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Undercurrent

March 23rd, 2013 - 2:20 pm

The death of former billionaire Boris Berezovsky, which the British police are treating as ‘unexplained’ has thrown a side-light on connections between money and international politics. “The one-time Kremlin powerbroker fell out with Putin and sought political asylum in Britain in the early 2000s. He has lived in the U.K. ever since.”

That is, until he died.

He had been reported by Russian media to have fallen on hard times. Down to selling a Warhol painting for $50,000. Agence Presse France quotes Kremlin sources which say Berezovsky begged Putin for pardon before his death, an image which completed the picture of his downfall.  ”He asked Putin for forgiveness for his mistakes and asked him to obtain the opportunity to return to the motherland” a Kremlin spokesman said.

Where have we seen scenes like this before?

Oh that’s right. Through all of human history. Dramas with oligarchs, secret service action and mysterious deaths may sound like the stuff from a “Coffin for Dimitrios” on steroids. Perhaps that’s exactly right. Michael Weiss at Now strongly suggests that the financial crisis in Cyprus is at least partially about the Russian funding of Assad in Syria.

Russian wealth now accounts for a third of Cyprus’ entire banking sector, with Russian commercial, institutional, and individuals’ deposits – some 31 billion USD – exceeding Cyprus’ GDP. Much of this money is thought to have been stolen or laundered. There are, according to a leaked and much-discussed German intelligence assessment, around 40,000 shell companies in Cyprus, all registered with no background checks as to where their capital came from …

What the international financial press has missed in this frenzied geopolitical comedy is how intimately tied up the Cyprus-Russian financial nexus is with the unraveling nightmare in Syria. According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the most vulnerable Russian financial institutions to be affected by a possible Cypriot default is VTB, the second largest bank in Russia. …

Subsequent to the Syrian uprising, Assad’s former fiance minister Mohammed al-Jleilati praised Moscow for having “given us a hand, especially in the financial sphere.” It won’t surprise you to learn that VTB was one of the banks offering fraternal assistance….

Bivol, a Bulgarian news outlet, produced what it claimed was a hacked communique between a Syrian security branch and Sergey Avakov, a VTB executive. The message, which is undated, appears to show Damascus raising its deposits to over 2 billion Euros …

Last June, I discovered another Russian-Cyprus connection with immediate impact on events in Syria. Just as the Houla massacre was getting underway, a Russian ship called the Professor Katsman was pulling into the port at Tartous. This vessel, which Western diplomats alleged was transporting arms to the Assad regime, was owned by a Russian-Dutch outfit called Universal Cargo Logistics Holdings (UCL)… UCL Holdings controlled the ship through a Matryoshka doll-like series of offshore shell companies. One of these was based in Cyprus.

And there we were thinking it was about stability, transparency, ratios and responsible balance sheets when it was all about payoffs. It wouldn’t be the first time that money and politics went hand in hand.

The inference of Weiss’ article is clear. Cyprus isn’t all about Cyprus, not completely, at least. In the shadowy background move even more elusive figures. Beggar Cyprus and you beggar the Russian secret service in the Mediterranean; squeeze the accounts and you pinch shut Assad’s lifeline.

Forget about armies crossing borders under the cover of artillery barrages. Maybe this is how modern war is conducted. Via bits sent over fiber optic cables;  or via drones firing missiles from the sky, or perhaps via bathtubs that suddenly prove fatal to their Russian oligarch bathers.

And the stakes were never higher. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel set his face and made an abject apology to Erdogan of Turkey for intercepting a vessel bound for Gaza. The reason? Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that Israel and Turkey, which border Syria, need to communicate with each other over the Syrian crisis.

“The fact that the crisis in Syria intensifies from moment to moment was the main consideration in my view,” Netanyahu wrote.

Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart Friday and apologized for a botched raid on a Gaza bound flotilla in 2010 that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead. Turkey demanded an apology as a condition for restoring ties. Netanyahu had until now refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

He ate crow because he had to. The conflagration in Syria is now too hot for mere personal preferences to play any part.

So how will the squeeze on Russia turn out?  As in most things bellicose, the traffic goes both ways. Weiss notes that Russia can retaliate by using the Cyprus crisis to threaten the Euro.  By pulling on the yarn even harder maybe Russia can get not just Cyprus, but Greece, Spain and Italy to unravel.

Nothing would please Putin more than to have Angela Merkel grovel like Berezovsky. Weiss writes:  ”Just as I was getting used to thinking of Cyprus as the Mediterranean clime where Hezbollah agents go to spy on ‘the Jews’ and Rami Makhlouf is granted citizenship, I awaken to the fact that future of the eurozone may in fact depend on the good graces of Vladimir Putin.”

Nice Euro you have there; it would be a shame if anything happened to it.

And indeed the gyre is widening. There are rumors that Hezbollah is training ‘thousands’ of fighters in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to intervene on Assad’s side. Meanwhile, Lebanon has been plunged into turmoil by the Syrian conflict because it feeds into and exacerbates the tensions within Lebanon itself.

It’s a sad world. The enduring appeal of a “Coffin for Dimitrios” as Sarah Weinman observed, was its rueful exposition of the role of perfidy and betrayal in human affairs.

“Coffin” was published just before Germany declared war on Poland, and at the time the strongly left-leaning Ambler believed the Soviet Union would be a British ally, not enemy—which is why such other Ambler novels as “Cause for Alarm” (1937), “Epitaph for a Spy” (1938) and “Journey Into Fear” (1940) feature Russian and Ukrainian characters whose initially opaque motivations couch sympathy for British interests. Ambler’s illusions on that front were shattered by the Nazi-Soviet Pact

Ambler had expressed the hope, through his literary characters that unalloyed idealism might somehow win through.

“One goes through life like a flower with its face turned to the sun, ever seeking, ever seeking, ever hoping, wanting to trust others, but afraid to do so. How much better if we trusted one another, if we saw only the good things, the finer things in our fellow creatures! How much better if we were frank and open, if we went on our ways without the cloak of hypocrisy and lies that we wear now.”

How much better if Cyprus were as the tourist brochures described it. How much better for Ambler if Stalin had been the leader he imagined; if the Soviet Union were a place of brotherly love, festivals and understanding. Too bad it turned out to be just another government.

It’s always a sad to discover that beneath the posters, the soaring speeches and the moving symbolism that the need for money, hatred, lust and power still animates the human breast. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

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No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
Just this once, Wretchard, let me put in a good word for hate.

The Left in the USA has been waging a cold culture war against me and everything I value for the past 50 years. I did not start this war. I have no desire to force my cultural, religious, moral or ethical values on anyone. I have willingly served this country to the best of my ability; I pay taxes and obey the laws of the land. In return, I ask only one thing from the Left: to be left alone, to worship as I please and value what I want; to earn a living and make money and take care of my family as I see fit.

The Left will not have it; I must watch my values be denigrated and degraded in every cultural venue; I must tolerate slurs on my faith and values; I must endure legal discrimination in higher education, in the workplace, and elsewhere; I must allow the left to tell me how to think, what to value; to embrace things my religion tells me are abominations. The left wants me disarmed and helpless. They want to permanently alter the demographics of this country to maintain power for themselves. They are putting the economy of this country on a collision course with an economic iceberg so they can buy the next few elections.

No. I refuse to give up that which gives meaning to life. I do not advocate violence. I do not want a hot civil war here, that would be ia disaster for everyone. I do not have a good solution, going galt is tempting but concedes the battle to the left. I do not know what to do, Wretchard. However, hating those who hold me in contempt does not seem wrong to me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (49)
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"Around 70 per cent of Cypriots are employed in the financial services and banking sector, a number that dwarfs the 20 per cent working in tourism."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/cyprus/9950797/Cyprus-facing-ruin-regardless-of-deal-islanders-warn.html

The Russian Mafia, working sideways, ended up putting most of the island on the money laundering payroll. ^^^^

As for the deceased oligarch...

Perhaps he had his real money banked on Cyprus?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The basic flaw in liberals; at least the present crop; is that they strive for something they do not understand- brotherhood.
If there is a 'Brotherhood of Man', it is a brotherhood of Soldiers.
All of Iraq wants the USA out, but if you are in the newly reconstituted Iraqi Army, and you want to compliment a soldiers skill and competance, you say;
"He fights like an American."
That isn't an expression of admiration for our Drones. or Air Force, or the Quartermasters Corp. but an accurate witness of our Boots on the ground, the American GI who keeps coming no matter what you throw at him.
That respect was hard won, but has been thrown away because the regime in Washington did not understand its value.
Now it is trying to buy peace with the counterfeit coin of Obamas eloquence.
The Islamists may be myopic, but they do know the difference between gold and brass.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I exposed fake Alexander Litvinenko poisoning. Every person knows it, and you must not believe Russian trouble-maker "Boris" was also retaliated against.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment


China and Russia both have demonstrated a willingness and an ability to wage cyber warfare. The thing that keeps global trade going is the virtual transfers of cash in the electronic banking system. Based on that information, the next world war would not follow the pattern of any war in history; it will be waged in the information systems that were run with such hubris and capris by the money masters on Wall Street and London, the epic money changers in the temple.

Internecine political warfare by the Left amounts to little more than pissing in the in the proverbial soup and we are asked to pass on the salt and enjoy it. Hell thank those who did it for doing it. We are apparently not grateful enough.

And I should not question my patriotism for a regime who has crapped on my plate since I can recall. The US doesn’t represent the interests of its people plain and simple. If they did they would be doing everything possible to reduce the cost of energy and to protect American jobs. Instead… well that is the topic du jour isn’t it?

And as far as being a b!itch is concerned, I’ll admit it. I am one f’ing b!tch. Not the life that I’d choose for myself but there it is.

Can I air my concerns in the bank, grocery store, work, in my social circles? Flatly no, I am shouted down at every turn and accept that commenting on this blog is for me, good therapy and precisely the most productive place to do so. I am tired of those who have profited from government sponsored racialism, hatred, and mismanagement of this economy blowing happy smoke up my arse with lies while pizzing on my head for pointing out the facts. Apparently I am not thanking them enough for borrowing a trillion dollars a year to inflate their over stretched sense of self-worth.

Rough Coat once commented a year or so ago that he was getting over whelmed by the news and even then probably unhappy with the pessimism. I recommended that he take a news-fast and tune it out for a while. Enjoy life, forget about the woes of the world for a while and not watching the news, reading the newspaper, or even reading this blog from time to time might be a requirement to keep ones’ head on an even keel. But we are living in a government-made depression that is being prolonged while the optics are being manipulated, sunny reports are revised on page three months after the facts. So as it were, ‘Happy Days are NOT Here Again’ and from the looks of things they won’t be for a while. They say the first step to getting healthy is admitting you are sick. We aren’t there yet. We are a long way from there and no amount of hippy dippy ‘visualize world peace’, ‘Buy the world a Coke’ is going to change that. Perhaps we are just ‘Catcher’s in the Rye’ holding our arms out in hope that the world won’t go running off a cliff. But saying that you must succumb to relentless drone of unrealistically optimistic, summer of recovery, mind control is nonsense.

H/T BotP
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

“Whatcha' got ain't nothin new. This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.”

And it is only with luck that we get old… The underlying theme from McCarthy’s novel is that one warily presses on even when there is true evil in the world. Nobody asked anybody to roll over and take it.

I have always enjoyed Rough Coats input on this blog. I am sad to see him go. But my recommendation to him is to do what my father did in the last 10 years of his life. Tune out the bad, the battle is left to the young to deal with now, find a good woman and a prescription of Viagara and drill you way to the Promised Land. Leave it up to the generation of the damned to sort it out.

“I had two dreams about him after he died. I dont remember the first one all that well but it was about meetin him in town somewheres and he give me some money and I think I lost it. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. About the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.”
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Tell Max it concerns the Sandman."
-- John Le Carre, Smiley's People
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Alexis - A different way of looking at the English speaking aspect is to compare it to the way teenagers look at adults. They tend to be rebellous. It's a phase. They want, but do not yet deserve, adult autonomy. The trick is to guide them to maturity rather than self-destructive behavior.


As to Syria, I would note that I previuosly suggested that we mine Syria's harbor, isolating the nation from outside re-supply forcing them to downsize. Eventually they would be reduced to fighting with rocks, until exhaustion brought a truce. Call it "Bomb them back to the Stone Age for the 21st Century". Curtis LeMay stopped the kamikazes, who make today's suicide bombers look like amateurs. With a hat tip to William Tecumseh Sherman too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To paraphrase, When I was a child I looked at the world in a childish way and reacted as a child. To be a man I had to put away the childish things.

These people will get a dose of reality and their decisions will decided their futures. I am prepared, are you?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Reply to RWE3 on the last thread.
You'd have to be a Cretin now to put your money in Cyprus.

Regarding the SCO and lubyanka/mafiosi money.
Isn't it good when a cornered shill has the mask ripped off and is reduced to ranting hate?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am coming to wonder whether fluency in the English language correlates with anti-Americanism.

It is well known that the level of education and literacy among speakers of Arabic is directly correlated with anti-Americanism. That is because the schools and state newspapers in the Arabosphere systematically teach people to hate the United States. The most pro-American Arabs tend to be those who have either not been reached by anti-American propaganda, or whose experiences with Americans have been so positive that those experiences puncture the anti-American mythology.

Back to English. I have a working hypothesis that people who don't know English are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the United States, as opposed to people who read anti-American news in English. One of the reasons why anti-Americanism may be so pronounced in Pakistan is precisely because so many Pakistani newspapers are written in English. Furthermore, while popular sentiment in the United Kingdom is not particularly anti-American, there is a strong anti-American slant in British media and universities, and several prominent writers from the UK spout anti-American vitriol.

Ignorance is nowhere near as bad as “knowing” something that isn't true. It is for this reason that one can legitimately wonder if fluency in English correlates with anti-Americanism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Now, to the matter at hand here:

If the economic problems of Cyprus are part and parcel of the ongoing civil war in Syria, fair enough. If Sunnis and Shias from Iran and Lebannon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are effectively joining the battle that is no necessarily a bad thing. The more the Ilsamic world fights among themselves, the less energy they will have for terrorism directed against the Infidel.

The real question to start with here is, what does the USA want? What, given our economic situation and resources, should our strategy be? Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that a strategy of Nation Building cannot work, both because of the expense and because it gives too much of an advantage to Islamic terrorism and allows Islamic countries outside the immediate area too much freedom of action. Very well.

That being the case, American strategy should be modelled after that of France under Cardinal Richelieu during the 30 years war: preserve your own strength. Play your enemies against each other and let them exhaust each other for you. In the case of Syria: let Russia and Iran arm Assad. Let Saudi Arabia, Joran and Turkey arm the Muslum Brotherhood. And let them fight it out. If Assad is winning, help the Brotherhood. If the Brotherhood is winning, help Assad. Keep the Syrian pot boiling and let them kill as many as possible. Let Assad expend his chemical arsenal in his own country. Or let him trade it to the Russians for more conventional arms.

Why not? There is no chance of democracy in Syria. The Assad regieme is basically a secular fascist organization. The opposition is fractured, but the most determined and best organized are the Islamic Fascists of the Muslum Brotherhood and their allies, including al-qaida. What does it matter who wins?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
but what the Germans only retained of this 30 years war? The French were slaughtering them ! when France entered later into the conflct. that and the Napoleon conquests of the German lands, motivated their hate against the French for the both WW, as much their excuse for making them, and still today, you will find Germans that srepproach the French these past events
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As our good friend Marie Claude would say, you can't trust the German intelligence assessment. And you certainly can't trust Frau Merkel that it's only going to be 'oligarchs' taking that 20% 'haircut' on all deposits over 100k euros. Nor can you base an expropriation (aka all your euros are belong to us) on the mere accusation that some 'dodgy' 'Russian mafia money laundering' was going on. What next every BCer with an account at HSBC or Wells Fargo gets ripped off because the Mexican cartels funneled their cash through those entities, as proven in a court of law so that HSBC is paying a 2 billion fine? How about the reaction of the Bernankster and the Treas (or for that matter, the Pentagon) if a desperate Irish government was forced into seizing a chunk of Google or GE's profits banked in Ireland? I would imagine the ministers of the Emerald Isle would be on the lookout for drones overhead, in that scenario. How is what VTB or Vympelcom do in Cyprus different from America's own Fortune 100 tax evaders in Ireland?

There's evidence compiled by at least one oligarch watcher (John Helmer) who's been in Moscow since Berezovsky's heyday that some oligarchs may've been tipped off - whether by the Cypriots or their own intelligence sources who had thee Cypriots and Germans bugged, I do not know. But you wouldn't think old Roman Abramovich would leave getting his pocket picked to chance, would you?

Weiss has his own agenda, which is pushing the Mayfair Syrian opposition and pretending that they'll decide facts on the ground there, rather than the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, he has little to no evidence that Cyprus has any direct connection to the events in Syria, save for the same general vicinity and the role of Eastern Med gas in the chess game. But the ugly truth is the EU rolled the financial panzers first, not the Russians, no matter how hard Weiss tries to spin it. In some respects it's 08/08/08 all over again but this time instead of a few Russophiles battling the Anglo-American anti-Russia lobby over who started the shooting in the Caucuses it's tens of thousands of pissed off British pensioners, Cypriots, Israeli and Russian account holders on the island plus the alternative press against a few smug Brits like Weiss and the UK Telegraph's Jeremy Warner who think mass expropriation of all accounts over 100k euro is fine and dandy. And that won't end well for the City of London which backs Weiss and co, nor the Economist and the Financial Times who keep their own profits stashed away from the UK in Luxembourg -- hypocrites one and all who are about to get their commeuppance when the euro tanks and Londongrad itself starts being bereft of the Londongrader's cash, if not the Londongraders themselves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So congratulations Russophobe fanatics and City of London shills. You've got a few banksters and EU bureaucrats and Cold War nostalgiac dullards on your side, and virtually no one else. Putin couldn't have pushed so many into the arms of Mother Russia had he set out to do it himself. You did it for him you Eurocrat bastards.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Personally, I would vastly prefer to have a mammalian foreign policy rather than a reptilian foreign policy often called “Realpolitik”. That said, we need to fight when we decide to – not when Christiane Amanpour demands that we intervene in a fight where all of the sides are bad. It is generally unwise to stop a dog fight with one's bare hands lest one's hand get mauled by both sides.

Cardinal Richelieu was probably not as cold hearted as he is often portrayed. His mentor, Father Joseph, was organizing a pan-Christian crusade against the Turk in 1618; unexpectedly, the King of Spain prohibited recruitment for this crusade within his domain – and the defection of the most powerful Christian kingdom killed the crusade. This episode led Cardinal Richelieu to become deeply suspicious of Hapsburg wars, for while Spain was enthusiastically prosecuting a war against Protestant Christians, Spain was refraining from war against the Ottoman Empire.

I think that Cardinal Richelieu did not see the Hapsburgs advancing the interests of Christianity, but rather the interests of the Hapsburg Empire in the name of Christianity. Although he defended French interests well, he probably saw the legitimate religious importance for creating space for dissent within Catholicism so that it did not get completely dominated by the House of Hapsburg.

I don't particularly want the Syrian civil war to linger. When people become accustomed to fratricide, they are more likely to attack foreigners once the fratricide is over. On the other hand, neither side of this conflict is on our side. Neither side is fighting for what we believe in and both sides have shown themselves to be deeply hostile. I'd rather let South Africans get their hands mauled by the Syrian dogs of war and leave our hands out of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Finally, some sanity on Syria.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
interesting
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm inclined to agree with BattleofthePyramids.

The Russians and Iranians are aligned with Assad. Obviously, the mullahs running Iran are bad guys. The Islamic fascists including al Qaeda are aligned with the opposition against Assad. Obviously, al Qaeda are bad guys. To some extent this is a replay of the situation of Iran under Khomeini waging war against Iraq under Saddam Hussein. There were no good guys. The best situation was for both sides to fight to exhaustion.

Here's an alternate history scenario: Would the world have been a better place had Khomeini and Saddam Hussein not opted to slaughter the flower of their youth during the Iran / Iraq war? Contrary to popular belief, war is sometimes a "good thing". As Spengler likes to say: "Give war a chance."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
China has also secured Syrian oil fields with Assad.

As cynic as it may sound, I hope this war lasts for decades.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just this once, Wretchard, let me put in a good word for hate.

The Left in the USA has been waging a cold culture war against me and everything I value for the past 50 years. I did not start this war. I have no desire to force my cultural, religious, moral or ethical values on anyone. I have willingly served this country to the best of my ability; I pay taxes and obey the laws of the land. In return, I ask only one thing from the Left: to be left alone, to worship as I please and value what I want; to earn a living and make money and take care of my family as I see fit.

The Left will not have it; I must watch my values be denigrated and degraded in every cultural venue; I must tolerate slurs on my faith and values; I must endure legal discrimination in higher education, in the workplace, and elsewhere; I must allow the left to tell me how to think, what to value; to embrace things my religion tells me are abominations. The left wants me disarmed and helpless. They want to permanently alter the demographics of this country to maintain power for themselves. They are putting the economy of this country on a collision course with an economic iceberg so they can buy the next few elections.

No. I refuse to give up that which gives meaning to life. I do not advocate violence. I do not want a hot civil war here, that would be ia disaster for everyone. I do not have a good solution, going galt is tempting but concedes the battle to the left. I do not know what to do, Wretchard. However, hating those who hold me in contempt does not seem wrong to me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"From Hell's Heart I stab at thee; for Hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!!!"

- Melville/Ahab/Khan Noonian Singh
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a distinction to be made between hate and anger, although they can feel very much alike. Anger is the emotion that tells you that an injustice has been done and gives you the energy to rectify it. Hate (I mean the deep, habitual loathing, not simple dislike as in "I hate that dress.") reduces the object of hate into something subhuman. Because humans are mimetic creatures, hate focuses the attention on the hated object, which becomes effectively an idol. Ultimately hate transforms us into the the thing we hate. But when injustice perdures, anger can easily become hate. Hard line to walk, especially with a duplicitous foe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You've been watching too many Hollywood productions. There is nothing wrong with hate. It is not wrong to hate evil. It does not "transform us into the thing we hate". And while we're at it, there's nothing wrong with revenge either.

Now go back and watch your DVR'ed STNG and bask in your smug sanctimoniousness.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Exactly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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