. They visited Astana and met with Karim Masimov, the Prime Minister. Masimov is now the head of Kazakhstan’s national-security apparatus.

Keith Darden is a political scientist at American University who has written extensively on the use of compromising information—kompromat—by former Soviet regimes against people they want to control. He told me that Kazakh intelligence is believed to collect dossiers on every significant business transaction involving the country. This would be especially true if a famous American developer was part of the deal, even if it would not have occurred to them that he might one day become the U.S. President. “There is no question—they know everything about this deal,” Darden said. .

Darden explained that Kazakh intelligence agents work closely with their Russian counterparts. Kulibayev himself has direct ties to Russia’s leadership. In 2011, he was named to the board of Gazprom, the Russian gas behemoth, which is widely considered to be a pillar of Putin’s fortune. In “The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev,” Daniel Treisman, a political scientist at U.C.L.A. who specializes in Russia, wrote, “For Putin, Gazprom was a personal obsession. He memorized the details of the company’s accounts, its pricing rules and pipeline routes. He personally approved all appointments down to the deputy level, sometimes forgetting to tell the company’s actual C.E.O., Aleksey Miller.” Kulibayev could not possibly be serving on Gazprom’s board without Putin’s assent. .

Robert Mueller has assembled a team of sixteen lawyers. One of them is fluent in Russian, and five have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering, foreign corruption, and complex financial conspiracies. The path from T**** to Putin, if one exists, might be found in one of his foreign real-estate deals. .

When Mueller was appointed special counsel, his official writ was to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald T****” but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Much hinges on the word “directly.” Sekulow, T****’s lawyer, insists that Mueller’s mandate essentially stops at the Russian border. Pawneet Abramowski, a former F.B.I. intelligence analyst, told me that Sekulow’s assertion is nonsensical. “You must follow the clues,” she said. When investigating a businessperson like T****, “you have to follow the money and go wherever it leads—you must follow the clues all the way to the end.”

This article appears in other versions of the August 21, 2017, New Yorker issue, with the headline “No Questions Asked.” .

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,
and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." --- The President's Inaugural Oath

"I hope you can let this go." ---- February 14, 2017, U.S. President Elect to FBI Director James Comey.

From the New York Times:

"An internal Interior Department memo has proposed lifting restrictions on exploratory seismic studies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a possible first step toward opening the pristine wilderness area to oil and gas drilling.

The document proposes ending a restriction that had limited exploratory drilling to the period from Oct. 1, 1984, to May 31, 1986. It also directs the agency to provide an environmental assessment and a proposed rule allowing for new exploration plans. "

"I mean to prepare the way for futurity. I'm no philosopher, you see, and may be justly said to build castles in the air."
-- Alexander Hamilton, 1769, aged fourteen in a letter to Edward Stevens

"Most human quarrels arise from the fact that both wise men and dunces exist who are so constituted as to be incapable of seeing more than one side of any fact or idea, while each asserts that the side he sees is the only true and right one." -- Honore De Balzac, Paris August-September 1846

Sir Kenneth Branagh directs Tom Hiddleston in a limited-run Hamlet, as a fundraiser for RADA.

"Art is also a lie; an attempt to make suffering bearable." -- François Ozon

“We’re all in this together. It’s kind of like sky divers, holding hands before you hit the ground.” – Roz Chast , April 26, 2017, San Francisco.

Roz Chast exhibit closes at Jewish Contemporary Museum September 4, 2017.


". . . and in the end, we play some music." -- Thom Yorke July 19, 2017.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 ~ Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood perform at a charity concert to benefit the Marche region severely damaged by earthquakes, raising funds to recover and restore the cultural assets which were destroyed.

"We have a long list of Radiohead songs, and we are slowly trying to work on what we could do without the other three members of the band. Fortunately, we have man tools available so we can fill the stage with piano, keyboards and guitars, moving between them to create a bond between these songs." -- Jonny Greenwood

1. Daydreaming
2. Bloom
3. Faust Arp
4. The Numbers
5. Arpeggi/Weird Fishes
6. Nude
7. Exit Music (For A Film)
8. I Might Be Wrong
9. Follow Me Around
10. Wolf At The Door
11. How To Disappear Completely (false start)
12. Present Tense
13. Give Up The Ghost (false start, broken string)
14. Cymbal Rush
15. Like Spinning Plates
16. All I Need
--- Encore 1 ---

17. Street Spirit
18. Pyramid Song
19. Everything In Its Right Place
20. No Suprises
21. Karma Police (Featuring Fabri)

---- End Of Show ----

"Ours is a little gesture to light up a light on the south of the Marche and the consequences of earthquakes. We chose to collaborate with the ArteProArte Association because out of this region many people think the problem is over, but there is still a lot of work to do and help." --- Jonny

[Yes, that's Thom with his hair long--Ed.]

“The moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun.” -- Timon of Athens

Give Up the Ghost. Radiohead. Berkeley. (Photo credit MPT)

Night 2 the band gave us many of the "quieter" Radiohead compositions, and "Give Up the Ghost" is a favorite gift of Thom's to a lucky audience. When a loop pedal got stuck, Thom quipped, "Oh, shheeeeeit." Jonny mischievously looped his remark and played it back with all of the Greek laughing along. This bit of organic silliness fit snugly with the open-hearted genuine connection of artists and audience members. Nothing like it, except maybe true love.

“OK we’re gonna try this one. This is called “I Promise”. Which basically we haven’t played for 20 years. And it’s 20 years since OK Computer came out. Normally, I don’t think we’re the sort of people that look back, but it seemed interesting when we did. What a bunch of nutters we were. And probably still are. One of the things—one of the crazy things we did--was not release this song, ‘cause we didn’t think it was good enough.” --- Radiohead debut the unreleased “I Promise” on 7 June 2017, Night Two, Oslo.

(Thanks to Thomas Røst Stenerud, Block Art by Stanley Donwood)

Let Down.

Early in the first leg of their 2016-2017 tour, Radiohead played "Let Down" for the first time in 10 years at Madison Square Garden.
Because, yeah, Let Down. Thom & Co. feeling the pulse of the world.

On the eve of the snap UK General Election called 5 weeks ago, Radiohead play it again in Norway.


The Tourist. Radiohead. Berkeley.

Thom and company effervescent, connecting with both audiences. The two-night event was one/two of the best concerts I've ever experienced, even with the light rain on night one. Love my REI waterproof pants, I do. The crowd genuinely pumped, respectful -- a better audience more suited to absorb it all I can't imagine. After sitting on night one--with my whole family, a reprise of April 2012 in San Jose--night two I was transfixed in the pit on Jonny's side at the first step up. A sea of faces, Thom's brown cardigan (oh Berkeley) this year instead of elbow patches. The band was laid back, flowing, giddy, playful, intense, giving, receiving. Honestly. Just amazing.

The OK Computer funny business is official: 20th Anniversary Reissue. Artwork by Tchocky.

Warning artwork galore. "Cheap and eyecatching" -- Stanley Donwood

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017 (LP)

OKNOTOK features the original twelve track album, eight B-sides, and original
studio recordings of three previously unreleased tracks: “I Promise,” “Lift,” and “Man Of War.”
All material on OKNOTOK is newly remastered from the original analogue tapes.

Artist: Radiohead

Genre: Alternative Rock
Release Date: 06/23/2017
Label: XL Recordings
Catalog Number: 868-2
Recording: Studio
Length: 53:21
Formats: CD , Vinyl
Note: 2CD

Radiohead: Recording Technician, String Arrangement
Thom Yorke: Guitar, Music, Vocals
Jonny Greenwood: Guitar, Music
Nick Ingman: Conductor
Ed O'Brien: Guitar, Music
Nigel Godrich: Balance Engineer, Recording Technician
Philip Selway: Drums, Music
Chris Blair: Mastering
Jon Bailey: Engineer
Chris Scard: Engineer
Colin Greenwood: Bass, Music
Gerard Navarro: Engineer
Stanley Donwood: Photography
Tchocky : Artwork
Adam Cummings: Guitar

"No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers--I welcome it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it." We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed--and no republic can survive." President John F. Kennedy, New York City, April 27, 1961

Music is not a contest, but it's nice to see Radiohead's
2016 "A Moon Shaped Pool" get the love it deserves.

Radiohead's incredible 2016/2017 tour is unquestionably a
highlight of the past few years, not just this year.

What's Up Art: More Stanley Donwood

Radiohead: The King of Limbs


What's Up Music:

Radiohead - The Zen Album
The King of Limbs: Explore, Expand, Embrace

By Renie Pickman-Thoon

An excerpt from an interview with Kenneth Branagh by the Telegraph follows, where the actor/director discusses what makes him go.

'Not that I feel I need to justify it or explain it, but I know it wasn’t about, “Hey, look at me”,’ Branagh says evenly of his early working life. 'It was about absolute enjoyment of what I was doing. I did not expect to be allowed to be an actor, to be allowed to eventually direct things. 'So really, frankly, for many, many years after that, there’s still a kind of “pinch me I can’t believe this is happening” thrill to it. There was an ebullience; there was an effusion. A sheer enjoyment of doing it. Maybe the work ethic was to do with justifying that one was worthy of that.’

But often, he adds, it was about fairness. If he ran his own theatre company, he could pay everyone the same money. If he made his own films and turned a profit, he could split it equally. 'Not rocket science,’ he notes, 'but things I believed in.’ He talks about In the Bleak Midwinter, his 1995 comedy, shot in black and white, about a small theatre company's attempt to put on Hamlet at Christmas. 'One of the greatest pleasures I had was when we had a screening on a Sunday morning in the West End. And most of the crew and cast came, including Joan Collins. I’d paid for the film myself with the money I made from Frankenstein, and we sold it at a profit. The books were completely open. And as they left the cinema that morning, we had all the envelopes laid out and we gave everybody a cheque – including Joan Collins, who nearly fell over. She said, “I’ve been in the business for a quite a long time, and this has never happened.” She opened it and she said, “F***ing hell!” Because it was not inconsiderable.’

By now we have moved back to the Yellow Bird HQ and, sitting in the dining area, Branagh is drinking tea. 'I remember telling my dad about that and he thought that was bloody good. Because he used to tell me about Friday nights, Crown Pub, in Belfast, opposite the Europa [Hotel], in one of those booths – they’d finish work at three or four o’clock and he would be doling out the cash. It reminded me of that. So I was proud of that. I thought that was fair and that was sharing it out. And because I’d paid for that, I was able to protect the film. It didn’t get snaffled up by all the ways and many means you can be shafted in our business. 'And there you go,’ he concludes. 'It doesn’t make me Saint Ken. But [the motives] can be as straight as that.’

Straightness, fairness and camaraderie: these are things that matter to Branagh. Also in the context of In the Bleak Midwinter he mentions the writer and director Richard Curtis: he was 'a big fan of my little comedy. When he need not have been, Richard was somebody who encouraged and was simply kind and enthusiastic. And smart and funny. That’s one of those things in this business that you remember; Thus, when I ask Branagh why exactly he had undertaken a comic cameo last year in Curtis’s slight The Boat That Rocked, he replies that he was returning the favour. 'If Richard Curtis had asked me to walk off a plank into the ocean I’d have done so.’

'Ken genuinely loves the idea of everyone together in a team,’ Curtis says. 'That egalitarian spirit, I think, is why he wanted to get on so much when he was young – just for the crack of it. He rang me up right before we began shooting The Boat That Rocked, and he said ;As a director, I know how scary the first day is – you’ve to get to know your costume person and your cameraman. So I want you to ignore me completely.” He was on set for four days and he wasn’t remotely precious or grand, just completely humble. And like a lot of English classical actors, such as Michael Gambon, Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale, he is very good at comedy.’

For Branagh, support and encouragement must go both ways. Daniel Radcliffe credits Branagh with pushing him in the direction of Equus: Branagh had the original idea for Radcliffe to star in the much-praised 2007 West End revival of Peter Shaffer’s play. 'Ken was great because he was always looking out for possibilities of stuff we could be doing together,’ Radcliffe recalls, adding that he originally suggested they do Rattigan’s The Browning Version. Branagh oversaw early workshops for Equus. Meanwhile, Branagh has cast his Wallander co-star, Tom Hiddleston, in his next directorial project, Thor, starring Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. It’s another intriguing left turn in a consistently adventurous career, but at this early stage of production (filming begins in Los Angeles in the next few weeks) Branagh is contractually prevented from speaking about what, one imagines, will be a CGI-heavy Hollywood blockbuster comic-book adaptation. But he has been using his time in Sweden to research Viking mythology and visit Norway on fact-finding trips. So serious is he about the project that, last year, he handed over to Michael Grandage his planned directing of Jude Law in Hamlet – a huge theatrical undertaking that he had been preparing a year.

'I tried for a long time to see if I could do both [Hamlet and Thor," he says, 'and I couldn’t. And then I said to Michael and Jude, “What do you think?” You know, it was a difficult moment. You don’t want to let anybody down. But honesty’s the best policy.’ For Branagh the prospect of making a Marvel superhero movie 'is just such an extra-ordinary adventure to go on. It doesn't happen every two minutes. And Michael and Jude said, “On your way, and enjoy it . . . ’’’

Back outside Ystad’s swimming-pool, Wallander is slumping down the road. On the director’s instruction Branagh does it three, four, five times. On each occasion, he stops beneath a tree. On one take he exhales heavily. Another, he stares up at the branches, eyes closed. Another, he seems almost catatonically numb.

These are the closing scenes of The Man Who Smiled. 'It’s Wallander walking away from his job, basically,’ Branagh explained. 'He’s constantly been in turmoil about whether he wants to continue to be a policeman. And he appears to have decided not to be.’ Over the three new adaptations 'he goes on an interesting journey, which is to really deeply question why he’s a policeman and the price he pays, the personal price, in relation to death . . . ’

For Branagh, too, the work is important, but not if it means losing yourself. 'I’d say that’s from my parents. It’s a basic Irish working-class thing.

I was working with a huge star not long before my father died, and he said, [in a broad Ulster accent], “You wanna watch him, I think he's forgot himself . . . ”

'Now,’ Branagh says with a smile, 'that’s a cardinal sin for them. It’s about simply remembering yourself and remembering what you’re doing and to be in the here and now. And know who your friends are, and know the value of money – in as much as it isn’t going to make you happy. Your health is really the greatest blessing you can ever have, and after that friends and family. 'And all of those things contain complexities and sophistications and plenty of stuff to keep your life interesting. But if it’s about the spurious pursuit of the glittering prizes, you’ll find that they won’t give you a hug late at night.’

Here, and more here, on the music page.

What's Up Art: More Stanley Donwood

Stanley Donwood in the Panic Office: The Art of the Bear at the Carriageworks in Sydney


From a 1996 interview with Kenneth Branagh

KB: Shakespeare always denies sleep to his tragic heroes in moments of crisis, a spectacular example being Macbeth. In Macbeth he calls it "nature's balm... the cure for hurt minds." You don't get sleep because you are anxious.

CMM: Do you still feel daunted when you start a project, or when you arrive on the set for the first day of shooting?

KB: Getting sleep is a tough thing to do. It's a constant anxiety, and I'll go through various things: I'll take some sleeping pills, I'll take some herbal pills, I'll try to have a massage, or anything that will trick me into getting the sleep that is necessary. That's a crucial thing; it's a very Shakespearean thing. Shakespeare always denies sleep to his tragic heroes in moments of crisis, a spectacular example being Macbeth. In Macbeth he calls it "nature's balm... the cure for hurt minds." You don't get sleep because you are anxious.

CMM: As an actor or as a director?

KB: In both cases. As an actor because you are aware of a greater amount of expectation, particularly from yourself, in playing a role that is so open to interpretation, which relies so heavily on the personality of the actor. Whether it's Shakespeare or anything else, your try to find, in the current state of knowledge, what you think to be the sort of appropriate state of preparation to act well.

This is a constant mystery to me, because it changes all the time. It changes as you get older, you work with different people, it's a different project, you're having a bad day, you're having a good day, it worked yesterday when you had drank a cup of coffee before the take, but then a cup of coffee makes you forget your lines... You get anxious as an actor; and as a director, you're anxious for other people.

CMM: You've done Hamlet several times on stage, for different directors, and you've done a radio version. Was there a sense here, because this is a big-budget film, or because of your age, that this Hamlet was going to be your last crack at it, that this is the version that's going to fix it?

KB: Absolutely. "Time's winged chariot" was hurrying very near. What I tried to do was to convince myself, with many years of preparation, direct and indirect, experience in playing the part, with my own relationship with the part, with all the homework in the world done, that, in a way that couldn't really happen when I did Henry V, my obligation as Hamlet was, once that camera turned, to be as real and as natural and as truthful as possible in the moment, within the style of what we were doing, and to forget about all that information, forget about what you prepared. Julie Christie used to say to me, "You do it different every time, don't you?" I said, "If you say it different to me, I'll say it different to you." It's just however it comes out.

We've got to trust the work we've done. I don't believe in trying, on film, to repeat some loved moment from the theater, recreating something, repeating things --"I was terribly effective when I did the line like that." I like to try to give it away, and just, in that moment, to have worked up to the point where you might be able to leap off into some inspirational percentage, that you and the other actors might just catch something so that your scene and the performance sings a bit in that kind of mysterious way.

CMM: Can you give me an example from the film?

KB: The closet scene was different with Julie Christie than any time I had played it before. There's one specific scene -- it's a scene I like very much -- the "recorder" scene, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after the play. We were in this tight space in this little theater we created, and the camera crew and everybody was saying, "You should break this up -- this shot here, this shot there -- let's block it so that we can cover it from six or seven different angles." And I said, "No, I feel that we should do this in one." I've always wanted that scene in the theater to go like some whippet; Hamlet is in a way at his least attractive, but he's also at his wittiest, with his extraordinary aggression against these two lads. We had everybody kind of cooking at the right time, and I thought the scene was funny and vicious.

We did a number of things in the film where we shot things in one, which puts some real flame under the actors. They get kind of nervous; it creates a kind of theatrical effect. It actually helped to create conditions, as I thought, that were conducive to bringing out that sort of extra under-the-skin kind of tingle that the audience can feel, I'm sure, when it's happening right in front of you, and you don't know what's going to happen next.

CMM: Are stage actors or film actors more receptive to that kind of approach?

KB: I find my best experiences are with people who do a combination of the two. What you do have from stage actors is an ability to learn three or four pages of dialogue, and to be able to come up with it zippily, and not need to do it line by line. If you've got actors who can remember it and are really on the tips of their toes about it, and they're also good film actors, then I think you get the best of both worlds. I sometimes feel frustrated when I want to do things with the camera and with the scene, which, I believe, essentially, gives the scene to the actors, and an actor can't sustain it for over a minute or so. But, what these [film] actors do have often is, in the moments they produce, an absolute, laser-beam radio-signal connection with the truth.

CMM: What's still out there that you want to do?

KB: In the not so distant future, if I have the chance to do them, Love's Labour's Lost and Macbeth. I want to do Love's Labour's Lost as a musical. I've always liked the play. It's very funny, very melancholy, very unusual, and has this peculiar Shakespearean magic in there, it really breaks your heart at the end, and it's also silly -- very, very silly.


I find that I get an idea about the world in which it's set, the period if you like (though I try to make all our periods pretty loose), and then you just keep putting every scene and every character up against that idea to see whether it's going to limit it or work for that character. For Macbeth, it's witchcraft -- you really have to find a world in which you believe that witchcraft is in the air, that it's real. I want get a world going for the characters where the witchcraft really sends shivers down your spine, so that you know, when Macbeth knows, when he makes this pact with the devil's representatives, how very serious it is; so religion has to be very important. Then the marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth -- that marriage has to be very carefully set. She says, "I have given suck," and yet they don't have children; is she older, is she younger? And it's Scotland. You get an idea, you get pictures. And these I find are "anchor pictures."

With each of those plays now, in terms of the development of a film, I've got several scenes in each (many more in Love's Labour's than in Macbeth) where I can see the film and hear it. I can see the dance routine in Love's Labour's Lost: I can see a fantastic library, a fantastic circular library, and a dance routine on skateboards (but it's not a set now; a version of skateboards), and with them going all the way around the ceiling. I can see the women on punts on a river.

So I'm currently bashing away at those two plays. I carry copies of the plays with me (I've got them in my bag), and I'll sit and study a scene for a bit, and make notes, and work up some storyboarded images.

A 2016 Message of Thanks from Sir Kenneth Branagh

Happy New Year to all Ken Friends!

In the year in which I was honoured to be invited to join RADA as its President, it was particularly touching to witness once again your astonishing generosity on my birthday.

My very very grateful thanks for this magnificent contribution . The training of RADA students, (I can say very confidently having auditioned so many for our London season), is truly exceptional, and the Ken Friends make more of that available to even more with this incredible sum. Thank you so much.

That so many of you laid out yet more of your hard earned cash to see our work at the Garrick was really something. This season could not exist without you, and I hope that on stage or screen across this next year, you will enjoy the work to come.

I wish you all great happiness and health through 2016 and beyond, and I thank you once again for honouring my parents and my alma mater with such staggering generosity.

From across the footlights at the bottom of the Charing Cross Road,
Your Friend,

Excerpt from an interview with Kenneth Branagh in the Mainichi Weekly Online
20 July 2007

Q: According to your biography, you left Belfast when you were 9 to escape the Troubles. Do you think your experience of the conflict there influences your battle scenes?

A: I think it makes me aware of how easy it is for people to hate, rather than to love. I think it's a very exciting time in Northern Ireland right now. Politically, a massive, massive shift has occurred, and ancient hatreds have been put aside. I think an awareness of conflict and the need to resolve, the need for peace was very much part of my background. And this film [The Magic Flute, directed by Branagh] certainly is about the need for peace.

Q: What is your motto in life?

A: A good question. A hard question. It sounds like a cliche, but there is a line from Hamlet, at the end, where he says, "The readiness is all." In that context, it's probably about being ready for death, but I think it's a motto for me and it's about trying to be open in life, be open to experience, be open to situations and to people. And be ready, be ready to be surprised, sometimes be ready to be disappointed, be ready to be excited and be ready for anything. But be ready for things to change. Be active and positive. I suppose another way of saying the same thing would be: 'Anything can happen, enjoy it.'"

For more background on Branagh's film version of Hamlet, try The Readiness is All -- The Filming of Hamlet

Woody Allen as the Dane? Only by way of Billy Crystal.

Kenneth Branagh in David Mamet's "Edmond". Reviews and photos of Branagh at the National Theatre.

Offsite Offerings

Need Shakespeare? Check here for outside Shakespeare links.

Need a Shax monologue? Try the Monologue Archive.

Read Shakespeare here, at the Literature Network online.

Voices and Verses in Film: What are those poems and who wrote them?

Theatre Highlights: Alan Rickman on Stage

Alan Rickman as Elyot in a true-to-life Private Lives.

Go to Page 2 of the Front Page

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Features of the Daily Telegiraffe

What's Up: BOOKS Sarah Hatchuel, "Branagh and The Bard: A Companion to the Shakespearean Films of Kenneth Branagh"

What's Up: FILM Waking Will Divinely: Shakespeare in Love

What's Up: STAGE Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth

Back Issues:

  What's Up STAGE Rufus Sewell Takes on Macbeth


*** DID YOU KNOW? ***

NEW YORK - "Hamlet" was chosen as the greatest poem of the millenium in the New York Times Magazine millenium review!

LONDON (Reuters) - William Shakespeare was picked as Britain's "Man of the Millennium" by a poll of BBC radio listeners!

ENJOY . . . Chosen as the greatest poem of the millenium, Hamlet endures.

ENJOY . . . Who is the "Greatest Fictional Character in World Literature and Legend" - - one guess.
With the Austen lover's link.

ENJOY . . . Back issues of our features, indexed by subject on the front page, and on current feature pages.

ENJOY . . . Programme notes from the NFT's Branagh Retrospective, now added off of the Hamlet page.

ENJOY . . . Gertrude and Claudius, a book by John Updike, explores the new King and Queen.

ENJOY . . . Shakespeare in Less Than 10 Minutes Review of a video of restorations of the earliest surviving silent Shakespeare films from 1899-1911. Also, can you choose your five favourite Shakespeare films? Check your picks against Kenneth Branagh's choices.

ENJOY . . . Director Michael Almereyda's film "collage" of a knit-hatted Ethan Hawke as a Gen-X slacker. Our review of his Hamlet is here.

Almereyda does Denmark as a corporate prison. From the New York Times: Two Fortinbrases and the Ghosts of Hamlets Past. The last stage Hamlet of 1999 in New York becomes a photo album of Hamlets past, including Branagh, Olivier, and Gibson. Added: The New York Post muses on performing Hamlet.

ENJOY . . . Woody Allen, C'est Moi A French interview with Kenneth Branagh about working with Woody Allen.

ENJOY . . . ABC: Woody Allen, Kenneth Branagh, and Celebrity

ENJOY . . . Behind Celebrity's Curtain: An unabashedly editorial film review from the front office.

ENJOY . . . Glimpses of genius. In praise of HAMLET: Kenneth Branagh's film version captures the soul of Hamlet.

Also find on the Hamlet Page an interview with Kenneth Branagh (now with photograph) and an account of the London benefit screening of Hamlet, at which Branagh appeared.

ENJOY . . . The New York Times review of "Discovering Hamlet" a short film which documents Branagh's early take on the stage role under the direction of Sir Derek Jacobi.

ENJOY . . . Kenneth Branagh's interview at his NFT Retrospective, as conducted by the Guardian newspaper. Complete text, and complete Questions and Answers now available.

ENJOY . . . Billy Crystal does DeNiro working on Branagh's Hamlet, and a bit of his version of the Woodman doing the Dane.

ENJOY . . . Alan Rickman in Private LIves with an inexplicable bonus of the transcription of Rickman's appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" promoting the film Galaxy Quest.

ENJOY . . . The films " Onegin" and "The End of the Affair" open with reviews, interviews, and photographs. Fiennes has been searching for Pushkin's anti-hero Eugene Oneginfor some time.


The Good Bits




What's Up: STAGE

What's Up: BOOKS

What's Up: MUSIC

What's Up: FILM

Fictional Characters

What's Up:

Today's Special

Sure We
Thank You


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