Monday, October 30, 2017

The end of Wolfgang Sch�uble's evil madness?

Wolfgang Sch�uble does not have a fan club around here because he is such a perfect neoliberal. (The list of my criticisms can be found here) But he has been accepted / praised in Germany because he has been the enthusiastic face of the German financial establishment. And what an ugly face that has been. Even by German standards, he is especially homely. If someone was casting a play and needed a devil to scare little children, he would be perfect. And I am pretty certain the Greeks whose lives he was destroying had no problem thinking of him as evil personified.

But the neoliberalism he was pitching was certain to be harming the German economy as well because it is an economic philosophy that causes a great deal of collateral damage. So it is with some pleasure I note that one of the more enlightened of the German economists, Heiner Flassbeck, has produced a stunningly accurate critique of Sch�uble's crackpot mismanagement. Unfortunately for the Germans, the neoliberal bench is very deep. There are probably thousands of economists spread over all the political parties ready to make Sch�uble look like a kindly old man. But the fact that he has been eased out as the FM may mean that there are corners of the German economic establishment who at least have questions about the "wisdom" of neoliberalism. It is 25 years too late but a turnaround must start somewhere.

Thank god, it�s over. Eight years of Wolfgang Sch�uble

Heiner Flassbeck, 26. October 2017

Thank god, it�s over.

The most common claim in the German press about Wolfgang Sch�uble�s eight years as Germany�s finance minister appeared again in the business daily Handelsblatt on Monday morning: �He saved the euro states and consolidated the budget�. That is to say: he was a German Hercules who saved entire nations and worked wonders in the financial-political sphere that have never been seen before.

That verdict can hardly be more wrong. It would be much closer to the truth to describe his achievement as follows: he drove euro nations to the brink of collapse and allowed the German state to record an enormous current account surplus at exactly the wrong time. Wolfgang Sch�uble�s record in Europe should be mentioned in the same breath as his record in Germany, because the two cannot be separated.

Let�s start with Europe. The outgoing federal minister of finance, more than any other German finance minister before him, must be held responsible for the economic developments in Europe. As a European financial and political heavyweight, and in view of Germany�s unique historical role as a creditor for the whole of the EU, he dominated the Euro group and set the agenda for the so-called rescue of crisis states. The results were and continue to be catastrophic!

If one compares the economic development of the euro area after the global financial crisis with the only comparable economic area, the United States, the euro zone�s �performance� can at best be seen as inadequate. Even if we consider such a dubious benchmark as GDP, since 2012 growth in the euro-zone economy has remained more than five per cent below what it could have achieved if it had grown as strongly as the United States.

In other words, if the EU economy had grown as much as the US since 2009, European GDP today would be well over EUR 150 billion higher than the current figure. This is a considerable shortfall, even for such a large economic area. The simple reason is that, following a recovery comparable to that of the US recovery immediately after the global financial crisis, European economic policy changed tack in 2011 in an attempt to overcome its own crisis, with a fatal mixture of austerity and �structural reforms�.

According to official figures, today�s unemployment rate in Europe is still nine percent, while in the US it is approaching historical lows of well below five percent. Unemployment levels throughout southern Europe, including France, are still extremely high � and this is not due to the encrusted labour markets but solely to low growth momentum.

Europe is not only suffering from low growth and high unemployment; it has also failed to meet its inflation target. The European Central Bank (ECB) has been fighting deflationary trends with zero interest rates for years. This is heavily criticised in Germany, but at the same time we Germans do not want to believe that it was German wage deflation under the Social-Democrat/Green coalition of 2005 to 2010 [check dates] that sowed the seed of deflation in the euro zone.

This means that all the region�s macroeconomic goals are far from being achieved. Germans will object to this assertion, explaining that in Europe there were �structural� problems, excessively high government debt, and a lack of competitiveness. That made it impossible to solve the European economic crisis as easily as in the United States via macro-politics. But this is exactly where the real problem with Wolfgang Sch�uble begins. He immediately adopted the theory that the financial crisis was caused by �excessive public debt�, only later adding the �lack of competitiveness of the southern European nations�. Both analyses were wrong.

Already in 2009, Mr Sch�uble�s first year as German finance minister, an honest analysis would have revealed that the enormous gap in competitiveness among EU countries is largely due to German wage dumping initiated under the Social Democrat/Green government. Mr Sch�uble should then have focused on the burgeoning German current account surplus. He should also have recognised that it was impossible for the other euro nations, which were running current account deficits and whose companies were reducing investment, to consolidate public finances without falling further into recession.

The adoption of an austerity policy at the beginning of the global economic crisis was simply absurd. Consequently the provisions of the EU�s Stability and Growth Pact should never have been so restrictive and no attempt should ever have been made to comply with them. Long before 2015 it should have been clear that no state could adhere to these targets without causing enormous economic self-harm and slipping deeper into crisis.

More importantly, the Euro group had also urged its member nations to �make labour markets more flexible� to combat the crisis, which meant reducing wages to �improve competitiveness�. This however led to a sharp decline in domestic demand, resulting in a further increase in unemployment. The Euro group and Mr Sch�uble had expected exactly the opposite.

Mr Sch�uble should have been aware of this cause and effect. And he should have fought accordingly for a change in German economic policy. That would however have meant convincing the population that for a nation with a high current account surplus, whose business sector was radically reducing its investment, and in the midst of the euro currency crisis, any attempt at consolidating the budgets of the euro nations was absurd. With a responsible and knowledgeable finance minister at the helm the mechanism for putting a brake on public borrowing would never have been adopted into the German constitution.

This is the crucial point in assessing Wolfgang Sch�uble�s performance as German finance minister. The cause and effect we are talking about here are not easily understood, and one can be sure that he did not understand them. Unfortunately he believes that does not matter � even with hindsight. His curious advice to his incoming successor goes like this:

�He doesn�t have to be the greatest expert. That might even be dangerous, since he would then no longer listen to his advisers.�

And Mr Sch�uble adds a claim that is hard to beat in outlandishness:

�Of course, it is important to try to comprehend things. But you must also be able to communicate it. Otherwise a politician is not doing his job.�

Apparently the man who held the fate of Europe in his hands for eight years believes that his advisers (his officials and the infinite number of �experts� in the central banks and international organisations) are always right, and that it is therefore best if the politician simply follows their advice. Obviously it never occurred to Mr Sch�uble that his advisers might be fundamentally wrong. That is exactly what happens when you give a lawyer such an important economic policy position: he is deeply impressed by the �wisdom� and knowledge of his advisers and cannot carry out his political task of protecting the German and European people from a ruinous economic policy.

But Mr Sch�uble goes even further � and this is frankly shocking � by claiming that you can communicate better if you know less. Up to now we were under the illusion that only those who really understand every detail of policy can communicate it in a credible and perspicacious manner. Now we learn that too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Why? Would it then no longer be possible for a finance minister to tell his voters that everything is going splendidly in Europe, although in reality things are only slightly improving? Would it be more difficult to declare that government debt is calamitous? Could Southern European nations no longer be blamed for the defects in the monetary union?

Now that it is too late, we finally know why Mr Sch�uble never explained to the German public how monetary union works. Now we know why he never even tried to think of government debt in relation to savings and other sectors� debts. Now we realize that it was sheer ignorance that drove him to follow the international institutions blindly when it came to �making labour markets in southern Europe more flexible�.

It is a pity that we are learning this only now, at the last moment, though we could at least learn something from it. Not only that Germany and Europe have eight lost years behind them, but also that the next German finance minister must be more able than his predecessor. The most important rule for the future is to remember that lawyers can�t do everything, even those who like Mr Sch�uble are the sons of a Swabian Housewife. more

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ken Burns tries to explain Vietnam

It turns out there IS something worse than being historically illiterate and that is being historically misinformed. Ken Burns is a master of historical misinformation and his latest effort on Vietnam is truly ghastly. What a tragedy! I often claim that this country's failure to come to terms with that horrible and expensive adventure in late-stage colonialism pretty much explains the decline of this once pretty-interesting nation.

Take, for example, the horror that was Agent Orange. Some "genius" came to the conclusion that because the Viet Cong were so good at hiding out in their native jungles, the "solution" was to remove the jungles. And so 21+ MILLION gallons of the most toxic herbicide ever invented was sprayed on that poor nation killing wide areas of native foliage. Agent Orange was so dangerous that the folks who merely loaded it onto the airplanes used for spraying suffered long-term health effects including having children with birth defects.

Of course, compared to the suffering inflicted on those poor people on the receiving end of all that spraying, the damage to the USA troops was trivial. There are areas of Vietnam where serious birth defects are almost "normal." That does not make the pain suffered by the young mothers who must cope with these cruel reminders of some genius's chemical warfare any easier.

There was a small burst of interest in the problems caused by Agent Orange when they began to surface in the affected veterans. But seriously, the subject has not even begun to be treated on anything but the most superficial level. For me, any serious thinking on Agent Orange would include a comprehensive examination of the wasted genius that led to this horrible war crime. In order for Operation Ranch Hand (the cutesy name for the largest deliberate environmental catastrophe in recorded history) to succeed, thousands of engineering hours were spent designing and building a fleet of aircraft that could haul large loads of heavy liquid poison, designing a herbicide so lethal it could kill jungles, figuring out how to manufacture 21+ million gallons of the stuff, and delivering this massive load of poison to the other side of the planet. It took a lot of people who studied very hard to learn difficult and complex subjects to pull off this feat�people who otherwise looked and acted like regular middle-class citizens who would do things like coach Little League baseball.

Think about this for awhile. Star students are taught the most brilliant scientific facts Enlightenment thinking can produce and then are put to work designing and executing an ethical and environmental disaster. You tell me how this cannot seriously degrade a culture. When I discovered how involved my university was with such ventures, I just wanted to run away from the academic world. My epiphany came the day I discovered that my "favorite" PolSci professor had a big contract to help design the Phoenix Program�a nasty little operation of torture and assassination targeting the rural males of Vietnam for the "crime" of being educated.

I sort of understand why Ken Burns is so diligent about telling small stories while ignoring the big ones. Most probably it is because his worldview cannot even comprehend the big stories. And that goes double for the tote-bag crowd that watches PBS. Plus he gets paid large sums of money to create a kiddie version of history. The problem I have with little Kenny's kinderspiel is that people who are historically curious wind up being more ignorant for watching his efforts.

Does Vietnam Even Matter Any More? Does Ken Burns?

Robert Freeman | October 16, 2017

Do you remember when, in first grade, you made mosaics out of colored construction paper? You carefully cut the different pieces of paper into little half inch tiles and patiently pasted them onto a bigger paper with many other little tiles to make a picture of a whale, or George Washington, or a house. Remember?

The challenge of making a mosaic is that you have to hold both the micro- and the macro-view in your head at the same time. And you have to scope in and out between the two views, micro and macro, repeatedly, scores or even hundreds of times, to make it work. What color tile do you put in what place in order to form the particular picture you�re trying to create? The physical and mental dexterity demanded of the first-grade artist in doing it is exhilarating. Its mastery is exulting, which is why first-graders love to do it so much.

Ken Burns� The Vietnam War series is like one part of that process, the scoping in. It has the micro view�the tile-level view of the War�down cold. The problem is that there�s no scoping out into a bigger picture. It provides no context, no historical meaning, and, most importantly, no moral message. It is, in a very real sense, one dimensional, a view of tiles so up-close that you can�t see what is the real picture of the War. That is its tragedy.

Now, to be sure, Burns� artistry is unquestioned. The tile-level view that he does provide is riveting. Nobody does it better. Grunts slogging through elephant grass, lugging their M-60s, bandoliers of bullets slung over their shoulders. Soldiers bleeding out in the mud before the medevac can arrive. Napalm blossoming over the jungle, beautiful in its hellacious unfolding evanescence. Credence Clearwater Revival and The Byrds cued up at just the right moment. It�s a kaleidoscopic extravaganza for the sensate voyeur of military mayhem.

But history, conveyed as art, if devoid of context, meaning, and especially moral judgement is not really history. It is entertainment masquerading as history. It may be riveting, even titillating, but it should not be confused with anything like gravitas and certainly not with anything like a lesson, which is what we really need to be looking for in parsing the past, especially in something as destructive and divisive as the Vietnam War.

Yes, War is hell. Of course, mistakes were made. Obviously, there were many sides. Undoubtedly a lot of good intentions went bad. Believing that that tells us anything new, anything useful, is like licking the frosting off of the Frosted Flakes and pretending you�ve eaten breakfast. It�s all candy. War is hell no matter what the War. Mistakes are always made. There are always multiple sides. Good intentions so often go bad they have been memorialized into a clich�the road to hell.

Besides, Thucydides showed us all of this in the Peloponnesian Wars back in 400 B.C. George Bernard Shaw updated it as satire in 1890 in Arms and the Man. If that�s all there is then we haven�t learned anything we didn�t already know before. In essence, we haven�t risen above the level of clich�, although we�re doing it with more panache and more sanctimonious self-congratulation.

Burns, his wealthy right-wing backers, and his legion of establishment promoters want us to believe his work is some kind of cultural sacrament, a divination, a Rosetta Stone we can use to decode the meaning of it all. But we can�t. It is literally not there. All we can see are the tiles, the individual pathos. There�s no scoping out. That is intentional.

This isn�t to say that there is no footage of higher ups, including plenty showing them lying. There is. Rather, it is to say that the walk-away emotional state demanded of the viewer of The Vietnam War is empathy. It�s a Greek word: em-pathos; putting pathos in. We are made to feel the soldiers� suffering. Intensely. Relentlessly. That is the effective message of the work, the dominant feeling evoked in watching the series. However, as a cultural memoir of the War, as a touchstone for evaluating the War, or for judging other wars against a standard that might be latent in Vietnam, pathos does not begin to be enough.

Consider, for example, what we learn if we scope out just a little bit, like the first-grader has to do when making that mosaic. We can start to see what we don�t see in Burns� fetishistically microscopic rendering of the War. Here are two paragraphs of facts that do not focus on the tile-level interpretation of the War and so convey an entirely different meaning about it.

The U.S. invaded and destroyed another country because that other country wanted a form of government different than the one the U. S. was willing to allow it to have. To prevent that country from exercising the �consent of the governed� that the U.S. deifies as the highest political expression of civilization, the U.S. killed six million Vietnamese, most of them civilians. That is the number from the government of Vietnam. The U.S. spent $168,000 for every enemy combatant it killed. The average Vietnamese earned $80 per year at the time. To carry out this act, the U.S. dropped 14 billion pounds of bombs on Vietnam, three times more than were used by all sides in all theaters of all of World War II combined.

The U.S. carried out industrial-scale chemical warfare on Vietnam, spraying it with 21 million gallons of the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange. It destroyed half of the nation�s forests, leaving the greatest man-made environmental catastrophe in the history of the world. When the U.S. destroyed neighboring Cambodia to cover its retreat from Vietnam, the communist Khmer Rouge came to power and carried out the greatest proportional genocide in modern history. The U.S. dropped 270 million cluster bombs on neighboring Laos, 113 bombs for every man, woman, and child in the country. Vietnam had never attacked the U.S., had never tried to attack it, had no desire to attack it, and had no capacity to attack it. All of this was justified through a purposeful campaign of lies to the American people that was sustained by five presidential administrations over more than two decades.

Notice that this level of focus, above the tile-level view that Burns insists we see, renders an entirely different understanding of the War. It is an understanding that Burns does not want us to have. He is, after all, a master documentarian, the best in the business, and if he had wanted us to have this vantage he could certainly have provided it. He didn�t.

Let�s scope out one more time and see if we can see anything else that Burns doesn�t want us to see.

For more than 400 years, Europeans had exploited developing world countries, making colonies of them in order to milk them of their resources. They became fabulously wealthy in the process. But in 1945, at the end of World War II, the European imperial states collapsed, victims of their own suicide, brought on by their starting two World Wars in only 30 years. The global imperial system, however, remained in place. The only question was who was going to dominate it and pick up those nations that had been colonies of the Europeans. It was the greatest land grab in the history of the world and the U.S. was determined that those former European colonies would now become its vassals so that they could enrich the U.S. as they had their European masters.

At the same time, the global capitalist system had collapsed in the Great Depression that preceded World War II and could not be revived without war. While the Western world was in Depression, the economy of the Soviet Union boomed, growing almost 400%. For developing world countries, it was an appealing alternative to the neo-colonial subjugation being offered by the U.S. And spending on weapons proved so powerful a means of transferring national wealth to the weapons makers it was graced with its own institutional moniker: military Keynesianism. Weapons spending lined the pockets of the weapons makers while providing the captains of finance the means to expand and hold their new-found global empire.

Again, notice that we get a very different perspective on the War by scoping out a little bit more. This is what Burns assiduously refuses to do�scope out so we can attain a better understanding of what it was all about. Yet, scoping out in this way is the only way to make sense of the whole thing, to put it into a context that imparts coherence, and meaning, and that allows us to make a judgement about it.

The point is that Vietnam wasn�t an aberration. It was simply the most violent case of the norm when countries refused to submit to U.S. domination. That is what the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran was about in 1953. It�s what the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala was about in 1954. It�s what the assassination of Lumumba in Congo was about in 1961. It�s what the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba was about in 1961. It�s what the invasion of the Dominican Republic was about in 1965. It�s what the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile was about in 1973. Can you see the advantage that context conveys for understanding? That�s precisely what Burns will not do.

The reason this is so important, and what makes Burns� occlusion of it such a fraud is that, as William Faulkner said, �The past isn�t dead. It isn�t even past.� This is what the destruction of Yugoslavia was about in the 1990s. It�s what the invasion of Iraq was about in 2003. It�s what the Honduras coup was about in 2009. Its what the invasion of Syria, albeit by jihadist proxies like al Qaeda and ISIS, was about beginning in 2011. It�s what the destruction of Libya was about in 2011. It�s what the coup in Ukraine was about in 2014.

Should we talk about North Korea in 2017? Venezuela in 2018? Iran, in 2019? Russia? China? As you can see, it never ends.

Burns is a very smart businessman. He makes millions of dollars on these cinemagraphic blockbusters. More than anything else, he doesn�t want to derail the gravy train. He doesn�t want to blow the franchise. He doesn�t want to have to burden his 40 million middlebrow viewers with anything like the weight of having to make moral judgments about their nation�s behavior. Or worse, having to take action when the same atrocities are committed in their name again and again and again and again.

It�s so much more profitable to make his viewers into moral eunuchs by assuring them that whatever trauma was inflicted on American GIs (and it�s pretty clear that they were the real victims in it all, right?) it was only because well-meaning people made some well-intended mistakes. After all, this is America, right?

If there were any meaningful lessons learned from Vietnam, they were learned by the military and the vast bureaucracies that profit from war. The media, in which Burns is a designated doyen, now serves as the freakishly effective propaganda instrument for this militarized state. After Vietnam it learned how to insulate the American people from the realities of war, embedding sycophantic reporters into front-line units so they could send back only idolizing stories of battlefield heroism, valor, sacrifice, bravery, comradery, and idealism. It has learned how to easily engineer consent for the literally endless wars that the empire and the financiers and weapons makers who run it demand.

Ken Burns and his Vietnam War are at once the progeny and perpetrators of this system. It is a surrealistic fantasy world where there are no venal motives, only benevolent ones gone awry, where there is really no blame because it was all well-intended to begin with, where complexity serves as exculpation for anything, and where there are so many sides it�s impossible to form moral judgements. As a result, it becomes impossible to express outrage, and therefore take action against ever newer, more slickly packaged atrocities.

Charles Beard called it �perpetual war for perpetual peace.� A far greater and more prescient American warned about where it inevitably leads. James Madison, the author of the Constitution wrote, �No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.� By depriving us of the context and, therefore, knowledge of the purpose of the Vietnam War Ken Burns lulls us into passivity in the face of and acquiescence to this enveloping reality. We desperately need better sentinels. more

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wiping Out Puerto Rico�s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders

Even before Hurricane Maria leveled the island of Puerto Rico, their economy was already in a world of hurt. They were attempting to refinance $74 billion in debt when Maria inflicted another $55 billion in property damage and caused $40 billion in lost economic output.

But hey, Puerto Rico is part of USA and we just spent the last nine years wiping out the massive banking losses incurred when the financial system crashed in the 2007-8 recession. The method used was a little gimmick called "quantitative easing." If we can bail out a bunch of crooked banksters, we should surly be able to rebuild an island responsible for a significant fraction of global Viagra production.

Below Ellen Brown explains just how this could be done. Of course, this does not mean it will be done. It's one thing to bail out crooked banksters�it's quite another to help poor people struggling to survive.

How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico�s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders


During his visit to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump shocked the bond market when he told Geraldo Rivera of Fox News that he was going to wipe out the island�s bond debt. He said on October 3rd:
You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We�re gonna have to wipe that out. That�s gonna have to be � you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don�t know if it�s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.
How did the president plan to pull this off? Pam Martens and Russ Martens, writing in Wall Street on Parade, note that the U.S. municipal bond market holds $3.8 trillion in debt, and it is not just owned by Wall Street banks. Mom and pop retail investors are exposed to billions of dollars of potential losses through their holdings of Puerto Rican municipal bonds, either directly or in mutual funds. Wiping out Puerto Rico�s debt, they warned, could undermine confidence in the municipal bond market, causing bond interest rates to rise, imposing an additional burden on already-struggling states and municipalities across the country.

True, but the president was just pointing out the obvious. As economist Michael Hudson says, �Debts that can�t be paid won�t be paid.� Puerto Rico is bankrupt, its economy destroyed. In fact it is currently in bankruptcy proceedings with its creditors. Which suggests its time for some more out-of-the-box thinking . . . .

Turning Disaster into a Win-Win

In July 2016, a solution to this conundrum was suggested by the notorious Goldman Sachs itself, when mom and pop investors holding the bonds of bankrupt Italian banks were in jeopardy. Imposing losses on retail bondholders had proven to be politically toxic, after one man committed suicide. Some other solution had to be found.

Italy�s non-performing loans (NPLs) then stood at �210bn, at a time when the ECB was buying �120bn per year of outstanding Italian government bonds as part of its QE program. The July 2016 Financial Times quoted Goldman�s Francesco Garzarelli, who said, �by the time QE is over � not sooner than end 2017, on our baseline scenario � around a fifth of Italy�s public debt will be sitting on the Bank of Italy�s balance sheet.�

His solution: rather than buying Italian government bonds in its quantitative easing program, the European Central Bank could simply buy the insolvent banks� NPLs. Bringing the entire net stock of bad loans onto the government�s balance sheet, he said, would be equivalent to just nine months� worth of Italian government bond purchases by the ECB.

Puerto Rico�s debt is only $73 billion, one third the Italian debt. The Fed has stopped its quantitative easing program, but in its last round (called �QE3�), it was buying $85 billion per month in securities. At that rate, it would have to fire up the digital printing presses for only one additional month to rescue the suffering Puerto Ricans without hurting bondholders at all. It could then just leave the bonds on its books, declaring a moratorium at least until Puerto Rico got back on its feet, and better yet, indefinitely.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs data, 33,000 US jobs were lost in September, the first time the country has had a negative figure since 2010. It could be time for a bit more economic stimulus from the Fed.

Successful Precedent

Shifting the debt burden of bankrupt institutions onto the books of the central bank is not a new or radical idea. UK Prof. Richard Werner, who invented the term �quantitative easing� when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s, says there is ample precedent for it. In 2012, he proposed a similar solution to the European banking crisis, citing three successful historical examples.

One was in Britain in 1914, when the British banking sector collapsed after the government declared war on Germany. This was not a good time for a banking crisis, so the Bank of England simply bought the banks� NPLs. �There was no credit crunch,� wrote Werner, �and no recession. The problem was solved at zero cost to the tax payer.�

For a second example, he cited the Japanese banking crisis of 1945. The banks had totally collapsed, with NPLs that amounted to virtually 100 percent of their assets:
But in 1945 the Bank of Japan had no interest in creating a banking crisis and a credit crunch recession. Instead it wanted to ensure that bank credit would flow again, delivering economic growth. So the Bank of Japan bought the non-performing assets from the banks � not at market value (close to zero), but significantly above market value.
Werner�s third example was the US Federal Reserve�s quantitative easing program, in which it bought $1.7 trillion in mortgage-backed securities from the banks. These securities were widely understood to be �toxic� � Wall Street�s own burden of NPLs. Again the move worked: the banks did not collapse, the economy got back on its feet, and the much-feared inflation did not result.

In each of these cases, he wrote:
The operations were a complete success. No inflation resulted. The currency did not weaken. Despite massive non-performing assets wiping out the solvency and equity of the banking sector, the banks� health was quickly restored. In the UK and Japanese case, bank credit started to recover quickly, so that there was virtually no recession at all as a result.
The Moral Hazard Question

One objection to this approach is the risk of �moral hazard�: lenders who know they will be rescued from their bad loans will recklessly make even more. That is the argument, but an analysis of data in China, where NPLs are now a significant problem, has relieved those concerns. China�s NPLs are largely being left on the banks� books without writing them down. The concern is that shrinking the banks� balance sheets in an economy that is already slowing will reduce their ability to create credit, further slowing growth and triggering a downward economic spiral. As for the moral hazard problem, when researchers analyzed the data, they found that the level of Chinese NPLs did not affect loan creation, in small or large banks.

But if Puerto Rico got relief from the Fed, wouldn�t cities and states struggling with their own debt burdens want it too? Perhaps, but that bar could be set in bankruptcy court. Few cities or states can match the devastation of Puerto Rico, which was already in bankruptcy court when struck by hurricanes that left virtually no tree unscathed and literally flattened the territory.

Arguably, the Fed should be making nearly-interest-free loans to cities and states, allowing them to rebuild their crumbling infrastructure at reasonable cost. That argument was made in an October 2012 editorial in The New York Times titled �Getting More Bang for the Fed�s Buck�. It was also suggested by Martin Hutchinson in Reuters in October 2010:
An alternative mechanism could be an extension of the Fed�s [QE] asset purchases to include state and municipal bonds. Currently the central bank does not have the power to do this for maturities of more than six months. But an approving Congress could remove that hurdle at a stroke . . . .
The Fed lent $29 trillion to Wall Street banks virtually interest-free. It could do the same for local governments.

Where There�s a Will

When central banks want to save bankrupt institutions without cost to the government or the people, they obviously know how to do it. It is a matter of boldness and political will, something that may be lacking in our central bankers but has been amply demonstrated in our president.

If the Fed resists the QE alternative, here is another possibility: Congress can audit the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Defense, and retrieve some of the $21 trillion gone missing from their accountings. This massive black money hole, tracked by Dr. Mark Skidmore and Catherine Austin Fitts, former assistant secretary of HUD, is buried on the agencies� books as �undocumented adjustments� � entries inserted without receipts or other documentary support just to balance the books. It represents money that rightfully belongs to the American people.

If our legislators and central bankers can find trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street banks, while overlooking trillions more lost to the DoD and HUD in �undocumented adjustments,� they can find the money to help an American territory suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in its history. more

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Saker nails it

The Saker has spent a great deal of time in the last decade writing about what it is like to be on the receiving end of USA / Western economic "wisdom"�the various elements of the wholesale destruction of people's lives. I am especially grateful for his insights because I am personally a victim of the neoliberal madness. I lost a business that I had invested every cent I could lay my hands on plus a seeming infinity of hard work to the depression of 1981-82�one deliberately caused by Paul Volcker and his idea that 21% prime interest rates couldn't possibly do structural damage to the real economy. He probably knew this move would hurt real people�he just didn't give a shit. After all, what is a "great" man except someone perfectly willing to sacrifice real people because someone they respect intellectually will assure him that destroying the lives of the peons is understandable and reasonable collateral damage.

Compared to the Russians and what the Harvard gang did to their economy, I got off pretty easy. The disastrous economics were largely the same but the difference was that USA was a lot richer to start with compared to USSR which was still recovering from the monumental damage inflicted by the invading Germans during WW II.

I knew it was especially bad for the Russians. Even so, Saker's description below puts the carnage is especially human terms. And he explains why the Russians are so grateful that Putin put some serious brakes on the neoliberal destruction of his country. Which also explains why the elites in USA are so furious with him. Suddenly, the baseless and mindless Russia-bashing seems to sound almost rational coming from the country's Predator classes. Putin is hated because he partially foiled one of the greatest thefts in history.

Of course, that is also why V. Putin is so beloved. Those constituting the collateral damage classes tend to admire anyone who makes their lives possible again.

Vladimir Putin�s birthday

The Saker, October 07, 2017

We were falling into the Abyss.

They cut out of Russia her historical, nation forming territories. They divided and separated her people, and they were ready to chop her heartland into pieces.

Everything was set. They had premade ethnic territories with their own flags and anthems and governments, selected by them. They printed and delivered the money of these invented countries, like the �Ural republic.�

The Khasavyurt conducted by the puppet liquidators of Russia signaled the beginning of the end of Russia herself.

Ethnic republics were waiting on the low start. Tatarstan was expected to be the first to go. The satanic West was getting ready to take over Kazan and other territories.

Without tanks, without invasions of foreign armies, without bombardments and chemical attacks. Russia was rapidly shrinking in size. According to their plans, it would be reduced to the size of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and they would have prepared a monarchy ready to rule over us.

Abject poverty, desolation, ruins, murders in the streets of the cities and towns, mafia wars, racketeering, the �politicians� and �businessmen� rendering open assistance to the Islamic terrorists and international mercenaries waging the wars on the Caucasus. Central Moscow clubs entertained sponsors of those who were killing Russian soldiers.

The government positions in the Kremlin and in the Parliament White House were occupied by those who were sending Russian soldiers to the Caucasus to be killed, simultaneously reporting information about them to the jihadists, and to the foreign special forces and other murderers who traveled to the Caucasus from every corner of the world to participate in the hunt of Russians.

The only thing that was increasing and growing on the territory of Russia were cemeteries and graveyards. In proportion, the personal bank accounts of the members of the liquidating teams were also growing.


Inside the luxury clubs in the center of Moscow and abroad, they celebrated an endless carnival of victors. They celebrated our funeral.

They dehumanized us. They depicted us as skinny pigs that they publicly slaughtered. They portrayed us as naked drunks wearing dog collars, curled up on the floor next to their masters� feet. It was us, dirty mongrels, they stripped, raped and chained. They were certain that we would be staying there on a chain, serving them, the victors, for a bare bone.

Their creative class celebrated our defeat without end. They took upon themselves to insult us and spit in our faces. When tired, they ate and drank wine on our dime, and once refreshed, they continued spitting at us, at our history, our character, our faith. From the United State they sent us chicken bones. In exchange they took free oil and gas, gold and diamonds, fur, uranium and timber, works of art, scientific discoveries and inventions, knowhow, secret technologies and scientists, slaves, human organs, prepubescent girls and boys to labor in the prostitution rings of the Europe, Turkey, the Middle east, USA, and even Africa.

The territories of the former republics were grabbed with all the people who lived there. They started devouring them slowly, waiting for the complete liquidation of Russia, to go on and to destroy them completely. They digested separate parts of out broken nation into human manure, and started growing new managers to run this brand new world company with fully stolen ready to use industries and infrastructure.

They pre-printed maps with the new world order and borders, with China getting its part of the loot in the territories of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and Turkey, taking over Azerbaijan and Armenia. Poland, Germany, Britain, Spain, Denmark and others would have their own Russian slaves, territories and cheap prostitutes. The citizens of Israel saw themselves becoming managers of all those territories. The USA wanted only one thing, the ownership of everything under our feet, all our mineral resources.

When Putin came, no one believed that he will be able to stop what was seemingly unavoidable.


He fought wars. No one noticed, and no one saw anything. His activity was phenomenal, like wind, invisible, but strong enough for everyone to feel the results of its input, especially when falling branches were hitting them directly over their heads. His wars were like radiation, undetectable to senses, but surely with ever increasing concentration it was killing them slowly.

Years passed, and everything changed, as if on its own.

Before the last war, just in case, he was prepared to die.

He distanced himself from people he loved the most, so they wouldn�t die with him. And, he went to war.

He dedicated his life to rescue us all.

He sacrificed himself and pried entire nations out of the Abyss� jaws.

He changed the world forever.

From the head of Ingushetia Yunus�bek Bamatgireyevich Yevkurov
Happy birthday, President. Thank you for everything you do for Ingushetia.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

America's Russia-gate Obsession - Sign of a Failing Nation

Can the people pushing Russia-gate possibly believe their own BS?? Was anyone so asleep during junior high math that they could believe that a $200,000 Facebook ad buy could swing an election where billions were spent on political persuasion? But the even bigger question is, How much damage can be done by the exposure of such massive stupidity on the international stage? While USA is clearly still the biggest bully in the neighborhood as measured by its willingness to spend so much money on weapons systems and soldiers in uniform, there are a LOT of ways to exercise power. Unfortunately for USA, these alternate methods rely heavily on the ability to convince the rest of the world that competent people are in charge. Between Donald Trump's inability to organize an effective government and the Democrats willingness to push the absurd storylines of Russia-gate, the illusion that USA is run by wise and virtuous people is taking massive hits below the waterline.

The imperial apparatus looks like it is in the process of collapse. The examples of this collapse are numerous but for me, the biggest sign of the loss of imperial power is the overdue attack on the petro-dollar.  So long as petroleum is traded in dollars, the USA can print as many dollars as it wants without fear of inflation because the world is effectively on an "oil standard." With the petro-dollar, multi-billion monthly merchandise trade deficits are essentially harmless. The petro-dollar advantage is so great that oil countries that attempted to opt out of the system�like Libya and Iraq�soon found themselves being destroyed by USA military aggression.

So now the Chinese and Russia have banded together to make war on the petro-dollar. Russia has a massive resource base while China has become an industrial superpower. Both have nukes and neither likes being pushed around. But probably the deciding factor in their decision to move against the petro-dollar now are the obvious demonstrations that USA is being run by badly-educated, misinformed, wildly-incompetent, fools. Ken Galbraith used to say that successful revolutions are usually a matter of someone kicking in a rotten door. Hard to imagine a door more rotten than one composed of Trump and those buffoons who are pushing the hoax that is Russia-Gate.

Humor is Where You Find It

Robert Gore, September 30, 2017

Looking for a good laugh? Consider the United States.
Football is a tedious game that fills three-and-a-half hours of airtime with 30 minutes of action, commercials, commentary, instant replays, more instant replays, closeups of pretty cheerleaders, and halftime pageantry. The players are paid great gobs of money but run the risk of rendering themselves concussive basket cases. The super rich owners hold up municipalities for taxpayer-funded stadiums while keeping the TV, ticket, merchandising, and concessions revenues. They�ve also climbed into bed with the federal government, accepting taxpayer money for promoting patriotism. Among other things, this requires players, who until 2009 could stay in the locker room while the National Anthem was played, to be on the field, presumably standing at respectful attention.

Presumably�aye, there�s the rub. Last season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed his disagreement with certain governmental policies and practices by kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Since then, other players have done the same, to the consternation of many fans, including President Trump. Ratings and attendance are tanking and the crony socialist owners are caught between the rock of their payrolls� politics and the hard place of their fans� disgust. To borrow from Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to ponder their plight without laughing. It couldn�t have happened to a nicer group of guys and gals.

Last year�s losing presidential candidate has written a book blaming virtually everyone for her loss�except the one person who was responsible. A cottage industry has sprung up to feed this self-exculpatory fantasy, affixing on Russia as the author of Hillary�s woes. Russia �hacked� DNC computers, except technically they couldn�t have been hacked, they were downloaded, an inside job. The materials Russia couldn�t have hacked were given by someone, presumably whoever downloaded them, to WikiLeaks, which disclosed them. Doing so, it committed the cardinal sin in contemporary American governance: disclosing the truth. In classic Clinton fashion, Hillary and team never contested the authenticity or veracity of the disclosures, instead concocting the Russian story.

Efforts to keep this fabrication going are a source of endless amusement. There have been evidence-free �assessments� from the intelligence agencies, a special counsel probing the tax returns of a Trump campaign manager who served all of two months, and now there are stories that �Russian-aligned� groups and RT bought a drop-in-the-bucket worth of ads on Facebook and Twitter during a campaign in which billions of dollars were spent on advertising, not counting the unpaid �donations� to Hillary from the mainstream media, pollsters, Google, and Facebook.

The purveyors of the Russian concoction are those desperately lonely schmucks who take the ugliest girls in the bar home at closing time because they�re the only ones left. The concoction is all they have. Let�s hope they have the decency to hate themselves in the morning.

America is like that high school all-everything�sports star, class president, valedictorian�who can�t accept that at the university, she�s just another student. For a brief shining moment after World War II it had an uncontested empire, but empires are notoriously hard to hang on to. Seventy years later the US has a string of �inconclusive� (never �losing�) wars, a lot of promises to its own citizens that aren�t going to be kept, and an empire that�s slipping away. Its chief adversaries�Russia, China, and Iran�are going about their business, consolidating economic and political power in the Eurasian center of the world.

They�ve been helped immeasurably by the comedy of errors that has been US policy in Syria. The same people who championed disastrous regime changes in Iraq and Libya set their sights on Bashar al-Assad, Syria�s duly elected leader. That this entailed crawling into bed with ISIS, an offshoot of al Qaeda, the outfit that reportedly attacked the twin towers and the Pentagon, seemed not to bother anyone. Neither did the fact that while we were supporting ISIS�s rebellion in Syria, we were also supporting the Iraqi government�s effort to quell ISIS�s rebellion in Iraq. Why is it that the butt of all the jokes often ends up picking up the tab? The US wasted tons of blood and treasury, accomplished none of its stated goals, and was humiliated when, at the request of Assad, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah came in and routed ISIS. You can�t make this stuff up.

Even the US�s supposed friends can�t stifle their schadenfreude, having been under its domination for so long. Derisive joy is tempered by justified concern: in its arrogance and desperation to maintain its untenable position, those zany Americans might blow up the world. The president recently stood before the United Nations, an organization ostensibly devoted to peace, and said he�d destroy North Korea. Maybe it was all just posturing and hyperbole in good fun, but the North Koreans, and their next-door neighbors China and Russia, weren�t laughing.

The US has become an infantile nation. Not playing well with others, it demands the world conform to its dictates�or else. That or else is basically holding its breath until it turns blue, as it self-destructively plunges further into debt and wreaks havoc globally, instilling fear and hate, prompting vengeance. Fealty to a failing government and its symbols has become the sine qua non of a ritual, insecure patriotism. Real patriotism, loyalty to America�s founding ideals, demands opposing at every turn the government�s mindless, unprincipled, and voracious quest for power, treasure, and empire. If the flag and the National Anthem mean anything at all, they stand for the proposition that liberty must be defended and fought for, particularly against that which has always been its chief nemesis�government. Now, they only serve as sad markers of how much has been lost. more

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

China and India get serious about sustainable development

My interest in developmental economics was first triggered by my Kansas grandfather. He was one of those farmers who thought science was the path to an easier life and greater prosperity. He was big into water management and had contoured his slightly hilly land already in the 1930s and put in two holding ponds (that grew some VERY large turtles). His father was the immigrant from Sweden (1873) who showed up with two years of university-level horticulture instruction (Lund). So my grandfather was very close to ground zero of the project to transform SE Kansas into productive farms. The successful introduction of agriculture into some quite hostile environments is easily the most poorly-told tale in USA history. This is unfortunate because it is probably the most perfect case study in development economics.

One night in the early 1970s, I sat in on a fascinating conversation held by student Indians and Bangladeshis who were my neighbors in that ratty apartment building. What was so interesting is that all the members of this little group were sons of privileged men wealthy enough to send their offspring to foreign universities and quite naturally assumed that they would have a hand in shaping the future of their nations. So mostly they wanted to discuss the best strategies for eliminating the very real pain of underdevelopment even though most of them were computer science majors. I was there because I had shown interest in their pet subject and they hoped I had some expertise on what Minnesota had done right to achieve its level of prosperity. At the time, I really didn't know much, but I have been fascinated by what works ever since so I would gladly revisit some of those bull sessions.

At one point, the most intense of the Indians exclaimed, "Our problem is that we basically have only two sources of energy�nuclear and dung!" Of course, he never even thought of solar because in those days, PV cells were so rare and expensive, only NASA could afford them. Well now they are cheap and India is extremely rich in solar power. And as the video clip below shows, India is becoming very hip to their new reality. My old neighbor is likely overjoyed.

And it looks like China is set to lead the world in fossil-fuel-free transportation. Electric cars seem like a natural fit for them and goodness knows their current automotive fleet is choking her cities so the need is quite obvious. And for my younger readers in USA, you would hardly suspect it by looking around but this country used to routinely create transformative projects like those illustrated below.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A �Meathead� foreign policy?

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, I actually celebrated with champagne. I almost never drink anything alcoholic so this was WAY out of character for me. But I wanted to celebrate in a socially conventional fashion because I really thought the Cold War was over and we could FINALLY have "normal" relations with Russia. By that time, I had already begun to understand that USSR was absolutely critical to the history of the 20th century because it was the Red Army that defeated the Germans in WW II�almost single-handedly. Besides, they are, like me, a people of the North and it is quite easy to feel a kinship with such people when it is -20� F�like it gets several times a winter in Minnesota.

So it is with horror that I look on at this latest wave of Russia-bashing. It makes no sense to me at all. This is especially true because Russia is mostly innocent of all the charges leveled at them. In over a year of relentless lying, the backers of the warmongering have offered zero evidence to back their claims. This insanity reached a new low last week when a video, starring Morgan Freeman (the Driving Miss Daisy chauffeur) and produced by Rob Reiner (the guy who starred as the Meathead in All in the Family) appeared on YouTube. In it, Freeman assured us that we are at war with Russia.

Warfare, for the Russians, is a calamity that killed 27 million people and reduced large sections of their country to rubble. Relationships between USA and Russia are strained these days but they are a LONG way from that. The Reiner-Freeman production is so preposterous, that I, like many, considered it a spoof. But since it has become quite obvious that Reiner-Freeman are indeed serious, I probably should start taking these madmen more seriously.

Below are two essays on this current gruesomely evil outburst of Russia-bashing. Both were written by Americans�one from the left and the other the right. I am far from sure either are completely accurate but goodness knows, I am trying to understand this utterly irrational phenomenon. Mostly, I just hope it goes away with the perpetrators feeling shame. That is probably a bit much to hope for because fools who would do this sort of thing define shameless.

�Meathead� is Running the Committee to Investigate Russia

Phil Butler, 28.09.2017

Imagine a movie script in which everything you read, hear, and see is concocted by a global cabal of elites bent on profit at all cost. If you can believe that Sylvester �Rambo� Stallone avenged America�s loss in the Vietnam War, then Hollywood run by Zionist mafiosos is just another movie and popcorn. Allow me to present you with an all-star cast of globalist propagandists.

When a friend shared a video featuring legendary actor Morgan Freeman warning Americans we are under attack by Russia, I figured it was some kind of spoof. Then I followed the headlines and the trail of Russophobic nonsense back to an organization called the Committee to Investigate Russia. The video is part of a campaign by filmmaker Rob Reiner and his scary friends to put the fear of Putin in every heart in America. Quoting the Daily Beast on Freeman�s performance in the short: �We have been attacked. We are at war.�

With all the sincerity and vigor the Academy Award winning actor is famous for, Putin and Russia are sizzling on the ultra-liberal hot plate. Freeman does a masterful job as always, with one small problem. Everything he says in the advertisement is a lie. But Hollywood is widely known for spinning whatever the media bosses need spun. What�s most important to understand about this new non-profit, is who stands behind. Reiner, Freeman, and the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (and NSA liar) are joined by George W. Bush�s speechwriter David Frum (Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition) and a cadre of other �winners�. Reiner�s listed co-conspirators at CIR are not nearly as interesting as the unlisted ones.

If you know anything about social media and the web, then you know there is no hiding the truth when all is said and done. What goes on the web, stays on the web, forever. So, Rob Reiner tweeting with pride Freeman and his spanking new Council to Investigate Russia initiative also linked him inextricably to some rather unsavory characters. One of these is a man called Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, and Author of Red Notice. For those unfamiliar with the billionaire financier, Browder�s outfit was the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, that is until Vladimir Putin tossed him and his henchmen out on their ears for trying to carve up the nation�s wealth for the globalist elites. That�s right, Reiner�s new Red Scare initiative is linked to the Zionist mafia bent on destroying Putin and stealing Russian wealth.

Browder is not �first� among the tweeps CIR followed, but he is 8th after; the host of The Stephanie Miller Show, Michele Reiner (Reiner�s wife), the aforementioned David Frum (3rd), US Navy spook Malcolm Nance turned author, Rob Reiner himself, his dad Rob Reiner, and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Eastern Europe Evelyn Farkas, followed by Browder and a �who�s who� of Donald Trump haters. CIR�s follows reflect the people influencing and those to be influenced by Reiner�s movement including the warmonger Senator Adam Schiff, Newsweek wild man Kurt Eichenwald, and the ultimate crazy Senator Dianne Feinstein.

In another report I�ll present more �comrades� of Reiner�s and this CIR. Today the organization�s efforts are new, if backed by considerable media push. That said, as a social media expert I find it interesting that a Facebook profile only posting since September 9 has over 60,000 followers. Perhaps the Morgan Freeman ad is just that successful? The Twitter profile of the organization was established back in 2015, which makes me wonder about just when this initiative was originally planned, and by whom. Let�s face it, celebrities don�t just create Twitter engagements willy-nilly and for fun.

Finally, for those of you who think Rob Reiner ever changed from his role as �Meathead� in the 70�s sitcom All in the Family, his organization mentioning ousted Russian oil oligarch and mafioso Mikhail Khodorkovsky proves Archie Bunker was right about his �Meathead� son-in-law all along. Morgan Freeman exuding authority and patriotism for a group like this is sickening for me. These people are presumptuous in the extreme, expecting the average person not to see through the tail of Hollywood wagging the dog for war. I think we need to reexamine what the constitution means, and especially about treason. more

The Slimy Business of Russia-gate

Special Report: As the U.S. government doles out tens of millions of dollars to �combat Russian propaganda,� one result is a slew of new �studies� by �scholars� and �researchers� auditioning for the loot, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry, September 28, 2017

The �Field of Dreams� slogan for America�s NGOs should be: �If you pay for it, we will come.� And right now, tens of millions of dollars are flowing to non-governmental organizations if they will buttress the thesis of Russian �meddling� in the U.S. democratic process no matter how sloppy the �research� or how absurd the �findings.�

And, if you think the pillars of the U.S. mainstream media � The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and others � will apply some quality controls, you haven�t been paying attention for the past year or so. The MSM is just as unethical as the NGOs are.

So, we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO �scholars� produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news and items for serious discussion across the MSM.

Yet, there�s even an implicit confession about how pathetic some of this �scholarship� is in the hazy phrasing that gets applied to the �findings,� although the weasel words will slip past most unsuspecting Americans and will be dropped for more definitive language when the narrative is summarized in the next day�s newspaper or in a cable-news �crawl.�

For example, a Times front-page story on Thursday reported that �a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the [NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem] issue with hashtags, such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.�

The story, which fits neatly into the current U.S. propaganda meme that the Russian government somehow is undermining American democracy by stirring up dissent inside the U.S., quickly spread to other news outlets and became the latest �proof� of a Russian �war� against America.

However, before we empty the nuclear silos and exterminate life on the planet, we might take a second to look at the Times phrasing: �a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia.�

The vague wording doesn�t even say the Russian government was involved but rather presents an unsupported claim that some Twitter accounts are �suspected� of being part of some �network� and that this �network� may have some ill-defined connection � or �links� � to �Russia,� a country of 144 million people.

�Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon�

It�s like the old game of �six degrees of separation� from Kevin Bacon. Yes, perhaps we are all �linked� to Kevin Bacon somehow but that doesn�t prove that we know Kevin Bacon or are part of a Kevin Bacon �network� that is executing a grand conspiracy to sow discontent by taking opposite sides of issues and then tweeting.

Yet that is the underlying absurdity of the Times article by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Scott Shane. Still, as silly as the article may be that doesn�t mean it�s not dangerous. The Times� high-profile treatment of these gauzy allegations represents a grave danger to the world by fueling a growing hysteria inside the United States about being �at war� with nuclear-armed Russia. At some point, someone might begin to take this alarmist rhetoric seriously.

Yes, I understand that lots of people hate President Trump and see Russia-gate as the golden ticket to his impeachment. But that doesn�t justify making serious allegations with next to no proof, especially when the outcome could be thermonuclear war.

However, with all those millions of dollars sloshing around the NGO world and Western academia � all looking for some �study� to fund that makes Russia look bad � you are sure to get plenty of takers. And, we should now expect that new �findings� like these will fill in for the so-far evidence-free suspicions about Russia and Trump colluding to steal the presidency from Hillary Clinton.

If you read more deeply into the Times story, you get a taste of where Russia-gate is headed next and a clue as to who is behind it:

�Since last month, researchers at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan initiative of the German Marshall Fund, a public policy research group in Washington, have been publicly tracking 600 Twitter accounts � human users and suspected bots alike � they have linked to Russian influence operations. Those were the accounts pushing the opposing messages on the N.F.L. and the national anthem.

�Of 80 news stories promoted last week by those accounts, more than 25 percent �had a primary theme of anti-Americanism,� the researchers found. About 15 percent were critical of Hillary Clinton, falsely accusing her of funding left-wing antifa � short for anti-fascist � protesters, tying her to the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 and discussing her daughter Chelsea�s use of Twitter. Eleven percent focused on wiretapping in the federal investigation into Paul Manafort, President Trump�s former campaign chairman, with most of them treated the news as a vindication for President Trump�s earlier wiretapping claims.�

The Neocons, Again!

So, let�s stop and unpack this Times� reporting. First, this Alliance for Securing Democracy is not some neutral truth-seeking organization but a neoconservative-dominated outfit that includes on its advisory board such neocon luminaries as Mike Chertoff, Bill Kristol and former Freedom House president David Kramer along with other anti-Russia hardliners such as former deputy CIA director Michael Morell and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers.

How many of these guys, do you think, were assuring us that Iraq was hiding WMDs back in 2003?

This group clearly has an ax to grind, a record of deception, and plenty of patrons in the Military-Industrial Complex who stand to make billions of dollars from the New Cold War.

The neocons also have been targeting Russia for regime change for years because they see Russian President Vladimir Putin as the chief obstacle to their goal of helping Israel achieve its desire for �regime change� in Syria and a chance to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran. Russia-gate has served the neocons well as a very convenient way to pull Democrats, liberals and even progressives into the neocon agenda because Russia-gate is sold as a powerful weapon for the anti-Trump Resistance.

The Times article also might have mentioned that Twitter has 974 million accounts. So, this alarm over 600 accounts is a bit disproportionate for a front-page story in the Times, don�t you think?

And, there�s the definitional problem of what constitutes �anti-Americanism� in a news article. And what does it mean to be �linked to Russian influence operations�? Does that include Americans who may not march in lockstep to the one-sided State Department narratives on the crises in Ukraine and Syria? Any deviation from Official Washington�s groupthink makes you a �Moscow stooge.�

And, is it a crime to be �critical� of Hillary Clinton or to note that the U.S. mainstream media was dismissive of Trump�s claims about being wiretapped only for us to find out later that the FBI apparently was wiretapping his campaign manager?

However, such questions aren�t going to be asked amid what has become a massive Russia-gate groupthink, dominating not just Official Washington, but across much of America�s political landscape and throughout the European Union.

Why the Bias?

Beyond the obvious political motivations for this bias, we also have had the introduction of vast sums of money pouring in from the U.S. government, NATO and European institutions to support the business of �combatting Russian propaganda.�

For example, last December, President Obama signed into law a $160 million funding mechanism entitled the �Combating Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act.� But that amounts to only a drop in the bucket considering already existing Western propaganda projects targeting Russia.

So, a scramble is on to develop seemingly academic models to �prove� what Western authorities want proven: that Russia is at fault for pretty much every bad thing that happens in the world, particularly the alienation of many working-class people from the Washington-Brussels elites.

The truth cannot be that establishment policies have led to massive income inequality and left the working class struggling to survive and thus are to blame for ugly political manifestations � from Trump to Brexit to the surprising support for Germany�s far-right AfD party. No, it must be Russia! Russia! Russia! And there�s a lot of money on the bed to prove that point.

There�s also the fact that the major Western news media is deeply invested in bashing Russia as well as in the related contempt for Trump and his followers. Those twin prejudices have annihilated all professional standards that would normally be applied to news judgments regarding these flawed �studies.�

On Thursday, The Washington Post ran its own banner-headlined story drawn from the same loose accusations made by that neocon-led Alliance for Securing Democracy, but instead the Post sourced the claims to Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma. The headline read: �Russian trolls are stoking NFL controversy, senator says.�

The �evidence� cited by Lankford�s office was one �Twitter account calling itself Boston Antifa that gives its geolocation as Vladivostok, Russia,� the Post reported.

By Thursday, Twitter had suspended the Boston Antifa account, so I couldn�t send it a question, but earlier this month, Dan Glaun, a reporter for, reported that the people behind Boston Antifa were �a pair of anti-leftist pranksters from Oregon who started Boston Antifa as a parody of actual anti-fascist groups.�

In an email to me on Thursday, Glaun cited an interview that the Boston Antifa pranksters had done with right-wing radio talk show host Gavin McInnes last April.

And, by the way, there are apps that let you manipulate your geolocation data on Twitter. Or, you can choose to believe that the highly professional Russian intelligence agencies didn�t notice that they were telegraphing their location as Vladivostok.

Mindless Russia Bashing

Another example of this mindless Russia bashing appeared just below the Post�s story on Lankford�s remarks. The Post sidebar cited a �study� from researchers at Oxford University�s Project on Computational Propaganda asserting that �junk news� on Twitter �flowed more heavily in a dozen [U.S.] battleground states than in the nation overall in the days immediately before and after the 2016 presidential election, suggesting that a coordinated effort targeted the most pivotal voters.� Cue the spooky Boris and Natasha music!

Of course, any Americans living in �battleground states� could tell you that they are inundated with all kinds of election-related �junk,� including negative TV advertising, nasty radio messages, alarmist emails and annoying robo-calls at dinner time. That�s why they�re called �battleground states,� Sherlock.

But what�s particularly offensive about this �study� is that it implies that the powers-that-be must do more to eliminate what these �experts� deem �propaganda� and �junk news.� If you read deeper into the story, you discover that the researchers applied a very subjective definition of what constitutes �junk news,� i.e., information that the researchers don�t like even if it is truthful and newsworthy.

The Post article by Craig Timberg, who apparently is using Russia-gate to work himself off the business pages and onto the national staff, states that �The researchers defined junk news as �propaganda and ideologically extreme, hyperpartisan, or conspiratorial political news and information.�

�The researchers also categorized reports from Russia and ones from WikiLeaks � which published embarrassing posts about Democrat Hillary Clinton based on a hack of her campaign chairman�s emails � as �polarizing political content� for the purpose of the analysis.�

So, this �study� lumped together �junk news� with accurate and newsworthy information, i.e., WikiLeaks� disclosure of genuine emails that contained such valid news as the contents of Clinton�s speeches to Wall Street banks (which she was trying to hide from voters) as well as evidence of the unethical tactics used by the Democratic National Committee to sabotage Sen. Bernie Sanders�s campaign.

Also dumped into the researchers� bin of vile �disinformation� were �reports from Russia,� as if everything that comes out of Russia is, ipso facto, �junk news.�

And, what, pray tell, is �conspiratorial political news�? I would argue that the past year of evidence-lite allegations about �Russian meddling� in the U.S. election accompanied by unsupported suspicions about �collusion� with the Trump campaign would constitute �conspiratorial political news.� Indeed, I would say that this Oxford �research� constitutes �conspiratorial political news� and that Timberg�s article qualifies as �junk news.�

Predictable Outcome

Given the built-in ideological bias of this �research,� it probably won�t surprise you that the report�s author, Philip N. Howard, concludes that �junk news originates from three main sources that the Oxford group has been tracking: Russian operatives, Trump supporters and activists part of the alt-right,� according to the Post.

I suppose that since part of the �methodology� was to define �reports from Russia� as �junk news,� the appearance of �Russian operatives� shouldn�t be much of a surprise, but the whole process reeks of political bias.

Further skewing the results, the report separated out information from �professional news organizations [and] political parties� from �some �junk news� source,� according to the Post. In other words, the �researchers� believe that �professional news organizations� are inherently reliable and that outside-the-mainstream news is �junk� � despite the MSM�s long record of getting major stories wrong.

The real �junk� is this sort of academic or NGO research that starts with a conclusion and packs a �study� in such a way as to guarantee the preordained conclusion. Or as the old saying goes, �garbage in, garbage out.�

Yet, it�s also clear that if you generate �research� that feeds the hungry beast of Russia-gate, you will find eager patrons doling out dollars and a very receptive audience in the mainstream media.

In a place like Washington, there are scores if not hundreds of reports generated every day and only a tiny fraction get the attention of the Times, Post, CNN, etc., let alone result in published articles. But �studies� that reinforce today�s anti-Russia narrative are sure winners.

So, if you�re setting up a new NGO or you�re an obscure academic angling for a lucrative government grant as well as some flattering coverage in the MSM, the smart play is to join the new gold rush in decrying �Russian propaganda.� more

Climate Grief

Below is a pretty good description of what the author calls "climate grief"�the crushing realization that everything at all lovely...