Friday, February 23, 2018

Huntington and the Russians

I have been mystified by why the NYT and Washington Post hate Russia so much and are engaging in yellow journalism fomenting war with Russia.  I thought it was because of the Jewish connection.  So many of their journalists and editors are Jewish, and Jews have a long (1,000 years) history of subjugation by Russian Slavs, so that hatred of Russians is embedded in Jewish DNA.  Israel is in many ways a country populated by Russians.  Most American Jews are Ashkenazi Jews from Central Europe (often dominated by Russia) or from Russia itself. 

An old article that I am reading, maybe for the first time, raises the possibility that there are changes in Russia which may call for a reorientation in US policy toward Moscow.  Samuel Huntington says in "Clash of Civilizations":

"If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual."
 Clash of Civilizations (Page 25).

Arguably this is happening.  Putin may not be becoming another Stalin, but another Tsar.  Under the Tsars, Russia considered itself a European country, but with a strong Asiatic component, given its Asian and Middle Eastern components on the fringes of the Russian territory.  Moscow and St. Petersburg remained European, and if anything, Putin has increased the importance of St. Petersburg, Russia's European capital under the Tsars. 

I think Putin was inclined to make Russian a Western, European country, but the West pushed him away.  Russia's former empire in Central Europe, the Warsaw Pact, completely abandoned it after the fall of the Berlin wall.  NATO pushed farther and father east, until it came to Ukraine, whose capital, Kiev, was the original capital of Russia. 

While the West saw Russia's refusal to let Ukraine go and join the rest of the old Warsaw Pact as part of Europe, it might have been that Putin did not want to give up his last connection to the West and make Russia a solely Asiatic power.  Putin could have seen the refusal of the US and Europe to allow Ukraine to stay in the Russian orbit as saying, "Russia, we hate you and want nothing to do with you."  If so, Putin may have taken offense at this putdown.  The result may be the increasing tension between Russia and the West.  This would have little to do with Jewish control of American media and politics. 

Lest we forget, Russia under the tsars defeated Napoleon in 1812, beginning his removal as emperor of France.  In World War II, Stalin defeated Hitler, beginning his defeat.  Russia has played key roles in European history. 

I guess the question for me is, did Jews in the West significantly influence the decision to move against Russia by moving NATO to its front door and excluding it from various European activities, G-7 versus G-8 meetings, for example.  Russia was included in the G-8, but since the invasion of Crimea, it has been excluded and now the meetings just consist of the G-7 (no Russia).  Jews have been prominent in the foreign policy bureaucracy of both Democratic and Republican administrations.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Russia Did on Social Media Was Not Illegal

What the Russians did on social media during the 2016 election was not illegal.  It may have been mean-spirited or morally dishonest, but it did not violate the law.  It's not illegal to create bots on social media, and it's not illegal to spread fake news, unless it violates an old, somewhat irrelevant law, such as libel.  See

This article reports on the creation of millions of Twitter bots, many based on real people, which are sold to minor celebrities and others to increase the number of their Twitter followers.  The article implies in passing that fake users may also be a problem for Facebook, but it only reports on Twitter.  Facebook has somewhat more stringent controls on who can open a Facebook account, while Twitter has almost no controls.  It does, however, claim that it does not want fraudulent users and removes them when they are called to its attention. 

The Twitter bots in the article are mostly used for advertising, but some are political; usually there are bots that espouse both sides of controversial issues, some leftist bots, some conservative bots.  However, the article does not claim that this activity violates any laws, although it may violate Twitter policies. 

If it's not illegal for a company in Miami to do this, it doesn't seem like it is illegal for a business (or government) in Moscow to do so.  Fake news is a problem, but so far not illegal.  The bigger problem is that Americans are so gullible that they fall for it.  I don't see how the government is going to limit fake news without getting into censorship.  Alreeady I think some of the procedures instituted by Twitter and Facebook border on censorship, although as private entities they do not have same high bar that the government does. 

Another consideration is that through the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe the US has directed news at the old Soviet Union, and now at Russia for many years. Although it was not fake, it was intended to bring down the Soviet Union, and it did.  I would guess, although I do not know of an example, that the CIA has planted fake news over the years. 

In a brief web search, I found this article about the CIA deceiving not only the Soviet Union, but the American people as well. 

What's going on now with fake news is bad, but it's not new. 

Debt Service and Mick Mulveney

People are talking about the huge deficit Trump's new budget will create and what that will do to the overall deficit.  The stock market tanked recently when there were fears that inflation was returning and the Fed would raise interest rates higher and more quickly.  So far, nobody is talking about what happens when these two things come together.  A huge public debt and high interest rates mean that paying interest on the debt will take up a bigger and bigger piece of the federal budget, leaving less money for everything from the military to medicare.  It's a problem that only gets worse.  Higher debt means investors from pension funds to the Chinese government will be less willing to buy US bonds, and that will mean the government will have to pay higher interest to get people to buy them. 

Mick Mulveney, Trump's Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is the man who is supposed to keep the budget under control. I worry that he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor in the Reagan administration, David Stockman.  Stockman and his Republican colleagues encouraged Reagan to cut taxes deeply.  Their idea was that once taxes were cut, there would be no money to fund the liberal programs, like Medicare and food stamps, that they disliked.  However, Stockman misjudged Reagan.  When push came to shove, Reagan was unwilling to cut these programs that helped poor and ordinary people. Reagan was too soft-hearted for Stockman.  As a result, Reagan cut taxes, but not spending, leading to huge deficits and the federal debt that we face today. 

It now looks like, not only Trump, but the entire Republican party (except for Rand Paul) has followed in Reagan's footsteps and ceased to worry about unfunded government spending and the deficits and increased debit that it brings.  Stockman has gone on to make millions in New York, but so has Donald Trump.  Nobody knows what the mplications are of this debt load, because there has never been anything like it before.  What it brings for smaller nations who have less control over financial markets is usually austerity and recession to pay for the years of carefree spending.  We'll see if the US profligacy will end any better will end any better than it has for other nations. 

One example that worries me, given the important role of Jews in the US government and the financial sector, is Germany between the world wars.  Germany found itself in terrible financial straits after World War I.  It could not pay the huge debts it had incurred to finance the war.  It printed money and inflation became rampant.  At that time Jews became very prominent in German business and financial affairs.  One study reports that

In the early 20th century, a dense corporate network was created among large German corporations, with about 16 percent of the members of this corporate network of Jewish background. At the centre of the network (big linkers) about 25 percent were Jewish. The percentage of Jews in the general population was less than one percent in 1914.
This outsized influence of Jewish businessmen and bankers enabled Hitler to blame the Jews for many of the hardships the average German population was experiencing in the 1930s.  It influenced many average Germans to accept his increasing persecution of Jews.  Let us hope that America does not end up like Germany, with Jews presiding over a failing country that cannot pay its debts.  Chuck Schumer, Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Michael Bloomberg, Lloyd Blankfein, Larry Fink, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg and company would do well to help America get its financial house in order, 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Opposition to DACA

I am against special treatment for DACA "Dreamers."

My first job in the Foreign Service was as a vice-consul issuing visas at the American Consulate General in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the 1970s.  Every time I refused a visa to a Brazilian applicant because I thought he might try to work illegally in the US, I felt badly because I knew if he lived in Mexico, he could just walk across the border into the US.  That was not an option for Brazilians, especially poor ones for whom travel was expensive. 

For immigrant visas, two of the most important requirements were that the visa applicant have a labor certification that he or she would not take a job in America that would displace an American worker, and that he or she had sufficient financial resources so that they would not become a public charge and receive welfare benefits.  Mexicans illegally entering the US did not have to meet either of these tests.  On the one hand, DACA advocates argue that illegals only take jobs that Americans will not do; on the other hand, PBS and other pro-DACA news media show many DACA candidates who are studying to be doctors, lawyers, or computer scientists, or who have started successful businesses.  Which is it?  It's some of both, but interestingly, many of the low wage Mexican workers probably displace African-Americans.  Democrats don't worry about African-Americans, because they are guaranteed to vote Democratic.  To assuage black concerns about losing jobs to Mexicans, Democrats will give them lots of welfare. 

The Democrats are pushing for DACA because they expect Mexicans will vote Democratic and they want as many of them in the US as possible to build up the Democratic base, even if it takes a few years to get them the vote. 

The American immigration system has been broken for at least 50 years.  It is sort of the reverse image of our drug laws.  We have relatively few immigrants in prison, even for serious crimes, while we have many drug users in jail for minor crimes.  Both represent failed policies and poor law enforcement. 

We should be somewhat concerned about hardships imposed on Dreamers; we don't have to put all of them on buses back to Mexico tomorrow.   But we should enforce applicable laws in a humane fashion.  While they are here, I don't think we should give them lots of money, whether for subsistence, health care, or other necessities.  If they can't support themselves, send them back to Mexico sooner rather than later, and let the Mexican government support them.  They should also show some interest in becoming Americans, whether as citizens or permanent residents, not just in working or going to school here because they just happen to be here.  The whole point of DACA is that these kids did not want to come to America; they were dragged here. 

People say that children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents, but if the parents rob a bank, the children should not be allowed to keep the money their parents stole.  Allowing Dreamers to stay in the US is a benefit for which they should be prepared to work and sacrifice.  If they don't want to, send them back to Mexico. 

I was concerned during the government shutdown that the Democratic Party was putting the interests of Mexicans (Dreamers) ahead of the interests of American citizens, such as military veterans.  The VA hospital in Denver is an illustration of government's perverse priorities.  Millions, maybe billions, have been paid to contractors and other political donors to construct an empty building that is an insult to veterans.  While veterans die, Democrats cry tears for Dreamers and shovel money out the door to help them.  I understand that Mexicans are the future of the Democratic Party and that they must buy their votes now to strengthen the party in future years, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Americans. 

I do not care much about building a wall.  The wall is symbolic.  If we build it, it is concrete proof that we are serious about enforcing immigration laws.  If we don't build it, it means we will carry on with business as usual, ignoring many laws already on the books.  

Monday, January 08, 2018

Michael Wolff Is Austin Powers

Think you've seen Michael Wolff before?  Is it Austin Powers, international man of mystery, or just Mini-Me grown up? 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Brooks on Democracy

Brooks on Democracy David Brooks has a good column in the NYT on the virtues of democracy, “The Glory of Democracy,” but one questions he fails to deal with is who should participate in it. When the US was created, the founding fathers limited the vote to older, white, male citizens who owned property. If we still had these restrictions, the US government would look very different from how it does today. The founding fathers did not even trust this limited electorate, but instituted indirect elections for the most important offices, such as the electoral college for the Presidential election. They thought rough hewn voters would electe better educated, wiser men to make the final choice, hopefully adhering more closely to the ideals Mann and Brooks espouse.

 Mann and Brooks say that in an ideal world voters would “seek justice, freedom and truth.” I haven’t heard anybody campaign on those issues lately. Mann says democracy should encourage everybody to make the best of their capacities, to seek beauty and truth. Today we see mainly people whom Mann would call the enemies of democracy, seeking money, status, and a free lunch from the government.

 Brooks aims his criticism at the Trump Republicans as the crass money grubbers, but Trump is President because so many Americans saw the Democrats squandering the national inheritance of property and decency built up over hundreds of years through trial, error and hardship. Democrats espoused lofty goals, but sold them out for personal power and cronyism.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Browder, Putin, Congress, and the Magnitsky Act

William Browder was born in America, made billions in Russia during the 1990s, renounced his American citizenship in 1998, and then persuaded the Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012, punishing Putin and his friends after Putin barred Browder from Russia in 2006.  

The Magnitsky Act was the subject of the famous meeting between Donald Trump,Jr., and the Russian lawyer Natalia Vishnevskaya, that Trump famously said was about adoption, which it was.  After the US Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, in retaliation Putin passed a Russian law banning US adoption of Russian children.  

Of course, the main, underlying issue for Browder, Putin, and the Congress is money, particularly Jewish money.  Born in Chicago, Browder is Jewish.  His grandfather, Earl Browder, was the head of the Communist Party of the USA in the 1940s, when he was also a spy for the Soviet Union, according to Wikipedia.  

When the Soviet Union began to self-destruct under Yeltsin in the 1990s, Browder was there to grab some of the old Communist government assets that were being sold off for pennies on the dollar.  He was then still an American, but many of his Jewish colleagues were native Russians who also grabbed the opportunity to buy up these assets.  Several of the original Russian oligarchs were ethnic Russian Jews -- Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Fridman,  and Alexander Smolensky.  Under Putin a new group of Russian oligarchs has been created, which according to Wikipedia includes Roman Abramovich, Alexander Abramov, Oleg Deripaska, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alisher Usmanov, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg, Leonid Mikhelson, Vagit Alekperov, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Potanin, Pyotr Aven, and Vitaly Malkin.  About half of the Putin oligarchs are also ethnically Jewish Russians.  Browder did not make the cut under Putin.  

In 1996 Browder founded Hermitage Capital Management with wealthy Jewish banker Edmond Safra to invest in Russian businesses.  As time passed, Browder felt that the Russian government was illegally taking or extorting money from the companies he had invested in, and he began exposing this Russian corruption.  In 2006 Browder was blacklisted by the Russian government.  A Russian raid on Hermitage offices found papers that the government said showed Hermitage had engaged in illegally claiming tax deductions.  In the process, they arrested Sergei Magnitsky, Hermiatage’s auditor, who died from mistreatment in prison.  Browder then persuaded the Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which targeted people around Putin who had been connected to Magnitsky death, preventing them from traveling to the US or using its banking system.  Putin then banned US adoptions, which was sort of a target of opportunity because it was a divisive issue in the news when Putin wanted to punish the US.  

I don’t understand why the US Congress was so quick to act on the request of a man who had renounced his American citizenship.  Browder couched his request in human rights terms, punishing Russia for torturing his auditor, but in fact it was largely Browder’s personal revenge against Putin for banning him from the Russian cookie jar where he had been making millions.  He essentially said, if you punish me, I will punish you by banning your buddies from the American cookie jar.  It was tit-for-tat financial retaliation, under color of human rights legislation.  It was probably a politically useful weapon as the US-Russian relationship deteriorated and Putin and Obama developed a personal animosity towards each other.  However, it made Browder appear to have enormous power over the US government, pushing the US into open hostility towards Putin.  I would think that if the US were going to do an enormous financial favor for someone, that person would at least be a US citizen, but Browder was not.  He had such contempt for the US that he had renounced his citizenship, but Congress still fawned over him and pandered to him.  You would think he was in the DACA program.  

Now this huge mess, which mainly affects  Browder and Jewish Russian oligarchs, threatens to envelop the whole Trump presidency.    

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Income Inequality and Public Relations

Martin Wolf’s column in the Financial Times on “A Republican Tax Plan Built for Plutocrats” raised an interesting issue for me as a former Southerner.  Wolf wrote:

The pre-civil war South was extremely unequal, not just in the population as a whole, which included the slaves, but even among free whites. A standard measure of inequality jumped by 70 per cent among whites between 1774 and 1860. As the academics Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson note, “Any historian looking for the rise of a poor white underclass in the Old South will find it in this evidence.” The 1860 census also shows that the median wealth of the richest 1 per cent of Southerners was more than three times that of the richest 1 per cent of Northerners. Yet the South was also far less dynamic….

The South was a plutocracy. In the civil war, whose stated aim was defence of slavery, close to 300,000 Confederate soldiers died. A majority of these men had no slaves. Yet their racial and cultural fears justified the sacrifice. Ultimately, this mobilisation brought death or defeat upon them all. Nothing better reveals the political potency of tribalism.
Why wasn’t the antebellum South more upset by income inequality.  My great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War as a colonel in the 21st Alabama regiment, moved to Mobile, Alabama, from Iowa just a few years before the war started.  He worked for a Mobile silversmith, James Conning, and had no slaves.  During the war, he was often so short of money that he asked to Mr. Conning to help out  his wife while he was away fighting.  (See From That Terrible Field by John Folmar.)  There were, no doubt, some in the South who resented the wealthy plantation owners, but as Gone with the Wind brings out, most Southerners looked at the aristocracy favorably, while the aristocracy exercised a sort of benevolent dictatorship that cared for the lower classes, even if they didn't do much to improve their situation.  

The lesson for me then is that income inequality is less of a problem if there is a friendly relationship between the classes.  The aristocracy had a sense of “noblesse oblige.”  In the South, this relationship had been built up over generations, and was made easier to bear because income and class inequality was widespread and accepted in in Europe at that time.  The US was much more democratic than Europe, which lessened the perception of differences in America.  We had rebelled against the British royalty and their decrees: “No taxation without representation.”  We declared that “All men are created equal.”  There was a softening at both ends, with the aristocracy showing sympathy for the lower classes, and the lower classes feeling empowered by their power in the democracy.  

Alexis de Tocqueville was apparently not as impressed with the South as he was of the Northern United States.  He thought that slavery and the agrarian economy made the South less responsive to the democratic trends sweeping the North.  But this view ignores the fact that many of the leaders of Revolution and creation of the new country were Southerners, particularly from Virginia , the bastion of the plantation aristocracy, or plutocracy as Martin Wolf calls it.  Most of the early Presidents came from Virginia, starting with Washington, as did many other political leaders.  The fact that Southern secession was widely supported in the Southern states is evidence of the support by the lower classes of the slave-holding aristocracy.  

Today, one problem of the aristocracy of the 0.1 percent is that they are not widely liked by the lower classes particularly by the white middle class.  Many of the upper one percent are recent arrivals in the US -- Jews, Indians, Asians -- who have made no effort to ingratiate themselves with the broader population.  If anything, they have isolated themselves in Manhattan or Silicon Valley.  Mark Zuckerberg went on some sort of a tour of the US, which turned out to be mainly a joke.  Buzzfeed reports that the trip increased Zuckerberg’s Q Score, a popularity rating, from 14 percent to 16 percent, about the same as Ashton Kutcher, Rachael Ray, Charles Barkley, Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban.  Elon Musk’s Q Score is 24%.  Tom Hanks has a Q Score of 46%.  Billionaires are not particularly well liked.  

The billionaires’ contempt for everybody else explains the resentment against them, and thus the rising concern about inequality.  The public perception is that these people don’t deserve the wealth and privilege they hold, that they gained it dishonestly, even if they came up with some brilliant new invention.  I would guess that Steve Jobs is viewed much more favorably that Bill Gates, because Jobs was concerned about the beauty and functionality of the products he built, while Bill Gates pretty much only cared about the money.  He is trying to make amends by giving money away now, but he has lots of evil to atone for.  Today’s billionaires might take a lesson in public relations from the plantation owners of the old South.