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101  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, UN Security Council, George Friedman on: December 28, 2016, 12:32:11 PM
http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2016/12/27/a_meaningless_un_security_council_resolution_112154.html

Neither the United Nations resolution nor Trump’s shift is of great significance. Over the years, throughout the world, UNSC resolutions have been met with indifference. It does not matter what the UNSC says. It matters what the permanent members of the UNSC do. In the case of Israel and Palestine, no one on either side can do very much of significance. As for public opinion, that is fairly well locked into place. There are four camps: those who are pro-Israeli, those who are pro-Palestinian, those who wring their hand and express pieties and those who couldn’t care less. Nothing that happened at the U.N. will change anyone’s mind.
102  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Israel, and its neighbors on: December 28, 2016, 09:35:34 AM
Pre-answering John Kerry's speech today, an old proverb describes the Kerry dilemma perfectly and I want to be first to put this out there.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

We will help Israel attain peace by taking away the only thing they have to offer in exchange for peace.  Makes sense if you have absolutely no awareness of history, reality or strategy.
103  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Haaretz supports Obama and the resolution on: December 28, 2016, 09:19:59 AM

The liberal left is alive and well in Israel too, temporarily defeated by a great leader, Netanyahu.
104  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Thomas Sowell retiring on: December 28, 2016, 08:45:51 AM

Yes.  Thomas Sowell is synonymous with wisdom.  We may need a Conservative Wisdom, Thomas Sowell thread to bring out as much as we can of his previous work.  

A tribute from Michells Malkin:
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/12/28/thank_you_professor_sowell_132656.html

Sowell's academic work digs into civilizations and cultures across the world and throughout history, not just current headlines.  His past as a Marxist and his journey from Harlem High School to Harvard Law School grad and Univ of Chicago PhD in economics give him an authenticity on many topics that no one can match.

Some time ago I gave Thomas Sowell's great book Basic Economics with a $50 bill in it as a graduation gift to a young friend.  I hope he read far enough into it to find the money.
105  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Glick: Obama's play has just begun on: December 28, 2016, 08:19:55 AM
Caroline Glick
Here is what I think is a reasonable assessment of Obama's likely timeline for action against Israel.
Today, December 27, 2016: John Kerry is scheduled to address the UN Security Council and lay out his blueprint for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
January 15, 2017: Kerry participates in French President Hollande's summit along with other leaders of the so called Quartet. The Quartet produces a document ratifying Kerry's speech as a unanimous position.
January 16, 2017: Obama makes a speech for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday. In his speech he merges Palestinian statehood with the civil rights movement and announces it is time for Palestine to be formally recognized.
January 17, 2017: The Security Council convenes to ratify the Quartet's blueprint for Palestine as a Security Council resolution. The resolution will probably only speak of a process of bringing Palestine in as a full member in order to prevent automatic US defunding of the UN in accordance with standing US law requiring a funding cut-off in response to any UN recognition of Palestine.
January 20, 2017: Donald Trump is inaugurated and presented with Obama's fait accompli.
Obama has without a doubt been lobbying the incoming members of the Security Council to support this program, just as he lobbied the current members to support last Friday's resolution.

The only person who can derail this operation is Donald Trump.

Jan 21, President Trump suspends US financial support for the United Nations of terror and kleptocracy, proposes US embassy move to Jerusalem.
106  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Trump Transition/Administration on: December 24, 2016, 04:11:45 PM
The author does have a point .  Trump is not the President.  He is the President elect.  He should wait till 1/20 to conduct foreign policy.

And vice a versa. President Obama should not be taking actions pretending to govern this country after the inauguration,  Lame weasel.  Good riddance.
107  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Obama's Tantrum on: December 24, 2016, 12:12:00 PM
https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/252744/

The most instructive thing about Obama’s Security Council abstention is he didn’t have the guts to do it earlier, when he stood to lose something by doing it. Only after he calculated there was nothing more to squeeze from that particular quarter did he run up the Jolly Roger. Had it cost him it would have meant something, even as a gesture.

But even more interesting was his willingness to damage the Democratic party who he’s leaving with political bill, not to mention the fact that the policy his abstention represents makes little sense.

Israel is likely to emerge as a linchpin in the region, after Obama’s power vacuum bomb reduces the nearby countries to waste. If Turkey and Iran fall apart, which is not inconceivable, then Obama will have antagonized the last man standing.

It was bad timing and pointless, like a punch thrown by a fighter lying on the canvas — at the referee. That would leave his legacy a consistently dysfunctional whole: conceived in delusion, executed in incompetence and spite.
108  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, NYT Electoral College continued on: December 22, 2016, 07:53:09 PM
NYT:  "This page opposed the Electoral College in 1936, and in more recent years as well."

Whoops.  They were against it, before they were for it, before they were against it:

NYT Correction: December 20, 2016
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that the editorial board has been opposed to the Electoral College going back 80 years. It failed to note an exception: in 2000, the board defended the college after the election of George W. Bush.

The 2000 editorial was titled, “The Case for the Electoral College” and the editors argued that, “The Electoral College was first and foremost a compact among states, large and small, designed to ensure that one state or one region did not dominate the others.”  [Isn't that about what I said?]   )

The Times ended the editorial with:
The system has survived earlier instances in which the winner of the popular vote was denied the presidency. Wise voters and legislators will want to make sure that it survives this one as well.

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/19/opinion/the-case-for-the-electoral-college.html

109  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Economics, the stock market , and other investment/savings strategies on: December 22, 2016, 04:41:30 PM
"Real GDP growth in Q3 was revised to a 3.5% annual rate from a prior estimate of 3.2%, beating the consensus expected 3.3%."

I must admit I was wrong when I predicted the growth estimate would be revised downward after the election.  Still, this and the current quarter will conclude 8 years of lethargic, pathetic and ARTIFICIAL growth.

Nominal growth is 3% and our inflation target is 2%.  The difference is a rounding error; we aren't better off.

What would the real growth rate be without 10 trillion in new fiscal deficit stimulative spending?  What would it be without quantitative easing, asset re-purchases and 8 years of near zero interest rate policy?  Zero growth or worse, I suspect.

Easy money when it shouldn't be was a major cause of the last financial meltdown:  https://economicsone.com/2016/12/09/unconventional-monetary-policy-normalization-and-reform/
Have we learned anything?

What would the growth rate be if we didn't tax corporations at the highest rate in the world?  If we didn't pour two dozen new tax increases on the economy with Obamacare, or if we didn't add tens of thousands of new pages of regulations onto what used to be a relatively free economy?  If we hadn't dropped out of the top ten freest countries in the world in the Heritage Freedom Index?

Stay tuned.  Maybe we will find out.
110  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US-Russia, Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections on: December 22, 2016, 03:46:47 PM
Long, worthwhile read from Trump thread, linked below.  I posted text in its entirety there because of registration issues at the site.  American interest, home of Walter Russell Mead, is a good site for foreign policy analysis, IMO.

"The rest of that post deserves notice in US-Russia thread.  What a human tragedy it was the way post-communist Russians sold out their country and the way that the world including our Clinton administration enabled it."  Disgraceful.  They were basking in Reagan's peace dividend while the old Soviet machine was gearing back to totalitarianism and to AGAIN become our largest geo-political threat.

http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=2551.msg100622#msg100622
111  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Donald Trump on: December 22, 2016, 03:35:04 PM
We search for Truth around here, no matter where it may lead.

He dealt with shady characters.  I don't know what that means.  Just posting it in the spirit so well expressed above.

A professor who predicted before the election Trump would win also predicted he would be impeached.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNhz6a1PKWY&feature=youtu.be
American University professor Allan Lichtman has a system of predicting U.S. presidential election winners that accurately foresaw Donald Trump's victory. He joins CBSN to explain his prediction, and why he now thinks it's likely Trump will be impeached.

The argument was that he had shady and corrupt business practices before and a tiger never changes his stripes.

I doubted that when I heard it earlier; don't know of overt wrongdoing in his past and I think people underestimate his determination and discipline.  It's easy to do that when you see him speak or tweet undisciplined messages.

This piece posted earlier today does not allege illegal activities on the part of Trump or even known wrongdoings.  It just gives us a heads up and context if or when allegations come up from past dealings or future events.

If he commits impeachable offenses, I believe the R's (and Dems obviously) will turn on him quickly.  I predict he won't, but keeping the promise for the Trump business to do no new deals is a big part of that.


112  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections on: December 22, 2016, 09:57:29 AM
Now linked in the US Russia thread.  I don't buy the idea that his loyalties are other than to his new job, but at this point it is good to know all we can about where he comes from.  American Interest as a reliable site. This piece, as it says, raises more questions than answers.

http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/12/19/the-curious-world-of-donald-trumps-private-russian-connections/

The American Interest
Published on: December 19, 2016
RUSSIA & THE WEST
The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections
JAMES S. HENRY
Did the American people really know they were putting such a “well-connected” guy in the White House?

Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign he expressed glowing admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Many of Trump’s adoring comments were utterly gratuitous. After his Electoral College victory, Trump continued praising the former head of the KGB while dismissing the findings of all 17 American national security agencies that Putin directed Russian government interference to help Trump in the 2016 American presidential election.

As veteran investigative economist and journalist Jim Henry shows below, a robust public record helps explain the fealty of Trump and his family to this murderous autocrat and the network of Russian oligarchs. Putin and his billionaire friends have plundered the wealth of their own people. They have also run numerous schemes to defraud governments and investors in the United States and Europe. From public records, using his renowned analytical skills, Henry shows what the mainstream news media in the United States have failed to report in any meaningful way: For three decades Donald Trump has profited from his connections to the Russian oligarchs, whose own fortunes depend on their continued fealty to Putin.

We don’t know the full relationship between Donald Trump, the Trump family and their enterprises with the network of world-class criminals known as the Russian oligarchs. Henry acknowledges that his article poses more questions than answers, establishes more connections than full explanations. But what Henry does show should prompt every American to rise up in defense of their country to demand a thorough, out-in-the-open congressional investigation with no holds barred. The national security of the United States of America and of peace around the world, especially in Europe, may well depend on how thoroughly we understand the rich network of relationships between the 45th President and the Russian oligarchy. When Donald Trump chooses to exercise, or not exercise, his power to restrain Putin’s drive to invade independent countries and seize their wealth, as well as loot countries beyond his control, Americans need to know in whose interest the President is acting or looking the other way.
—David Cay Johnston,

Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of Donald Trump
 
“Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.”
—Cervantes

“I’ve always been blessed with a kind of intuition about people that allows me to sense who the sleazy guys are, and I stay far away.”
—Donald Trump, Surviving at the Top

Even before the November 8 election, many leading Democrats were vociferously demanding that the FBI disclose the fruits of its investigations into Putin-backed Russian hackers. Instead FBI Director Comey decided to temporarily revive his zombie-like investigation of Hillary’s emails. That decision may well have had an important impact on the election, but it did nothing to resolve the allegations about Putin. Even now, after the CIA has disclosed an abstract of its own still-secret investigation, it is fair to say that we still lack the cyberspace equivalent of a smoking gun.

Fortunately, however, for those of us who are curious about Trump’s Russian connections, there is another readily accessible body of material that has so far received surprisingly little attention. This suggests that whatever the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with President Putin, he has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/FSU network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats.

Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle. The analytical challenge is to map this network—a task that most journalists and law enforcement agencies, focused on individual cases, have failed to do.

Of course, to label this network “private” may be a stretch, given that in Putin’s Russia, even the toughest mobsters learn the hard way to maintain a respectful relationship with the “New Tsar.” But here the central question pertains to our new Tsar. Did the American people really know they were putting such a “well-connected” guy in the White House?

The Big Picture: Kleptocracy and Capital Flight
A few of Donald Trump’s connections to oligarchs and assorted thugs have already received sporadic press attention—for example, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s reported relationship with exiled Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. But no one has pulled the connections together, used them to identify still more relationships, and developed an image of the overall patterns.
Nor has anyone related these cases to one of the most central facts about modern Russia: its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore “flight wealth” as of 2016.1
This tidal wave of illicit capital is hardly just Putin’s doing. It is in fact a symptom of one of the most epic failures in modern political economy—one for which the West bears a great deal of responsibility. This is the failure, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the late 1980s, to ensure that Russia acquires the kind of strong, middle-class-centric economic and political base that is required for democratic capitalism, the rule of law, and stable, peaceful relationships with its neighbors.

CapFlight-1Instead, from 1992 to the Russian debt crisis of August 1998, the West in general—and the U.S. Treasury, USAID, the State Department, the IMF/World Bank, the EBRD, and many leading economists in particular—actively promoted and, indeed, helped to finance one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.

For example, Russia’s 1992 “voucher privatization” program permitted a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters. A majority of Gazprom, the state energy company that controlled a third of the world’s gas reserves, was sold for $230 million; Russia’s entire national electric grid was privatized for $630 million; ZIL, Russia’s largest auto company, went for about $4 million; ports, ships, oil, iron and steel, aluminum, much of the high-tech arms and airlines industries, the world’s largest diamond mines, and most of Russia’s banking system also went for a song.

In 1994–96, under the infamous “loans-for-shares” program, Russia privatized 150 state-owned companies for just $12 billion, most of which was loaned to a handful of well-connected buyers by the state—and indirectly by the World Bank and the IMF. The principal beneficiaries of this “privatization”—actually, cartelization—were initially just 25 or so budding oligarchs with the insider connections to buy these properties and the muscle to hold them.2 The happy few who made personal fortunes from this feeding frenzy—in a sense, the very first of the new kleptocrats—not only included numerous Russian officials, but also leading gringo investors/advisers, Harvard professors, USAID advisers, and bankers at Credit Suisse First Boston and other Wall Street investment banks. As the renowned development economist Alex Gerschenkron, an authority on Russian development, once said, “If we were in Vienna, we would have said, ‘We wish we could play it on the piano!'”

For the vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, this extreme re-concentration of wealth coincided with nothing less than a full-scale 1930s-type depression, a “shock therapy”-induced rise in domestic price levels that wiped out the private savings of millions, rampant lawlessness, a public health crisis, and a sharp decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

Sadly, this neoliberal “market reform” policy package that was introduced at a Stalin-like pace from 1992 to late 1998 was not only condoned but partly designed and financed by senior Clinton Administration officials, neoliberal economists, and innumerable USAID, World Bank, and IMF officials. The few dissenting voices included some of the West’s best economic brains—Nobel laureates like James Tobin, Kenneth Arrow, Lawrence Klein, and Joseph Stiglitz. They also included Moscow University’s Sergei Glaziev, who now serves as President Putin’s chief economic advisor.3 Unfortunately, they were no match for the folks with the cash.

There was also an important intervention in Russian politics. In January 1996 a secret team of professional U.S. political consultants arrived in Moscow to discover that, as CNN put it back then, “The only thing voters like less than Boris Yeltsin is the prospect of upheaval.” The experts’ solution was one of earliest “Our brand is crisis” campaign strategies, in which Yeltsin was “spun” as the only alternative to “chaos.” To support him, in March 1996 the IMF also pitched in with $10.1 billion of new loans, on top of $17.3 billion of IMF/World Bank loans that had already been made.

With all this outside help, plus ample contributions from Russia’s new elite, Yeltsin went from just 8 percent approval in the January 1996 polls to a 54-41 percent victory over the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, in the second round of the July 1996 election. At the time, mainstream media like Time and the New York Times were delighted. Very few outside Russia questioned the wisdom of this blatant intervention in post-Soviet Russia’s first democratic election, or the West’s right to do it in order to protect itself.

By the late 1990s the actual chaos that resulted from Yeltsin’s warped policies had laid the foundations for a strong counterrevolution, including the rise of ex-KGB officer Putin and a massive outpouring of oligarchic flight capital that has continued virtually up to the present. For ordinary Russians, as noted, this was disastrous. But for many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.
The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia and oil-rich FSU members like Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, told the “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” conference in Manhattan in September 2008 (on the basis, he said, of his own “half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months”):
In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.

All this helps to explain one of the most intriguing puzzles about Donald Trump’s long, turbulent business career: how he managed to keep financing it, despite a dismal track record of failed projects.4

According to the “official story,” this was simply due to a combination of brilliant deal-making, Trump’s gold-plated brand, and raw animal spirits—with $916 million of creative tax dodging as a kicker. But this official story is hokum. The truth is that, since the late 1990s, Trump was also greatly assisted by these abundant new sources of global finance, especially from “submerging markets” like Russia
This suggests that neither Trump nor Putin is an “uncaused cause.” They are not evil twins, exactly, but they are both byproducts of the same neoliberal policy scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.

A Guided Tour of Trump’s Russian/FSU Connections
The following roundup of Trump’s Russo-Soviet business connections is based on published sources, interviews with former law enforcement staff and other experts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iceland, searches of online corporate registries,5 and a detailed analysis of offshore company data from the Panama Papers.6 Given the sheer scope of Trump’s activities, there are undoubtedly other worthy cases, but our interest is in overall patterns.
Note that none of the activities and business connections related here necessarily involved criminal conduct. While several key players do have criminal records, few of their prolific business dealings have been thoroughly investigated, and of course they all deserve the presumption of innocence. Furthermore, several of these players reside in countries where activities like bribery, tax dodging, and other financial chicanery are either not illegal or are rarely prosecuted. As former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey once said, the difference between “legal” and “illegal” is often just “the width of a prison wall.”

So why spend time collecting and reviewing material that either doesn’t point to anything illegal or in some cases may even be impossible to verify? Because, we submit, the mere fact that such assertions are widely made is of legitimate public interest in its own right. In other words, when it comes to evaluating the probity of senior public officials, the public has the right to know about any material allegations—true, false, or, most commonly, unprovable—about their business partners and associates, so long as this information is clearly labeled as unverified.

Furthermore, the individual case-based approach to investigations employed by most investigative journalists and law enforcement often misses the big picture: the global networks of influence and finance, licit and illicit, that exist among business people, investors, kleptocrats, organized criminals, and politicians, as well as the “enablers”—banks, accounting firms, law firms, and havens. Any particular component of these networks might easily disappear without making any difference. But the networks live on. It is these shadowy transnational networks that really deserve scrutiny.

Bayrock Group LLC—Kazakhstan and Tevfik Arif
We’ll begin our tour of Trump’s Russian/FSU connections with several business relationships that evolved out of the curious case of Bayrock Group LLC, a spectacularly unsuccessful New York real estate development company that surfaced in the early 2000s and, by 2014, had all but disappeared except for a few lawsuits. As of 2007, Bayrock and its partners reportedly had more than $2 billion of Trump-branded deals in the works. But most of these either never materialized or were miserable failures, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

Bayrock’s “white elephants” included the 46-story Trump SoHo condo-hotel on Spring Street in New York City, for which the principle developer was a partnership formed by Bayrock and FL Group, an Icelandic investment company. Completed in 2010, the SoHo soon became the subject of prolonged civil litigation by disgruntled condo buyers. The building was foreclosed by creditors and resold in 2014 after more than $3 million of customer down payments had to be refunded. Similarly, Bayrock’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale was foreclosed and resold in 2012, while at least three other Trump-branded properties in the United States, plus many other “project concepts” that Bayrock had contemplated, from Istanbul and Kiev to Moscow and Warsaw, also never happened.

Carelessness about due diligence with respect to potential partners and associates is one of Donald Trump’s more predictable qualities. Acting on the seat of the pants, he had hooked up with Bayrock rather quickly in 2005, becoming an 18 percent minority equity partner in the Trump SoHo, and agreeing to license his brand and manage the building.7

Exhibit A in the panoply of former Trump business partners is Bayrock’s former Chairman, Tevfik Arif (aka Arifov), an émigré from Kazakhstan who reportedly took up residence in Brooklyn in the 1990s. Trump also had extensive contacts with another key Bayrock Russian-American from Brooklyn, Felix Sater (aka Satter), discussed below.8 Trump has lately had some difficulty recalling very much about either Arif or Sater. But this is hardly surprising, given what we now know about them. Trump described his introduction to Bayrock in a 2013 deposition for a lawsuit that was brought by investors in the Fort Lauderdale project, one of Trump’s first with Bayrock: “Well, we had a tenant in … Trump Tower called Bayrock, and Bayrock was interested in getting us into deals.”9
According to several reports, Tevfik Arif was originally from Kazakhstan, a Soviet republic until 1992. Born in 1950, Arif worked for 17 years in the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade, serving as Deputy Director of Hotel Management by the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse.10 In the early 1990s he relocated to Turkey, where he reportedly helped to develop properties for the Rixos Hotel chain. Not long thereafter he relocated to Brooklyn, founded Bayrock, opened an office in the Trump Tower, and started to pursue projects with Trump and other investors.11

Tevfik Arif was not Bayrock’s only connection to Kazakhstan. A 2007 Bayrock investor presentation refers to Alexander Mashevich’s “Eurasia Group” as a strategic partner for Bayrock’s equity finance. Together with two other prominent Kazakh billionaires, Patokh Chodiev (aka “Shodiyev”) and Alijan Ibragimov, Mashkevich reportedly ran the “Eurasian Natural Resources Cooperation.” In Kazakhstan these three are sometimes referred to as “the Trio.”12
The Trio has apparently worked together ever since Gorbachev’s late 1980s perestroika in metals and other natural resources. It was during this period that they first acquired a significant degree of control over Kazakhstan’s vast mineral and gas reserves. Naturally they found it useful to become friends with Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s long-time ruler. Indeed, State Department cables leaked by Wikileaks in November 2010 describe a close relationship between “the Trio” and the seemingly-perpetual Nazarbayev kleptocracy.
In any case, the Trio has recently attracted the attention of many other investigators and news outlets, including the September 11 Commission Report, the Guardian, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. In addition to resource grabbing, the litany of the Trio’s alleged activities include money laundering, bribery, and racketeering.13 In 2005, according to U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks, Chodiev (referred to in a State Department cable as “Fatokh Shodiyev”) was recorded on video attending the birthday of reputed Uzbek mob boss Salim Abduvaliyeva and presenting him with a $10,000 “gift” or “tribute.”

According to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, Chodiev and Mashkevich also became close associates of a curious Russian-Canadian businessman, Boris J. Birshtein. who happens to have been the father-in-law of another key Russian-Canadian business associate of Donald Trump in Toronto. We will return to Birshtein below.

The Trio also turn up in the April 2016 Panama Papers database as the apparent beneficial owners of a Cook Islands company, “International Financial Limited.”14 The Belgian newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws, Le Soir, and La Libre Belgique have reported that Chodiev paid €23 million to obtain a “Class B” banking license for this same company, permitting it to make international currency trades. In the words of a leading Belgian financial regulator, that would “make all money laundering undetectable.”

The Panama Papers also indicate that some of Arif’s connections at the Rixos Hotel Group may have ties to Kazakhstan. For example, one offshore company listed in the Panama Papers database, “Group Rixos Hotel,” reportedly acts as an intermediary for four BVI offshore companies.15 Rixos Hotel’s CEO, Fettah Tamince, is listed as having been a shareholder for two of these companies, while a shareholder in another—“Hazara Asset Management”—had the same name as the son of a recent Kazakhstan Minister for Sports and Tourism. As of 2012, this Kazakh official was described as the third-most influential deputy in the country’s Mazhilis (the lower house of Parliament), in a Forbes-Kazakhstan article.

According to a 2015 lawsuit against Bayrock by Jody Kriss, one of its former employees, Bayrock started to receive millions of dollars in equity contributions in 2004, supposedly by way of Arif’s brother in Russia, who allegedly “had access to cash accounts at a chromium refinery in Kazakhstan.”

This as-yet unproven allegation might well just be an attempt by the plaintiff to extract a more attractive settlement from Bayrock and its original principals. But it is also consistent with fact that chromium is indeed one of the Kazakh natural resources that is reportedly controlled by the Trio.

As for Arif, his most recent visible brush with the law came in 2010, when he and other members of Bayrock’s Eurasian Trio were arrested together in Turkey during a police raid on a suspected prostitution ring, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.

At the time, Turkish investigators reportedly asserted that Arif might be the head of a criminal organization that was trafficking in Russian and Ukrainian escorts, allegedly including some as young as 13.16 According to these assertions, big-ticket clients were making their selections by way of a modeling agency website, with Arif allegedly handling the logistics. Especially galling to Turkish authorities, the preferred venue was reportedly a yacht that had once belonged to the widely-revered Turkish leader Atatürk. It was also alleged that Arif may have also provided lodging for young women at Rixos Group hotels.17
According to Russian media, two senior Kazakh officials were also arrested during this incident, although the Turkish Foreign Ministry quickly dismissed this allegation as “groundless.” In the end, all the charges against Arif resulting from this incident were dismissed in 2012 by Turkish courts, and his spokespeople have subsequently denied all involvement.

Finally, despite Bayrock’s demise and these other legal entanglements, Arif has apparently remained active. For example, Bloomberg reports that, as of 2013, he, his son, and Rixos Hotels’ CEO Fettah Tamince had partnered to pursue the rather controversial business of advancing funds to cash-strapped high-profile soccer players in exchange for a share of their future marketing revenues and team transfer fees. In the case of Arif and his partners, this new-wave form of indentured servitude was reportedly implemented by way of a UK- and Malta-based hedge fund, Doyen Capital LLP. Because this practice is subject to innumerable potential abuses, including the possibility of subjecting athletes or clubs to undue pressure to sign over valuable rights and fees, UEFA, Europe’s governing soccer body, wants to ban it. But FIFA, the notorious global football regulator, has been customarily slow to act. To date, Doyen Capital LLP has reportedly taken financial gambles on several well-known players, including the Brazilian star Neymar.

The Case of Bayrock LLC—Felix Sater
Our second exhibit is Felix Sater, the senior Bayrock executive introduced earlier. This is the fellow who worked at Bayrock from 2002 to 2008 and negotiated several important deals with the Trump Organization and other investors. When Trump was asked who at Bayrock had brought him the Fort Lauderdale project in the 2013 deposition cited above, he replied: “It could have been Felix Sater, it could have been—I really don’t know who it might have been, but somebody from Bayrock.”18
SaterBizCardAlthough Sater left Bayrock in 2008, by 2010 he was reportedly back in Trump Tower as a “senior advisor” to the Trump Organization—at least on his business card—with his own office in the building.
Sater has also testified under oath that he had escorted Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump around Moscow in 2006, had met frequently with Donald over several years, and had once flown with him to Colorado. And although this might easily have been staged, he is also reported to have visited Trump Tower in July 2016 and made a personal $5,400 contribution to Trump’s campaign.
Whatever Felix Sater has been up to recently, the key point is that by 2002, at the latest,19 Tevfik Arif decided to hire him as Bayrock’s COO and managing director. This was despite the fact that by then Felix had already compiled an astonishing track record as a professional criminal, with multiple felony pleas and convictions, extensive connections to organized crime, and—the ultimate prize—a virtual “get out of jail free card,” based on an informant relationship with the FBI and the CIA that is vaguely reminiscent of Whitey Bulger.20
Sater, a Brooklyn resident like Arif, was born in Russia in 1966. He reportedly emigrated with his family to the United States in the mid-1970s and settled in “Little Odessa.” It seems that his father, Mikhael Sheferovsky (aka Michael Sater), may have been engaged in Russian mob activity before he arrived in the United States. According to a certified U.S. Supreme Court petition, Felix Sater’s FBI handler stated that he “was well familiar with the crimes of Sater and his (Sater’s) father, a (Semion) Mogilevich crime syndicate boss.”21 A 1998 FBI report reportedly said Mogilevich’s organization had “approximately 250 members,” and was involved in trafficking nuclear materials, weapons, and more, as well as money laundering. (See below.)

But Michael Sater may have been less ambitious than his son. His only reported U.S. criminal conviction came in 2000, when he pled guilty to two felony counts for extorting Brooklyn restaurants, grocery stores, and clinics. He was released with three years’ probation. Interestingly, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York who handled that case at the time was Loretta Lynch, who succeeded Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General in 2014. Back in 2000, she was also overseeing a budding informant relationship and a plea bargain with Michael’s son Felix, which may help to explain the father’s sentence.
By then young Felix Sater was already well on his way to a career as a prototypical Russian-American mobster. In 1991 he stabbed a commodity trader in the face with a margarita glass stem in a Manhattan bar, severing a nerve. He was convicted of a felony and sent to prison. As Trump tells it, Sater simply “got into a barroom fight, which a lot of people do.” The sentence for this felony conviction could not have been very long, because, by 1993, 27-year-old Felix was already a trader in a brand new Brooklyn-based commodity firm called “White Rock Partners,” an innovative joint venture among four New York crime families and the Russian mob aimed at bringing state-of-the art financial fraud to Wall Street.

Five years later, in 1998, Felix Sater pled guilty to stock racketeering, as one of 19 U.S.-and Russian mob-connected traders who participated in a $40 million “pump and dump” securities fraud scheme. Facing twenty years in Federal prison, Sater and Gennady Klotsman, a fellow Russian-American who’d been with him on the night of the Manhattan bar fight, turned “snitch” and helped the Department of Justice prosecute their co-conspirators.22 Reportedly, so did Salvatore Lauria, another “trader” involved in the scheme. According to the Jody Kriss lawsuit, Lauria later joined Bayrock as an off-the-books paid “consultant.” Initially their cooperation, which lasted from 1998 until at least late 2001, was kept secret, until it was inadvertently revealed in a March 2000 press release by U.S. Attorney Lynch.

Unfortunately for Sater, about the same time the NYPD also reportedly discovered that he had been running a money-laundering scheme and illicit gun sales out of a Manhattan storage locker. He and Klotsman fled to Russia. However, according to the New York Times, which cited Klotsman and Lauria, soon after the events of September 11, 2001, the ever-creative Sater succeeded in brokering information about the black market for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the CIA and the FBI. According to Klotsman, this strategy “bought Felix his freedom,” allowing him to return to Brooklyn. It is still not clear precisely what information Sater actually provided, but in 2015 U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch publicly commended him for sharing information that she described as “crucial to national security.”

Meanwhile, Sater’s sentence for his financial crimes continued to be deferred even after his official cooperation in that case ceased in late 2001. His files remained sealed, and he managed to avoid any sentencing for those crimes at all until October 23, 2009. When he finally appeared before the Eastern District’s Judge I. Leo Glasser, Felix received a $25,000 fine, no jail time, and no probation in a quiet proceeding that attracted no press attention. Some compared this sentence to Judge Glasser’s earlier sentence of Mafia hit man “Sammy the Bull” Gravano to 4.5 years for 19 murders, in exchange for “cooperating against John Gotti.”

In any case, between 2002 and 2008, when Felix Sater finally left Bayrock LLC, and well beyond, his ability to avoid jail and conceal his criminal roots enabled him to enjoy a lucrative new career as Bayrock’s chief operating officer. In that position, he was in charge of negotiating aggressive property deals all over the planet, even while—according to lawsuits by former Bayrock investors—engaging in still more financial fraud. The only apparent difference was that he changed his name from “Sater” to “Satter.”23

In the 2013 deposition cited earlier, Trump went on to say “I don’t see Felix as being a member of the Mafia.” Asked if he had any evidence for this claim, Trump conceded “I have none.”24

As for Sater’s pal Klotsman, the past few years have not been kind. As of December 2016 he is in a Russian penal colony, working off a ten-year sentence for a failed $2.8 million Moscow diamond heist in August 2010. In 2016 Klotsman was reportedly placed on a “top-ten list” of Americans that the Russians were willing to exchange for high-value Russian prisoners in U.S. custody, like the infamous arms dealer Viktor Bout. So far there have been no takers. But with Donald Trump as President, who knows?

The Case of Iceland’s FL Group
One of the most serious frauds alleged in the recent Bayrock lawsuit involves FL Group, an Icelandic private investment fund that is really a saga all its own.
Iceland is not usually thought of as a major offshore financial center. It is a small snowy island in the North Atlantic, closer to Greenland than to the UK or Europe, with only 330,000 citizens and a total GDP of just $17 billion. Twenty years ago, its main exports were cod and aluminum—with the imported bauxite smelted there to take advantage of the island’s low electricity costs.

But in the 1990s Iceland’s tiny neoliberal political elite had what they all told themselves was a brilliant idea: “Let’s privatize our state-owned banks, deregulate capital markets, and turn them loose on the world!” By the time all three of the resulting privatized banks, as well as FL Group, failed in 2008, the combined bank loan portfolio amounted to more than 12.5 times Iceland’s GDP—the highest country debt ratio in the entire world.

For purposes of our story, the most interesting thing about Iceland is that, long before this crisis hit and utterly bankrupted FL Group, our two key Russian/FSU/Brooklyn mobster-mavens, Arif and Sater, had somehow stumbled on this obscure Iceland fund. Indeed, in early 2007 they persuaded FL Group to invest $50 million in a project to build the Trump SoHo in mid-town Manhattan.
According to the Kriss lawsuit, at the same time, FL Group and Bayrock’s Felix Sater also agreed in principle to pursue up to an additional $2 billion in other Trump-related deals. The Kriss lawsuit further alleges that FL Group (FLG) also agreed to work with Bayrock to facilitate outright tax fraud on more than $250 million of potential earnings. In particular, it alleges that FLG agreed to provide the $50 million in exchange for a 62 percent stake in the four Bayrock Trump projects, but Bayrock would structure the contract as a “loan.” This meant that Bayrock would not have to pay taxes on the initial proceeds, while FLG’s anticipated $250 million of dividends would be channeled through a Delaware company and characterized as “interest payments,” allowing Bayrock to avoid up to $100 million in taxes. For tax purposes, Bayrock would pretend that their actual partner was a Delaware partnership that it had formed with FLG, “FLG Property I LLC,” rather than FLG itself.

The Trump Organization has denied any involvement with FLG. However, as an equity partner in the Trump SoHo, with a significant 18 percent equity stake in this one deal alone, Donald Trump himself had to sign off on the Bayrock-FLG deal.

This raises many questions. Most of these will have to await the outcome of the Kriss litigation, which might well take years, especially now that Trump is President. But several of these questions just leap off the page.
First, how much did President-elect Trump know about the partners and the inner workings of this deal? After all, he had a significant equity stake in it, unlike many of his “brand-name only” deals, and it was also supposed to finance several of his most important East Coast properties.

Second, how did the FL Group and Bayrock come together to do this dodgy deal in the first place? One former FL Group manager alleges that the deal arrived by accident, a “relatively small deal” was nothing special on either side.25 The Kriss lawsuit, on the other hand, alleges that FLG was a well-known source of easy money from dodgy sources like Kazakhstan and Russia, and that other Bayrock players with criminal histories—like Salvatore Lauria, for example—were involved in making the introductions.

At this stage the evidence with respect to this second question is incomplete. But there are already some interesting indications that FL Group’s willingness to generously finance Bayrock’s peculiar Russian/FSU/Brooklyn team, its rather poorly-conceived Trump projects, and its purported tax dodging were not simply due to Icelandic backwardness. There is much more for us to know about Iceland’s “special” relationship with Russian finance. In this regard, there are several puzzles to be resolved.

First, it turns out that FL Group, Iceland’s largest private investment fund until it crashed in 2008, had several owners/investors with deep Russian business connections, including several key investors in all three top Iceland banks.
Second, it turns out that FL Group had constructed an incredible maze of cross-shareholding, lending, and cross-derivatives relationships with all these major banks, as illustrated by the following snapshot of cross-shareholding among Iceland’s financial institutions and companies as of 2008.26

Cross-shareholding Relationships, FLG and Other Leading Icelandic Financial Institutions, 2008
Cross-shareholding Relationships, FLG and Other Leading Icelandic Financial Institutions, 2008

This thicket of cross-dealing made it almost impossible to regulate “control fraud,” where insiders at leading financial institutions went on a self-serving binge, borrowing and lending to finance risky investments of all kinds. It became difficult to determine which institutions were net borrowers or investors, as the concentration of ownership and self-dealing in the financial system just soared.

Third, FL Group make a variety of peculiar loans to Russian-connected oligarchs as well as to Bayrock. For example, as discussed below, Alex Shnaider, the Russian-Canadian billionaire who later became Donald Trump’s Toronto business partner, secured a €45.8 million loan to buy a yacht from Kaupthing Bank during the same period, while a company belonging to another Russian billionaire who reportedly owns an important vodka franchise got an even larger loan.27

Fourth, Iceland’s largest banks also made a series of extraordinary loans to Russian interests during the run-up to the 2008 crisis. For example, one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs, a close friend of President Putin, nearly managed to secure at least €400 million (or, some say, up to four times that much) from Kaupthing, Iceland’s largest bank, in late September 2008, just as the financial crisis was breaking wide open. This bank also had important direct and indirect investments in FL Group. Indeed, until December 2006, it is reported to have employed the FL Group private equity manager who allegedly negotiated Felix Sater’s $50 million deal in early 2007.28

Fifth, there are unconfirmed accounts of a secret U.S. Federal Reserve report that unnamed Iceland banks were being used for Russian money laundering.29 Furthermore, Kaupthing Bank’s repeated requests to open a New York branch in 2007-08 were rejected by the Fed. Similar unconfirmed rumors repeatedly appeared in Danish and German publications, as did allegations about the supposed Kazakh origins of FLG’s cash to be “laundered” in the Kriss lawsuit.
Sixth, there is the peculiar fact that, when Iceland’s banks went belly-up in October 2008, their private banking subsidiaries in Luxembourg, which were managing at least €8 billion of private assets, were suddenly seized by Luxembourg banking authorities and transferred to a new bank, Banque Havilland. This happened so fast that Iceland’s Central Bank was prevented from learning anything about the identities or portfolio sizes of the Iceland banks’ private offshore clients. But again, there were rumors of some important Russian names.

Finally, there is the rather odd phone call that Russia’s Ambassador to Iceland made to Iceland’s Prime Minister at 6:45 a.m. on October 7, 2008, the day after the financial crisis hit Iceland. According to the PM’s own account, the Russian Ambassador informed him that then-Prime Minister Putin was willing to consider offering Iceland a €4 billion Russian bailout.

Of course this alleged Putin offer was modified not long thereafter into a willingness to entertain an Icelandic negotiating team in Moscow. By the time the Iceland team got to Moscow later that year, Russia’s desire to lend had cooled, and Iceland ended up accepting a $2.1 billion IMF “stabilization package” instead. But according to a member of the negotiating team, the reasons for the reversal are still a mystery. Perhaps Putin had reconsidered because he simply decided that Russia had to worry about its own considerable financial problems. Or perhaps he had discovered that Iceland’s banks had indeed been very generous to Russian interests on the lending side, while—given Luxembourg’s actions—any Russian private wealth invested in Icelandic banks was already safe.

On the other hand, there may be a simpler explanation for Iceland’s peculiar generosity to sketchy partners like Bayrock. After all, right up to the last minute before the October 2008 meltdown, the whole world had awarded Iceland AAA ratings: Depositors queued up in London to open high-yield Iceland bank accounts, its bank stocks were booming, and the compensation paid to its financiers was off the charts. So why would anyone worry about making a few more dubious deals?

Overall, therefore, with respect to these odd “Russia-Iceland” connections, the proverbial jury is still out. But all these Icelandic puzzles are intriguing and bear further investigation.

The Case of the Trump Toronto Tower and Hotel—Alex Shnaider
Our fourth case study of Trump’s business associates concerns the 48-year-old Russian-Canadian billionaire Alex Shnaider, who co-financed the seventy-story Trump Tower and Hotel, Canada’s tallest building. It opened in Toronto in 2012. Unfortunately, like so many of Trump’s other Russia/FSU-financed projects, this massive Toronto condo-hotel project went belly-up this November and has now entered foreclosure.

According to an online profile of Shnaider by a Ukrainian news agency, Alex Shnaider was born in Leningrad in 1968, the son of “Евсей Шнайдер,” or “Evsei Shnaider” in Russian.30 A recent Forbes article says that he and his family emigrated to Israel from Russia when he was four and then relocated to Toronto when he was 13-14. The Ukrainian news agency says that Alex’s familly soon established “one of the most successful stories in Toronto’s Russian quarter, “ and that young Alex, with “an entrepreneurial streak,” “helped his father Evsei Shnaider in the business, placing goods on the shelves and wiping floors.”
Eventually that proved to be a great decision—Shnaider prospered in the New World. Much of this was no doubt due to raw talent. But it also appears that for a time he got significant helping hand from his (now reportedly ex-) father-in-law, another colorful Russian-Canadian, Boris J. Birshtein.

Originally from Lithuania, Birshtein, now about 69, has been a Canadian citizen since at least 1982.31 He resided in Zurich for a time in the early 1990s, but then returned to Toronto and New York.32 One of his key companies was called Seabeco SA, a “trading” company that was registered in Zurich in December 1982.33 By the early 1990s Birshtein and his partners had started many other Seabeco-related companies in a wide variety of locations, inclding Antwerp,34 Toronto,35 Winnipeg,36 Moscow, Delaware,37 Panama,38 and Zurich.39 Several of these are still active.40 He often staffed them with directors and officers from a far-flung network of Russians, emissaries from other FSU countries like Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, and recent Russia/FSU emigres to Canada.41
According to the Financial Times and the FBI, in addition to running Seabeco, Birshtein was a close business associate of Sergei Mikhaylov, the reputed head of Solntsevskaya Bratva, the Russian mob’s largest branch, and the world’s highest-grossing organized crime group as of 2014, according to Fortune.42 A 1996 FBI intelligence report cited by the FT claims that Birshtein hosted a meeting in his Tel Aviv office for Mikhaylov, the Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich, and several other leaders of the Russo/FSU mafia, in order to discuss “sharing interests in Ukraine.”43 A subsequent 1998 FBI Intelligence report on the “Semion Mogilevich Organization” repeated the same charge,44 and described Mogilevich’s successful attempts at gaining control over Ukraine privatization assets. The FT article also described how Birshtein and his associates had acquired extraordinary influence with key Ukraine officials, including President Leonid Kuchma, with the help of up to $5 million of payoffs.45 Citing Swiss and Belgian investigators, the FT also claimed that Birshtein and Mikhaylov jointly controlled a Belgian company called MAB International in the early 1990s.46 During that period, those same investigators reportedly observed transfers worth millions of dollars between accounts held by Mikhaylov, Birshtein, and Alexander Volkov, Seabeco’s representative in Ukraine.

In 1993, the Yeltsin government reportedly accused Birshtein of illegally exporting seven million tons of Russian oil and laundering the proceeds.47 Dmytro Iakoubovski, a former associate of Birshtein’s who had also moved to Toronto, was said to be cooperating with the Russian investigation. One night a gunman fired three shots into Iakoubovski’s home, leaving a note warning him to cease his cooperation, according to a New York Times article published that year. As noted above, according to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, two members of Bayrock’s Eurasian Trio were also involved in Seabeco during this period as well—Patokh Chodiev and Alexander Mashkevich. Chodiev reportedly first met Birshtein through the Soviet Foreign Ministry, and then went on to run Seabeco’s Moscow office before joining its Belgium office in 1991. Le Soir further claims that Mashkevich worked for Seabeco too, and that this was actually how he and Chodiev had first met.

All this is fascinating, but what about the connections between Birshtein and Trump’s Toronto business associate, Alex Shnaider? Again, the leads we have are tantalizing.The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that in 1991, while enrolled in law school, young Alex Shnaider started working for Birshtein at Seabeco’s Zurich headquarters, where he was reportedly introduced to steel trading. Evidently this was much more than just a job; the Zurich company registry lists “Alex Shnaider” as a director of “Seabeco Metals AG” from March 1993 to January 1994.48

In 1994, according to this account, he reportedly left Seabeco in January 1994 to start his own trading company in Antwerp, in partnership with a Belgian trader-partner. Curiously, Le Soir also says that Mikhaylov and Birshtein co-founded MAB International in Antwerp in January 1994. Is it far-fetched to suspect that Alex Shnaider and mob boss Mikhaylov might have crossed paths, since they were both in the same city and they were both close to Shnaider’s father-in-law?
According to Forbes, soon after Shnaider moved to Antwerp, he started visiting the factories of his steel trading partners in Ukraine.49 His favorite client was the Zaporizhstal steel mill, Ukraine’s fourth largest. At the Zaporizhstal mill he reportedly met Eduard Shifrin (aka Shyfrin), a metals trader with a doctorate in metallurgical engineering. Together they founded Midland Resource Holdings Ltd. in 1994.50

As the Forbes piece argues, with privatization sweeping Eastern Europe, private investors were jockeying to buy up the government’s shares in Zaprozhstal. But most traders lacked the financial backing and political connectons to accumulate large risky positions. Shnaider and Shifrin, in contrast, started buying up shares without limit, as if their pockets and connections were very deep. By 2001 they had purchased 93 percent of the plant for about $70 million, a stake that would be worth much more just five years later, when Shnaider reportedly turned down a $1.2 billion offer.

Today, Midland Resources Holdings Ltd. reportedly generates more than $4 billion a year of revenue and has numerous subsidiaries all across Eastern Europe.51 Shnaider also reportedly owns Talon International Development, the firm that oversaw construction of the Trump hotel-tower in Toronto. All this wealth apparently helped Iceland’s FL Group decide that it could afford to extend a €45.8 million loan to Alex Shnaider in 2008 to buy a yacht.52
As of December 2016, a search of the Panama Papers database found no fewer than 28 offshore companies that have been associated with “Midland Resources Holding Limited.”53 According to the database, “Midland Resources Holding Limited” was a shareholder in at least two of these companies, alongside an individual named “Oleg Sheykhametov.”54 The two companies, Olave Equities Limited and Colley International Marketing SA, were both registered and active in the British Virgin Islands from 2007–10.55 A Russian restaurateur by that same name reportedly runs a business owned by two other alleged Solntsevskaya mob associates, Lev Kvetnoy and Andrei Skoch, both of whom appear with Sergei Mikhaylov. Of course mere inclusion in such a group photo is not evidence of wrongdoing. (See the photo here.) According to Forbes, Kvetnoy is the 55th richest person in Russia and Skoch, now a deputy in the Russian Duma, is the 18th.56

Finally, it is also intriguing to note that Boris Birshtein is also listed as the President of “ME Moldova Enterprises AG,” a Zurich-based company” that was founded in November 1992, transferred to the canton of Schwyz in September 1994, and liquidated and cancelled in January 1999.57 Birshstein was a member of the company’s board of directors from November 1992 to January 1994, when he became its President. At that point he was succeeded as President in June 1994 by one “Evsei Shnaider, Canadian citizen, resident in Zurich,” who was also listed as director of the company in September 1994.58 “Evsei Schnaider” is also listed in the Panama registry as a Treasurer and Director of “The Seabeco Group Inc.,” formed on December 6, 1991,59 and as treasurer and director of Seabeco Security International Inc.,” formed on December 10, 1991. As of December 2016, both companies are still in existence.60 Boris Birshtein is listed as president and director of both companies.61

The Case of Paul Manafort’s Ukrainian Oligarchs
Our fifth Trump associate profile concerns the Russo/Ukrainian connections of Paul Manafort, the former Washington lobbyist who served as Donald Trump’s national campaign director from April 2016 to August 2016. Manafort’s partner, Rick Davis, also served as national campaign manager for Senator John McCain in 2008, so this may not just be a Trump association.

One of Manafort’s biggest clients was the dubious pro-Russian Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash. By his own admission, Firtash maintains strong ties with a recurrent figure on this scene, the reputed Ukrainian/Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich. His most important other links are almost certainly to Putin. Otherwise it is difficult to explain how this former used-car salesman could gain a lock on trading goods for gas in Turkmenistan and also become a lynchpin investor in the Swiss company RosUrEnergo, which controls Gazprom’s gas sales to Europe.62

In 2008, Manafort teamed up with a former manager of the Trump Organization to purchase the Drake Hotel in New York for up to $850 million, with Firtash agreeing to invest $112 million. According to a lawsuit brought against Manafort and Firtash, the key point of the deal was not to make a carefully-planned investment in real estate, but to simply launder part of the huge profits that Firtash had skimmed while brokering dodgy natural gas deals between Russia and Ukraine, with Mogilevich acting as a “silent partner.”

Ultimately Firtash pulled out of this Drake Hotel deal. The reasons are unclear—it has been suggested that he needed to focus on the 2015 collapse and nationalization of his Group DF’s Bank Nadra back home in Ukraine.63 But it certainly doesn’t appear to have changed his behavior. Since 2014 there has been a spate of other Firtash-related prosecutions, with the United States trying to extradict from Austria in order to stand trial on allegations that his vast spidernet “Group DF” had bribed Indian officials to secure mining licenses. The Austrian court has required him to put up a record-busting €125 million bail while he awaits a decision.64 And just last month, Spain has also tried to extradite Firtash on a separate money laundering case, involving the laundering of €10 million through Spanish property investments.

After Firtash pulled out of the deal, Manafort reportedly turned to Trump, but he declined to engage. Manafort stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in August of 2016 in response to press investigations into his ties not only to Firtash, but to Ukraine’s previous pro-Russian Yanukovych government, which had been deposed by a uprising in 2014. However, following the November 8 election, Manafort reportedly returned to advise Trump on staffing his new administration. He got an assist from Putin—on November 30 a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of leaking stories about Manafort in an effort to hurt Trump.

The Case of “Well-Connected” Russia/FSU Mobsters
Finally, several other interesting Russian/FSU connections have a more residential flavor, but they are a source of very important leads about the Trump network.

Indeed, partly because it has no prying co-op board, Trump Tower in New York has received press attention for including among its many honest residents tax-dodgers, bribers, arms dealers, convicted cocaine traffickers, and corrupt former FIFA officials.65

One typical example involves the alleged Russian mobster Anatoly Golubchik, who went to prison in 2014 for running an illegal gambling ring out of Trump Tower—not only the headquarters of the Trump Organization but also the former headquarters of Bayrock Group LLC. This operation reportedly took up the entire 51st floor. Also reportedly involved in it was the alleged mobster Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov,66 who has the distinction of making the Forbes 2008 list of the World’s Ten Most Wanted Criminals, and whose organization the FBI believes to be tied to Mogilevich’s. Even as this gambling ring was still operating in Trump Tower, Tokhtakhounov reportedly travelled to Moscow to attend Donald Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe contest as a special VIP.

In the Panama Papers database we do find the name “Anatoly Golubchik.” Interestingly, his particular offshore company, “Lytton Ventures Inc.,”67 shares a corporate director, Stanley Williams, with a company that may well be connected to our old friend Semion Mogilevich, the Russian mafia’s alleged “Boss of Bosses” who appeared so frequently in the story above. Thus Lytton Ventures Inc. shares this particular director with another company that is held under the name of “Galina Telesh.”68 According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, multiple offshore companies belonging to Semion Mogilevich have been registered under this same name—which just happens to be that of Mogilevich’s first wife.

A 2003 indictment of Mogilevich also mentions two offshore companies that he is said to have owned, with names that include the terms “Arbat” and “Arigon.” The same corporate director shared by Golubchik and Telesh also happens to be a director of a company called Westix Ltd.,69 which shares its Moscow address with “Arigon Overseas” and “Arbat Capital.”70 And another company with that same director appears to belong to Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the long-lived President of Kazakhstan. Dariga is expected to take his place if he ever decides to leave office or proves to be mortal.
Lastly, Dmytro Firtash—the Mogilevich pal and Manafort client that we met earlier—also turns up in the Panama Papers database as part of Galina Telesh’s network neighborhood. A director of Telesh’s “Barlow Investing,” Vasliki Andreou, was also a nominee director of a Cyprus company called “Toromont Ltd.,” while another Toromont Ltd. nominee director, Annex Holdings Ltd., a St. Kitts company, is also listed as a shareholder in Firtash’s Group DF Ltd., along with Firtash himself.71 And Group DF’s CEO, who allegedly worked with Manafort to channel Firtash’s funding into the Drake Hotel venture, is also listed in the Panama Papers database as a Group DF shareholder. Moreover, a 2006 Financial Times investigation identified three other offshore companies that are linked to both Firtash and Telesh.72

Anatoly Golubchik’s Panama Papers Network Neighborhood
Anatoly Golubchik’s Panama Papers Network Neighborhood

Of course, all of these curious relationships may just be meaningless coincidences. After all, the director shared by Telesh and Golubchik is also listed in the same role for more than 200 other companies, and more than a thousand companies besides Arbat Capital and Arigon Overseas share Westix’s corporate address. In the burgeoning land of offshore havens and shell-game corporate citizenship, there is no such thing as overcrowding. The appropriate way to view all this evidence is to regard it as “Socratic:” raising important unanswered questions, not providing definite answers.

In any case, returning to Trump’s relationships through Trump Tower, another odd one involves the 1990s-vintage fraudulent company YBM Magnex International. YBM, ostensibly a world-class manufacturer of industrial magnets, was founded indirectly in Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1995 by the “boss of bosses,” Semion Mogilevich, Moscow’s “brainy Don.”

This is a fellow with an incredible history, even if only half of what has been written about him is true.73 Unfortunately, we have to focus here only on the bits that are most relevant. Born in Kiev, and now a citizen of Israel as well as Ukraine and Russia, Semion, now seventy, is a lifelong criminal. But he boasts an undergraduate economics degree from Lviv University, and is reported to take special pride in designing sophisticated, virtually undetectable financial frauds that take years to put in place. To pull them off, he often relies on the human frailties of top bankers, stock brokers, accountants, business magnates, and key politicians.74

In YBM’s case, for a mere $2.4 million in bribes, Semion and his henchmen spent years in the 1990s launching a product-free, fictitious company on the still-badly under-regulated Toronto Stock Exchange. Along the way they succeeded in securing the support of several leading Toronto business people and a former Ontario Province Premier to win a seat on YBM’s board. They also paid the “Big Four” accounting firm Deloitte Touche very handsomely in exchange for glowing audits. By mid-1998, YBM’s stock price had gone from less than $0.10 to $20, and Semion cashed out at least $18 million—a relatively big fraud for its day—before the FBI raid its YBM’s corporate headquarters. When it did so, it found piles of bogus invoices for magnets, but no magnets.75

In 2003, Mogilevich was indicted in Philadelphia on 45 felony counts for this $150 million stock fraud. But there is no extradition treaty between the United States and Russia, and no chance that Russia will ever extradite Semion voluntarily; he is arguably a national treasure, especially now. Acknowledging these realities, or perhaps for other reasons, the FBI quietly removed Mogilevich from its Top Ten Most Wanted list in 2015, where he had resided for the previous six years.76

For our purposes, one of the most interesting things to note about this YBM Magnex case is that its CEO was a Russian-American named Jacob Bogatin, who was also indicted in the Philadelphia case. His brother David had served in the Soviet Army in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft unit, helping to shoot down American pilots like Senator John McCain. Since the early 1990s, David Bogatin was considered by the FBI to be one of the key members of Semion Mogilevich’s Russian organized crime family in the United States, with a long string of convictions for big-ticket Mogilevich-type offenses like financial fraud and tax dodging.

At one point, David Bogatin owned five separate condos in Trump Tower that Donald Trump had reportedly sold to him personally.77 And Vyacheslav Ivankov, another key Mogilevich lieutenant in the United States during the 1990s, also resided for a time at Trump Tower, and reportedly had in his personal phone book the private telephone and fax numbers for the Trump Organization’s office in that building.78

So what have we learned from this deep dive into the network of Donald Trump’s Russian/FSU connections?

First, the President-elect really is very “well-connected,” with an extensive network of unsavory global underground connections that may well be unprecedented in White House history. In choosing his associates, evidently Donald Trump only pays cursory attention to questions of background, character, and integrity.

Second, Donald Trump has also literally spent decades cultivating senior relationships of all kinds with Russia and the FSU. And public and private senior Russian figures of all kinds have likewise spent decades cultivating him, not only as a business partner, but as a “useful idiot.”

After all, on September 1, 1987 (!), Trump was already willing to spend a $94,801 on full-page ads in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the New York Times calling for the United States to stop spending money to defend Japan, Europe, and the Persian Gulf, “an area of only marginal significance to the U.S. for its oil supplies, but one upon which Japan and others are almost totally dependent.”79

This is one key reason why just this week, Robert Gates—a registered Republican who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama, as well as former Director and Deputy Director of the CIA—criticized the response of Congress and the White House to the alleged Putin-backed hacking as far too “laid back.”80

Third, even beyond questions of illegality, the public clearly has a right to know much more than it already does about the nature of such global connections. As the opening quote from Cervantes suggests, these relationships are probably a pretty good leading indicator of how Presidents will behave once in office.
Unfortunately, for many reasons, this year American voters never really got the chance to decide whether such low connections and entanglements belong at the world’s high peak of official power. In the waning days of the Obama Administration, with the Electoral College about to ratify Trump’s election and Congress in recess, it is too late to establish the kind of bipartisan, 9/11-type commission that would be needed to explore these connections in detail.
Finally, the long-run consequence of careless interventions in other countries is that they often come back to haunt us. In Russia’s case, it just has.
113  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Electoral College is Awesome on: December 21, 2016, 10:59:49 PM
Some similar points here:

http://theweek.com/articles/668508/electoral-college-actually-awesome
The Electoral College is actually awesome

Edward Morrissey
December 21, 2016

...The Times' editorial also highlighted the supposed unfairness of not "using the same basis as every other elected office." The reason for this is that the presidency is not at all "like every other national office" — and it never has been.

Unlike governors, whose state governments have total sovereignty within their borders, the presidency governs over states with their own sovereignty under the Constitution. The role of the presidency is at least somewhat limited to foreign policy and questions that are at least loosely connected to interstate issues and enforcement of other provisions of the Constitution. For that reason, the framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that the president would have the greatest consensus among the sovereign states themselves, while still including representation based on population.

That is why each state gets the same number of electors as they have seats in the House and the Senate. It reduces the advantage that larger states have, but hardly eliminates it entirely; California has 55 electors while Wyoming has only three, to use the Times' comparison. Rather than being an "antiquated system," as they write, it's an elegant system that helps balance power between sovereign states with national popular intent, and it forces presidential contenders to appeal to a broader range of populations.

The editorial points out that Republican votes in San Francisco are "worthless" under the current system. But that has more to do with the way the states choose to allocate electors than it does the Electoral College. California and 47 other states allocate electors on a winner-take-all basis, which gives their states much more power in presidential elections. States could choose other allocation schemes if they want to prioritize "democracy" and proportional representation over influence, but none of the high-population states do so.

In this case, the nature of the popular-vote lead is instructive on why smaller states won't go along with the Times' demand to end the Electoral College. Clinton won the overall popular vote by nearly 3 million, but won California by 4.3 million and New York by 1.7 million. Donald Trump won 30 of the 50 states. Relying on the popular vote would have voters in the largest states determine the outcome and lock out the majority of the states, as it would have in 2016.

A popular-vote system would change the entire dynamic of presidential campaigns. Rather than spending time in states with smaller populations, candidates would spend their time trying to fight it out in the most populous locations. That might be good news for California, New York, and Texas, but it's bad news for most of the South and Midwest. Had a popular-vote system been in place in 2016, the Trump campaign would have oriented itself toward it and might have competed more in coastal Democratic strongholds, wasting less effort in other states.

Instead, the Electoral College system worked exactly as intended. The candidate who built the best consensus among the states through their popular votes won the presidency. The problem for the Times and others opposed to the outcome is that their candidate didn't beat the winner.
114  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Electoral College on: December 21, 2016, 11:30:53 AM
"We need to know the arguments [against the electoral college] -- e.g. the slave holder argument and how to counter it."

And likewise, the people should be taught the reasons FOR the electoral college.  Three places you're not likely to learn them, the mainstream media, the public schools and liberal-run private schools.  In other words, you might have to visit the right wing blogosphere, or this forum!


"The Electoral College ... is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes."


Oh good grief!  Does the NY Times know math any better than that?  How does adding two Senators to the House total for ALL states give you the southern slave count?  If slave compensation was the reason, the math would count a slave as one person or multiply the slave number by 5/3rds.  The biggest colony, Virginia, was a slave state and some of the smallest, Rhode Island Delaware for example, were not.   https://web.viu.ca/davies/h320/population.colonies.htm  
Slavery was not the central point of the constitution, contrary to what is taught in our schools and newspapers.

There were good reasons then and there are good reasons now for the electoral college and as far as I know, they are the same.  Before delving into them, I would ask opponents what other parts of the constitution don't you like?  Article 5 perhaps, amending the constitution?  Note that their elegant solution goes around amending the constitution.  We hear polling on the popularity of the electoral college of randomly or systematically chosen Americans without hearing whether a majority favor abandoning it - in 3/4ths of the state legislatures, the vote that matters!  How does the electoral polling look in the 38 smallest states?  I wonder how Iowa and New Hampshire feel?  And Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, West Virginia, Nevada, Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Indiana.  Do they want to be ruled by California?  I don't.  It only takes 13 states opposed to defeat repeal of the constitutional electoral college - if constitutional process mattered.

What do we say about liberals who were enthralled with the electoral college as recently as Nov. 6?  Did anyone hear about the big Blue Wall?  Hillary or any Democrat has 242 electoral votes before the vote count begins:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_wall_(politics)  
States falling behind this blue wall generally included those the Democrats had carried since the 1992 presidential election,[5][6] and included (in order of decreasing population and followed by number of electoral votes): California (55), New York (29), Illinois (20), New Jersey (14), Washington (12), Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Minnesota (10), Oregon (7), Connecticut (7), Hawaii (4), Maine (4), Rhode Island (4), Delaware (3), and Vermont (3).  That Donald Trump had a narrow path to victory, narrow path to victory, narrow path to victory, narrow path to victory,  http://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-path-to-victory-is-narrow-1478480114   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ7lYRnF1F8

Reasons to keep the electoral college:

1. Requires the winning candidate to have significant trans-regional appeal.  

2. The entire constitution is a protection against tyranny by the majority.  Without it we could just have a popular vote on everything.

3. Certainty if outcome.  Challenges and recounts tend to be limited to a limited number of states, rarely wffecting the outcome.

4. Avoidance of a runoff.  Liberals can say Hillary won the popular vote in an electoral vote contest, but by no count did she win 50% plus one vote as the constitution also requires.  Hillary Clinton received 48% of the popular vote.  So then this goes to the Republican majority House of Representatives or do we change that rule too when it hurts Democrats?  Eliminate that rule and then even more minor party candidates run as spoilers and power brokers instead of the current system that mostly forces two major parties to reach to the middle.  Or should we have purality elections with run-off caused by the Gary Johnsons, Jill Steins and Ralph Naders of the spectrum?  In a runoff election without Ross Perot and more time to consider the consequences while the economy was already coming out of a recession, would incumbent President George H.W. Bush have lost to the Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who never did get 50% of the vote?  Maybe, maybe not.

5. Swing States.  The nature of the swing state contest is to force both major candidates toward the middle and toward being seen as more reasonable by the middle view of the country in a range of regions and states, from Nevada to New Hampshire in this most recent case.  Neither side can just throw out red meat to their side and win, in theory.

6.  Big states still have big clout.  California at 55 votes, still has more than one fifth of what is needed to win.

7.  The argument against the electoral college works as an argument against having the Senate, also not proportionally representative.  It is an argument against the House too.  Why are House districts winner take all instead of proportional representation?  Why not abandon Article 1 while were at it, and maybe all of the constitution.  Why protect rights or limit government if majority rule is better by definition?

8. If the first 7 don't persuade you, please consider that the Founding Fathers were much smarter and wiser than you - even if you call yourself "All the News That's Fit to Print”.  A constitution-less country would not have survived this long or prospered this well.  These protections have served their purpose well and the constitution has been sufficiently amendable when needed, proven 27 times over.  Who really believes otherwise?
115  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness. Firearms pardons on: December 20, 2016, 09:18:13 AM
He argues for tougher gun laws and issues 49 pardons for firearms offences.  Makes perfect sense.

https://pjmedia.com/trending/2016/12/19/obama-delivers-231-pardons-and-commutations-49-for-firearm-offenses/

A complete ban is a reasonable regulation (DC) and a constitutional right is not an individual right (Heller).

The man we still call Mr. President helped firearms sales more than any other president in US history.
116  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: December 20, 2016, 09:07:16 AM
“angry, white men.” caused her loss?  She lost white women by 52 to 42!

At the end, 'drain the swamp' resonated.
117  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces on: December 20, 2016, 08:33:57 AM
Charlie Sykes made perfect sense in the Wisconsin Primary fight where Cruz beat Trump. But after Trump was nominated, the never-Trump leaders ended up with almost no followers on the right.

Sykes had it exactly right with this at the beginning of the piece:

"What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton.".  Enough said.

They didn't just buy into it, from a conservative point of view that was the truth.  The conservative voter had the risk Trump would be a lousy conservative vs the certainty of Hillary.

Ted Cruz is a more pure conservative, and would have lost this race. The voters knew something that Charlie Sykes didn't.

Lamenting Hillary's loss makes no sense to me from a conservative point of view.
118  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Catastrophic Global Warming Postponed on: December 15, 2016, 11:47:52 AM
It's looking like a white christmas as seen from my living room this am on a beautiful day of roughly -10 F.  Anecdotal proof of ... nothing.



Probably looks a lot like photos I've posted other years.  Winters just keep coming, in spite of what you read.  Forecast is for below 0 C. highs and lows for the next 3 months.  Much like 100 years ago.

Alarmists only claim less than one degree warming per century.  Skeptics point out 90% of that is in the 'adjustments' made by the alarmists.

If it did warm one or two more 10ths of a degree before we got off fossil fuels and the plants all had a nice increase of one more parts per 10,000 of CO2 to blossom and produce oxygen for us to all breathe, well that's not all bad!
119  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Bureaucracy and Regulations in action: The Fourth Branch of the US Govt. on: December 15, 2016, 10:29:21 AM
In 1961, according to my analysis, John F. Kennedy oversaw 450 political and career executives who occupied 17 bureaucratic layers at the top of government. Mr. Trump will soon oversee more than 3,000 executives in 63 layers. This leads to a Washington hallmark: titles like chief of staff to the deputy assistant secretary. Such complexity distorts information as it travels up the chain of command, and then thwarts guidance on the way down.

Paul Light of New York University
http://www.wsj.com/articles/what-purple-america-wants-from-trump-1481675070
120  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Nature, killing bald eagles on: December 15, 2016, 10:26:04 AM
It's now legal to kill bald eagles - if you are a green energy company.

Don't try this at home.
--------------------------

Bald eagles are a protected species. Killing them is a crime, and criminal prosecutions are not rare. But it’s a different story if you are a wind energy company. The Obama administration has just released a final rule that will allow 4,200 bald eagles to be killed by wind turbines a year without penalty.

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/12/its-easy-being-green.phphttp://bigstory.ap.org/article/b8dd6050c702467e8be4b1272a3adc87/final-wind-energy-rule-permits-thousands-eagle-deaths
121  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Democratic staffers in MN seek benefits under Minnesota’s Dislocated Workers Law on: December 15, 2016, 10:16:51 AM
Minnesota, the only state Reagan never won, had the highest voter turnout in the nation in 2016 and turned it's state houses Republican.
Liberal Dem Senator Amy Klobuchar won MN in 2012 by 35 points.  Hillary won in 2016 by 1.5℅.
The pundit class is still too shocked to explain this.
www.twincities.com/2016/11/29/minnesotas-no-1-in-voting-again/amp/

Is it okay to laugh at their misfortune?


It was a bad year for Democrats in Minnesota. They didn’t see it coming.  How bad was it? Democratic legislative staffers on the losing end of the 2016 election have banded together to seek benefits under Minnesota’s Dislocated Workers Program.

The Dislocated Workers Program is aimed at mass layoffs or plant closings affecting 50 or more workers. The program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which produced the educational video below to explain it. In the video, one laid-off employee explains: “I felt humiliated to lose a job, even though I had nothing to do with it. I was very frightened. How was I going to live? How was I going to support myself?”


http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/12/what-happened-in-minnesota-a-coda.php
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/12/14/dflers-job-loss-benefits/


Did they really think that being partisan staff for officials who face the voters every two and four years was a permanent source of income? (Yes.)  Here's some advice, get a job.
122  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama Daily Breifings on: December 15, 2016, 10:07:29 AM
Obama Skipped 62.5 Percent of Intelligence Briefings this Year
http://freebeacon.com/national-security/obama-skipped-62-5-percent-of-intelligence-briefings-this-year/
President Barack Obama has only attended roughly 40 percent of his daily intelligence briefings throughout his presidency, according to the Government Accountability Institute
http://www.g-a-i.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/GAI-Report-PDB-Update-9.29.2014.pdf

That was a headline of the Washington Free Beacon, not the Post or NY Times.

Now they (including President Obama) are up in arms because not-President-yet Trump who has no finger on the controls is skipping his.  Good grief.

For the record, I criticized Obama for this, but I am tired of holding people on different sides to two different standards.  They reelected a President who did the same thing.  If this is lowering the bar, they did it.  They didn't even hold theirs accountable for results.

When they beg and beg and beg for more security like they did from Benghazi to Sec Clinton and got no response and ended up being attacked and killed with no backup sent, then we know they handled security wrong.  

Of as leftists said in the Benghazi aftermath, four more years!
123  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of the left on: December 15, 2016, 09:52:24 AM
ccp:  "So, bottom line:
 Impeachment ABSOLUTELY IS the Left's dream going forward."


Very true that Republicans will turn against Trump quickly IF he commits impeachable offenses.

One leftist professor, the only one who predicted Trump would win, also predicted he will be impeached on the reasoning that he built his business by lying, cheating and stealing, and whatever analogy you choose, a tiger cannot change its stripes so he will do it again and get caught and thrown out.

I'm not a big fan of Trump's personal character but I think this is all wrong.  He built big things by being highly ambitious and highly disciplined.  It is leftists who must conceal their true motives and actions.  He is exactly the opposite on this, saying what he intends to do and hopefully doing it.  I think he has no tolerance for any of the crap that plagued Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, Debbie Wasserman Schultz etc.  Instead of setting up private servers to conceal his inner thoughts, he tweets them out to the world nightly. 

If we view him negatively as a total self centered, narcissist, egotist, etc. it would drive his huge self image far further to enrich this entire country for all history to see than to put a couple of more billion into the Trump business and personal accounts.

Making America Great Again really is what he wants to do and exactly what will make him the most popular, also what he wants to do.  Leftists don't get the connection between acting in your own self interest and helping others. 
124  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Money, the Fed, Banking, Monetary Policy, Dollar & other currencies, Gold/Silver on: December 15, 2016, 09:28:25 AM
Yellin should be kissing Trump's feet.  She waited till after the election (just coincidence of course)  and a huge market rally due only to Trump's proposed growth policies to raise the rate a tad.

Can he get rid of her?

Not until early 2018.

"Trump will have to coexist with Yellen until early 2018. But what happens after that?
There is speculation Trump could appoint Stanford professor John Taylor, Columbia Business School dean Glenn Hubbard, or Greg Mankiw, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, to succeed her.
All are considered to be more conservative economists than Yellen."

http://money.cnn.com/2016/12/14/investing/donald-trump-federal-reserve-janet-yellen/index.html?iid=hp-stack-dom
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Might as well pick Taylor since the state of the art rule for monetary policy is the "Taylor Rule".

Trump wanted interest rates to rise.  That doesn't mean it will make things easier for him.  QE and zero interest rate policy masked the depths of the Obama malaise.  There CANNOT be a delay between other reforms enacted and the rate hikes of the Fed or we could see a 1981-1982-like recession revisited.
125  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Trade Issues, Greg Mankiw, trade 'deficits' pro and con on: December 15, 2016, 08:58:12 AM
DDF,  Thanks for your view on that.

My opinion, BOTH imports and exports are good.  It is the uneven playing field that isn't.  We don't have control over their playing field, but we do have considerable influence over it and that is where the tough talk and action by Trump could be very helpful.

To increase exports by making it less punitive to produce here in terms of taxes and regulations is great policy and great for income and wealth creation.  But to have government curtail our right and freedom to buy anything we want from anywhere around the world (with legitimate exceptions like national security interests) is leftist, anti-freedom policy IMHO, and even our own recent leftists didn't do much of that.

A trade deficit is a symptom of things, not a central problem in itself.  Imports and exports are two different phenomena that grow at different rates at different times.  There is no reason they should be exactly the same.  Yet when they are way out of whack, other problems arise like currency rate changes and capital flows.

Besides anti-productive policies at home, the other factor limiting our exports is that the economy sucks nearly everywhere else in the world even worse than here.  We don't have any US-sized, prosperous, high growth countries to sell to.   When Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan turned Britain and the US around, the rest of the world was forced to reform some of their own problems too in order to compete.  Watch for that effect with Trump if our policies really do get turned around and our economy really does start moving again.  We don't want IMHO to bring imports down to the size of lethargic exports; we want to grow business on all fronts for all our people who want to produce.

To put a special incentive or economic penalty on some businesses and not others in similar circumstances is a violation of equal protection under the law.  Reagan did it a couple of times in temporary and emergency situations, but those were the exceptions or violations of his principles, not the engine of the growth he brought. 

If Trump focuses on doubling the growth rate of the whole economy rather than micromanaging the sectors of where and how that happens, we will be far better off.
126  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Geert Wilders: the enormous overrepresentation of Muslims in crime (Netherlands) on: December 14, 2016, 11:23:06 AM
The Geert Wilders story and conviction brings back an unpleasant personal memory for me.  On this day (or last week) 25 years ago I had my head sliced while walking down a street in Amsterdam, 5pm on a weekday.  The two perps were (allegedly) Moroccan Muslims.  The one who hit me with the sharp instrument fell to the ground; I didn't, and they didn't get my wallet or anything else.  It seemed far more like a hate crime than hearing a Dutch politician give a speech calling for “fewer Moroccans” in their country:

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21711635-it-may-only-boost-muslim-bashers-popularity-netherlands-has-found-geert-wilders-guilty

A truth worth going to jail for, IMHO.

To pull from a previous speech of Wilders:  "Very many Dutch citizens experience the presence of Islam around them. And I can report that they have had enough of... the enormous overrepresentation of Muslims in the area of crime, including Moroccan street terrorists.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geert_Wilders
https://web.archive.org/web/20080614074737/http://www.groepwilders.com/website/details.aspx?ID=44

If t's true it ought to be legal to say, and to propose what to do about it.

I thought they were keeping the problem secret to avoid hurting reputation and tourism.  I didn't know it was illegal to describe or criticize street terrorists, even if all locals are already aware.  No one there I told my story to was surprised, they knew well of the problem.
127  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe, 74% of juvenile asylum seekers in Denmark are adults on: December 14, 2016, 10:43:50 AM
I say to prospective tenants, I'm not looking for perfect people to rent to but if I catch you lying to me, you're out.

http://www.thelocal.dk/20161207/600-underage-asylum-seekers-in-denmark-are-adults-repor
128  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Trade Issues, Greg Mankiw, trade 'deficits' pro and con on: December 14, 2016, 07:42:56 AM
Greg Mankiw,  Chair of Harvard Econ Dept on pros and cons of trade 'deficits'.
NY Times Dec 2 2016

Want to Rev Up the Economy? Don’t Worry About the Trade Deficit
87

DECEMBER 2, 2016
Economic View
By N. GREGORY MANKIW
The economic policy of President-elect Donald J. Trump is still a work in progress. But if campaign rhetoric is a reliable guide, reorienting trade policy may become one of the main goals of the new administration.

Perhaps the best indication of Mr. Trump’s thinking is a report released by the campaign in September. The report, “Scoring the Trump Economic Plan: Trade, Regulatory and Energy Policy Impacts,” was written by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross. Mr. Navarro is an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine. Mr. Ross is an investor whom Mr. Trump has chosen to be secretary of commerce.

A major theme of the report is concern about the trade deficit. In recent years, American imports have exceeded exports by about $500 billion a year. Mr. Navarro and Mr. Ross argue that if better policies eliminated this “trade deficit drag,” gross domestic product would be higher and more people would be employed.

That conclusion is correct, but only in a superficial sense. Gross domestic product is, by definition, the sum of consumption spending, investment spending, government purchases and the net exports of goods and services. If net exports rose from their current negative value to zero, and the other three components stayed the same, domestic production would increase and, consequently, so should employment.

But a fuller look at the macroeconomic effects of trade deficits suggests that things aren’t so simple.


The most important lesson about trade deficits is that they have a flip side. When the United States buys goods and services from other nations, the money Americans send abroad generally comes back in one way or another. One possibility is that foreigners use it to buy things we produce, and we have balanced trade. The other possibility, which is relevant when we have trade deficits, is that foreigners spend on capital assets in the United States, such as stocks, bonds and direct investments in plants, equipment and real estate.

In practice, these capital inflows from abroad have been large. Net foreign ownership of American capital assets has risen to about $8 trillion from $2.5 trillion at the end of 2010. American companies moving production overseas get a lot of attention, but this data shows that capital has, over all, moved in the opposite direction.

It is easy to understand why foreigners are eager to buy American assets. Despite the meager recovery from the financial crisis and recession of 2008-9, the United States remains one of the more vibrant economies of the developed world. And if you want a safe place to park your wealth, United States Treasuries are your best bet.

The trade deficit is inextricably linked to this capital inflow. When foreigners decide to move their assets into the United States, they have to convert their local currencies into American dollars. As they supply foreign currency and demand dollars in the markets for currency exchange, they cause the dollar to appreciate. A stronger dollar makes American exports more expensive and imports cheaper, which in turn pushes the trade balance toward deficit.

From this perspective, many of the policies proposed by Mr. Trump will increase the trade deficit rather than reduce it. He has proposed scaling back both burdensome business regulations and taxes on corporate and other business income. His tax cuts and infrastructure spending will most likely increase the government’s budget deficit, which tends to increase interest rates. These changes should attract even more international capital into the United States, leading to an even stronger dollar and larger trade deficits.

We have already started to see some of these forces at work. In the 10 days after Mr. Trump’s victory, the interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds increased by 46 basis points (0.46 of a percentage point). The dollar appreciated by about 4 percent against a broad basket of currencies to its highest level since 2002.

But what about those tariffs that Mr. Trump sometimes threatens to impose on foreign countries? They would certainly curtail the amount of international trade, but they are unlikely to have a large impact on the trade deficit.

When American consumers facing higher import prices from tariffs stop buying certain products from abroad, they will supply fewer dollars in foreign-exchange markets. The smaller supply of dollars will drive the value of the dollar further upward. This dollar appreciation offsets some of the effects of the tariff on imports, and it makes American exports less competitive in world markets.

But it doesn’t matter much, anyway, because in reality, trade deficits are not a threat to robust growth and full employment. The United States had a large trade deficit in 2009, when the unemployment rate reached 10 percent, but it had an even larger trade deficit in 2006, when the unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent.

Rather than reflecting the failure of American economic policy, the trade deficit may be better viewed as a sign of success. The relative vibrancy and safety of the American economy is why so many investors around the world want to move their assets here. (And similarly, it is why so many workers want to immigrate here.)

Mr. Trump says he wants to restore more rapid economic growth. That is a sensible goal. But focusing on the trade deficit is not the best way to achieve it.
129  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump Transition/Administration Is Tillerson Trump's first liberal pick? on: December 13, 2016, 06:14:03 PM
http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/12/tillersons_assault_on_scouting.html
Gays in Scouts, global warming, what else?
130  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Sen. Rand Paul threatens to block Bolton nomination on: December 13, 2016, 06:06:43 PM
Rand Paul is great on some tax and spend issues.  John Bolton is one of the best picks Pres-elect Trump could ever make for any foreign policy or diplomatic job in my view and for many other conservatives.  That Rand Paul would block a John Bolton nomination should disqualify Rand Paul from conservative consideration for any future position where any part of the job is foreign policy, President for example.  MHO.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-group-john-bolton-in-state-dep-would-damage-us/
131  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glibness tells Romney the 1980s wants their foreign policy back on: December 13, 2016, 05:46:03 PM
Re-exp[eriencing Obama's tone here summarizes the career of the ignorant, arrogant, Ivy League snob from Occupy White House who wasted 8 years of this country's history we will never get back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1409sXBleg

Before that, the US under Obama reneged on a promise to its allies and canceled missile defense for Eastern Europe.

Right while he was saying that, RUssia successfully hacked the Obama White House.

After he said that, Russia "annexed" Crimea and threatened Ukraine.

And now he thinks Russia changed the outcom of an American election on his watch?

I'm old enough to remember when we held Presidents accountable for what happened under their watch.

Also watch the demeanor of Romney, playing by the rules and politely taking the abuse.  Lesson from that, Trump won and Obama lost.  Trump for all his bizarre facial expressions and interruptions would not have sat there and taken that.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Obama:  Governor Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, in the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years.

But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.

You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq. But just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. And the -- the challenge we have -- I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy -- but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn't be passing nuclear treaties with Russia despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it. You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong, but you were also confusing in sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.
 So, what -- what we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. And unfortunately, that's the kind of opinions that you've offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength, or keeping America safe over the long haul.


132  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud, SEIU/ACORN et al, etc. on: December 13, 2016, 04:50:34 PM
 “Yesterday I learned that releasing hacked — but true — emails is a threat to democracy, but suborning electors to reverse an election is not.”

 https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/
133  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Intel Matters on: December 12, 2016, 05:55:19 PM
Am I to understand that the conservatives on this forum are willing to excuse Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election? If I am reading this correctly, consider me stunned.

I've been out of town, just catching up on this today.

I oppose Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election (for the record).  i'm not aware that is what happened.  Still looking for facts.  

I also opposed Obama administration and US inference in the Israeli elections.  I oppose the illegal Saudi and Qatar and other foreign entities buying influence here with the losing campaign.

Much of the mainstream discussion of this story does not match the actual report, and the actual report was not definitive,  got another part of it wrong, RNC hacked, and the CIA confirmation was not fully confirmed by the CIA.  See quotes below.  

I'm seeing a lot of hypocrisy on the other side.   For example, where was their objection to the Israeli interference and where was the outrage when Russia hacked our White House?  Who called for an investigation in October 2014??  Hope to not commit hypocrisy on this of my own; if there is credible reason to investigate further, do so.

There were at least 4 sources to the Hillary emails.  Wikileaks was one.  Also the FBI, the (kerry) State Department and Hillary herself.  Didn't she promise that we would see all her work related product long before now?  Wasn't it court ordered, or promised under oath to a committee of Congress?

THAT DOES NOT EXCUSE THE CRIMINALITY OR ACT OF WAR OF RUSSIA (or whoever hacked) AND/OR WIKILEAKS.  Nor does our lax and incompetent security excuse their crimes.  Investigate and prosecute.

Wikileaks has said with certainty Russia was not the source. They have been as reliable as the other sources mentioned.  The CIA is not linking the hack directly with certainty to the Kremlin either, that we know.  

I cringed in the campaign when Donald Trump seem to encourage Russian hacking even though I recall it was hedged in parsing.  He was wrong to do that and I oppose it.  Yet we know our enemies and rivals spy and hack, with best results on unsecured networks.  Better that this information came out early and often than to have it held back, bought, sold, and used as blackmail against a new administration, IMHO.  Had Hillary released her emails, there was nothing to leak.  Had Debbie Wasserman Schultz not assisted and steered the nomination to Hillary, there was nothing to leak.  Had Hillary's closest associates kept their work product and confidential communications on secure government servers, there was nothing to leak.  And how is it that John Podesta still has a job?  Unbelievable that she stood silently by him and no one called for his resignation. 

I can't see a reason why Putin or Russia would prefer Trump over Hillary, so the underlying motive of that theory makes no sense to me.  The motive to de-legitimize the election outcome is all around us, whether it was driving this or not.  

As the internet gets less and less secure, we should note that our outgoing administration gave up control of aspects of the internet to the self described "global multistakeholder community" who mostly can't tell friend from foe from a US point of view, or care.  I would put fixing security flaws of the internet on a higher priority than ceding authority.

Though I oppose enemies around the globe committing espionage here, the communications hacked and leaked include material we were already promised and entitled to.  These people who committed and tried to hide criminal activities were exposed.  What is the competing argument that we should never have seen the behind the scenes corruption that took place?  Punish the hackers but expose the corruption.

The report of this is a leak of its own.  

Is this the original story that started the stir?  Was there any new information in it?
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obama-orders-review-of-russian-hacking-during-presidential-campaign/2016/12/09/31d6b300-be2a-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.aa8849eb591c

A NY Times story that followed:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/11/us/politics/cia-judgment-intelligence-russia-hacking-evidence.html?_r=0

From the reporting:  "...said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators."  (A "senior US official" includes some unreliable people, like a guy who told me I could keep my healthcare...)

"it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments ..."  (The conclusion might be true  and it might be false.)

"The dispute cuts to core realities of intelligence analysis. Judgments are often made in a fog of uncertainty, are sometimes based on putting together shards of a mosaic that do not reveal a full picture, and can always be affected by human biases." (in other words, no definitive facts.)

As Bolton said, finding their fingerprints on it could be a contrary indicator.

The argument made by those wanting the Electors briefed on this (not Bigdog) is that this election was hacked, which to me implies a vote counting exploitation, which is not alleged in the reports.   What happened instead was that truths were wrongfully revealed to the voters that were intended to be concealed.  

It was our lack of knowledge of key facts, like cheating on debate questions, that was creating election interference before it was exposed, IMHO.  Does that excuse enemy hacking and illegal leaking?  No.  Not even the leaking of this alleged CIA briefing.
134  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud, SEIU/ACORN et al, etc. on: December 12, 2016, 10:42:52 AM
https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/251544/
To the extent that it was a Russian hack, it was mostly due to Hillary and other Democrats’ exercising criminal negligence in matters of security. That’s hardly an argument that she should have been President.
-------------

The cheating uncovered involved debate moderators giving questions in advance to one candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Also debate moderator Megyn Kelly admittedly trying to take out one candidate in the first question of a debate.

What are the penalties for these violations of the process?
135  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Media, Ministry of Truth, Russia hack the White House and no one reported on it on: December 12, 2016, 10:31:31 AM
John Hinderer, Powerline:

REMEMBER WHEN THE RUSSIANS HACKED THE WHITE HOUSE’S COMPUTERS?
You probably don’t. We broke the story on Power Line in October 2014, writing about it here, here, here, here, here and here.
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/something-happening-here.php
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/something-happening-here-an-update.php
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/something-happening-here-contd.php
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/is-the-washington-press-corps-covering-up-another-obama-administration-fiasco.php
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2014/10/more-on-the-obama-administration-scandal-that-the-washington-press-corps-tried-to-bury.php
http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/04/russias-invasion-of-white-house-computers-the-story-still-has-not-been-told.php

The White House’s computers were down for weeks because of the intrusion by a “foreign power,” which the administration finally identified as Russia. It wasn’t just the White House, either; it was the entire Executive Office of the President, which comprises a good chunk of the executive branch. Nor was that all: the State Department’s computer system was hacked, too.

While we pounded away at the story, the White House refused to respond to our inquiries. The Washington press corps, which must have known that the White House’s computers were out of action, maintained a discreet silence, declining to write about the Russian hack, even though many D.C. reporters no doubt followed the story on Power Line. Why the coy silence? Because it was October 2014, weeks before the midterm elections, and the story reflected poorly on the Obama administration, which didn’t even discover the intrusion itself. It turned out that American officials were alerted to the Russian hack of the White House and State Department by an unidentified ally (I’m guessing Israel).

Only when the election was safely over did news outlets like CNN report the story (“How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House”). Throughout, the Obama administration minimized the story, claiming that no harm was done and only unclassified material was accessed–an excuse that, as CNN wrote post-election, “belies the seriousness of the intrusion.”

Now, the same news outlets that refused to cover the Russian government’s hacking into White House and State Department computers and email systems try to tell us that an intrusion into Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s and John Podesta’s email accounts by someone–allegedly the same Russian government–is a story of world-historical importance. What a load of bulls–t.

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/12/remember-when-the-russians-hacked-the-white-houses-computers.php
136  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons, the Marine and the old man on: December 12, 2016, 10:17:49 AM
Too bad to see this thread fade off into history...    wink

So, have you heard the one about the old man and the United States Marine standing guard at the White House?
marine-standing-watch_1

On a sunny day at the end of January 2017, an old man approaches the White House from Across Pennsylvania Avenie where he’d been sitting on a park bench.
He walked up to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, “I would like to go in and meet with President Hillary Clinton.”
The Marine replied, “Sir, Mrs. Clinton is not President and doesn’t reside here.”
The old man said, “Okay,” and quietly walked away.
The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, “I would like to go in and meet with President Hillary Clinton.”
The Marine again told the man, “Sir, as I said yesterday, Mrs. Clinton is not President and doesn’t reside here.”
The man thanked him and again quietly walked away.
The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same Marine, saying “I would like to go in and meet with President Hillary Clinton.”
The Marine, understandably a bit agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, “Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mrs. Clinton.  I’ve told you already several times that Mrs. Clinton is not the President and doesn’t reside here.  What don’t you understand about these facts?”
The old man answered, “Oh, I understand you fine, Sir.  I just love hearing your answer!”
The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, “See you tomorrow, Sir.”
137  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cong. Cramer of North Dakota: What the Dakota Access Pipeline is Really About on: December 07, 2016, 09:48:11 AM
"The pipeline does not cross any land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux. The land under discussion belongs to private owners and the federal government."

"More than 50 tribes were consulted, and their concerns resulted in 140 adjustments to the pipeline’s route. The project’s developer and the Army Corps were clearly concerned about protecting tribal artifacts and cultural sites."

"Other pipelines carrying oil, gas and refined products already cross the Missouri River at least a dozen times upstream of the tribe’s intake."

"Other pipelines carrying oil, gas and refined products already cross the Missouri River at least a dozen times upstream of the tribe’s intake."

"the new intake, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, will be 1.6 miles downstream of an elevated railroad bridge that carries tanker cars carrying crude oil." (Far more hazardous)
-------------------------------------------------------------------

The author is highly qualified and knowledgeable.  These are facts not generally stated anywhere else.

I just drove through that area.  Interestingly, Native Americans buy and sell gasoline, the refined kind that works in vehicles.  They mostly don't live the lifestyle of whatever your stereotype might be from 200 years ago.

I listened to liberal radio and they were so elated when Pres. O held up the project.  The host had an activist on and asked where she was when she heard the amazing news.  She was driving her truck on County Road such and such.  Obvious point is that if you're going to benefit from the use of energy, we are going to have to produce it.  It is a public good as much as an ambulance and a hospital, in fact the ambulance and hospital are powered by it.  We have a responsibility to do it in the best and cleanest and safest and most cost effective ways possible but for the time being, heating your homes (below zero temps here today) and powering your vehicles is a 2016 necessity.

I am against private takings and this comes close to that line.  The refined products are being used by all in this region; is that private use?  (That's not the issue anyway.)  What is being taken here?  Not land, not drinking water, not sight lines.  If landowners are being unfairly put out  there ought to be compensation.  Mineral rights owners of the land in North Dakota are THRILLED at the oil boom, getting a piece of the action.  I don't know why pipeline land owners aren't making a millionth of a cent per gallon.  I would take a 36" pipe, 100 ft underground, for a small price, across my land, anytime.  I've already offered to store nuclear waste casks in my garage and my home for the money we wanted to pay Nevada.
138  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iraqi Kurdistan on the Cusp of Statehood on: December 06, 2016, 09:49:35 AM
Food for thought.
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/the-kurds-are-nearly-there/
See map:  https://www.nybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Caryl-Kurdistan-2-col-120813.jpg
The Kurds Are Nearly There
Christian Caryl DECEMBER 8, 2016 ISSUE
From Tribe to Nation: Iraqi Kurdistan on the Cusp of Statehood
a report by Amberin Zaman
Wilson Center, 31 pp., available at www.wilsoncenter.org
The Kurds: A Modern History
by Michael M. Gunter
Markus Wiener, 256 pp., $68.95; $26.95 (paper)
Invisible Nation: How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East
by Quil Lawrence
Walker, 386 pp., $17.00 (paper)
Kurdistan Rising? Considerations for Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region
by Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute, 139 pp., available at www.aei.org
1.
The battle for Mosul has begun. For the past two years, Iraq’s second-largest city has languished under the harsh rule of the Islamic State (ISIS). Now a combined force of Iraqi army troops, Shiite militias, and Kurdish fighters, backed up by a US-led coalition of more than sixty nations, is pushing forward to retake the city. The stakes are high. Dislodging ISIS from the city where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared his “caliphate” in 2014 promises to be a formidable undertaking, given the ferocity of resistance so far. But if the coalition manages to restore Iraqi government control over Mosul, it will certainly count as a major blow to the ambitions of the jihadists—even if final victory over them is still a long way off.

So far the campaign appears to be going well. Yet its initial successes—to be expected, perhaps, in a situation where the attackers outnumber the defenders by more than twenty to one—cannot conceal the fact that the members of the anti-ISIS forces in Iraq have strikingly divergent interests. The United States and its Western allies are concerned above all with thwarting the Islamic State’s ability to stage terrorist attacks against them. Preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq, while important, is a secondary aim. The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is intent on restoring his government’s sovereignty over the country as a whole and reasserting, along the way, the dominance of the Shiite majority over a restive Sunni minority that, at least for a time, saw the Islamic State as a protector of its interests.

And then there are the Kurds. For the past twenty-five years, since a crucial intervention following the first Gulf War by the United States to protect them from Saddam Hussein’s killings, the 5.5 million Kurds of northern Iraq have been quietly running their own affairs. Currently some 40,000 Kurdish troops are taking active part in the effort to retake Mosul, and dozens have died since the operation began. But the peshmerga, as the Iraqi Kurdish militias are known, are not fighting to preserve Iraq. They are fighting to remove a major threat to their own homeland, the three northern provinces that make up the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The Islamic State, which is dominated by Salafist Sunni Arabs, has always regarded the Kurds as mortal enemies, and when the jihadists staged their surprise attack on Mosul in the summer of 2014, the momentum of their offensive brought them within just a few miles of the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. It took a series of hasty American air strikes to stop the jihadists from going further.

Since then the Kurdish region has shared an uneasy thousand-mile border with the territory controlled by the Islamic State to its south, and the Kurds are determined to put an end to this lingering security threat. There is an urgency to their mission. For the continued existence of the ISIS caliphate is, in effect, the last remaining obstacle between the Iraqi Kurds and their fondest wish: the creation of the first independent Kurdish state.

There are more than 30 million Kurds scattered across the Middle East, most of them in the four countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—a circumstance that helps to explain the label they are often given—“world’s largest people without a nation.” The Kurds in all of these countries have endured various forms of persecution. And yet, as the Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman notes in her report “From Tribe to Nation,” “The Iraqi Kurds have endured far greater horrors and betrayal than any of their brethren across the borders.” The government of Saddam Hussein repeatedly subjected his Kurdish population to acts of genocidal violence, including, most notoriously, the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish communities in 1988. Every Iraqi Kurd has long and searing tales of trauma: childhoods spent in refugee camps, relatives dispatched to the anonymity of mass graves, villages razed to the ground.

The dream of a national homeland is one that all Kurds share, no matter where they currently live. For the past century—ever since World War I brought about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent creation of new nation-states that excluded Kurdish aspirations—they have yearned in vain. Yet now circumstances have conspired to bring the Kurds—or some of them, at least—closer to achieving a workable state than at any other time in recent memory.

To be sure, not all of the Kurds are equally well positioned to take advantage. The Kurds of Iran, who briefly enjoyed a self-governing state under Soviet tutelage after World War II, seem the least likely to strike out on their own, given the strength of the Tehran government and the relative weakness of the Kurdish nationalist movement. In southeastern Turkey, the goal of self-determination has long been pursued with particular ferocity by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has carried on a four-decade-long insurgency against the government in Ankara. After years of effectively denying the existence of the roughly 15 million Kurds within its borders, the Turkish state embarked on a policy of cautious rapprochement that culminated in the launching of peace negotiations in 2013. Last year, however, the war flared up again, prosecuted on the Turkish side by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had, for a time, pursued the peace process with more determination than any of his predecessors. The return to war, amid scenes of extraordinary destruction in Kurdish communities, makes the attainment of any sort of independence for the Turkish Kurds—a long shot under the best of circumstances—even less likely.

The situation in Syria, at least on the surface, offers more grounds for hope. The outbreak of the civil war in 2011 led to the weakening of government control over the Kurdish regions in the country’s northeast corner, and the Kurds there were quick to seize their chance. Over the past five years the Syrian Kurds have steadily built up formidable institutions of self-rule. In contrast to Iraq’s Kurdish region, however, the regions currently controlled by their Syrian counterparts contain large populations of Arabs and other minority groups, and their presence might well complicate an aggressive push for independence.

Even so, it is hard to overestimate the degree of international goodwill that the Syrian Kurdish forces have managed to acquire thanks to their muscular prosecution of the war against the Islamic State. Since the Assad government doesn’t seem especially keen on confronting the caliphate, the Kurdish-dominated forces have been supplying most of the fighters on the Syrian front of the war against ISIS. It is precisely for this reason that the Obama administration has recently begun directly supplying the Syrian Kurds with weapons. This would amount to an extraordinary departure from past practice, since providing arms would implicitly bolster the Kurds’ control over their part of Syria, and potentially bring them closer to independence—a prospect of which Washington policymakers have long been leery, since it would entail a fundamental redrawing of the borders of the Middle East.

Such caution is understandable. Yet US policy toward the Kurds will face a crucial test in the next few years—and it will almost certainly come from the Kurds of Iraq, who believe that their twenty-five-year experiment in self-government is approaching its logical culmination. The leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Erbil, have explicitly declared that they have independence in their sights. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Region of Iraq, has announced plans to conduct a referendum on statehood once the threat from ISIS has abated. Washington, meanwhile, doggedly maintains that nothing can be allowed to compromise Iraq’s territorial integrity, periodically warning its Kurdish allies not to test its resolve. In view of the long history of thwarted Kurdish aspirations, one has to wonder: When the day finally comes, will the Kurds really be willing to wait for permission?

2.
As a people, the Kurds are magnificently contradictory. They have a sharply formed sense of identity, and yet their ethnic self-understanding allows for a dizzying diversity. Most Kurds adhere to the beliefs of Sunni Islam, yet there are also Kurds who profess Shiism, Christianity, Judaism, and radical secularism—not to mention ancient sects such as the Yazidis and the Shabaks. Moreover, millions of Kurds have, over the years, fled oppression at the hands of the nations in which they lived, creating a vast global diaspora. There are some 800,000 Kurds in Germany alone. (The largest concentration of Kurds in the United States is a population of some ten thousand in Nashville, Tennessee.)

Kurdish identity often delineates itself along linguistic lines. The Kurdish tongue—based on three rather distinct dialects—belongs to the Indo-Iranian language family, giving the Kurds a degree of cultural kinship with Iran. (Unlike the Turks and Arabs, the Kurds observe Newroz, the traditional Persian New Year.) Geography is also an important source of Kurdish self-understanding. The core Kurdish population has long been centered on the spine of mountains that reach from southeastern Turkey across northern Iraq and into the northwestern corner of Iran.

Some Kurds trace their origins back to the Medes, an ancient people who built an empire in what is now Iran and Iraq. Historians are inclined to doubt this, but it seems clear enough that Kurds have had a long presence in their region. Saladin, the leader of the Muslim armies who defied the invading Crusaders in the twelfth century, was a Kurd—though he gained fame as a religious and military leader, not as a representative of his ethnic group. The Ottomans recognized the Kurds as a distinct minority, even coining the term “Kurdistan.” The Kurds engaged in periodic uprisings against Ottoman rule, but their rebellions were almost always cloaked in the language of religious discontent. Like so many other peoples of the Middle East, they were relative latecomers to the modern idea of ethnic nationalism.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire seemed, at first, to offer a perfect opening for a Kurdish state. The victorious Allies originally planned to carve a Kurdish homeland out of the old Ottoman territories, a Kurdish delegation having pleaded its case at the Paris Peace Conference. But the Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Atatürk had other ideas. His victory in the Turkish War of Independence thwarted the West’s plans for the partition of Anatolia, and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which endorsed his new Turkish Republic, scotched the idea of a Kurdish state by including a large chunk of Kurdish-populated territory within the new Turkish borders.

This amounts to one of the great ironies of history. As Michael Gunter writes in The Kurds, Atatürk had originally envisioned his new state as a mutual homeland for both Turks and Kurds, and Kurdish fighters had formed a large part of his forces. The first Turkish parliament included seventy-five Kurdish deputies. As the years went on, however, Atatürk began to narrow his vision of the new republic to a mono-ethnic state for Turks alone. Ankara’s policies became correspondingly repressive. Within a few decades merely acknowledging the existence of a Kurdish minority had become a criminal offense.

The Kurds in the new post-Ottoman state of Syria had it somewhat better, at least at first. But as Syrian democracy withered, to be replaced by the Arab national socialist ideology of Baathism, the state’s tolerance for ethnic difference evaporated. During the 1960s, the government came up with a novel approach to making its Kurdish problem go away: it simply denied citizenship to many Kurds.

To the east, the post–World War I settlement had created yet another new state, called Iraq, which had been cobbled together from three Ottoman provinces, to be ruled under a British mandate between 1920 and 1932. The British soon found themselves facing a major threat from the Kurds of the north, who launched a full-blown jihad against their colonial masters under the leadership of a charismatic chieftain named Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji.

One of his deputies, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, would go on to become a central figure in the twentieth-century history of the Kurds—a career that ran from an old-fashioned tribal revolt to a cold war–style national liberation struggle. In the mid-1940s Barzani found himself turning for help to the Soviet Union, which became his patron during his brief period as defense minister of the short-lived Kurdish republic in Iran in 1946. When it collapsed, Moscow granted him asylum until he was finally able to return to Iraq a decade later, where he continued the struggle against the increasingly intransigent regimes in Baghdad in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite these contortions, Barzani never quite managed to live down his origins as a traditional tribal leader. The organization he created in Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), remains to this day very much under the spell of the Barzani family.

Other claimants to leadership of the Kurdish independence movement soon appeared. Within Iraq, critics of the KDP’s ascendancy—many of them members of the rival Talabani clan—formed in 1975 a party of their own, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), setting the stage for a tortuous relationship that has, on occasion, been known to explode into outright warfare.

In Turkey, the increasingly harsh oppression of the Kurdish minority under successive military governments prompted the rise of another resistance leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who founded the PKK in 1978. Unlike its Iraqi counterparts, who remained beholden to their clannish origins, the PKK started off as a classic Marxist-Leninist party but with strong nationalist claims. Öcalan ran his party along rigidly authoritarian lines, and like so many of his revolutionary predecessors, he pursued and eliminated rival Kurds with even greater ruthlessness than he attacked his enemies in the Turkish military. His claim to ultimate leadership of the global Kurdish community invariably brought him into conflict with the Iraqi Kurdish parties—a feud that continues to shape the Kurdish question today. (Öcalan, captured in 1999, is still held in a Turkish prison.)

The Kurds became deeply enmeshed in cold war politics, something that had a great deal to do with the fateful geography of their homeland. Both Turkey (with one of NATO’s biggest armies) and Iran, vital US allies, shared borders with the Soviet Union; Iraq, increasingly controlled by its own particularly virulent strain of Baathism, found a natural ally in Moscow. The PKK accordingly received active support from various revolutionary regimes around the Middle East. It sent its fighters to train in East Bloc–sponsored camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley alongside a hodgepodge of other terrorist groups.

The United States was just as happy to exploit the Kurds for its own purposes—most infamously in the 1970s, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger backed the Shah of Iran, Washington’s most important regional client, in sponsoring an Iraqi Kurdish rebellion against the Iraqi government, by then well on its way to becoming a Soviet client state. Once the rebellion had achieved the Iranian aim of extracting concessions from Baghdad, the Shah, and Kissinger, cut off support for the insurgents, leaving them to face the full wrath of their enemies. Thousands of Kurds died in the reprisals that followed. It wasn’t the first time the Kurds were betrayed by their ostensible friends; nor was it the last. Their own propensity for factionalism didn’t help their cause. For much of the cold war they appeared powerless to break the curse of history.

3.
The turning point came from an unexpected quarter. President George H.W. Bush, an old-school foreign policy realist, had no intention of supporting Kurdish self-determination when he set out to defeat Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War in 1990. But in the war’s aftermath, his administration confronted an appalling humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Kurds were fleeing retribution from Saddam’s forces. (Bush himself had called upon the Kurds and Shias to bring down Saddam’s regime, but then failed to offer the rebels air cover, leaving them at the mercy of Baghdad’s air force.)

The images of women and children suffering amid the snowy peaks excited a public outcry, and in April 1991 the United States, the UK, and France agreed to create a safe haven for the Iraqi Kurds. Operation Provide Comfort, as it came to be called, imposed a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel, effectively preventing Saddam’s planes and helicopters from killing Kurds, and enabling the Kurdish militias to push Iraqi troops back out and reassert control.

They have never relinquished it. “The Kurdish safe haven was supposed to serve Washington’s Iraq containment strategy, a launching pad for the harassment of Saddam Hussein,” as Quil Lawrence writes in Invisible Nation:

But there was an unintended consequence: one of the most successful nation-building projects in American history. The Kurds held elections, set up their own social services, and started educating their children in Kurdish, not Arabic. They banned the Iraqi flag and the currency with Saddam’s face on it.

This nation-building effort continued apace after the US-led invasion in 2003. Ironically, Ankara’s refusal to allow US troops to cross Turkish territory on the way to Iraq compelled the Americans to seek other options for the northern prong of the campaign; the Kurds were only too happy to offer their support. Throughout the war the Kurds proved themselves conspicuously loyal allies of the US. While the rest of Iraq descended into a frenzy of war and sectarian chaos, the Kurdish region became for the coalition a secure and reliable hinterland (with a relatively stable economy). The Kurds are rightfully proud that the US military didn’t lose a single servicemember on Kurdish territory during the war. This goes a long way to explaining why the Iraqi Kurds have managed to build strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress over the past fifteen years, which could prove useful when the issue of independence comes to a head.

Even so, Iraqi Kurds will need more than congressional goodwill if they want to turn their region into a state. Though they can probably defy the Iraqi government in a pinch, achieving independence with Baghdad’s acquiescence would certainly be more desirable than the alternative. They may already be on their way to getting it. Amberin Zaman, one of the sharpest observers of Kurdish issues, observes that the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government have already created two committees to discuss the details of a possible divorce. She also points out that Baghdad and Erbil have worked out a resource-sharing agreement for the rich oilfields in the region around the disputed city of Kirkuk—just the sort of compromise that could accompany Iraqi Kurdistan’s separation from Iraq.

But what about the neighbors? Given their own restive Kurdish minorities, would the Turks, Syrians, and Iranians be prepared to tolerate a Kurdish proto-state on their borders? In fact, current indications are that Turkey, and to some extent Iran, may be willing to accept just this possibility. Much depends on the factional fault line that still divides the Kurds themselves. During the past decade, the Turkish government, fully aware of the bad blood between its own Kurdish rebels and their Iraqi rivals, has seen the wisdom of cultivating good relations with the Iraqi KDP as a way of undermining the Turkish PKK.1 There are also sound economic reasons for such a partnership, since Turkey has benefited hugely by serving as the main conduit for Iraqi Kurdish oil to global markets. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan, given its landlocked position, is unlikely to prove economically workable without some sort of access to global markets—but the Iraqi Kurdish leaders in Erbil have already signed long-term agreements with the Turks to ensure just this sort of access.

If all this sounds far too optimistic, Michael Rubin, in Kurdistan Rising?, has good reasons for pessimism, pointing to the many obstacles to Kurdish statehood—whether restricted to an Iraqi enclave or incorporating larger swathes of the regional Kurdish population. For all its successes, he writes, the Kurdish region of Iraq remains plagued by deep-seated pathologies. The collapse of global oil prices, coupled with the costs of prosecuting the war against ISIS and the influx of a huge number of refugees (1.8 million at last count, more than a third of the population), have sent the economy into a tailspin. Corruption remains pervasive at every level of government. Factional differences between the KPD and the PUK affect every level of administration, including the peshmerga themselves, who still answer to their respective party leaders rather than to the Kurdish government.2 The Kurds’ hard-earned reputation for relatively democratic governance has been undermined by the extension of emergency powers to President Barzani, who, citing the exigencies of the war, has remained in office long beyond his legally set term—much to the anger of the other parties in the Erbil parliament.

Rubin has a novel suggestion for future sources of Kurdish money. He suggests that the Kurds issue a symbolic currency “equivalent in value to the US dollar or European euro. In this, there is precedent in Panama and Timor-Leste, which utilize the US dollar as their currency for all practical purposes.” When it comes to the idea of a future Kurdish state achieving recognition by its neighbors, however, Rubin remains deeply skeptical—a view he shares with many other outside experts.

Rubin is entirely right to scrutinize these potential pitfalls. Creating a new Kurdish state is likely to be a highly complex affair in the best of cases. Yet it is also true that some new countries have started life under even less auspicious circumstances. As Zaman points out, Kurds have been waiting for a state of their own for a century—and they’re unlikely to go on waiting until conditions are optimal. “The ‘we are not ready’ camp cites the economic crisis, corruption, the lack of unity, and opposition from Iran and Turkey as the main obstacles to Iraqi Kurdish statehood,” she writes. “Yet, many of these issues will not be resolved by remaining part of Iraq.” The Kurds are already on the march. Their friends in the rest of the world—including the next US president—will soon have to decide whether they want to keep up.
139  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cognitive Dissonance of the left, Justifying Coercive Paternalism, WSJ on: December 06, 2016, 09:42:29 AM
James Taranto:  "Conly's greatest contribution to philosophy may be the slippery-slope argument against slippery-slope arguments."
--------------------------------

I would like to point back to this before it slips off the internet.  James Taranto's column alone often makes the WSJ subscription worth the money. They take news tips at 'Best of the Web' at the WSJ and I sent this email to Mr. Taranto, online editorial page editor, on Feb 12, 2013, knowing that his sense of humor might do wonders with it:

Subject: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, It’s For Your Own Good!
A must read if you missed it.  Honest thoughts of leftists are on rare, open display here, why government should make personal decisions for you.  You could base an entire column on this..  - Doug MacGxxxxxx

NY Review of Books: Cass Sunstein reviewing "Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism",  by Sarah Conly
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/mar/07/its-your-own-good/


A month later he published the following and listed me in the credits:   )

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324105204578382572446778866


BEST OF THE WEB
Don't Nudge Me There
If government may dictate soda size, why not sexual behavior?
By JAMES TARANTO
March 25, 2013

If you want to get published on the op-ed page of a major newspaper, a good way to go about it is to make a reasonable, or at least reasonable-sounding, case for an unpopular and outlandish position. It's important that the issue be trivial, so that readers will get riled up but no one will really feel offended or threatened.

Philosopher Sarah Conly, author of a new book called "Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism," has discovered the formula. In a New York Times op-ed titled "Three Cheers for the Nanny State," she defends Mayor Michael Bloomberg's almost universally ridiculed (and judicially enjoined) ban on large sodas and other sugary beverages.

Conly's argument doesn't seem unreasonable, though it is incoherent in places. In a parenthetical aside, for example, she mocks opponents for objecting over such a trivial matter: "Large cups of soda as symbols of human dignity? Really?" (Note to the editors: That "Really?" is lazy writing. Why not let a rhetorical question stand on its own? See what we mean?) But of course she wants us to take her defense of this silly policy as a serious philosophical argument.

Then there's this priceless passage: "Do we care so much about our health that we want to be forced to go to aerobics every day and give up all meat, sugar and salt? No. But in this case, it's some extra soda. Banning a law on the grounds that it might lead to worse laws would mean we could have no laws whatsoever."

Oddly, Conly bases her reductio ad absurdum on false empirical premises. The benefits and risks of exercise, and of particular forms of exercise, vary from individual to individual. And giving up all meat and salt, unlike sugar, is likely to harm your health.

The best part is that conclusion. Essentially she's saying that if you accept one slippery-slope argument, you have to accept all slippery-slope arguments. Therefore, slippery-slope arguments are unsound.

But wait, that's a slippery-slope argument! You've heard of the liar's paradox? Its simplest form is the statement "This statement is false." Conly's greatest contribution to philosophy may be the slippery-slope argument against slippery-slope arguments. Call it the slipper's paradox.

We're less impressed with Conly's argument in favor of the soda ban and measures like it. She rebuts John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century liberal philosopher who established the "harm principle"--the idea that coercion is generally justified only to prevent individuals from harming others. Mill also allowed that there were unusual cases in which government would be justified in restricting an individual's behavior for his own good--"when we are acting out of ignorance and doing something we'll pretty definitely regret." Since it's common knowledge that large quantities of refined sugar are bad for you, that wouldn't justify the soda ban.

Conly thinks Mill didn't go far enough in justifying coercion. Science has shown "that we often don't think very clearly when it comes to choosing the best means to attain our ends," she writes. "We make errors. . . . We are all prone to identifiable and predictable miscalculations." Thus we should surrender a measure of autonomy and yield to rules promulgated by experts, who presumably know what's good for us: "Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws."

Again she brings up the slippery slope: "What people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it's soda, tomorrow it's the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch 'PBS NewsHour' every day."

Crazy, right? Maybe not. Conly's op-ed never mentions smoking, but in a sympathetic review in the New York Review of Books, Cass Sunstein reports that in "Against Autonomy" she argues "that because the health risks of smoking are so serious, the government should ban it." (Sunstein, a legal scholar and former Obama administration official, is coauthor of the 2008 book "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness," which makes an argument similar to Conly's.)

What's interesting about the smoking-ban proposal is that while it is culturally radical, it is not philosophically radical. Is there any doubt that if cigarettes were a new invention, lawmakers would quickly ban them? Libertarians would object, on the same ground that they argue for the legalization of other drugs. But their point of view would command little public support, at least unless and until illicit cigarette smoking became as widespread as illicit marijuana use is today.

That is to say that a moderate form of Conly's philosophy has long prevailed, even in as freedom-loving a country as America. While we may bridle at being told we can't do something we are used to doing or didn't realize we weren't supposed to do, generally we don't do so as a matter of principle. (Libertarians, you're off the hook on that observation.) Generally speaking, Americans accept a wide variety of regulations on their personal behavior that are designed to be in their own good.

So what does Conly have to say that is original? Well, her book is called "Against Autonomy" and subtitled "Justifying Coercive Paternalism." That makes it sound as if she is advocating aggressive and thoroughgoing government intrusion into individual decision-making. Her positions on the soda ban and tobacco prohibition seem to bolster that. But those take her only slightly beyond the views that today prevail among the left-liberal elite.

Similarly, according to Sunstein, she endorses Bloomberg's ban on trans fats as well as "regulations designed to reduce portion sizes"--presumably of solid food as well as dissolved sugar. But in areas in which her philosophy would seem to conflict with prevailing left-liberal views, she's less adventurous than Bloomberg:

She is far more ambivalent about Mayor Bloomberg's effort to convince the US Department of Agriculture to authorize a ban on the use of food stamps to buy soda. She is not convinced that the health benefits would be significant, and she emphasizes that people really do enjoy drinking soda.

You'd think the logic of "coercive paternalism"--of government-imposed restrictions designed to promote individual welfare--would apply more strongly when individuals are dependent on government for financial support of their welfare. To put it another way, someone who is financially autonomous has a stronger argument that he ought to be personally autonomous. We're not sure what Conly thinks of that argument--the $95 cover price (0% off at Amazon) has nudged us away from acquiring her book--but we suspect she adheres less strongly to "coercive paternalism" than to the orthodoxies of contemporary left-liberalism.

An even better example is this observation from Sunstein's review: "Because hers is a paternalism of means rather than ends, she would not authorize government to stamp out sin (as, for example, by forbidding certain forms of sexual behavior)."

What a staggering cop-out. The past 50 years or so have seen a massive deregulation of personal behavior in the sexual sphere, a revolution of law, technology, custom and economics, all in the name of personal autonomy. Never mind "sin"--this has had bad consequences for public health (AIDS and other new sexually transmitted diseases), for children (far more of whom are born out of wedlock and reared without fathers), and even for the future of the welfare state (since declining fertility makes old-age entitlements unsustainable).

It may be that the sexual revolution is irreversible and the concomitant problems are intractable. If Conly lacks the imagination to come up with policy solutions, so do we. But if she dismisses this enormous question as a matter of "sin" and focuses instead on trivia like soda-size regulations, why should we take her philosophy seriously?
140  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness - Life of Julia on: December 06, 2016, 09:22:26 AM
Can't really say goodbye to the Glibness without asking ... who the hell is Julia and why am I paying for her whole life?

https://pjmedia.com/claudiarosett/escape-from-the-life-of-julia/
http://humanevents.com/2012/05/03/who-the-hell-is-julia-and-why-am-i-paying-for-her-whole-life/
141  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: December 06, 2016, 09:18:48 AM
BTW, apparently last week the Chinese flew nuclear capable planes around Taiwan.
I am assuming the Obama administration sprung into action at this provocative act towards a country we are obligated to defend.
Perhaps a red line was drawn?

Right.  And what is the evidence that China walks on eggshells worrying what the US (Pres. Obama) thinks about their every provocative move?

It was a phone call.  Marc Thiessen, Washington Post, also thought it was brilliant.  Just saying, under new management shortly.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-taiwan-call-wasnt-a-blunder-it-was-brilliant/2016/12/05/d10169a2-bb00-11e6-ac85-094a21c44abc_story.html?utm_term=.f9d0f781699f
142  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hillary's Final Disgrace, Bill Whittle on: December 05, 2016, 10:50:04 PM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2UQuk14Xv4
143  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US-China (& Japan, South China Sea-- Vietnam, Philippines, etc) on: December 05, 2016, 10:39:33 PM
I love how China has been slapping Obama in the face with their dicks and the US MSM has done zero coverage of it, and now suddenly Trump taking a phone call from Taiwan is the end of the fcuking world.

Great move by Trump even if he was only taking an incoming call.

Mike Pence to Stephie Stephanopoulus:  “It's a little mystifying to me that President Obama can reach out to a murdering dictator in Cuba in the last year and be hailed as a hero for doing it and President-elect Donald Trump takes a courtesy call from a democratically elected leader in Taiwan and it’s become something of a controversy,”

Well put.

A democratically elected leader of 24 million people in a crucial and strategic area of the world, why wouldn't you take the call?
144  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Media, Ministry of Truth - MSM major newspaper endorsements 57 Hillary-2 Trump on: December 05, 2016, 10:29:54 PM
G M: "No one cares what they [MSM] have to say. If Trump were to walk on water, the MSM would scream "Trump aquaphobic!"

 grin  

Among those  getting it wrong this past election, the major newspaper endorsements were 57-2 Hillary over Trump.

Still, the continuous drivel takes a toll.  It is possible to overcome them when they are dead wrong but their echo chamber and wide reach will eat up a Republican or conservative when he or she screws up.

Besides almost every network and newspaper, also caught in the left bias are Google and Facebook.
------------------------

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/304606-final-newspaper-endorsement-count-clinton-57-trump-2  
And the people went a different way.
  
Final newspaper endorsement count: Clinton 57, Trump 2

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has received fewer endorsements from the editorial boards of the nation's largest newspapers than any major-party presidential candidate in history.  Among the top 100 largest newspapers in America, just two — the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville — endorsed Trump. The Review-Journal is owned by Sheldon Adelson.
145  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Carson at HUD on: December 05, 2016, 06:42:31 PM

It's risky to take responsibility for a big, failed bureaucracy, but I see good coming out of this.  People in the black inner cities need some kind of contact with one of the great black conservative minds and personalities of our time, and this appointment presents that opportunity.  Someone needs to reach out and inspire people with a message different than the race and welfare baiters are selling and Ben Carson has the potential to do that. 

What's wrong in HUD housing is not the houses or the costs.  Housing is a people business.
146  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Trump Transition/Administration on: December 05, 2016, 06:34:47 PM
"I couldn't be less interested in the corrupt left's pearl clutching over theoretical ethical issues with Trump as they ignore actual bodies from the ignored scandals of Obama."

It's okay for the msm to go nuts over him but what Trump can't do is let his approval levels slip to George Bush's ending levels. If 29% stick with him and the rest turn against him, nothing will get done.  

The Trump business is a conflict, they feed off of favors from foreign governments and it isn't easy to divest or distance himself from it.  But not solving that affects the Supreme Court, healthcare, tax reform, etc. IMHO.  I hope he has a good plan.
147  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Representative Keith Ellison on: December 04, 2016, 12:56:42 PM
"Please make him the DNC head! Please!"

First expose him for what he is and what he stands for, then watch them choose their leader and direction in full knowledge and in public view.

Until now, Minneapolis liberals just thought they had a good guy.  That won't be but ought to be reconsidered.

As suggested, he should be a serious political liability for them wherever he serves.

This is a rare case of facts breaking through the mainstream media wall. 

They still haven't hit his war on police past.
148  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Outing Keith Ellison, from Powerline outward on: December 04, 2016, 10:25:54 AM
As he spearheaded the takedown of Dan Rather, Scott Johnson of Powerline has researched this and stayed with it until it reached all the new right media and is now reaching the so-called mainstream.  When Ellison was only relevant to 80℅ liberal Minneapolis, no one CAIRed, as head of the whole, failed DNC, people are starting to take note.

And what a 50 year old said in office in 2010 is not a youthful discretion.

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/12/ellisonian-gleanings.php
POSTED ON DECEMBER 4, 2016 BY SCOTT JOHNSON IN DEMOCRATS, WHO IS KEITH ELLISON?
ELLISONIAN GLEANINGS
Keith Ellison is trying to plug the leaks that have sprung in his nascent campaign to head the Democratic National Committee. Ellison seeks to plug the leaks with lies and he’s lying as fast as he can talk. Let’s tune on him in action.

Last week the Investigative Project on Terrorism released audio of Ellison speaking during a 2010 political fundraiser, criticizing what he saw as the inappropriate and disproportionate influence Israel carries over American foreign policy. The IPT audio caught Ellison on tape: “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million,” said Ellison, D-Minn. “Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes. Can I say that again?”

This was enough for the Anti-Defamation League to dismount from Ellison’s train. The ADL’s left-wing executive director Jonathan Greenblatt has succumbed to institutional imperatives. Greenblatt has declared Ellison’s comments “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.” That’s because, “whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives.”

Jonathan Martin reports in the New York Times that Ellison responded in an open letter to the ADL. Hey, in 2006 it worked for him with the Jewish Community Relations Council in Minneapolis. Why not now?

In his open letter to the ADL Ellison falsely claimed that “the audio released was selectively edited and taken out of context.” He also claimed that he was merely “responding to a question about how Americans with roots in the Middle East could engage in the political process in a more effective way.” And then he chose to attack the IPT, as he has “right-wing blogs” closer to home.

In “”Keith Ellison’s disinformation campaign” the IPT has now posted the complete audio of Ellison’s remarks. It responds: “None of Ellison’s comments are true.” That’s what I’ve been saying now for 10 years.

None of Ellison’s comments in his 2006 letter to the JCRC letter was true either. This time around, however, Ellison lacks the protection of a cow town’s local paper and its devoutly Democratic Jewish power brokers.

On the contrary, one major national Democratic donor and power broker has been paying attention. He’s got Ellison’s number. Speaking on Friday at the gala dinner organized by the Brookings Institution in connection with the Saban Forum, Haim Saban unloaded on Ellison: “If you listen to Keith Ellison today, and you see his statements he’s more of a Zionist than Herzl, and Ben Gurion and Begin combined. It’s amazing, it’s a beautiful thing. If you go back to his positions, his statements, his speeches, the way’s he voted, he’s clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”

That signifies. Ron Kampeas covers Saban’s remarks on Ellison at length for the JTA in “Saban says Keith Ellison’s DNC win would bring ‘disaster’ to relationship between Jews and Dems.” Martin notes Saban’s remarks in “Question facing Ellison: Could he lead DNC as part-timer?”

Ellison is lying as fast as he can. In response to national interest the University of Minnesota Daily posted the complete works of “Keith E. Hakim,” Ellison’s four columns advocating the Nation of Islam line in 1989-1990 as a third-year student at the University of Minnesota Law School. In the columns Ellison called for reparations and a separate black nation. Ellison explicated his columns for the hometown crowd on Minnesota Public Radio last week: “Those stories were tongue in cheek when I wrote them. It was over 26 years ago.” I think this falls into the category of nonresponse response: “People are going to try and dig up stuff to undermine my candidacy, but we’ve all been on a life journey and have hopefully learned something over the past quarter century, and I have too.”

This is a variation of Ellison’s claims of ignorance of what he was doing in the Nation of Islam after his graduation from law school while he was on the make in Minneapolis. He put it this way on Medium last week: “In my effort to pursue justice for the African-American community, I neglected to scrutinize the words of those like Khalid Muhammed and Farrakhan who mixed a message of African American empowerment with scapegoating of other communities. These men organize by sowing hatred and division, including, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a chauvinistic model of manhood. I disavowed them long ago, condemned their views, and apologized.”

Does the Democratic National Committee really want to join Ellison on his “life journey”? We shall see.
149  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Trump Transition/Administration, Taiwan call on: December 04, 2016, 10:08:36 AM
Kudos from this poster to the Pres-elect for that long needed move.

Reagan didn't do that as he faced down the bigger Soviet threat but I think would fully support the idea that Taiwan is our ally and the PRC/PLA is a rival or worse.

It was a phone call, not nuclear attack, and it got their attention.

Talk about fake news, the idea that Taiwan doesn't exist and Cuba, N.K., Iran, etc. are US and UK recognized countries is Orwellian and insane.
150  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: US Economics, the stock market , and other investment/savings strategies on: December 04, 2016, 09:48:52 AM
Thou100% agreed that spending and deficit/debt remain huge and growing, but it does look like the tax code and Obamacare may well be about to be fixed and the zero interest rate policies too.  These are all BFDs and IMHO the potential for a  real take off in economic growth is very real. 

True about Trump's proposals and the economic growth that should follow if enacted.  Also consider in the difficulty of passing major reforms.  Not just Trump's and Ryan's views but the policy views of Hillary Clinton clone Claire McCaskill, the 8th most moderate Democrat Senator needed to reach 60 votes are suddenly and potentially decisive.  ((((

If the market assumes that tax reform and healthcareare repeal are coming and something less transpires, what then for the markets?

On GM's point, also look at the big unfunded liabilities not likely to be addressed.  Doubling our growth rate, if it happens, is a step not a fix for a bankrupt trajectory.

If the Obama stock run-up was partly tied to QE and that is ended, what effect has that?   And if the stock indices run-ups were skewed because they track the most entrenched companies protected from disruption by excessive regulations and that is reversed ...  what then?  The DOW 30, NASDAQ 100 or S&P 500 going up and up and up without interruption or correction as a stagnant economy becomes dynamic, is that a certainty? (No.)

I make no prediction, just agree that the fix is not started but more possible to do now than it has been for a very long time.
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