Tag Archives: global politics

Russian Oligarchs May Have Used Donald Trump To Launder Money

My Comments: Every two years, I’m required to complete an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) overview and exam. At the local level, it’s mostly about drug money and efforts to turn illegal money into legal money with insurance and investment products.

The AML effort has the effect of reminding us about behaviors, questions, circumstances, patterns, etc. that are consistent with those used by people who were caught laundering money. If we get even a hint of AML behavior, we are required to alert a compliance officer immediately. The idea is to avoid any legal morass that is sure to follow.

What follows here is Chapter Two of a five part story that explores the long time relationship between our 45th President and Russian individuals. If you are disturbed, whether as a Republican or Democrat about the issue, then you owe it to yourself to read what is said below.

As Donald Trump entered the stage as a viable candidate for President, I was aware of relationships, comments, questions asked, financial outcomes, etc., that raised AML flags in my mind. If someone came into my office with similar circumstance, and refused to provide me with satisfactory answers to questions I posed, I would be bound to refuse any requests and report what was said, or not said.

His candidacy was for me a giant red flag. And nothing said and done so far by he and his team has caused me to change my mind.

Grag Fish \ May 30, 2017

Say you’re an oligarch in a country that loathes them but is powerless to do anything about their existence because the highest levels of government profit off their businesses, legal and not. While you might think you have it made, your position is actually quite precarious. Pull on your leash too much and start commenting on politics, and you might just find yourself in jail for tax evasion and embezzlement, or sent into exile according to the template that shut down a critical news channel first, and stealthily re-nationalized an oil empire soon after that.

You probably want to hedge your bets and find a country to which you can make a smooth exit, ideally spending a lot of time there and out of the government’s sight and mind. If things get bad, you can just pull your assets and stay abroad.

Many countries are happy to allow a wealthy foreign investor with millions in cash to set up shop permanently, as long as all that cash looks legitimate. And that condition could be a problem if you’re trying to wire it from a country under sanctions, or your income history has gaps indicating something shady went down.

Of course that’s why money laundering exists. One of the simplest ways to do it is to create a web of offshore companies strategically located in countries that don’t ask a lot of questions about where the money came from, but are just happy to take their cut. Many are the usual suspects in the Caribbean, but other favorites include the Seychelles, Cook Islands — which are now being called the Crook Islands by the natives thanks to their sudden surge in popularity as an offshore destination — and of course, Cyprus, which is heavily favored by Russians.

These offshore companies can cross borders, invest and transfer cash between each other, and after creating a frustrating enough web of transfers and exchanges, as many of them as vague and anonymous as possible mid-transit, they can invest in money-making ventures. Over time, they build small empires in their target destinations, which for Russians are often Switzerland and the UK, particularly London. But that’s fairly basic. The real pros are a lot sneakier than that, using charitable organizations and nonprofits as their identity shields.

These funds, as they’re called in Russia, are operated by LLCs that transfer assets, take out loans, and can make a single large organization doing all sorts of questionable deals and making eyebrow-raising purchases when viewed as a single entity, into a web of seemingly unrelated organizations with very different agendas. With enough records to have to sift through, they can hide their affiliations for years, often in plain sight, just because the web is too tangled to really unravel without a very good reason to spend months parsing paperwork.

Continue reading the article HERE

How Hitler Conquered Germany

My Comments: I find the parallels uncomfortable. There’s also the truism that includes the words “… are doomed to repeat the past”.

The new White House Communications Director, is, by definition, expressing the ideas of his employer. His message, to me, is very similar to those expressed by his counterparts in Germany in 1937, despite the passage of time, and presumed lessons from the past.

It is to convince us that we are doomed unless and until we eliminate some perceived threats to society. We’re not directly told what those threats actually are, but steps are being taken to remove them. The outcome could also be similar if we let it run and simply acquiesce to this intent.

There were valid reasons why the electorate in the US felt compelled to align itself with the messenger. That was also true in Germany in 1937. Today, like then, the message is designed to promote an agenda that could have dark consequences for all of us. The denial of health benefits for millions of Americans (TrumpCare), coupled with restrictions on their ability to vote (gerrymandering), leads to an outcome (dead people don’t vote) that the Koch brothers, among others, are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to advance. They’re not spending all that money out of the goodness of their hearts; there is an economic and tribal agenda that is not consistent with our Constitution and democratic principles. The phrase Make America Great Again doesn’t include ‘for whom?’.

We cannot afford to go too far down this slippery slope. Yes, explore some alternatives, but never forget the past. The outcome could be more than painful.

By Nicholas O’Shaughnessy , March 2017

Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher argued that the success of Nazi ideology can only be understood via the role of propaganda in the Third Reich. The Nazis’ modern techniques of opinion-formation in order to create a “truly religio-psychological phenomenon” made the propaganda especially powerful.

This is not to deny the role of coercion in the Nazi regime; this was a totalitarian state after all. During the ballot campaign in the spring of 1936, for instance—an “election” for the Reichstag and referendum on the Rhine remilitarization—all Germans were instructed to listen to Hitler’s speech from the Krupp arms factory at Essen. A typical press announcement of the time read: “The district party headquarters has ordered that all factory owners, department stores, offices, shops, pubs, and blocks of flats put up loudspeakers before the broadcast of the Führer’s speech so that the whole workforce and all national comrades can participate fully in the broadcast.” The near 100 percent result was of course an entirely manipulated one.

Yet while external compliance can be commanded, internal belief is an assent freely given. Joseph Goebbels, the appointed minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany, once said: “There are two ways to make a revolution. You can blast your enemy with machine guns until he acknowledges the superiority of those holding the machine guns. That is one way. Or you can transform the nation through a revolution of the spirit …”

Propaganda was the operational method of the Third Reich, the idea that projected the ideology. Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, told the Nuremberg Tribunal “that what distinguished the Third Reich from all previous dictatorships was its use of all the means of communication to sustain itself and to deprive its objects of the power of independent thought.” Hitler was a magician of illusion. The cultural historian Piers Brendon has described propaganda as the “gospel” of Nazism and notes that Goebbels “liked to say that Jesus Christ has been a master of propaganda and that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls.”

Hitler enacted a theory of persuasion which he first promulgated in Mein Kampf. It is difficult to think of “great” historical leaders—dictators, war lords, kings, and their like—who theorized about the integuments of power or abstracted from this an idea of psychological process. A Caesar might write a De Bello Gallico, and though there are also various other memoirists, they offer little in the way of a theory of persuasion per se.

Hitler was different. Mein Kampf is an incontinent bulk crammed with reflections, ruminations, biographical extracts and frenzied speculations. But, within its seething mass, there is a complete manual of propaganda, one which is focused, concise, harsh and pragmatic. Hitler’s great insight, which makes him unique among historical actors, was the recognition that violence and propaganda could and should be an integrated phenomenon. War and its articulation should not be disentangled since they were interdependent. The Nazis claimed “we did not lose the war because artillery gave out but because the weapons of our minds did not fire.”

The Third Reich represents the evolution of a partnership between masses and demagogue, a co-production—for example, the invitation to believe the idea that the Jews had simply been removed to external work camps, and not murdered. What the Nazis were really saying was that their truth lay deeper than their lies and that their lies were merely a permissible methodology since the end always justified the means. In historian Aristotle Kallis’ view, the identification of propaganda with falsification is misleading: Propaganda is a form of truth “reshaped through the lens of regime intentions.” From the perspective of the Reich, the Nazis were selling German truth rather than British falsehood.

The idea of people willingly misled offends our notion of man as rational. A more accurate representation of the psychology of the Third Reich would be to conceive of a partnership in wishful thinking in which the masses were self-deluded as well as other-deluded. Persuasion in such cases offers an idea of solidarity and the target of that persuasion is more co-conspirator than victim, an invitation to share in the creation of a hyperbolic fiction. Successful persuasion in business, media, or government, does not make the error of asking for belief. It makes no pretense of objectivity. The notion of persuasion as “manipulative” evokes a passive recipient and a hypodermic or stimulus-response form; but a more sophisticated idea is that of an invocation to partnership.

Thus, the Third Reich was the emanation of a collective as well as an individual’s imagination. Submersible parts of the ideology, such as the antagonism to religion, the euthanasia campaign, the massacre of Jews, could all have been discovered by the determined enquirer. One theory advanced as an explanation of this is that of group narcissism, which is described by historian and psychologist Jay Y. Gonen as one of the most important sources of human aggression: “In a world that is seen through a narcissistic tunnel vision, only oneself or one’s group has any rights.”

The purpose of Nazi propaganda was not to brainwash ordinary Germans, and it was not intended to deceive the masses even though it did enable the movement to gain new recruits. The principal objective, according to historian Neil Gregor, was “to absorb the individual into a mass of like-minded people, and the purpose of the ‘suggestion’ was not to deceive but to articulate that which the crowd already believed.”

The essence of the Nazi propaganda method was repetition. Goebbels argued that the skill of British propagandists during the Great War resided in the fact that they used just a few powerful slogans and kept repeating them. Historian Baruch Gitlis has argued that: “Wherever the German turned, he met his most ‘dangerous enemy,’ the Jew,” and that “while he walked in the street he encountered posters and slogans against the Jews at every square, on every wall and billboard. Even graffiti greeted the German at the entrance to his dwelling: ‘Wake up Germany, Judah must rot!’”

The message penetrated the barriers of inattention through the massive insistence on its replication. Goebbels was a proponent of the “repeated exposure effect.” The mass mind was dull and sluggish, and for ideas to take root, they had to be constantly re-seeded: recognition, comprehension, retention, and conviction are different stages in the cognitive process, and repetition can facilitate them. It is important to remember, therefore, that what Nazi propaganda also offered was the dubious benefit of sensory exhaustion. The citizen was not a target to be persuaded so much as a victim to be conquered, ravished even. They wanted internal commitment, not just external compliance.

Another core part of Nazi grand theory was the dethronement of reason and the celebration of emotion. Nazism felt rather than thought, and therefore the nature of its propaganda appeal was also to feeling rather than thinking. The mobilization of emotion lay at the heart of everything the Nazis did; propaganda’s operational formula. For Goebbels, the role of the propagandist was to express in words what his audience felt in their hearts.

For this reason, propaganda had to be primitive, appealing to what Hitler described as man’s inner Schweinehund (“pig dog,” thereby a sort of deprecatory idiom for one’s inner self). Typically brutally “either- or,” the propaganda appealed to the audience’s primitive desire for simplification, thus: “There are … only two possibilities: either the victory of the Aryan side or its annihilation and the victory of the Jews.” The Nazis believed a formulaic propaganda methodology must be applied even at the cost of alienating the sophisticated. Nazi theorist and proponent of propaganda Walther Schulze-Wechsungen wrote:

“Many a one laughed at the propaganda of the NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers’ Party] in the past from a position of superiority. It is true that we had only one thing to say, and we yelled and screamed and propagandized it again and again with a stubbornness that drove the ‘wise’ to desperation. We proclaimed it with such simplicity that they thought it absurd and almost childish. They did not understand that repetition is the precursor to success and simplicity is the key to the emotional and mental world of the masses. We wanted to appeal to the intuitive world of the great masses, not the understanding of the intellectuals.”

According to Goebbels, what was distinctive about the Nazis was “the ability to see into the soul of the people and to speak the language of the man in the street.” The propagandist was an artist who “sensed the secret vibrations of the people.” What distinguished European fascism above all was its discovery of new ways, a methodology, of speaking to the working class. The fascists were not ashamed of mass media and marketing, understood the cultures of consumerism, and recognized the role these now played in the lives of the masses; media was a new language with which the masses were now familiar, including its styles, forms, and assumptions. Fascists were at ease in this exciting new world and recognized that it could be exploited for political purposes, both as a source of methods and as a new kind of culture with a different set of governing assumptions.

The propagandists did not have it all their own way and we are much mistaken if we imagine Nazi Germany to have been a nation only of fanatics. There were the convinced, the semi-convinced, and the doubters; one could in fact have been in all three categories through the lifetime of the Reich. The Nazis were the most electorally successful of all Europe’s fascist parties, yet they never garnered more than 37 percent of the vote.

They also recognized the limitations of propaganda in that it is predicated on political results. As Schulze-Wechsungen noted, “It is clear that even the best propaganda cannot conceal constant political failures.” Then there was the acknowledged tedium of much of the propaganda. Nazi Germany had inherited (perhaps) the most creative film industry in the world, and yet American journalist and wartime correspondent William Shirer, for example, remembered the hissing of German films. Eric Rentschler, an authority on Nazi cinema, asked, “But how was one to explain repeated instances of derisive laughter at melodramas and films that hardly set out to be funny?”; in Rentschler’s view, out of sync laughter is a potential terrorist in the dark, someone who refuses to let the film cast its spell.

Morale ultimately deteriorated when victories did not materialize into victory. Another criticism, well-articulated by Harold Nicolson MP, was that German propaganda brought short-term impact at the cost of long-term credibility:

“The German propaganda method is based upon seizing immediate advantages with complete disregard of the truth or of their credit. Our method is the slower and more long-term method of establishing confidence. For the moment, the Goebbels method is the more successful. In the end ours will prove decisive.”

Many were still with Hitler right until the end of the war (Germany had to be re-conquered, sometimes street by street), and even beyond the end—there were those guiltless of many war crimes who chose to follow him into the oblivion of suicide. All of this is merely to demonstrate that Nazi propaganda was not invincible and that the Reich could miscalculate because the ideology was, in the end, monstrous. As to whether all this persuasion was causal or merely decorative, I have advocated a perspective: Events are seldom inherently deterministic and they have to be “sold,” their meanings made vivid, via all the gathered powers of eloquence or pictography—whether by Marat in the French Revolution, Lenin in the Russian, or Churchill in 1940.

Hitler understood, as few others had ever done, the need for the serial creation of enemies. He was a political entrepreneur possessed of the truly devastating insight that all recent enemies could eventually merge into the one super-enemy, the Jews. Here was an intuitive understanding of how self-definition is achieved through other-rejection, that solidarity, identity, and community are in essence gained at the expense of others and appeals based on the brotherhood of man (as, in a sense, even Communism did) would always ultimately fail. His construction of tribal passion could arouse the emotions and therefore render people vulnerable to any kind of visionary persuasion or invocation to epic quest.

Nazism did not ask for belief but for surrender—not through coercion, primarily, but by assaulting consciousness. The essential aim was the extinction of independent thought via images that would now think for you.

Yet the seeming ease with which Germans “went along” with, or ostensibly ignored, the true frauds continues to astonish.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fascism/2017/03/how_nazi_propaganda_encouraged_the_masses_to_co_produce_a_false_reality.html

Re-Negotiate NAFTA?

My Comments: The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed by Congress on 11/30/1994. It was approved by 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats. It’s purpose was to increase trade across North America without creating a single currency among the three countries involved.

22 years later, industries specific to each country have evolved to reflect strengths and weaknesses inherent across the region. The drive for economic survival among those industries means there have been winners and losers, but with a 22 plus year history, those strengths and weaknesses have either surfaced or been culled out.

On balance, NAFTA has been good for the agricultural sector. We have a warmer climate than Canada and more rain than Mexico. Of the hundreds of nations across the planet, we are the only one with net exports of food. Everyone one else has to import some of their food.

In anticipation of a disruption of imports of American food stuffs into Mexico, they have now started a move to import more of their food requirements from China. That won’t create jobs in the US.

I think it’s ok and necessary to re-evaluate ideas from time to time. But changes will have consequences, some of them will hurt and US farmers are nervous. This explains why.

By PAUL WISEMAN, AP Economics Writer/May 19, 2017

Why Trump’s combative trade stance makes US farmers nervous

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sizable majority of rural Americans backed Donald Trump’s presidential bid, drawn to his calls to slash environmental rules, strengthen law enforcement and replace the federal health care law.

But last month, many of them struck a sour note after White House aides signaled that Trump would deliver on another signature vow by edging toward abandoning the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Farm Country suddenly went on red alert.

Trump’s message that NAFTA was a job-killing disaster had never resonated much in rural America. NAFTA had widened access to Mexican and Canadian markets, boosting U.S. farm exports and benefiting many farmers.

“Mr. President, America’s corn farmers helped elect you,” Wesley Spurlock of the National Corn Growers Association warned in a statement. “Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture.”

Within hours, Trump softened his stance. He wouldn’t actually dump NAFTA, he said. He’d first try to forge a more advantageous deal with Mexico and Canada — a move that formally began Thursday when his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, announced the administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA.

Farmers have been relieved that NAFTA has survived so far. Yet many remain nervous about where Trump’s trade policy will lead.

As a candidate, Trump defined his “America First” stance as a means to fight unfair foreign competition. He blamed unjust deals for swelling U.S. trade gaps and stealing factory jobs.

But NAFTA and other deals have been good for American farmers, who stand to lose if Trump ditches the pact or ignites a trade war. The United States has enjoyed a trade surplus in farm products since at least 1967, government data show. Last year, farm exports exceeded imports by $20.5 billion.

“You don’t start off trade negotiations … by picking fights with your trade partners that are completely unnecessary,” says Aaron Lehman, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer who produces corn, soybeans, oats and hay.

Many farmers worry that Trump’s policies will jeopardize their exports just as they face weaker crop and livestock prices.

“It comes up pretty quickly in conversation,” says Blake Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer in northwestern Missouri’s Atchison County.

That county’s voters backed Trump more than 3-to-1 in the election but now feel “it would be better if the rhetoric (on trade) was a little less strident,” says Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Trump’s main argument against NAFTA and other pacts was that they exposed American workers to unequal competition with low-wage workers in countries like Mexico and China.

NAFTA did lead some American manufacturers to move factories and jobs to Mexico. But since it took effect in 1994 and eased tariffs, annual farm exports to Mexico have jumped nearly five-fold to about $18 billion. Mexico is the No. 3 market for U.S. agriculture, notably corn, soybeans and pork.

“The trade agreements that we’ve had have been very beneficial,” says Stephen Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association. “We need to take care not to blow the significant gains that agriculture has won.”

The U.S. has run a surplus in farm trade with Mexico for 20 of the 23 years since NAFTA took effect. Still, the surpluses with Mexico became deficits in 2015 and 2016 as global livestock and grain prices plummeted and shrank the value of American exports, notes Joseph Glauber of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Mexico has begun to seek alternatives to U.S. food because, as its agriculture secretary, Jose Calzada Rovirosa, said in March, Trump’s remarks on trade “have injected uncertainty” into the agriculture business.

Once word had surfaced that Trump was considering pulling out of NAFTA, Sonny Perdue, two days into his job as the president’s agriculture secretary, hastened to the White House with a map showing areas that would be hurt most by a pullout, overlapped with many that voted for Trump.

“I tried to demonstrate to him that in the agricultural market, sometimes words like ‘withdraw’ or ‘terminate’ can have a major impact on markets,” Perdue said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think the president made a very wise decision for the benefit of many agricultural producers across the country” by choosing to remain in NAFTA.

Trump delivered another disappointment for U.S. farm groups in January by fulfilling a pledge to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration negotiated with 11 Asia-Pacific countries. Trump argued that the pact would cost Americans jobs by pitting them against low-wage Asian labor.

But the deal would have given U.S. farmers broader access to Japan’s notoriously impregnable market and easier entry into fast-growing Vietnam. Philip Seng of the U.S. Meat Export Federation notes that the U.S. withdrawal from TPP left Australia with a competitive advantage because it had already negotiated lower tariffs in Japan.

Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese and Mexican imports, thereby raising fears that those trading partners would retaliate with their own sanctions.

Farmers know they’re frequently the first casualties of trade wars. Many recall a 2009 trade rift in which China responded to U.S. tire tariffs by imposing tariffs on U.S. chicken parts. And Mexico slapped tariffs on U.S. goods ranging from ham to onions to Christmas trees in 2009 to protest a ban on Mexican trucks crossing the border.

The White House declined to comment on farmers’ fears that Trump’s trade policy stands to hurt them. But officials say they’ve sought to ease concerns, by, for example, having Agriculture Secretary Perdue announce a new undersecretary to oversee trade and foreign agricultural affairs.

Many farmers are still hopeful about the Trump administration. Some, for example, applaud his plans to slash environmental rules that they say inflate the cost of running a farm. Some also hold out hope that the author of “The Art of the Deal” will negotiate ways to improve NAFTA.

One such way might involve Canada. NAFTA let Canada shield its dairy farmers from foreign competition behind tariffs and regulations but left at least one exception — an American ultra-filtered milk used in cheese. When Canadian farmers complained about the cheaper imports, Canada changed its policy and effectively priced ultra-filtered American milk out of the market.

“Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult,” Trump tweeted last month. “We will not stand for this. Watch!”

Some U.S. cattle producers would also like a renegotiated NAFTA to give them something the current version doesn’t: The right to label their product “Made in America.” In 2015, the World Trade Organization struck down the United States’ country-of-origin labeling rules as unfair to Mexico and Canada.

Many still worry that Trump’s planned overhaul of American trade policy is built to revive manufacturing and that farming remains an afterthought.

“So much of the conversation in the campaign had been in Detroit or in Indiana” and focused on manufacturing jobs,” said Kathy Baylis, an economist at the University of Illinois. The importance of American farm exports “never made it into the rhetoric.”

AP Writers David Pitt in Des Moines and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

Michael Flynn Explained

My Comments: I want 45 to be successful. It’s not in my best interest as a citizen of these United States to have a duly elected official fail. But the odds of that happening are increasingly likely.

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst \ Wed May 3, 2017

It’s been 11 weeks since Gen. Michael Flynn was ousted as national security adviser. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russians, lobbied on behalf of Turkey while an adviser to the Trump campaign, and is now seeking congressional immunity in exchange for his testimony about Russia and the election.

Not a great scenario for a new administration. But it’s one that could have been avoided had the new team actually done its homework about the man they nominated. Only they didn’t.

Consider this scenario, retold by multiple sources with knowledge: When Donald Trump’s initial transition team met for the first (and last) time two days after the November election victory with its executive committee — which included Trump family members — the group was visited by two people who were not expected to be at the session: Gen. Michael Flynn and Gen. Keith Kellogg. Apparently invited by Jared Kushner, the men were asked by both Kushner and Ivanka Trump to talk about the positions they would want in the new administration.

Kellogg wanted to be White House chief of staff, which was apparently a non-starter. And Flynn told the group there were only three positions he would accept: national security adviser, secretary of state, or secretary of defense. The trouble is, he was not on the transition team’s list for any of those jobs.

But he was on the family’s list.

The rest is history: The next day, transition chairman Chris Christie was ousted, his voluminous plans scrapped, and the rest of his team was gone shortly thereafter. And Flynn became the first big Trump appointment, named national security adviser within 10 days of Trump’s election — only to be gone just over three weeks into the Trump presidency.

The rise and fall of Flynn

The story of Flynn’s rise and fall — from loyal Trump adviser and campaign rabble-rouser to a very short-term top job in national security — is the story of an insular family takeover of a transition process the President himself never wanted. (In fact, one source says that Trump wanted to close it down, thought it was bad karma, but was told that transition preparations are actually in the candidate’s best interest.)

According to multiple sources familiar with discussions inside the first transition team, Flynn was viewed suspiciously. He was considered a “wild card” — someone who made officials uncomfortable. But because he had been so loyal to Trump they reluctantly put him on their list as the director of national intelligence.

After the election — and the Christie ouster — the transition was outsourced in name to Pence, who led a largely inexperienced team, including Trump’s family — especially his daughter and son-in-law. What’s more, this new transition was hobbled by inadequate vetting and preparation, falling woefully behind in nominations. And Flynn’s appointment as national security adviser was an easily avoidable mistake, say initial transition officials, but apparently no one was interested in listening to advice about extreme vetting.

Flynn was announced as national security adviser with the clear backing of the Trump family. But Flynn did not have something just as important: a complete, new, deeper internal vet of his associations and potential conflicts.

The new transition team had prepared “public source” vetting on potential nominees — which means anything available on the public record — but had not gone beyond that. And the ousted transition team had specifically warned the new administration not to nominate anyone officially until more robust investigations could be complete.
But it didn’t happen that way.

So Flynn was nominated, says one source with knowledge, “without anything deeper than a public vet.” Another source familiar with the transition added that Flynn “certainly wouldn’t have passed my vetting to be anything with a security clearance.” The lack of homework created obvious problems.

The main questions are these: Why didn’t the Trump administration know about either Flynn’s business or his Russian contacts? Wouldn’t a fuller vetting process have sent up red flares?

The explanation now from the Trump administration is that it’s the Obama administration’s fault. Flynn, they say, had the proper clearance because he was vetted by the Obama administration — having served as their Defense Intelligence Agency director before he was fired from that position in 2014.

Donald Trump explained it this way: “When they say we didn’t vet, well Obama I guess didn’t vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration.” And Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said there was no need to “rerun a background check” on someone who had a high position in intelligence” and “did maintain a high level clearance.” He said it’s done every five years, and can be updated which, he said, “occurred in this case.” So case closed.

More elaborate vetting?

Except that intelligence officials have told CNN and others that any high-level job like national security adviser should require a separate, more extensive background check, even for those with current security clearance. And as Flynn’s predecessor — former national security adviser Susan Rice — pointed out in an interview with Fareed Zakaria last week, those appointed to high positions normally receive “a separate and much more elaborate” check than a security clearance. “It gets into the financial information. It gets into your relationships and contacts. It gets into your behavior.”

During the campaign, Flynn was cleared, along with Christie, to accompany then-presidential nominee Trump to a briefing with intelligence officials. (“Maybe that’s the Obama vet they’re talking about,” speculated one source. “But that’s not the vet you should get if you are going to be national security adviser.”)

It was held at FBI headquarters in New York. One source with knowledge of the briefing says that “Trump acquitted himself well,” but that Flynn was “an abomination with an ax to grind” against the intelligence officials with whom he had formerly worked. Even Trump started having concerns about Flynn, this source says, but acknowledged his loyalty.

In the end, loyalty wasn’t enough. “Flynn was their responsibility,” one transition source says. “If they had truly vetted him before any announcement, none of this would have happened.”

The Brilliant Incoherence of Trump’s Foreign Policy

My Comments: This may be far too long to read in one sitting. But if, like me, you are willing to absorb some rather heavy reading, you may find yourself somewhat relieved by the message.

Stephen Sestanovich | May 2017

Every 20 years or so—the regularity is a little astonishing—Americans hold a serious debate about their place in the world. What, they ask, is going wrong? And how can it be fixed? The discussion, moreover, almost always starts the same way. Having extricated itself with some success from a costly war, the United States then embraces a scaled-down foreign policy, the better to avoid over commitment. But when unexpected challenges arise, people start asking whether the new, more limited strategy is robust enough. Politicians and policy makers, scholars and experts, journalists and pundits, the public at large, even representatives of other governments (both friendly and less friendly) all take part in the back-and-forth. They want to know whether America, despite its decision to do less, should go back to doing more—and whether it can.

The reasons for doubt are remarkably similar from one period of discussion to the next. Some argue that the U.S. economy is no longer big enough to sustain a global role of the old kind, or that domestic problems should take priority. Others ask whether the public is ready for new exertions. The foreign-policy establishment may seem too divided, and a viable consensus too hard to reestablish. Many insist that big international problems no longer lend themselves to Washington’s solutions, least of all to military ones. American “leadership,” it is said, won’t work so well in our brave new world.

With minor variations, this is the foreign-policy debate that the country conducted in the 1950s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. And it’s the same one that we have been having for the past few years. The rise of the Islamic State, the Syrian civil war, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and China’s muscle-flexing in East Asia jolted the discussion back to life in 2014. Presidential debates in 2015 and 2016 added issues (from Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal to his Asian trade pact) and sharpened the controversy.

Those of us in the foreign-policy business are always glad to have our concerns get this kind of prominence. Down the decades, these debates have tended to produce a consensus in favor of renewed American activism. Yet each version unfolds in its own way. The global turmoil of 2016 meant that nobody could be completely sure how this one was going to turn out.

We still don’t know. The advent of Donald Trump—his candidacy, his election, and the start of his presidency—has given our once-every-two-decades conversation extra drama and significance. Some commentators claim that Trump wants to cast aside the entire post–Cold War order. To others, he is repudiating everything that America has tried to achieve since 1945. Still others say he represents a break with all we have stood for since 1776 (or maybe even since 1630, when John Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony “a city upon a hill”).

That we talk this way is but one measure of the shock Trump’s victory has administered. The new president is raising questions about the foreign policy of the United States—about its external purposes, its internal cohesion, and its chances of success—that may not be fully answered for years. Yet to understand a moment as strange as this, we need to untangle what has happened. In this cycle, America has actually had two rounds of debate about its global role. The first one was driven by the 2016 campaign, and Trump won it. The second round has gone differently. Since taking office, the new president has made one wrong move after another.

Though it’s too soon to say that he has lost this round, he is certainly losing control of it. In each case, we need to understand the dynamics of the discussion better than we do.

‘He’s a Performance Artist Pretending to be a Great Manager’

My Comments: I really want 45 to be successful. The health and welfare of my children and grandchildren depend on it. And I really don’t want the never ending distraction now caused by, first, his apparent incompetence and secondly, by the constitutional crisis that will result if he fails.

I find him intellectually lazy. Yes, he is smart and knows how to tell a story to help people grasp what he is attempting to say. He probably has the skill sets necessary to run a successful business empire, or at least one that appears successful on the surface.

But 45 appears unwilling to apply the necessary intellectual curiosity to prepare himself for decisions that need to be made by a President of the United States. The orders he has signed coupled with the results so far suggest they were made emotionally and not from any careful evaluation of how they might achieve the desired outcome. I suspect the Yemen raid that went wrong happened because he simply wanted to kick some ass, and not because he carefully evaluated the pros and cons. That would require a mental effort that he seems unable to master.

His need to take the weekend off at the end of every five days in Washington further supports my concern about his lack of intellectual vigor. He might have the necessary skill sets to run a successful real estate empire, but the skill sets required to assure the future health and welfare of my children and grandchildren seems to be lacking. Big time.

By Michael Kruse  /  Feb 27, 2017

More than 27 years before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, Bruce Nobles, then the president of the Trump Shuttle airline, assessed with some befuddlement the business and managerial practices of his boss. Nobles had climbed a conventional corporate ladder at American, Continental and Pan Am, companies with org charts any MBA would recognize. The Trump Organization, on the other hand, was smaller, looser and much more freewheeling, and working for Trump, Nobles discovered, was a markedly different experience.

“It surprised me how much of a family-type operation it was, instead of a business kind of orientation where there is a structure and there is a chain of command and there is delegation of authority and responsibility,” Nobles told a reporter from Newsday in the fall of 1989. “As the organization gets bigger, and it seems to be getting bigger all the time, he’ll have to do a better job of actually managing the place as opposed to making deals.”

Mere months into Trump’s time as the owner of an airline—the purchase was finalized that June—Nobles already had concerns. Trump had overpaid with more than $400 million of borrowed money, he seemed most interested in cosmetic touches like the size of the “T” on the tails of the planes, and the debt service quickly became crippling. Once, Trump suggested cutting costs by flying with two pilots, not three, and Nobles had to tell him that would be illegal.

Trump’s appetite was greater than his ability to manage what he had acquired. Last week on the phone, as Trump passed the one-month mark in the White House and prepared for tonight’s speech before a joint session of Congress, Nobles told me that what he sees now is what he saw then. “His behavior to date,” he said, “is consistent with the behavior I saw 30 years ago.”

CONTINUE-READING

It’s the Economic Inequality, Stupid! The Gaping Wound That Led to Trump’s Win

retirement_roadMy Comments: I’ve been talking for several years about income inequality and how it must be reversed if our children and grandchildren are going to avoid rioting in the streets and economic chaos. Recently we’ve seen Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter and now Trump protesters rioting in the streets. The waiting has ended; rioting has started.

I’ve written that much of the tension involving lives lost to law enforcement errors, to the tension between rural and urban America, between racial groups, and dozen’s of other conflicts, including those in the Middle East, have economic roots. The tension grows out of a frustration that surfaces when otherwise normal humans find themselves unable to work and provide for their families in a way their parents and grandparents were able to. Or how images and stories on Facebook suggest how other people are living better lives.

This writer describes it as a gaping wound, and while I have reservations about Trump’s ability to forge a remedy, the economic inequality is very real and until or unless we find a remedy, it’s going to fester and get worse.

Kadira Pethiyagoda | Nov. 18, 2016

The people didn’t ask for Donald Trump, they asked for change and settled for Trump. It was the change Obama had promised eight years ago. While Trump fired up some pre-existing xenophobic elements of the Republican base, what delivered him the victory that eluded his Republican predecessors was an appeal to the “forgotten men and women” i.e the working class. Venting at the ‘establishment’ – was a way to articulate the deep anger driven by ever increasing economic inequality and political powerlessness. While division is the story touted across the punditry, Trump’s election also exposes something with greater transformative potential: a political realignment reflecting a re-emerging class consciousness. Suspicion of minorities has long found a home in Right Wing Republican politics; Trump merely took it to its logical conclusion. More uniquely though, he coupled it with the relatively Left Wing traditions of protectionism, public infrastructure spending and non-interventionist, non-anti-Russia foreign policy. Trump also did something Democrats have too-often shied away from – he actually used the term ‘working class’. Further underlining the return of economic class consciousness is that fact that right up to the election, unabashed socialist Bernie Sanders outpolled Trump. This enormous blow to establishment neo-liberalism underlines the imperative for the Left to return to its roots of angrily fighting for working people and elevating economic equality as its flagship cause.

This article, the first in a series discussing this most important of trends sweeping the US, UK, Australia and the Western world, will focus on economic inequality. The second piece will focus on the ‘rigged system’ and powerlessness, discussing the lack of influence ordinary citizens have on policymaking. The third will argue that only a Left Wing movement that fearlessly advocates economic change can match Trump and the populist Right.

Inequality is the biggest scandal of our time and the masses have woken up to it. Despite the cartoonish level of irony implicit in the born-rich billionaire posturing as a hero of the working class, Trump tapped into real anger. This anger and his support grew as the mainstream media handed him bonafide outsider status through its attacks on his personality, however justified. Trump placed his arm around the shoulders of people hurting from economic injustice and whispered to them that they should blame minority scapegoats and some elements of the establishment (though not others) – punching both down and up. Economic inequality provides the most fertile ground for a demagogue to ripen hatreds (alongside other factors like a pro-military intervention media).

While anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia were significant factors in his victory, they were far from being the only drivers. The statistics of key states show that many who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, less likely to be racists, also voted for Trump. These people helped swing the election. The greatest new division in this election wasn’t the race gap; racial minorities had long voted Democrat over Republican. Trump won a higher proportion of the Latino vote than Mitt Romney. African American support for Clinton was down from Obama’s numbers. The biggest new division wasn’t even the gender gap. Non-college educated white women voted for Trump over Clinton, 62% to 34%, more than the majority Hillary had with women overall. The biggest new divide was the class gap. Trump excelled in Northern blue collar regions, winning non-college educated whites by 39 points.

This bucked the trend which has existed since the days of Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’, where Republicans use the anti-Civil Rights backlash to ensure that social issues were the only acceptable ground upon which political battles could be fought. This evolved over time to issues like religion and abortion being harnessed to fire up the base and snatch up working class voters whose economic interests would be better served by the Democrats. The only debate over economics permitted was the ‘big government’ versus ‘small government’ pantomime. The US Democrats and UK Labour Party endlessly conceded ground to the Right to the point where ideological choices like trickle-down theory, privatisation, deregulation and ever-increasing tax cuts were accepted as irrefutable truths. Hand in hand with 50 years of the Left’s economic retreat came rising inequality and the gutting of the middle class, to the point where the top 10%’s share of national income became the highest since the Great Depression, ultimately surpassing that of the bottom 90%’s.

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When the Global Financial Crisis finally cracked the veneer of the infallible free market, a groundswell for change led to people putting their hope in a relative outsider. But despite a progressive background, inspirational speeches of hope, and superficial characteristics suggesting the potential for change, Obama turned out to be a steadfast moderate and pragmatist. 95% of income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1% of the earning population. In 2015, America’s top 500 CEOs each earned, on average, 335 times the average worker’s wage.

Now, economics is back with a vengeance. The two candidates who inspired the most passion throughout the whole process were economic populists Trump and Bernie Sanders. During the primaries, family values crusaders like Ted Cruz abjectly failed to ignite passions. Hillary’s critiques of Bernie’s slightly worse record on gun control gained little traction in comparison to Sanders’ attacks on her proximity to Wall Street.

What the mainstream media failed to realise was that peoples’ lives have become so abysmal that they care little whether Trump, as a person, makes deplorable comments, or even does deplorable things. Anyone who has experienced the stripping of dignity that poverty brings, or the survival instinct that kicks in with the lingering threat of poverty, knows that change, any change and rage become the superseding drivers. A woman working two insecure jobs and overwhelmed by debt knows the gender of the next president or heart-patting speeches by Beyonce won’t stop her still being poor tomorrow. Worrying about a candidate’s personal morality was a luxury to many. What mattered was their perception, however erroneous, that Trump would stand up for them with policies that affect their lives.

The role of economics and class were perhaps clearest in Trump’s redrawing of the electoral map. He surged in the de-industrialised Rust Belt, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as Wisconsin which no Republican has won since 1984. These places epitomised the stagnation of incomes and living standards that have ravaged workers’ lives since the Right began to successfully tear down the welfare state and public spending.

People have finally cottoned on to the injustice of the system. Levels of inequality are so astronomical that even though the public is only aware of a fraction of it, even this fraction is enough to inspire indignation. The table below reveals the richest 20% own over 80% of the wealth, while most people think the richest own less than 60% and would like the richest to own around 30%.

The inequality might not have been so obscene had there been less rampant poverty. Almost 40% of American workers (leave aside the unemployed), earned less than $20,000 in 2014. 51% made less than $30,000. The poverty line for a family of four was $23,850 in the same year.

This election points to a convergence at the economic bottom that provides opportunities for both ends of the political spectrum, not only the extreme Right, but also the real Left. In the UK, inequality was the underlying factor that led not only to Brexit, but the much less appreciated rise of Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn. This is a man who, despite almost complete hostility from the establishment media, has managed to use his message of genuine economic change to re-energize and grow the Labour Party in a way not seen in half a century.

While immigration and globalisation may feel like salt rubbed into a wound, the economic system and its rampant inequality are what created the wound in the first place. A class consciousness is being revived that has not been seen in decades. This is a gathering at the peripheries of which Trump can only capture the white half. The working class is awakening, but this time only its white members were offered a champion for their cause. There are signs Trump may even squander this, already having begun his rapprochement with the establishment, hiring ex-bankers and suggesting he’ll cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15%. The stage is definitely set for a more fundamental upheaval. To correct the massive inequalities which divide the country, however, the Left needs to embrace its economic populist past and reposition itself as a true champion of working people.