Tuesday, July 07, 2015

TV Watch: USA's "Mr. Robot" brings us yet another of those fiendishly world-conquering villains from Scandinavia


Episode 3 of Mr. Robot airs tomorrow night on USA Network.

by Ken

I admit that the first thing that put me off of USA's new series Mr. Robot was the title. Wouldn't you assume that a show called Mr. Robot is about robots, or at least one robot? And I wasn't in the market for a show about robots, which sounded suspiciously like an offshoot of the vampire/zombie genre, which I don't participate in.

Fortunately, Noah tipped me off withthe advisory that it's his favorite TV offering since Breaking Bad, which, coming from him, is exalted praise indeed. So I confirmed that the already-aired first two episodes are on On Demand (I've since discovered that they're also readily accessible on YouTube), and when I had an opportunity, I tackled the extra-length pilot episode. I found it sort of intereresting, but I realized that, especially since I wasn't watching all that carefully, half of it was going over my head -- especially all the computer babble.

As I say, though, there was enough there to keep me curious. So I circled around. For starters, On Demand has, in addition to the first two episodes, a series of promos in the form of 2-3-minute interviews. I started with the one with series creator-showrunner Sam Esmail, then proceeded to those with the cast principals. armed with a good deal more knowledge of the characters, I went back to the start, this time watching with more concentrated attention, and this time I had a much easier time fitting the pieces together and getting involved with those characters.

It turns out that, at least two episodes in, there are no robots in Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot is the nom de guerre of the mastermind of a guerrilla-hacker collective -- played with deliciously dowdy aplomb by Christian Slater -- who claims to be devoted to bringing down the supersecret, superpowerful superconglomerates that supersecretly and superpowerfully run the world, starting with the biggest conglomerate of them all, E Corp.

Under mysterious circumstances -- in this show there are almost nothing but mysterious circumstances -- Mr. Robot recruits the central character, Elliot (Rami Malek), a young computer genius who's vastly underemployed as a tech at a cybersecurity company, having been brought in by his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday), who's tech skills are passable but nowhere near in Elliot's class. We should specify that Angela is Elliot's only friend, and even here we have to use the word "friend" carefully.

Elliot has profoundly poor social skills, which he has dealt with mostly by not dealing with them, and what with their long association, Angela is the only person whose company he can bear. Elliot hates his job, and the corruption of the world, and Krista (Gloria Reuben), the shrink he has apparently been forced to see, doesn't have a clue how to reach him, though she does seem to have helped him through the worst of his psychotic episodes. (One of the intriguing aspects of the show is what happens when a person with strong paranoid instincts is actually being followed.)

To fill these massive life voids, Elliot hacks. He is, naturally, a genius hacker, and can almost instantaneously find out everything about just about anybody. It's an interesting glimpse into hacker culture, though I suspect there aren't many hackers who use their pastime largely to make bad people pay for their badness, especially when they're doing bad things in the lives of the few people he cares about, like Angela and Krista.


Johanes Karlsen (Tony-nominated Jeremy Shamos), the nefarious (if occasionally buffoonish) Norwegian who spearheaded his Norwegian group's acquisition of All Saints Hospital in Season 7 of Nurse Jackie, coopted Jackie (Edie Falco) with the promise of helping with the restoration of her nursing license.

Not since Viking days have so many Scandinavians set out from their homeland wreaking such devastation and destruction. It seemed pretty amusing when the new villains in Season 7 of Nurse Jackie, the developers whose acquisition of the All Saints Hospital site -- for teardown and redevelopment -- led to its closing were wily, nefarious Norwegians, overseen by the wily and relentless Johanes Karlsen (Jeremy Shamos).

Then came "the Swedes" of Showtime's HAPPYish, the pompous and pea-brained twits Gottfrid (Nils Lawton) and Gustaf (Tobias Segal), who are the face of the Swedish group that has taken over the advertising agency where Thom Payne (Steve Coogan) works.

Watch for the pompously, pea-brainedly platitudinous Swedish twit Gottfrid.

My first extended contact with HAPPYish, as I mentioned recently, was watching the last couple of episodes without knowing anything about the characters. So I assumed that Gottfrid, the big blond boy with the funny accent who sounded off at every agency meeting, was some sort of intern, who was listened to because he's young, and goodness knows advertising agencies need to hear the "youth" outlook. When I decided to watch the whole series I quickly discovered that Gottfrid and Gustaf are in fact the agency bosses. (The elfish Gustaf we don't even get to hear. He speaks only in the ear of Gottfrid.)


We haven't actually seen this scene yet (it's coming up tomorrow), which shows us yet another villainous Scandinavian, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), who was a senior VP for technology at E Corp. when we first met him, and now is interim CTO.and it's not all that riveting, but it shows Mr. Robot joining the growing roster of TV shows featuring villainous Scandinavians. Here I gather we see him rehearsing his pitch to land the job for real.

The lesson, I guess, is to watch out for those nefarious Scandinavians!


Seriously, isn't it time to call BS on the claim that the Confederate battle flag deserves respect for its "heritage"?


Oops, I don't know what this picture found its way here from my July 2 post, "As black churches burn, at least Ricky-Roo Santorum seems to be keeping his trap shut." We keep hearing white Southerners insist that there's no connection whatsoever between the flag and the epidemic of violence against Southern black churches.

by Ken

Pretty much since the massacre in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church I've had a post of the above title on the drawing board. I imagined bringing in the numerous new and overlapping threads that have developed on top of the original story, including of course the surprising move in the South Carolina legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse.

It all became too much, however, and so I've decided just to go with the basic point: No matter how much white Southerners may try to obfuscate the point, there isn't any possible question as to what that flag stands for. It stands for slavery and a society built on it. Southerners are free to euphemize it as "Southern pride," or "pride in their heritage," but it's important that there not be any question what the heritage is that they're so proud of.

It doesn't matter all that much to me what white South Carolinians do with their flag of infamy. Is it really better off in a museum than flying over the statehouse? It matters a lot more to me that they, and we, be honest about what that flag stands for, and what they're "honoring" with it.

And since everyone loves game shows, I thought we'd intersperse a little DWT Quick Quiz.


1. The Confederate battle flag has flown over South Carolina's statehouse since:

(a) 1561
(b) 1661
(c) 1761
(d) 1861
(e) 1961
ANSWER: (e) 1961.

From Wikipedia: The confederate battle flag was raised over the state house on April 11, 1961 at the request of Representative John May as a part of opening celebrations of the Confederate War Centennial according to Dr. Daniel Hollis, an appointed member of the centennial commission. Lawmakers passed a resolution in March 1962 directing the flag be flown over the state house in response to the civil rights movement[45] [46][47].
45. SEANNA, ADCOX. "As SC honors church victims, Alabama lowers its flags". Associated Press.
46. BURSEY, BRETT. "The Day the Flag Went Up".
47. "It's Long Past Time For South Carolina to Stop Flying the Confederate Flag". Mother Jones.
Oops! Apparently it only occurred to South Carolinians in 1961 that they had a long-suppressed need to remember their precious "heritage" -- by coincidence in the thick of the tumultuous civil-rights struggle. And by tumultuous I mean violent. Even if forgetful South Carolinians were legitimately late in recognizing the urgent need to remember this great "heritage," we might ask why they didn't choose one of several other flags for their commemoration, as for example the one that was actually adopted as the official state flag after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union -- or one of these others.

So if today's heritage rememberers were simply intent on remembering their heritage, they have an assortment of flags they could have chosen from.


2. Can you identify these flags?




ANSWERS: (a) is the "palmetto" flag adopted by South Carolina in 1861 following secession.
(b) is the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America, "the Stars and Bars," adopted in 1861.
(c is the Second National Flag of the Confederate States of America, adopted in 1863.
Aha, you say, (c) begins to look familiar, or at least the square portion at the upper left does. If the design seems otherwise to contain rather a lot of white space, it does, and for a reason. As designer William T. Thompson explained, all that white represents "the supremacy of the white race."
As a people we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.
—William T. Thompson (April 23, 1863), Daily Morning News [2][3][4][5][6][7][8]
So if South Carolinians actually wanted to honor the memory of their forebears, they have a perfectly usable flag -- the one that was in fact adopted after secession from the Union in 1861. Or these other flags, for that matter. As Wikipedia quotes "Southern political scientists" James Michael Martinez, William Donald Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su pointing out in Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South (2000):
The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans' groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.
However, it's not as if only the white part of Thompson's original flag referred to race. As he also explained,
As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals.
William T. Thompson (May 4, 1863), Daily Morning News [2][3][5][6][7][8]


3. The resurrection of the rectangular Confederate battle flag (whose only official use was as a battle flag adopted by Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia) in the South in the '50s and '60s was prompted by:

(a) A sudden desire to reassert the values embodied in the Second National Flag of the Confederacy (see above), as expressed by designer W. T. Thompson
(b) Um . . .
(c) Er . . .
(d) You know, uh . . .


Finally, Wikipedia quotes Gordon C. Rhea, a noted attorney (a former federal prosecutor) as well as Civil War historian (specializing in the Overland Campaign), now based in Charleston, SC, in "Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought" (2011):

It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: 'that the negro is not equal to the white man'. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?"


And truly all that they know is that they're dadgum proud of it. Well, now they know. In any case, this takes us back to the question we were just asking in a different context: Are they dopes or liars?

Either way they don't seem to be doing a really good job of respecting their heritage. Once upon a time Southerners were unequivocal and unapologetic about what they stood for.

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Greece, Ukraine and U.S. — Advancing the Neo-Liberal Project


Bill Clinton and Paul Ryan agreeing that the privatizing Ryan budget is the way to go. Neo-liberalism in action, but you have to look behind the curtain to see it.

by Gaius Publius

I recently did a piece about Greece that implied a number of similarities to Ukraine's recent upheavals. There I said:
All of this loops the Greek story into the Ukraine story, which most people still don't realize isn't just about Putin, though that makes a convenient (and cartoonish) Us vs. The Villain cautionary tale. It's about continuing the ... yes, neo-liberal project ... deeper into eastern Europe.
I want to explain some of that here, via three concepts — the cover story, the actual story, and the Putin element in each case — with a side look at "the neo-liberal project," which both of these stories exemplify.

The Story in Greece

The CNN-ready cover story on Greece is is a story of punishing helpers or helping punishers — the audience can take the story either way, as it chooses. "Bad Greece" got itself in economic trouble and "good Europeans" — led by German and other elites — have offered a helping hand, but only if the Greek government makes painful adjustments, such as cutting pensions (their form of our Social Security) and privatizing much of their infrastructure, such as their airports and shipping facilities. Money, but with strings.

The Greeks deserve this treatment because bad (profligate, lazy) people deserve to suffer when they fall. Welfare, when given to "the wrong people," should come with thorns; bailout money, when given to "the wrong people," should come with some pain, with strings.

The actual story is that the forces of privatization on the "liberal left" in Europe have found a nation in a great deal of economic trouble, thanks in large part to looting from outside, and they're offering a "helping" hand in order to further loot the country via those privatizing strings. In the minds of the looters (we'll call them "neo-liberals" below) every government-owned operation (Athens airport, say) is a missed profit opportunity for someone rich enough to buy it, and the world would be better if everything were made private.

But airports and other revenue opportunities don't privatize themselves; they have to be pried loose from government. Corruption will pry them loose, or friends on the inside. That's how the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund and others got their hands on 75 years' worth of revenue from the Chicago parking meters. They had a "friend," Mayor Richard M. Daley, on the inside willing to sell it to them on the cheap.

"Shock Doctrine"-type operations will do it also. As Naomi Klein documents in her book of the same name, the shock of Hurricane Katrina's devastation was the perfect opportunity to privatize (monetize) New Orleans' public schools.

The Putin element is that Greece, if driven from the Eurozone by the Eurozone's brutal (but "liberal") hand, might accept aid from Russia, aid with fewer strings. In anticipation, the U.S. has reportedly told the Greek president it will not allow this, with militarized regime change on offer if he considers it — as opposed to the ballot-box regime change that the Eurozone is trying to force.

The "Neo-Liberal Project"

I call the above-described form of privatization (monetization) of government-held property the "neo-liberal project." Notice that while neo-liberals share goals with big-money conservatives on the right, most of these privatizers are what we otherwise call "liberals" — like Mayor Richard Daley, for example; or the helpful people at the IMF and the European Central Bank; or Bill Clinton, who wanted to privatize Social Security in 1997, if it weren't for a certain blue dress and the woman inside it:
Had it not been for Monica's captivating smile and first inviting snap of that famous thong, President Bill Clinton would have consummated the politics of triangulation, heeding the counsel of a secret White House team and deputy treasury secretary Larry Summers. Late in 1998 or in the State of the Union message of 1999 a solemn Clinton would have told Congress and the nation that, just like welfare, Social Security was near-broke, had to be "reformed" and its immense pool of capital tendered in part to the mutual funds industry. The itinerary mapped out for Clinton by the Democratic Leadership Committee would have been complete.

We have this on the authority of high-ranking members of the Clinton Treasury who gathered in Harvard in the summer of 2001 to mull over the lessons of the 1990s. At that conclave it was revealed that on Clinton's orders a top secret White House working party had been established to study in detail the basis for a bipartisan policy on Social Security that would splice individual accounts into the program. Such was the delicacy of this exercise that meetings of the group were flagged under the innocent rubric "Special Issues" on the White House agenda. ...

The "Special Issues" secret team was set up by then-Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers (later elevated to Treasury Secretary and now President of Harvard) and Gene Sperling, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
It's the same game, whether played from the left or the right, as the video above clearly shows. When the game is played from the right, they call it Milton Friedman conservatism. When it's played from the left, they call it neo-liberalism ("new" liberalism, like Tony Blair's "New" Labour in the U.K.; like what it was, only not).

The privatizing game is mainly played from the left, because that's where most of the players are. The Western world is mostly run by "liberals" like these. When Democrats vote for mainstream "liberals," this is what they put into office.

The Ukrainian Story

There's a parallel to Greece in the recent events in the Ukraine. The cover story is that Ukraine was ruled by "bad president Yanukovych" who was friendly to Russia; Ukraine had a revolution, an uprising; and it's now ruled by "good prime minister Yatseniuk" under acting president Turchynov. Yatseniuk wants to take Ukraine out of the Russian orbit.

In this story, the Putin element comes at the beginning. The "good Europeans" wanted to lend a helping hand to Yanukovych and his government via loans and other inducements because Ukraine was in financial trouble (sound familiar?). Putin also offered a helping hand, so two deals were on the table. The Russian-leaning ("bad") Yanukovych wanted to accept the Russian deal over the E.U. deal, but the uprising deposed him. When the new West-leaning government accepted the European offer instead, the cover story tells us that Putin got angry, invaded Crimea, and is provoking a crisis. At the moment, Ukraine is experiencing either an invasion or a civil war, depending on who you talk to.

The real story is detailed below. The bottom line is that the West's offer of help was the standard neo-liberal offer — the strings were handcuffs. Putin actually presented a better offer, but the West worked covertly to install their own people (Yatseniuk in particular) to make sure that the European deal was accepted and Putin was spurned, even though much of the country is ethnically Russian and pro-Putin. The cover story also ignores Putin's reaction to the advancing NATO encirclement of Russia, of which the Ukraine story is a part.

The ethnicity is complex. The economics are not.

Who was the provocateur in the Ukrainian uprising? The West had a huge hand in provoking (and financing) it. Here's Chris Floyd with the story. Watch for the names Pierre Omidyar, billionaire founder of eBay; the innocently named USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, the "government agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid"; and the likewise innocently named National Endowment for Democracy.

Floyd begins:
Ukraine, Omidyar and the Neo-Liberal Agenda

The Western intervention in Ukraine has now [spring, 2014] led the region to the brink of war. Political opposition to government of President Viktor Yanukovych — a corrupt and thuggish regime, but as with so many corrupt and thuggish regimes one sees these days, a democratically elected one — was funded in substantial part by organizations of or affiliated with the U.S. government, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (a longtime vehicle for Washington-friendly coups), and USAID. It also received substantial financial backing from Western oligarchs, such as billionaire Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and sole bankroller of the new venue for “adversarial” journalism, First Look, as Pandodaily reports.

Yanukovych sparked massive protests late last year when he turned down a financial deal from the European Union and chose a $15 billion aid package from Russia instead. The EU deal would have put cash-strapped Ukraine in a financial straitjacket, much like Greece, without actually promising any path for eventually joining the EU. There was one other stipulation in the EU’s proffered agreement that was almost never reported: it would have also forbidden Ukraine to “accept further assistance from the Russians,” as Patrick Smith notes in an important piece in Salon.com. It was a ruthless take-it-or-leave-it deal, and would have left Ukraine without any leverage, unable to parlay its unique position between East and West to its own advantage in the future, or conduct its foreign and economic policies as it saw fit. Yanukovych took the Russian deal, which would have given Ukraine cash in hand immediately and did not come with the same draconian restrictions.

It was a policy decision. It might have been the wrong policy decision; millions of Ukrainians thought so. Yanukovych, already unpopular before the deal, would have almost certainly been ousted from office by democratic means in national elections scheduled for 2015. But the outpouring of displeasure at this policy decision grew into a call for the removal of the government. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Washington was maneuvering to put their preferred candidate, Arseniy Yatseniuk, in charge of the Ukrainian government, as a leaked tape of a conversation between Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, and Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, clearly showed. It is worth noting that when Yanukovych was finally ousted from power — after the opposition reneged on an EU-brokered deal for an interim unity government and new elections in December — Arseniy Yatseniuk duly took charge of the Ukrainian government, as planned.

By all accounts, Viktor Yanukovych was an unsavoury character running an unsavoury government, backed by unsavoury oligarchs exploiting the country for their own benefit, and leaving it unnecessarily impoverished and chaotic. In this, he was not so different from his predecessors, or from many of those who have supplanted him, who also have oligarchic backing and dubious connections (see addendum below). But in any case, the idea of supporting an unconstitutional overthrow of a freely elected Ukrainian government in an uprising based squarely on the volatile linguistic and cultural fault-lines that divide the country seems an obvious recipe for chaos and strife. It was also certain to provoke a severe response from Russia. It was, in other words, a monumentally stupid line of policy[.]
The above-mentioned Victoria Nuland has a place in the Greece story as well; click and you'll see her with the Greek president, explaining how things work.

About that neo-liberal intrusion into Ukraine, Floyd quotes Patrick Smith from a piece at Salon:
“[U.S.] foreign policy cliques remain wholly committed to the spread of the neo-liberal order on a global scale, admitting of no exceptions. This is American policy in the 21st century. No one can entertain any illusion (as this columnist confesses to have done) that America’s conduct abroad stands any chance of changing of its own in response to an intelligent reading of the emerging post–Cold War order. Imposing “democracy,” the American kind, was the American story from the start, of course, and has been the mission since Wilson codified it even before he entered the White House. When the Cold War ended we began a decade of triumphalist bullying — economic warfare waged as “the Washington Consensus” — which came to the same thing.”
“Instantly after Yanukovych was hounded from Kiev, seduction began its turn to betrayal. The Americans and Europeans started shuffling their feet as to what they would do for Ukrainians now that Russia has shut off the $15 billion tap. Nobody wants to pick up the bill, it turns out. Washington and the E.U. are now pushing the International Monetary Fund forward as the leader of a Western bailout. If the past is any guide, Ukrainians are now likely to get the “shock therapy” the economist Jeffrey Sachs urged in Russia, Poland and elsewhere after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Sachs subsequently (and dishonestly) denied he played any such role — understandable given the calamitous results, notably in Russia — but the prescription called for off-the-shelf neoliberalism, applied without reference to any local realities, and Ukrainians are about to get their dosage."
And regarding Pierre Omidyar:
Omidyar seems very much a part of the “neo-liberal order” which, as Patrick Smith noted above, the United States has been pushing “on a global scale, admitting of no exceptions.” So it is not surprising to see him playing a role in trying to spread this order to Ukraine, in tandem with the overt efforts and backroom machinations of the U.S. government. Omidyar is, openly, a firm adherent of the neo-liberal order — privitazing public assets for individual profit, converting charity and state aid to profitable enterprises for select investors, and working to elect or install governments that support these policies.
Billionaires helping billionaire-controlled governments to help billionaires. One big happy family. Who needs left or right when everyone with real money works together?

Greece and Ukraine, the Bottom Line

So far, the U.S. has not had a direct hand in the upheaval in Greece, but it has had a hand in the upheaval in Ukraine, though unnoticed. In all other respects there are major parallels. In both cases an economically distressed country is targeted as prey (is there another word for this?) by Western elites bent on straitjacket economics ("off-the-shelf neoliberalism" is Chris Floyd's term) and a deal that comes with a price. In the case of Ukraine, there was a counteroffer (Russia's), so regime change by force was on the table early.

Will there be regime change by force in Greece? Many, like Joseph Stiglitz quoted here, think that's already being attempted via the destruction of the leftist Syriza party's credibility and policy options. If this piece at Naked Capitalism is correct, more direct intervention, with U.S. support, may be coming.


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Is EndCitizensUnited.org A Scam?


Getting unlimited, barely regulated Big Money out of electoral politics-- overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United corporate-personhood decision-- has become a holy grail of progressive politics. And rightfully, fundamentally so. Bernie Sanders, the only actual progressive running for president, said in May that "if elected I will have a litmus test of my nominee to be a Supreme Court justice. And that nominee will say, we are going to overturn this disastrous decision on Citizens United because that decision is undermining American democracy." In January he filed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the decision. Even the corporate Democrat running for president, Hillary Clinton, says she opposes Citizens United.

On March 1 an organization dedicated to overturning the decision was launched with claims of being a grassroots effort, EndCitizensUnited.org. They define their tactical mission as making
a big splash in 2016 election. We plan to support Democrats in key races who are in favor of meaningful reform to our campaign finance system and who will stand up against Citizens United. We also will stand up for candidates who are under attack by the Koch Brothers and related dark money groups. Why Democrats? Democrats are leading the fight against Citizens United, and we believe meaningful change can happen with their leadership. Even though many Republican and Independent voters agree that undisclosed political spending is out of control, Republican leadership in Congress is standing squarely in the way of overturning this disastrous Supreme Court decision. It has to stop. So we will do what we can to support candidates who are champions for meaningful campaign finance reform.
They list both the DCCC and the DSCC as institutional supporters, and the organization is run by a former Obama operative from Texas, Jessica Adair. Over the 4th of July weekend, Adair sent out a fundraising e-mail to progressives, including people who had never signed up to get e-mails from the organization. The e-mail read suspiciously like the kind of garbage e-mails the DCCC and DSCC flood everyone's inboxes with. "Did you miss this, Howard?," it began. "On Thursday, we announced End Citizen United PAC's FIRST round of endorsements. Can you chip in $12 or more right now directly to their campaigns?" And then she thanked me for my supposed past support-- an assumption at best, but more likely a manipulative tactic.

It’s hard to believe how big this organization has grown-- more than 8OO,OOO people dedicated to ending Citizens United.

Thanks to your incredible support, we’re now in a position to start making waves by supporting candidates who are champions of campaign finance reform. I’m proud to announce our first endorsements:

...Please consider a donation of $36 directly to these champions of campaign finance reform... Thank you for everything you’ve done to help this organization grow and thrive.
The e-mail smelled to high heaven, and the more I looked into the group, the less grassroots or progressive credibility I found. Its website looks like a phishing operation to collect e-mail addresses for partisan Democratic Party operations like the aforementioned DCCC and DSCC. The website's domain registration is hidden from the public-- very suspicious for a "grassroots organization." It smells like a scam, a New Dem/Blue Dog/DCCC scam using Russ Feingold as bait to lure naive, uninformed progressives into sending unaccountable cash.

I hit reply and sent them an e-mail about their list of endorsees, 9 out of 11 of whom are grotesque DINOs who have spent their time in Congress crossing the aisle and voting with the Republicans-- Blue Dog shitheads like Kyrsten Sinema and Cheri Bustos and utterly worthless New Dems like Pete Aguilar, Scott Peters, Ann Kuster and Ami Bera. And the only senator on the list is DSCC chair Michael Bennet, one of the worst Democrats in that body. Stinky!

The reply was an automated plea for money, typical of what one would expect from grifters. Beware.

[Note: the only candidates this outfit has endorsed who deserve progressive support are Russ Feingold, running to regain his old Wisconsin Senate seat, and Minnesota 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan, two of the only progressives supported by the DCCC and DSCC.]


Monday, July 06, 2015

Catching up with the Supreme Court -- and looking ahead


"Something very unusual happened at the nation’s highest court this year. The justices adjourned for their summer vacation and liberals were left feeling pretty good about the just-completed Supreme Court term. . . . [I]t is unlikely that liberals will feel the same way about the next Supreme Court term."
-- Ian Millhiser, in a ThinkProgress post today, "Coming Next:
The Revenge Of The Supreme Court’s Conservatives

by Ken

As we know, the marquis cases decided by the Supreme Court in the just-ended term both went the un-conservative way, and both decisions were written by Court conservatives:

the 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts -- and joined by Justice "Slow Anthony" Kennedy as well as the Court's four moderate justices -- that no, the Affordable Care Act doesn't limit federal subsidies to health-insurance shoppers buying on the individual state exchanges rather than on the federal exchange (created as a backstop for citizens of states with fuck-you scumbag state governments);

• and the 5-4 ruling, with "Slow Anthony" writing the majority opinion, joined by the four moderates, that the Constitution provides a right to marriage for same-sex couples.


The most important decisions announced after the Big Two, which we haven't talked about yet, one had a good outcome and one a bad one.

• In the good outcome, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission et al., the Court refused to invalidate independent redistricting committees established outside the state legislature, rejecting the argument that this violates the Constitution's prescription: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a lovely majority opinion joined by the other three moderates and by "Slow Anthony" Kennedy, made clear that states get to decide how legislative functions are accomplished and if a state authorizes ballot initiatives, that satisfies the constitutional requirement. She also paid ringing tribute to the quality, efficiency, and freedom from conflict of interest of independent redistricting commissions.

It would have been disastrous if the Court had ruled otherwise, as the four hard-line thug-justices would have done, depriving states of this excellent option for better-quality redistricting. The reason I say that the decision is more important for what it didn't do is that now all that democracy-averse Republicans have to do is make damn sure states don't empower independent commissions. I don't think we're going to see a lot of them in the foreseeable future.

• Then there's the bad outcome, Michigan et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al., Justice Nino Scalia, writing for the majority (with "Slow Anthony" Kennedy back in place), wrote that while yes, the EPA can issue rules regarding emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants, "EPA must consider cost -- including cost of compliance -- before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary." Note that no consideration is contemplated for the cost of negative health effects of emissions.

This seems to me a big victory for the polluting-power industries, and also seems to me that the Court is prepared to give a hearing to any pro-pollution case polluting industries can cobble together.


The New York Times editorial board doesn't think so, and neither do I. Here's some of what was included in a 4th of July NYT editorial, "The Activist Roberts Court, 10 Years In":
After a series of high-profile end-of-term rulings that mostly came out the way liberals wanted, it is tempting to see a leftward shift among the justices.

That would be a mistake. Against the backdrop of the last decade, the recent decisions on same-sex marriage, discrimination in housing, the Affordable Care Act [links onsite -- Ed.] and others seem more like exceptions than anything else. If they reflect any particular trend, it is not a growing liberalism, but rather the failure of hard-line conservative activists trying to win in court what they have failed to achieve through legislation.

And even when a majority of the justices rejected conservative arguments, the decision to hear those cases in the first place showed the court’s eagerness to reopen long-settled issues. . . .
There is, indeed, an interesting view that the conservatives' weak showing in this term reflected a development described by Dartmouth Asst. Prof. of Government Brendan Nyhan in a June 25 nytimes.com "The Upshot" post: "What seem like liberal decisions may instead represent conservative overreach." He harks back to a case made in 2009 by political scientists Kevin T. McGuire, Georg Vanberg, Charles E. Smith Jr. and Gregory A. Caldeira, who --
predicted that conservatives would press their luck to take advantage when they had a majority on the court, appealing more cases they lost in lower courts. (Conversely, liberals would be less likely to appeal cases because they were more likely to prefer lower-court decisions and to fear creating damaging precedents.) Mr. McGuire and his co-authors then showed empirically that this process increased the number of conservative reversals of lower-court rulings but also increased the number of cases in which a more liberal ruling was affirmed because litigants guessed wrong about how far the court was willing to go.
As a possible example, in those last days the Court announced that it had declined to hear appeals by Kansas and Arizona of the 10th Circuit Court's ruling in Kobach v. U.S. Election Assistance Commission declining to make the commission require proof of citizenship on states' federal voter-application form. "Kobach" is Kansas's genuinely mentally diseased secretary of state, who -- among other crackpot far-right delusions -- sees Democrats everywhere engaged in voter-fraud conspiracies, which have escaped all efforts of detection by sane people. (Note, by the way, that the 10th Circuit ruling applies only to the federal portion of the registration form. It doesn't affect what nutjobs like Krazy Kris Kobach can put on the form regarding local and state elections.)


Those last-days-of-term announcement dumps included some ominous news about cases the justices have already agreed to take up in the next term, revisiting issues that the Court has already been closing in on, suggesting that there are at least four justices, if not already a majority, prepared to further tighten the vise.

Which brings us back to Ian Millhiser's ThinkProgress post today, "Coming Next: The Revenge Of The Supreme Court’s Conservatives," from which I quoted at the top of this post -- you know, about it being unlikely that liberals will be cheering the next Supreme Court term. (Links onsite.)
Based on two major cases that the Court has already agreed to hear, and a third that is likely to be added to the Court’s docket this fall, next term is shaping up to be a much more conventional term rife with longtime conservative boogie men waiting to be slain by the Court’s right flank.

Abortion: Although the justices have not yet agreed to hear a major abortion case next Supreme Court term, it is likely that they will hear at least one of two cases involving sham health laws that conservative states have enacted in an attempt to get around what remains of the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. States such as Texas and Mississippi enacted laws that, at a superficial level, appear to be designed to make abortion clinics safer and to ensure that physicians who perform abortions are well-credentialed. In reality, however, these laws do little to advance women’s health, while simultaneously subjecting clinics to regulatory burdens that will force many of them to close down. At the moment, the only thing keeping multiple Texas abortion clinics open is a temporary stay issued by a 5-4 Supreme Court preventing that state’s law from going into full effect.

The Court will likely announce whether they will hear a challenge to these sham health laws in the fall. If they choose not to hear the Texas case, that could cause almost as much damage to the right to choose in Texas as an adverse Supreme Court decision, as it will allow a lower court decision cutting deeply into reproductive freedom to take effect. Should the justices agree to take this case, which seems likely, the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed to grant a temporary stay halting the law is a positive sign for advocates of abortion rights.

Nevertheless, no one in the choice community should count on Kennedy’s vote Prior to the Texas law reaching the Court, Kennedy voted on 21 abortion restrictions and allowed all but one of them to go into effect.

Affirmative Action: Two years ago, the Supreme Court gave affirmative action an unexpected stay of execution. Though Court-watchers largely expected the Supreme Court to end race-conscious university admissions programs in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court voted instead to send the case back down to a lower court for reconsideration.

A year later, the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the University of Texas’s affirmative action program once again. Then, just last week, the Supreme Court announced that they would hear this case for a second time.

Justice Anthony Kennedy has demonstrated that there is some distance between himself and the Court’s four other conservatives, who hold much more absolutist views on race. At the end of this recently concluded term, he voted with the Court’s liberals to preserve a key prong of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits race discrimination in housing. Nevertheless, there are several signs that he is unlikely to break with the Court’s conservative bloc in Fisher‘s second trip to the justices.

According to one judge, “it would be difficult for UT to construct an admissions policy that more closely resembles the policy approved by the Supreme Court” in 2003 then the aspect of Texas’s policy that is now being considered by the Supreme Court. Yet Kennedy dissented in that 2003 case — a strong sign that he’s already decided that the Texas admissions policy is unconstitutional. Indeed, at oral arguments in Fisher I, Kennedy accused Texas of creating an admissions program where “race counts above all.” That’s very bad news for defenders of affirmative action.

Unions: The Court also announced last week that it will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that will send many public sector unions’ finances into turmoil if its plaintiffs prevail before the justices.

The core question in Friedrichs is whether non-members of a union can be required to compensate the union for the costs of bargaining on their behalf. Under longstanding law, unions are required to bargain on behalf of all workers in a unionized shop, regardless of whether those workers elect to join the union. Thus, members and non-members alike share in the higher wages and increased benefits that typically come along with unionization.

To prevent a free-rider problem, where workers elect not to join the union because they know that they will benefit regardless of whether they pay their share of the union’s bargaining costs, current law allows unions to charge what are known as “fair share” fees or “agency fees,” which cover each non-member’s share of the cost of bargaining on their behalf. Without these fees, public sector unions may struggle to raise the funds that they need in order to operate, and all workers in many unionized workplaces could eventually lose the benefits of unionization.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to limit many unions’ ability to charge these fees in 2014. That’s an ominous sign for public sector unions who have a stake in Friedrichs.

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The hard question about the merchants of austerity: Are they dopes or liars?


by Ken

I encountered Edward Harrison's cute little graph in Ian Welsh's June 25 post, "Greece and the Emperor's New Clothes," in which Ian noted that a commenter, markfromireland, had pointed out that "Oliver Blanchard, the chief IMF economist, had made the following assumptions about Greece in July of last year":
1. The Greek economy would grow by three percent both this year and every other year until 2020.
2. Inflation would average between one percent and two percent a year both this year and every other year until 2020.
3. The Greek government would run a primary budget surplus of four percent a year.
"As MFI points out," Ian wrote, "at best, these assumptions are delusional. Greece is in forced austerity; they aren’t going to make these targets." And Ian noted a point made by Edward Harrison, as reflected in the graph: that "the IMF revised down its estimate for Greece’s 2014 gross domestic product by some 22 percent in the space of 18 months."

On this basis Ian proceeded to the "old" question: "Evil, or stupid?"

We'll rejoing him in a moment, but first let's go back to our last post, in which Gaius Publius brought us up to date on the Greek financial mess, which you can't do in any kind of honesty without recognizing that the "bailout" deal on which Greece has been formally in default since July 1 was doomed from the moment it was signed, if not sooner.

In his post, GP quoted Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and current president of Eurogroup, the collective of Eurozone finance ministers:
I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece.

For recovery of the Greek economy, difficult measures and reforms are inevitable. We will now wait for the initiatives of the Greek authorities.
"Difficult measures and reforms," eh? For sure. But not the ones imposed on the Greeks, which have had their inevitable effect. As Ian wrote in that June 25 post:
Austerity is a reduction in demand. Reduction in demand leads to economic activity being lower than it would be otherwise. Governments who spend less money buy less stuff, this is indisputable. Then, everybody has less money and almost certainly buys less stuff as a result, thus reducing the size of the economy.

Meanwhile, money has been given to rich people and corporations who, mostly, have not spent it and when they have spent it, they’ve spent it on luxury goods.
The merchants of austerity love sounding like prophets of fiscal responsibility, demanding that economies decimated by a supposed history of devil-may-care fiscal irresponsibility take their medicine, and never mind that said medicine has the all but invariable result of choking the economy in question.

The point is that this isn't news. It's a point that has been repeated here countless times, often quoting Paul Krugman, who has been trying to inject this note of basic sanity into a predominantly insane international play-acting show. It shouldn't, for example, have been necessary for British Prime Minister David Cameron to prove the econonic deadening effect of "austerity" when he came to power in 2010, but he did so anyway, and still, as far as the merchants of austerity are concerned, the point is a mystery

Which brings us back to Ian's post. How is it possible for theeconomists of the economic elites still not to know that their notion of austerity doesn't rescue failed economies, it seals the failure in place?

Austerity, Ian notes, "is sold as a way to make economies better."
You cannot, as a government or quasi-governmental agency (like a central bank or the IMF), admit that austerity will make the economy worse and many of the people in an economy to which it is applied worse off.

The question, then, is the old one. “Evil, or stupid?” Is Blanchard, for example, such an ideologue that he believes the assumptions which allow him to forecast a better economy under austerity? Are the other economists who have made similar forecasts similarly stupid? I mean, assuming moderate stupidity (normal), they might have believed it in 2008 or even 2010, but we’ve seen the effects of austerity since the financial crisis, and that’s going on seven years.


"These people are either very stupid," Ian continues,
or are doing what they feel they must to keep their jobs and their membership in a very lucrative club. If they were to say, “No, these policies don’t work,” would they keep their jobs?
We know that austerity doesn’t work, Ian writes,
if by “work” you mean “improve the economy more than not being in austerity would,” we do. It’s only ever worked in theory by making very dubious assumptions, and it has never worked in practice.

So, at this point, if you believe austerity works, you’re either an extraordinarily blind ideologue, or you’re crooked, on the payroll, and know what you’re doing.
Of course there could be another question here: Is there some other way of defining "works" as it relates to austerity? Indeed there is:
Austerity is the policy that the IMF, most central authorities, and all neo-liberal parties (which means almost all parties in power in the EU) believe in. It is a policy which works: It puts public assets up for sale which would not be otherwise, so that rich, private investors can buy them up. Combined with “unconventional monetary policy” (the two are Siamese twins), it makes sure that the rich get richer, corporations are flush with cash they do not use to hire workers, and that everyone who isn’t rich, or part of the close retainer class, loses.

You really, really don’t want to fall out of that close retainer class. They are paid very well ([IMF Managing Director Christine] Lagarde receives a six hundred thousand per annum salary, entirely tax free), they are treated well, and their future job prospects are secure, as are those of their families. [Emphasis added.]
Once you realign your definition of "working," it's clear that austerity is. As Ian says, "it has performed exactly as expected."
Its advocates are its beneficiaries. The people who enforce it are benefiting as well and there is a sufficient constituency, both at the elite level and the common level, to keep it going (remember, Cameron was re-elected in the UK, and Labour got many votes when its essential promise was “slightly kinder austerity”). A few countries (Germany, for example) are winning under this policy regime.

So austerity will continue. It is a successful policy which does what it is supposed to do and which has a constituency sufficient for its continuation. It must be sold by lies, to be sure, and many of those who sell those lies probably believe them, because they personally benefit from pushing austerity and people prefer to believe that they are honest and working for good.

Others, I am certain, know it is being sold with lies.
Ah, so there are both dopes and liars!
Who falls into which camp? Who knows? The end effect is the same.
In conclusion, Ian notes: "Beatings will continue until morale improves."

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Greece and the European Project: What's Next?


The State Department's Victoria Nuland explains to Greek President Tsipras that there are certain lines he won't be permitted to cross.

by Gaius Publius

When it comes to coverage of the Greek crisis, there's no better source than Naked Capitalism. I'm going to quote from three recent (post-election) pieces hosted there, along with my own comments.

First, for the overview, something written by Joseph Stiglitz summarizes the situation going into the election perfectly. As quoted here, Stiglitz writes this about Greece (my emphasis everywhere):
Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy

The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.
Fast recap: After the crash of 2008, the government of Greece found itself increasingly unable to pay the interest on its debt. A crisis occurred in 2010 and again in 2012. A great deal of that debt was held outside the country and in private hands (think German and French banks, hedge funds, and the like).

The reasons for this inability to repay are many, only a few of which were the fault of the Greeks themselves. The worst of the Greek internal problems is the corruption of the Greek elite class, who have made tax evasion an art form. After the recession, the country went increasingly into recession and then depression, the economy shrank, and government revenues became insufficient to meet all demands on it. Various Greek governments have sought loans from the European "troika" as defined above, and those loans were granted, but with many cruel strings.

In a triangular arrangement, the troika would insure that the Greeks had enough money not to default on bankers and hedge funds (etc.), but in exchange the Greeks had to agree to "run a primary surplus" (have more revenue than expenses), cut spending drastically, including on social services and pensions, and sell off private property, like their airports.

Doing this allowed the troika — an assembly of European public elites very much allied with private elites like the aforementioned bankers — to accomplish two goals:
  • Bail out all at-risk bankers and other investors with public money, so no big investor loses on a loan.

    Stiglitz: "We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece."
  • Advance the privatizing "neo-liberal project" in which everything owned by any country should be converted into a source of private profit (think Shock Doctrine in New Orleans and the privatization of the public school system).

    Stiglitz: "Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate."
For Western neo-liberal elites, that's a win-win. The only way this plan would fail is if Greece failed to knuckle under. Greece tried to knuckle under, but it hurt so much that they elected a "leftist," anti-austerity government, and the elites took offense (thus Stiglitz's analysis of the troika response as an attack on Greek democracy). The new leftist government also tried to knuckle under, but the demands became too great (and the government too wishy-washy).

So a referendum on the latest austerity offer was called, the Greek people rejected it 61%–39%, and here we are. The remaining choices are to default on the debt or to borrow on terms less punitive. In case of a default on some or all of it — in the business world, that's called a "restructuring via bankruptcy," but morality-neutral language applies only to corporate behavior — the Greek depression will continue, Greece may leave the E.U., and it seems increasingly likely that the drachma will return, perhaps first in an intermediate form, such as government IOUs.

Again, here we are. It's post-referendum, Greek banks are still closed as of last report, and ATMs are running out of money to dispense. For a look at the state of the Greece economy just prior to the referendum, Naked Capitalism offers this report. It's painful reading.

What comes next? Hard-hearted Germans and regime-changing Americans? Could well be.

Eurozone Leaders May Further Harden Their Hard Hearts

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism on the way European (and German) elites are handling this rejection:
[D]espite the responses of media outlets and many pundits that the Eurocrats will have to beeat a retreat and offer Greece concessions, it’s not clear that this event strengthens the Greek government’s hand with its counterparties. Remember, Tsipras enjoyed popularity ratings of as high as 80% and has always retained majority support in polls. And it’s all too easy to forget that “the creditors” are not Merkel, Hollande, Lagarde and Draghi. The biggest group of “creditors” are taxpayers of the 18 other countries of the Eurozone. The ugly design of the Eurozone means that the sort of relief that Greece wants most, a reduction in the face amount of its debt (as opposed to the sort of reduction they’ve gotten, which is in economic value, via reductions in interest rates and extensions of maturities) puts the interest of those voters directly at odds with those in Greece. Our understanding is that a reduction in principal amount, under the perverse budgetary and accounting rules of the Eurozone, would result in those losses showing up as losses for budget purposes, now. They would need to be funded by increased taxes. Thus a reduction in austerity for Greece, via a debt writeoff, simply transfers austerity from Greece to other countries. It’s not hard to see why they won’t go for that. And Eurozone rules require unanimous decisions.

Even though the ruling coalition had said it wanted to restart negotiations immediately upon getting a “no” vote, the lenders have asked Greece to send a new proposal, apparently deeming the one it submitted on June 30 to be out of date. It’s doubtful anything will happen before the Eurogroup meeting tomorrow [July 7].

The remarks from European leaders have been mixed.
Among those mixed responses, Smith notes these. First, from Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem:
I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece.

For recovery of the Greek economy, difficult measures and reforms are inevitable. We will now wait for the initiatives of the Greek authorities.
And via the Financial Times, this from a high German government official:
Sigmar Gabriel, deputy German chancellor, said Mr Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges on which Greece and Europe could have moved towards a compromise”.

“With the rejection of the rules of the eurozone … negotiations about a programme worth billions are barely conceivable,” he told Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Shorter Eurozone: "The beatings will continue..." Good luck with that. The meetings will also continue, in what looks like a month of failed incremental half steps that nevertheless march to the sea.

And the American Reaction? Failed State or Vladimir Putin

Obama's U.S. government has been noticeably quiet as this plays out, but with Putin on their minds, you have to know they have thoughts. Smith on what some of those thoughts might be:
Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine?

Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew have been far more quiet than you’d expect given their attentiveness to the needs of the investing classes and the threat that protracted wrangling with Greece might pose to that. Of course, they might believe that Draghi’s bazooka is more effective than Hank Paulson’s proved to be in the runup to the final phase of the financial crisis. But John Helmer indicates below that the Greek referendum has intensified the Administration’s interest in regime change in Greece. He confirms what we’d noticed, that Putin has been quite pointedly avoided being seen as meddling in Greece now; he can always pick up any pieces later. Also note that the anti-Greek government interests have connections to Hillary Clinton.
The rest of Smith's piece is an essay by John Helmer, "the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties" (full credits at the link). He starts:
A putsch in Athens to save allied Greece from enemy Russia is in preparation by the US and Germany, with backing from the non-taxpayers of Greece – the Greek oligarchs, Anglo-Greek shipowners, and the Greek Church.
You really want to read that twice. He's not speculating, but asserting. Then he continues:
At the highest and lowest level of Greek government, and from Thessaloniki to Milvorni, all Greeks understand what is happening. Yesterday they voted overwhelmingly to resist. According to a high political figure in Athens, a 40-year veteran, “what is actually happening is a slow process of regime change.”

Until Sunday afternoon it was a close-run thing. The Yes and No votes were equally balanced, and the margin between them razor thin. At the start of the morning, Rupert Murdoch’s London Times claimed “Greek security forces have drawn up a secret plan to deploy the army alongside special riot police to contain possible civil unrest after today’s referendum on the country’s future in Europe. Codenamed Nemesis, it makes provision for troops to patrol large cities if there is widespread and prolonged public disorder. Details of the plan emerged as polls showed the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps neck and neck.” Greek officers don’t speak to the Murdoch press; British and US government agents do.

“It was neck to neck until 3 pm,” reports the political veteran in Athens, “then the young started voting.”

Can the outcome — the 61% to 39% referendum vote, with a 22% margin for Οχι (No) which the New York Times calls “shocking” and a “victory [that] settled little” – defeat Operation Nemesis? Will the new Axis – the Americans and the Germans – attack again, as the Germans did after the first Greek Οχι of October 28, 1940, defeated the Italian invasion?
The U.S., via the State Department's Victoria Nuland, has been deeply involved, according to Helmer, both with Operation Nemesis and with warning off Tsipras. Helmer again:
What Nuland [photo at top] was doing with her hands is in the small print of the release. She told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) not to break ranks with the NATO allies against Russia. “Because of the increasing rounds of aggression in eastern Ukraine” she reportedly said the US is “very gratified that we’ve had solidarity between the EU and the U.S., and that Greece has played its role in helping to build consensus.”

Nuland also warned Tsipras not to default on its debts to Germany, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Tsipras was told “to make a good deal with the institutions”. The referendum Tsipras called on June 27 was a surprise for Nuland. The nemesis in Operation Nemesis is the retribution planned for that display of Greek hubris.
All of this loops the Greek story into the Ukraine story, which most people still don't realize isn't just about Putin, though that makes a convenient (and cartoonish) Us vs. The Villain cautionary tale. It's about continuing the ... yes, neo-liberal project ... deeper into eastern Europe.

There's much more at the Naked Capitalism link, and it makes fascinating reading. Also, there's more about Victoria Nuland and her apparent revelations about U.S. meddling in Ukraine as well. Here's one relatively staid write-up; the google has many more.

The Hillary Clinton Connection

Yves Smith noted in her introduction to this piece that there was a Hillary Clinton connection. Near the bottom, after working through the myriad of corporate- and billionaire-funded think tanks (funding which comes from much of the real wealth of Greece, its predatory shipping billionaires), he notes this:
[Robert] Kaplan’s think-tank in Washington [Center for New American Security] reports that its funding comes from well-known military equipment suppliers, US oil companies, the governments of Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore; NATO; the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force; plus George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Chief executive of CNAS is Michele Flournoy, a founder of the think-tank which is serving as her platform to run for the next Secretary of Defense, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election next year. Flournoy is one of the drafters of a recent plan for the US to escalate arms and troop reinforcements in Ukraine and along the Russian frontier with the Baltic states. Here’s her plan for “What the United States and NATO Must Do” . For more on Flournoy, read this.
I personally have no trouble assigning Hillary Clinton, whatever else her virtues, to an inner circle of the "privatizing neo-liberal project," as previously noted here and here and here. Victoria Nuland is a State Department warrior when it comes to advancing that project, and CNAS is as well. For CNAS, the ties to the military-industrial complex are clear, implying military means — "boots on the ground," though preferably boots filled with other nations' soldiers.

Watch the name of that think tank — CNAS. It's come up before and will do again, especially if Clinton is elected president. Also, watch for the name Michele Flournoy. If she does become Secretary of Defense, she'll be sold as the "first woman Secretary of Defense" so you can cheer her on through confirmation.

Bottom Line — Remaking the World

There are two ways to look at the bottom line noted above. First, from the point of view of the Western ruling classes, the high-level servants of the neo-liberal project, the "war" in Greece is a war they feel they can win (by forcing regime change in the face of crushing economic chaos), or at least drive to a stalemate. I suspect they feel good, on the march, that they continue to remake the world. That's certainly the tone coming from the European elites quoted above, like Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Sigmar Gabriel.

But from the point of view of the Greeks and the resistance to Shock Docrine-style neo-liberal takeover, it's possible that the "standstill" in Greece will widen cracks in the glued-together European Union that will break apart Europe itself. That will remake the world.

As David Dayen, generally not given to editorials, put it in a piece called "The end of Europe as we know it":
[In the Euro or Drachma decision] I put myself firmly on Team Drachma ...

Eurozone nations don’t want to really stick together. The northern countries (read Germany) don’t want to pay for whom they regard as lazy, profligate southern countries; conversely, the southern countries don’t want to take dictation on their national policies. So the wars never really ended, they just transferred to the economic sphere, substituting bombs with bonds.

A No vote, therefore, reveals to European citizens an escape hatch, a way out of a terribly misbegotten currency union. The euro would no longer be irreversible.
I recently wrote that TPP was the biggest hot story in the country, and Greece was the biggest cold story. The cold story in Greece has just warmed up.


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Scott Walker Is Proving Himself Unfit To Govern Wisconsin-- But Iowa GOP Caucus Voters Think He's Swell


In the most recent poll of the GOP contenders in Iowa, Scott Walker, governor of neighboring Wisconsin, is still in the lead. He's polling at 18%, eight points ahead of Trump and Ben Carson, who are at 10% each. Walker also has the best favorability rating, 66% favorable to 8% unfavorable, among likely GOP caucus participants, and he also scores high on personal qualities, as voters say 71% to 8% that he is honest and trustworthy, 75% to 7% that he has strong leadership qualities and 71% to 10% that he cares about the needs and problems of Iowa Republican voters. Strange to someone like me who sees Walker as a sniveling worm.

It's especially difficult to imagine how any self-respecting Tea Party-identified Republican could relate positively to Walker and his authoritarian nature. Saturday at HuffPo Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari from the nonpartisan Center for Media and Democracy wrote about how Walker and his right-wing legislature have been twisting the very nature of democracy itself in their state. "America," they wrote about the meaning of the 4th of July celebrations, "fought a revolution against secret and unaccountable government, but this 4th of July Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP are planning on gutting Wisconsin's open records law, the strongest in the nation."
On the same day that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his run for president, the Wisconsin GOP has proposed a virtual gutting of Wisconsin's open records law, long considered one of the best in the nation. The drastic changes were proposed in a last-minute, anonymous budget motion, with zero public input on the eve of a holiday weekend. The motion will be rolled into the state's massive budget bill and voted on in the coming weeks.

The unprecedented proposal would give lawmakers broad authority to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation. It would keep legislative drafting files under wraps,  create a new "deliberative materials" exemption in the open records law that would exempt records at all levels of government, and give the legislature an easy way to hide even more records from disclosure in the future.

The move to gut the open records law appears to come in direct response to a lawsuit that the Center for Media and Democracy filed against Governor Walker in May. State Rep. Gordon Hintz, a democrat from Oshkosh on the Joint Finance Committee, tweeted that GOP budget leaders made it clear to the committee that Walker had signed off on the changes, including the changes to the open records law.

...The sweeping proposal would gut the public records law as it applies to the legislature and governor's office, hiding special interest influence over public policy. The measure would help candidate Walker sidestep public scrutiny as more and more national media outlets file records requests with his office. The Joint Finance Committee chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling (R) and Rep. John Nygren (R), have refused to say who asked for the changes.

Bill Lueders, president of the transparency watchdog Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called the proposal a "cowardly" and a "shocking assault on the state's long and proud tradition of open government."

  "These radical and sweeping changes represent a full-frontal attack on Wisconsin's history of open government," Lueders said. "They are clearly intended to block the public from discovering what factors drive the official actions of government, especially the Legislature, and will inevitably lead to abuse, malfeasance and corruption."

Ron Sklansky, a former 35-year senior staff attorney at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Counsel and an experts on open records, told CMD he had never seen a legislative proposal put forward that was as "devastating" to the open records law as this one. The measure is "almost a complete gutting of open records as it applies to the legislative and executive branch. It prevents the public from investigating the undue influence of special interests on the passage of legislation and the development of executive branch proposals and rule making," he said.

Although the proposal passed the Joint Finance Committee along party lines-- with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats against-- the move has prompted outrage across the political spectrum. The president of the right-wing MacIver Institute, Brett Healy, said the proposal "looks to be a huge step backwards for open government." Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, Brad Schimel, said "Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction." Hours later, Walker's spokesperson promised vaguely that the governor would work with the legislature to address the issue.

Critically, some legislators are saying they will not vote for the controversial budget with the changes included. "I will not support a budget that includes this assault on democracy," GOP Senator Robert Cowles said. And other GOP Reps. expressed discomfort and surprise with the move.
The tragedy of the 2016 Republican field is that there isn't a single contender who could be expected to hold Walker's feet to the fire for this outrage. I suppose Hillary's speechwriters and consultants could make something of it if they ever had to.

UPDATE: Caught Like A Rat, Walker Backs Off

Over the weekend, Walker and his allies in the legislature-- recognizing the catastrophe of their untenable anti-democracy position going public-- dropped it unceremoniously.
Faced with a swift and fierce backlash, Republicans on Saturday abandoned a plan that would have gutted the state's open records law.

In a joint statement issued Saturday afternoon, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislative leaders said the provisions relating to any changes to the law would be removed from the state budget.

"After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state's open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government," the statement read. "The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents' privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way."

...The turnaround came less than 48 hours after lawmakers slipped the plan into the budget unannounced in a late-night session heading into a three-day holiday weekend.

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Sunday, July 05, 2015

Food Watch: 23 minutes with legitimately legendary food writer Mimi Sheraton


by Ken

The other day I was making an effort to tame my monstrously swollen e-mail inbox, and came across this podcast from WNYC's "The Sporkful" (which boasts that "it's for eaters, not for foodies"), in which "Sporkful" keeper Dan Pashman interviewed the legendary food critic and writer Mimi Sheraton live onstage at the Food Book Fair in Brooklyn in May. Mimi has always been one of my most trusted and valued food writers, and I knew I wanted to clear the necessary 23 minutes to listen to the interview, and finally I did, and I'm glad I did. It's a treat to hear her still going strong as she close in on 90 -- still so feisty and food-smart, or as Dan puts it, "as wry and fearless as ever."

So I wanted to share the interview, and for those who can't drop everything for 23 minutes, Dan's posted written report as well.
Legendary Food Critic Mimi Sheraton Hasn’t Been Hungry In 60 Years

Posted by Dan Pashman
May 18, 2015

Mimi Sheraton is famous for her strong opinions and her toughness.

She was the first woman to hold the position of restaurant critic at The New York Times, where she was known for her fearless reviews. When a famous French chef [who might or might not be Paul Bocuse -- Ed.] physically accosted her after she gave his restaurant a negative review, she stood her ground.

"I expected him to do something like that," she later told People magazine. "I'm sorry I didn't hit him in the face."

Mimi is pushing 90 now, but she remains as wry and fearless as ever. So I was a little bit nervous when I interviewed her live onstage at Food Book Fair in Brooklyn.

For one thing, Brooklyn is her home turf -- she was raised on Eastern European home cooking and Manhattan clam chowder in South Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. For another, even though I love eating, I'm no culinary expert. But Mimi has dedicated six decades of her life to researching and writing about food.

It turns out there was no need to worry. Although she was merciless on the topic of kale (her verdict: "Yuck!"), Mimi took it very easy on me -- even when I talked a little smack about one New York chef [hint: it's Wylie Dufresne -- Ed.] chef she admires.

Mimi is really one of us -- a dedicated eater in search of her next delicious meal.

Mimi tells me she once packed 104 different pastrami and corned beef sandwiches into her car while "researching" an article for The New York Times. (Her husband was at the wheel.)

"We were almost overcome by the aroma," she says. "It's crazy."

That kind of attention to detail is evident in Mimi's new book, 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die. From schmaltz and dan dan noodles to frozen Milky Way candy bars and caviar, the book is a wide-ranging journey through her life in food.

"Ridiculous detail?" she protests, when I try to liken her methods to The Sporkful's obsessive approach to eating. "I would say complete."

And when I ask her the best way to eat a bagel with cream cheese and lox, she doesn't hold back. (It's a topic that's near and dear to her heart.)

"Well first of all, you have to find a good bagel, and that's very difficult," she says, adding that many bagels today are "only good for cleaning wallpaper."

Listen in to the full episode to hear which type of lox Mimi prefers and get the low down on her bagel construction method, which prevents the cheese and lox from squishing out the sides at first bite. (It's ingenious!)

(And for more on bagels, check out our entire episode dedicated to this classic New York food -- featuring Brooke Gladstone of WNYC's On The Media and former congressman Anthony Weiner.)

Mimi also has a weakness for frozen Milky Way candy bars:

"The textures melt down as you bite in, and you have the experience of the chocolate, the caramel, the solid cream filling," she says. "It’s just a wonderful sensuous feeling on the palate."

Whether she's describing a candy bar or caviar, Mimi knows how to talk about food. That's the mark of a true professional. And, as she explains to me, sometimes food writing is more about professionalism than deliciousness.

“Whether you’re in the mood or not, it’s your work and you have to do it," she says. "It has nothing to do with hungry. I haven’t been hungry in 60 years.”

Eaters, if you liked my conversation with Mimi, you can listen to a bonus clip from the audience Q-and-A on SoundCloud -- where Mimi reveals the one dish she ever refused to eat.