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Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades

My Comments: In a political context, my initial reaction to having Trump in the White House was that it was a healthy step in the evolution of these United States.

We’ve been a formidable leader on the world stage for the past 80 plus years. From time to time, it is useful for the status quo to be upended. It gives everyone a chance to re-evaluate the steps we’ve taken to get us where we are and the values we express to have real meaning.

Though I disliked him personally as a person, I decided I could live with the disruption and existential threat he posed if it meant we’d come out the other side stronger and fully committed to moving forward as a society. I still believe that.

But that doesn’t mean I can ignore the chaos and what it all means to us as a nation. My role in the re-evaluation process means I get to have a blog post and express my thoughts as I deem appropriate. This is one of those times…

by Sean Illing \ November 19, 2018

On November 9, 2016, just a few minutes after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a man named Vyacheslav Nikonov approached a microphone in the Russian State Duma (their equivalent of the US House of Representatives) and made a very unusual statement.

“Dear friends, respected colleagues!” Nikonov said. “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections, and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America, and I congratulate you on this.”

Nikonov is a leader in the pro-Putin United Russia Party and, incidentally, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov — after whom the “Molotov cocktail” was named. His announcement that day was a clear signal that Trump’s victory was, in fact, a victory for Putin’s Russia.

Longtime journalist Craig Unger opens his new book, House of Trump, House of Putin, with this anecdote. The book is an impressive attempt to gather up all the evidence we have of Trump’s numerous connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative.

The book claims to unpack an “untold story,” but it’s not entirely clear how much of it is new. One of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. So much of the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and somehow that has made it harder to accept.

But make no mistake: Trump’s ties to shady Russian figures stretch back decades, and Unger diligently pieces them together in one place. Although Unger doesn’t provide any evidence that Trump gave the Russians anything concrete in return for their help, the case he makes for how much potential leverage the Russians had over Trump is pretty damning.

I spoke to Unger about what he learned, how he learned it, and why he thinks Russia’s use of Trump constitutes “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history,” as he puts it in the book.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

I’ll ask you straightforwardly: Do you believe the Russian government successfully targeted and compromised Trump?

Craig Unger

Yes, absolutely. But let’s go back in time, because I think all of this began as a money-laundering operation with the Russian mafia. It’s well known that Trump likes doing business with gangsters, in part because they pay top dollar and loan money when traditional banks won’t, so it was a win-win for both sides.

The key point I want to get across in the book is that the Russian mafia is different than the American mafia, and I think a lot of Americans don’t understand this. In Russia, the mafia is essentially a state actor. When I interviewed Gen. Oleg Kalugin, who is a former head of counterintelligence in the KGB and had been Vladimir Putin’s boss at one point, I asked him about the mafia. He said, “Oh, it’s part of the KGB. It’s part of the Russian government.”

And that’s essential to the whole premise of the book. Trump was working with the Russian mafia for more than 30 years. He was profiting from them. They rescued him. They bailed him out. They took him from being $4 billion in debt to becoming a multibillionaire again, and they fueled his political ambitions, starting more than 30 years ago. This means Trump was in bed with the Kremlin as well, whether he knew it or not.

Sean Illing

Let’s dig into this a bit. You claimed just now, as you do in the book, that the Russian mafia has been using Trump-branded real estate to launder money for over three decades. What evidence do you have to back this up?

Craig Unger

You really have to go back 20 or 30 years to understand who the key Russians were, what role they played in the Russian mafia, and how they related to Trump.

The very first episode that’s been documented, to my knowledge, was in 1984 when David Bogatin — who is a Russian mobster, convicted gasoline bootlegger, and close ally of Semion Mogilevich, a major Russian mob boss — met with Trump in Trump Tower right after it opened. Bogatin came to that meeting prepared to spend $6 million, which is equivalent to about $15 million today.

Bogatin bought five condos from Trump at that meeting. Those condos were later seized by the government, which claimed they were used to launder money for the Russian mob.

“One thing Vladimir Putin got right was his insistence that American democracy is also corrupt, and I think he’s showing us exactly how corrupt it is”

Sean Illing

Okay, to play devil’s advocate, can we say definitively that Trump knew who he was dealing with or what he was getting into? Or did he just naively have his hands out?

Craig Unger

Look, I can’t prove what was in Trump’s head, or what he knew or when he knew it. But I document something like 1,300 transactions of this kind with Russian mobsters. By that, I mean real estate transactions that were all cash purchases made by anonymous shell companies that were quite obviously fronts for criminal money-laundering operations. And this represents a huge chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, so it’s quite hard to argue that he had no idea what was going on.

Sean Illing

How did Trump first become a “person of interest” to the Russians? Why would they target this fringe celebrity character 30 years ago, long before his ascent to the presidency was even fathomable?

Craig Unger

First of all, the Russians have always wanted to align with certain powerful businessmen, and they have a history going back to the American businessman Armand Hammer in the 1970s and ’80s, whom the Russians allegedly turned into an asset. But it’s not as though they zeroed in on Trump 30 years ago, and only Trump.

Russia had hundreds of agents and assets in the US, and Gen. Kalugin, the former head of KGB operations in Russia, told me that America was a paradise for Russian spies and that they had recruited roughly 300 assets and agents in the United States, and Trump was one of them.

But it’s not just the money laundering. There was a parallel effort to seduce Trump. Sometime in 1986, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Yuri Dubinin, visited Trump in Trump Tower and told him that his building was “fabulous” and that he should build one in Moscow, and they arranged for a trip to Moscow.

According to Gen. Kalugin, that was likely the first step in the process to recruit and compromise Trump. Kalugin told me he would not be surprised in the least if the Russians have compromising materials on Trump’s activities in Moscow, something they were quite good at acquiring.

Sean Illing

But we still don’t have any evidence that such compromising material exists, right? Did you talk to anyone who has seen it or is sure of its existence?

Craig Unger

No, and I won’t say that I’m 100 percent certain that it exists. I spoke to several people who assured me that it exists, but I could not corroborate those accounts. I have no idea if they’re right or if any tapes will ever emerge. But in a way, all of that is beside the point. The real evidence of compromise is already out there, and we’re talking about it now.

Sean Illing

Speaking of which, tell me about Bayrock Group, a real estate company that operated in Trump Tower.

Craig Unger

Bayrock was a real estate development company located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower. The founder was a guy named Tevfik Arif and the managing director was Felix Sater, a man with numerous ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian intelligence. Bayrock proceeded to partner with Trump in 2005 and helped him develop a new business model, which he desperately needed.

Recall that Trump was $4 billion in debt after his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt. He couldn’t get a bank loan from anywhere in the West, and Bayrock comes in and Trump partners with other people as well, but Bayrock essentially has a new model that says, “You don’t have to raise any money. You don’t have to do any of the real estate development. We just want to franchise your name, we’ll give you 18 to 25 percent royalties, and we’ll effectively do all the work. And if the Trump Organization gets involved in the management of these buildings, they’ll get extra fees for that.”

It was a fabulously lucrative deal for Trump, and the Bayrock associates — Sater in particular — were operating out of Trump Tower and constantly flying back and forth to Russia. And in the book, I detail several channels through which various people at Bayrock have close ties to the Kremlin, and I talk about Sater flying back and forth to Moscow even as late as 2016, hoping to build the Trump Tower there.

Sean Illing

I don’t think you say this explicitly in the book, so I’ll ask you now: Is there any evidence at all that Trump actively sought out Russian money by making clear that his businesses could be used to hide ill-gotten gains?

Craig Unger

That’s a difficult question. I’m not sure he made this crystal clear, and I don’t know that he had to. I mean, just look at how these transactions take place. Trump doesn’t have to say anything. Trump’s organization was desperate for money, they knew the caliber of people they were dealing with, and they were either okay with this or deliberately chose not to do their due diligence.

You might say this is something other real estate developers do as well, and maybe that’s true, but those developers don’t become president of the United States.

Sean Illing

A few minutes ago you referred to Trump as a Russian “asset,” and this circles back to the question of whether Trump was actively working with the Russians or whether he may have just been a useful idiot who didn’t know he’d been potentially compromised.

Craig Unger

In the book, I use this term “asset,” and the difference between an “asset” and an “agent” to me is whether or not the person is knowledgeable. And from my point of view, it’s impossible to prove what was in Trump’s mind. I can’t prove that he was actually knowledgeable. At the same time, if he did this kind of money laundering 1,300 times, it’s reasonable to surmise that he was aware of what was happening.

Sean Illing

Part of what’s so puzzling to me is trying to figure out how money and ideology intersect in all this, if they intersect at all. In other words, Trump seems much more motivated by money than political ideology, but I keep wondering if his drift into politics was in any way influenced by his financial entanglements.

Craig Unger

It’s an important question, and it’s not clear what the answer is. One weird anecdote that jumped out to me was this story about Ivana Trump, whom Donald married in 1977. It turns out the Czech secret police were following her and her family, and there’s a fascinating file I quote in the book that says they started tracking her in the late 1980s, and one of the Czech secret police files says that Trump was being pressured to run for president.

But what does that mean? Who was pressuring him? How were they applying the pressure, and why? And did it have anything to do with potentially compromising materials the Russians had on Trump from his 1987 trip to Russia?

What we do know is that Trump returns from that first trip to Moscow and he takes out full-page ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Globe — and it’s fascinating because the ads essentially pushed the same foreign policies that he’s pushing today. They were anti-European, anti-NATO — basically they were aligned with the Soviet plan to destroy the Western alliance. And Trump takes out full-page ads in major American newspapers affirming this view. Maybe that’s just what he always believed. In any case, it’s worth noting.

“Trump was working with the Russian mafia for more than 30 years. He was profiting from them. They rescued him. They bailed him out.”

Sean Illing

I’m curious about how you collected all of this evidence. Did you go to Russia? Did you interview most — or any — of the people directly involved in these transactions? Did you compile this information yourself or rely on other sources?

Craig Unger

It’s stunning what you can find out through public sources. I did not go to Russia. I had a source who tipped me off to the name Semion Mogilevich, one of the highest-ranking bosses in the Russian mob, whom I had never heard of before, and that led me to a database online that revealed ownership of homes in the state of New York — purchases and sales.

And so I went to Trump properties, and every time I found a Russian name, I would research it, and it was stunning. I’d often take their name, put in Mogilevich in Google, and it was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine, time after time after time.

There were countless people who were indicted for money laundering, or they were gunned down on Sixth Avenue, and there was just a huge percentage who seemed to have criminal histories, and that sort of got me started. I also had a wonderful research assistant who speaks Russian and she grew up in Brooklyn, and she was a terrific asset and helped break the language barrier for me.

Sean Illing

The subtitle of your book is “The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia,” but it’s not clear to me which part of the story is new. What did you uncover here that wasn’t previously known?

Craig Unger

The insights I gained from Gen. Kalugin are completely new, but honestly, a lot of what I did was simply compile all this disparate stuff that was out there but had never been pieced together neatly in one place.

For example, a lot of the Russian-connected stories were published in the crime pages of the New York Post or the New York Daily News, but they were always just straight-ahead crime stories you could see in a tabloid. There was no sense that this had any geopolitical implications or forces behind it.

So part of what I tried to do was assemble all of this in a coherent narrative that laid it all out in a comprehensive way. We have all these seemingly random crime episodes that appeared in tabloids again and again, but it turns out that much of it was connected to a much larger operation, one that ended up ensnaring Trump and the people around him.

Sean Illing

Trump is obviously the focus here, but as you mentioned earlier, he’s not the only asset targeted by the Russians. What do we know about Russian efforts to compromise other prominent American figures?

Craig Unger

One of the things I hope this book shows is that there’s a new kind of war going on. It’s a global war without bombs or bullets or boots on the ground, and the weapons are information and data and social media and financial institutions. The Russian mafia is one weapon in this global conflict, and they’ve been fighting it smartly since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Russians start businesses and front companies and commodities firms that appear legitimate but essentially work to advance the interests of the Russian state. They’re very good at getting people entangled financially and then using that as leverage to get what they want. This appears to be what they’ve done with Trump, and now he’s president of the United States.

Sean Illing

Maybe the most troubling part of all this is that the Russians simply exploited our own corrupt system. They studied America’s pay-for-play culture, found its weak spots, and very carefully manipulated it. As long as our system remains unchanged, we should expect this kind of exploitation.

Craig Unger

Absolutely. There’s an old saying that sometimes the worst part of the scandal is what’s legal, and the Russians, to their credit, studied our system and campaign finance laws and they exploited it masterfully. They’ve used pharmaceutical companies and energy companies and financial institutions to pour money into our politics, and we really have no idea the extent of their influence.

One thing Vladimir Putin got right was his insistence that American democracy is also corrupt, and I think he’s showing us exactly how corrupt it is. Trump is just the most glaring example, but surely there are others, most of which we know nothing about.

Sean Illing

The case you lay out is pretty damning, but I’m left wondering if any of it really matters. As you said, most of this stuff is hiding in plain sight, and although the special counsel investigation is underway, there’s a subset of the country for whom no amount of evidence is enough to persuade them that something wrong has occurred, and Congress has demonstrated its uselessness pretty clearly. So how do you see all this playing out?

Craig Unger

It’s hard to say. I think we’re on a collision course that will either end in impeachment or with Trump reverting to unconstitutional measures to stay in office. That is simply my opinion. However this plays out, it’s clear that we’re in uncharted territory here, and it’s hard to see how this ends well for anyone.

This article was originally published on 9/12/2018. https://www.vox.com/world/2018/9/12/17764132/trump-russia-business-ties-mafia-putin-craig-unger

 

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Daylight Saving Time Is Even Weirder Than You Think

My Comments: I don’t really have a comment. It is what it is and I’m OK with it. It’s too far down on my list of things to worry about.

by Erin Blakemore \ October 27, 2017

People in the United States will feel a bit more rested on November 5, as daylight saving time 2017 comes to an end. The clocks fall back at 1 a.m. local time that Sunday, ensuring another precious hour of sleep and a corresponding extra hour of daylight during common working hours.

You’ve probably heard that Ben Franklin kind of proposed daylight saving time (also erroneously called daylight savings time) centuries before it was implemented, and that the twice-yearly switch was initially adopted to save us money on energy needs.

But if you dig deeper, you’ll find out that the daylight-hoarding tradition has an even more colorful history, affecting international relations, creating nested time zones, and potentially influencing your health.

Here are a few of the lesser-known facts about daylight saving time.

Thrift Wasn’t the Only Reason for Saving Daylight

In 1895, George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, came up with the modern concept of daylight saving time. He proposed a two-hour time shift so he’d have more after-work hours of sunshine to go bug hunting in the summer.

Seven years later, British builder William Willett (the great-great grandfather of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin) independently hit on the idea while out horseback riding. He proposed it to England’s Parliament as a way to prevent the nation from wasting daylight. His idea was championed by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—but was initially rejected by the British government. Willett kept arguing for the concept up until his death in 1915.

In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government started brainstorming ways to save energy. “They remembered Willett’s idea of moving the clock forward and thus having more daylight during working hours,” explains David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time. “While the British were talking about it year after year, the Germans decided to do it more or less by fiat.”

Soon, England and almost every other country that fought in World War I—including the United States—followed suit. In those days, coal power was king, so people really did save energy (and thus contribute to the war effort) by changing their clocks.

Daylight Saving Time Is All Over the Map

Today, the idea of springing forward and falling back is a bit more controversial, in part because it no longer really saves energy. But when you hear from a time-change skeptic, consider the source and where they live. If they’re from a more northerly place, they may be inclined to like saving daylight more.

It’s a matter of geography. The further you travel from the Equator, the more drastic the seasons will be. That’s because Earth is tilted on its axis with respect to the sun, so the top and bottom portions of the globe receive more or less sunlight at different times of the year, making the loss of daylight hours more pronounced.

In the middle portions of the planet, the amount of sun is about the same all year ‘round. As a result, the seasons are milder and there’s less of a need to make adjustments to maximize daylight. Just look at a map of the countries that use daylight saving time today to see which regions really find the shift worthwhile.

Arizona’s Relationship to Daylight Saving Time Is … Complicated

Daylight saving time indifference causes one U.S. state—Hawaii—to brush off the time change entirely. Arizona, where scorching temperatures often make night the only bearable time to be outside, also said no to moving its clocks around, because its residents preferred to savor the cool nighttime hours.

“In the summer, everybody loves to have an extra hour of daylight in the evening so they can stay out another hour,” Prerau explains. In Arizona, it’s just the opposite, he says. “They don’t want more sunlight, they want less.”

However, the daylight saving situation within Arizona is even more confusing. While most of the state ignores daylight saving time, the Navajo Nation, which covers part of northeastern Arizona, observes it. Meanwhile, the Hopi Reservation, which is surrounded entirely by the Navajo Nation, does not. And within the Hopi Reservation sits a small slice of the Navajo Nation that, you guessed it, does observe daylight saving time.

Long story short: If you’re driving through northeastern Arizona, you might want to ask for the time instead of relying on your own watch.

Daylight Saving Time Can Have Deadly Consequences

Well, kind of. The transition to and from daylight saving time has been linked to higher heart attack risk, higher car accident fatalities, and other bad outcomes. But Prerau points out that those effects—thought to be due to sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm changes—are just temporary.

“It’s very important for people to understand the difference between short-term, transitional effects and long-term benefits,” he says. “You’re talking about an eight-month benefit versus a one- or two-day negative.”

There’s no way to enjoy those benefits if you do die of a heart attack or get hit by a car during the transition, but Prerau has a point. If you’re able to tough out the sometimes bumpy time shift, you’ll enjoy months with more light—and for many of us, that’s a good enough reason to overlook a few rough days.

The Danger From Low-Skilled Immigrants: Not Having Them

My Comments: To Make America Great Again, the presumably well intended mantra for those leading the GOP these day, someone has to overcome ignorance of economics and start paying attention to reality.

A positive corporate bottom line is the driving force for a healthy US economy. To reach that goal, we need people willing to spend time in the trenches doing whatever grunt work is necessary. Despite machines that increasingly automate the grunt work, a supply of young people has to match the demand created until artificial intelligence takes over.

The supply of labor is not going to miraculously appear. A greater number of us are old and fragile, and fertility rates among young men are declining. Exactly who is going to look after all us old folks because we refuse to hurry up and die?

We should be encouraging immigration and refugees. Yes, there is a potential security threat, which implies applying resources to screen and maintain a reasonable level of security. And yes, someone is probably going to get killed or maimed or whatever when someone nefarious sneaks through.

The laws of supply and demand are well known. Right now we have an increasing demand for labor, which can only stabilize with either more people being allowed into the country, or a dramatic increase in the cost of labor to force more of us to get into the trenches. Either that or starve, in which case you die. Some would have that happen since dead people are less likely to vote against those on the right.

Eduardo Porter \ August 8, 2017

Let’s just say it plainly: The United States needs more low-skilled immigrants.

You might consider, for starters, the enormous demand for low-skilled workers, which could well go unmet as the baby boom generation ages out of the labor force, eroding the labor supply. Eight of the 15 occupations expected to experience the fastest growth between 2014 and 2024 — personal care and home health aides, food preparation workers, janitors and the like — require no schooling at all.

“Ten years from now, there are going to be lots of older people with relatively few low-skilled workers to change their bedpans,” said David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is going to be a huge problem.”

But the argument for low-skilled immigration is not just about filling an employment hole. The millions of immigrants of little skill who swept into the work force in the 25 years up to the onset of the Great Recession — the men washing dishes in the back of the restaurant, the women emptying the trash bins in office buildings — have largely improved the lives of Americans.

The politics of immigration are driven, to this day, by the proposition that immigrant laborers take the jobs and depress the wages of Americans competing with them in the work force. It is a mechanical statement of the law of supply and demand: More workers spilling in over the border will inevitably reduce the price of work.

This proposition underpins President Trump’s threat to get rid of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. It is used to justify his plan to cut legal immigration into the country by half and create a point system to ensure that only immigrants with high skills are allowed entrance in the future.

But it is largely wrong. It misses many things: that less-skilled immigrants are also consumers of American-made goods and services; that their cheap labor raises economic output and also reduces prices. It misses the fact that their children tend to have substantially more skills. In fact, the children of immigrants contribute more to state fiscal coffers than do other native-born Americans, according to a report by the National Academies.

What is critical to understand, in light of the current political debate, is that contrary to conventional wisdom, less-skilled immigration does not just knock less-educated Americans out of their jobs. It often leads to the creation of new jobs — at better wages — for natives, too. Notably, it can help many Americans to move up the income ladder. And by stimulating investment and reallocating work, it increases productivity.

Immigration’s bad reputation is largely due to a subtle yet critical omission: It overlooks the fact that immigrants and natives are different in consistent ways. This difference shields even some of the least-skilled American-born workers from foreign competition.

It’s more intuitive than it seems. Even American high school dropouts have a critical advantage over the millions of immigrants of little skill who trudged over the border from Mexico and points south from the 1980s through the middle of the last decade: English.

Not speaking English, the newcomers might bump their American peers from manual jobs — say, washing dishes. But they couldn’t aspire to jobs that require communicating with consumers or suppliers. Those jobs are still reserved for the American-born. As employers invest more to take advantage of the new source of cheap labor, they will also open new communications-heavy job opportunities for the natives.

For instance, many servers and hosts in New York restaurants owe their jobs to the lower-paid immigrants washing the dishes and chopping the onions. There are many more restaurants in New York than, say, in Oslo because Norway’s high wages make eating out much more expensive for the average Norwegian.

Where Immigrants Do the Work

Immigrants take up a disproportionate share of many lower-skill occupations — such as farm or janitorial work — as well as some higher-skill ones, like computer science.

Similar dynamics operate in other industries. The strawberry crop on the California coast owes its existence to cheap immigrant pickers. They are, in a way, sustaining better-paid American workers in the strawberry patch-to-market chain who would have to find a job somewhere else if the United States imported the strawberries from Mexico instead.

One study found that when the Bracero Program that allowed farmers to import Mexican workers ended in 1964, the sudden stop in the supply of cheap foreign labor did nothing to raise the wages of American farmworkers. From the cotton crop to the beet crop and the tomato crop, farmers brought in machines rather than pay higher wages.

Another found that manufacturing plants in regions of the United States that received lots of low-skill immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s were much slower to mechanize than plants in low-immigration regions.

A critical insight of the new research into the impact of immigration is that employers are not the only ones to adapt to the arrival of cheap foreign workers by, say, investing in a new restaurant or a new strawberry-packing plant. American-born workers react, too, moving into occupations that are better shielded from the newcomers, and even upgrading their own skills.

“The benefits of immigration really come from occupational specialization,” said Ethan Lewis, an associate professor of economics at Dartmouth College. “Immigrants who are relatively concentrated in less interactive and more manual jobs free up natives to specialize in what they are relatively good at, which are communication-intensive jobs.”

Looking at data from 1940 through 2010, Jennifer Hunt, a professor of economics at Rutgers, concluded that raising the share of less-skilled immigrants in the population by one percentage point increases the high school completion rate of Americans by 0.8 percentage point, on average, and even more for minorities.

Two economists, Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis, and Chad Sparber of Colgate University, compared the labor markets of states that received lots of low-skilled immigrants between 1960 and 2000 and those that received few. In the states that received many such immigrants, less-educated American-born workers tended to shift out of lower-skilled jobs — like, say, fast-food cooks — and into work requiring more communications skills, like customer-service representatives.

Interestingly, the most vulnerable groups of American-born workers — men, the young, high school dropouts and African-Americans — experienced a greater shift than other groups. And the wages of communications-heavy jobs they moved into increased relative to those requiring only manual labor.

It is not crazy for American workers who feel their wages going nowhere, and their job opportunities stuck, to fear immigration as yet another threat to their livelihoods. And yet for all the alarm about the prospect of poor, uneducated immigrants flocking across the border, this immigration has been mostly benign.

Take the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the immigration reform bill submitted without success by a bipartisan group of eight senators in 2013. By 2033, it estimated, the plan would have increased average wages by 0.5 percent, and do next to nothing to the wages of the least skilled. It would have made the economy some 5 percent bigger, over the long term, mainly because there would be 16 million more people.

If there is anything to fear, it is not a horde of less-educated workers ready to jump over the border. The United States’ main immigration problem, looking into the future, is that too few low-skilled immigrants may be willing to come.

As the National Academies noted about its report, “The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging work force and reduced consumption by older residents.” There will be an employment hole to fill.

Source article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/business/economy/immigrants-skills-economy-jobs.html

Successful Retirement Secrets™

My Comments: I am now among the ranks of internet publishers!

Almost four years in the making, Successful Retirement Secrets is an internet course that teaches a system to help you process retirement information.

The goal is to arrive at retirement ready with enough resources to live your life to the fullest with a minimum of financial stress and frustration.

Among other things, you’ll learn what has to happen between now and then. You’ll discover it’s not about having more stuff, but about knowing how much is enough and the questions you must ask of yourself to get it right.

There are three courses, and only one of them is free. But I do have FREE PREVIEWS to get you started.

An enrolled student will develop a system that works in the background, helping someone retire with more money and not less money.

Click on the image above with the train taking you toward the mountains, and watch a short, 60 second video. At the end, there’s a link to the home page where you’ll find the free previews. Then decide if enrollment in one or both courses will help you achieve the success you expect when you ultimately retire…

Civility Has Its Limits

My Comments: Instant gratification, or the desire for it, is the norm in 21st Century America. It may be OK when you discover you’re hungry and have no need to go into the woods and shoot something, or instead of waiting days for the mail to arrive, you simply go to your phone and look for a text message. But…

As a society, we’re experiencing a massive shift in thinking and it’s going to take time, years even. But it is coming. Just as women in the early 20th Century were finally allowed to vote, and before that, years of agony for immigrants from Africa to shake off the shackles of slavery. And here we are 150 years later, still not fully responding to that seminal upheaval of what was then ‘normal’ arrangements in society.

The recent societal and political chaos involving the Supreme Court will be seen in years to come in the same light. This article by Peter Beinart helped me come to terms with what happened and will allow me, hopefully, to move on and resume my ‘normal’ life. I’ll continue to resist, but I now have a positive goal of eventual gratification.

by Peter Beinart on Monday, October 8, 2018

When it comes to Brett Kavanaugh, there are three camps. The first believes it’s a travesty that he was confirmed. The second believes it’s a travesty that he was smeared. The third believes it’s a travesty that the process was so divisive.

David Brooks is in camp number three. The Kavanaugh hearings, he wrote on Friday, constituted an “American nadir.” You often hear such phrases from people who think the biggest problem with the Kavanaugh battle is that the participants weren’t more courteous and open-minded. Jeff Flake said that in debating Kavanaugh, the Senate “hit bottom.” Susan Collins called it “rock bottom.” Think about that for a second. For most of American history, Supreme Court nominees—like virtually all powerful men—could sexually assault women with complete impunity. Now, because allegations of such behavior sparked a raucous, intemperate political fight, America has hit “rock bottom,” a “nadir.”  How much better things were in the good old days when sexual-assault allegations didn’t polarize the confirmation process because sexual-assault victims were politically invisible.

Implying, as Brooks, Flake, and Collins do, that America’s real problem is a lack of civility rather than a lack of justice requires assuming a moral equivalence between Brett Kavanaugh’s supporters and Christine Blasey Ford’s. “What we saw in these hearings,” writes Brooks, “was the unvarnished tribalization of national life.” The term “tribe” implies atavistic, amoral group loyalty: Huns vs. Franks, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Hatfields vs. McCoys. There are no larger principles at stake. “There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives,” laid out by Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford, Brooks declares, “nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.”

But gender is indeed one of the “great disputes of national life.” The Kavanaugh fight pitted people who worry that #MeToo hasn’t changed America enough, that it’s still too easy for men to get away with sexual assault, against people who fear that #MeToo has changed America too much, that it’s become too easy for women to ruin men’s lives by charging them with sexual assault. That’s not a tribal struggle; it’s an ideological one. It involves competing visions of the relationship between women and men.

Describing Democrats and Republicans as warring tribes has become a political cliché, but it’s wrong. If tribal implies unthinking or inherited group loyalty, then Democrats and Republicans were actually more tribal in the mid-20th century. Back then, when being a Democrat or a Republican signified less about your view of the world, party identity was more a function of regional or ancestral ties. Whether or not they supported civil rights or higher taxes or the Korean War, Irish Catholics from Boston were mostly Democrats; Presbyterians from Kansas were mostly Republicans. Today, party identity is more a function of what you believe. The parties are so bitterly polarized not because they’ve become more tribal but because they’ve become more ideological.

But for Brooks, depicting the supporters of Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford as tribes is useful because it doesn’t only suggest moral equivalence, it also implies an equivalence of power. The “tribalization” of American politics, Brooks argues, “leads to an epidemic of bigotry. Bigotry involves creating a stereotype about a disfavored group and then applying that stereotype to an individual you’ve never met. It was bigotry against Jews that got Alfred Dreyfus convicted in 1894. It was bigotry against young black males that got the Central Park Five convicted in 1990. It was bigotry against preppy lacrosse players that led to the bogus Duke lacrosse scandal.”

This is misleading. There is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by preppy lacrosse players and that faced by black males. There’s no equivalence because preppy lacrosse players, in general, enjoy far more privilege and power and thus, the stereotypes people hold of them don’t generally land them in jail or dead. Similarly, there is no equivalence between the “bigotry” faced by men accused of sexual assault and the “bigotry” faced by women who suffer it. There’s no equivalence because men wield far more power. If you don’t think that matters, try imagining Kavanaugh getting confirmed by a Senate comprised of 79 women.

The struggle over Kavanaugh was, at its core, a struggle between people who want gender relations to change and people who want them to remain the same. And throughout American history, whenever oppressed groups and their supporters have agitated for change, respectable moderates have warned that they were fomenting incivility and division. In April 1963, seven white Alabama ministers and one rabbi wrote a letter to Martin Luther King. The letter articulated no position on segregation and the right to vote. It assumed, instead, a moral equivalence between blacks that wanted race relations to change and whites who wanted them to remain the same. Both sides held “honest convictions in racial matters.” Both “our white and Negro citizenry” should “observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

The real danger, the authors claimed, was “friction and unrest.” Averting it required “forbearance” and “restraint” on both sides. King, whose Birmingham campaign was titled “Project C”—for confrontation—was purposefully fomenting such friction and unrest through marches, sit-ins, and boycotts. While “technically peaceful,” the ministers and rabbi warned, the “extreme measures” adopted by King and his supporters “incite to hatred and violence.”

In his response, written from jail, King argued that the white clergymen were mistaking symptom for disease. The problem wasn’t “friction and unrest” between Birmingham’s two tribes. It was centuries of oppression, which there was no frictionless way to overcome. “I am not afraid of the word ‘tension,’” King explained. “We must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Even as Bull Connor’s men savagely beat black protesters in the streets, King recognized that Birmingham was not hitting “rock bottom.” It was rising from an almost century-long nadir in which white supremacy—no matter how murderous—was barely even a subject of political controversy, in which black powerlessness was the foundation on which comity between two America’s white-dominated political parties rested.

The problem that the Kavanaugh struggle laid bare is not “unvarnished tribalism.” The problem is that women who allege abuse by men still often face male-dominated institutions that do not thoroughly and honestly investigate their claims. That problem is not new; it is very old. What is new is that this injustice now sparks bitter partisan conflict and upends long-standing courtesies. Rape survivors yell at politicians in the Senate halls. The varnish—the attractive, glossy coating that protected male oppression of women—is coming off. Brooks, Collins, and Flake may decry the “tension” this exposes. But, as King understood, the “dark depths of prejudice” can’t be overcome any other way.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/has-american-politics-hit-rock-bottom/572452/

I’m a Liberal Because…

As a senior citizen, I’m reminded daily that I’m running out of time to make something happen. I no longer have the energy to be angry about what happened in the past, who is to blame, and explore what might have been.

I want to spend my remaining time and energy pushing for what I consider positive goals for the world that will be inhabited by my children and grandchildren. The Republican Party, the home of self styled conservatives, seems to focus on the past at the expense of the future. It is a far cry from the humanitarian party that I respected in my youth.

When it comes to education, I strongly believe that far more than facts and figures comprise the whole matrix. I has to include art and music and writing, all things that contribute to the ability of an individual to exercise good judgement with an awareness of the present and the future. Yes, there has to be testing and accountability, but not to the extent it is now.

Money spent today on education, on infrastructure (roads, bridges, parks, transportation, communication, be it snail mail or via the internet) are critical to the ability of future generations to succeed, and by so doing, help perpetuate the greatness of these United States and the role it plays in preserving the gains made by humans on this planet. All these elements are part of the public domain, that shared environment that contributes to our participation as full members of society.

As an economist and entrepreneur in the world of money, my professional life has given me the opportunity to both fail and succeed when it comes to providing for my family. It has given me the ability to ask the necessary questions of someone when it comes time to evaluate the present and project future goals and objectives. How much is enough? How long does it have to last? What role do you want to play in society as life evolves? At the end of the day, what will you regret not having achieved?

My formative years were as an only child. The first ten happened in Europe during WWII and the post war years. My father was an engineer whose personal history caused him to think there was a better place next door. So we traveled and I was exposed to different languages and societies. My four years in Gainesville as a college student were the longest I’d ever lived anywhere, and after graduation, I felt no compelling need to move away and explore new venues. I’ve never regretted that decision.

My truly formative years, from 1951 to 1960, exposed me to different cultures and societies. I suspect this allows me to feel comfortable with ideas that do not readily conform to what many people in this country consider normal. Our “normal” is often very different from their “normal” and for many people, this is a existential threat, and they are afraid. I consider this an advantage in that I can focus more attention and prepare myself for those existential threats that do threaten my safety and welfare. Things like global warming and running out of money before I die.

After almost sixty years here, I can say with no hesitation that I’ve been a lucky person. Sure, there have been bad days, but far and away, it’s been a good life here and I expect to have many more years. My frustrations these days are largely health related and the threat I feel from those on the right who would take us back in time if they could.

Nothing stays the same; my grandparents would be horrified by what we find normal. I have no fear of the future, in some part because most people are rational and common sense will prevail. Personally, I’m appalled by the hypocrisy of many of our so called leaders, those who would have us believe they are qualified to lead this nation.

As a young adult, I identified as a left leaning centrist. But over these last 50 plus years, the center has moved to the right much more than I have. As the right has moved toward what they describe as conservative, my perception is they have moved away from conservative into radicalism, which is not conservative.

Conservatism, to my mind, is an attempt to preserve the values that clearly worked to bring us to greatness. Those values, are today embraced by liberals who want those same values to be embraced by new members of society, be they born here, or are immigrants. The desired outcome is harmony, both within society and with others in the world. But I see those values being corrupted by irrational fear of change, and instead of looking for ways to adapt to an inevitable evolution of national spirit, instead cling to fuzzy memories of how things used to be.

Being liberal frees me from excessive paranoia. However, being paranoid doesn’t mean there is no one out there trying to get you. The trick is to keep it in perspective and spend time and energy with family and community. I’m not a Christian, as defined by many people these days, but that does not mean I do not believe there is a God. I strongly ascribe to the tenets and beliefs that define traditional Christianity, but don’t try to ‘save’ me, please. I try to live my life the right way and simply choose not to talk about it. If that bothers you, then it’s your problem and not mine.

This is not all I have to say about this, but I appreciate most readers have limits and for many of you, you may have reached yours.

Check your math, central banker says: less immigration equals less growth

My Comments: I have an interest in the immigration debate. I’m an immigrant, granted US citizenship on May 1, 1959. As I read horror stories about parents and others being deported, it has crossed my mind that I’m at risk. Probably not, but with ICE nosing about, who knows?

It’s not just the New York Times that’s publishing articles on immigration. This one comes from Reuters, the global news agency. (Disclosure: my great-great grandmother, Anna Mathilde Kraul married Peter William Reuter on August 10, 1857. Same family as the news agency.)

Anyway, if the administration continues to insist on restricted immigration, and Congress goes along with it, we can expect a slow but pervasive decline in our economy of the next few decades. Talk about ceding global economic supremacy to China, this is the way to make that happen.

Ann Saphir \ August 7, 2017

(Reuters) – Less than week after a U.S. President Donald Trump embraced legislation to reduce immigration, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari urged residents of South Dakota to embrace newcomers instead.

“Just going to math, if a big source of economic growth is population growth, and your population growth slows, either because you restrict immigration or because you have fewer babies, your economic growth is going to slow,” Kashkari said at the Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls, responding to a question about a Trump-backed bill to cut legal immigration by 50 percent over the next 10 years. “Do we want economic growth, or not? That’s what it comes down to.”

Kashkari not alone in seeing immigration as key to U.S. economic growth.

Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan routinely points out that immigrants have historically boosted U.S. workforce growth, and therefore economic growth, and has warned that the crackdown on illegal immigration could hurt consumer spending. Fed Chair Janet Yellen told U.S. lawmakers earlier this year that slowing immigration could probably hurt growth.

Most economic research suggests that immigration has little effect on wages of U.S. workers, and one recent study of what happened after the U.S. ended a guest-worker program for Mexican farm workers in the 1960s showed that growers, instead of raising wages to attract more workers, simply automated more of their field work.

The U.S. economy has been stuck at about 2-percent growth in recent years, and appears unlikely to break to out of that pattern anytime soon, St. Louis Fed President Bullard said earlier Monday.

“You can either accept slower growth; you can spend a lot of money to subsidize fertility – child care etc, very expensive – or you can embrace immigration. That’s math,” Kashkari told the audience in Sioux Falls, where the foreign-born population grew by more than a third from 2010 to 2014, figures from the U.S. census show.

“You guys have done a pretty good job of embracing immigration and that is a source of economic growth vibrancy.”