Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

Donald Trump’s real Russian connections

March 18, 2017

If you were looking for links between Donald Trump and Russia, you’d be more likely to find them by investigating Trump’s sleazy business dealings than his 2016 election campaign.

His connections with racketeers in the construction business in New York City and in casino gambling in Atlantic City, N.J., were well-known before the election, so it wouldn’t be surprising that he would have dealings with Russian racketeers and oligarchs as well.

I don’t claim—and none of the writers of the linked articles below claim—that there is proof that Donald Trump broke any specific law.   The significance of his associations and business deals are as evidence by which the public can judge his character.  Of course we voters had plenty of evidence about his character before the 2016 election.

I think it’s possible that Trump’s views about Russia prior to the election were influenced by his Russian cronies.   I favor an impartial investigation into whether Trump had any improper ties with Russia.

But I also think this investigation would be pretty much a footnote to what is going on now.  We don’t have to speculate about what Trump’s policy toward Russia will be.  We see it in action.  Trump caved in to the anti-Russia war hawks.  Regardless of what Trump’s motives may or may not be, this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

LINKS

The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections by James S. Henry for The American Interest.

Did Russian Oligarch Rybolovlev Bailout Trump? an interview of James S. Henry for the Real News Network.   (Hat tip to O)

The Florida mansion that Donald Trump sold to a Russian billionaire now torn down by Glen Garvin for McClatchy newspapers.

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal by Adam Davidson for The New Yorker.

How Did an Alleged Russian Mobster End Up on Trump’s Red Carpet? by David Corn and Hannah Levintova for Mother Jones.

Siberian tigers hunt and capture drone

March 11, 2017

Click on boing boing for details.

Super-rich get ready for collapse of civilization

January 25, 2017

Some American hedge fund managers and Silicon Valley billionaires are preparing refuges so they have places to flee in the event of a revolution or economic collapse.

Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker, said they call this “apocalypse insurance.”

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me.

New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.  Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”

I asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad.  “I would guess fifty-plus percent,” he said, “but that’s parallel with the decision to buy a vacation home.  Human motivation is complex, and I think people can say, ‘I now have a safety blanket for this thing that scares me.’ ”

The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.)

“I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy?  Is it going to turn against technological innovation?  Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”

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The secret of Big Ben

January 21, 2017

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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The CIA and FBI in the 2016 election

December 15, 2016

During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.

CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton.  As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.

cia-logoAnd, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.

President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008.  And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.

Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.

I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion.   Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.

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Can Trump make U.S. industry great again?

December 1, 2016

Donald Trump in his campaign promised to reverse the decline of American manufacturing.

Can he do it?  I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but I don’t think so.

President-elect Trump’s proposed economic policies are the same as what most Republicans and many Democrats have been advocating for 30 years or more—lower taxes, less regulation, fewer public services.

None of these things has stopped the increase in U.S. trade deficits or the increase in economic insecurity of American workers.

Trump did speak against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, promised to renegotiate other trade agreements and threatened to impose punishing tariffs on China and Mexico in retaliation for their unfair trade policies.

I myself am in favor of rejecting the TPP and renegotiating trade treaties.  This would be a step forward.  But it would take more than this to rebuild the hollowed-out U.S. manufacturing economy.

China, Japan, South Korea and most nations with flourishing industrial economies use trade policy as a means of strengthening their economies.

Their leaders, like Alexander Hamilton in the early days of the United States, seek to build up their nations’ “infant industries” under those industries are strong enough to stand on their own feet.

When foreign companies seek to sell these nations their products, their governments demand that the foreign companies not only set up factories in their countries, but that they employ native workers and transfer their industrial know-how to the host countries.  The USA does nothing like this.

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The need for “faithful” Electors

November 23, 2016

I got an e-mail the other day asking me to sign a petition to members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to switch their votes to Hillary Clinton.

This is theoretically possible.  “Faithless” electors have violated their pledges in previous elections.

161101154244-electoral-college-explainer-animation-orig-00002708-exlarge-169But trying to overturn Trump’s election in the Electoral College would set a terrible precedent.  It is a bad and dangerous thing even to attempt.

If I were a Trump voter in a red state, I would be furious at the idea of my vote being set aside by somebody I probably hadn’t even heard of.

It would mean that, in the future, voting would not necessarily decide the Presidential election.  The vote would be followed by an attempt to persuade, threaten or bribe the Electors into going against the wishes of the voters.

Democracy is possible only when the results of elections are regarded as legitimate, and a peaceful transfer for power is taken for granted.

When elections are not regarded as legitimate, the basis of power is armed force.  And in general the Trump supporters are better armed and better trained in the use of weapons than the Clinton supporters.

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The toast of Stephen Decatur

November 11, 2016

Our country, in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (authentic version)

Our country, may she always be in the right!
But right or wrong, our country!
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (commonly quoted version)

My country, right or wrong!
If right, to be kept right.
If wrong, to be set right
`    ==Carl Schurz

“My country, right or wrong” is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.  It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
    ==G.K. Chesterton

Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur

Until I looked it up, I thought the toast of Stephen Decatur was, “Our country, may it always be in the right, but right or wrong—our country!”

I could raise a glass to that toast.   My country, right or wrong, is still my country.  This doesn’t mean I have to go along when my country is in the wrong.  It does mean that whatever America’s crimes and follies, I am part of it, and it is part of me.

But “always successful” in war and diplomacy?  That is impossible, either for an individual or a nation, and, furthermore, some kinds of success are not good, either for a nation or for an individual.

Love of country should be like love of family.  Too many people think love of country is like love of God.

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A Muslim veteran against Islamophobia

November 11, 2016

Nate Terani is a Muslim, the grandson of Iranian immigrants and a U.S. Navy veteran.  He also is a member of a new organization called Veterans Challenge Islamophobia.

He grew up in central New Jersey, but, in 1985, the eight-year-old Terani was taken on a visit with his family to his ancestral homeland.  While there, he was enrolled in a special bilingual school for children who had grown up in Western countries.

One day soldiers, in green and black uniforms, broke into the classroom, dragged the children into a courtyard and ordered them to watch the flags of their home countries being set on fire.

Nate Terani in his Navy days

Nate Terani in his Navy days

The children were ordered at gunpoint to trample on the burning flags and shout, “Death to America.”

Instead Terani snatched a burning American flag off the ground and darted through the legs of the watching crowd before the soldiers could catch him.

His experience reinforced his love of country and gave him a new understanding of the evil of religious hatred.

In 1996, at age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.   He must have been an outstanding recruit.  He reported that he was the first Muslim-American member of the Navy Presidential Honor Guard.

In 1998, he became special assistant to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and, in 1999, he was recruited to serve in the Defense Intelligence Agency.   He transferred to the Navy Reserve in 2000 and completed his military service in 2006.

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A choice of evils: links November 5, 2016

November 5, 2016

Trumponomics, Taxes and the American Worker by David Cay Johnston for the Washington Spectator.

It Didn’t Have to Be Hillary by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.

The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters by Greg Palast for Rolling Stone.

Barrel Bomb: the Cataclysmic Close of Campaign 2016 by Chris Floyd for Empire Burlesque.

The Places Left Behind by Lily Geismer for Jacobin.  About the Clintons’ “New Markets” initiative.

Gary Johnson is a lesser evil

November 3, 2016

Above is a partial version of an interview with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate, on C-Span.   Click on this to see the full interview.  Click on this to see the C-Span interview with Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

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Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President, is a likeable individual, and I believe he is an honest one.

He meets the two most important of my three litmus tests for a Presidential candidate.   I don’t believe he would start wars and I think he would respect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  If he were the only opponent of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would vote for him.

But he doesn’t meet my third criterion, which is to set limits on corporate power and end the growing concentration of American wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of bankers, corporate executives and holders of financial assets.

He opposes the minimum wage at any level.

He would replace the income tax and all other taxes with a consumption tax, which would shift the burden of taxation away from the wealthy and onto the shoulders of the middle class.

He is the only one of the four candidates who openly supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  The TPP and similar agreements, in the guise of promoting free trade, limit the power of sovereign governments to regulate foreign corporations.

While he recognizes the reality of global climate change, he thinks intelligent consumer choice would be sufficient to counteract it, and opposes governmental action.

He agrees with the Citizens United decision on campaign financing, and opposes any limits on campaign spending or contributions.

As Governor of New Mexico, he favored private prisons and privatizing public education.

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The case for Jill Stein and the Green Party

November 3, 2016

Unlike Donald Trump or Gary Johnson, Jill Stein has a grasp of the issues and gives substantive answers to questions.  Unlike with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, there is reason to believe that she means what she says.

Unlike Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein can be counted on not to risk nuclear war with Russia or to continue wars to dominate the Middle East.    Unlike even Bernie Sanders, she has a clear understanding of the costs and wrongness of U.S. military intervention.

Unlike Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein can be counted on to respect the Bill of Rights.  That means no assassinations, preventive detention or warrant-less surveillance.   It’s true that the NSA, CIA and other secret agencies might resist any effort by Stein or any other U..S. President to curb their power, but a start has to be made somewhere.

Unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson, Jill Stein can be counted on to oppose corporate and financial practices that redistribute income upward.

Alone of all the candidates, she takes the threat of global warming seriously and would give priority to moving the United States to a sustainable, carbon-free economy.

Her proposed “Green New Deal” would be an effective means of putting Americans to work doing things that America needs.

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Kittens in mid-pounce

October 29, 2016

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These photographs are from the Pounce portfolio of Seth Casteel.

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17 things that come out of a barrel of crude

October 3, 2016

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Hat tips to Barry Ritholtz, Visual Capitalist and JWN Energy

I think that we the human race have to learn to stop burning oil for fuel because we’re at risk of overheating the planet.  But another reason is that petroleum is such an amazing and versatile substance that it seems a waste to just burn it.

A giant statue of Chinese warrior hero Guan Yu

September 24, 2016

giant-war-god-statue-general-guan-yu-sculpture-china-9

This 190-foot tall, 1,450-ton [*] statue represents Guan Yu, a heroic general and warrior who lived during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).   His famous Green Crescent Dragon Blade weighs 150 tons [*].  For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 111 feet tall and weighs 225 tons.

Guan Yu was so fierce and righteous that he is worshiped as a god.  This statue, one of many in China, was erected last summer in the Chinese city of Jingzhou in Hubei province.  There is an even larger statue, 292 feet high, in his home town of Changping in Shanxi province.

He was a character in the famous Chinese historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which became the basis of many a Chinese movie and video game and is said to be one of the favorite reading of Mao Zedong.

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The passing scene: Deplorables, debt and Osama

September 21, 2016

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand White People by Jason Johnson for The Root.

Progressives Are Targets of Hillary’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Speech by John V. Wash for Counterpunch.

Donald Trump tries to reassure supporters they’re not really racist.   Hillary Clinton tries to reassure supporters it’s okay to be elitist.

The Coming European Debt Wars by Michael Hudson for Defend Democracy Press.

The European Union is in crisis because it insists on repayment of debts that are too great to ever be repaid.

An Anniversary of Shame by Michael Hirsch for POLITICO.

Some in the CIA say the “war on terror” could have been won in six months if the U.S. government had not given “regime change” priority over capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

Everybody needs a hug

September 17, 2016

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Hat tip for these to Elizabeth Mummert and Joyce Mummert Ireland.

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How neoliberalism feeds political correctness

September 14, 2016

Maximillian Alvarez, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, wrote in the current issue of The Baffler that the real driver behind “political correctness” on American university campuses is the neoliberal idea that students are customers, and that the job of the university is to give the customers what they want.

education-in-liberal-artsThe traditional idea of the university was that the professors were the custodians of knowledge, that their job was to impart knowledge and wisdom to students and that their work should be judged by their peers.

The neoliberal idea of the university is that professors are vendors and students are customers, and that the measure of a university’s success is the ability to maximize enrollment and tuition.

Alvarez wrote that the conflict over “political correctness” is a conflict over which of the university’s customers are more important—the students and parents, or the wealthy donors.  (In the case of public colleges and universities, there is a third customer—the businesses that depend on public institutions to provide vocational training.}

Here’s what Alvarez had to say:

When professors today say they fear their students, they’re really saying that they’re afraid their students’ reviews and complaints will get them fired.

What professors fear are the changing administrative policies that have pinned the fate of their job security to the same unstable consumer logic behind Yelp reviews and the reputation economy.

The image of the wise, hard-nosed professor who upends her students’ assumptions about the world, who provokes and guides heated debates in class about subjects that may offend as much as they enlighten, rests on a whole host of factors that no longer enter into the crabbed, anxiety-driven working life of the casually employed academic.

Nor do such factors typically emerge in our debates about political correctness at universities.

Three in particular are worth highlighting.

First, tenure for faculty is disappearing—and along with it the sort of job security that once made university teaching an attractive long-term career.

Now the lion’s share of college teaching jobs goes to part-time (adjunct) instructors and non-tenure-track faculty.

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The world’s hardest languages

September 7, 2016

I got these video links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack, who actually speaks some of these languages fluently.

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Donald Trump’s sleazy business record

September 4, 2016

87aa7546_donald-80s[This was originally posted July 13, 2016.  Links added since then are in italics.]

Candidates for political office can be better understood by their records than by their rhetoric.

Donald Trump has never held public office, but his record as a business owner and promoter tells what to expect from him if he ever does.

His record is one of success through use of political influence, and at the expense of investors and customers who believe his claims.

I’ve compiled links to articles about Trump’s business record.   They should be a good warning to voters who think Trump’s business success qualifies him for high political office, or who think that Trump can be trusted to act in their interests.

Probably there are links to more articles than you, as a busy person, have time to click on.  I recommend that you skim the headlines to get a general idea, and click on whatever seems interesting to you.  I particularly recommend the articles by David Cay Johnson, who has been following Trump for many years.  Or, if you have time to read only one a couple, read the following:

Trumpology: A Master Class, a group interview of Trump biographers Wayne Barrett, Michael D’Antonio, Harry Hurt III, Gwenda Blair and Timothy L. O’Brien by Susan B. Glasser and Michael Kruse for POLITICO magazine.

‘The Making of Donald Trump’: David Cay Johnston on Trump’s Ties to the Mob and & Drug Traffickers, an interview by Amy Goodman for Democracy Now.

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More about the Clinton Foundation

August 30, 2016

To do good is noble. To teach others to do good is nobler, and less work.           ==Mark Twain

clintonfoundation.cf-logo-bigMost of the controversy over the Clinton Foundation is whether Hillary Clinton ever used her political position to so anybody a favor because that person made a donation to the foundation.

I think this would be hard to prove, unless I had the power to read Clinton’s mind and the minds of her donors.

I myself don’t think that Clinton or the foundation ever took a specific cash payment for a specific favor rendered.   The gifts, like Clinton’s Wall Street speaking fees, are just a way in which the world’s rich and powerful solidify their relationships.

What Amy Sterling Casil and other investigators have shown is how little the world’s poor and needy have benefited from all this.

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What does the Clinton Foundation actually do?

August 24, 2016

Amy Sterling Casil wrote an excellent series of articles for Medium about what the Clinton Foundation, which takes in as much money as the March of Dimes, actually spends its money on.

There is a lot to dig through, but, in summary, she described the foundation’s business model as follows:

  • clintonfoundation.cf-logo-bigTake in as much money as possible, by whatever means.
  • Expend as little money as possible on anything other than what the Principals want to spend money on, typically self-promotion and world travel.
  • Take credit for stuff somebody told you they do.  Avoid expending funds on any outside activities.

Source: Amy Sterling Casil — Medium

Charity Navigator, an organization that rates the effectiveness of charities, does not rate the Clinton Foundation because of lack of information.   Casil contrasted it to the Carter Foundation, which does good work and is scrupulously documented.

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USA is on the brink of …… something

August 19, 2016

A blogger named Fred Reed sees parallels between the United States today and France on the eve of the French Revolution.

I know three young women of exceptional intelligence and talent, all of them mature and disciplined.  They cannot find jobs.  It is not from lack of trying, far from it.  One of them is married to a hard-working man in a highly technical field usually associated with wealth.  He is paid a low hourly wage and forced to work on contract, meaning that he has neither benefits nor retirement.  His employers know that if he leaves, they can easily find another to take his place. They have him where they want him.

[snip]  In numbers that a half century ago would have seemed impossible, the American young live with their parents, being unable to find jobs to support themselves.  Waitressing in a good bar pays better in tips than a woman with a college degree can otherwise earn, assuming that she can earn anything at all.  Employers having learned to hire them as individual contractors, they move into their thirties with no hope of a pension for their old age.

Desperation and hatred are close cousins.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon makes spaceships and buys the Washington Post as a toy and the newspapers have reported that a Croesus of Wall Street has bought a Modigliani, it may have been, for $55 million dollars.

[snip]. The homeless in San Francisco are now described as “a plague.”  There seem to be ever more of them.  But not to worry.  Never worry.  The stock market remains exuberant.  In nearby Silicon Valley, a man buys a new Lamborghini every year.

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Funny signs at the Los Angeles Zoo

July 30, 2016

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A prankster named Jeff Wysaski left these fake “animal facts” all over the Los Angeles Zoo.

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