mfioretti: usa*

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  1. you know, for somebody who actually has read the indictment in its entirety, and, actually, the Russian reporting that is almost entirely repeated in the indictment, it’s really hard to square that with the way that it’s been portrayed as, you know, a sophisticated, bold effort. I think H.R. McMaster is correct in saying, yes, there’s “incontrovertible” evidence of Russian meddling, but to call it bold, to call it sophisticated and to imply that we now know that it actually had an influence on the outcome of the election is absurd. It was not bold. It was not sophisticated. And it—we don’t know, and probably never will know, whether it had any impact.

    creating a cacophony, creating confusion, creating the sense that nothing means anything anymore is definitely important, right? But that is different from saying that their goal was to sway the outcome of the election and that we can say with any amount of certainty that that worked and that’s how we got Trump.

    AMY GOODMAN: And it’s also served another purpose, for example, when it comes to these large megacorporations, like Facebook and Twitter. They’ve been hauled before Congress, before the British Parliament, and they’re saying, “How could you have allowed this to appear?” And in the end, they’re being pressured, basically, these corporations, to censor what is out there.

    MASHA GESSEN: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think that the agenda of holding Facebook accountable publicly is such a bad agenda. You know, I think that a conversation about what Facebook is—is it a public resource, even though it’s a privately owned corporation? Is it a media company? It is certainly not just a platform, as Facebook has claimed repeatedly. I think that is a really important question. I just think it’s been asked in the wrong way, right? It’s been asked—you know, when we saw Senator Al Franken badgering the Facebook lawyer and screaming, you know, “They were Russians! You know, how could you not see that these ads were bought for rubles?” Well, why are we starting at a place where we assume that selling advertising for rubles, that there’s something necessarily sinister and horrible about it? Right? And that is—I don’t think that moves forward a conversation about how something that has de facto become a public resource, but is privately owned, functions in society.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-02-24)
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  2. Experts and law enforcement officials have identified security measures they believe can make that difference, and many schools have worked to implement them since the 1999 Columbine school massacre, but like all soft targets, no educational facility is ever 100 percent safe.

    Though it may be hard to tell sometimes, schools are actually safer than they used to be. Of the 17 shootings at schools this year prior to Wednesday, several involved accidental discharges or gunshots hitting inanimate objects. One was a mass casualty event similar to the one in Florida.
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  3. But the cultural generation gap is also a product of the specific eras during which the different groups were raised and became adults. Conceived during the prosperous post−World War II period, the baby boomers brought a rebellious, progressive sensibility to the country in the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond. With the help of the programs of the Great Society, they became the most well-schooled generation to date and the epitome of America’s largely white, suburban middle class, with which most of today’s adults now identify.

    Yet the baby boomers also came of age at a moment when the United States was becoming more insular than it had been before. Between 1946 and 1964, the years of the baby boom, the immigrant share of the U.S. population shrank to an all-time low (under 5 percent), and the immigrants who did arrive were largely white Europeans. Growing up in mostly white, segregated suburbs, white baby boomers did not have much interaction with people unlike them. Although baby boomers have been interested in righting domestic wrongs, such as racial discrimination, and bursting glass ceilings, they are now joining seniors in voicing sharp resistance to America’s new racial change. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll shows that only 23 percent of baby boomers and seniors regard the country’s growing population of immigrants as a change for the better and that 42 percent see it as a change for the worse. More than one-half of white baby boomers and seniors said that the growing number of newcomers from other countries represents a threat to traditional U.S. values and customs.

    The Pew survey found marked differences between baby boomers and millennials—who are known for their racial inclusiveness—with regard to agreement that the following are changes for the better: that more people of different races are marrying each other (36 percent versus 60 percent), that the population of Hispanics is growing (21 percent versus 33 percent), and that the population of Asians is growing (24 percent versus 43 percent).

    Underpinning the generational divide are shifts in what demographers call old-age dependency and child dependency, which now have a distinct racial dimension. By 2020, the old-age dependency ratio for whites will exceed the child dependency ratio, and for the two decades that follow, white seniors will outnumber white children. That stands in marked contrast to the position of Hispanics, whose youth dependency will remain well above 45 through 2040, even as the old-age dependency ratio inches up to 21.
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  4. As far as those policies already implemented, Galvin pointed to an apparently wide gulf between the commonwealth’s policy for counting college students compared to the Trump administration’s newly enacted policy for counting such students.

    According to Galvin, Massachusetts prefers to count college students during the spring while they’re still in school for census purposes, but said the Trump administration would rather stretch that count into the summer–when most college students in Massachusetts have returned home and therefore the numbers of students counted would be significantly lowered.

    In regards to policies being considered, Galvin noted, “a suggestion from the United States Justice Department to the Department of Commerce that a question be inserted into the census” regarding the respondent’s citizenship status.

    Asking such a question would likely not be illegal, but, Galvin said this proposal would almost certainly result in respondents refusing to follow through with their census forms entirely. He explained, “Everyone knows that under the federal code, everyone should be counted whether they’re citizens or not. So by putting that in there, they are clearly deterring people who might not be citizens from being counted.”
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-02-08)
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  5. “More New Yorkers have died from opioid overdoses than car crashes and homicides combined in recent years,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, announcing the lawsuit. “‘Big Pharma’ helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions.”
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  6. If you were a delivery van driver searching for a new job any time between the years of 2010 and 2013, chances are, you wouldn’t have found many businesses competing for your services. In Selma, Alabama, there was, on average, just one company posting help wanted ads for those drivers on the nation’s biggest job board. In all of Orlando, Florida, there were about nine. Nationwide the average was about two.

    The situation for telemarketers wasn’t great either. In any given city or town, approximately three companies were trying to hire for their services. Accountants only had it a little better: Roughly four businesses were posting jobs for them.
    A lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay.

    Those numbers are based on the findings of a new research paper that may help unlock the mystery of why Americans can’t seem to get a decent raise. Economists have struggled over that question for years now, as wage growth has stagnated and more of the nation’s income has shifted from the pockets of workers into the bank accounts of business owners. Since 1979, inflation-adjusted hourly pay is up just 3.41 percent for the middle 20 percent of Americans while labor’s overall share of national income has declined sharply since the early 2000s. There are lots of possible explanations for why this is, from long-term factors like the rise of automation and decline of organized labor, to short-term ones, such as the lingering weakness in the job market left over from the great recession. But a recent study by a group of labor economists introduces an interesting theory into the mix: Workers’ pay may be lagging because the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of employers.
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  7. After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury.

    The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange market. The currency declined, import prices soared, raising domestic prices as well. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today’s southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

    In a pretense that the reparations and Inter-Ally debt tangle could be made solvent, a triangular flow of payments was facilitated by a convoluted U.S. easy-money policy. American investors sought high returns by buying German local bonds; German municipalities turned over the dollars they received to the Reichsbank for domestic currency; and the Reichsbank used this foreign exchange to pay reparations to Britain and other Allies, enabling these countries to pay the United States what it demanded.

    But solutions based on attempts to keep debts of such magnitude in place by lending debtors the money to pay can only be temporary. The U.S. Federal Reserve sustained this triangular flow by holding down U.S. interest rates. This made it attractive for American investors to buy German municipal bonds and other high-yielding debts. It also deterred Wall Street from drawing funds away from Britain, which would have driven its economy deeper into austerity after the General Strike of 1926. But domestically, low U.S. interest rates and easy credit spurred a real estate bubble, followed by a stock market bubble that burst in 1929. The triangular flow of payments broke down in 1931, leaving a legacy of debt deflation burdening the U.S. and European economies. The Great Depression lasted until outbreak of World War II in 1939.

    Planning for the postwar period took shape as the war neared its end. U.S. diplomats had learned an important lesson. This time there would be no arms debts or reparations. The global financial system would be stabilized – on the basis of gold, and on creditor-oriented rules. By the end of the 1940s the Untied States held some 75 percent of the world’s monetary gold stock. That established the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, freely convertible into gold at the 1933 parity of $35 an ounce.
    It also implied that once again, as in the 1920s, European balance-of-payments deficits would have to be financed mainly by the United States. Recycling of official government credit was to be filtered via the IMF and World Bank, in which U.S. diplomats alone had veto power to reject policies they found not to be in their national interest. International financial “stability” thus became a global control mechanism – to maintain creditor-oriented rules centered in the United States.

    To obtain gold or dollars as backing for their own domestic monetary systems, other countries had to follow the trade and investment rules laid down by the United States. These rules called for relinquishing control over capital movements or restrictions on foreign takeovers of natural resources and the public domain as well as local industry and banking systems.

    By 1950 the dollar-based global economic system had become increasingly untenable. Gold continued flowing to the United States, strengthening the dollar – until the Korean War reversed matters. From 1951 through 1971 the United States ran a deepening balance-of-payments deficit, which stemmed entirely from overseas military spending. (Private-sector trade and investment was steadily in balance.)
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  8. let’s talk about the most seminal moment in recent Saudi history: the key oil-for-money-and-protection deal struck between the Nixon administration and King Faisal back in the early 1970’s.

    This pivotal agreement allowed KSA to secretly recycle its surplus petrodollars back into US Treasuries while receiving US military protection in exchange. The secret was kept for 41 years, only recently revealed in 2016 due to a Bloomberg FOIA request:

    The basic framework was strikingly simple. The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

    It took several discreet follow-up meetings to iron out all the details, Parsky said. But at the end of months of negotiations, there remained one small, yet crucial, catch: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud demanded the country’s Treasury purchases stay “strictly secret,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by Bloomberg from the National Archives database.

    “Buying bonds and all that was a strategy to recycle petrodollars back into the U.S.,” said David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. But politically, “it’s always been an ambiguous, constrained relationship.”


    The essence of this deal is pretty simple. KSA wanted to be able to sell its oil to its then largest buyer, the USA, while also having a safe place to park the funds, plus receive military protection to boot. But it didn’t want anybody else, especially its Arab neighbors, to know that it was partnering so intimately with the US who, in turn, would be supporting Israel. That would have been politically incendiary in the Middle East region, coming as it did right on the heels of the Yom Kipper War (1973).

    As for the US, it got the oil it wanted and – double bonus time here – got KSA to recycle the very same dollars used to buy that oil back into Treasuries and contracts for US military equipment and training.

    Sweet deal.

    Note that this is yet another secret world-shaping deal successfully kept out of the media for over four decades. Yes Virginia, conspiracies do happen. Secrets can be (and are routinely) kept by hundreds, even thousands, of people over long stretches of time.

    Since that key deal was struck back in the early 1970s, the KSA has remained a steadfast supporter of the US and vice versa. In return, the US has never said anything substantive about KSA’s alleged involvement in 9/11 or its grotesque human and women’s rights violations. Not a peep.

    Until recently.
    Then Things Started To Break Down

    In 2015, King Salman came to power. Things began to change pretty quickly, especially once he elevated his son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to a position of greater power.

    Among MBS's first acts was to directly involve KSA into the Yemen civil war, with both troops on the ground and aerial bombings. That war has killed thousands of civilians while creating a humanitarian crisis that includes the largest modern-day outbreak of cholera, which is decimating highly populated areas. The conflct, which is considered a 'proxy war' because Iran is backing the Houthi rebels while KSA is backing the Yemeni government, continues to this day.

    Then in 2016, KSA threatened to dump its $750 billion in (stated) US assets in response to a bill in Congress that would have released sensitive information implicating Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11. Then-president Obama had to fly over there to smooth things out. It seems the job he did was insufficient; because KSA-US relations unraveled at an accelerating pace afterwards. Mission NOT accomplished, it would seem.

    In 2017, KSA accused Qatar of nefarious acts and made such extraordinary demands that an outbreak of war nearly broke out over the dispute. The Qatari leadership later accused KSA of fomenting ‘regime change’, souring the situation further. Again, Iran backed the Qatar government, which turned this conflict into another proxy battle between the two main regional Arab superpowers.

    In parallel with all this, KSA was also supporting the mercenaries (aka "rebels" in western press) who were seeking to overthrow Assad in Syria -- yet another proxy war between KSA and Iran. It's been an open secret that, during this conflict, KSA has been providing support to some seriously bad terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other supposed enemies of the US/NATO. (Again, the US has never said 'boo' about that, proving that US rhetoric against "terrorists" is a fickle construct of political convenience, not a moral matter.)

    Once Russia entered the war on the side of Syria's legitimate government, the US and KSA (and Israel) lost their momentum. Their dreams of toppling Assad and turning Syria into another failed petro-state like they did with Iraq and Libya are not likely to pan out as hoped.

    But rather than retreat to lick their wounds, KSA's King Salman and his son are proving to be a lot nimbler than their predecessors.

    Rather than continue a losing battle in Syria, they've instead turned their energies and attention to dramatically reshaping KSA's internal power structures:

    Saudi Arabia’s Saturday Night Massacre

    For nearly a century, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by the elders of a royal family that now finds itself effectively controlled by a 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. He helms the Defense Ministry, he has extravagant plans for economic development, and last week arranged for the arrest of some of the most powerful ministers and princes in the country.

    A day before the arrests were announced, Houthi tribesmen in Yemen but allied with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh.

    The Saudis claim the missile came from Iran and that its firing might be considered “an act of war.”

    Saudi Arabia was created between the two world wars under British guidance. In the 1920s, a tribe known as the Sauds defeated the Hashemites, effectively annexing the exterior parts of Saudi Arabia they did not yet control. The United Kingdom recognized the Sauds’ claim shortly thereafter. But since then, the Saudi tribe has been torn by ambition, resentment and intrigue. The Saudi royal family has more in common with the Corleones than with a Norman Rockwell painting.

    The direct attack was undoubtedly met with threats of a coup. Whether one was actually planned didn’t matter. Mohammed Bin Salman had to assume these threats were credible since so many interests were under attack. So he struck first, arresting princes and ex-minsters who constituted the Saudi elite. It was a dangerous gamble. A powerful opposition still exists, but he had no choice but to act. He could either strike as he did last Saturday night, or allow his enemies to choose the time and place of that attack. Nothing is secure yet, but with this strike, there is a chance he might have bought time. Any Saudi who would take on princes and clerics is obviously desperate, but he may well break the hold of the financial and religious elite.
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  9. You know, whiteness is never seen as a cause, in and of itself, of these kinds of massacres, of other forms of violence, despite the fact that whiteness is a structure of privilege and it’s a structure of power, and a structure that, when it feels threatened, you know, lashes out. And so, that’s the kind of thing that we really need to think about, not only why is it—and I think there’s a lot of attention to the fact that we demonize often Muslims or, you know, other people of color when these attacks occur. The far right, of course, jumps on any violence by people of color—and yet, you know, doesn’t want to talk about the real deep structures of white supremacy in our society, and again, not just the fringe, not just the Nazi movements, but what people are going through every day and what it is that is driving people to these kinds of situations, where they feel so entitled to dominance that when that’s questioned, they can explode in these very, very unpredictable ways—

    AMY GOODMAN: And then—

    GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: —and on targets that, you know, are not—you know, it’s not a question of white supremacy playing a role simply because someone is targeting people of color. We’re talking about people who are having, you know, mental—clear mental issues. But again, the cause needs to be identified outside and beyond that, and we need to think much, much harder about what’s going on in our society that makes it so sick.
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  10. For Mueller’s findings to have any effect, they will have to break some part of the basic dynamic on the right. Here’s how it works:

    Pundits and yellers in right-wing media compete to freak out the base and reinforce its allegiance to Donald Trump. The base leans on politicians. And most elected GOP officials are in seats safe enough that they fear a primary challenge from the base more than a Democratic challenger. The only way to stave off a primary is to pay obeisance.

    That’s why Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are leaving the Senate. They no longer have any control over what their constituents believe or want, and their constituents believe and want increasingly ugly things. Sen. John McCain is saying all the right things now, but back when he faced his own Tea Party challenger, he sprinted right as fast as he could.

    GOP politicians cannot (or feel that they cannot) cross the base. And the base is currently being lied to about the Mueller investigation at a furious pace. The entire right-wing machine has kicked into high gear, led by the president himself, furiously throwing out chaff about Comey, Mueller, Obama, Hillary, the dossier, the uranium, the emails, and whatever else.

    What if we find out Trump is guilty and just can’t do anything about it?

    As long as the base is convinced that Mueller is an agent of the deep state (or whatever), it will punish any Republican politician that strays from the pack and criticizes Trump. For a GOP officeholder, standing up for democratic integrity could mean sacrificing reelection in 2018 or 2020.

    As long as Republican politicians are frightened by the base, the base is frightened by scary conspiracies in right-wing media, and right-wing media makes more money the more frightened everyone is, Trump appears to be safe. As long as the incentives are aligned in that direction, there will be no substantial movement to censure, restrain, or remove him from office.

    There is no longer any settling such arguments. The only way to settle any argument is for both sides to be committed, at least to some degree, to shared standards of evidence and accuracy, and to place a measure of shared trust in institutions meant to vouchsafe evidence and accuracy. Without that basic agreement, without common arbiters, there can be no end to dispute.

    If one side rejects the epistemic authority of society’s core institutions and practices, there’s just nothing left to be done. Truth cannot speak for itself, like the voice of God from above. It can only speak through human institutions and practices.

    The subject of climate change offers a crystalline example here. If climate science does its thing, checks and rechecks its work, and then the Republican Party simply refuses to accept it ... what then?

    That’s what US elites are truly afraid to confront: What if facts and persuasion just don’t matter anymore?

    Donald Trump has the power to hold on to the presidency, as long as elected Republicans, cowed by the conservative base, support him. That is true almost regardless of what he’s done or what’s proven by Mueller. As long as he has that power, he will exercise it. That’s what recent history seems to show.

    Democrats do not currently have the numbers to stop him. They can’t do it without some help from Republicans. And Republicans seem incapable, not only of acting on what Mueller knows, but of even coming to know it.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe US institutions have more life in them than I think. But at this point, it’s just very difficult to imagine anything that could bridge the epistemic gulf between America’s tribes. We are split in two, living in different worlds, with different stories and facts shaping our lives. We no longer learn or know things together, as a country, so we can no longer act together, as a country.

    So we may just have to live with a president indicted for collusion with a foreign power.
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