Friday Reads: To Sir, with Love

Good Day Sky Dancers!

In the last few years, we’ve seen the loss of the cultural and historical icons of the twentieth century.  I’m pretty convinced that we’ve seen the end of American dominance since the World Wars, so this just seals the deal. We’re losing the last of heroes of the American Century.  Sidney Poitier was a fixture in the Civil Rights Movement and one of the stars of the Golden Age of Cinema and TV. He passed quietly yesterday at the age of 94.

I loved many of his movies, but my most vivid memory of him was watching ‘In the Heat of the Night’ in a small downtown theatre in Estes Park, Colorado, with my parents and sister. It was probably the first serious adult movie I’d ever seen with its themes of violence and racism.  Here is an excerpt from his New York Times Obit.

In 1967 Mr. Poitier appeared in three of Hollywood’s top-grossing films, elevating him to the peak of his popularity. “In the Heat of Night” placed him opposite Rod Steiger, as an indolent, bigoted sheriff, with whom Virgil Tibbs, the Philadelphia detective played by Mr. Poitier, must work on a murder investigation in Mississippi. (In an indelible line, the detective insists on the sheriff’s respect when he declares, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”) In “To Sir, With Love,” he was a concerned teacher in a tough London high school, and in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a taboo-breaking film about an interracial couple, he played a doctor whose race tests the liberal principles of his prospective in-laws, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Throughout his career, a heavyweight of racial significance bore down on Mr. Poitier and the characters he played. “I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” he once wrote.

Mr. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, but he was born on Feb. 20, 1927, in Miami, where his parents regularly traveled to sell their tomato crop. The youngest of nine children, he wore clothes made from flour sacks and never saw a car, looked in a mirror, or tasted ice cream until his father, Reginald, moved the family from Cat Island to Nassau in 1937 after Florida banned the import of Bahamian tomatoes.

When he was 12, Mr. Poitier quit school and became a water boy for a crew of pick-and-shovel laborers. He also began getting into mischief, and his parents, worried that he was becoming a juvenile delinquent, sent him to Miami when he was 14 to live with a married brother, Cyril.

Mr. Poitier had known nothing of segregation growing up on Cat Island, so the rules governing American Black people in the South came as a shock. “It was all over the place like barbed wire,” he later said of American racism. “And I kept running into it and lacerating myself.”

In less than a year he fled Miami for New York, arriving with $3 and change in his pocket. He took jobs washing dishes and working as a ditch digger, waterfront laborer and delivery man in the garment district. Life was grim. During a race riot in Harlem, he was shot in the leg. He saved his nickels so that on cold nights he could sleep in pay toilets.

US President Barack Obama awards American actor Sidney Poitier the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on 12 August 2009.

Sir Sidney was a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He holds a place in the International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame.

Born February 20, 1927, Sidney Poitier’s pioneering career has had a tremendous impact on American culture. In the early ’50s, he was the top and virtually sole African-American film star—the first black actor to become a hero to both black and white audiences. Poitier was also the first black actor to win a prestigious international film award. With his unique career, Sidney Poitier helped change many stubborn racial attitudes that had persisted in this country for centuries. He has built the bridges and opened the doors for countless artists in succeeding generations. He is an actor who stood for hope, for excellence, and who has given happiness to millions of people around the world. Paying tribute to Sidney Poitier in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom.”

Many things are going on in our country’s governance today. There are discussions about expanding the number of judges on the Supreme Court, reforming the filibuster, the economic boom with the accompanying price increases, and the incredible amount of information the January 6 Committee has received from a variety of former staffers to all levels of Republican Insurrectionists. Let me highlight some of them.

There are many big lies told by Trumperz and Trumpists.

Meadows lied on Fox’s Hannity about Trump’s dealings with troops  to secure the capitol on January 6.:

Just one month after the attack, Meadows appeared on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” and made this claim: “As many as 10,000 National Guard troops were told to be on the ready by the secretary of defense. That was a direct order from President Trump.”

Fact Checkers at the Washington Post  fact checked reporting by a Vanity Fair reporter who was there at the time of the discussion. Fox and Meadows are caught in another big lie. It never went anywhere.

It’s always dismaying when false claims that were previously debunked turn up as accepted facts months later. Yet, increasingly, Fox News hosts and their guests appear to live in a world untethered by the truth.

As we have documented before, President Donald Trump never requested 10,000 National Guard troops to secure the Capitol that day. He threw out a number, in casual conversation, that is now regarded by his supporters as a lifeline to excuse his inaction when a mob inspired by his rhetoric invaded the Capitol.

This is an exciting read. I’ve never completely understood the filibuster other than it’s basically a relic of the old south its ongoing problems with slavery and racism.

People often overestimate the depth of the filibuster’s roots. When the Senate voted in 2013 to invoke the “nuclear option” to approve presidential nominees, then-Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) wrote in The Washington Post that sidestepping the filibuster was “the most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them.” More recently, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) defended the filibuster in the Charleston Gazette-Mail by saying, “Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in  specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy.”

True — but the filibuster was not one of these checks and balances. The Senate did not have any provision for a supermajority on legislation for its first 17 years. Like the House, its rules allowed a “motion for the previous question,” where a majority could move directly to vote. That provision was taken out in 1806, when Vice President Aaron Burr cleaned up what he regarded as extraneous provisions in the Senate’s cluttered rule book. For decades after the change, the status quo largely prevailed — until the 1840s, when John C. Calhoun exploited the motion’s absence to stall anti-slavery action by talking at length on the floor, joined by allies. His adversaries had no ability to stop the talk. From the 20th century on, the rules changed multiple times, always to make it easier for the majority to overcome a filibuster and move to action.

Biden will have some great information on the economy to share but will it really convince those of us that are experiences the challenges of the Covid-19 economy? Economist Noah Smith calls this the “Biden Boom”. 

The official numbers aren’t in yet, but In the 4th quarter of 2021, the United States economy is believed to have grown by about 5.5% or 6% (annualized rate). That’s a pretty incredible number, when you consider that the consensus forecast for China is only 3.5% in the same quarter. But things get even more impressive when you look at the employment numbers. The unemployment rate probably fell to 4.1% in December — a number below what we used to think to think of as the “natural rate” of unemployment.

If you told me in April 2020 that unemployment would be 4.1% by December 2021, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here we are.

Of course, after the Great Recession, we all got very used to looking past headline unemployment numbers, to see who is actually working. But now when we do that, we see that all the other numbers tell the same story. U6, the broadest measure of unemployment plus underemployment, is down to the level of 2018 or 2006. And my personal favorite labor market indicator, the prime-age employment-to-population ratio, is back to the level of late 2017.

Other indicators also show an extremely healthy labor market. While some have interpreted rising quits as a sign of a “Great Resignation”, the truth is that this mostly just reflects job churn; people are quitting in order to get better jobs, because the opportunities are so good. To see that, check out this graph from the Economic Policy Institute, showing that hires are greater than quits pretty much everywhere:

He’s got some wonky  FRED graphs to back up the analysis.  And, this folks explains why we see some inflation.  But, that’s not a problem; the Fed needs to bump the interest rates up to more normal levels and out of historical lows. This is an economy we haven’t seen for a long time, and it’s kind’ve exciting!

The hearing to sentencing for the three murderers of Ahmaud Arbery is in court right now.  Read more at the ABC link.

Well, I think that’s enough for me today. Happy Carnival Season!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Oh, it’s so on this year!  There are sights to see and

this song to sing!


Friday Reads: The Right to Vote is Essential to Addressing the Issues of Our Time

Marc Chagall – Saint-Paul de Vance at Sunset, 1977

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I hope your week went well and your weekend goes better! I think I’m fully moved into my new phone and zapped then returned the old one. I’m about to start switching over to the new computer tomorrow.  I just have a few more adulting things to do and I, fortunately, don’t need the camera and mic until Sunday.

American Life is so abnormal that I am really glad that I don’t have to drag myself into a classroom until January. I’ve dealt with teaching far worse economies and financial markets so that’s not the challenge. Part of me is just bugged by the fact I can’t depend on any American to do the right thing in this latest surge of Pandemic. Indeed, I’m actually thinking I may be back on Zoom instead of behind a podium next year. I think our economy is looking resilient and the financial markets are functional.  What I think is dysfunctional is the way America does business. That’s the model that doesn’t work. It’s especially not working now. The extreme nature of the American ideological take on Capitalism is causing all kinds of things just to not work.

Then, there’s the weather situation which was elucidated in an article in The Guardian that BB posted yesterday. We’re not just experiencing extreme weather. It’s extreme and unique. This week we had temperatures never reported before in December in places like St. Paul. We continue to have severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in the midwest in December. These records are not only record-setting. These instances are making records because their occurences are unknown to us in modern times. Between the weather and the global pandemic, we need to strengthen and address flaws in our institutions before it all kills nearly everything.

Marc Chagall, Bouquets de Lilas a Saint-Paul (Bouquets of Lilacs at Saint-Paul), 1978

I do want to address the new push to reinstate and further Voting Rights and why it’s so important. First, I want to address what I’ve said above by sharing this Article in VOX by Anna North. “The world as we know it is ending. Why are we still at work? From the pandemic to climate change, Americans are still expected to work no matter what happens.”

It’s a good question to ask and it’s being asked by the workers at Kellogg’s including the one I spent my teen years viewing out school windows and those of my house on the hill.  The plant in Omaha is way across on another hill where you can always see the big ol’ red Kellogg’s signature on the building. My thought was always the same. I’m never going to put myself in a place where I have to endlessly and mindlessly drop trinkets in cereal boxes for at least 8 hours a day.  Yesterday, on MSNBC, I heard from Senator Sanders that some workers worked overtime for 100-120 consecutive days at Kellogg’s factories. We also learned that workers at the decimated candle factory in Kentucky were threatened with firing if they didn’t keep working.  Are candles and dry cereal really worth this?

We didn’t learn anything from all the workers dropping dead from COVID-19 at meat processing plants?   Now, we also find out there’s no shortage of truckers, it’s just how there’s a major difference between how independent truckers are paid and those that are union.  It’s basically a problem of driver delays.  Nonunion drivers get paid by the mile so they get assigned to places where they have to sit forever. Union drivers are paid by the hour. I’m frankly blessed not to have been pushed prematurely back into the classroom but that’s only because I’m semiretired and can say no without it threatening my work.

So, with that background, let’s read Anna North’s article.

For a moment in early 2020, it seemed like we might get a break from capitalism.

A novel coronavirus was sweeping the globe, and leaders and experts recommended that the US pay millions of people to stay home until the immediate crisis was over. These people wouldn’t work. They’d hunker down, take care of their families, and isolate themselves to keep everyone safe. With almost the whole economy on pause, the virus would stop spreading, and Americans could soon go back to normalcy with relatively little loss of life.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Instead, white-collar workers shifted over to Zoom (often with kids in the background), and everybody else was forced to keep showing up to their jobs in the face of a deadly virus. Hundreds of thousands died, countless numbers descended into depression and burnout, and a grim new standard was set: Americans keep working, even during the apocalypse.

Now it’s been nearly two years since the beginning of the pandemic — a time that has also encompassed an attempted coup, innumerable extreme weather events likely tied to climate change, and ongoing police violence against Black Americans — and we’ve been expected to show up to work through all of it. “I don’t think people are well,” says Riana Elyse Anderson, a clinical and community psychologist and professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “We are moving along but we are certainly not well.”

For some Americans, working during the apocalypse is fatal — think of the transit workers who died from Covid-19 in 2020, or the Amazon warehouse workers killed by a tornado on December 10 in Illinois. “All disasters are workplace disasters for some people,” said Jacob Remes, a historian and the director of the Initiative for Critical Disaster Studies at New York University. For others, the effects are more of a slow burn; the chronic stress that comes with putting on a game face at work, day in and day out, as the world becomes ever more terrifying.

Of course, Americans haven’t all quietly accepted the demand that we work through the end times. Record numbers are quitting their jobs in search of higher pay and better conditions. After more than 20 months of being asked to keep showing up uncomplainingly while everything crumbles around them, people are demanding a more humane approach to work in the age of interlocking crises.

Marc Chagall: “Nocturne at Vence”  1963

Please read the full article.

So, the question is how do we get more humane treatment at work, access to educations, and childcare at a reasonable cost?  Pharmaceuticals at a reasonable cost? Food at a reasonable cost?   How about energy that doesn’t cost too much and kill us at the same time?  Fewer wars?  Actual customer service instead of automated checkouts and endless phone trees to get to someone that can actually help you?  The business model these days is basically about where it was pre-union. Just jack up prices, lower service levels, overwork what employees you have, push a paperwork and surveillance atmosphere, then drive all the profits to the top where no one has to pay taxes on anything or can hide their money. This is not sustainable in this day and age. Where do we get some redress and control?

We should get it through our voter franchise and our democracy and representatives that deliver to voters and not just donors and radical bases. We’re losing all kinds of rights and none of them will return to us unless the majority of the democracy can vote easily and get fair elections,  Can we get this done?

Not, when all roads lead to Joe Manchin and there’s a filibuster rule in the Senate for for basic civil, human, constitutional rights. These things should not be left to overturn by a radical minority.

From the AP: “Power of one: Manchin is singularly halting Biden’s agenda.”  Let’s be real about this. It’s not just Biden’s Agenda it’s the people’s agenda as demonstrated by poll -after-poll.  Joe Manchin is the perfect example of someone that pushes everything that’s not sustainable and mostly because his wealth depends on it and his power.

Sen. Joe Manchin settled in at President Joe Biden’s family home in Delaware on a Sunday morning in the fall as the Democrats worked furiously to gain his support on their far-reaching domestic package.

The two-hour-long session was the kind of special treatment being showered on the West Virginia senator — the president at one point even showing Manchin around his Wilmington home.

But months later, despite Democrats slashing Biden’s big bill in half and meeting the senator’s other demands, Manchin is no closer to voting yes.In an extraordinary display of political power in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, a single senator is about to seriously set back an entire presidential agenda.

Biden said in a statement Thursday night that he still believed “we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition.”

But with his domestic agenda stalled out in Congress, senators are coming to terms with the reality that passage of the president’s signature “Build Back Better Act,” as well as Democrats’ high-priority voting rights package, would most likely have to be delayed to next year.

Failing to deliver on Biden’s roughly $2 trillion social and environmental bill would be a stunning end to the president’s first year in office.

Manchin’s actions throw Democrats into turmoil at time when families are struggling against the prolonged COVID-19 crisis and Biden’s party needs to convince voters heading toward the 2022 election that their unified party control of Washington can keep its campaign promises.

This has been pushed to the back burner and now they have decided to shift to voting rights.  Look at who’s on the catbird seat again.

 

Circus Dancer (Le Grand Cirque) 1968

From The Hill article in the above Tweet:

President Biden joined a Zoom call with Senate Democrats on Thursday to encourage them to pass voting rights legislation, as the chamber appears poised to leave for the year without a deal.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who are both part of the group negotiating rules changes and voting rights, said that they had spoken with Biden about their efforts.

“Very positive. ‘Good work, guys. Keep at it,’” Kaine said about Biden’s message.

“‘Are you talking, are you taking it seriously, are you trying to get there?’ Yes. So he [was] encouraging us, thanking us and encouraging us,” the Virginia Democrat added.

Tester, asked about Biden’s general message, summed it up as the right to vote is “important for democracy.”

Those included on the call were Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kaine and Tester, a source familiar told The Hill. Vice President Harris was also on the call.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the call.

Biden’s call come as Senate Democrats are poised to wrap their work for the year without a deal on how to move voting rights legislation.

“We don’t have the votes right now to change the rules,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters after a closed-door caucus lunch, acknowledging the political reality that the party currently faces.

Democrats have been holding a flurry of behind-the-scenes meetings to try to come to a deal that unites all 50 Democrats on changing the Senate rules.

A group of Senate Democrats — Kaine, Tester and King — have been tasked with coming up with a proposal on how to alter the 60-vote legislative filibuster in a way that would allow voting rights legislation to move forward.

Republicans have blocked several voting rights and election bills, fueling calls from within the Senate Democratic caucus to change the rules.

Marc Chagall – le jardin d’Eden, 1980

Meanwhile, the Senate is going on holiday.  Why can’t we all get paid and have work hours and benefits like them?

From NPC News: Democrats rev up voting rights push to end 2021. But Senate path remains elusive. All 50 Senate Democrats would be needed to change the rules to get around a filibuster. But Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still don’t support such a move.

Long-simmering frustrations among prominent Black leaders appeared to be boiling over as they pressure President Joe Biden to do more to encourage the Senate to act. Progressive advocacy groups have revved up their pressure campaigns, fearing that time is running out to avert what they see as an existential threat to democracy. Leaders of the effort in the Senate, notably Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, have held meetings with colleagues to find a path forward.

And moderates like Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, said this week they’re ready to change the Senate rules to allow a vote on an election overhaul. But despite this movement, it may not be enough.

Manchin and Sinema are supportive of the Freedom to Vote Act, which would enshrine a series of voting-access guarantees across all states, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would impose additional limits on states with a history of discrimination. But neither supports a rule change to get around the 60-vote threshold that is blocking votes on those bills.

Manchin, who spoke to Warnock about the issue and left the Capitol shoulder-to-shoulder with him this week, told reporters he wants support from both parties before establishing new rules.

“All my discussions have been bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats. A rules change should be done to where we all have input in this rules change because we’re going to have to live with it,” he said.

That’s a problem: Republicans are extremely unlikely to sign off on any rule changes that would enable passage of voting rights legislation, which they staunchly oppose. A filibuster change through the regular process require a two-thirds vote, and even moderate Republicans say they’re not interested.

“I don’t see how. Unless Sen. (Chuck) Schumer tries to employ the nuclear option, rule changes require 67 votes,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told NBC News, referring to the Senate majority leader. “I think the rules and traditions of the Senate have generally served us well, and I don’t see the need for rule changes.”

Sinema said through a spokesperson that she still opposes weakening the 60-vote rule to pass a voting bill.

And that Ladies and Gentlemen is how empires and democracies die!

Have a great weekend!  I hope you enjoy the soothing colors of Marc Chagall!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1975

Peter Saul, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1975

The mainstream media, led by The New York Times, is writing the Democrat’s obituary after Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race, but I don’t feel like writing about that. I have no idea whether the loss will affect the 2022 midterms. I don’t really want to think about it, except that I hope the Democrats will finally do something about the filibuster. There has been some talk of changing Senate rules for voting rights legislation, after Republicans once again blocked debate on the Voting Rights Act.

The New York Times: Republicans Block a Second Voting Rights Bill in the Senate.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked legislation to restore parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings, making it the second major voting bill to be derailed by a G.O.P. filibuster in the past two weeks.

Despite receiving majority support, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the civil rights activist and congressman who died last year, fell nine votes short of the 60 required to advance over Republican opposition.

In the aftermath of the defeat, Senate Democrats said they would intensify internal discussions about altering filibuster rules or making other changes to allow them to move forward on voting rights legislation despite deep resistance by Republicans, who have now thwarted four efforts to take up such measures.

“Just because Republicans will not join us doesn’t mean Democrats will stop fighting,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, after the vote. “We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward.”

Yesterday the Federal Reserve announced plans to deal with inflation. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been affected by the rising food prices. Even though we’re getting the biggest Social Security increase in a very long time, it isn’t going to be enough. The New York Times: Fed Takes First Step Toward End of Pandemic Measures.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took its first step toward withdrawing support for the American economy, saying that it would begin to wind down a stimulus program that’s been in place since early in the pandemic as the economy heals and prices climb at an uncomfortably rapid pace.

Peter Saul’s Columbus Discovers America, 1992-1995, points the way to the painter’s mature work, distinguished by provocative subject matter and a cartoon-based style.

Peter Saul’s Columbus Discovers America, 1992-1995, points the way to the painter’s mature work, distinguished by provocative subject matter and a cartoon-based style.

Central bank policymakers struck a slightly more wary tone about inflation, which has jumped this year amid booming consumer demand for goods and supply snarls. While officials still expect quick cost increases to fade, how quickly that will happen is unclear.

Fed officials want to be prepared for any outcome at a time when the economy’s trajectory is marked by grave uncertainty. They are not sure when prices will begin to calm down, to what extent the labor market will recover the millions of jobs still missing after last year’s economic slump, or when they will begin to raise interest rates — which remain at rock-bottom to keep borrowing and spending cheap and easy.

So the central bank’s decision to dial back its other policy tool, large-scale bond purchases that keep money flowing through financial markets, was meant to give the Fed flexibility it might need to react to a shifting situation. Officials on Wednesday laid out a plan to slow their $120 billion in monthly Treasury bond and mortgage-backed security purchases by $15 billion a month starting in November. The purchases can lower long term interest rates and prod investors into investments that would spur growth.

Assuming that pace holds, the bond buying would stop altogether around the time of the central bank’s meeting next June — potentially putting the Fed in a position to lift interest rates by the middle of next year.

John Durham’s “investigation” into the origins of the FBI/DOJ investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia is beginning to look like a real witch hunt. The New York Times: Authorities Arrest Analyst Who Contributed to Steele Dossier.

Federal authorities on Thursday arrested an analyst who in 2016 gathered leads about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia for what turned out to be Democratic-funded opposition research, according to people familiar with the matter.

The arrest of the analyst, Igor Danchenko, is part of the special counsel inquiry led by John H. Durham, who was appointed by the Trump administration to scrutinize the Russia investigation for any wrongdoing, the people said.

Mr. Danchenko, was the primary researcher of the so-called Steele dossier, a compendium of rumors and unproven assertions suggesting that Mr. Trump and his 2016 campaign were compromised by and conspiring with Russian intelligence officials in Moscow’s covert operation to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.

The people familiar with the matter spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictment of Mr. Danchenko had yet to be unsealed. A spokesman for Mr. Durham did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Saul, Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

Peter Saul, Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

So this information was leaked without any indication of what the basis of the arrest was. What laws did  Danchenko break? The last Durham arrest was hinky too.

The charges against Mr. Danchenko follow Mr. Durham’s indictment in September of a cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, which accused him of lying to the F.B.I. about who he was working for when he brought concerns about possible Trump-Russia links to the bureau in September 2016.

Mr. Sussmann, who then also worked for Perkins Coie, was relaying concerns developed by data scientists about odd internet logs they said suggested the possibility of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked financial institution. He has denied lying to the F.B.I. about who he was working for.

Today is the hearing about whether Trump has any right to claim executive privilege over documents related to the January 6 insurrection. CNN: High-stakes hearing Thursday in Trump effort to block release of presidential documents.

The power Donald Trump holds as a former president will be put to the test on Thursday, as a federal judge is set to hear arguments on whether Trump can keep secret records from his White House about his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump has asked the DC District Court to block the National Archives from giving more than 700 pages of documents to the House Select Committee investigating January 6. He’s claimed the House’s investigation is illegitimate, and that his role as a former President should give him control over reviewing and deciding upon access to the records.

The hearing may be the pivotal moment in a potentially historic legal fight about the authority of a former president, the House’s investigative power and the reach of executive privilege….

In the short term, the case also may have huge implications for the bipartisan House investigation, which is pushing for records and witnesses before the midterm elections take place next year. Without access to the documents, the House could be hampered significantly in its fact-finding.

In court, the House has cast its investigation as one of its most critical tasks in history. “In 2021, for the first time since the Civil War, the Nation did not experience a peaceful transfer of power,” lawyers for the House wrote over the weekend. “A peaceful transfer of power from one President to another is crucial to the continuation of our democratic government. It is difficult to imagine a more critical subject for Congressional investigation, and Mr. Trump’s arguments cannot overcome that pressing legislative need.

Hitler's Bunker, Peter Saul

Hitler’s Bunker, Peter Saul

This happened yesterday in the trial of the Charlottesville rally organizers. Buzzfeed News: A Renowned Holocaust Historian Testified That Charlottesville Rally Organizers’ Messages Were A “Call To Arms”

Neo-Nazis Christopher Cantwell and Matthew Heimbach on Wednesday seemed almost to forget for a moment that they were in a court of law and defendants in a civil case that could potentially bankrupt them and take down the white nationalist groups with which they’re associated.

“What’s your favorite Holocaust joke?” Cantwell, who is representing himself in court, asked Heimbach, who was called to the stand by the plaintiffs as a witness, during cross-examination….

The strategy behind Cantwell’s line of questioning wasn’t immediately clear, and attorneys for the plaintiffs interjected before any jokes were uttered. But Cantwell, who had previously gone on bizarre courtroom tangents, and Heimbach spent nearly an hour talking about their adoration for Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, the dictator’s book Mein Kampf, and their belief that the Holocaust was a hoax.

Hitler, Heimbach testified, “did nothing wrong” in murdering some 6 million Jews.

The exchange between the two neo-Nazis contrasted sharply with the testimony by Deborah Lipstadt, an acclaimed Holocaust scholar and professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University.


Monday Reads: Hidden Loot in today’s Treasure Islands

The Opening up of Pandora’s box, Frederick Stuart Church, 1885

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I’m going to go down a rabbit hole today on findings by journalists on a trove of leaked financial information that shows the financial dealings of current and former world leaders in terms of hiding the loot in the world’s Treasure Islands.

Offshore banking has always frustrated many governments in trying to deal with how the rich and powerful hide wealth. This is from The Guardian on what’s being called the Pandora Papers.  There’s an accompanying podcast if you’d rather learn about this important trove of leaked offshore papers.  These leaks follow the Panama and Paradise papers leaks.

The financial secrets of some of the world’s most rich and powerful people are revealed following one of the biggest leaks of offshore data. The Pandora papers include 35 current and former world leaders and more than 300 public officials.

The Guardian’s Paul Lewis tells Michael Safi how the project came about and the months of work his investigations team has put into the publication. It is the latest offshore leak following previous global journalistic collaborations on the Panama papers and the Paradise papers.

The Guardian’s deputy business editor, Juliette Garside,explains how former British colonial territories have in recent decades used their legal jurisdictions to attract companies and wealthy individuals to register with them as tax havens.

The editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, tells Michael that there is a clear public interest in publishing this latest investigation and revealing the secrets of prominent politicians at a time when many governments are raising taxes to fund pandemic recovery efforts.

‘Pandora’s Box’ by Rene Magritte 1951

The Washington Post reports the names and country affiliations of those caught in the leak.  It includes Putin and many of his minions, the President of Kenya, and the King of Jordan.   Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis was also caught up in the investigations. This is the lede: “Governments launch investigations after secret papers show how elite shield riches.”  The link is constantly updated with new revelations and responses.

Here’s what we know from our collective reporting

  • The files in the Pandora Papers detail the activities of nearly 29,000 offshore accounts.
  • Among them are more than 130 people listed as billionaires by Forbes magazine. U.S. states have become central to the global offshore system.
  • Leaders of countries on five continents use the offshore system, as well as 14 current heads of state or government.
  • Officials in Pakistan, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Australia and Panama are set to launch inquiries in the wake of the Pandora Papers revelations.
pandora

Pandora, c. 1914 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Odilon Redon

There are short profiles of many of the leaders/elite and their offshore financial activities at the WAPO link.  There are also several good links to basics on offshore banking and the small countries around the world that sponsor this very dark corner of the financial sector.

I’ve written about offshore “treasure islands” before as it tickles just about all my Nancy Drew and Financial Economist/Banker fancies.  My last post came in 2016 when the Panama Papers were leaked.   These leaks do pop up but the dynamics of the system are linked to political and political funding elites. It’s hard to get countries to move on the tax evaders and the public treasury looters.  As you can see from the names, many are either doing this or getting money from those who use offshore banking.

CNN analysts believe the Jordan, Pakistan and, Russia releases are most significant.   Former UK PM Tony Blair has also been named in the release.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair, avoided paying £312,000 ($423,000) in stamp duty — a tax on property purchases — when they bought a townhouse in London, the BBC reported. The building now houses Cherie Blair’s law firm.

The Blairs purchased the townhouse in 2017 by buying the offshore firm that owned the property. When the property was put up for sale, its ultimate owners were a family with political connections in Bahrain, according to the BBC.

The Blairs set up a UK company to purchase the offshore firm. Doing so was legal, but it allowed them to avoid paying stamp duty, according to the BBC, because the tax is not charged when a company owning a property is acquired.

“It is not unusual for a commercial office building to be held in a corporate vehicle or for vendors of such property not to want to dispose of the property separately,” Cherie Blair told the BBC.

Cherie Blair also said her husband’s only involvement in the transaction was that the mortgage for the property used their joint income and capital, according to the BBC.

“All the arrangements were made for the express purpose of bringing the company and the building back into the UK tax and regulatory regime, where it has remained ever since. All taxes have been paid ever since and all accounts openly filed in accordance with the law,” Cherie Blair said, according to The Guardian.

It may not be illegal but it certainly sounds and appears dodgy.  The real shocking thing is that these kinds of enterprises are setting up in the United States.  Notice this little financial firm harkens from South Dakota a state that lured Citibank with its lax banking laws back in the good ol’ days.  WAPO has just put up a more current analysis of the overall use of offshore banking.  “FOREIGN MONEY SECRETLY FLOODS U.S. TAX-HAVENS. SOME OF IT IS TAINTED.”

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Across from a Holiday Inn, in a red-brick building with a welcome sign that reads “The Heart of America,” a little-known financial firm set up shop seven years ago and extended an invitation to the world’s elite.

Trident Trust promised to protect the fortunes and privacy of its new customers by relying on the laws of a state that had become a global destination for wealth. The company called it “The South Dakota Advantage.”

Among those who answered the call: a Colombian textile magnate caught in a scheme to launder the proceeds of an international drug ring, an orange juice mogul who settled with authorities in Brazil for allegedly colluding to underpay local farmers, and family members of the former president of a sugar producer in the Dominican Republic that has been accused of exploiting laborers and forcibly evicting families from their homes.

The U.S. government has long condemned prominent offshore financial centers, where liberal rules and guarantees of discretion have drawn oligarchs, business tycoons and politicians.

But a burgeoning American trust industry is increasingly sheltering the assets of international millionaires and billionaires by promising levels of protection and secrecy that rival or surpass those offered in overseas tax havens. That shield, which is near-absolute, has insulated the industry from meaningful oversight and allowed it to forge new footholds in U.S. states.

Paging Senator Elizabeth Warren!  Clean-up in Aisle South Dakota!  And of course, Delaware is also one of the usual suspects too.  Just ask Senator MBNA (aka President Joe Biden).

The trust documents come mostly from the Sioux Falls office of Trident Trust, a global provider of offshore services. In a written statement, Trident said it is committed to compliance with all applicable regulations and routinely cooperates with authorities. The company declined to answer questions about its clients.

Other states competing to lure wealth include Alaska, Delaware, Nevada and New Hampshire. In South Dakota, assets in trusts more than quadrupled over the past decade to $360 billion. One of the largest trust companies in the state, the South Dakota Trust Co., boasts a roster of international clients from 54 countries.

The industry’s rapid expansion was led by a group of trust company insiders, who year after year pitched legislative proposals that were highly appealing to customers in the United States and abroad: protecting trusts from creditors, from taxing authorities, from foreign governments.

With little opposition, state legislators turned the proposals into laws — dozens since the late 1990s.

So, not only are we giving these folks lower tax bills than their house staff and employees, we’re letting them dodge even more tax liabilities by just traveling to the usual suspect states.

You may read the original work in the tweet directly above.  It’s going to be a week of global intrigue!  So, hang on to your best James Bond Villian impression.  Mine will continue to be Vladimir Putin who set up a mistress and child to live like  Marie Antoinette.

The Debt Ceiling is still in the news too!

Either of these stories could rock the US and Global financial markets!  So, I’ll be watching!  C’mon Joe!  Don’t make me sell the US short to finance my senior days!

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) This painting was featured in the movie of that name. It plagiarizes the early metaphysical style of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978)

Biden did take McConnell to school today. This is from the LA Times.

President Biden on Monday criticized Republicans for not voting to raise the debt ceiling, accusing them of being “reckless and dangerous” in a way that could harm the economy.

“Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, they’re threatening to use [the filibuster] to prevent us from doing our job — saving the economy from a catastrophic event,” Biden said during a speech at the White House.

The Democrat-controlled House last week passed legislation that temporarily suspends the debt ceiling. Senate Republicans, however, have said they will not vote to approve such a measure. Biden said the Republicans’ stance is “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.”

“Especially as we’re clawing our way out of this pandemic,” Biden said.

Once the Treasury Department runs out of cash, payments to government workers, including military personnel, veterans and Social Security recipients would likely be delayed. A default would also affect taxpayers.

“Savings in your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt,” Biden said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen previously said the department would run out of “emergency measures” to pay the nation’s debts on Oct. 18. The limit on federal borrowing is currently $28.4 trillion.

McConnell told Biden to find a Democratic Party-based solution in a Dear Joe letter. So, there’s your countdown to doomsday.  This is from Politico.

“I respectfully submit that it is time for you to engage directly with congressional Democrats on this matter,” McConnell told Biden in his letter, a copy of which POLITICO obtained. “Your lieutenants in Congress must understand that you do not want your unified Democratic government to sleepwalk toward an avoidable catastrophe when they have had nearly three months’ notice to do their job.”

The letter, delivered to the White House on Monday, also cites Biden’s past opposition to debt increases while in the minority. McConnell summarized it this way: “The president’s party had to take responsibility for a policy agenda which you opposed. Your view then is our view now.”

So, Republicans continue to obfuscate the debt ceiling.  It’s basically got to be increased because of the last 4 years and all years before.  There’s very little Biden spending to this point and his budget is not even in effect at this point.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over on this stuff!  This is a shit list of how they’re stealing from us!

What’s on your reading and global intrigue list today?


Day After Christmas Caturday Reads

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Good Afternoon!!

It’s difficult to believe, but today is kind of slow news day, compared to most of the days we’ve lived through in the past four years. Naturally, what news there is today is mostly awful.

The story getting the most attention right now is the bomb blast in Nashville. Here’s the latest:

ABC News: Human remains found at site of ‘intentional’ Nashville RV explosion: Sources.

Nashville police officers were first called to a report of shots fired, police said. There was no evidence of shots fired, but “there were announcements coming” from an RV saying a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes, police said.

The recording only began playing a short time after police reported to the scene, a law enforcement official told ABC News.

il_570xN.1628906646_o015Officers were working to evacuate nearby buildings when, around 6:30 a.m., the RV exploded, blowing out the windows of nearby buildings.

Human remains have been found at the scene of the explosion in downtown Nashville, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The remains have not been identified and it’s unclear whether they’re identifiable.

“We found tissue that we believe could be human remains,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Friday evening. “We’ll have that examined and we’ll be able to tell you from that point.”

Nashville Tennessean: Exclusive: Nashville explosion witness remembers chilling warning from the RV: ‘A bomb is in this vehicle

A woman’s voice warned downtown residents to evacuate before the Christmas morning explosion that rocked Nashville, according to witness who described hearing the chilling message before fleeing with her family.

Betsy Williams, who owns the Melting Pot building on Second Avenue, lived in a loft apartment on the third floor of the building near the center of the blast.

Williams said she left the area after she heard the recording play a countdown to the explosion.

At least three people were injured in the explosion, according to authorities. A police officer in the area, who was responding to reports of suspicious activity in the area, was knocked to the ground by the blast.

Police said the explosion came from an RV that was parked on Second Avenue, in the midst of a business and entertainment district. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed the warning came from the RV.

Two-cats-dressed-up-in-holiday-outfitsAP: Downtown Nashville explosion knocks communications offline.

The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.

“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.

AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.

The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Nashville.

AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion. Later Friday, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority said most flights were resuming but advised passengers to check with their airline for updates due to possible delays.

The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.

il_570xN.1302215820_8kviTrump is busy shirking his responsibilities, playing golf and tweeting as Americans die or go hungry and jobless, while facing evictions.

The New York Times: Unemployment Aid Set to Lapse Saturday as Trump’s Plans for Relief Bill Remain Unclear.

Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.

The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.

If Mr. Trump signs the bill on Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Projectbut unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.

Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.

Mr. Trump blindsided lawmakers on Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.

The country is also facing a looming government shutdown on Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.

Screen_Shot_2018-12-12_at_1.56.56_PM_1024x1024Here’s what Trump is stewing about at the moment. Raw Story: Trump buried for whining Melania didn’t get enough fashion magazine covers — as he sits on COVID aid bill.

With all that is going on in the U.S. during Christmas week — COVID-19 infections on the rise, a desperately needed COVID-related aid package being held hostage by the president, extended unemployment insurance about to run out, families facing evictions — Donald Trump took time out from his busy holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago to complain that his wife Melania didn’t get fashion magazine cover stories he feels she deserves.

Linking to a tweet from right-wing Breitbart, that read, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the preside t added “The greatest of all time” by which he presumably meant the first lady, before adding the requisite “Fake news!”

Commenters who were already criticizing the president for two days of golfing while they hunker down in their homes over fears of the spreading pandemic, piled on the president for his bizarre sense of priorities.

Maybe it’s because Melania is ugly inside and out? Click the link to read sample tweets.

Trump is also planning to try to pardon himself and push for inappropriate investigations, according to The Guardian: 

William Barr’s abrupt move to leave his post as attorney general this week has spurred fears among Department of Justice veterans that Donald Trump will put new pressures on Barr’s successor to do him big and potentially risky political and legal favors.

Former justice department officials say they are worried Trump will lean on Barr’s less experienced successor, the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to push policies which Trump has suggested he backs, including naming special counsels to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and using the DoJ to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread election fraud.

Critics also fear Rosen could face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that would allow Trump to pardon himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and bars a presidential self-pardon. Such a move would probably trigger widespread outrage.

Mounting concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy AG in early 2019 without previous DoJ experience, stem partly from Trump’s post-election anger at Barr, despite being arguably his strongest cabinet ally in the run-up to the November election.

baa09660e092dcb35cbb29f7ffab4940And what if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden’s inauguration? Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: No One Knows How to Get Trump to Leave the White House in January.

Donald Trump was soundly defeated by Joe Biden, his efforts to overturn the results have been wildly unsuccessful, and the electoral college has made his loss official. In two weeks, lawmakers will meet to certify Biden’s win—and a longshot challenge Trump’s allies in the House are planning is unlikely to stop the inevitable. Constitutionally and legally, Trump will have no constitutional or legal claim to the White House.

But what if, after all that, he just…refuses to leave? What if he refuses to pack his shit and go back to Mar-a-Lago? What if he chains himself to the Resolute Desk? That prospect may sound comically outlandish, and is indeed unlikely to come to pass. But it’s hardly as far-fetched as it might seem, as Trump refuses to concede and continues to insist he won last month’s election in a “landslide.” In fact, he has actually raised the idea with aides recently, as CNN reported. And while few advisers think he’ll actually go through with it, no one really knows what would happen if he does try to overstay his welcome.

According to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, the Secret Service isn’t so sure what it would do, either. One former agent suggested he’d get dragged out like any other civilian would be if they were in the Oval Office unauthorized. “I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” the former agent told the outlet. “We’d have to escort him out.” But the Secret Service and the military may be reluctant to take part in what would be such a dramatic scene, and could take more subtle action, like pressing his inner circle or Republican officials and family members to make him leave. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved,” another former official said. “It’s not our role.” It could also simply do the equivalent of changing the locks: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day,” an ex-agent said. “He can’t do anything without his staff.”

Again, this is all (thankfully) hypothetical at this point, and the chances of it becoming more than that are still likely remote. But it’s hard to avoid engaging with the prospect as Trump goes to greater and greater lengths in his effort to remain in power, even though a record number of American voters told him to get lost and the electoral college formalized his loss. “It’s scary,” an administration official told CNN.

More at the link.

A few more reads to check out:

s-l640Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?

The Daily Beast: Three Paths This Coronavirus Nightmare Could Take.

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County hospitals running dangerously low on oxygen, supplies as ER units are overwhelmed.

The New York Times: One Vaccine Side Effect: Global Economic Inequality.

Raw Story: Vengeful Trump is in ‘destruction mode’ after ‘being fired by the American people’: Historian Brinkley.

The New York Times: A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you had a nice, relaxing day yesterday. Take care and stay safe!