Thursday, April 20, 2017

THE SHAMEFUL BEHAVIOR OF EVERYONE REGARDING BILL O'REILLY

It seems that allegations of sexual harassment have brought Bill O'Reilly down, at long last. As the reports of O'Reilly's behavior grew, the sponsors of his Fox cable show started to jump ship. At least 40 to 50 sponsors ditched Papa Bear (or is it Papa Bare?), and the list includes many of the worlds largest companies. This is commendable, but way too late. These companies tried to spin their decisions in cloaks of outrage over the way O'Reilly apparently has treated women, but in my humble opinion, their protestations were sickening PR stunts designed to keep them from getting any O'Reilly shit on themselves. These companies are rats deserting a sinking ship, after getting every crumb of advertising revenue they could wring from it.

The fact is that O'Reilly is, and always has been an outspoken loudmouth who has built a cable TV empire based on bigotry. I never paid much attention to O'Reilly; maybe I should have. I have now seen some post-mortems with clips from his show, and I am astounded by the blatant bigotry and hatred he spewed towards women, people of color, LGBT people and all others who are not white Christian patriots.

All of the wonderful companies that sponsored the O'Reilly show are tainted by his bigotry, and issuing PR statements about how shocked they are regarding his treatment of women are too little, too late. The O'Reilly stink is on these companies and will not come off, no matter how much liberal drivel they publish. Where were these companies every time O'Reilly made bigoted remarks about African-Americans, gays, lesbians and transgender people, Latinos, Muslims? Why didn't they pull their ads then?

Sorry, I don't buy it.

And then there is the so-called 45th President of the United States, a huge fan and friend of Bill O'Reilly. Here is what he said recently about the O'Reilly sex scandal: "I think he shouldn't have settled; personally I think he shouldn't have settled," Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday. "Because you should have taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong," he said. "I think he's a person I know well — he is a good person," he said.

Wow, such terrific support from the Groper in Chief!

Shame on the companies that advertised on the O'Reilly show. Shame on The Donald of the United States for supporting a sexual predator. Shame on me for not paying attention all these years. Shame on a society that allows a beast like this to become obscenely wealthy and influential based on blatant bigotry.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DONALD J. TRUMP IS JEALOUS OF RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN

The President of the United States called the President of Turkey to congratulate him on winning a referendum that gave the Turkish President sweeping powers that many analysts see as being one step closer to a dictatorship. Erdogan is making moves to change Turkey from a Parliamentary to a Presidential government. It is no surprise that Donald Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him, because it is clear that Mr. Trump would like the same kind of power.

Think about it. After thousands of people demonstrated on April 15 that Trump should release his income tax filings, Trump said that those people should be investigated. He accused former President Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower. He wanted to put the former Secretary of State in jail because she used a private email server. He has called journalists horrible, evil liars, purveyors of "fake news" and excluded them from press conferences. His administration is ripping families apart and deporting undocumented parents. He recently referred to "my generals" when talking about the military. He has taken a wrecking ball to government agencies, particularly those that regulate business. He denies the human connection to climate change and is trying to diminish the role of the United States in solving this problem. He wants to roll back laws and legal decisions that protect women's health, ramp up policing in minority neighborhoods to control crime, and require all Muslim-Americans to register with the government. He has whipped up fear and hatred by describing all immigrants from south of the US border as murderers and rapists, and all people, except Christians, from Muslim-majority countries as terrorists. To please his base, Donald Trump would likely want to institute something akin to "Christian Law" in America. And much of the above has been accomplished through Executive Orders, pieces of paper containing legal language that he signs with great flourish, as if he is an emperor.

It is clear that Donald J. Trump wants to have dictatorial powers. He would like to be able to jail journalists for reporting things he doesn't like. He would relish the opportunity to arrest and jail all people who dare protest against him. Would he sieze an opportunity to close universities because they harbor intellectuals who claim to use facts that contradict Trumpism? You bet he would. He would most certainly enjoy sending "his military" anywhere in the world, and even here at home, to strongarm people and governments who oppose him. Yes, Donald J. Trump would love to have the powers of Recer Tayyip Erdogan, a President who has his military conduct mass arrests, torture and murder Turkish citizens, arrest journalists, judges, and university professors, all on trumped-up charges (!), and is moving Turkey towards being ruled as a Muslim, rather than secular nation.

So let us not kid ourselves about Donald Trump's motives. Keep in mind that he recently told reprters that he alone develops his strategies, not others like Steve Bannon. And that is one of the scariest comments yet in this young administration!

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Friday, April 07, 2017

US MISSILE STRIKE IN SYRIA: MY INITIAL THOUGHTS

I have a very cynical view about anything and everything done by Donald Trump. So what do I think about the missile strike? My initial thoughts are below, but I know that as more information comes out, I could have different thoughts.

First and foremost, we know as a fact that everything Donald Trump does has one, and only one purpose: to promote Donald Trump. His first two months in office have been a shitstorm of ineptitude, chaos, scandal and angry tweets. But suddenly an opportunity was served up that he could make into something good for himself, the Syrians used chemical weapons against their own people. First, Trump did what Trump does best, he blamed someone else - Barak Obama, that weakling! - for the incident. Then he did something manly and decisive - he bombed the crap out of a Syrian airfield. Well, he didn't do the bombing, but he ordered the military to do it.

It appears that the Trump administration called the Russkies to warn them not to have any people or equipment at the target airfield; this makes sense, why risk getting into a fight with Putin? The Russians are now spitting and spouting and posturing about the US military action - great political theater for their own people to see. How dare America do something so horrible? (We must conveniently ignore Crimea and the Ukraine.)

So, a simple and effective action (i.e. Donald Trump is The Man, and don't mess with him!) to boost the Trump credibility at a time when it is rapidly shrinking. Nicely played. But we need to look at some alternative facts.

1. The Western Democracies should have acted against the Assad regime years ago to stop the mass killings of Syrian civilians and the tidal wave of refugees streamimg out of that country. The lack of decisive action for so long is a shameful stain on the United Nations and all the democratic nations, as usual.

2. Donald Trump, who shed crocodile tears about the children murdered in the chemical attack, does not give a gnats ass about Syrian children, or any other children for that matter. After all, these are the same kids he won't let into the United States because they are from Syria. And, as my wife eloquently pointed out in a Facebook post, Trump doesn't care about the children whose lives are torn apart when their father or mother is swooped up by ICE and deported from the USA, or like the ones who will be harmed by his program and funding cuts of social service and educational programs, environmental regulastions, and so forth.

3. We have not seen/heard a Trump plan for the Syrian conflict. What we did hear over and over from Candidate Trump was that the United States should not get involved in the Syrian conflict, or any other for that matter. My view, yes - the cynical one - is that this is a one-off opportunity for The Donald to boost his approval ratings. He told us over and over that he has plans - many, many plans that are great, great - to defeat ISIS, to end the Syrian civil war, to bring peace to the Middle East. When pressed for details, he feigned secrecy; "I can't tell you because then the enemies will know, and that would be stupid; after all, I'm smart!" Fact: for every secret plan Donald Trump claimed to have as a candidate, he has issued an Executive Order for various government entities to develop a plan within X days and present it to him. Don't believe me? Check it out at whitehouse.gov.

4. The Russians. The Russians are complicit in mass murder in Syria (and other places). Under the cover of "fighting ISIS," they have bolstered Assad's murderous regime and enabled him to remain in power by murdering Syrians using high- and low-tech weapons. The Russians excell at deception. They excell at political theater. Oh my, they are so upset, so angry, so righteous about the Trump missile strike! They are posturing and rattling swords, and threatening something dire, and truly bidding for the best actor award! Bullshit! They were told about the strike before it happened so they could get their people and equipment out of the way. They are complicit with Trump as well as the Syrians. This is political theatrer at it's best (or worst).

5. The Syrian people. This is the shame, the heartbreak of it all. The Syrian people, on all sides of the conflict, have suffered for years. Estimates of Syrians killed in the conflict range from 325,000 to nearly 500,000. An estimate of the number of people wounded in the conflict since 2011 is nearly 2,000,000. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimates that 11.5% of the country's population have been killed or injured in the war. Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, is a medical school graduate from Damascus University and did post-graduate work in ophthamology at the Western Eye Hospital in London. So much for the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm." (In Assad's case, it is the hypocrytic oath!) This monster remains in power, thanks largely to the actions of Russia, and the inaction of the rest of the world.

6. "Donald Trump is finally being presidential." NO!!! He is not!!! Do not try to normalize Donald J. Trump!!! He is not being "presidential;" he is being Donald J. Trump and doing everything he can to promote himself and his brand. This is not "normal," and never will be. Everything he does is all about him. It is not even "republican" or "conservative" or "christian." It is Trumpism, and Trumpism is flim-flam, snake oil, a con, self-promotion, profiteering, and bigoted misogynistic uncaring hurtful harmful unadulterated bullshit! Did I make myself clear just now?

Will the world move on from and forget about the Trump missile strike at a Syrian airfield? Very likely, unless the Russians see an opportunity to stir up more trouble and shame the USA, or Trump decides that he can use another boost to his ratings. Personally, I am in favor of getting rid of Assad and moving the struggle in Syria out of the realm of war and into the realm of politics. I do not think the United States should always act alone, as the policeperson of the world, but should build effective coalitions to act quickly when thousands of people are being attacked by their own government. Syria is not the only place in the world where this is happening, and shame on all of us in the democratic world who ignore these brutal conflicts.

Let's keep this conversation going; let's not turn our backs on the oppressed people of the world.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

HEALTH CARE: WE NEED SINGLE PAYER IN THE USA

Yes, I'm picking up that old, battered drum and banging away on it as furiously as I can. The wonderful Republican Members of Congress (MoCs), having beaten the drum of Repeal Obamacare to splinters, are now fumbling around trying to figure out how to build a new Trumpcare drum, and they are not being very successful.


"Obamacare is a disaster!" Well, no, it is not. A disaster is "a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life." In fact, the Affordabkle Care Act has saved many, many lives by providing healkth care to those who need it most. Historians might look back at the end of 2016 and determine that the election of Donald J. Trump truly was a disaster; time will tell.

If you have paid any attention to the health insurance debate raging in Congress, and who can ignore it, you know that the Republican MoC efforts are a train wreck. The Ryancare plan (keep in mind that The Donald does not have an original thought in his yellow head, and is only the robot who signs and claims victrory for Republican bills) is basically deads on arrival; the Dems hate it, conservative Republicans hate it, many Trump voters hate it, elderly people and their organizations hate it, and the list goes on and on. And even more telling, more and more health care and insurance experts who have examined it are saying that it will not work, and even worse, it will leave the poorest among us behind. As many as 24,000,000 people will be left without health insurance as a result of the Republican plan.

Sadly, Republicare could pass both the House and Senate, at which point the yellow-headed man with the pen will sign it, and then announce that, once again, He, and He alone, has done what he said he would do, and is making America great, again. (Pardon me while I puke.)

So why am I beating the tired old drum of single payer health care again? Am I tilting at windmills? Let me explain.

First, here is an excellent piece in the NY Times that lays out the differences between American health care and that of almost every other capitalist democracy. Please read the article if you truly want to understand my opinion, then come back here. (sound of soft music playing to fill time while you read)

V. P. Mike Pence: "Obamacare will be replaced with something that actually works - bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care." This is the crux of the issue, this so-called "freedom" these Republican MoCs keep clamoring for. If you have ever had to compare health insurance plans in order to choose one, or have had to figure out a complex bill for medical and hospital services, or had to pay for a prescription that is priced at the limit of your means, or had to fight with an insurance company to get autrhorization for a procedure or a referal to a specialist - then you clearly understand that you have not experienced "freedom," but instead a special kind of hell that can actually make you worse.

Why do we have such a complex and frustrating health care system? Why did health care in America become a commodity instead of a service? Why is profit more importasnt than life?

I want single-payer health care for everyone in America. You go to a doctor and you get medical service; there is no question about paying for it, it is covered. You pay taxes and you get medical service, end of story (and those who don't make enough to pay taxes also get medical services). What is so terrible about that? Where is the loss of so-called freedom from that?

And so, dear readers, I will be lobbying my MoCs for single-payer health care in America. The reality of today is that I have no control over the Republican-dominated Congress, and they will do whatever it is they want to do to get rid of something accomplished by President Obama and replace it with a system that benefits their wealthy benefactors. Trumpcare, Ryancare, Republicare...whatever we call it, it will stink like a huge pile of rotting trash - guaranteed. So I'm going for single-payer, Republicans be damned!

(...and yes, Bernie was correct...)

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

IMPACTS OF SWAMP DRAINING ON CLIMATE CHANGE

The current occupant of the Whitehouse was elected on the promise, among others, of “draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, he did not consult the EPA or other agencies responsible for the environment. Had he done his due diligence, he might have been required to go through the appropriate regulatory reviews in order to do the draining.

Swamps are a type of wetland. Wetlands cover approximately six to nine per cent of the Earth’s surface and contain about 35 per cent of global terrestrial carbon. Scientists are concerned that disturbances to wetlands, such as draining them, can exacerbate climate change. Typical concerns are:

"For the first time we are getting a sense that greenhouse gas losses from drained and degraded coastal wetlands may be globally significant and that drained organic-rich soils continuously release carbon for decades."



"Clearing or drainage of wetlands can lead to large losses of stored organic carbon to atmospheric carbon dioxide."

Wetlands are also a source of methane to the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful climate change gas, and draining wetlands can result in increased emissions.

Unfortunately, the man now in the Whitehouse has repeatedly stated that human-induced climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by China (!). He also seems to have a negative attitude about science, a discipline based in facts.

Our new Whitehouse occupant has also assigned the federal agency responsible for wetland, air quality and emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency, to an enemy of that agency, Scott Pruitt, with the apparent assignment of greatly reducing the EPA role and regulations. And as expected, in an interview this morning, Mr. Pruitt claimed that human-caused climate change is controversial, and that CO2 is not a factor.

How ironic is it that the person now in charge of the USA, who doesn’t give a tupPence about climate change, will greatly accelerate such change by fulfilling his promise to drain the swamp; and without the required environmental permits? Of course, the EPA very soon will not require any such permits, so, well, there you go.

And I haven’t even discussed the impact of the greatly increased amount of hot air from the Whitehouse on our changing climate.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

AI, ROBOTIC WEAPONS AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANS

NYTIMES 5FEB2017. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics applied to weaponry. 

The US and China (maybe others?) are making great advances. The future of warfare looks like it could be robotic weapons that can make their own decisions (at present, new weapons are targeted by humans, but can make decisions on-the-fly as conditions change).

Other uses of AI and robotics include medical technology and self-driving vehicles. These sound like beneficial uses of technology, although, any technology can have a dark side in the wrong hands.

Is weaponization of AI and robotics a good idea? Are we dooming Homo sapiens to either be destroyed by the machines, or made to be subservient to them? If weapons are capable of making decisions, will they at some point be able to make the "push the button" decision? We know of numerous examples in the United States when a technological problem made it look like the U. S. was being attacked, and only the hesitation of a human to initiate the defensive response averted catastrophe. How likely is it that robots will be programmed to hesitate because of a "feeling" that something just doesn't make sense? 

If you are a Star Trek Generations fan, think about the character Data. Data is a robot, an android with a "neural net" instead of a brain. Data is programmed to respond instantly to every permutation of information and conditions. If Data's neural net concludes that it is being attacked, it responds without hesitation. How many times have we seen Captain Jean Luc Piccard use intuition, emotion, common sense to avert a wrong reaction? 

Perhaps robots of the future will have the programming to intuit, emote and use common sense; however, if they do, will we humans still be in charge? 

So U.S., China and all others, do you really want to continue down the path of robotic weaponry that uses artificial intelligence to "think" for themselves?  Can't we humans be human enough to move towards ending warfare once and for all? 

Think about it while you still can.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

TRUMPARABIA: AMERICA (NOT) FIRST ENERGY POLICY

Dear readers: a few days ago I heard part of an interview on the radio with Kalid Al-Falih, the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. One thing he mentioned was that Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars invested in the U.S. oil and gas industry, and under President Trump, they expect to invest even more. This peaked my interest, and I have spent the past few days doing research. This post is about what I have found so far.

Let me be very clear before I start; this is not a conspiracy theory, and I am not one to promote conspiracy theories. On the contrary, this is about normal business-as-usual in the global corporate world. What I have done here is show the relationships, the web of connections that tell the story, and that, inmyopinion, help us understand a lot about the intersections of corporate industry and government. My sources are listed at the end.

I made a diagram on my white board. Please refer to the diagram, below, as I go through each node in the web. 



Trump Companies - During 2015 - 2016, before and during his candidacy for President of the United States, Mr. Trump had at least 8 deals going with the Saudi Kingdom for hotels, resorts and other developments. By the end of 2016, at least four of these were still active. 

Trump Administration - As President of the United States, Donald Trump has wasted no time putting forward guidelines to his political agenda. On inauguration day, the whitehouse.gov website already had a number of policy or issue statements. The first listed is An America First Energy Plan. This plan is focused on domestic energy production in order to provide energy security by using oil and gas resources within the United States (mostly on federal lands). One paragraph is especially germane to my discussion: 


In addition to being good for our economy, boosting domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest. President Trump is committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests. At the same time, we will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.

Saudi Arabia - The Saudi Kingdom is extremely wealthy as a result of their oil and gas industry, which is largely state-owned. The Arab American Oil Company, Aramco, is the largest oil company in the world, and is on-track to exceed Exxon Mobile as the world's largest refiner, with facilities in the USA, China, South Korea, India and the Netherlands. The CEO of Aramco until very recently was Khalid Al-Falih. Mr. Al-Falih is now the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. 

In his interview this past week, Mr. Al-Falih said that President Trump's policies will be "good for the oil industry" and will steer the U.S. away from "excessive anti-fossil fuel, unrealistic policies by some well-intentioned environment proponents." He also said that the U. S. and Saudi Arabia  have "huge areas of alignment," and that the United States is the largest energy and petroleum market in the world.

Aramco, in a 50:50 joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell some years ago, built the Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. The joint venture is ending this year, and Aramco will be the sole owner of Motiva. Motiva is one of the ten largest oil refineries in the world, and is the largest refinery in the United States, producing gasoline, diesel and other refined products for the U. S. market. Until recently, much of the crude oil refined at Motiva came from Saudi Arabia; this was a result of the decrease in supply resulting from the sanctions against Iran and Russia, to which the Saudis agreed to step up their production. Saudi crude, however, known as "sour crude" cannot be refined in most U.S. refineries, so it was shipped to Texas where it could be processed at Motiva.

Saudi Arabia is a member, and the actual leader of the OPEC oil cartel, and is one of America's "Gulf allies," as referenced in the Trump America First energy policy. 

Exxon Mobile - Everyone is familiar with Exxon Mobile, one of the ten largest energy companies in the world. Exxon has holdings all over the world, including a lot of business in Saudi Arabia. One recent business deal was between an Exxon research branch and the Saudi-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), in a joint venture to site and build a new petrochemical complex on the U.S. Gulf Coast (location is yet to be finalized). The new plant will be a natural gas refinery that will produce chemicals for the plastics industry. The natural gas source will be regional fracking facilities in the U.S. south. A 2016 Exxon brochure stated: "Exxon is one of the largest foreign investors in the Saudi Kingdom; and is one of the largest private purchasers of Aramco crude oil." 

The new Secretary of State for the United States, Rex Tillerson, was the CEO of Exxon Mobile until he stepped down this year to take the helm of State in the Trump Administration. Mr. Al-Falih, the Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, says, very effusively, that Mr. Tillerson is "one of the highest qualified executives I have ever dealt with."  

The State of Texas - Texas is the home to a huge petroleum industry, especially along the Gulf Coast. Rick Perry was Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015. He is now the Trump nominee to head the U. S. Department of Energy (yes, the department he wanted to eliminate when he was a candidate for President). Rick Perry is an alumnus of Texas A & M University, just like Khalid Al-Falih, the former CEO of Aramco and present Saudi Oil Minister. In fact, in his recent interview, Mr. Falih said of Secretary-designate Perry; "he is a great person; pro-oil and gas." 

While Perry was the Texas Governor, the Motiva Refinery was awarded a $2-million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund, promising to hire 300 people within a certain time-frame (they eventually met that goal, but within a longer time-frame). Just after that award, Shell Oil, the Joint Venture partner in Motiva with Aramco, began donating to the Perry campaign ($13,000) and to the Republican Governors Association (a total of $235,000 as of 2011). 

Also during his governorship, Rick Perry establish Foreign Trade Zones in Texas. Texas has 31 Foreign Trade Zones, more than any other U. S. state. These zones include the Motiva and other major refineries, including those belonging to Valero, BP, Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile and others. Within these FTZs, there is no state or federal taxation on sales. 

Keystone XL Pipeline - There are not many refineries set up to handle the type of crude petroleum, known as "dilbit" that is produced from the Canadian tar sands. The Motiva refinery stands out as the largest facility that can easily process dilbit, as a result of it's being built to handle Saudi sour crude. As the supply of Saudi oil to Motiva became more limited due to political initiatives during the Obama years, Aramco, the Motiva owner, looked north to Canada for a supply. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian dilbit (and other products) to Port Arthur, Texas, home of Motiva. Within Texas, at least 9 refineries that are listed as possible purchasers of Canadian tar sand products are within FTZs. This means that they can export refined products, or even crude product from Canada without paying any state or federal taxes. 

On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum inviting TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, LP to "promptly re-submit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a major pipeline for the importation of petroleum from Canada to the United States." 

Petroleum Markets -  World demand for petroleum products, including in the United States, is forecast to increase for at least the next 30-40 years or beyond. Oil and gas production within the United States is booming, largely due to improved recovery techniques, especially fracking. U. S. exports of oil and gas have been increasing dramatically, and many regions have seen proposals for or construction of export facilities for oil, natural gas (as liquified natural gas, or LNG) and refined products. It is clear that the Motiva and other refineries on the Gulf Coast will continue to supply domestic petroleum markets, as well as sell product to foreign markets, such as China, other Asian nations, and nations in Latin America.

Conclusion - As I stated at the beginning, this web of relationships is not surprising; people within an industry know each other, and companies work together. What is striking here is how the Trump Administration has put together a group of companies and people and government officials that seems all too purposeful to achieve major wins for not only the United States, but also the Saudi Arabian Kingdom and one or more very large petroleum industries. Does the relationship between the Trump company and Saudi Arabia have anything to do with this? I have my opinion. 

This cozy web of relationships begs the question of an America First energy policy.

Finally, I included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in my diagram, even though I have not (yet) found any direct connections between the new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, and other nodes in my drawing. Mr. Pruitt is very pro-oil and gas, and has a record of being very anti-EPA. Because the EPA has a major role in regulating refineries, we can expect to see major changes within that agency and the way it treats the oil and gas industry. 

Sources:




http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/306990-trump-appeared-to-register-eight-companies-in-saudi-arabia  

https://www.ft.com/content/7239bd93-67e9-3c0d-ab89-027991860e20

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/business/texas-refinery-is-saudi-foothold-in-us-market.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share


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