Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

North Korea: totalitarianism in action

September 19, 2017

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects’ every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The “you” was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the “us” is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

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Uzbekistan’s cotton picked by forced labor

September 15, 2017

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and a crossroads of China’s so-called New Silk Roads—railroads and pipelines uniting the heartland of Asia and Europe.

This Human Rights Watch documentary shows how the Uzbek government uses forced labor and child labor in its cotton fields.

Students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private sector employees and sometimes children were ordered into the fields to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, HRW reported; they also were forced to plant cotton and weed fields early in 2016.

The World Bank has invested $500 million in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   Supposedly it should withdraw the money if Uzbekistan uses child labor or forced labor, but HRW says this is not enforced.

The coming collapse of U.S. power

August 17, 2017

The United States is the world’s dominant superpower.   This is not sustainable.    I believe the collapse is likely to come suddenly, like the fall of the Soviet Union.

American geopolitical dominance is based on:

  1.  A world-wide network of military bases that give it the power to use military force in remote parts of the world.
  2.   Covert action agencies that work to subvert governments that resist U.S. power.
  3.   The dollar as the world’s medium of exchange, which gives the U.S. the power to control the world’s banking system.

The material basis for this dominance was U.S. industrial power, which once was supreme, but no longer is.

U.S. government is dominated by two factions with contradictory policies.   One is what I call the neoconservatives, who think the United States can make itself secure by crushing any nation that resists U.S. dominance.   The other is what I call the neoliberals, who think the United States can make itself prosperous by subordinating policy to the needs of U.S. corporations.

The problem is that executives of the largest U.S. corporations think of the world in global terms, not national terms.   They don’t regard themselves as responsible for maintaining U.S. geopolitical and military power.   Neoliberalism saps national economic strength that neoconservatives count on to support military intervention.

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Wealth, risk, and power

August 9, 2017

This is from a Twitter thread by Theresa Nielsen-Hayden.

1.  The rich don’t need federal health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2.  The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3.   Social Security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery.  Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4.  Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5.  Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6.  Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7.  Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8.  Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9.  There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10.  Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11.  Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12.  I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks.  I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13.  They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14.  We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share.  They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15.  Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced.  Always.  Because winning.

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Donald Trump is wrecking government, legally

August 7, 2017

President Donald J. Trump in just six months has done permanent damage to the working of the federal government.   It is not just that his policies are mostly bad.   It is that, due to incompetence and contempt for government, he is destroying the ability of government to function.

The trouble is that his wrecking is fully within his legal and Constitutional powers as President, while  the illegal and unconstitutional actions of which he is accused are either unproven and / or have precedent in the Bush and Obama administrations.

LINKS

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.   Short version by Rod Dreher.

How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department by Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce and Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy.  Short version by Daniel Larison.

What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert It? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Trump Is Guilty, of Something by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.   But what?

Don’t underestimate Trump’s power to do harm

July 28, 2017

Because Donald Trump seems so undisciplined and ignorant, I continually underestimate his effectiveness.

I didn’t think he would be nominated.   I didn’t think he would be elected.   And sometimes I fool myself into thinking it is better to have Trump in the White House than somebody with the same agenda, but more competent.

This is a mistake.   In order to do good, you need not only good will, but intelligence and hard work, but that in order to do harm, all you need is malice.

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>>>Donald Trump has left many key positions in government unfilled, but is moving forward at a rapid pace to nominate federal judges and U.S. attorneys.   The judges will be in office possibly decades after Trump is gone.   District judges and appeals court judges are almost as important as Supreme Court justices because most cases don’t reach the highest court.

Many of Trump’s executive orders have been blocked by court rulings.   Putting his own people on the bench lessens the likelihood that this will happen.

The bulk of his nominations have been in states represented by Republicans.   Customs of the Senate allow a Senator to block a judgeship nomination.   Concentrating on Republican states is smart because it means he can get a lot of his people approved before turning to the Democratic states.

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Can Trump pardon himself? Notes on Russiagate

July 25, 2017

Donald Trump is said to have asked his lawyers for their opinion on whether he has the power to pardon himself.

The parts of the Constitution relative to pardons are:

Article 2, Section 2. The President … shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Article 2, Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article 1, Section 3. … Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust of Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

What I take this to mean is that the Founders never thought about the possibility of a President pardoning himself.  It’s a settled principle of law that no-one should be judge in their own case, but I’m not bold enough to say how the courts would decide this issue.

If President Trump had the authority to pardon himself, could he literally stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot someone and then pardon himself for the crime of homicide?

No.   The pardon power extends only to federal crimes.   In this thought experiment, he could still be prosecuted under New York state law.

The pardon power does not extend to impeachment, but the only penalty under impeachment is removal from office.

For all practical purposes, there is no way to hold a criminal President accountable except through the impeachment process.

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The vested interests in organizational stupidity

July 12, 2017

Supposedly we Americans live in a “knowledge economy,” in which the source of wealth is neither financial capital, physical plants or natural resources, but the knowledge, expertise and intelligence of individual human beings.   We have a whole industry called “information technology.”

But although employers require ever-higher levels of academic credentials, this is not reflected in the work itself.   College graduates wind up doing work that high school graduates once did, and high school graduates do work that school dropouts once did.

In the early 20th century, businesses adopted a practice called Taylorism—resolving factory work into the simplest, most basic, mindless human motions.  Now we have McDonaldization—resolving service work into the following of simple checklists.

Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer, in their 2016 book, THE STUPIDITY PARADOX: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, attribute this to the tendency of organizations to suppress critical thinking because of their need for obedience to orders and smooth internal functioning.

What they write is true as far as it goes, but organizational stupidity is more than a simple mistake in setting priorities.   Organizational stupidity is maintained by powerful vested interests.

Knowledge Is Power

Knowledge is power.  If I am a supervisor and my subordinate is more knowledgeable and competent than I am, that diminishes my power.   What college graduate, fresh out of business school, wants to be contradicted by some grouchy old skilled craftsman, who has less schooling but may know more than he does?

Harry Braverman, in Labor and Monopoly Power and David Noble, in America by Design and Forces of Production, described the de-skilling of the American work force and the development of technologies devoted to increasing command and control by management rather than increasing productivity as such.

The more knowledgeable and skilled a worker is, the more power the worker has in relation to the employer, both as an individual and as a member of a labor union.   So knowledge and skills aren’t necessarily wanted except where they are indispensable.

A friend of mine who went back to school in mid-life to get an advanced degree in his specialty discovered that employers did not want his new skills.  What they wanted, he said, was “a jack of all trades who would work cheap.”   Employers see more benefit in having replaceable workers than in having  productive workers.

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Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.

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Monopoly power on the feudal Internet

June 21, 2017

Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and software entrepreneur in San Francisco, spoke at a conference in Berlin last May about monopoly power on the Internet: –

There are five Internet companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.  Together they have a market capitalization just under 3 trillion dollars.

Bruce Schneier has called this arrangement the feudal Internet.  Part of this concentration is due to network effects, but a lot of it is driven by the problem of security.  If you want to work online with any measure of convenience and safety, you must choose a feudal lord who is big enough to protect you.

Maciej Ceglowski

These five companies compete and coexist in complex ways.

Apple and Google have a duopoly in smartphone operating systems.  Android has 82% of the handset market, iOS has 18%.

Google and Facebook are on their way to a duopoly in online advertising.  Over half of the revenue in that lucrative ($70B+) industry goes to them, and the two companies between them are capturing all of the growth (16% a year).

Apple and Microsoft have a duopoly in desktop operating systems.  The balance is something like nine to one in favor of Windows, not counting the three or four people who use Linux on the desktop, all of whom are probably at this conference.

Three companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dominate cloud computing. AWS has 57% adoption, Azure has 34%. Google has 15%.

Outside of China and Russia, Facebook and LinkedIn are the only social networks at scale.  LinkedIn has been able to survive by selling itself to Microsoft.

And outside of Russia and China, Google is the world’s search engine.

That is the state of the feudal Internet, leaving aside the court jester, Twitter, who plays an important but ancillary role as a kind of worldwide chat room.  [1]

There is a difference between the giant Silicon Valley companies and Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the big Wall Street banks.   The Silicon Valley companies have created value.  The Wall Street banks, by and large, have destroyed wealth.

I depend on Google; I found Ceglowski’s talk through Google Search.   I use Apple products; I’m typing this post on my i-Mac.  I don’t use Facebook or Windows, but many of my friends do.  I try to avoid ordering books through Amazon, because I disapprove of the way Jeff Bezos treats Amazon employees and small book publishers, but I use subscribe to Amazon Prime.

I don’t deny the achievements of the founders of these companies, nor begrudge them wealth and honor.  But I do not think that they or their successors have the right to rule over me, and that’s what their monopoly power gives them.

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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 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.

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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Your life on the Internet is an open book

March 28, 2017

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How Google Tracks You—And What You Can Do About It by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.

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Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere

March 7, 2017

During the election campaign, I wrote that Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President of the United States.  Nothing since then has changed my mind.

But it is not as if Trump overturned a well-functioning system.   The United States was already committed to perpetual war and rule by Wall Street.

My friend Bill Elwell called my attention to an article by Tom Engelhardt, who wrote in part:

Odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics and governance. 

In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. 

Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business and Congress (in that descending order).  […]

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What did Michael Flynn do that was so bad?

February 15, 2017

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after the FBI or NSA revealed that he talked to the Russian ambassador about economic sanctions prior to President Trump being sworn in.

Michael T. Flynn

Michael T. Flynn

He reportedly asked the Russian ambassador to ask his government hold back on retaliating against President Obama’s economic sanctions because the Trump administration would have a new policy.

President Obama’s actions, taken during his lame-duck period, could have put Russia and the USA on a path of tit-for-tat retaliation that would have made it harder from the Trump administration to improve U.S.-Russian relations later on.

De-escalating was a good thing, not a bad thing.

∞∞∞

I agree that General Flynn was not a good choice for the post of national security adviser.  He was evidently a brave and honorable commander in the field, but he did not function well at headquarters, for which reason he was fired by President Barack Obama as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

He thinks the West is in a war with the whole Islamic world, not just the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and their sympathizers.   He is a war hawk regarding Iran.  He would have been likely to get the United States into pointless wars—just not a pointless war with Russia.

I would consider his departure, in and of itself, a good thing, but for the fact that he will almost certainly be replaced by someone else just as bad or maybe worse.

The problem is that he was forced out for (1) trying to stop the slide toward military confrontation with Russia, and that the forcing out was done (2) by intelligence agencies with policy agendas different from the White House.

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When the United States rigged Russia’s election

February 14, 2017

Twenty years ago, the U.S. government intervened in Russia’s election to put Boris Yeltsin in power.

Mark Ames, editor of the English-language eXile magazine in Moscow in the 1990s, explained all this in an interview with Abby Martin for The Empire Files.

He told how the Clinton administration managed his election campaign, and the International Monetary Fund pumped money into Russia to keep the Russian government going.

With the guidance of economists from Harvard University, Yeltsin sold off Russia’s national assets to foreign corporations and Russian individuals who became the oligarchs who dominate Russia today.   With U.S. approval, he shut down the Russian parliament and concentrated power in his own hands.   Independent journalists were murdered.   Oligarchs took over the independent press.

The Russian people were reduced to a state of misery not seen since Stalin’s rule in the 1930s.  The death rate soared and the birth rate fell.  Eventually even the Russian stock market crashed.

Source: The Diplomat

Source: The Diplomat

Vladimir Putin was Yeltsin’s right-hand man.   The U.S. government accepted him as a reliable successor to Yeltsin.  But when Putin refused to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. turned against him.

I wrote in a previous post that Vladimir Putin is a killer.  But every abuse of power by Putin was made possible by Yeltsin.

Boris Yeltsin in fact was more of a killer than Putin, but the American government didn’t care because he was willing to subordinate Russia’s national interests to the interests of American and other foreign corporations.

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Donald Trump embraces Goldman Sachs

February 1, 2017

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During the election campaign, Donald Trump rightly denounced Hillary Clinton for her ties to Goldman Sachs, the predatory Wall Street banking firm, and especially the three $225,000 speaking fees she took for giving one-hour talks to that company.

Now Trump has put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of economic policy—Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman partner, as Secretary of the Treasury, and Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman, as his top economic adviser.

President Trump has put a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the great enemy of concentrated financial power, in his office.  But his appointments show that he will be a champion of the moneyed establishment.  Those who voted for him in hope he would be a friend to working people are going to be disappointed.

LINKS

The Goldman Sachs effect: How a bank conquered Washington by Nomi Prins for TomDispatch.

The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump’s White House by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Trump’s Muslim decree versus the rule of law

January 31, 2017

The noteworthy things about President Trump’s decree on Muslim immigration were how unnecessarily cruel it was, how incompetently it was drawn and how it caught everyone by surprise.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The other noteworthy thing was how mass protests against his decree pressured him to back down from one of the worst parts of it—the forbidding of Green card holders and other legal foreign residents from returning to the country if they are out of it.

I think these things will be hallmarks of his administration—that is, cruelty, stupidity and unpredictability, but also vulnerability to public opinion and public pressure.   Trump does not have the power of a dictator, although he would like to have it.

Even conservatives who strongly believe in keeping out unauthorized immigrants and immigrants from the Muslim world thought Trump handled this wrongly.

But the most dangerous trait that Trump revealed was unpredictability.

Being unpredictable is a strength when you’re fighting against adversaries, whether on the battlefield, the marketplace or an election campaign.  It also is a strength of a showman, which Trump most definitely is.

It is, however, a dangerous trait in the head of government of a great nation.   The most important defining characteristic of a free country is the rule of law.   People who live in a free country need to be able to know what the laws are, and to know that they are safe so long as they obey the law.

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Why Trump’s staff tells obvious lies

January 26, 2017

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What needs explaining is not why Donald Trump and his staff tell lies.   Many recent leaders have lied.

What needs explaining is why Trump and his staff tell obvious and easily disprovable lies, such as the claim that record numbers of people came to see his inauguration.

My own thought was that it served two purposes.  One was to confuse the issue, because most people don’t have the time or resources to check facts.   As long as you stick to what you’re saying and never back down, a certain number of people will believe you.

The other purpose was to distract the attention of the press from more serious issues.   The time spent by reporters in covering arguments over crowd sizes is time spent not covering things such as Trump’s infrastructure plan.

But economist Tyler Cowen has a more sinister explanation.

By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration.  That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command.  Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.

Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters.  If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid.  If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you.  That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.

Source: Tyler Cowen – Bloomberg View

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What to think of the Trump dossier?

January 17, 2017

When I first heard the news of the Watergate break-in back in 1972, I thought it absurd to think that the President of the United States would be personally involved in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee.

It didn’t make sense to me that President Nixon would take such a big risk for something so small.

Since then I have learned not to say that someone wouldn’t have done something because it wouldn’t make sense.  People do things that don’t make sense all the time.

Sadly, in the case of the secret dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged dealings with Russia, I can’t say that it doesn’t make sense.   It does make sense.   But there’s no independent evidence that the report is true, and good reason to question it.

I can well imagine Trump borrowing money from Russian financiers, and I can imagine people on Trump’s campaign team exchanging information with Russians.   Secret intelligence agents have a way of forming relationships with people they target, and getting people to exchange favors in a way that seems harmless at first until the targets find themselves in too deep to get out.

Also, Trump doesn’t care about norms of human behavior that restrain most people.

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Senator Schumer on the power of the deep state

January 5, 2017

The new leader of Democrats in the Senate says Donald Trump is being “really dumb” for picking a fight with intelligence officials, suggesting they have ways to strike back, after the president-elect speculated Tuesday that his “so-called” briefing about Russian cyberattacks had been delayed in order to build a case.

“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Tuesday evening on MSNBC after host Rachel Maddow informed him that intelligence sources told NBC news that the briefing had not been delayed. 

“So, even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this,” he added.

Source: Washington Examiner

Think about what Schumer said.   He said the Central Intelligence Agency is more powerful than the elected President of the United States, and the President is a fool to challenge the CIA.

Is this compatible with democracy?  with Constitutional government?

This is an example of the power of what’s been called the Deep State—interlocking institutions with power over public policy that are not accountable to the public.

Presumably President Obama was not such a “fool” as to take on the CIA, even if he disagreed with its conclusions.  This would explain a lot about his decisions on foreign and military policy.

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Donald Trump as the latest Hitler

January 2, 2017

For years, I’ve been listening to warnings of the threats of new Hitlers.

Back in the 1950s, Joe McCarthy supposedly was equivalent to Hitler.   Then George Wallace.   Richard Nixon.   Dick Cheney.  Now Donald Trump is the latest Hitler equivalent.

trump-hitler-2016-02-27-1456595899-9124929-trumphitler-thumbThe problem is that Donald Trump can refute his enemies by simply not behaving like Hitler.

He can run an administration that is more corrupt than the Harding or Grant administrations.  He can be the enemy of organized labor, civil rights, civil liberties and women’s rights.  He can destroy the social safety net.  He can make the government more plutocratic and militaristic than it already is.

But as long as he does not embark on genocide or world conquest, he meets the standard of not being equivalent to Hitler.

I don’t see night-and-day differences between Donald Trump and the mainstream of the Republican Party on most issues.  On some few but important issues, such as relations with Russia or pro-corporate trade treaties, I think Trump is better than either the Democratic or Republican established leadership.

If you’re a liberal or progressive activist, there are better uses of your time that reading up on the Weimar Republic or making checklists of the characteristics of fascism.

Telling people that Trump is equivalent to Hitler makes it easy for Trump because (1) it’s unconvincing and (2) it shifts the focus to historical parallels and away from Trump himself.

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Did the DNC leaks really affect the election?

December 17, 2016

I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.

150px-fsbBut it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.

And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.

The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome.  All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends.  If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.

Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks.  On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.

Where is the National Security Agency in all this?  All this is in the NSA area of expertise.  The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.

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That leaked CIA report on the Russian menace

December 16, 2016

CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou made a point about the New York Times and Washington Post reports on a secret CIA report on Russian hacking of Democratic campaign e-mails.

Oh, and by the way – the release of the CIA report, or information from the CIA report, is an act of espionage as defined by the Obama Justice Department: “Providing national security information to any person not entitled to receive it.”  I wonder who’s going to be charged with that leak.  Yeah, right.

Source: CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

I’ve often thought that the purpose of most government classification of information is to be able to leak secrets to favored people.