Matt Taibbi’s USA-Russia Venn diagram

December 18, 2014

1035x775-usarussia2-1

Matt Taibbi, who reports on Wall Street for the Rolling Stone, once lived in Moscow and wrote for an uninhibited English-language magazine called The eXile.   A reader asked him for a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the USA and Russia, and the chart abovew is what he came up with.

He also had this to say.

Back when I lived in Russia, I knew lots of reporters who really did risk their lives and had enemies who really did violently attempt to silence them.

I had one Russian reporter friend who wrote something about a bank connected to one of Yeltsin’s advisers, and two days later a thug in a ski mask literally jumped through his bedroom window and bopped him over the head with a crowbar.

I vaguely knew people like Anna Politkovskaya and Yuri Sheckochikhin, famed reporters who were literally murdered because of their work.

Even I had to skip Moscow once, after a certain mob-connected pimp had a bit of a sense of humor failure about a thing we’d published in the eXile.

But in America, nobody needs to silence journalists, particularly if you’re talking about just one journalist, and more particularly if it’s just one print journalist.

Ignoring such people is easier and way more effective. You just let the reporter throw whatever hissy-fit he/she has decided to throw, and five seconds later the main audience will be back porn-surfing and watching football and “Wives With Knives” and so on.

The notion of the dangerous dissident who so threatens the corrupt state that he or she must be physically eliminated is unfortunately an old-fashioned fantasy that no longer fits our sophisticated dystopia.  Or anyway, even if such a person did exist, it would be someone with better sources than me.

via Taibbi Mailbag | Rolling Stone.

Jeb Bush returns to politics after getting richer

December 18, 2014

Since stepping down as Governor of Florida in 2007, Jeb Bush has been working hard at getting richer.

His financial activities and ties make him a good candidate from the point of view of Wall Street, but may be a drawback from the standpoint of the general public.

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush

Before he became Governor of Florida in 1999, he was a successful real estate developer.  After eight years in office, he felt poor because his net worth had dwindled from $2 million to $1.3 million.

To rebuild his fortune, he joined corporate boards, advised corporate clients and, like Hillary Clinton, gave speeches at corporate events for lucrative fees.

Business Week reported that he started a holding company, Britton Hill Holdings, which has launched three investment funds, BH Global Aviation ($61 million), which is incorporated in Wales and supported largely by overseas investors; BH Logistics ($26 million), which is backed by a Chinese conglomerate; and a fund for investing in shale gas ($40 million).  No doubt the Bush name gave him credibility with foreign investors.

Jeb Bush is no Mitt Romney.  He hangs out with mere millionaires instead of billionaires.  He is an entrepreneur, not a takeover specialist.  He doesn’t have a record of aquiring existing companies and laying people off.

On the other hand he is part of the same world as Romney and Clinton.  He was an adviser to Lehman Brothers on the verge of its collapse, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, to rescue Lehman.  He was an adviser to Barclay’s bank (a position he resigned today), which was involved in interest rate rigging and other scandals.

He was on the board of two corporations that went bankrupt and the CEO of one of them was indicted for fraud.

With all of this, based on information from the articles linked below, I don’t see that he did anything illegal or unethical.  The Republicans could do worse.

If Republicans nominate Jeb Bush for President, and Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, it would be the best of both worlds for Wall Street.

I wouldn’t vote for him myself.  He represents the upper 1 percent, and the country needs somebody who speaks for the 99 percent.

∞∞∞

Jeb Bush Has a Mitt Romney Problem by Joshua Green for Bloomberg Politics.

Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties? by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism.

Jeb Bush Was Only a Millionaire When He Left Office, But He Wanted to Be Rich by Philip Bump for The Atlantic Wire.

Jeb Bush’s wealth-building strategy could be problematic in 2016 White House bid by Phil Ammann for SaintPetersBlog.

Wall Street Republicans’ dark secret: Hillary Clinton in 2016 by Ben White and Maggie Haberman for Politico. Wall Street prefers Jeb Bush, but wouldn’t mind Hillary Clinton.

Tea Partiers Are Right: Jeb Bush Is a RINO by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

 

Citi’s open door in Washington

December 18, 2014

imrs

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently complained about Citigroup’s influence on the congressional budget and legislative process.   This chart from the Washington Post shows Citi has a strong voice in the executive branch as well.  So do Goldman Sachs and other big Wall Street firms.

Vermont gives up on single-payer health plan

December 18, 2014

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced that he has given up on a plan to introduce a single-payer medical insurance plan—Medicare for everbody—by 2017.

medicareforall_nThe plan, known as Green Mountain Care, would have cost too much in payroll taxes and would not have generated big savings in medical and insurance costs, he said.

I don’t think the Affordable Care Act is satisfactory, and I would have liked to see Vermont prove that single-payer is a workable alternative by launching it successfully on the state level.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe single-payer, despite the success of Medicare-for-all in Canada, isn’t feasible in the USA.  But I hate to think that Obamacare is the best we Americans can do.

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Shumlin Ends Single-Payer Push by Dave Gram for Valley News of White River Junction, Vermont.

Vermont bails on single-payer health care by Sarah Wheaton for Politico.

Vermont’s Giving Up on Single-Payer Health Care Over Ballooning Costs by Sarah Hurtubise for The Daily Caller.

A happy surprise: Gov. Cuomo bans fracking

December 18, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decsion to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in New York state was made for the right reason – the Precautionary Principle.

fracking-diagramThat is, he banned fracking not because it was proven to be harmful, but that there were good reasons to think it might not be safe.

I misjudged Cuomo.  I thought he intended to approve fracking, but was postponing this unpopular decision until after the election.

With falling oil and gas prices, the economic benefits of fracking are even less than before.  The oil and gas locked underground in the Marcellus shale will not go away.  It will still be there if someday the USA is so desperate for energy that fracking is necessary.

∞∞∞

“This Will Have a Ripple Effect Across the Country”: State of New York Bans Fracking by Cole Stangler for In These Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Pakistan horrified by Taliban school attack

December 18, 2014

The Pakistan Taliban massacred nine teachers and 132 children at a school in Pakistan.

Even other terrorist organizations denounce the murders.

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Will school attacks finally change Pakistani attitudes toward the Taliban? by Shashank Joshi for The Interpreter (Australia).

Problems Pakistani Politics has to Resolve after Grisly School Attack by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

The Justification For Torture That No One Wants to Confront

December 17, 2014

philebersole:

Torture did work. It provided support for the lies about Al Qaeda links to Iraq, and a war that claimed more than 100,000 lies.

Originally posted on Mike the Mad Biologist:

oldantitortureposter

For those who have followed our reign of torture closely, in 2005, videotapes of torture sessions were destroyed. Most people assume this was done because the tapes were so horrifying, no one wanted them released. In light of last weekend’s Torturers on Parade that blanketed the Pious Sabbath Gasbag TV shows–and how unrepentant those monsters were–we might want to rethink the motivation for destroying the tapes (boldface mine):

The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report — or one should say, it’s buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA…

View original 415 more words

Russia’s economic crisis and the danger of war

December 17, 2014

Russia is in an economic crisis—the result of U.S.-led sanctions, the Saudi attack on oil prices and the underlying weakness of the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the Russian ruble, Vladimir Putin has been backed into a corner with few options—all of them bad.

World-Nuke-Graph-with-Info-082814

Click to enlarge.

My question is:  Is it a good idea to deliberately bring about a crisis in a nation with 8,000 nuclear weapons?

Only a small fraction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be needed to reduce American cities to rubble.   Yet the U.S. government treats Russia with less caution than it does North Korea.

I do not think that Vladimir Putin would intentionally launch a nuclear war, any more than Barack Obama would.  But I think their policies bring about a situation in which an unintentional nuclear war is highly possible.

I think President Obama is more to blame for this than President Putin.  For the United States, the stakes are geopolitical advantage.  For the Russian Federation, the stakes are the independence of the nation.

The United States command and control systems are much more lax than they were in the era of Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.  I don’t know about the Russian Federation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things were just as bad or even worse over there.

Nuclear war was narrowly averted several times during the Cold War through good luck and cool heads both on the US and Soviet sides.  The world can’t count on being lucky forever.

And even if the worst is averted—this time—the world will never be safe until the world’s nuclear powers disarm, starting with Russia and the USA.   The current crisis has eliminated the possibility of disarmament for at least a generation.

President Putin is a tough and ruthless statesman, but a sane one.  If he is driven from power as a result of the crisis, his replacement may not be so sane.

I do not think that President Putin would throw his nation on the mercy of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout.  The history of IMF bailouts shows that they involve a loss of national independence, and public sacrifice in order to pay off international creditors.

I think it far more likely that he would throw Russia on the mercy of China.  This would throw open Russia as well as Central Asia to be hinterlands of natural resources to support China’s growing industrial power.

President Putin some years back, which he was seeking recognition of Russia as a respected great power, proposed an integrated European market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.   That’s no longer on the table.   Now the most likely prospect is a Chinese-dominated integrated Eurasian market stretching from Beijing to Berlin.

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Russia Tries Emergency Steps for Second Day to Stem Ruble Plunge by Ksenia Galouchko, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Olga Tamas for Boomberg News.

It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy: It’s Putin by James Miller for The Interpreter.

The bleakest winter by Ed Conway for Medium.  The six downward steps in a typical currency crisis.  Russia is at step four.

Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (via the Unz Review)

The global rise of Putinism

December 16, 2014

What do the following leaders have in common?

  • Vladimir Putin of Russia.
  • Xi Jinping of China.
  • Narendra Modi of India.
  • Shinzo Abe of Japan.
  • Recep Tayyip Erodogan of Turkey.
  • Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Putin-ModiThey all reject the ideals of democracy and human rights as historically understood in the United States, Great Britain and France, and instead embrace authoritarianism, nationalism, state capitalism and religious and social conservatism.  For want of a better name, call the new ideology Putinism.

Other names arguably could be added to this list.  Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, like Putin and Modi, is an ethnic and religious nationalist who turns a deaf ear to advocates of universal human rights.

I wouldn’t say any of these people are movements are exactly the same as Hitler, but neither to I think it is a coincidence that Nazi symbols keep popping up in unlikely places, because the Nazis are the polar opposite of liberal and democratic values.

The Taliban, al Qaeda ISIS and other radical Salafists represent a different kind of anti-democratic backlash.  They’re not Putinists.  They hate Putin, Xi, Modi and Erdogan.  They aren’t nationalists.  Their leaders don’t care whether you’re an Arab, a Afghan, a Chechen, a Uighur, a Somali or even a European, so long as you accept their religious dogma and hate people of different religions.

I think we Americans and others should resist the temptation to take sides in quarrels among freedom’s enemies.  The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welfare for big banks gets bipartisan support

December 15, 2014

Conservatives are opposed to government welfare, and liberals are opposed to big business, so you would think that one thing they would be able to agree on is opposition to government welfare for big business.

But Democrats and Republicans in Congress are just the opposite.  They just enacted a budget bill stuffed with benefits for big business, including a provision that allows big banks to gamble on  with government-insured deposits.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, in a speech recorded in the video above, told how Citicorp leveraged its influence in Congress and the executive branch to bring this about.

Letting a bank such as Citicorp put insured deposits into inherently risky speculations, such as swaps and derivatives, is the equivalent of me wanting to bet my saving Las Vegas casinos and expecting the government to compensate me for my losses.

This is not was federal deposit insurance was intended to do.   Deposit insurance was intended to cover normal banking activity in the real economy, such as home mortgages, auto insurance loans and business loans.

Federal deposit insurance never was intended to cover swaps and derivatives, which are just bets on which way the markets will go.  They are not backed by real collateral and they do not contribute to the real economy.

Read the rest of this entry »


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