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“We, the People of the United States, in order to… promote the general Welfare,and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

2019-02-21

A paraphrase of a recent web “news” piece (in New York magazine, by Eric Levitz):

‘ Recent economic research has produced evidence that various forms of redistributive welfare spending increase aggregate productivity by improving poor children’s later economic outcomes… the key to stimulating innovation may be to increase worker’s wages and bargaining power, forcing firms to invest in automation and otherwise increase productivity to maintain profits…’

Furthermore, research indicates that inequality reduces economic growth by reducing consumer demand– with large absolute majorities of the population on the edge of poverty, there is little demand for ordinary consumer goods, only for luxury, low-quantity items… this imbalances product markets and reduces income from exportable production.

These economic research findings suggest that the mantra of conservative Republicans is just completely wrong and contrary to the realities of capitalism and social science– economics.  There is a large economic stimulus to be had from supporting the base of society, that is hoi polloi, with child care, basic and advanced schooling, and cash support for the necessities of life, like housing, food, clothing, and medical care.  Supporting otherwise powerless workers would stimulate innovation and growth by forcing industries to compete for profits on the basis of increased productivity rather than decreased employee expenditures.

Decreasing income inequality by taxing the ultra-rich to provide a basic income floor will stimulate economic growth by increasing consumer demand for mass market products.

These facts do not depend on an attitude of sympathy for the poor or collectivism nor for “equality” to be abstractly “good”– they simply point to the positive relationship between these policies and economic growth.  It’s easy for even self-centered conservatives to agree that economic growth is good.

What is difficult is getting to accept that policies that they believe are bad on principle actually have good results.  They just can’t believe that violating the commandments on limited government will have a beneficial effect on society in real life without somehow reducing individual liberty or infringing on their selfish rights.

Perhaps it would help if we pointed out that the directive to do these things is right there in the preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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Don’t act so surprised that Venezuela is collapsing: The US has opposed the Venezuelan government since Hugo Chavez was elected as a socialist twenty years ago. Now He who must not be named is thinking about a military invasion because of all that oil.

2019-02-20

Ever since Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1999, the US government has opposed him and supported efforts to unseat him and his Socialist party from power.   After Chavez died in 2013, his successor Nicolas Maduro received the same treatment.

After Chavez was elected president in 1999 and a new constitution was adopted, in 2002, a day of huge and violent protests for and against him was followed by an attempted coup that lasted just two days.  According to Wikipedia, while it was not widely known at the time, “the US had prior knowledge of the coup attempt and that members of the US government had ties to prominent participants in the coup.”

Hugo Chavez had a long history of working for a Socialist government.   He started out as a military officer who was assigned to counterintelligence after he graduated from military academy in 1975.  It is reported in Wikipedia that he was persuaded to a Socialist viewpoint after reading a large stash of old Communist literature and banned books that he discovered in the course of his duties in counterintelligence.  Two years later, he founded a revolutionary movement within the armed forces.

From 1981 to 1984, he was an instructor at the military academy, where he persuaded a quarter of the first class of students to his point of view.  The army brass became suspicious of him and posted him to a remote barracks, thinking to prevent him from converting any more recruits.  He spent some of his time there making contact with local indigenous tribes.

Chavez was back on track by 1988, after a promotion to major, coming into favor from a high-ranking general who took him on as his assistant at his office in Caracas.  He broke with President Perez, who before his election in 1989 had promised to oppose the International Monetary Fund’s policies and the US government’s ‘Washington Consensus.’    President Perez enacted cuts in social spending despite his campaign promises, provoking widespread protests and looting.  The Venezuelan government responded with a crackdown and violent repression.  Chavez staged an unsuccessful coup attempt in February 1992.

President Perez was impeached for corruption and removed from power the following year, and Chavez was soon out of prison.  Despite Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves (said to be the biggest in the world) and neoliberal economic policies, there was erosion of the standard of living in the 1990’s.  The political climate favored a populist leader.  When Chavez ran for president in 1998, he won with 56% of the vote.

He soon set about developing a new constitution, which was ratified on December 15, 1999 by popular vote.  The new Constitution received 70% of the vote.  Under its provisions, he took over all of the previously independent organs of government.  Afterwards, his popularity dropped precipitously, partly because he endorsed and developed ties with autocratic world leaders like Moammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and “especially” Fidel Castro.

Chavez used a strategy of “polarization”, demonizing his enemies and lauding his friends.  Like a current president whose name will not be mentioned, Wikipedia says, “He would insult and use name calling against original supporters that would question him; the media, business leaders, the Catholic Church and the middle class.”

According to Wikipedia, his ” ‘words spawned hatred and polarization’ with Chávez, ‘a master of language and communication’, creating his own reality among Venezuelans.”  Many who had previously supported him felt that they had been used and tricked, switching from democratic to autocratic after his election; the media in particular felt deceived after they had supported him for election.

Polarization in Venezuela proceeded apace, with opposition even among the military, while supporters especially among the poor organized into groups that were said to idolize him.  Opponents particularly objected to his “Cubanization” of the country; even primary school textbooks were copied over from Cuban books with only the covers changed.  Land was expropriated from the owners of large estates, with a large proportion of the seized property being used to reward political supporters– that is, corruption, which was ironically one of the main reasons Chavez had originally turned against his government.

On December 10, 2001, a countrywide strike closed down 90% of the economy.  The next month, protests in the streets were widespread.  In the early months of 2002, Chavez took over the oil industry and forced foreign companies who had invested in the industry to double their royalty payments.  He had dissenting military officers arrested after they objected to being forced to work with guerilla groups like FARC in Colombia and opening their secret files to Cuban military personnel.

For nearly a year prior to the April 11, 2002 coup, those who had become opposed to Chavez’ government planned to force him out of office.  The government, aware of the opposition plans, organized their own pro-government groups.  The dissension came to a head with a strike that nearly paralyzed the entire country.  Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace and were met by nearly equal numbers of Chavez supporters in a pitched battle that left 17 dead and 60 wounded, many shot in the back with military caliber rifles.

For two days, the opposition controlled the government, installed a little-known academic as president, and filled a cabinet with conservative and moneyed interests.  Then Chavez was returned to power in a counter-coup.  The United States knew about the coup, indeed it was an open secret for months,  warned the government (a little too gently), and telegraphed its lack of support.

However, through the organization “National Endowment for Democracy (NED)”, the US government had been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to “promote democracy” since the “nonprofit agency” had been established in 1983.  So the issue of US government influence on political affairs in Venezuela is real.  The influence may be so benign as to be unobjectionable; an example would be distribution of copies of the Constitution, but other activities like hosting cocktail parties for so-called “dissident” individuals are in a gray area.

In any case, Hugo Chavez returned to power in Venezuela until his death in 2013.  He transformed the country from a corrupt but functioning democracy to a failed nation.  The murder rate has increased every year since 1998.  Price controls caused scarcity of essential imported goods; nationalization of industries that supplied those essential goods domestically was botched, and production actually went down.  Many changes were made in society, most of them bad, in the name of socialism.

While Chavez was re-elected as president to successive terms from 1999 until his death, those internationally recognized elections were tainted by open bribery of his primarily poor supporters and the impression among many that the votes were not secret.  Continued, pervasive corruption and impunity corroded every institution.  Matters have only gone from bad to worse under Maduro, who was Chavez’s vice president when he died.  Shortages of food and medicine have continued and worsened.  Now Maduro is refusing international aid, claiming that the dignity and honor of the country is at stake.

While the United States has had a negative effect on politics in Venezuela, the root cause of the problems there lie with Hugo Chavez and his misplaced idealism.  He maintained popular support with generous social welfare programs but ruined his economy with excessive controls on transactions, corruption, and a generally hostile business climate.  Sitting on the huge oil reserves that Venezuela has, allegedly the largest in the world, he should have been able to grow his economy and allow his people to prosper, but that has not happened.

Studying the recent history of Venezuela, it appears that the combination of misplaced idealism, autocratism, and corruption has been disastrous over the last twenty years.  The only hope is a replacement of the entire current regime in the country with reliable, honest administrators who can govern a business-friendly, people’s welfare generous, oil-rich economy.

There is talk in Wikipedia of a condition known as “Dutch disease”, a phenomenon in which a sudden influx of money from outside (such as the sale of new gas deposits, which occurred in the Netherlands in 1959) can unbalance a country’s economy and have negative effects on other sectors.

All of this talk about the US government’s cautious position and Venezuela’s internal problems goes out the window, though, when we start talking about the current US president.  He (who must not be named) started pressing military advisors as early as the summer of 2017 to give him military options for the overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

Now that matters have come to a crisis internally, the US is showing public support for the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guiado, who has declared himself interim president.  Guiado alleges that the election last year in which Maduro was returned to the presidency was illegitimate.  There is a prospect, that is we can entertain the possibility, that He who cannot be named might invade Venezuela to install Guiado and take attention away from his domestic legal problems.

He who must not be named is so afraid of these people that he never insults them on Twitter: Nancy Pelosi, the prosecutors at SDNY, and Vladimir Putin.

2019-02-19

Word comes today that He who must not be named tried to push acting Attorney General Whitaker to [appoint one of his allies to] have the head of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York oversee the investigation into Him and His Organization.  Unfortunately, the newly appointed director had already been recused for conflicts of interest.  He who cannot be named was particularly angry after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was arrested and pled guilty to acting at his direction to make a hush money payment to affect the 2016 election (an illegal and unreported contribution to his campaign).

That’s obstruction of justice, assuming (it’s easy) that he did this with the intent to shut down the SDNY’s investigation of his lawyer and his finances.  The only obstacle to charging obstruction of justice seems to be the need to prove that there was “corrupt intent” underlying obstructive actions attempting to take the pressure off of Him.  The standard for “corrupt intent” is whether we can conclude that a “reasonable person” in such a position would think that way.  Now, no one is arguing that He is a “reasonable person”– they are merely asking whether they would have thought that way.

So who did He want to be appointed to oversee the investigation of which he was a target? [edit here] was the new appointee to head the Attorney General’s office of the Southern District of New York?  He appointed a man considered to be a friendly figure and potentially controllable, or at least directable.  He is Geoffrey Berman, a former law partner of Rudy Giuliani– the man who impersonates His hare-brained lawyer on television.

Additions to original post follow:

I had to edit this post in part because I’m still confused about exactly what He did.  Apparently, he twice contacted the acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker to complain about actions that his office had taken.  He apparently first contacted Whitaker shortly after he was appointed, asking him if His appointee to be head of the SDNY Attorney General’s office could supervise of the investigation targeting Him and His lawyer.  It was too late already– Berman had been recused from that investigation.  A career employee of the Justice Department, Robert Khuzami, has been the supervisor of that particular inquiry because Mr. Berman was said to have a conflict of interest.

After that call, Whitaker was quoted as telling other Justice employees that New York prosecutors needed “adult supervision.”  He apparently did not take any other action, partly because there was nothing he could do to satisfy His demand that His appointee and Rudy Giuliani’s former law partner supervise the investigation into His misdeeds.

He who must not be named apparently soured on Mr. Whitaker after he was unable to put His picked lawyer in charge of the only investigation He cares about.  The SNDY Attorney General is asking whether He committed crimes– at any time, before, during, or after His successful campaign, unlike Mueller’s limited remit to study only collusion between His campaign and the Russians (and matters arising directly therefrom).

He who should probably not be named said that Mueller could not investigate his “business affairs”– that would be “crossing a red line.”  SDNY has no such “red line”– they have complete freedom to look into anything He might have done, at any time still within the statute of limitations.

An interesting sidelight (one of many) into the complex stew of His cooperators, lieutenants, resisters, and turncoats is how He has responded to those of his assistants who have been indicted and then pled guilty and cooperated.  He has called his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “rat” (among many worse insults), but he has remained positive towards Mr. Flynn.  He tweeted “Good luck in court today” to Mr. Flynn on the day he was set for sentencing after pleading guilty and cooperating to an unknown extent.  His reaction to Mr. Cohen was distinctly hostile, possibly given the effects of his cooperation on the *president: allegedly, release of taped phone calls between the two proving that he suborned perjury and authorized the payment of hush money to a former paramour to prevent her spilling the beans before Election Day.  (I say allegedly because I can’t prove taped phone calls were released on which he could be heard saying “Kill that guy.”  Just kidding.)

Worse still, I can’t find a mention of the second instance in which He communicated with Whitaker about the SDNY.  This is important, first because Whitaker denied such communications to the House Committee which just interrogated him last week (although his denials were hedged about with non-responses to direct questions about this.)  It’s also important for a second reason, which I can’t quite place just now.

 

 

Alfred de Zayas (of UN): New US Economic Sanctions (which you-know-who imposed in early 2017) constitute “economic warfare”; asks International Criminal Court to investigate for “crimes against humanity”– sanctions pulled $6 billion from Venezuelan economy in 1st year

2019-02-10

This comes from a letter to USA Today that they reprinted in a a regular column, this time titled: “Democrats set the morality bar for themselves: Readers sound off.”  The letter was apparently signed “Walt Zlotow, Glenn Ellyn, Ill.”  This is entirely uncorroborated but sounds so true I thought I’d pass it along with a warning that it may not be true… it’s just the sort of thing He would do and just the sort of thing the UN would do.  It just makes the whole thing that has been going on in Venezuela for the last two or three (or more) years more understandable when you know why.   They’re starving because of US (and other countries) economic sanctions, and He turned the screws tighter as soon as he became *president because He so desperately wants socialism to fail– it’s central to his argument against creeping socialism in this country.  He has to be able to hold up Venezuela as an example of the failure of socialism or He has nothing to prove that American capitalism is better than socialism in any country.

Republicans see the Affordable Care Act as being socialist, and Medicare for All as an extreme leftist-socialist position.  This one principle underlies much of what they are trying to accomplish with their administration– although they keep running into roadblocks like detailed regulations put down by previous administrations.

China should look sharp to the essential philosophical underpinnings of “Americanism” as practiced by McCain-type conservatives.  These basic rules of being American include, among the top two or three principles, the idea that capitalism is good and socialism is bad– therefore socialist (in principle) countries like China are intolerable and should be regarded as enemies.  This attitude underlies His aggressive approach to trade negotiations with China.

Vanity Fair: “His shambolic management style, paranoia, and pattern of blaming staff for problems of his own making have left senior White House officials burned out and resentful”… “It’s total misery. People feel trapped.”

2019-02-08

From a Vanity Fair article about internal White House problems…titled, “[He] is hated by everyone inside the White House: the State of the Union left [him] stoked– but some of his staff are miserable”

Ned Price: “For decades, the Soviets and Russians have denigrated our intelligence professionals, attempting to delegitimize US intelligence in the process; now our adversaries have a helper who sits in the Oval Office.”

2019-02-03

Again, as read in the Business Insider, not a notably liberal source of information…

Also, “two intelligence officers told TIME that they had been warned not to give the president intelligence assessments that contradict his public stances.”  And finally, another serving intelligence officer compared Him to a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum– the difference being that He has the “nuclear button.”

Anonymous FBI agent: “He’s doing the enemy’s job for them.”

2019-02-03

As told to the Business Insider (sorry, I couldn’t get a link.)