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Hey, Sal. This One's For You.

7 hours 49 min ago

For our friend, the Salamander. Here's your namesake, the biggest of them all.

The Best Weapon to Fight Right Wing Populism - Progressive Populism From the Left

8 hours 24 min ago

The era of Everyday Low Taxes, especially for corporations and the rich, has brought us low.

Why, in a piece on rightwing populism did I open with a line about taxes? It's because we have to get out from under ill-conceived tax policies that have fueled inequality and social unrest now being exploited by rightwing populists.

You can go from Reagan to Trump, from Thatcher to May, from Mulroney to Trudeau, and we're still living under this farcical myth of "trickle down" prosperity for all. We've been waiting for more than three decades for that to happen and it turns out that what we've had instead is a "trickle up" economy facilitated by a political caste in service to narrow interests at the expense of the public interest.

There's an old line about people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The political equivalent of that are politicians who fixate on GDP, Gross Domestic Production, as the yardstick to gauge their performance. It's all about growth with little to no regard for where that growth winds up, how it impacts society. Growth can be a double-edged sword, dangerous if it's wielded carelessly as it has been routinely in recent decades. We have deep wounds to our social cohesion to show for it.

Now right wingers - Erdogan, Orban, Wilders, Trump are examples - are exploiting the discontent to ride a wave of faux populism much as some pretty horrible people have in the past. They purport to empathize with Joe Lunchpail's problems, promise to bring back some golden era past, all the while consolidating ever more power.

In Trump's case he promises to bring back the good old days of the 60s, 70s and 80s America when the middle class prospered and flourished. Only he's lying. He's lying because his base of Gullibillies don't know any better. They're Gullibillies who need to believe and don't care if tells the truth.

How do I know Trump's lying about bringing back the good old days? That's easy. Take a look at those good old days and see what he would have to reinstate to bring them back. That would begin with heavy taxation of higher bracket incomes. That would demand taxation of high incomes and taxation of wealth just like America used to have back when the government had funds to pay for infrastructure projects, a social safety net and so on. Trump is not going to do that.

In the postwar era of prosperity, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, managed to reduce America's federal debt as a percentage of GDP until the election of Ronald Reagan. In just 8 years, Reagan transformed America from the world's largest creditor state to the world's largest debtor nation. The U.S. has never been the same since.

Bush/Cheney enacted two massive tax cuts for the rich and launched two protracted foreign wars. There wasn't money in the treasury for any of that. That funding had to be borrowed from foreign lenders. That is the reality of everyday low taxes, the blood oath of the neoliberal era.

Trump promises the Gullibillies that he'll bring back their offshored jobs. That's nonsense. Those jobs were first outsourced to Mexico and then moved to China. Now China can't compete for the low cost labour. Running shoes are now being produced in Ethiopia.

Nobel laureate economist and former World Bank chief economist, Joe Stiglitz, has written a very insightful piece in the latest Vanity Fair in which he unpacks Trump's economic fantasies.

Trump, it would seem, believes that we can go it alone, that we don’t need the cooperation of China or any other country, or that if we did, we could buy it when we need it. He believes that everything and everybody has a price—that when and if we need cooperation, we can buy it off the shelf. Like the real-estate developer that he is, everything is transactional.

While there is some debate about the extent to which Trump is a “successful businessman,” there is no successful country that is grounded on the principles—or the lack of principles—upon which he has grown his businesses. Economists believe that a successful economy is based on trust, backed up by the rule of law. His standard business practice has been to stiff his suppliers, knowing that recourse to courts is expensive. Of course, over the long term, honest suppliers know this, and refuse to deal. Less scrupulous vendors overcharge and cheat, taking advantage too of the imperfections in our judicial system. But there is no successful economy based on the Trump model.

Trump supporters who eagerly await the return of $40 per hour plus benefits jobs are going to come up empty. Those jobs aren't coming back, not unless America's workers accept Ethiopian wages. That door has been nailed shut not just by Third World wage rates but by automation, robotics. It's simply cheaper and more profitable to rely on expensive robots than to return to the labour market Trump's Gullibillies imagine.
Trump is selling faux populism. There are things he says he'll do but simply can't. The other things - things he can do - he won't. And as he comes up empty handed he'll find someone or something else to vilify. The Gullibillies have an insatiable appetite for vilification. That's why they're Trump's lawful prey.
Does that mean that there's no place for populism? Hardly. There is both a place and an urgent need, just not for right wing, faux populism. Now more than ever. But what is populism, progressive populism? It's more than a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage. It's a formula of principles on which to found a relationship between the state and the individual, the nation and its people. Some of these are ancient principles that trace back to the beginning, Athenian democracy.

As Stiglitz observes, Trump's farcical promise is grounded on a freewheeling, lack of principles which, by itself, dooms it to fail. Principles guide policy. Without essential principles policy becomes incoherent, contradictory, even self-defeating.
Progressive populism is founded on principles that where and as possible should be expressed in policy. There is no magic bullet. Policy has to reflect limits and changing circumstances just as it reflects opportunities. Policy should be the practical embodiment of principle.
There can be no exhaustive compendium of progressive principles. But there are a number of core principles, tested and proven over generations, even centuries. A number of them are restated in Teddy Roosevelt's "Square Deal" speech of 1910 and I think you will find them suitable to our world today.
1. Balancing the rights of Labour and Capital.

Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said: —

“I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.”

And again: —

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

2. Restraint of Special Interests and the Inequality These Interests Create

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Now, this means that our government, national and state, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. ...We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete —  For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.

3. Corporate Accountability and Regulation

We have come to recognize that franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public. It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.

I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.

4. Effective Progressive Taxation of Income and Wealth

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows.  ...It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

 No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective — a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

5. Conservation and Securing Posterity

Of conservation I shall speak more at length elsewhere. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.

...Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.

We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.

6. Upholding and Advancing Labour and the Public Interest

The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted. Let us admit also the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good. The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. ...No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day’s work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life by which we surround them.

This New Nationalism regards the executive power as the steward of the public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than any one class or section of the people.

I believe in shaping the ends of government to protect property as well as human welfare. Normally, and in the long run, the ends are the same; but whenever the alternative must be faced, I am for men and not for property, as you were in the Civil War. I am far from underestimating the importance of dividends; but I rank dividends below human character. Again, I do not have any sympathy with the reformer who says he does not care for dividends. Of course, economic welfare is necessary, for a man must pull his own weight and be able to support his family. I know well that the reformers must not bring upon the people economic ruin, or the reforms themselves will go down in the ruin.

7. Upholding the Moral and Material Welfare of all Citizens.

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. I believe that every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States.

The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens. Just in proportion as the average man and woman are honest, capable of sound judgment and high ideals, active in public affairs, — but, first of all, sound in their home, and the father and mother of healthy children whom they bring up well, — just so far, and no farther, we may count our civilization a success.
To Roosevelt's maxims of progressive populism I would add the "precautionary principle." In another time there might have been less need for it but that is not the era in which we now live.

I'm convinced that progressive populism is the only form that can work to the benefit of the public interest rather than the special interest. It seems radical only in contrast to the unquestionably radical neoliberal order that has already failed us but persists as our political caste's default operating system. Something will replace the neoliberal order. At the moment that includes this evolving autocracy and a form of neo-feudalism.

It's the Pot Calling the Kettle the Pot

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 16:32

One characteristic of Donald Trump that repeatedly calls his mental health into question is his chronic lying. He seems utterly incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Trump's greatest lie is to accuse the media of "fake news." The liar doesn't like what the media honestly reports about him and so he accuses them of fakery, dishonesty, except, of course, for Fox and Friends and they're just the best.

Unfortunately this derangement is worsening. Now the Great Orange Bloat has taken to smearing America's media as the "enemy of the American people." He did this at an hour and seventeen minute press conference that can only be described as "lie studded."

So now America's Liar-in-Chief lies about others lying - about him, of course.

So freely and compulsively does president Trump lie that Arizona senator, John McCain, has dropped the gloves. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told NATO representatives to the Munich security conference on Friday that Trump has a "growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies."

Now McCain has responded to Trump's denunciation of America's media as "the enemy of the American people."

Such talk, McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC News in an interview set to air Sunday, was “how dictators get started.”

“In other words, a consolidation of power,” McCain told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd from Munich. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I'm not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I'm just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

Um, no senator, I think that's exactly what you're saying. And you're right.

Sure, Putin Is a Thug, But, Herr Trump, He's Barking Mad.

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 11:17

The Washington Post reports that Germans have got Donald Trump pretty well sorted out.

It’s official: Germans are more worried about President Trump than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That, at least, is the result of a poll published Friday by FG Wahlen for public broadcaster ZDF, in which a whopping 78 percent of Germans asked said they were “very concerned” about Donald Trump's policies, up from 62 percent in January. Meanwhile, 58 percent said they were worried about the politics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, while 40 percent said they weren't.

“It sounds tough, but after this memorable press conference one hopes that there's a good medical department in the White House to check whether everything really is all right with this man,” wrote Veit Medick, a Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel.

Our Bad. Sorry, He's Nuts.

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 11:07

That pretty much sums up Arizona senator John McCain's warning/apology to NATO representatives at the Munich security conference. America's president, Donald J. Trump, can't be taken at his word because he's unable to "separate truth from lies."

“I think that the Flynn issue obviously is something that shows that in many respects this administration is in disarray and they’ve got a lot of work to do,” said McCain, a known Trump critic, even as he praised Trump’s defence secretary. “The president, I think, makes statements [and] on other occasions contradicts himself. So we’ve learned to watch what the president does as opposed to what he says,” he said.

Without mentioning the president’s name, McCain lamented a shift in the US and Europe away from the “universal values” that forged the Nato alliance seven decades ago. McCain also said the alliance’s founders would be “alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.”
Thanks for the heads up, John, although I'm not sure anyone still needs it.

Wrap Your Mind Around This - Ten Trillion Gallons of Water

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 10:16

That's how much rain is expected to fall in California in the coming week - ten trillion gallons of water.

Yeah, that California, the state that's endured years of severe drought along with brush and forest fires until la nina showed up with atmospheric rivers to essentially drown the place.

Years ago I read of a nomadic pastoralist (herder) in sub Saharan Africa. He lost half his herd one year to flash floods only to lose the remaining half the next year to severe drought. He gathered up his family and their possessions and made off for the nearest city to look for ways to survive.

Now California is the poster child for climate change and global weirding.

It is feared that areas that have been previously hit by forest fires could be more susceptible to mud slides as there is less vegetation to break the flow of running water.

Terry Anzur of KFI News told the BBC the dry, scorched ground that had been "saturated" with the heavy downpour was turning streets in to "rivers of mud".

After five years of drought, a series of storms have filled state reservoirs.

In a season of heavy storms, the latest is expected to be the heaviest by far.

Talk Is Cheap

Sat, 02/18/2017 - 08:54

At least we know that he knows. Justin Trudeau has said it - corporate elites and their political handmaidens (a.k.a. his own government) are the rot sweeping through world politics. Well Justin - duh.

Justin Trudeau is blaming corporate and government leaders for the spike in global anger rocking world politics, warning that low wages and the shift to precarious part-time work is at the heart of why citizens are opposing traditional powers.

Speaking at the St. Matthew’s Day banquet – an elite, black-tie event in Hamburg with a tradition that dates back centuries – the Prime Minister said companies contribute to public anger when they post record profits on the backs of workers who are underpaid and overworked.

“It’s time to pay a living wage, to pay your taxes, and to give your workers the benefits – and peace of mind – that come with stable, full-time contracts."

“Increasing inequality has made citizens distrust their governments. Distrust their employers,” Mr. Trudeau said Friday evening at the banquet. “And we’re watching that anxiety transform into anger on an almost daily basis. It follows that people’s natural defence mechanism in times of stress and anxiety is to hunker down and recoil inward. To give into cynicism. To retreat from one another. But it’s time for us, as leaders in politics and business, to step up.”

Well, Justin, it's called neoliberalism and you, like every other political leader in our land and most others, are in it up to your gills. Talk is cheap so what are you going to do about it? A lot of the powers governments have to respond to this sort of discontent have been surrendered to globalism, free trade pacts. You and your predecessors did that without so much as a "by your leave." Maybe you want to ditch those trade deals or at least rescind those crippling investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions whereby corporate profits always trump public policy.
While you're at it, we need democratic reform - the sort of things that would make Parliament responsible to the Canadian people, not corporations. We've seen what neoliberalism does. It's a contagion and it rots democratic societies.

Why Liberals Are Wrong About Trump

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 23:39

In case you missed it, this has gone viral. Worth a look.

Trump's Cabinet Looking Like the Afghan National Army

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 18:26

Only the Afghan government has an excuse - they haven't got enough money to pay the troops. No wonder the enlistment/desertion system operates like a turnstile.

What's Trump's excuse? First his nominee for labour secretary bails out, apparently fearful of the grilling he faced during his confirmation hearings.

Trump's national security adviser is either fired or quits, fired or quits, depending on which White House staffer is talking on any given day. Trump himself, who claims he fired the guy blames it on the fake news media.

Now the guy lined up to replace the disgraced General Mike "altnerative facts" Flynn, US Navy seal and three star admiral, Robert Harward, has decided to call off the wedding.

Two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters that Harward turned down the job in part because he wanted to bring in his own team. That put him at odds with Trump, who had told Flynn’s deputy, KT McFarland, that she could stay.

During a freewheeling press conference on Thursday in which Trump claimed his administration was running like a “a fine-tuned machine”, the president implied that he was able to let Flynn go in part because he already had a replacement in mind.

“I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position – and that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision,” he said.

It's rumoured that Trump's secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is also thinking of bailing out while the getting's good. Tillerson and the State Department have apparently been cut out of the Trump-Bannon loop which would render Tillerson's job impossible.
The American media, meanwhile, have turned on Trump like Newfoundlanders on a harp seal. You can tell how toxic Trump's relations with the media have become when ever FOX News' Shep Smith has had it up to the tits with Trump.

* apologies to the Afghan National Army for comparing them to Trump's cabinet.

Dissecting Trump's Shady Past.

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 14:41

American Interest's James S. Henry exposes the American president's lengthy history of cozying up to affluent Russian thugs:

Fortunately, for those of us who are curious about Trump’s Russian connections, there is another readily accessible body of material that has so far received surprisingly little attention. This suggests that whatever the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with President Putin, he has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/FSU network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats.

Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle. The analytical challenge is to map this network—a task that most journalists and law enforcement agencies, focused on individual cases, have failed to do.

James Henry, an investigative economist and lawyer has brought the forensic skills of a top litigator to this analysis. It's a well documented piece, some 80 footnotes. It's not a particularly easy read but it is a complex story in which America's president is but one player.

Have a read.

The German Bank And the Deadbeat President

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 09:08

It's one of Germany's biggest and now its most controversial financial institutions, Deutsche Bank.

Now Deutsche Bank is under investigation by US federal authorities for, among other things, its shady dealings with Russia even as the bank tries to restructure its massive loans to America's freshly minted president.

The Guardian has an interesting account of the Donald and the Deutsche Bank.

Here's a teaser:

It was November 2008. Three-and-a-half years earlier the bank had loaned Trump the cash to build one of his grandest projects yet: a hotel and mega-tower in Chicago.

Trump had given his personal guarantee he would repay the $640m. As per agreement, he was now due to hand over a large chunk, $40m.

There was only one problem: the future 45th president of the United States was refusing to pay up. Deutsche initiated legal action. Trump responded with a blistering, scarcely credible writ of his own, a 10-count complaint in New York’s supreme court, in the county of Queens.

In it, Trump adopted a highly unusual defence, known as “force majeure”. He claimed that the 2008 economic crisis was a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami”, an act of God that was equivalent to an earthquake.

Since it couldn’t have been anticipated, and it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t obliged to pay Deutsche anything. It wouldn’t get the $40m or the outstanding $330m, his writ said. 

He went further. Trump claimed Deutsche Bank had actually helped cause the crunch. Therefore it owed him. Trump demanded $3bn from Deutsche in compensation.

Its New York property division first loaned money to him in 1998 at a time when the bank was attempting to expand its commercial real estate portfolio. By that stage, other major banks were becoming cautious about Trump, in part, the Wall Street Journal has said, because of frustration with his business practices.

A decade later, Deutsche was to find out for itself quite how capricious and unpredictable he could be.

Why Trump Would Give Up the Presidency Before He Would Cough Up His Tax Returns.

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 14:29

All the hoopla about National Security administrator, Mike Flynn's, quiet calls to the Russians is the tip of the iceberg.  Of course Flynn called the Russians and assured them that Obama's sanctions for hacking the DNC would be lifted once Trump was sworn in. So what? Other Trump campaign officials were in regular contact with Russian security types. Well, duh.

The real issue is whether Trump was already compromised by the Russians years ago. No, this isn't about hookers and urine stained mattresses. It's about Trump's years of business dealings with some decidedly shady Russians with bags of questionable rubles looking for a place to hide.

Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

The truth, as several columnists and reporters have painstakingly shown since the first hack of a Clinton-affiliated group took place in late May or early June, is that several of Trump’s businesses outside of Russia are entangled with Russian financiers inside Putin’s circle.

So, yes, it’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.

“The Trump-Russia links beneath the surface are even more extensive,” Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies.”

What’s more, three of Trump’s top advisors all have extensive financial and business ties to Russian financiers, wrote Boot, the former editor of the Op Ed page of the Wall Street Journal and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump’s de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Manafort also has done multimillion-dollar business deals with Russian oligarchs. Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has his own business ties to the state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom. ... Another Trump foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin.

Manafort denounced the New York Times Monday for a deeply reported story that broke over the weekend showing that secret ledgers in Ukraine contained references to $12.7 million in payments earmarked for him. The Times report said that the party of former Ukraine president and pro-Russia ally, Viktor Yanukovych, set aside the payments for Manafort as part of an illegal and previously undisclosed system of payments.

“Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report,” Manafort said in a statement first reported by NBC News. Manafort said that he has never done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia—but that “political payments directed to me” in Ukraine were for his entire political team there that included operatives and researchers.

In response, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, issued a statement: "Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort's and all other campaign employees' and advisers' ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump's employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them."

But it is Trump’s financing from Russian satellite business interests that would seem to explain his pro-Putin sympathies.

The most obvious example is Trump Soho, a complicated web of financial intrigue that has played out in court. A lawsuit claimed that the business group, Bayrock, underpinning Trump Soho was supported by criminal Russian financial interests. While its initial claim absolved Trump of knowledge of those activities, Trump himself later took on the group’s principal partner as a senior advisor in the Trump organization.

“Tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model,” the lawsuit said of the financiers behind Trump Soho. The financing came from Russian-affiliated business interests that engaged in criminal activities, it said. “(But) there is no evidence Trump took any part in, or knew of, their racketeering.”

Journalists who’ve looked at the Bayrock lawsuit, and Trump Soho, wonder why Trump was involved at all. “What was Trump thinking entering into business with partners like these?” Franklin Foer wrote in Slate. “It’s a question he has tried to banish by downplaying his ties to Bayrock.”

But Bayrock wasn’t just involved with Trump Soho. It financed multiple Trump projects around the world, Foer wrote. “(Trump) didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Bayrock put together deals for mammoth Trump-named, Trump-managed projects—two in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a resort in Phoenix, the Trump SoHo in New York.”

But, as The New York Times has reported, that was only the beginning of the Trump organization’s entanglement with Russian financiers. Trump was quite taken with Bayrock’s founder, Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan.

“Bayrock, which was developing commercial properties in Brooklyn, proposed that Mr. Trump license his name to hotel projects in Florida, Arizona and New York, including Trump SoHo,” the Times reported. “The other development partner for Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization, whose founder, Tamir Sapir, was from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.”

Trump was eager to work with both financial groups on Trump projects all over the world. “Mr. Trump was particularly taken with Mr. Arif’s overseas connections,” the Times wrote. “In a deposition, Mr. Trump said that the two had discussed ‘numerous deals all over the world’ and that Mr. Arif had brought potential Russian investors to Mr. Trump’s office to meet him. ‘Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors, and in some cases I believe they were friends of Mr. Arif,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘And this was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, etc., Poland, Warsaw.’”

The Times also reported that federal court records recently released showed yet another link to Russian financial interests in Trump businesses. A Bayrock official “brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians ‘in favor with’ President Vladimir V. Putin,’” the Times reported. “The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a ‘strategic partner,’ along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”

Trump Soho was so complicated that Bayrock’s finance chief, Jody Kriss, sued it for fraud. In the lawsuit, Kriss alleged that a primary source of funding for Trump’s big projects with Bayrock arrived “magically” from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan whenever the business interest needed funding.

There are other Russian business ties to the Trump organization as well. Trump’s first real estate venture in Toronto, Canada, was a partnership with two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs, Toronto Lifereported in 2013.

“The hotel’s developer, Talon International, is run by Val Levitan and Alex Shnaider, two Russian-Canadian entrepreneurs. Levitan made his fortune manufacturing slot machines and creating bank note validation technology, and Shnaider earned his in the post-glasnost steel trade,” it reported.

Finally, for all of his denials of Russian ties lately, Trump has boasted in the past of his many meetings with Russian oligarchs. During one trip to Moscow, Trump bragged that they all showed up to meet him to discuss projects around the globe. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room” just to meet with him, Trump said at the time.

And when Trump built a tower in Panama, his clients were wealthy Russians, the Washington Post reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, according to a trade publication, eTurboNews.

The only instance that Trump acknowledges any sort of Russian financial connection is a Florida mansion he sold to a wealthy Russian. "What do I have to do with Russia?” Trump said in the wake of the DNC hack. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida... for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions."

But it should be obvious to anyone trying to pay attention to these moving targets that Trump is saying one thing and doing something else. When it comes to Trump and Russia, the truth may take awhile to emerge.

Bloomberg reported in June that the Clinton Foundation was breached by Russian hackers. “The Russians may also have acquired the emails that Hillary Clinton sent as secretary of State. Putin might be holding back explosive material until October, when its release could ensure a Trump victory,” it reported.

In the 1970s, burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, was forced out of office for the White House cover up of its involvement in the DNC break in.

Now, a generation later, a digital break in to the national headquarters of one of our two major parties by a foreign adversary in order to leak information that benefits the other national party’s presidential candidate seems to be just the normal course of doing business. The Trump era, it is safe to assume, is like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

Walter A. Saurack of Satterlee Stephens LLP, Bayrock's attorney, provided the following statement after publication: The allegations made by Jody Kriss in the lawsuit are completely baseless and unsubstantiated. The allegations of tax fraud, as well as other allegations from his original complaint that are quoted in this article, were not included by Kriss when he filed a second amended complaint in the lawsuit.


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Green Party Membership Backs Resolution on Palestine by Overwhelming Majority

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:53

The Green Party membership has ratified a resolution supporting Palestinian human rights by a 90 per cent approval vote.

Nine out of ten, that's fairly conclusive even if it does stick in the craw of Elizabeth May or the BC party leader, Andrew Weaver.

The GPC has struggled with its Israel/Palestine policy for over 6 months. An initial motion, calling for the party to support the international movement to boycott Israel (called BDS Movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) over its violation of human rights and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, was submitted to the Party’s regular convention in August 2016. Leading up to the convention, the motion had been severely criticized by Israel lobby groups who labelled it “anti-Semitic”. Their bitter attack on the Green Party and on its leader Elizabeth May, contributed to May’s disavowal of the motion, which she opposed at the convention.

Nonetheless, to the dismay of GPC leadership, the motion passed handily in convention. A shaken Elizabeth May even threatened to resign. In order to avoid a disaster, the party quickly decided to hold a special convention 5 months later to review the decision.

In the preparation for the special convention, a consensus resolutionwas worked out between May’s group and Dimitri Lascaris the de facto leader of those seeking a stronger GPC statement on Palestinian human rights.

The consensus resolution avoided any explicit link to the contentious BDS movement, but endorsed its objectives and supported the idea of bringing pressure on Israel through a boycott of consumer products. The new resolution actually went further than the August motion because it not only called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, but also called for equality for the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and supported the right of return for the over 5 million Palestinian refugees. It also urges the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

Oh, a Paranoia Purge. Sweet.

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 15:05

There comes a time in the life of every despot where he has to purge the unreliable, untrustworthy.

Hitler staged the "Night of the Long Knives," three days in which insiders considered potentially disloyal were hauled away and slaughtered.

Now Donald Trump is being urged to clean house - of unreliable, "establishment" Republicans.

In the wake of the resignation of his National Security advisor, Mike Flynn, Trump was most concerned about, not Flynn's lying, but who leaked the story, tweeting: "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?"

Trump advisor, Roger Stone, says this president is being subverted by establishment Republicans operating on the inside to bring Trump down.

"It's establishment Republicans who don't really support his agenda and who leak like a sieve," Stone said by phone Tuesday. "So I am hopeful he will hire more Trump supporters and fewer establishment Republicans who are [not] loyal to him and his agenda."

Stone singled out presidential Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former head of the Republican National Committee, as an exemplar of someone who's not fully on board with the Trump program.

"It's very hard to fathom why this guy is the chief of staff," Stone said. "He's loyal to the status quo and he's loyal to the big donors to the RNC — who are not the big donors to Donald Trump."

Stone also went after "the midget" Priebus on twitter:  "Reince's purge of Flynn a "Pearl Harbor" for Trump loyalists. Hope the midget is ready to rumble @StoneColdTruth"
Steve Bannon's former shop, Breitbart, was quick to attack Priebus: 
Breitbart News, the populist right-wing website once led by President Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, published a scathing report on Tuesday stating that Priebus was responsible for the administration's rocky start while speculating that his future in the administration may also be short.
This could signal the start of the long-awaited bloodletting inside the White House camps. It seems the perfect opportunity to permit Bannon to complete his capture of Trump and the presidency.

Is Trudeau Undermining Democracy in Canada?

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 13:26

This is about more than just the decision to abandon electoral reform although that's a big part of the problem.

Around the world we're witnessing liberal democracy in retreat and the rise of authoritarian populism. It's happening in Europe, Asia Pacific, even on Canada's southern doorstep.

Those working to make sense of this spreading contagion invariably point to populations that become disaffected with their governments and democracy. Part of it is globalism, trade deals their elite foist on them where the promised rewards never quite trickle down. Neoliberalism, of the sort practiced throughout the West, always seems to drive a wedge between the public and their elected officials, their political caste. That wedge creates the space in which special interests can insinuate themselves leading to, first, political capture (think America's "bought and paid for" Congress) and then regulatory capture (where regulated industries stock regulators with their own people) before reaching the terminal point we see in Washington today where executive capture manifests with corporate representatives dominating top cabinet posts.

We're different than the United States but we are under neoliberal rule and it is fueling disaffection. We have a country where a party can lose 60% of the popular vote but still claim 100% of political power.

Think of it this way. Justin Trudeau got his 40% majority mandate on the strength of a good many lies. He told us things we needed to hear. He made solemn promises to create a better Canada responsive to the needs of the public. Then, in the course of less than two years, he reneged on promise after promise.

Does anybody think that Trudeau's jettisoned promises do anything but alienate the public from their government? Pipelines, supertankers, social licence, surveillance reform, GHG emissions reductions shattered by bitumen expansion, middle class tax cuts, green infrastructure and, of course, electoral reform - they all take a toll.

This prime minister is subverting democracy in Canada. It's not that he seeks that result. He simply doesn't care.

Flynn Falls on His Sword. It Was a Different Story for Reagan.

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 12:29

It's pretty embarrassing for a freshly minted president to lose his national security advisor to scandal in the first month of the administration. What felled retired general Mike Flynn were lies, alternative facts if you will, when he denied that he had discussed ending American sanctions against Russia prior to Trump's inauguration.

Flynn's indiscretions brought back to mind events in 1980 when Ronald Reagan's team purportedly struck a deal with Iran to delay the release of American hostages held in Tehran until after the election, lest an earlier release tip the election to Jimmy Carter. This later unfolded as the "Iran Contra" and the arms for hostages scandal.

In the result, the Ayatollah released America's hostages a breathtaking 15-minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.

Much of this information is laid out in the In These Times article cited above, and also in three articles by Christopher Hitchens in the June 20, July 11, and August 8, 1987, issues of The Nation. Several Washington Post articles, and Alfonso Chardy, writing in the Miami Herald, also supply evidence of a deal between Iranian emissaries and future Reagan administration officials. Many of the names cited in these accounts of the 1980 events reappear in the 1987 congressional Iran-contra investigations. They include William Casey, Attorney General Edwin Meese, Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, former CIA Deputy Director Max Hugel, Richard Secord, Oliver North, and Michael Ledeen.

Both operations involved some of the same characters, the same shadowy connections to Israel, the same secret wheeling and dealing with Iran, and the same extensive investigation by congressmen who then shied away from closing the circle. They pulled back when they realized that, standing with the president in the docket, was not only some of Israel's shadow government in Washington, but the Israeli government itself.

Hitchens sums it all up as follows: "Well, the hostages were released at just the right time, and the first shipments of weapons began the very next month. You may wonder if the Reaganites were capable of making such a vile deal. But you don't really wonder that, do you?

This Is the Face of Climate Change. It's Dangerous. It's Scary. We Are Totally Unprepared.

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 11:40

Consider California's Lake Oroville the poster child for climate change. Here are some photos of what the lake looked like over the past several years.

That was then, before heavy rains swept northern California. Rains heavy enough that they overwhelmed the Oroville dam, America's highest dam, with runoff so heavy that it destroyed the concrete spillway.

This lake, this reservoir, went from virtually empty to overflowing in a matter of months. Now, with another rain front expected by tomorrow, the dam is in such a precarious state that 200,000 residents downstream have been forced to evacuate their towns.

Oroville is an invaluable demonstration of infrastructure that was designed and constructed to meet the demands of a climate, the Holocene, that is no more and isn't coming back. The storms that, in a matter of months, filled a nearly empty Lake Oroville to overwhelm this massive dam are the new normal. We don't have infrastructure designed and constructed to meet this reality. Which is why this earthen dam, some 700 feet in overall height, remains in risk of failing.

This, contends Scientific American, is the "sign of emergencies to come."

“These biggest events that cause the biggest problems are the ones we are pretty sure are going to become more common,” said [UCLA climate scientist, Daniel Swain]. “We're seeing the stresses of the current climate upon our infrastructure, and seeing in some cases it's enough to cause really big problems.”

“And we know that in the future, we're going to add to those stresses at both ends of the spectrum,” he added.

Climate science shows that warming causes evaporation off the oceans and other water bodies, putting more moisture into the atmosphere, Swain said. That vapor doesn't always come down and doesn't always fall in the same place where it went up. But it can fall in torrents.

The atmospheric river, a band of warm air about 300 miles wide in the lowest 1 to 2 miles of the atmosphere and powered by strong winds, can dump enough rain that the saturated ground gives way.

The state's water system “was designed and built for a climate we no longer have, for yesterday's climate, not tomorrow's climate,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus and chief scientist with the Pacific Institute and an expert on water issues. “We're going to have to rethink how we deal with infrastructure, to deal with the changes that are, frankly, already here.”

What Do Australia and the Arctic Have in Common?

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 09:47

What do they have in common? Well this year Australia, in the height of the southern hemisphere summer, and the Arctic, in the blackout of northern hemisphere winter, are both being hammered by recurrent heatwaves.

The "Land Down Under" has been sweltering under record summer heatwaves with some places hitting temperatures in the high 40s Celsius.

The "Great White North" is now in the throes of the third, "Dark of Winter" heatwave of the season with temperatures spiking to 30 C above normal.

This Arctic heatwave is/was considered a once-a-decade event only, with three events in just this one winter, that's no longer the case.

Everyone agrees that "something is very, very wrong with the Arctic climate," as Mashable's science editor tweeted on Wednesday. Scientists know that the meltdown results from the complex interaction of players including emissions-driven climate change, warm air and water, and shrinking ice area. Divvying up blame is tough, but the general trends are clear.

Normally, this time of year is winter in the arctic, although you might not know it from this week’s balmy 40-degree [F] temperatures in Svalbard, an island halfway between Norway and the North Pole. With weather typically in the single digits or teens, now is the time for sea ice to refreeze after the summer melt.

But that’s not happening. Sea ice raised eyebrows by halting in October, and then caused alarm by melting in November. Melting, despite the six-month perma-night of an arctic sun that never rises.

“The ridiculously warm temperatures in the Arctic during October and November this year are off the charts over our 68 years of measurements,” Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who studies the Arctic, told Climate Central.

Scientists suspect this year’s meager sea ice covering may be contributing to the barrage of heat waves. "As that sea ice moves northward, there’s a huge reservoir of heat over the north Atlantic," atmospheric physics expert Kent Moore of the University of Toronto told the Washington Post. "As we lose the sea ice, it allows essentially this reservoir of warmth to move closer to the pole."

Fun With Jim

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 15:03

Fireworks on last night's Real Time with Bill Maher as Trump apologist-in-chief, Piers Morgan, got into it with Aussie standup artist, Jim Jeffries.

Is Trump Trying to Provoke Another Terrorist Attack on America?

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 12:14

Even Scientific American has concluded that Donald Trump may be the best thing that ever happened to ISIS.

Paul Krugman wonders if Trump is deliberately trying to provoke another attack on US soil to allow him to advance his radical agenda.

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

But what’s even worse is the way Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, framed the issue: Nordstrom’s business decision was a “direct attack” on the president’s policies. L’état, c’est moi.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power.

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it. So who are these people?

It certainly won’t be Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It won’t be Jeff Sessions, his new attorney general, with his long history of contempt for voting rights. It might be the courts — but Mr. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize judicial oversight in advance.

What about Congress? Well, its members like to give patriotic speeches. And maybe, just maybe, there are enough Republican senators who really do care about America’s fundamental values to cross party lines in their defense. But given what we’ve seen so far, that’s just hopeful speculation.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.