The creative circuit

On the connection circuit

(by Richard @ Flexible Reality – Jan. 2020)

The mind to eye to hand to object and back is a well-known interconnected circuit used by artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and creators of all kinds. For entrepreneurs, something is perceived as missing, poorly implemented, or ripe for commercial exploitation. For the engineer, something exhibiting a logical, mathematical  or other physical property is examined and worked with for analysis, mimicry, creation, or recreation.  For the artist, this circuit is central to their being, and requires at least one element that is missing from the transcendental and meditative spiritualities; namely the use of hands  -with its attendant requirement: the application of insight, skill, training, effort, and applied work.

Mystics generally do not use their hands in their training and creative endeavors, and some would assert they assign a secondary role to physical realities. Also, the progression in spiritual realms from novice to expert is fundamentally different from that of artists and creators who work with physical things. The mystic learns to ignore or at least reduce the role of the physical from their participation in the spiritual. With sufficient experience, training, and the application of acquired skills, they ascend toward mastery of their disciplines.

The artist understands they can join the circuit at any loci, and develop into an integral part of it. But the acquisition of skills, the training of mind and body geared toward integration with the circuit requires working with one’s hands in the creative process. It makes little difference which hand-tools one uses; but art does not occur without work, effort, and the laying on of hands. Continue reading The creative circuit

Russian Security Services Again Interfering in Elections in Support of trump re-election

Intel Officials Say Russia Boosting Trump Candidacy

Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected, three officials familiar with the closed-door briefing said.

The warning raises questions about the integrity of the presidential campaign and whether Trump’s administration is taking the proper steps to combat the kind of interference that the U.S. saw in 2016.

The officials asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. They said the briefing last week focused on Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 election and sow discord in the American electorate.

The warning was first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Times said the news infuriated Trump, who complained that Democrats would use the information against him. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 election interference as a conspiracy to undermine his victory.

One day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Trump berated the then-director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and he announced this week that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the 2016 election through social media campaigns and stealing and distributing emails from Democratic accounts. They say Russia was trying to boost Trump’s campaign and add chaos to the American political process. Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russian interference was “sweeping and systematic,” but he did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. Continue reading Russian Security Services Again Interfering in Elections in Support of trump re-election

POTUS Pardons follow a pattern

Trump’s clemency spree shows white-collar felons it’s more about who you know than what you did

via WaPo Daily 202 – By James Hohmann with Mariana Alfaro

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Billionaire investor Nelson Peltz hosted a fundraiser at his $95 million home in Florida on Saturday night that raised $10 million for President Trump’s reelection campaign. On Tuesday, the White House listed Peltz in a news release as one of the people supporting Trump’s pardon of Michael Milken.

Milken, “the junk bond king” who inspired Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” character in the movie “Wall Street,” served two years in prison after pleading guilty in 1990 to six felony counts, including securities fraud, mail fraud and aiding in the filing of a false tax return.

Other megadonors, including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, were also on the White House’s list of individuals supporting the Milken pardon. So was the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were among the 33 names listed. Steven Mnuchin was not on the list, but the Wall Street Journal notes that Milken has cultivated a friendship with the Treasury secretary and even flew him from Washington to California last year on his private jet.

“You know, oftentimes — pretty much all the time — I really rely on the recommendations of people that know them,” Trump told reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews. He was explaining why, and how, he’d just issued seven pardons and four commutations.The big-name endorsements rolled out by the White House press office gave the distinct impression that these presidential decisions to show mercy were driven as much by whom the convicted felons know as what they were convicted for. Continue reading POTUS Pardons follow a pattern

Do not mix wild animals with humans…anywhere!

yesterday
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FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2020, file photo provided by the Anti-Poaching Special Squad, police look at items seized from store suspected of trafficking wildlife in Guangde city in central China’s Anhui Province. As China enforces a temporary ban on the wildlife trade to contain the outbreak of a new virus, many are calling for a more permanent solution before disaster strikes again. (Anti-Poaching Special Squad via AP, File)

BEIJING (AP) — China cracked down on the sale of exotic species after an outbreak of a new virus in 2002 was linked to markets selling live animals. The germ turned out to be a coronavirus that caused SARS.

The ban was later lifted, and the animals reappeared. Now another coronavirus is spreading through China, so far killing 1,380 people and sickening more than 64,000 — eight times the number sickened by SARS.

The suspected origin? The same type of market.

With more than 60 million people under lockdown in more than a dozen Chinese cities, the new outbreak is prompting calls to permanently ban the sale of wildlife, which many say is being fueled by a limited group of wealthy people who consider the animals delicacies. The spreading illness also serves as a grim reminder that how animals are handled anywhere can endanger people everywhere. Continue reading Do not mix wild animals with humans…anywhere!

When political leaders brazenly flout the law, we are heading towards a very dark place.

The Roots of Fascism

Posted: 11 Feb 2020 03:29 PM PST

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th February 2020

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It is not a sufficient condition for fascism to take root, but it is a necessary one. The willingness of political leaders not only to break the law, but to revel in breaking it, is a fatal step towards the replacement of democracy with authoritarian terror.

We see this at work in the United States today, where the Republican Party’s blatant disregard for the constitution will allow Donald Trump to escape impeachment. If Trump is elected for a second term, he will test the potential for wielding unconstitutional power to the limit. But the phenomenon is not confined to the US. Several powerful governments now wear illegality almost as a badge of honour.

Fascist and pre-fascist governments share (among others) two linked characteristics: they proudly flout the laws that are supposed to restrain them, while introducing new, often unconstitutional laws to contain political opponents or to oppress minorities. Continue reading When political leaders brazenly flout the law, we are heading towards a very dark place.

Disinformation machinations

The Billion Dollar Disinformation Campaign

by Mckay Coppins @ The Atlantic – Mar. 2020

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One day last fall, I sat down to create a new Facebook account. I picked a forgettable name, snapped a profile pic with my face obscured, and clicked “Like” on the official pages of Donald Trump and his reelection campaign. Facebook’s algorithm prodded me to follow Ann Coulter, Fox Business, and a variety of fan pages with names like “In Trump We Trust.” I complied. I also gave my cellphone number to the Trump campaign and joined a handful of private Facebook groups for MAGA diehards, one of which required an application that seemed designed to screen out interlopers.

The president’s reelection campaign was then in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup.

That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country, and I wanted to see it from the inside.

The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions.

But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.
What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.

After the 2016 election, much was made of the threats posed to American democracy by foreign disinformation. Stories of Russian troll farms and Macedonian fake-news mills loomed in the national imagination. But while these shadowy outside forces preoccupied politicians and journalists, Trump and his domestic allies were beginning to adopt the same tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power. Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting.

Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous. The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable. Continue reading Disinformation machinations

Sen. Romney’s Address to the Senate: Feb. 5th, 2020

Full Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Speech Announcing Vote to Convict Trump

The senator from Utah was the first — and only — Republican to announce he supported removing the president from office.

In the last several weeks I’ve received numerous calls and texts. Many demanded in their words that I stand with the team. I can assure you that thought has been very much on my mind. You see, I support a great deal of what the president has done. I’ve voted with him 80 percent of the time. But my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me, for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong. So the verdict is ours to render under our Constitution. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfill our duty. The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did. Continue reading Sen. Romney’s Address to the Senate: Feb. 5th, 2020

Fact-checking the 2020 SOTU

The president’s address included false and misleading claims on jobs, wages, energy, immigration and more.


Summary

In his 2020 address to Congress, President Donald Trump stretched and distorted the facts:

  • Trump claimed the economy is “the best it has ever been.” But GDP growth fell to 2.3% last year and economists predict further slowing this year.
  • He said he brought about low unemployment by reversing “years of economic decay” and “failed economic policies,” when in fact over 1 million more jobs were added in the 35 months before he took office than in the first 35 months since.
  • Trump boasted that the “unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years.” That’s true, but it had been trending down for several years before he took office.
  • The president wrongly said, “After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast.” They’ve gone up under Trump, but also have risen under the last several presidents.
  • Trump claimed that people’s 401(k)s and pensions have increased “60, 70, 80, 90, and 100% and even more.” Some may have, but that’s far higher than the average.
  • He said “real median household income is now at the highest level ever recorded.” However, the Census Bureau noted that was partly due to a change in survey questions in 2014. Based on “adjusted” figures, median household income was slightly higher in 1999 than in 2018.
  • Trump claimed the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico “will create nearly 100,000 … auto jobs.” But an independent federal commission puts the job gains at 28,000 over five years.
  • The president boasted that “a long, tall, and very powerful wall is being built” along the southern border, and more than 100 miles have been completed. But only one mile is located where no barriers previously existed.
  • Trump said “illegal crossings” at the southwest border “are down 75% since May.” But total apprehensions in 2019 were 81% higher than in 2016, the year before Trump took office.
  • He said that “after losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration.” He’s referring to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls manufacturing “establishments,” and most of the growth under Trump has been in facilities with fewer than five employees.
  • Trump compared apples to oranges in claiming a doubling of insurance premiums in five years before he took office and “less expensive” plans under his administration.
  • The president said he made an “iron-clad” promise to “always protect patients with preexisting conditions,” but that ignores the fact he has supported Republican health plans that would reduce the current protections under the Affordable Care Act.
  • He suggested, misleadingly, that his administration was responsible for the U.S. becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. But the U.S. has been No. 1 in the world for natural gas for more than a decade, and tops in petroleum since 2013.
  • Trump said “300,000 working age people” left the workforce during Obama’s eight years. Actually, the workforce grew by 5.4 million.

We also reviewed the Democratic response and found that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got the story on wages wrong, too, when she said they have “stagnated while CEO pay has skyrocketed.” Pay at the top may have grown more rapidly over the long term, but wages overall have gone up.

Continue reading Fact-checking the 2020 SOTU

Impeachment & Presidential Accountability

TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT AND THE DEGRADING OF PRESIDENTIAL ACCOUNTABILITY

The President will see an acquittal—which was preordained by the highly partisan Senate—as license for further abuse.

The sordid truth of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump is that it will end with the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, doing him a favor: delivering the votes, with little regard for the facts. That is sadly appropriate, because Trump’s favors—the ones he covets, the ones he demands—and the terms on which he extracts them, remain the trial’s most contested issue. …he wanted dirt on a political opponent and was willing to hold up military aid for an ally in order to get it. Trump’s core belief seems to have been that Ukraine, by receiving aid from America, incurred a debt that should be paid to him personally. That equation works only if, as Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, put it on Wednesday, “you view your interests as synonymous with the nation’s interests.” And Trump does. He has no conception of where he ends and the country begins.

Nor, apparently, do his lawyers, most notably Alan Dershowitz. “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest—and mostly you’re right!” Dershowitz told the senators. And so, “if a President did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” With that, Dershowitz provided a pseudo-intellectual scaffold for Trump’s self-delusion.

Somewhere in there is the distorted echo of a real argument. A President should at least consider the electoral effect of what he does, not because his continued tenure is so important but because the opinions of citizens are. They are the ones who have to fight the wars and bear the burdens. Voters can be wrong, but even then they can still be helpful in discerning the public interest. That is the basis of democratic accountability. But Dershowitz was talking about manipulating the election process itself. In response, Senator Angus King, Independent of Maine, asked if a President could extort an Israeli Prime Minister into charging the President’s opponent with anti-Semitism. In fact, by Dershowitz’s logic, a President could not only seek foreign assistance in a campaign; he could unleash any number of investigations into his political opponents, declare spurious emergencies to prevent their parties’ political gatherings, engage in surveillance, or take measures to limit access to polling stations—suppressing, rather than amplifying, voters’ voices.

The New Global Landscape: Illiberal Regimes

by Ambassador John Shattuck, Sep 2018 via Columbia Journal of International Affairs

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In the fall of 2016, I returned to the United States from Hungary. As many are now aware, especially following Hungary’s most recent elections, the country is the home of the European Union’s first and foremost illiberal regime. For seven years I had watched Hungarian politicians carry out a relentless assault on democracy. My homecoming coincided with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and when the results came in, my friends joked that maybe I was a political disease carrier.

What I observed in Hungary can be reduced to the following: a nationalist politician got himself elected by manipulating public discontent and fear while successfully mixing disinformation with voter anxiety to smear his opponents. After winning the election, he claimed a mandate to undermine democratic institutions that stood in his way: free press, an independent judiciary, diverse civil society, protections for civil liberties, and minority rights. What remained was the shell of democracy, an elected government in command of severely weakened institutions in a political environment polluted by disinformation. Continue reading The New Global Landscape: Illiberal Regimes

Equivocation in the Senate trial

Senate “trial” by Defense Counsel Day Two
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…it’s confusing…I didn’t know the Bidens were on trial, or that Hunter Biden was “trading on his father’s position”, but the Defense counselor had nothing to say about Ivanka or Jared, who has no military, legal, or diplomatic experience at all, and who was repeatedly denied a security clearance, yet who has an office in the White House. Or perhaps Andrew Giuliani, Rudi’s son who holds a job in the White House titled: “Public Liaison Assistant”; but who no one has ever seen in any official capacity.
 
It should be noted that Hunter Biden is a licensed attorney, had served on the Board at several American corporations, including Amtrack, and had some claim to being useful to a corporation in Ukraine; but what claim does an untrained, unlicensed, ultra-orthodox Jew with no relevant experience have to be intimately involved in White House affairs like being charged with “Middle East Peace”, restructuring the Government, and a host of other professional assignments.
 
And then counselors brought up an Obama era episode referred to as the “open mic” in which he claimed Obama did the same thing as trump is accused of doing, and it is Obama who should have been subject to impeachment. Conveniently ignoring the fact the House and Senate were controlled by Republicans and could have initiated charges if they believed they were valid. Unfortunately for their argument, Obama never engaged in bribery or extortion to obtain a personal benefit.
 
Then they came back to the no linkage argument – which, again runs contrary to the recent disclosure by Ambassador Bolton that trump personally told him, Bolton, that the aid was being withheld to force action on the bogus investigations.
 
In the middle of the presentation, Prof. Gershovitz tried to assert trump’s alleged actions were not impeachable offenses, and even if they were, the potential harm to civil government outweighed the drastic step of impeachment.
 
Yet another argument was the false assertion that the House Intelligence Committee was not authorized to issue subpoenas until after the whole House authorized the inquiry. Aside from being completely false as presented, it does not address the question of why the Administration still refused to provide documents or allow witnesses even after the House formally voted for the inquiry.

“How could we have known?”

Note: This year is the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the German Extermination camps in Europe

Several weeks ago when caught in a traffic tie-up stuck behind one of those truck transports carrying live chickens to the processing center my thoughts flickered between it, and another episode in modern life.

One was related to the citizens of the towns around  BelzecSobibór, and Treblinka, sites of the extermination camps, (Vernichtungslager), and citizens in other towns such as Bergen-BelsenOranienburgRavensbrück, and Sachsenhausen, MauthausenDachau, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald which were claimed to be forced labor camps. The banner inscription over the gate at Auschwitz read: “Arbeit macht frei”, or ‘work sets you free’, which seems to be an effort to claim it was a labor camp. Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps  and extermination camps, which were established by Nazi Germany for the industrial-scale mass murder of Jews in the ghettos by way of gas chambers. There were at least eight different classifications of these camps, ranging from the 1934-35 police camps set up in Germany, to the 1942 extermination camps set up in Poland.

A simple grouping of the better-known sites devoted to the systematic killings of “undesirables” include: Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Belzec, Dachau, Kulmhof, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Oranienburg, Ravensbruck, Sobibor, Sachsenhausen, and Treblinka, The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.

My thoughts, of the chickens being transported echo the images of the detainees being put into the trains heading to the camps; but we easily make the argument they are not at all related, for one is a food-stock animal, the others are humans. But there was no such distinction made by the SS-Totenkopfverbände , nor for that matter by millions upon millions of people throughout Europe in the period, the Spanish in SA during the 18th Century, nor the Americans in the 19th Century.

All it takes is for a target to be classified by the State as an “undesirable”, an “animal”, a “not-us”.  Himmler’s “final solution” is different only in particulars from the immigrant detention centers on the US Southern border, or the atrocities in Rwanda, Srebrenica,  and Sudan. Even one of our nation’s better President’s, Theodore Roosevelt had this to say about American Indians: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Our current president has targeted immigrants. In a USA TODAY survey the analysis showed that Trump has used the words “predator,” “invasion,” “alien,” “killer,” “criminal” and “animal” at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times. More than half of those utterances came in the two months prior to the 2018 midterm election, underscoring that Trump views immigration as a central issue for his core supporters. But it is not just the immigrants at the Southern border, it also is directed at Muslims: “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, [the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers], a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down”. It even extended to those who disagree with his policies and actions: he said: “These are people that in my opinion hate our country,” “It does not concern me [that many people see his tweets as racist and jingoistic] because many people agree with me,” Trump said. “And all I’m saying, they wanna leave, they can leave. It doesn’t say leave forever. It says leave.”

Clearly he is echoing the central motif of the authoritarians, the white nationalists, the majorities intolerant of the minorities. Seldom do these attempts to de-humanize others end without major conflict. And yet, just as the citizens who lived around the extermination camps, many US citizens cannot detect any serious problems. They do not question the hatred that is brewing beneath the social surface, just as the Polish citizens seem not to have asked what was happening to all those being transported into the camps. As one German citizen said in 1946: “How could we have known?”

How indeed.

 

 

Sat. Jan 25th, 2020 Defense Presentation

Opening Defense Arguments

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a) Ukraine did not know about the hold on the assistance until Aug 28th. (False)

b) The only evidence presented for a link between investigations and assistance came from Ambassador Sondland (False)

c) Presenter referred to “the Russian collusion theory” …echoing the Mueller Report

d) The FISA Court episode with Carter Page was the basis for Trump’s not wanting to accept the findings of his intelligence committees

e) The bilateral meeting in Poland between Trump and Zalinsky was the same as if it were held in the White House (False)

f) Trump has withheld aid from other countries (True)

g) The Administration would not honor subpoenas because the House Intelligence Committee was not authorized to submit them. (Incorrect)

h) The President was not provided “due process” rights (True)

i) Assertion there were 71 days of hearings without cross-examinations of witnesses by Republicans (False)

j) The Whistleblower was biased against the President, and was “coached” by House Intel Committee staff (Inconclusive)

Climate Change & Sea Life in the UK…early 2020

Life Enhancing


Allowing the seas to recover from the outrageous assaults of commercial fishing can help heal our own wounded lives.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 2nd January 2020

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It’s going to be a rough year, perhaps the roughest I’ve ever witnessed. The fatal combination of escalating climate breakdown and the capture of crucial governments by killer clowns provokes a horrible sense of inevitability. Just when we need determined action, we know that our governments, and the powerful people to whom they respond, will do everything they can to stymie it.

Witness the disasters in Australia. In mid-December, on the day the nation’s killer heatwave struck, Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Australian filled its front page with a report celebrating new coal exports and a smear story about the chiefs of the state fire services, who were demanding an immediate end to the burning of fossil fuels. The response of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to the escalating catastrophe, was to continue his overseas holiday, fiddling as his country burnt.

Some of the Earth’s largest land masses – Australia, Russia, the United States, Brazil, China, India and Saudi Arabia – are governed by people who seem to care little for either humankind or the rest of the living world. To maintain their grip on power, which means appeasing key oligarchs and industries, they sometimes appear prepared to sacrifice anything – including, perhaps, the survival of humanity.

I know that the protesters who made 2019 the year of climate action will continue to step up. We will do all we can to focus the world’s attention on the greatest crisis human beings have ever faced. But with hostile governments blocking a collective, international response to this emergency, the struggle will feel increasingly desperate.

I admit that I’m feeling quite close to burnout. I believe resilience is the most useful human quality, and I’ve sought to cultivate it, but in 2019 I felt my resolve begin to weaken at times, as it has never done before. Part of the reason is doubtless my continuing health issues: the repeated complications and procedures that have followed my cancer treatment two years ago. Sometimes it’s hard to disentangle the external and internal sources of despondency. Continue reading Climate Change & Sea Life in the UK…early 2020

On dealing with the prospects

How to address the issues posed by the current administration

***by Timothy Snyder, Yale history professor, historian of Eastern Europe and Holocaust expert:

Here are 20 lessons from across the fearful 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges. Continue reading On dealing with the prospects

What is the “shadow financial system”

A shadow banking system is a group of financial intermediaries facilitating the creation of credit across the global financial system but whose members are not subject to regulatory oversight. The shadow banking system also refers to unregulated activities by regulated institutions. Examples of intermediaries not subject to regulation include hedge funds, unlisted derivatives, and other unlisted instruments, while examples of unregulated activities by regulated institutions include credit default swaps.

  • The shadow banking system consists of lenders, brokers, and other credit intermediaries who fall outside the realm of traditional regulated banking.
  • It is generally unregulated and not subject to the same kinds of risk, liquidity, and capital restrictions as traditional banks are.
  • The shadow banking system played a major role in the expansion of housing credit in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, but has grown in size and largely escaped government oversight even since then.

Understanding Shadow Banking Systems

The shadow banking system has escaped regulation primarily because unlike traditional banks and credit unions, these institutions do not accept traditional deposits. Shadow banking institutions arose as innovators in financial markets who were able to finance lending for real estate and other purposes but who did not face the normal regulatory oversight and rules regarding capital reserves and liquidity that are required of traditional lenders in order to help prevent bank failures, runs on banks, and financial crises.

As a result, many of the institutions and instruments have been able to pursue higher market, credit, and liquidity risks in their lending and do not have capital requirements commensurate with those risks. Many shadow banking institutions were heavily involved in lending related to the boom in subprime mortgage lending and loan securitization in the early 2000’s. Subsequent to the subprime meltdown in 2008, the activities of the shadow banking system came under increasing scrutiny due to their role in the over-extension of credit and systemic risk in the financial system and the resulting financial crisis. Continue reading What is the “shadow financial system”

A review of Peter Wallison’s assertions on the causes of the 2007-08 Meltdown

The WSJ and Barron’s Apologists for the Banksters Peddle Wallison’s Fables

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Few people’s efforts at myth-making have been as devastatingly refuted as has Peter Wallison’s. But fables that are designed to make the banksters look less criminal are always welcome by the banksters. Any honest discussion of Wallison’s claims would begin with three points. First, Wallison’s adult life has been devoted, on behalf of the banksters, to pushing the three “de’s” – deregulation, de-supervision, and de facto decriminalization. He is therefore as culpable as anyone in the world for the epidemics of accounting control fraud that drove the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

Second, he was appointed by the Republican leadership to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) to assure that the banksters would have the benefit of their leading apologist. The chances that he would ascribe any problems to the three “de’s” was always non-existent because he does not have a scholarly instinct in his body. He is rabidly ideological and a willing tool of the banksters.

Third, the Republicans appointed three other members to the FCIC, each of them a highly partisan Republican who was known to oppose effective financial regulation – yet none of them was willing to join Wallison’s dissent. They were unwilling to do so because Wallison’s dissent was discredited so effectively by the FCIC investigation and report. The data destroyed Wallison’s screed – repeatedly.

But the WSJ editorial pages are no fans of data and huge fans of the banksters and anti-governmental dogma. In the WSJ’s alternate history:

“Peter Wallison, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, demonstrates in a new book that the subprime housing boom was fostered mainly by federal housing politics and policy, not by the rampant “deregulation” that many have imagined out of whole cloth.

Note the rhetorical game that Wallison and the WSJ editor play from the beginning – they refer to only one of the three “de’s” – ignoring de-supervision and de facto decriminalization. The formal rules do not matter if they are not enforced by the banking regulators and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Wallison knows that de-supervision and decriminalization of finance were very close to total – and that he and those who shared his dogmas such as Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke are all responsible for this result. Tom Frank’s Wrecking Crew captures Bush (II’s) approach to destroying effective regulation, supervision, enforcement, and prosecutions by appointing anti-regulatory leaders dedicated to the self-fulfilling prophecy of regulatory failure. Continue reading A review of Peter Wallison’s assertions on the causes of the 2007-08 Meltdown

Freedom in the World 2019 – Full Report

Download the full report in PDF format

http://www.bizmarts.com/FWR22019.pdf

 

 

Freedom in the World 2019 Report


The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One. Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

By Mike Abramowitz
President, Freedom House

Freedom House has advocated for democracy around the world since its founding in 1941, and since the early 1970s it has monitored the global status of political rights and civil liberties in the annual Freedom in the World report. During the report’s first three decades, as the Cold War gave way to a general advance of liberal democratic values, we urged on reformist movements and denounced the remaining dictators for foot-dragging and active resistance. We raised the alarm when progress stagnated in the 2000s, and called on major democracies to maintain their support for free institutions.

Today, after 13 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, backsliding among new democracies has been compounded by the erosion of political rights and civil liberties among the established democracies we have traditionally looked to for leadership and support. Indeed, the pillars of freedom have come under attack here in the United States. And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

US FREEDOM IN DECLINE

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses. Continue reading Freedom in the World 2019 Report

“Someone’s gotta tell the truth about Liberty University”

At Liberty University, all anyone can talk about is Jerry Falwell Jr. Just not in public.

“When he does stupid stuff, people will mention it to others they consider confidants and not keep it totally secret,” a trusted adviser to Falwell, the school’s president and chancellor, told me. “But they won’t rat him out.”

Over the past year, Falwell, a prominent evangelical leader and supporter of President Donald Trump, has come under increasing scrutiny. News outlets have reported on business deals by Liberty University benefiting Falwell’s friends. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen claimed that he had helped Falwell clean up racy “personal” photographs.

Based on scores of new interviews and documents obtained for this article, concerns about Falwell’s behavior go well beyond that—and it’s causing longtime, loyal Liberty University officials to rapidly lose faith in him.

More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.

In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends. Continue reading “Someone’s gotta tell the truth about Liberty University”