Carole Cadwalladr on Al Gore and Climate Change

 

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Iceberg Calving

Take a moment to read Carole Cadwalladr’s article in The Guardian, “Al Gore: ‘The rich have subverted all reason'”. a discussion of Gore and Gore’s new sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”.  Gore has been at the forefront of the movement to heighten public awareness of the dangers of global warming, an effort dating from before his original blockbuster documentary.  His experiences are instructive because, as with the earlier fight against tobacco, the fight against global warming faces a disinformation campaign from the corporate interests who perceive their profits at risk, in this case the fossil fuel producers led by the Koch brothers.

Cadwalladr writes: “One of Trump’s first acts after his inauguration was to remove all mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is that one of Theresa May’s first actions on becoming prime minister – within 24 hours of taking office – was to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it’s this network of power that Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.

[Says Gore] ‘In Tennessee we have an expression: “If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself.” And if you see these levels of climate denial, you can be pretty sure it didn’t just spread itself. The large carbon polluters have spent between $1bn and $2bn spreading false doubt. Do you know the book, Merchants of Doubt?  It documents how the tobacco industry discredited the consensus on cigarette smoking and cancer by creating doubt, and shows how it’s linked to the climate denial movement. They hired many of the same PR firms and some of the same think tanks. And, in fact, some of those who work on climate change denial actually still dispute the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.'”

Notes Cadwalladr,  “What becomes clear over the course of several conversations [with Gore] is how entwined he believes it all is – climate change denial, the interests of big capital, ‘dark money’, billionaire political funders, the ascendancy of Trump and what he calls (he’s written a book on it) ‘the assault against reason’. They are all pieces of the same puzzle; a puzzle that Gore has been tracking for years, because it turns out that climate change denial was the canary in the coal mine.”

Gore is nonetheless relentlessly upbeat – noting other successful social movements, he feels that surely, in his view, Trump is a blip in the road.  Notwithstanding Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Gore is heartened by the reaction of the other 19 countries in the G 20.

Perhaps he is correct, but he is more certainly on point when he ties the disinformation campaign of the Right to the other political shenanigans currently in vogue.  Here’s Cadwalladr’s wrap up: “Brexit, Trump, climate change, oil producers, dark money, Russian influence, a full- frontal assault on facts, evidence, journalism, science, it’s all connected. Ask Al Gore. You may want to watch Wonder Woman this summer, but to understand the new reality we’re living in, you really should watch An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Because, terrifying as they are, in some ways the typhoons and exploding glaciers are just the start of it. “

For my part, I am less than confident that sufficient action on climate change will be taken.  Gore, for all his presence and articulateness, has been at this effort for over ten years and yet the US is backsliding at a terrifying rate even as the environmental catastrophes loom.  Nothing guarantees that we win this fight.  The current efforts at degrading mainstream journalism and at spreading disinformation through right-wing outlets and social media have been more than successful.  A wake up is in order.

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Bill Browder’s testimony and the Magnitsky Act

article-2178141-1430f198000005dc-816_964x658Rosie Gray’s article in the July 25 Atlantic, “Bill Browder’s Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee” is a must read to make sense of the motivations underlying Trump Russia.   They reveal a corrupt Vladimir Putin uncomfortably in the sights of the Magnitsky Act passed by Congress in 2012 and willing to risk Russian capital to see it killed.

Bill Browder founded and ran a large capital investment firm in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  When Browder, as now seems inevitable, ran afoul of the corrupt oligarchs that were looting the government, he initially turned successfully to Vladimir Putin for protection.  Yet, when Browder and his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky turned up evidence of corruption that ultimately benefited Putin, Browder became persona non gratis in Russia and  Magnitsky was detained under allegations of corruption, was abused, and ultimately died in Russian prison.  In 2012, the United States Congress sanctioned the involved Russian Oligarchs with the Magnitsky Act, an act that has proved painful to the Russians, and which Putin has gone to great lengths to quash.  The meeting between Donald, Jr., Kushner, and Manafort with the Russians concerned making a deal to lift those sanctions.  Rosie Gray’s article and Browder’s testimony put flesh on these bare bones and are necessary to understand the breadth and nature of the corruption.

This is from Rosie Gray’s introduction in the Atlantic, “Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.”

Here’s Browder concerning when difficulties with Putin began:   “[Assistance from Putin] all changed in July 2003, when Putin arrested Russia’s biggest oligarch and richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Putin grabbed Khodorkovsky off his private jet, took him back to Moscow, put him on trial, and allowed television cameras to film Khodorkovsky sitting in a cage right in the middle of the courtroom. That image was extremely powerful, because none of the other oligarchs wanted to be in the same position. After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, ‘Fifty percent.’ He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally. From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated.”

Browder is then expelled from Russia.   As he notes: “Eighteen months after my expulsion a pair of simultaneous raids took place in Moscow. Over 25 Interior Ministry officials barged into my Moscow office and the office of the American law firm that represented me. The officials seized all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that I advised. I didn’t know the purpose of these raids so I hired the smartest Russian lawyer I knew, a 35-year-old named Sergei Magnitsky. I asked Sergei to investigate the purpose of the raids and try to stop whatever illegal plans these officials had.

Sergei went out and investigated. He came back with the most astounding conclusion of corporate identity theft: The documents seized by the Interior Ministry were used to fraudulently re-register our Russian investment holding companies to a man named Viktor Markelov, a known criminal convicted of manslaughter. After more digging, Sergei discovered that the stolen companies were used by the perpetrators to misappropriate $230 million of taxes that our companies had paid to the Russian government in the previous year.”

Believing this to be a case of rogue officials, Browder goes on, “We filed criminal complaints with every law enforcement agency in Russia, and Sergei gave sworn testimony to the Russian State Investigative Committee (Russia’s FBI) about the involvement of officials in this crime.

However, instead of arresting the people who committed the crime, Sergei was arrested. Who took him? The same officials he had testified against. On November 24, 2008, they came to his home, handcuffed him in front of his family, and threw him into pre-trial detention.”

After slightly more than a year in prison, Magnitsky would be dead.  Browder notes,  “Sergei Magnitsky was murdered as my proxy. If Sergei had not been my lawyer, he would still be alive today.”

In reaction, Congress, in November 2012 would pass the Magnitsky Act and Putin would retaliate by banning the adoption of Russian children in the United States.  Browder goes on to detail Putin’s personal corruption: “…since 2012 it’s emerged that Vladimir Putin was a beneficiary of the stolen $230 million that Sergei Magnitsky exposed.  Recent revelations from the Panama Papers have shown that Putin’s closest childhood friend, Sergei Roldugin, a famous cellist, received $2 billion of funds from Russian oligarchs and the Russian state. It’s commonly understood that Mr. Roldugin received this money as an agent of Vladimir Putin. Information from the Panama Papers also links some money from the crime that Sergei Magnitsky discovered and exposed to Sergei Roldugin.  Based on the language of the Magnitsky Act, this would make Putin personally subject to Magnitsky sanctions.”

Moreover, “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.”

Browder’s testimony further provides a history of the Russian efforts in Washington to remove the Act.  For example, “Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act . He contacted a number of major newspapers and other publications to spread false information that Sergei Magnitsky was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal. They also spread false information that my presentations to lawmakers around the world were untrue.

As part of Veselnitskaya’s lobbying, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Group, was hired to organize the Washington, D.C.-based premiere of a fake documentary about Sergei Magnitsky and myself.”

And this, “They hired Howard Schweitzer of Cozzen O’Connor Public Strategies and former Congressman Ronald Dellums to lobby members of Congress on Capitol Hill to repeal the Magnitsky Act and to remove Sergei’s name from the Global Magnitsky bill.”

There’s more, focusing on Putin’s determination to undermine current US law for the benefit of Putin and company.  Billions of dollars and personal fortunes are at stake.   In all, it strongly suggests that  Putin’s obsession with the Magnitsky Act significantly underlied his efforts meddling in the 2016 election and his bromance with Mr. Trump.  But judge for yourself.

 

A Culture of Thuggery

kingWe’ve all seen the videos of police beating and shooting our citizens, most often a young black man who failed to show sufficient deference, or talked back, or had a pen in his hand.

In the international news, we are now inured to stories of US drone strikes, with the inevitable “collateral damage”, in countries that most of our population could not locate on a map.

If you dug deeper, you would find that US foreign policy often supports repressive regimes.

If you dug deeper, you would find that the “War on Drugs” provided the perfect ploy for jacking up a private prison industry.

And at the root of it all, you would find weapons manufacturers and right-wing gun nuts pontificating about individual rights and manhood, and don’t tread on me.

So, if you are wondering where does this lead, I have a reading assignment, Janet Reitman’s stunning expose of the culture of Parris Island, the Marine boot camp, in last Sunday’s New York Times, “The Making – and Breaking- of Marines  How the Death of a Muslim Recruit During Boot Camp Revealed a Culture of Brutality.”   Read how the Marines literally beat a young Muslim recruit to death.  I don’t think I’ve read anything as shocking or depressing in years.  I’m not going to excerpt from it.  You need to read it yourself.

But then ask yourself just who we are.  My dad, an officer in the Army signal corp, was in numerous battle zones in the Pacific in World War II.  As a career nuclear engineer, he designed nuclear submarines that were critical to America’s first line of defense.

I’ve had good friends who are police officers; their service is critical to protecting public safety.  I’m not anti-military or anti-police – they are crucial in protecting a civilized society in a less than benign world.

But their worth depends on understanding what we are protecting – the basic human rights to speak, to work, to associate as we please.  The core of civilization is its humanity and the arts, the literature, the science that it can produce.  Those values are not represented by our current administration, or the militarized police forces that are now the rage, or the wide-spread availability of assault rifles, or beating and abusing a young recruit, or American’s self-assumed role as world policeman, acting in foreign lands and cultures of which it is profoundly ignorant.

Please.  I’m asking for a little light on this.  Haven’t we seen enough?

Trump at the Epicenter

stock-photo-flock-of-five-ducks-on-green-grass-83404648Given Trump’s disclaimers of contacts with the Russians, each day brings a surprise.  Today Donald Jr. admitted to meeting in June 2016, along with Manafort and Kushner, with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Clinton.  Watch as they try to spin this one.

But equally, or perhaps more, damning are the reports concerning Trump’s proximity to the US and Russian mob.  See, for example,  Trump, Collusion, Global Oligarchs, and the Mob.  Here’s an article from September 14, 2016 worth considering, from Mother Jones, by David Corn and Hannah Levintova,   “How Did an Alleged Russian Mobster End Up on Trump’s Red Carpet?”  The gist of that story: “On April 16, 2013, federal agents burst into a swanky apartment at Trump Tower in New York City as part of a larger raid that rounded up 29 suspected members of two global gambling rings with operations allegedly overseen by a supposed Russian mob boss named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The Russian was not nabbed by US law enforcement. Since being indicted in the United States a decade earlier for allegedly rigging an ice skating competition at the 2002 Olympics, he had been living in Russia, beyond the reach of Western authorities. And this new gambling indictment did not appear to inconvenience Tokhtakhounov. Seven months after the bust, he was a VIP attendee at Donald Trump’s Miss Universe 2013 contest held in Moscow. In fact, Tokhtakhounov hit the red carpet within minutes of Trump.”

And this,

“The operations of the gambling scheme were handled by two other men: Vadim Trincher and Anatoly Golubchik. The indictment alleged that they and others ran ‘an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world,’ used ‘threats of violence to obtain unpaid gambling debts,’ and ’employed a sophisticated money laundering scheme to move tens of millions of dollars…from the former Soviet Union through shell companies in Cyprus into various investments and other shell companies in the United States.’ According to the US attorney, their enterprise ‘booked sports bets that reached into the millions of dollars’ and laundered approximately $100 million.

Trincher, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was a championship professional poker player who had purchased a Trump Tower apartment located directly below an apartment owned by Donald Trump. In 2009, Trincher had paid $5 million for the posh pad. Two years later, he and his wife had reportedly hoped to hold a fundraiser in the apartment for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, but they had to cancel the event because of the presence of mold caused by a water leak. During one court hearing, the US attorney’s office said that Trincher, then 52 years old, directed much of the racketeering enterprise from this Trump Tower apartment.”

Corn and Levintova’s takeaway?  “Trump has cited the 2013 Miss Universe contest as proof he possesses serious foreign policy experience. In May, he told Fox News, ‘I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, which was a big, big incredible event.’ And it provided the reality television mogul the opportunity to hobnob with a Putin crony who is now under US sanctions, various oligarchs who are chums with the Russian leader, and an alleged Russian mafioso accused by the US government of protecting a global criminal enterprise that operated directly below one of Trump’s own apartments in Trump Tower.  What a small world.”

My take away?  If you spend your life flocking with ducks, it is remotely possible you are a swan or a goose.  But the best probability?   You are a duck.

Government for sale

fixing-the-signThere’s a lot wrong with the US government but nothing is quite as telling, and distressing, as the fact that it is for sale to the highest bidder.  I’ve blogged about this before and highly recommend that you read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a treatise on the right-wing octopus of money spread by the Koch brothers and other right-wing oligarchs to tip the scale in elections and governance.

Yesterday’s article in Fast Company, by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins and Andrew Perez, “White House Relied Upon Dark Money Lobbyist to ‘Quarterback’ Gorsuch’s Confirmation“, describes how dark money permeates not only the election campaigns but also the inner Congressional campaigns to confirm nominations and enact legislation.

Here’s their lead-in:

“A lobbyist with extensive ties to secretive nonprofit organizations served as the ‘quarterback’ for the successful nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, according to records reviewed by MapLight.

Rob Collins, a Washington lobbyist and Republican strategist, claims on his professional biography at the S-3 Group that he worked with more than a half-dozen White House offices, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate, and more than 20 advocacy organizations to ensure Gorsuch’s confirmation.

The disclosure reveals that the Trump administration is taking advantage of a loophole in U.S. campaign finance law that allows elected officials to coordinate their agendas with nonprofit organizations that aren’t required to disclose their donors to the public. All told, five major ‘dark money’ organizations spent more than $14 million boosting Gorsuch’s nomination.”

And more on Collins:

“Collins was a director of 45Committee, a dark money organization that spent more than $21 million supporting Trump’s presidential campaign, as recently as January, when he last appeared on the organization’s FCC filings. The Herndon, Virginia-based committee’s ads made it the third highest-spending dark money organization in the election cycle.

Since the election, the organization has supported Trump’s agenda, launching campaigns to help confirm cabinet picks including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The 45Committee paid for a round of ads touting Gorsuch’s qualifications that ran nationally on networks including Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.”

Or consider this: “The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a nonprofit that advocates for the appointment of conservative judges in state and national courts, spent at least $10 million on the Gorsuch confirmation. The network shares a top donor with the 45Committee, the Wellspring Committee, which has distributed more than $24 million in grants to conservative nonprofits since 2008. Wellspring has given roughly $13.9 million to JCN, and also provided $750,000 to the 45Committee—a third of the money the organization reported raising between April 2015 and March 2016.”

Sessa-Hawkins and Perez report on the following exchange during the confirmation hearing:

“During the March confirmation hearings, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, asked Gorsuch about the spending by dark money organizations to aid his confirmation, and the $3 million spent to oppose former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, whose nomination was blocked by Republicans last year.

‘I’m trying to figure out what they see in you that makes that $17 million. . . worth their spending,’ he said.

‘You’d have to ask them,’ Gorsuch replied.

‘I can’t,’ Whitehouse said. ‘I don’t know who they are.'”

Actually, now we know more, including that the NRA ponied up over a million dollars to support Gorsuch.  You might ask yourself why they would do that and what they expect from a Supreme Court Justice in return.

Take time to read the article in full; then give thought to what is needed to get the paws of the rich off our government.