Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Houston is Only the Latest Libertarian Disaster

The middle of the country has been the laboratory of right wing and libertarian experimentation and the results keep coming in.

Houston is the latest. Libertarianism didn't create the hurricane, but 35 years of laissez-faire economics and rolling back environmental science did set up the worst case that has unfolded. The richest irony is Houston is the home of Big Oil, the industry that fueled the surge in global warming and hid the warnings of their own scientists.

The city itself is a libertarian paradise, with no urban planning, no regulation of land use, no real preparation for what happened. A worst case scenario, like the other "libertarian paradises" we've read about in recent years. Nobody predicted this deluge...

Actually scientists did predict it. The oil companies’ own scientists saw this coming but they were silenced by their employers. Scientists said not decreasing use of fossil fuels would lead to this kind of event. The fossil fuel industry spent millions denying it and hiding what they knew. Talk about "natural consequences."

There's been a lively discussion of the Trump administration's re-instatement of civil asset forfeiture, confiscating property and wealth from persons suspected of crimes. It's a medieval device but maybe there is a proper use for it here: pay for the huge costs of climate change by confiscating the massive wealth of the companies who have caused it.



"The Harvey-wrought devastation is just the latest example of the consequences of Houston’s gung-ho approach to development. The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth—often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now also a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense. Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protections, it’s one that Americans elsewhere should pay attention to.”


From the Guardian

"Added up, the facts evoke a social breakdown across the board. Not only does Oklahoma lead the country in cuts to education, it’s also number one in rates of female incarceration, places second in male incarceration, and also leads in school expulsion rates. One in 12 Oklahomans have a felony conviction.

"Rosa Brooks of Georgetown University Law Center wrote in an essay that states begin to fail when the contract between citizens and public institutions breaks down. States “lose control over the means of violence, and cannot create peace or stability for their populations or control their territories. They cannot ensure economic growth or any reasonable distribution of social goods.” "


From USAToday

There are many lessons from this fiasco, none more important than the need to be wary of free-lunch promises that sound too good to be true.
Gov. Sam Brownback pitched his tax-cut plan with classic "supply side" economics. Lost revenue from lower rates, he argued, would be made up with surging growth and rising incomes.

That never happened. In 2014, the first year in which the cuts were in effect, revenue from the state’s individual income tax plunged by more than $700 million, a 25% drop. Since then, tax receipts have stagnated at their reduced levels.

The promised revenue from increased business activity and higher wages never materialized. In fact, Kansas’ economy has not responded to this enormous fiscal stimulus in any measurable way. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the state's annual rate of growth in personal income has been stuck in the low single digits since the tax cuts went into effect.

This lesson should be particularly relevant to lawmakers in Washington, where the Trump administration is pushing what Vice President Pence last week called "the largest tax cut since the days of Ronald Reagan." The irresponsible plan slashes taxes so much that it would likely hasten the arrival of a debt crisis already on the horizon as the result of surging spending on benefits.


From Politico

"The city’s experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from “60 Minutes” flew out to talk with the town’s leaders. The New York Times found a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. “This American Life” did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new “Adopt a Streetlight” program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. “I’ll take care of mine” was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.”

"…One of the lessons: There’s a real cost to saving money.

"Take the streetlights. Turning them off had saved the city about $1.25 million. What had not made the national news stories was what had happened while those lights were off. Copper thieves, emboldened by the opportunity to work without fear of electrocution, had worked overtime scavenging wire. Some, the City Council learned, had even dressed up as utility workers and pried open the boxes at the base of streetlights in broad daylight. Keeping the lights off might have saved some money in the short term, but the cost to fix what had been stolen ran to some $5 million.

“Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work out the way you’d hope,” says Merv Bennett, who served on the City Council at the time and asked officials at the utilities about whether the savings were real.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Holes Fascism and Racism Crawl Out From

Many sides? That's how Trump tried to defend his followers in the white supremacist fringe.*

There are two distinct sides in this, just as there were in 1941, when one side attacked peaceful neighbors and exterminated millions, and the other side (the Allies) opposed fascism and defeated it.

There were two clear sides in 1861; one defended slavery and bigotry, the other side opposed these evils. This film from the 40s states what our values were after we fought and won WW2, when we knew the difference between good and evil.

The WW2 era film explaining why we fought fascism can be seen via The Atlantic

But the Nazi flags are back, carried by people who think they are great patriots upholding a better America, a pure white America. Seeing the Nazi and Confederate flags together carried by armed mobs shouting bigotry and hate down the public street is disturbing, especially because these people believe themselves to be patriotic––while telling us that the United States should have been defeated in WW2 and the Civil War. They believe American values of democracy and tolerance should not prevail. They believe that the men and women who died for those values died for nothing, or, worse, that they died for false values. They may carry the U.S. flag along with their enemy flags but they are not patriots.

Here’s another video making the rounds, from the NRA. This is the organization that arms the Right and inflames their dreams of “purifying" this country the way Germany “purified” itself in the 1940s, by force of arms. The NRA urges “real Americans" to arm themselves against “the other”, the person who looks or thinks or worships differently. Note that it was the Nazis and Confederates who came to Charlottesville armed.

You can watch the virulent NRA hate propaganda spot here at ThinkProgress

It appears that the NRA gets considerable support and aid from Russia, America’s longtime global foe and Trump’s greatest ally.

The NRA's coziness with Russia is discussed here, at Medium

Fascism, bigotry, authoritarianism, violent suppression of people's rights. These strains crawl out of the same hole. It turns out the Nazis got many of their ideas from the American South.

Business Insider goes into how the founders of Nazism looked to the American South and its race laws to devise the Nuremberg Laws that looted and repressed and finally exterminated the Jews of Europe

*It's being argued that Trump derived the points his more aggressive statement yesterday from the predominant right wing propaganda machine in America today, FoxNews. This is laid out in a video comparison from MediaMatters.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

A White House Run By Remote Control

New from the Daily Beast: an article about National Security Advisor McMaster's efforts to rid the White House of a dangerous infestation. It started me thinking.

Imagine a personal enemy had a remote control device so he could get you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do, like walking up to a stranger and picking a fight or phoning your most important friend and accusing him of things, destroying the friendship, or behaving irrationally in public causing a loss of confidence and trust.

I worry that Russia has a whole array of remote control devices they’ve implanted in our collective brain, in our national Republican leadership, in our White House, and implanted by White House appointment in various other top strategic posts.

Reading this DailyBeast article this morning suggests this concern may be shared by some of the national security professionals, including General McMaster, who is trying to remove people put in place by General Michael Flynn, who was himself removed once his ties to Russia were revealed. What ties might Flynn’s appointees have with Russia, or with Russian proxies? How did these White House officials land where they did? Who put them there? Who are they loyal to? Who pulls their strings? People being manipulated from outside should not get into top White House posts.

There is a lot we don’t know, but we are the public, it’s not our job to know. We trust the government to do this. The vetting and clearing of key national security appointees is a serious task, and it appears that it was not done fully and responsibly. Who was in charge of this? Who ran the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration? Whose job was it to check the new people out? That means not accepting the word of some friend of the president who gave a million dollars or was hired to run his campaign. Several people ran Trump’s campaign. One of them is now the focus of a grand jury investigation, possibly two, as is the former general who was Trump’s global strategic mastermind. Who vetted these people? Nobody, apparently. They came in on the nod.

The person charged with taking resumés and deciding who filled what role in the new administration was Vice President Mike Pence. Pence has spent the past year looking interviewers in the eye and praising the expertise and trustworthiness and honesty of the president and everyone around him, and the president and staff have mostly turned out to be dishonest, non-expert stumblebums no sane person would trust with anything. (This embarrassing incompetence may be separate from the apparent manipulation by the Russians, but they might be part of the same thing. One thing the Russians would like is for us to malfunction. We are malfunctioning in a major way now.)

Mike Pence is like the upright, square-jawed, white haired, cardboard figure we've seen in hundreds of corruption scandals, the handsome plausible stooge the crooks put in place to mollify the shareholders while they loot the operation. The role President Warren G. Harding served during the Teapot Dome Scandal.

There are indications that Pence is being positioned as the hero who will ride in and replace Trump when he resigns or is removed. He’s been touring our eastern European allies reassuring them that the U.S. is not as unreliable as President Trump is. However disastrous Trump has been for our alliances and our global security, Pence has been part of that, enabling him, defending him, fending off questions which should have been answered months ago but weren’t because the Republican Party in control, if they didn’t feel entirely comfortable with Trump, did feel comfortable with Mike Pence, the plausible white-haired square-jawed cardboard former governor who stumbled out of that job into this one because nobody else wanted it.

Does the White House have a dangerous rat infestation? Maybe the word mole should be used here instead. Echoes of LeCarré novels and the Burgess/Philby/McClean/Blunt/Blake infestation the Brits didn’t figure out for decades. The Brits also had a serious vetting flaw. I can hear Pence saying the same thing about the applicants for various jobs in the White House security staff: “He’s O.K. He’s 'one of us.’”

There are those who trust Mike Pence to deal with any succession plan like he dealt with the serious work of vetting the Trump team. I’m guessing Pence did this by praying about it. Praying didn’t work so well. And I don’t think you can pray away an infestation like the one they’ve set in place. First of all, moles pray to a different god entirely.

The mindset of the entire Republican apparatus in Washington has been the old familiar one that always fails: If they ignore it and keep people from mentioning it, maybe the problem will just go away. Rather than expending any diligent effort on it, they pray over it. But it won’t work. Trump and his GOP have made the U.S. unreliable and unlikable and a laughingstock around the world. If an enemy of ours had implanted a remote control device to make our government malfunction they probably hoped it would turn out this way but they didn’t expect it to turn out so well.

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Firehose of Falsehood

"Trump’s chronic duplicity may be pathological, as some experts have suggested. But what else might be going on here? In fact, the 45th president’s stream of lies echoes a contemporary form of Russian propaganda known as the 'Firehose of Falsehood.'"

It's got a NAME. Firehose of Falsehood. Start using that phrase. From MotherJones

There are whole armies and battalions of lies being deployed in all directions with the goal of overwhelming our sense of reality. Besides the daily false denials of offenses they perpetrated the day before, there is the all-important counter narrative. (If you are up against a highly qualified opponent accuse that opponent, baselessly, outrageously, of running a child pornography operation out of a mom-and-pop pizza restaurant.)

The new counter narrative they have invented to oppose the Russian collusion story, which is based on evidence, is a bogus story claiming a murdered 23 year old Democrat was behind the election hack. It appears this bogus and offensive counter narrative was cooked up with the full complicity and supervision of the White House.

From the Daily Beast

"The White House and Fox’s motivation to push the false story was to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation, Wheeler claims in the lawsuit.

“One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion like [T]rump with the Russians,” Butowsky allegedly wrote in emails to Fox News producers and anchors promoting the piece."

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

False Narratives Are Part Of The FoxNews Brand

Ari Melber's interview with the private investigator who is suing FoxNews reveals key details about how FoxNews and the Trump White House tried to fabricate an alternate narrative to distract from the looming Russia collusion scandal.

This is how the Murdoch companies work. They see political advantage for the Right in distorting and corrupting legitimate investigations and exploiting real tragedies to do this. In this case it appears the goal was to discredit the investigations into Trump collusion with the Russians.

While Trump complains that our legitimate news media fabricates “fake news” the real fake news industry is based at FoxNews and appears to be working under the close direction of this White House.

Bill Moyers lists some of the other false narratives cooked up by the Right to confuse the public.

The Hill reports on Trump's very own news program, loyally and cheerfully and blandly and blondely reported by his blonde daughter-in-law, who is married to his blond son. "Bow! Bow! To the Daughter-In-Law-Elect!" ~The Mikado

A free society with a functioning democracy relies on the existence of a vigorous and honest press to guarantee the public has good information, that the public can trust its information, that the public can trust they are not being tricked or deceived.

But in Trump World honest news is the enemy. They have created what Orwell warned us about: a dictatorship of lies, in which the Truth is called a lie and the regime’s own self-manufactured Big Lies are fed to the public as gospel.

The Murdoch media and the Trump White House see news media as a political tool and a political weapon, divorced from truth and reality. Because truth and reality endanger the Trump regime. Because truth and reality undermine their power.

Because the Trump regime holds this cynical belief they think everyone else does too, that their opponents are just as cynical and dishonest. They cheat because they believe everyone cheats. They lie because they believe everyone lies. Of course every story that embarrasses Trump or the Republicans must be a lie.

Remember, FoxNews was originally dreamed up in the Nixon White House, the brainchild of Roger Ailes, then a Nixon staffer. Dishonest beginnings.

Ailes wanted to call it GOP-TV: a news source where everything was Republican spin and every story was a Republican weapon. When Rupert Murdoch learned about it he loved it. He put it together in the mid-90s as FoxNews and put Ailes in charge. The goal: to discredit and destroy the Clintons and the Clinton presidency.

There is a clear pattern here. The Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory resembles the fixation about Benghazi but ultimately harks back to the never-ending tabloid accusations that the Clintons had murdered their close friend and White House staffer Vince Foster. The story was pushed for years, not in the form of actual facts but with Fox personalities asking leading questions about Vince Foster’s death, substantiating the unfounded speculation, not with any evidence, but by raising their eyebrows and nodding. This was also the method used to charge and prosecute Hillary Clinton in the media for the “murder" of ambassador Chris Stevens. FoxNews kept the false narrative alive and Trey Gowdy and Darryl Issa’s inquisition in Congress kept the viewers glued to FoxNews. This is how the Murdoch press operates, carefully coordinated with the right wing faction in Washington. A poisonous symbiotic relationship.

Meanwhile innocent people are incriminated unfairly and grieving families are victimized.

In the UK, remember, the Murdoch press distorted and corrupted the Scotland Yard investigation of the murder of a young girl, hacking into the dead girl’s phone and preying on the grief of the girl’s parents. Frontline covered the Murdoch phone hacking scandal in detail on PBS.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A Question We Should Be Asking

How many generals does it take before you call it a junta?

(I noticed Seven Days In May was on the TCM schedule last month.)

Russiagate: Do We Follow the Money or Follow the Dead Bodies?

Follow the Money:

From USAToday (middle America's newspaper) there's this story about Trump's fear that his finances will be looked into. It's a rational fear, but it's making him irrational.

"The [Mueller] investigation could shine renewed light on eyebrow-raising deals from Trump’s past, such as his 2008 sale of a South Florida mansion to Russian tycoon Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million or the international financing behind a condo-hotel he developed with foreign partners in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.

"It could also pierce the increasing secrecy around who is buying real estate from Trump. A USA TODAY investigation last month revealed that 70% of Trump real estate sales since he won the GOP nomination were to secretive shell companies, compared to 4% in the two years before that. The clear shift to those kinds of purchases, which help obscure the identities of the buyers, raise questions about the source of profits that ultimately flow to the President because he has not fully divested from his companies."

There's also this USAToday story about Trump's financial dealings and the cookie crumbs leading to Moscow.

Follow the Dead Bodies:

From BuzzFeed, there is this story about the latest murder of a witness before he could testify in the Russia investigation.

"Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC, on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department, according to two FBI agents whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death.

"Mikhail Lesin’s battered body was discovered in his Dupont Circle hotel room on the morning of Nov. 5, 2015, with blunt-force injuries to the head, neck, and torso. After an almost yearlong "comprehensive investigation," a federal prosecutor announced last October that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an "accident," and prosecutors closed the case.

"But the two FBI agents — as well as a third agent and a serving US intelligence officer — said Lesin was actually bludgeoned to death. None of these officials were directly involved in the government’s investigation, but they said they learned about it from colleagues who were.

"“Lesin was beaten to death,” one of the FBI agents said. “I would implore you to say as much. There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can't get into.”"

This article from The Atlantic covers the testimony of William Browder regarding the murder-in-custody of his lawyer, which prompted the Magnitsky Act sanctions in the first place.

"There are approximately ten thousand officials in Russia working for Putin who are given instructions to kill, torture, kidnap, extort money from people, and seize their property. Before the Magnitsky Act, Putin could guarantee them impunity and this system of illegal wealth accumulation worked smoothly. However, after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin’s guarantee disappeared. The Magnitsky Act created real consequences outside of Russia and this created a real problem for Putin and his system of kleptocracy.

"For these reasons, Putin has stated publicly that it was among his top foreign policy priorities to repeal the Magnitsky Act and to prevent it from spreading to other countries. Since its passage in 2012, the Putin regime has gone after everybody who has been advocating for the Magnitsky Act.

"One of my main partners in this effort was Boris Nemtsov. Boris testified in front of the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, and others to make the point that the Magnitsky Act was a “pro-Russian” piece of legislation because it narrowly targeted corrupt officials and not the Russian people. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov was murdered on the bridge in front of the Kremlin.

"Boris Nemtsov’s protégé, Vladimir Kara-Murza, also traveled to law-making bodies around the world to make a similar case. After Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, was added to the Magnitsky List in December of 2016, Vladimir was poisoned. He suffered multiple organ failure, went into a coma and barely survived.

"The lawyer who represented Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Nikolai Gorokhov, has spent the last six years fighting for justice. This spring, the night before he was due in court to testify about the state cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, he was thrown off the fourth floor of his apartment building. Thankfully he survived and has carried on in the fight for justice."

And while Putin is whacking witnesses and Trump is trying to kill investigations, the Republican apparatus is busy cooking up bogus stories like the one Seth Rich's family is filing suit over. Any time there is a murder the Right will seek to pin it on Democrats.

Trump admires Putin. Trump envies Putin for his ability to assert power however he wishes. Putin is Trump’s role model. Trump would like to change America to make it more like Russia, more of a brutal autocracy in which the elite loots the nation’s wealth and evades the taxes everyone else pays. So what else is new? We already knew all this. Trump has planned all along to turn the United States into a kleptocracy.

A new piece from VOX about Trump's plans for American kleptocracy.

Putin’s Russia is not a free market economy but a kleptocracy, in which Putin skims billions off of every transaction and every deal, in which nobody has wealth or power without Putin taking his cut. What happens to this massive wealth is not good for Russians because it is parked offshore. A lot of it appears to have been laundered through high end real estate transactions here in the U.S., some of them via Trump and Kushner and their associates. (Trumps Commerce Secretary owned and ran a Cypriot bank that was one of the favorite money-laundries used by Putin’s oligarch cronies.) Think of these helpful real estate tycoons as fences receiving stolen goods, in this case those goods are the wealth of an entire country. You might say this isn’t important to Americans, that it may even be good for Americans because they are parking their billions here. The danger is the corruption of our economy, and the corruption of our democracy if our president is a willing money launderer and a co-conspirator with a global criminal gang.

Is it safe for us to think of all these billions being invested in U.S. real estate as a good thing with no down side? The wealth that the Nazis stole from the Jews of Germany and Europe was rationalized to the German people as a confiscation that would benefit them, but it corrupted them and it murdered six million Jews/liberals/gays/minorities; millions of German gentiles also died in the catastrophe that ensued.

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