Le Carre – Truth in Fiction

rehost2f20162f92f142f9e2a71b1-108f-4188-8285-f1f09d11c40bThe following exchange is from yesterday’s Twitter:  The cleverly named Anon Y Mouse: “Jesus, It is exactly like a John Le Carre novel. Money launderers. Villas buy the beach. Deep moles. Russian mafia.”  My response at the time: “Le Carre wasn’t “making it up”. He was cluing us in through the medium of great fiction. It is like a Le Carre novel.”

John Le Carre worked as a British intelligence officer for both M15 and M16.  He grew up with a father who operated as a conman.  As such, he developed an extraordinary ability to observe and a highly developed antenna for separating what is real from the bull shit society prepares for our benefit.   His experience and exceptional writing skills combine in one of our great living writers.  And he self-evidently uses his novels to inform us about who we are and what is going on.

So, if you want to understand the world of global oligarchs, the world of Kochs, and Mercers, and Putins, and Trumps, you could read Jane Mayer at The New Yorker explaining  the octopus of dark money, or you could read Carole Cadwalladr at  The Guardian exposing Cambridge Analytica, or you can enter the world of oligarchs more directly in Le Carre’s The Night Manager.  (I like the British miniseries with Tom Hiddleston too.)  Or maybe you are interested in the hypocrisy of governments and the pernicious influence of the military industrial complex.  What happened to the intelligence community after the fall of the Wall?  Read Le Carre’s Absolute Friends, as depressing and hard nailed as it gets.  It’s what we are dealing with.

While I’m extolling great writing – what is a better way to spend your time than with a great book? –  I also recommend Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst.   Both write a historical fiction not unlike some of Le Carre’s works.  Furst mines Europe in the late thirties and early forties under Hitler – often in Paris or eastern Europe – and the resistance in its many forms.   Joseph Kanon writes for a just post war period, and is perhaps even more geographically disperse, setting in Cold War Istanbul or Moscow.  Both novelists do an exceptional job of creating atmosphere, evoking the paranoia, and the courage, and the everyday efforts to impose normalcy on the unthinkable.  Great stuff.  Read Kanon’s latest, The Defectors, which channels a bit of the feel of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in evoking Moscow and the intelligence community at the height of the Cold War.

One more book, really top notch.  Read the nonfiction Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.  Grann details an ugly Americana most of us seem determined to forget, the systematic mistreatment of native Americans.  Killers of the Flower Moon tells what happened when the Osage Indians were forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma that turned out to contain extraordinarily rich oil fields.  Maybe you’ve read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost about the exploitation and abuse in the Congo.  Maybe you didn’t know our own version of exploitation happened here in the twentieth century.


Does a corporation have a soul? Or bean counters are going to count beans

17121923990_ba6b3b8fe6_zAn article today in The Guardian does an excellent job of deconstructing the ramifications of the right-wing “privatization” agenda.  See Ben Tarnoff’s “Privatizing public services could spell their demise – and the end of democracy”.   Tarnoff cites the underlying premise of the privatizers, noting:

“For years, they have advanced the argument that business will always perform a given task better than government, whether it’s running buses or schools, supplying healthcare or housing. The public sector is sclerotic, wasteful, and undisciplined by the profit motive. The private sector is dynamic, innovative, and, above all, efficient.

This belief has become common sense in political life. It is widely shared by the country’s elite, and has guided much policymaking over the past several decades. But, like most of our governing myths, it collapses on closer inspection.”

Consider Tarnoff’s take on healthcare:  “No word is invoked more frequently or more fervently by apostles of privatization than efficiency. Yet this is a strange basis on which to build their case, given the fact that public services are often more efficient than private ones. Take healthcare. The United States has one of the least efficient systems on the planet: we spend more money on healthcare than anyone else, and in return we receive some of the worst health outcomes in the west. Not coincidentally, we also have the most privatized healthcare system in the advanced world. By contrast, the UK spends a fraction of what we do and achieves far better results. It also happens to provision healthcare as a public service. Somehow, the absence of the profit motive has not produced an epidemic of inefficiency in British healthcare. Meanwhile, we pay nearly $10,000 per capita and a staggering 17% of our GDP to achieve a life expectancy somewhere between that of Costa Rica and Cuba.”

As Tarnoff notes: “A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.”

Tarnoff continues: “But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.”

Tarnoff has more – take a look – but I think you can verify his point of view in a variety of sectors.  What is going on with privatization is that the corporate sector, led by a group of super rich oligarchs, is monetizing every activity they can get a handle on, be it education, highway construction, nursing homes, or the media.  They’ve even done it with the private military contractors, the Blackstones, which allow transfer of public funds to the private section in exchange for security.

Here’s the bottom line – corporations provide a good model if what you want is to efficiently produce widgets, particularly if you ensure competition and set reasonable regulations for  employment of labor and protection of the environment.  But corporations at heart do not have a heart – they are enslaved by the profit motive, the obligation to shareholders, and the power of the ruling board.  That’s fine for maximizing profit, but works poorly if a human factor is involved.  The corporation doesn’t care if you live or die if it doesn’t affect their bottom line.  They can’t help themselves – they pay high priced MBAs to ensure they don’t waste a dime just to help someone out.  If they set the price of a drug, the issue is not whether people can pay, or how much does it cost to produce, but what price makes shareholders the most money.  That’s the wrong criteria if you are concerned about people with modest resources who are battling cancer or AIDs or diabetes.

In ideological terms, it is clear that a modern state must balance appropriate profit motives and capital accumulation – capitalism, if you will – with appropriate public sector programs addressing important human needs.  Call it what you will.  If we want public services that address human needs – such as universal education, or universal healthcare, or national security – the public sector should control resources necessary to ensure that the public needs are addressed.  This is not new; it was the foundation of FDR’s New Deal.  And yes, it is as simple as that.

The American Class System

snobsThe American Class System.  It’s hidden in plain sight.  My parents were firm believers in the American meritocracy: work hard, get a good education, and you will succeed.  It’s a worthy aspiration, and it served me well.  But too often in the United States, the meritocracy is honored only in the breach.  Consider this article by British-raised Richard V. Reeves in The New York Times, Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich.

Here’s Reeves: “[I]magine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.”

Reeves notes that “Beneath a veneer of classlessness, the American class reproduction machine operates with ruthless efficiency. In particular, the upper middle class is solidifying. This favored fifth at the top of the income distribution, with an average annual household income of $200,000, has been separating from the 80 percent below. Collectively, this top fifth has seen a $4 trillion-plus increase in pretax income since 1979, compared to just over $3 trillion for everyone else. Some of those gains went to the top 1 percent. But most went to the 19 percent just beneath them.”

Thus “On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up.”

And moreover: “Things turn ugly, …., when the upper middle class starts to rig markets in its own favor, to the detriment of others. Take housing, perhaps the most significant example. Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses. The federal tax system gives us a handout, through the mortgage-interest deduction, to help us purchase these pricey homes. For the upper middle classes, regardless of their professed political preferences, zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.”

As Reeves concludes: “Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them.”

In substantial ways, our society is even more class conscious than the British Reeves picked up on.  Consider, for example, the election in which Kerry ran against Bush – both candidates were Yale graduates and members of the elite Skull and Bones.  It is no coincidence that our “democracy” predictably elevates those with the “right” credentials.  Al Gore, and yes, even Barack Obama, had their qualifications burnished with elite Harvard diplomas.  The American system of private schooling flourishes with its graduates given an automatic entrance into American upper class.  Our electorate is attracted to and rewards American upper class families, the Bushes and Kennedys, the Roosevelts and now the billionaire Trumps.  Many corporate boards are dominated by Ivy League graduates.  And for all our claim of meritocracy, our public schools in inner cities are poorly funded, provide poor educations, and trap the majority of their students in an underclass.

Trump, of course, and his acolytes in the kleptocracy reflect the antithesis of meritocracy.  Trump flaunts his wealth like a later day Sun King.  His education secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to public education.  Trump’s billionaire cabinet is schooled in class and privilege.  And what, indeed, is Mar a Lago but a modern King’s Court, filled, one can only assume, with sycophants and wannabes?

I’m for meritocracy, and rewarding hard work, and holding out the possibility of the American Dream for each of us.  Maybe we should work a little harder at making that dream real.

The Donald Channels the Legacy of Roy Cohn

martinlewisI’ve been blogging about the self-evident influence on Donald Trump of red-baiting mob lawyer Roy Cohn for some time – see The Root of All Evil.  Cohn was the evil genius, the infante terrible, behind Joe McCarthy’s red scare in the 1950s.  For years he made his living as a feared mob lawyer who operated outside the confines of law and ethics.  Cohn was totally ruthless, experienced in manipulating the legal system and the press,  adept at the use of fear and intimidation.   Cohn would stop at nothing to win.  His style was terrifyingly effective and while he was ultimately disbarred, that came only after the damage was done.  His legacy lives on because, as such, he mentored Donald Trump and many of the Trump old-time loyalists.   Cohn provides the necessary filter with which to view Trump.  Anyone tempted to underestimate what lengths Trump will go to, or what depth he will descend to, should think twice.

I’m not the only one focused on the Trump-Cohn axis.  Consider this article by Jack Shafer in Politico, “Week Four: The President Summons the Ghost of Roy Cohn.”  This is from Shafer’s lead: “Although he dumped Cohn, Trump never ceased playing the role of the dirtbag attorney’s parrot. Since inauguration, and especially since the scandal with no name has inflicted bleeding wounds all over his presidency, Trump has only become more Cohnian in his persona. He rains his fury down on his opponents, just like Cohn.  He breaks rules and bullies all who get in his way.  He does whatever it takes to win.  When Trump’s mouth forms the words, it’s really Cohn speaking from the grave.”

Shafer brings content to the charge that Trump is playing the Cohn card, detailing, for example, how Trump’s efforts to undermine Mueller’s investigation are straight from the Cohn playbook.  Another Shafer excerpt:  “How well Cohn taught Trump the basics of media and legal warfare!  Cohn acolytes like Trump learned the value of raising disagreements to disputes, disputes to legal threats, threats to lawsuits, and lawsuits to war, and war to burned-earth siege, a progression Trump has been playing on his smartphone’s keypad for weeks.  Cohn also taught Trump to shrug off IRS audits, deadbeat his personal debtors, lie whenever expedient, and file complicated, retaliatory lawsuits to pour sand in the gears of his opponents.  ‘Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals,’ Politico’s Michael Kruse wrote last year.  ‘Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.’”

And this: “Observing no limits has been Trump’s operational philosophy for as long as anybody can remember, one that informs his current legal defense and the conduct of his administration.  Trump’s new Cohn is his long-time personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who also feels unbound by reality. Following James Comey’s testimony, Kasowitz issued a Cohnian statement that made a mash of the chronology and the facts. As the Atlantic‘s Matt Ford wrote earlier this month, Kasowitz sought ‘to shift the investigative cloud away from his client and onto [Comey] the man all but accusing him of obstruction of justice—a task it does not accomplish.’  Roy Cohn would be so proud!”

Shafer has much more, all worth your time.  But for the future, when The Donald tweets, or speaks, or slanders, delays, or insinuates,  remember to see that devil Roy whispering in his ear.

Trump, Collusion, Global Oligarchs, and the Mob

DR NOYou may recall seeing Clint Watts testify before Congress, perhaps on the way in which Russian disinformation during the election campaign was further magnified by Trump’s reamplification.  Clint is an American counter-terrorist expert, something of a real world Jack Bauer.   You might consider following him on Twitter @selectedwisdom to see what I mean.  Not long ago, he tweeted that, if you want to know what is going on, you should follow the Russian dead bodies – that is to say, pay attention to the apparent victims of Putin, or Russian mob, ordered hits.  Today he provided a link to the following BuzzFeed article, “From Russia with Blood“, by Heidi Blake, Tom Warren, Richard Holmes, Jason Leopold, Jane Bradley, and Alex Campbell.

Here’s their lead:  “For the British fixer Scot Young, working for Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic meant stunning perks – but also constant danger. His gruesome death is one of 14 that US spy agencies have linked to Russia – but the UK police shut down every last case. A bombshell cache of documents today reveals the full story of a ring of death on British soil that the government has ignored.”  Steel yourself and read the full article, but I can give you a quick and dirty.  In the upper echelons of Russian oligarchs, there is little or no distinction between Putin, Russian leadership, Russian ollgarchs, Russia’s secret service, and Russian organized crime.  Deal with them at the hazard of your life.

Now, consider Trump’s organized crime associations.  Zembla, a Dutch media outlet, has been particularly vocal in pointing out Trump’s mob associations.  See, for example, my blog Dutch Report Investigation of Trump Partner.  Take a look at Adam Davidson’s  New Yorker article on Trump’s  organized crime connections in Azerbaijan – see Evidence Trump Violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 

Consider my blogs The Trump Connections and The Root of All Evil.

And consider Andras Gollner’s article on the Budapest connections indicative of direct connections between Trump and the Russian secret service.  See Andras Gollner Exposes Trump.   Take a look at Judith Kaufman’s chart of connections and follow Judith on Twitter at @judesterworld.

Finally, consider the fact that Trump colluded with Putin to win the election and has been insistent that sanctions on Russia be removed and relations normalized.  Indeed, he has gone so far as to praise Putin’s leadership and obstruct efforts to investigate the Russian meddling.

Do your own research.   Russia and the United States are now led by two billionaire oligarchs who are neck deep in webs of organized crime and the associated thuggery.

Sarah Kendzior calls out Trump

trapped-eagle-e1441350775692I’d like you to read Sarah Kendzior’s article in de Correspondent,  “We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump”.

Sarah’s article, written in November shortly after the election, is the best I’ve seen in getting at the looming authoritarian state under Trump.  I’m going to provide a couple excerpts but please read the piece in whole as it was intended.  Here’s part of Sarah’s lead-in:

“It is increasingly clear, as Donald Trump appoints his cabinet of white supremacists and war-mongers, as hate crimes rise, as the institutions that are supposed to protect us cower, as international norms are shattered, that his ascendency to power is not normal.

This is an American authoritarian kleptocracy, backed by millionaire white nationalists both in the United States and abroad, meant to strip our country down for parts, often using ethnic violence to do so.

This is not a win for anyone except them. This is a moral loss and a dangerous threat for everyone in the United States, and by extension, everyone abroad.”

Sarah on Trump’s intentions:

“You can look to the president-elect himself for a vision of what is to come. He has told you his plans all along, though most chose to downplay or deny them. You can even look back to before his candidacy, when in February 2014, he went on Fox News to defend Russia. Why a reality TV host was on Fox News defending Russia is its own story, but here is what he said about his desired outcome for the United States:

‘You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’

This is what ‘Make America Great Again’ means to Donald Trump. It is how he has operated his businesses, taking advantage of economic disasters like the  housing market crash for personal gain.”

Sarah on Bannon:

“Trump’s vision for the United States is echoed in that of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a man who even the very right-wing Glenn Beck describes as a dangerous, sociopathic racist. In 2016, a reporter from the Daily Beast recalled this conversation with Bannon:

‘I’m a Leninist,’ Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

‘Lenin,’ he answered, ‘wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’”

Sarah on the dangers to our free press: “You may be wondering why I am writing a letter to Americans in a Dutch news outlet. It is because I do not trust the US outlets to remain free, and believe that many are already compromised. The mainstream media who Trump proclaims to hate are actually his best friend. They have been all along, promoting him ceaselessly, and they are now rationalizing and normalizing his most extreme policies. Trump tells you to boycott CNN, but CNN’s boss always had a framed Trump tweet on the wall.”

And this: “My heart breaks for the United States of America. It breaks for those who think they are my enemies as much as it does for my friends. You still have your freedom, so use it. There are many groups organizing for both resistance and subsistence, but we are heading into dark times, and you need to be your own light.”

Yesterday, Trump floated the possibility that he would fire Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel charged with investigating  his collusion with Russia.  Today, his perjuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears before Congress, no doubt to obfuscate and perjure again.  Against this backdrop, the Republicans, in private, plot to remove access to healthcare from millions to give billionaires a tax break.  Meanwhile Trump holds a cabinet meeting that is staged as an opportunity for his minions to swear fealty.

Thus Trump’s crass corruption permeates our culture, even as NBC talking-head Megyn Kelly gives Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones a national forum; Alex Jones who spews vile, indecent garbage disrespecting  the young children slaughtered in a hideous assault.

Take note.  Sarah Kendzior has called them out.


The global corporate conspiracy

12185153-oil-pump-rocker-close-to-sunrise-background-stock-photo-oil-well-oilfieldMaybe you remember hearing about the United Fruit Company and the Banana Republics.  Or that adage that what’s good for General Motors is good for the USA.  Both reflect eras of corporate dominance over nation-states.  There’s a lesson there because today corporations are bigger than ever, their assets and incomes dwarf many of the countries in which they operate, and many large corporations operate in global markets.  When you look around the world and see the pressure on the modern democracies – the fall of democracies in Russia and Turkey, the supposed populist surges in Britain and the US, you should stop for a moment to consider what is going on, who has something to gain, and what might be behind it all.

Here’s my take.  As a minimum, independent nation-states are an inconvenience to global market operations.  Nations want to levy taxes, impose labor regulations, and protect the environment in ways that directly reduce corporate profitability.  Corporations, on the other hand, exist only to allow the collective investment of wealth to make their investors richer.  There is an obvious tension here.  And consider if a Democratic nation-state fails to understand that it should be run for the benefit of corporations.   The majority of the population, for example, doesn’t see why health care should be run for the benefit of the wealthy investors, or why the military of a country like the United States should be bigger than its five largest rivals.  They want health care for all, a carbon tax, and support for renewable resources.  Such nerve, such an insult to the bottom line of Pfizer or General Electric or Exxon-Mobil.

Much better then for corporations if those democratic impulses could be blunted and channeled.  If I was a corporation, I would look for ways to control the political parties – facilitating corporate donations to buy elections through a case like Citizens United would be a great idea.  Gerrymandering, voter suppression.  I would look for and support a demagogue, a Putin, Trump, or Erdogan, that could be depended on to be sympathetic.  Above all, I would control the media – so that the nature of the corporate enterprise could be recast.  Our policies are “for the people”, we put “America First”  (Or Russia First).  Like Murdoch I would buy up major media outlets to ensure “fair and balanced” reporting, and buy local stations like Sinclair is doing.

We actually know, from the work of Jane Mayer in Dark Money, that the Kochs, Mercers, Bradleys, and other oligarchs are doing just this.  Indeed what they intend is not even hidden.  What is hidden is the destruction being unnecessarily wrought on the poor, the middle-class, and the minorities who are not empowered by privilege and that nice trust fund.

Max Boot – Reams of Evidence of Trump’s Collusion with Russia


There’s an elephant in the room

May I suggest this article in Business Insider and the June 9, Foreign Policy by Max Boot, “There are reams of evidence pointing to Trump’s collusion with Russia”?

The focus of the recent Comey hearing has been on whether Trump was obstructing justice by demanding loyalty of Comey and by asking that Comey give Michael Flynn a pass.  Comey says, “yes”, Trump says “no”.  Mainstream commentators would have you think that we are at some kind of stalemate.  “He’s the President and he says ‘no'”, as if Trump’s word has any value.  But that is an altogether too narrow view – the underlying issue is whether Trump and his staff colluded with the Russians to steal the election.  I’ve covered this ground before; I view the evidence as compelling and have said so.  Consider the above-noted article by Max Boot, one of our leading foreign policy analysts.

Here’s Boot: “That there was public collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, while the Kremlin was interfering in the U.S. election, is undisputed. Trump, after all, publicly called on July 27, 2016, for the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails (“Russia, if you’re listening …”). He then celebrated the resulting leaks from WikiLeaks (“I love WikiLeaks”), which his own CIA director has identified as ‘a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.’

The only question is whether there was private collusion, too. A lot of evidence points that way. During his testimony, Comey disputed a New York Times article on contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, saying that ‘in the main, it was not true.’ But he did not say what was untrue, and numerous other news articles have reported that the Trump campaign had numerous interactions with influential Russian representatives. Reuters, for example, reports that there were at least 18 contacts during the final seven months of the campaign.”

Further on in Boot’s piece:  “In truth, suspicious contacts with the Russians were not limited to ‘satellite associates,’ but involved Trump’s nearest and dearest. Comey told senators in a closed session that there was a third meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russians that was previously undisclosed on top of two previous meetings that Sessions did not disclose in his confirmation hearings.

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior advisor to Trump, left off his Russian contacts from his security clearance form. Flynn was fired for lying about his talks with the Russian ambassador. Why would they lie if there was nothing to hide? And what possibly innocent explanation can there be for their conduct? None has been offered by the Trump team.”

And Boot on whether there was a quid pro quo:

“While the growing Kremlingate scandal made it politically impossible for Trump to reward Putin for election interference by lifting sanctions, he hasn’t punished Putin either. Now, theWashington Post reports, Trump is considering giving back to the Russians two diplomatic compounds seized by President Barack Obama in retaliation for Russia’s meddling in our election.

Trump still talks tougher about Germany than he does about Russia, and he yukked it up with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador in an Oval Office meeting where he shared code-word secrets with the Russians. Perhaps the greatest gift Trump has given the Russians is his refusal to affirm NATO’s Article 5, thus casting the future of the Atlantic alliance into question.”

His conclusion: “Trump’s defenders make much of the fact that Comey said he wasn’t under investigation for collusion. But they ignore the likelihood that Trump is now under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice — and for good reason: He all but confessed to the crime. As former Watergate prosecutor Philip Allen Lacovara writes: ‘Any experienced prosecutor would see these facts as establishing a prima facie case of obstruction of justice.’

In short, the White House has no cause to breathe easy after Comey’s testimony. The only thing standing between Trump and impeachment is the new partisanship of the Republican majority on Capitol Hill. But if Democrats win the 2018 midterm elections, we are likely to see the most serious impeachment proceedings since Watergate.”

Or to put it all in another light, the elephant in the room is the growing realization that Donald Trump really did it, really committed treason in colluding with Russian operatives to undermine the election.  This is a reality the Republican leadership is unwilling to confront, quite possibly because they were in on it.  And it is a reality that the less educated, and perhaps more trusting, of us have considered beyond the pale of possible reality.  But, as John Adams noted, facts are stubborn.  The underlying reality of treason by our President is not going away.  Resist.

The Trump Connections


Fall of the Berlin Wall

I have previously blogged about Trump’s relationship to organized crime.  See Donald Trump and Organized Crime.  Other blogs focused on aspects of Trump’s worldwide threads of shady projects and ties.  See, for example, Evidence Trump Violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Andras Gollner Exposes Trump.  But as with many aspects of the Trump story, Trump’s tangled web of contacts is so extensive and complicated that it defies summary.  The devil, and Trump, are in the details.

Consider this article by James S. Henry in The American Interest, “The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections.”  Henry gives a good history of the world of oligarchs and crime following the fall of the Soviet Union and traces multiple threads subject to the Trump touch.  Here’s Henry’s lead-in:

“A few of Donald Trump’s connections to oligarchs and assorted thugs have already received sporadic press attention—for example, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s reported relationship with exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. But no one has pulled the connections together, used them to identify still more relationships, and developed an image of the overall patterns.

Nor has anyone related these cases to one of the most central facts about modern Russia: its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore ‘flight wealth’ as of 2016.1″

At the heart of the matter is this:

“But for many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.

The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia and oil-rich FSU members like Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, told the ‘Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate’ conference in Manhattan in September 2008 (on the basis, he said, of his own ‘half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months’):

‘[I]n terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.'”

Henry goes on, in detail, to give us a guided tour of the many known connections; Bayrock Group LLC, Iceland’s FL Group, Trump’s Toronto Tower, Felix Sater, Alex Shnaider, Paul Manafort, the Panama Papers, and much more.  As my blogs noted above discussing Trump connections in Hungary and Azerbaijan, even this extensive article appears to be feeling but the trunk of an elephant.  Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and peruse Mr. Henry’s most interesting revelations.

Eric Alterman on Roger Ailes’ destruction of the news media



I blogged recently concerning the attack from the Right on the media.  See Freedom of the Press, where I wrote:

“Mainstream media is also under attack… from a coordinated campaign financed by right-wing moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, funding media news centers to disseminate disinformation.  Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing radio talk shows, among others, have created and disseminated ‘news’ from an alternate reality – one divorced from science, or responsible reporting, where concocted conspiracies concerning Obama’s birth certificate, and treasonous wrongdoing  at Benghazi,  and undocumented felonies relating to emails of  a Democratic candidate for President dominate the agenda….  Obviously wide-spread disinformation – slanted for political purposes – undermines the goal of an intelligent and informed electorate every bit as much as does direct information suppression.”

Now Eric Alterman, in an opinion piece in June 19/26, The Nation, “The Witch is Dead“, reviews that attack from a different perspective, reviewing the impact of Roger Ailes, the recently deceased “media mastermind” at Fox News.  Alterman’s piece is important because the devil, in this case Ailes, is in the details and because policy and context cannot be divorced from those involved.

Here’s Alterman:  “By creating a propaganda channel under the guise of ‘fair and balanced’ news, and then using it to undermine the very idea of truth—all in the service of racism and sexism—Ailes, with Rupert Murdoch’s backing, paved a path for a whole host of faux ‘journalists’ and right-wing demagogues to do the same. Inside the headquarters of Fox News, he fostered a culture of sexual intimidation and racial animosity, one that was reflected on the air as well. Had Ailes not spent two decades tearing down the journalistic safeguards that were supposed to defend our country against just such demagoguery, it is impossible to imagine that a pathologically dishonest, egomaniacal, racist, sexually predatory huckster like Donald Trump could ever have been elected president of the United States.”

And Alterman further on :  “But Ailes didn’t do it alone: He was empowered by everyone he worked with at Fox. Nobody who stayed there long enough to realize what was going on without quitting deserves to call himself or herself a ‘journalist.’ Ailes certainly received his share of criticism in the wake of his comeuppance and recent death. But what about all the people who made excuses for him before the wave of sexual-harassment lawsuits and reports of secret payoffs turned him radioactive? What about the Fox executives, past and present, who enabled his sexual terrorism? What about the liars who did his bidding on the air? What about the so-called ‘mainstream media’ members who adopted Ailes’s lies as truth and even defended Fox when others tried to expose it—and him?”

Clearly nothing is more toxic to real news than the ratings success enjoyed by Ailes and Fox,  success that totally undermined a straight media concerned about journalistic standards, ethics, and content.  Alterman again, “All the more alarming, then, that Ailes was the most powerful and influential person in American politics and media. Former NBC News president Neal Shapiro reflected after Ailes’s death that, whenever some piece of breaking news came up, ‘Other newsrooms always wondered: How will Fox play this?’ Sure, Fox’s ratings are in the toilet now, but the rest of cable news looks like an army of Ailes’s monsters. CNN is constantly imitating Fox, while MSNBC is hiring away its ‘talent.'”

Alterman does not address the problem of how to remedy the damages Ailes created.  I note in my blog. Freedom of the Press, that Ailes enabler Rupert Murdoch and the bent media were unleashed when the Federal Communications Commission eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine, and when rules restricting the consolidation of media ownership were removed.  Finding the right rules is a balancing act – protecting investigative journalism and public interest debate while skirting the ever-present danger of censorship or propaganda by the government and the media oligarchs.  What we do know, from recent events, is that the appropriate balance has been lost and that it is time for reform.

(Please note that the Alterman article is presented under a different title online.)