International news and events

    Homage to Catalonia: the Conspiracy Factory

    This week we were met with scenes of police removing protesters in Barcelona, with outcries of heavy-handidness by Madrid. Absent the cries of police brutality was any suggestion of how police should handle the unwanted job of removing thousands of protesters, and what is an acceptable level of force - critical to me, as I'd meditated for 2 weeks on horrid images of US police wailing on and pounding a black man's head into the pavement for two minutes, along with unneeded body slams say of a skinny girl in a tight skirt.

    More important, I didn't hear any discussion of what I'd been hearing for weeks - that Putin's bots had turned to fomenting dissension and turmoil in Catalonia, hoping for a final split that would give the EU another crisis to leave it on the ropes. This is impressive,as the story of how Russia manipulated the US election keeps snowballing as one unlikely scenario after another gets divulged.

    The outcome of Catalonia's unapproved referendum will be predictable - the people who will show up will be overly in favor of secession even as the majority may be iffy, and the supposed police overreaction will be presented as proof that Catalonians need independence *now*, fait accompli. Meanwhile Putin must be sniggering in his kofje - not a complaint in sight.

    Trade Policy Reality Check - neither Scrooge nor Sucker

    I've noted this over and over, but maybe this one will get through. Below's a chart showing the largest countries. The 2 largest are down at the bottom with pathetic GDP per capita of China's $10K and maybe $4K for India. China has roughly 5x our population, India 4 1/2x. And while their income is awful, China's rose about 500% from super awful over 25 years, while India's has more than tripled.

    For some reason we're not able to ever think of that as *OUR* success, that rather than sending Bibles and powdered milk, we have found a real way to lift almost 3 billion people out of poverty in just 2 countries, and it certainly doesn't end there.

    Of course much of the credit belongs to them - cutting their birthrates drastically, producing productis and services that are wanted by the rest of the world, steady incremental improvements and attention to obvious areas like infrastructure & education, and less obvious ones like government regulations & judicial reform and various human rights. In the meantime, the last 8-10 years, we've been flat.

    The Man Myth

    Ah yes, another firing of an idiot who stated what much of the world believes, that "men are more charismatic performers? ... they work harder? ... they are more driven? Possibly a bit of each."

    Having spent part of the weekend listening to drunken "charismatic performers" at 5 am and the last 1 1/2 years horrified by the latest batch of "more driven" men, I'm still bewildered that people think of this as a plus, as a feature, rather than a grave disqualification, or at minimum a toss-up among other useful measures, such as efficiency, quality of work, consistency, team inspiration & enablement, etc.

    The Nuremberg Defense

    It was summer of 1972 and G. Gordon Liddy along with his plumbers had just broken into the Watergate with the help of some disgruntled Democrats, but gotten caught. Meanwhile, the DNC in a futile attempt at unity had forced the Eagleton choice on McGovern only to see it blow up in his face with stories of psychiatry and electroshock.

    Leftbehinds

    Our techno selves are gaining ground, but despite the Kurzweil singularity and all the promises of our cyberfuture, I'm more interested in stuff.

    A few groups reviewed Lennon's Imagine, with the usual questions of whether it's the drippiest sappiest song ever written, or something of noble spirit with timeless scope.

    But me, I'm looking at these pieces I find strewn about and wonder who's going to take care of them, archive them, re-imagine them in other forms and colors and textures and mashups. An old postcard, a record, a nice rock, a ticket from a concert, an unfinished sketch...

    Our humanity will be determined by what we cling onto. No one will save us from the responsibilities of our own space, no one will clean out that room - that bit's ours, to love, honor and cherish, or simply dispose of through neglect. It's us.

    We keep getting stuck in what other people define for us. How about we just think about what we want to think about, develop what we want to develop. At the end of time, it might just be us, a tent, a campfire, and a tin of beans. Who ever needed more?

    Poof. Like Quinn in space - that's all it ever was, just a promise. And we know about promises.

    Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (per AA anonymous)

    All this jobs jobs jobs talk is starting to get to me when I am constantly reading about extremely low unemployment all around the country. including in red states like Wyoming. What happened is that someone learned to play a wicked poker with the Electoral College by targeting some pockets of long-time resentment about jobs lost 20 years ago or more, places that have not adjusted to reality and refuse to move anywhere but want obsolete jobs to come to them and want to stay in their hood and never change. Likewise we are told we need to cater to the needs of poor segregated minority communities, they don't want to move and mix, want to keep their culcha, but want jobs and services to come to them without paying a lot of taxes. Meanwhile immigrants are willing to come across the world to work and live here. Absurdity after absurdity.

    I know, don't need to say it, it's about well-paying jobs that restore the middle class. But that's not going to happen without education anymore. Not anywhere in the world. (If it ever really did. I grew up in a poor white hood in the late 50's and early 60's where uneducated dad's were always being "laid off" of "third shift" at the factory, so they could never afford to get out of slummy rentals, they kept having kids nonetheless.)

    On Being a Dick - the Artist's Way

    They told me if I voted for Hillary, there'd be corruption, war and economic collapse. They were right - I voted for Hillary, and sure enough, that's where we're headed.

    It was bound to happen - just as the 2008 election led to immediate disappointment in any supposed draining of the swamp, the successive policies were oddly similar to the candidates' who'd been rejected. Jon Stewart noted the candidate's "she's likeable enough" comment "he sounds like a dickish boyfriend".

    This time of course it's more intentionally galling - the stalking on stage & "nasty woman" in the debates and "Parkinson's Disease" & "lock her up" outside were just foreshadowing. In every way that's possible (and not even as hyperbole), the new president is both making a mockery of his own promises and doing exactly what he attacked his opponent for doing - $100 million in Saudi money for his daughter's still-not-formed non-profit is just the latest.

    Let's try that again - on the same day that Jared picked up the phone to "bargain down" a $110 billion jet sale, the Saudis "donated" $100 million to Ivanka's "non-profit" "women's fund". Where's the MSM screaming of quid-pro-quo? Crickets.

    Post-Millennial Bug: NeoJournalism & the New Collusion

    [Recycled Rant to Art Appraiser & Michael Wolraich]

    This new social fact-challenged journalism is not a dissertation, is not your father's evening gazette, is not a bunch of freshman working at the college paper or cub reporter learning the ropes. It's war & politics by other means. It's eat or be eaten, except we're always so close to winning we're lulled into thinking we're almost not losing.

    There are elections being stolen, there are good policies being killed and bad ones being created, and just because we've made a slight dent in righting the record doesn't mean we're terribly succeeding or that the system isn't broke or needs a drastic update to function well in 2017.

    There's a meetup of a rigged media factory, politicians in permanent state of collusion, a bigger influx of money than we ever thought possible, then came a new-found acceptance of blatant lies as both palatable and even a positive to rally behind, and now hacking by a foreign government both stealing and spouting out fake "news" on a broad top-to-bottom scale to make it even worse, yet supposedly we just need to stay grownup and write the truth and we'll prevail. Not even much done on the psychological Kahnemann/NLP/other alternative ways of understanding how we digest (& don't digest) information and are easily deceived.

    Shot across the bow: NY District gets its Russian ruling

    Amidst all the speculation and soft (fake?) news blowing about this week, 1 piece popped out on Friday that you can put a stick in - the Acting US Attorney for Manhattan (Joon Kim) announced a plea bargain for Prevezon and other Russian fronts - especially focused on real estate companies - for laundering money through New York.

    The amount of money in the settlement was trivial - only $5 million, based on New York's part in the $230 million laundering scheme. But it signifies the Attorney's Office's willingness to go after bigger fish even if the Manhattan take was relatively small.

    If you've heard of Prevezon, it's likely due to the stir over the Steele Dossier and involvement of Fusion GPS in both digging out info on the holding company and the involvement of Denis Katsyv, son of the Russian Transport Minister and lobbyist against the Global Magnitsky Act, designed for international ethics enforcement [note - that unregistered lobbying is just one area where US laws may have been broken].

    Fashionistas in our time: an anti-review

    In B School, there's a classic tale of unbalanced industry influence in Vlasic Pickles v Wal-Mart only a decade ago, where Wal-Mart got Vlasic to offer a gallon of pickles at bargain basement prices, and then wouldn't let them stop til bankrupt - a variant of Sinbad's Old Man of the Sea.

    A similar case of riding it to the bottom is portrayed in Andrew Morgan's The True Cost, an expose on the effects of "Fast Fashion", when a Bangladeshi sweatshop manager notes the pressure to lower his cost per shirt from ridiculous to subridiculous, all to allow the US shop to sell a shirt for $3.

    One of the claims of international trade is that the low pay of workers will eventually rise to pull people out of poverty, that a rising tide lifts all boats. This is true in the case of China, which has seen wages rise hugely over the last 3 decades. But it's arguably a fantasy or missing context in the case of the Bengal shop where a female seamstress starts at $10 per month and even after years is forced to send her daughter to live with her mother, seeing her twice a year, in order to afford the cost of living, all the fees from child care to school to food. It's a fantasy in the Cambodian factory where workers asking for $160 a month are locked in a room and beaten. 

    War by Other Means: Citizens United v. Hillary

    When the Supreme Court ruled for Citizens United in early 2010, it was largely seen as opening the floodgates for untracked money, including corporate gifts, into presidential races.

    The ruling was especially significant for Hillary Clinton, as the challenge to the FEC was over small non-profits being able to pool whatever money to create DIY attack ads on... (drum-roll please)... HILLARY!!!

    Of course the FEC still maintained some control over the process, as PAC money can't be directly coordinated with the candidate - an arm's length relationship must be maintained.

    HA HA HAAAAAHHHH HHEEEE HEEE GIGGLE KERPLAT SNICKER GUFFAW WHEEEE HAWWW WE BE HAVING SUM FUN NOW!!!!!! PANT PANT PANT....

    Sorry, I'm back. Yes, that's what the law claims.

    Now check out the "arms length" relationships for just 1 such PAC, the eponymously named "Make America 1 Again", aka "Defeat Crooked Hillary" or "Keep the Promise I"...

    Projection Some: Russia's Sea Change

    In 2014, with Russia's shipyard lease in Crimea to expire in 2017 and the deal to extend it another 30 years on the rocks with Yanukovich's ouster, Putin brazenly occupied the peninsula militarily, invoking historical precedents and the image of "Greater Russia". But despite Donbas Ukrainians dreams of uniting with Russia, Putin's heart didn't seem to be into the conflict so much as reinvigorating Crimea, and the only significant action since was a brief push towards Mariupol in the presumed attempt to give Russia an easy land route to Crimea. But aside from laughable attempts to get Russian tourists to keep Crimea afloat economically with horrendous lines at the ferry, the Russians started rebuilding their Sevastopol fleet, where most of their global naval power is housed, within weeks of occupation (scroll down for better pics of the whole fleet).

    But perhaps Putin had a change of heart or wisdom about maintaining the bridge or land route to Crimea, as Russia's new $1.4 billion base is meant to open in 2020, not in Sevastopol, but in Novorossiysk heading down the Black Sea's east coast towards Sochi - firmly in undisputed Russia.

    This Black Sea investment might not have seemed the greatest idea what with Russia's relationship with Turkey on the rocks, but suddenly amidst significant surprise, Russia's Turkish relations vastly improved (with Turkey & Russia now arrying out naval maneuvers together in lieu of the short-term gas embargo). Erdogan also took advantage of the "beginning of a beautiful relationship" to crack down on Islamic dissenters at home and take off the gloves as to Kurdish rebels in Syria. [Some think Erdogan is just playing East off West, but it's hard to see what he wants from the West at this point, aside from a foil and scapegoat]. Putin's obvious benefit? Anything in the Black Sea comes out the Bhosporus Straits, i.e. through good ol' ancient Byzantium, aka Istanbul.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 4)

    When I began this as diary as a "series", I pointed to Mosul as a metaphor for Nov 8, 2016, and true to form, the chaos of the ensuing weeks have thrown me off - but constructively so.

    Sadly and ironically, the progress on the "battlefield", Mosul's ancient tightly wound streets booby-trapped for maximum obstruction, has been replaced by the PR & propaganda battle over what really happened March 17, though largely this battle has been lost already - whatever the allies do now, they will be mostly remembered for civilian casualties, despite all the extraordinary painstaking effort they've taken to avoid them.

    And that should give Democrats great pause as well - the seeming victories over Trump & the Republicans the last few weeks can be ephemeral and imagined, with a PR loss pulled from the clutches of victory. As one person noted, giving Flynn immunity to testify can be a huge trap, and that's just 1 possible trip-up point. But I'm more interested in the idea of "cooperation" vs. "collusion" in how we go forward.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Brexit vs Breakfast: Food and Free Trade

    The United Kingdom officially triggered Article 50 today, meaning the two-year march to Brexit has begun. The UK is leaving the European Union, and leaving without any concessions, any deals, any accommodations. It's the "hard Brexit." There are many reasons this is a bad idea, but let's keep it simple: the United Kingdom cannot feed itself.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 3)

    "Gaslighting" is a meme based on an old movie where you're led to question your own sanity & ability to judge anything.

    In my short previous installment, I noted the fighting in Syria & Iraq taking place in the new mags & tabloids and internet as well. Rather than subsiding with the near elimination of ISIS from Mosul, the conflict exploded onto front pages in the last day not due to what happened, but more due to what may have transpired. As has become rule over the last year or more, your take on the matter will depend on where you fit in the political spectrum and what walled-off garden of social & traditional media you're imbibing.

    Michael Wolraich's picture

    Someday we'll find it, the Putin connection...

    The AP drew another line in Trump's connect-the-dots puzzle today. We already knew that former campaign chair Paul Manafort had worked for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians. Now we know that he secretly worked on behalf of the Putin regime as well.

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 2)

    Not quite the #2 I'd planned, but in checking on progress for Mosul, I noted RT (Russia Today) continually using the term "indiscriminate strikes" when describing US/allied shelling and street action. Among their continued "3rd party independent" verifiers of this was a group called "Airwars".

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 1)

    On April 8, 2014, al-Baghdadi announced Al-Nusra & Islamic State Iraq were joining forces, and soon unleashed an impressive series of attacks that gained large swaths of Iraqi & Syrian territory (see below). Tied to the seemingly unstoppable progress was the horror of ISIS' fanaticism and cruel behavior towards any non-adherent to their fringe beliefs. Besides fodder for those who believe all Islam is like this, it renewed criticism of how the Iraq War was managed, helped fuel the mass emigration from Iraq & Syria that swamped Europe for a time (and almost dented the US), and provided a key thread of fear and loathing for the 2016 campaign trail.

    The threat & ease of spread by ISIS wasn't just do to its methods and persuasion. It relied on the in-fighting of those that might in saner times approach it - in short, they relied on a philosophical vacuum much as they relied on the huge areas of unoccupied desert to make their gains look more impressive.

    3 years later (in 3 weeks) we see what happens when Kurds, Shi'ites, Sunnis and any other factions join together to confront a regional pariah. It hasn't been easy - the Caliphate gained land much faster than the slow, plodding effort to retake control. Even back in October there was some feeling that defeat of ISIS could be just a few weeks away - but instead the much more extended re-capture of Mosul has enlightened us to the new realities of lightning war, or its non-existence in a terrain where we worry about civilian life rather than raw advance.

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    Michael Wolraich's picture

    Trump-Putin Quid Pro Quo?

    Did Donald Trump agree to a quid pro quo with the Russian government? This is what we know.

    On March 19, 2016, John Podesta received an email, purportedly from Google, warning him of a potential security breach. He clicked the link and inadvertently delivered his email account to state-backed Russian hackers.

    Two days later, on March 21, Donald Trump announced his five-person foreign policy team, which included Carter Page, a previously unknown investment banker with extensive dealings in Russia.

    On March 28, nine days after the hack, Trump confirmed to the New York Times that he had hired Paul Manafort. Manafort had recently returned from Ukraine, where he helped organize the Russian-backed Ukrainian opposition. 

    On March 31, Trump met with his foreign policy advisors at the new Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., where they discussed the Republican Party's position on arming Ukraine against pro-Russian rebels.  According to advisor J.D. Gordon, Trump opposed this language in the RNC platform because "he didn't want to go to 'World War Three' over Ukraine."

    Intermezzo - Springtime for Hitler

    Today is my dip into happy land, my safe haven, my respite from the madness. Yesterday was the first sign of spring, still chilly but warm enough to go out with only a suit jacket - time for that springtime optimism.

    They used to say no news is good news, but now we have it 24x7, so let's just talk up the good news for a change. Today I'll be largely untouched by political chaos, except to note the bright sides.

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