Northern guild of master craftsmen at work.

May 27, 2017

It is always a pleasure to watch people who are masters of what they do.

The following video was produced by Northmen: the Guild of Northern Master Craftsmen in Latvia, which is dedicated to traditional hand craftsmanship.

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Why the US bears the cost of NATO

May 26, 2017

My sixth most-viewed post is about a warning in 2011 by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to European allies to pay their proportionate share of the cost of the NATO military alliance.

This is much the same as what President Trump is saying now.

I thought then, and I still think, that members of the European Union are strong enough and wealthy enough to protect themselves without relying on the USA.   I thought then, and I still think, that this would be a good thing.

But if the Europeans paid for their own defense, they might be less willing to follow the U.S. lead in military policy.  And, maybe more importantly, they might be less willing to buy their weapons from American manufacturers.

The advantage of paying the piper means that you get to call the tune.

Thomas Frank on Trump’s nationalist populism

May 24, 2017

Nobody alive has a better grasp of American politics than Thomas Frank.

Above is a video I came across of a talk he gave in April at the Kansas City Public Library.   It’s a bit long, especially to watch on a computer screen, but Frank is an entertaining speaker, as he is a writer, and I recommend listening to him if you have time.  His talk ends a little short of an hour and a question-and-answer period runs for about 30 minutes.

Frank sees Donald Trump as the latest of a line of Republican nationalist populists—his predecessors being Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush and the leaders of the Tea Party.

A populist is someone who claims to speak in the name of the people against the elite.   The old Populist Party, which dominated Kansas politics in the 1890s, represented farmers and laborers and fought against bankers and railroad CEOs.

The Democratic Party used to be this kind of populist party, Frank said, but it no longer is.   Instead it represents a professional class defined by educational credentials.

In the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Democrats spoke in the name of the common people against greedy Wall Street bankers and power-hungry corporate CEOs.   But the present generation of Democratic leaders regards bankers and CEOs as classmates—members of the same college classes and same social class.

This has given an opening to nationalist populists who claim to speak for the common people against meddling bureaucrats, unpatriotic intellectuals and out-of-touch journalists.

The vast majority of Americans are either treading water economically or going under.   They are justifiably angry, and right-wing talk radio tells them a story that explains their plight and channels their anger.

The Republican populists offer no real solution, but Democrats no longer offer an alternative story.  That’s why they’ve been in decline for 50 years.  They will have a hard time coming back, Frank said, even if Donald Trump self-destructs.

I found Frank’s whole talk interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

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Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia

May 24, 2017

I came across this picture a couple of days ago and wondered what it was.

It is a ceremony conducted Monday in honor of the opening of the Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Saudi Arabia.

The participants touching the glowing orb are Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Donald Trump.

The name of the center is ironic, because Saudi Arabia is the center for extremist ideology in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia pays for missionaries to spread Wahabism (or Salafism), a highly intolerant version of Islam.  Wahabists believe that Shiites and other Sunnis are not true Muslims.

Hassan Rouhani

King Salman and his son, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, are  waging a bombing campaign against Shiite villagers in Yemen, is stepping up aid to rebels in Syria and is trying to organize a Sunni Arab military alliance against Iran.

Voters in Iran, meanwhile, have re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate reformer who negotiated the nuclear deal with the USA.

Rouhani is more democratic and peaceable than the hereditary Saudi rulers.  He has won honest and contested elections.  The range of choices in Iranian elections is limited because the ayatollahs vet candidates.  But you could say the same about U.S. elections, except that our candidates are vetted by big-money donors.

The Saudis seek regime change in Syria and Yemen; Rouhani seeks increased trade and investment.   In Middle East geopolitics, the Saudi monarchy is the aggressor, the Iranian clerical regime is the one on the defensive.

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Donald Trump and the trouble with democracy

May 24, 2017

Brooke Gladstone, in her new book, The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on the Moral Panic of Our Time, claimed that the election of Donald Trump reflects fundamental flaws in human nature and in the very ideas of democracy, free speech and freedom of the press.

Brooke Gladstone

To her credit, she doesn’t take her argument to its logical conclusion, which would be to empower gatekeepers to filter the news and opinions available so the rest of us aren’t exposed to anything the gatekeepers consider fake.

Many others, in fact, do go that far, so I will try to sum up her argument and then engage it.   Here’s her argument:

  • Truth is subjective Everybody lives in their own unique reality.   Since our ability to understand is limited, we make decisions based on stereotypes.   All human beings are emotionally committed to stereotypes and experimental psychology shows that our brains react negatively to whatever challenges our stereotype.
  • Knowledge of facts is not enough Any given set of facts is subject to multiple interpretations.  We the people filter facts according to own various assumptions and biases.
  • Appealing lies beat inconvenient truths John Milton, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill claimed defended free speech by claiming that truth would defeat falsehood in a free and open encounter.  This is bogus.   We the people don’t have access to full information about important public issues, nor the time or ability to evaluate it if we did.
  • Democracies foster demagoguesSince we the people cannot make rational decisions, we tend to prefer demagogues who offer us appealing fantasies rather than intellectuals who tell us inconvenient truths.

Here’s my answer.

The expression that “truth is subjective” or “we all live in different realities” is highly pernicious.

It’s true that we all have our own unique experience of reality.  As Gladstone notes, humans can’t imagine what it is like to experience the world as a bat or a bloodhound does.  But a human, a bat and a bloodhound all live in the same actual world.  We are all burned by fire and drown in water.   If our perceived reality is wrong, the real reality will sooner or later catch up with us.

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Donald Trump and the trouble with reality

May 23, 2017

Brooke Gladstone, a broadcaster and media critic, has written a provocative 87-page book about Donald Trump and his challenge to the concept of objective truth.

Trump has given us a constant stream of assertions—Obama was born in Kenya, Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11, millions voted illegally in the 2016 elections–without facts to back them up.

That is, as she wrote, a challenge to the basis premise of democracy, which is that we the people have the ability to make good choices as to who will represent us.

But what if we don’t have a good basis for making a choice?  What if the very possibility of making a rational fact-based choice is called in question?

We normally assume that both sides have some basis for what they say and that our job is to choose the one who makes the best case.   But Donald Trump just says things without bothering to make an argument?

How can the casual newspaper reader, TV watcher and social media user evaluate this?

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The philosopher Harry Frankfurt made a distinction between liars (people who knowingly make false statements for a reason) and bullshitters (people who don’t know or care whether what they say is true or not).

It’s not just Trump.   The whole flood of charges regarding Trump and Russia seems very—for want of a better word—Trumpian.  Every day there’s something new and nothing is ever proved.

The distinction between lies and bullshit applies here.  I don’t think anybody is knowingly making false statements about Trump and friends.  I think many of them just don’t care one way or the other.

On the other hand, the consequences for revealing unwelcome truths can be severe—Chelsea Manning seven years in prison, Edward Snowden a fugitive from U.S. law, Julian Assange confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

I’ve had people tell me that Assange should not have published information unfavorable to Hillary Clinton unless he had information equally unfavorable Donald Trump to publish.

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A brief entertaining history of everything

May 20, 2017

This video by Bill Wurtz is fun and, as far as I can tell, well-researched and accurate.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke, who also linked to Wurtz’s video history of Japan.

Can the Saudis lure the US into a war with Iran?

May 19, 2017

Prince Salman meets with President Trump in March

The young new ruler of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Mohammad, is trying to organize an alliance of Sunni Muslim nations against Shiite Iran.

And President Donald Trump is expected to endorse an anti-Iranian “Arab NATO” during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

This is a terrible idea.   It doesn’t benefit Americans and it risks a war that would be disastrous for both Americans and people in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is an enormously wealthy nation, but it is thinly populated and militarily weak.  It depends on the United States for its defense.  In return, the Saudis buy billions of dollars in armaments from American companies and pump oil in sufficient quantities to keep world oil prices low.

So the United States since the 1970s has sided with Saudi Arabia and also Israel against their geopolitical rivals in the region.   Once Saudi Arabia’s chief rival and threat was Iraq.  Now it is Iran.

This has nothing to do with making Americans safe from terrorism, and everything to do with promoting the strategic and economic interests of Saudi Arabia.

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The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

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The perilous precedent of impeachment

May 18, 2017

With the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, we may get answers to the nature of the Trump-Russia relationship based on facts rather than evidence-free leaks based on anonymous sources with their own agendas.

Robert Mueller

Mueller by all accounts is an honest person and a dogged prosecutor, not committed to either political party.   He has a difficult dual mission.

One is to determine the precise natural of the relationship between Donald Trump and his minions with Russia and Russians.

The other is to determine whether any laws have been broken. These are related, but separate.

Conversations between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats are not, in and of themselves, illegal, but we the American people have an interest in knowing what they are.

Conversations between Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey about the investigation may have amounted to an obstruction of justice on the part of Trump, which would be an impeachable offense, but this does not throw any light on the alleged Trump-Russia relationship.

I oppose President Trump, but I am not willing to see him removed from office by any means necessary.

For one thing, his replacement will be Vice President Mike Pence, a person of greater maturity and emotional balance than Trump, but just as committed to war and Wall Street.

For another, any justification for removing Trump from office will be a precedent for getting rid of any future radical reformer who threatens the status quo.

The secret agencies of government, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties and the Washington press corps would be out to get a Bernie Sanders-type reformer even more than they are out to get Trump.

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Donald Trump’s Russian admirers

May 17, 2017

The Comey memo and U.S. policy toward Russia

May 17, 2017

The controversy over the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump is basically a behind-the-scenes battle over U.S. policy toward Russia.

Trump is being attacked because he wanted to improve relations with Russia, while the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, the Washington press corps, the Pentagon and the so-called “intelligence community” seem hell-bent on reviving the Cold War, or worse.

My reason for thinking so is that the anti-Trump campaign suddenly stopped when he ordered a missile attack on Russia’s ally, Syria.   And my suspicion is that it would stop again if he started making threats to Russia over Syria or Ukraine.

That’s not to say that Trump or members of his team may not have done something wrong.  It is just that those in government who are leaking all this anti-Trump information are doing it as a means to an end—to damage Trump politically and sabotage attempts to improve relations with Russia.

The Real News Network broadcast broadcast a good discussion of this subject with Robert English, an expert on Russia.   As English noted, the things that are coming out about Trump are either trivial, or without evidence, or similar to things previous Presidents have done.

He pointed out that the elder George Bush committed a much more serious security breach than Trump is currently being accused of, and that the younger George Bush intentionally released classified information to destroy the reputation of a whistle-blower within the administration.

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Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’

May 17, 2017

A Man for All Seasons is a play about Sir Thomas More, a scholar, humanist, statesman and devoted husband and father, who also was a hero who went to his death rather than swear to a false statement.

It may be my favorite play.  Offhand I can’t think of one I like better.  It was first performed in London in 1960.

I saw it in Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s.  Recently I took part in a reading of it organized by my friend Walter Uhrman.

The things I liked and admired about the play are its language and characters; its staging and lighting, which gave it a timeless relevancy; and its non-banal affirmation of human dignity and integrity.

More was beheaded on the order of King Henry VIII for his refusal to affirm that the Pope was wrong in refusing him permission to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

The play is about More’s struggle to find a way to stay alive without sacrificing his integrity, and his final decision to choose integrity over life.

There is a passage I particularly like about the rule of law—the principle that nobody is above the duty to obey the law and nobody is below the right to protection of the law.

   WILLIAM ROPER:  Arrest him.
    SIR THOMAS MORE: For what? ……
    MARGARET MORE: Father, that man’s bad
    THOMAS MORE: There’s no law against that.
    ROPER: There is!  God’s law!
    THOMAS MORE: Then God can arrest him……
    ALICE MORE (exasperated): While you talk, he’s gone.
    THOMAS MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law.
    ROPER: So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law.
    THOMAS MORE Yes.  What would you do?  Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    ROPER:  I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    THOMAS MORE (roused and excited)  Oh? (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil himself turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (he leaves him)
    This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (quietly) Yes, I’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Here is another passage I like.

     SIR THOMAS MORE: … If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.
     But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all, why then perhaps we must stand fast a little… .

 In the play, there are two opponents to More’s point of view.

One is Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless Machiavellian power-worshiper, who is tasked with the mission of forcing More to give him or, failing that, providing a justification for sending him to his death.

The other is a figure that Bolt calls the Common Man, an actor who introduces each scene and also plays the part of More’s servant, a boatman, a jailer, a juryman and, in the last scene, the headsman.

He represents the common sense view of the ordinary person, who tries to stay out of trouble and who goes along to get along.

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The FBI never was chartered by law

May 16, 2017

I hadn’t known until today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation never was established by law.

President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to create a Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice, but Congress refused to act.  So Roosevelt just went ahead and established it by executive order.

So would President Donald Trump not only have the authority to fire the FBI director, but to abolish the FBI itself?

I would guess not, because Congress has appropriated money to fund the FBI and the President doesn’t have a line item budget veto.   And, as a practical matter, the FBI is too powerful and entrenched to be gotten rid of, even though its legal basis is shaky.

I learned about the FBI’s origins by reading an article by Mark Ames, editor of two on-line journals, Pando Daily and The eXiled.   In the article, Ames went on to review the FBI’s history of mass surveillance, suppression of radicals and political blackmail—well worth remembering.

There was a bill in the late 1970s to define—and thereby limit—the FBI’s powers, but it died in Congress.

LINK

The FBI Has No Legal Charter, But Lots of Kompromat by Mark Ames for The eXiled.

Can the U.S. carry out Trump’s military buildup?

May 15, 2017

President Donald Trump has called for a military buildup, which would mean more aircraft carriers, more nuclear submarines, more high-tech weapons of all kinds.

A military analyst named Daniel Gouré wondered whether the United States has the industrial base needed for such a buildup.

For the Army, this means moving forward with near-term modernization and improvements to its existing fleets of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery, rotorcraft, and rockets.   For the Air Force, it is reaching an economic rate of F-35 production as soon as possible.   For the Navy, it is all about the numbers of Virginia-class SSNs, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Ford-class aircraft carriers, LX(R) amphibious warfare ships, and small combatants (Littoral Combat Ship or new Small Surface Combatant).  Without question, a military buildup will require lots of dollars for defense.

But unless the industrial base is prepared to accelerate production, all the money in the world will not produce the desired results.

Source: RealClearDefense

Do we have the industrial base?  U.S. military power depends on U.S. high-tech manufacturing, and the U.S. manufacturing base is declining and dependent on foreign imports.   The U.S. depends on China and other foreign countries for many key electronic components.  The U.S. depends on imports even for basic raw materials such as steel.

We have had two contradictory policies—a industrial policy that accepts U.S. dependence on global supply chains, and a military interventionist policy that depends on U.S. technological superiority.

This contradiction did not originate with President Trump, but it is now his responsibility to deal with it.

High tariffs on imports, as proposed by Trump, won’t solve this problem—at least not overnight.   The hollowing out of the U.S. manufacturing base has been going on for years, and rebuilding it won’t be accomplished overnight.

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Flowers that bloom in the spring

May 13, 2017

These time-lapse photos were taken by Jamie Scott over a period of three years.  The background music is an original composition by Jim Perkins.   I found this video on the Colossal and kottke.org web sites.

A hypothetical question

May 11, 2017

Suppose Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.   Do you think James Comey would have kept his job as director of the FBI?

The real reason James Comey was fired

May 11, 2017

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The official reason given by President Donald Trump for the firing of FBI Director James Comey was his mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information—a reason which, as I wrote in the previous post, was justified.

But most people take his real motive to be that fact that Comey is pressing forward with his investigation of ties of Trump and his supporters with Russia and Russians.

You can see this in Trump’s firing letter.  He wrote: While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless …

What would come logically after “I nevertheless…”?   Probably something like this: I nevertheless am under a cloud because of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible connections of my people with Russia.

Of course he wouldn’t and didn’t write this, but why mention the investigation at all if that wasn’t what was on his mind?

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Why James Comey should have been fired

May 10, 2017

The stated reason for President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is that Comey bungled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton.

This is true.  Comey did bungle the investigation.

Comey’s FBI also is investigating possible Trump-Russia ties, and his firing smacks of President Nixon’s Saturday night massacre during the Watergate investigation.

James Comey

But the thing is, Comey is just as unfit as Trump says he is.

Trump said he acted on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Rosenstein said Comey acted improperly last July by announcing the FBI had decided Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted for having classified information on her private e-mail server.  Sessions said he agreed with Rosenstein.

Comey’s troubles began last June when ex-President Bill Clinton and Attorney-General Loretta Lynch spent an hour in conversation at an Arizona airport.   They were suspected of discussing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, especially when Hillary Clinton, a short time later, said that, if elected, she would reappoint Lynch.

Soon thereafter Lynch said she would abide by the recommendations of the FBI and federal prosecutors, no matter what they were.   Comey evidently took this as a green light to announce the results of his investigation, which was a departure from standard FBI practice.

His worse blunder came shortly before the election when he reported he had discovered new Clinton e-mails on the server of her aide, Huma Abedin.  Although he later said this didn’t amount to anything, the negative publicity may have been a deciding factor in the election.

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Establishment’s Macron wins the French election

May 8, 2017

Emmanuel Macron, elected President of France yesterday with two-thirds of the vote, is a product of that country’s educational and financial establishment.

He will have an opportunity in the next five years to vindicate the establishment, by showing that it is possible to turn around the economy without changing France’s political or economic structure or withdrawing from the European Union.

Emmanuel Macron

I don’t expect that to happen.   First, he has not yet consolidated his power.  As President, he will be in charge of French foreign and military policy.    Domestic policy will be the responsibility of the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly will be elected June 11 and 18.   If Macron’s newly formed En Marche (On the Move) movement wins a majority, his power will be complete.   If not, the National Assembly may force him to accept a Prime Minister of a different party.

The President is something like a corporation’s chief executive officer and the Prime Minister is something like its chief operating officer.   If the CEO and COO were not in agreement and the CEO couldn’t remove him, then the CEO does not have the full powers of a CEO

Second, even if Macron’s power is complete, what solutions does he have to offer?   He campaigned on the basis of generalities and a winning personality, much like Barack Obama in the USA in 2008 and Justin Trudeau in Canada in 2015.

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The art of balance

May 6, 2017

Korean performance artist Nam Seok Byun, also known as Rocky Byun, uses common objects, the force of gravity and his sense of balance to create amazing works of art.

He says anybody can balance a single object on a single point because everything has a center of gravity.  But to balance multiple objects—that takes skill, practice and concentration.  Hat tip to Great Big Story.

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Survivorship bias

May 5, 2017

Source: xkcd

Click on XKCD for more cartoons and drawings by Randall Munroe.

Donald Trump, a walking conflict of interest

May 3, 2017

I doubt if Donald Trump could get through a single day, certainly not a single week, without being involved in a conflict of interest.

The Atlantic magazine has drawn up a list of 39 issues (and counting) in which decisions by President Trump will affect the profitability of the Trump Organization.

Maybe the biggest one is the federal investigation of the Deutsche Bank, which holds $300 million in IOUs from the Trump Organization.

U.S. banks wouldn’t give Trump credit after he defaulted on debt when his Atlantic City casinos declared bankruptcy, so he turned to the Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of  laundering money for Russian mobsters.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said he will continue this investigation impartially.  We’ll see,

The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service have been conducting investigations as to whether the Trump Organization violated labor law and tax law.   Will these investigations continue?  We’ll see.

The Trump Organization’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration for the Trump International Hotel property contains a provision that no elected official will be part of the lease.  But the GSA has ruled this doesn’t apply to Trump because he’s no longer officially head of the business.  An impartial decision?  Maybe.

Trump’s business is involved in business deals with politicians and close relatives of politicians in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Dubai and Argentina.  Will Trump, if necessary, make decisions that threaten those relationships?  We’ll see.

And then there are daughter Ivanka’s women’s fashion business and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate businesses.

Never even mind the penny-ante stuff—Donald Trump charging the Secret Service for use of Trump facilities while they guard him and his families.

Any of these conflict would be highly controversial as a stand-alone issue.  The problem is that there are so many issues it is impossible to remember any one of them.

The problem is that there is hardly any decision that Trump or his appointees can make—whether in foreign policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy or consumer protection—that will not in some way affect the profitability of the Trump businesses.

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Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking fee

May 3, 2017

There are two ways of looking at the $400,000 speaking fee that ex-President Barack Obama will receive from the Wall Street brokerage firm of Cantor Fitzgerald for speaking at a health care investment conference.

One is that a public official who governed in the interests of Wall Street and the health insurance industry is receiving a big bag of money from a Wall Street firm with major investments in the health insurance industry.

The other is that Obama is merely doing what all but one of the ex-Presidents from Gerald Ford onward have done, which is to use speaking fees cash in on his celebrity status.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s speaking fees were a special case because Hillary Clinton was a future Presidential candidate.   Hillary’s $675,000 in Goldman Sachs speaking fees could be interpreted as payments not only for services rendered, but for services anticipated.   That suspicion was reinforced by Clinton’s refusal to release the texts of her talks.

I imagine that Barack Obama will have sense enough to watch his words enough to be able to release the text of his Cantor Fitzgerald talk without embarrassment.

Obama is not doing anything unusual.  All but one of the Presidents from Gerald Ford through George W. Bush cashed in with big speaking fees after they left office.

This is the new normal.  In this neoliberal age, an ex-President such as Harry Truman or Jimmy Carter who refused to monetize the office of the Presidency would seem quaint and strange.

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Wall Street versus the American worker

May 1, 2017

American Airlines agreed this week to do something nice for its employees and arguably foresighted for its business by giving flight attendants and pilots a preemptive raise, in order to close a gap that had opened up between their compensation and the compensation paid by rival airlines Delta and United.

Wall Street freaked out, sending American shares plummeting. After all, this is capitalism and the capital owners are supposed to reap the rewards of business success.

“This is frustrating.  Labor is being paid first again,” wrote Citi analyst Kevin Crissey in a widely circulated note. “Shareholders get leftovers.”

Indeed, major financial players were so outraged by American’s decision to pay higher wages that they punished airline stocks across the board.  American itself took it hardest on the chin, of course, but the consensus among stock analysts was that higher pay at American could signal higher pay at other airlines too, with negative consequences for the overall industry.

Source: Matthrew Yglesias -Vox

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