Debt Ceiling Solution

There should be a convention of wordsmithers on the debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling sounds like rewarding someone for bad behavior. Suspending the debt ceiling sounds much better, but it’ ‘s really a game of kick the can down the road. Then there is Minority Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy simple, direct, and completely wrong statement:

“we have paid for everything the Trump administration spent.”

“But it wasn’t paid for,” says Marc Goldwein, senior vice president for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) . The Trump administration spent more money than they were taking in. So Trump like every other president for the last 20 years ran a deficit and three times the debt ceiling was increased.

Link: Fact-checking partisan claims on government spending under Trump

Senator Elizabeth Warren has got the right solution. Abolish the debt ceiling. She said the following:

“Me? I’d get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. It serves no function except to create leverage for people who are willing to blow up the economy,” she added.

The GAO estimated that the delay in raising the debt ceiling during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 raised borrowing costs for the government by $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011 and noted that the delay would also raise costs in later years.[45] The Bipartisan Policy Center extended the GAO’s estimates and found that the delay raised borrowing costs by $18.9 billion over ten years.[46]

That’s the consequences of a delay. Defaulting on our obligations would be much worse.

Link: Warren calls for removing debt ceiling during lame-duck Congress

I think the best argument to get rid of it, is that it is redundant. Congress already controls the budget and taxation. Also, borrowing to cover shortfalls, really does make economic sense. The Covid-19 Relief Act kept our economy going, when people could not work, particularly in the hospitality area. Trying to pay for this with increased taxes would make no sense.

Link: Wikipedia, US Debt Ceiling

So, what Senator Warren is proposing, makes complete sense and would benefit Americans from cliff hanging partisan battles in Congress. What other country has a legislature that tries to crash the economy unless he does what they want?

Stay tuned,

Dave

Holding the US Economy hostage for political gain

Of course, I’m assuming the Republicans take control of at least the House, and next year refuse to increase the debt ceiling unless their demands are satisfied. It appears this will be cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, making sure that Biden will be a one term president. It will be how to hurt Biden or any other Democrat candidate in the future.

It is the reason I voted for only those in the Democratic Party in the mid-term election. We have never defaulted on our debt, and it will be terrible if that happens.

It is the definition of brinkmanship:

“the art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, especially in politics.”

The debt ceiling doesn’t limit government spending. It is permission to borrow the money necessary to pay for its committed expenditures.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-congress-could-be-bruising-debt-ceiling-fight-after-midterms-2022-10-10/

Stay tuned,

Dave

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is China going to invade Taiwan?

There is this notion that Russia and China are following similar paths as they are both autocratic regimes. Autocracies are efficient and give the people of a country a sense of stability. In reality, it is a breakdown of independent institutions and laws designed to limit the powers of rulers.

An autocracy is a system of government where one person has absolute power. Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China, rule their countries through fear and paranoia of the Western powers. It is often more extreme in Iran and North Korea, but they do not have the military capabilities of Russia and China. The unchecked authority of Putin is a key element leading to the decision to invasion of Ukraine.

It seemed a bit crazy when commentators were suddenly talking about the possible invasion of Taiwan by China, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, concluded this week was really about Xi Jinping emphasizing nationalism, security and formally adopting a more threatening policy towards Taiwan.

China watchers agree that Xi Jinping is more powerful than ever, with his handpicked new six member Politburo Standing Committee and his election to an unprecedented third term in office.

See link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_National_Congress_of_the_Chinese_Communist_Party

So, unfortunately the commentators arguing that Xi is likely to follow Putin’s foot steps seem to be right. Putin’s justifications of the Ukrainian invasion are basically (1) They are just taking back what has always belonged to Russia and (2) Ukraine was never really a country. Also, Russia ignores the UN condemnation of the invasion and the sanctions imposed by US and the EU.

Russia also claims that they were pushed into reclaiming Ukraine because of NATO’s expansion. Putin is good at concocting a rationale for the brutal invasion, and I have blogged previously that NATO acceptance of application of Eastern European break away countries, was consistent with NATO’s principles and an act of defense rather than aggression. Russia was never threatened by NATO expansion, but rather saw it as an ideal pretext to defend their actions.

Xi Jinping is obviously taking notice. He has tightened his grip on his party, and now is using paranoia of the US and Western nations, to convince the country that their security is at risk. It would be absurd to think that Ukraine posed a risk to Russia, or similarly Taiwan posed a risk to China. To justify an invasion, it is necessary to reduce Taiwan to a geological entity, known for centuries as the island of Formosa, and taken from the Chinese after World War II, as a refuge to the defeated army of Chiang Kai-Shek, and propped up by the US military,

Anyone who has studied Asian history would immediately know that Taiwan was under Japanese rule for 50 years from 1895 to 1945. Ironically, it is General Chiang Kai-Shek and his Chinese army who insisted that Taiwan was not only part of China, but that it was the provisional capital of China. From 1949 to the 1970s, the primary mission of the Taiwanese military was to “retake mainland China” through Project National Glory (Wikipedia). I’m not sure anyone believed this mission 50 years ago, and certainly the military today is strictly defensive.

Mainland China is the People’s Republic of China or PRC. The nation of Taiwan refers to itself as the Republic of China or ROC. Per Wikipedia:

The political and legal statuses of Taiwan are contentious issues. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Taiwan is Chinese territory and that itself has replaced the ROC government in 1949, becoming the sole legal government of China. The ROC, however, has its own currency, widely accepted passport, postage stamps, internet TLD, armed forces and constitution with an independently elected president. It has not formally renounced its claim to the mainland, but ROC government publications have increasingly downplayed this historical claim. Though it was a founding member of United Nations, the ROC now has neither official membership nor observer status in the organization.

Link: Wikipedia, Taiwan

Now, the US has tried to form a better relationship with China, for the obvious reason that China is a nuclear power with 18.5% of the world’s population. For this reason, we adopted the “One China” policy.

Link: What is the US “One China Policy”?

But we also want to continue strong ties to Taiwan and ensue their security. Administrations have tried to sidestep the question of ROC status. The question is whether ROC should pursue a path of unifying with China (one nation, two systems) in a manner similar to Hong Kong, through peaceful means or put more effort in achieving worldwide recognition as a separate nation, and formally abandoning its historical claim, that it is the legitimate government of China. I believe the latter is the more practical approach, even though China would see this as a threat.

The more belligerent Xi Jinping becomes, peaceful re-unification with two systems looks like a naïve, distant dream. The US has a very small military presence on Taiwan itself, but a large naval fleet close at hand. We don’t want a large military presence on Taiwan, because this could exacerbate an already tense situation. As Biden has remarked a number of times, if two nuclear powers are on the same battlefield, this can quickly become World War III.

Our US policy from Carter through Trump has been called “strategic ambiguity” towards the status of Taiwan. Biden’s recent comments on the US commitment defending Taiwan, appear to break with this policy.

Link: Biden leaves no doubt: ‘Strategic ambiguity’ toward Taiwan is dead

There will be some quiet back stepping, as we don’t want to cause Beijing to have a pretext to invade.

“Strategic ambiguity” never really could be a real policy, yet it endured for decades. It seems at odds with the fundamental aspects of good policy-making of clarifying areas of agreement, and narrowing issues of disagreement. It was the US trying to find a middle ground between ROC and RPC, when there was less and less they could agree on.

Xi is watching Putin’s war. He sees the successes and failures. And the most obvious failure is Russia’s inability to occupy and administer the eastern flank of Ukraine. The new Ukrainian counter-offensive, including the retaking of Kherson, means wars are most easily won in theory on maps rather than on the battlefield.

So, a Ukraine win will be a Taiwan win as well. Are we entering a new cold war, with both Russia and China? I really hope not, because so much progress has been made to resolve conflicts without going to war.

Stay tuned,

Dave

What happens if the Republicans win in the mid-term elections

They will pursue a very different agenda. Of course, all efforts to legalize abortion will end. Jan 6 committee will be disbanded. Funding for green energy, I believe, will disappear.

But, none of this I believe is as terrible as another showdown on raising the debt ceiling limit. I’ve written about this in a number of blogs. It is not about controlling how much Congress can spend. It is all about allowing the White House to borrow money it needs so it can pay for its obligations. If the government does not pay its bills, then the government is in default.

Default has extreme consequences. The cost for the US to borrow money will soar. The stock market will plummet. And businesses will fail. And it is all unnecessary, because the debt ceiling does not limit spending.

I’ve got at least 5 blogs on this topic.

I’ve decided to vote straight Democratic in the mid-term elections. Too many radical Republicans out there and I am definitely afraid they could tank the economy just to do battle with the Democrats.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Check out previous posts on this topic by adding Debt Ceiling to the search box.

UN Vote on Russia Annexation

The UN was created from the ashes of World War II. The Security Council, with 15 members had the power not only to condemn invasions, they could authorize military action. This happened when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. But, the UN also allowed the 5 permanent members the power to veto resolution. Thus the Security Council is powerless when the aggression is from any permanent member, including Russia and China.

Russia’s veto of the condemnation of the annexation in the Security Council was no surprise. Ten members voted to condemn Russia and four members abstained. China, India, Brazil and Gabon abstained.

China with a population of 1.45 billion constitutes 18% of the world’s population. China has been firmly on the fence over the conflict (Reuter’s reporting). It is very sad to see China expressing concerns about the expanding war, but not backing sanctions. Thus, the abstention of China is likely due to the numerous sanctions imposed by the US on trade related issues. How I wish China would have condemned Russia, because the Russian elites and military would have taken notice.

India sadly joined China in basically looking the other way. They urged peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict, which is really nonsense when Russia is looking to recruit 300,000 fresh troops and talks about using nuclear weapons.

Brazil is quick with the normal platitudes and lacks all conviction. They condemned the referendum in occupied areas, but wanted a “toned down” resolution. What! Russia is claiming ownership of 15% of Ukraine and threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend their occupied lands. President Bolsonaro is highly nationalistic, so it is in keeping to look the other way at Russia’s atrocities. Today (Oct 2, 2022) is election day, and Bolsonaro likely will lose to his left-leaning opponent, Lula da Silva. I am hoping the change in government will lead to more international cooperation on both climate change and condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Gabon a small African country has numerous internal conflicts. Official corruption is reported to be very high. A coup d’etat was attempted in 2019. The health of President Bongo is being questioned.

How I wish the vote was 14-1, with every single member of the UN Security Council being responsible, and not looking for sidelines in this conflict. It is truly amazing that Ukraine has survived this long against the Russian military. They should have global support in defending their nation.

It is fundamental to world peace that each country respect its national boundaries. It is the function of the UN to resolve territorial disputes. By invading Ukraine, Putin believes more in the power of his war machine in settling disputes and has no concerns about bombing schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and other civilian targets.

The annexation requires strong condemnation of all leaders. Shame on China, India, Brazil and Gabon.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Putin’s Pushback: The one-two punch

The news media covers the world 24/7. Sure, cable news has been saturated with Hurricane Ian for good reason. The destroyed homes, boats, roads and bridges both in the Florida and Cuba resembles war. But, rescue and recovery efforts are beginning right now.

There’s been some excellent reporting and commentary on the referendums which I call Putin’s one-two punch. Putin is attempting to legitimize the invasion by holding sham referendums as reported by CNBC news:

“The referendums, widely described as a “sham” by the international community, are seen as having created a pretext for Russia to annex the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south and pro-Russian, separatist “republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The regions amount to around 15% of Ukraine’s territory.”

Putin’s one-two punch is designed to legitimize an invasion. From the beginning, Putin claimed Ukraine belonged to Russia. By holding these fake referendums, he will claim that the people of the region have decided to be part of Russia. So, Punch 1, The formal annexation and recognition of new boundaries of Russia that includes these regions. Punch 2: Putin will claim it is being attacked by NATO, as it arms Ukrainian fighters to invade Russia. It is all nonsense, but the lies are consistent.

See CNBC link: Fake referendums in occupied Ukraine set the stage for annexation — and immense danger for Ukraine

Please see the map in this link. The annexation redraws the eastern boundary of Ukraine all the way from Luhansk to Crimea. Of course, what Putin wants in Russia, Putin gets, so the legislature will rapidly approve of annexation. With the 1-2 Punch, the invaders become the victims of invasion. Poor mother Russia.

Nobody outside of Russia is really fooled. But Putin’s threat of introducing nuclear weapons is super-scary. The CNN post, provided below, is excellent, as it calls “Putin’s new land grab” a very dangerous step, in changing Russian borders, to suit Putin. I don’t like Congress to run foreign policy, but in this case I support the Graham-Blumenthal draft resolution, to cut off relations with any country which recognizes the annexed territories.

See CNN link: Putin’s new land grab is dangerous for Ukraine – and the world

Who would support annexation? North Korea, Chechnya and Belarus are likely. Iran? I just don’t think so. Syria – maybe. Just countries whose autocratic leaders have demonized the “Western Powers” as they loot and ruin their own countries.

Putin has done this before, to turn his invading army into simply protecting Russian nationals. Crimea and Chechnya are excellent examples. It is a tactic Hitler used in early stages of World War II, claiming his invading army was actually liberating the neighboring countries from oppressive regimes and protecting German citizens who lived there. So Putin is pulling out a tactic from Hitler’s playbook. Austria was the first country to be annexed by force in 1938, and it took seven years and millions of lives lost for it to regain its sovereignty.

This is far more than I intended to write. I wish I could say how all this ends, but every day, there are immense positives and negatives. I use the metaphor, 1-2 punch from boxing, because it is supposed to knock someone out quickly. Not going to happen in this case. Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion has been phenomenal. All I can say, at this point, no quick end is in sight.

Please read the excellent two articles.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Trump Finance and Documents Lawsuits

This is just a quick update.

Finance Civil Lawsuit, September 21, 2022. NY Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against Donald Trump and his three children (Eric, Ivanka and Donald, Jr) alleging a long series of highly inflated estimates of the asset values of properties owned by the Trump Organization. The inflated estimates were used to in general to obtain loans. Other false estimates were provided to insurance companies to show the Trump organization had sufficient asset to guarantee repayment of the loans. The AG explained the basis of the charges at a press conference on September 21, 2022.

The lawsuit is provided below.

As many excellent summaries of the civil lawsuit have been posted on the internet, I will not summarize the complaint, except to say it is 222 pages long, with 838 numbered paragraphs. I note the complaint provided below, is user friendly, as one can click on any of the items in the table of contents, and it will go directly to the specific paragraph. Page 213 is the “Prayer for Relief” which is way the Attorney General would like to rule against defendants. This is all up to the courts.

According to Politico:

“James’ suit relies on a special statute for repeat instances of alleged violations of the law, stemming from real estate transactions. She is also filing a criminal referral to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and a separate tax fraud referral to the IRS for the same underlying allegations.”

See Link: Trump, company and family members sued by New York AG over alleged fraud scheme

The legal pundits have indicated that it may be more than a year before this goes to trial. With so many alleged violations, if this is a trial by jury, it will be a brutal ordeal for jurors. And the criminal investigations will continue, and these can result in jail sentences for Donald Trump and gang.

In the meantime, I wonder if anyone would loan money to Trump?

The Mar-a-Lago Documents case

The Appellate Court moved at lightening speed to allow DOJ access to 100 classified documents. It is likely that Trump’s lawyer will ask the full panel of the Appellate Court to review the decision and stay the decision of the 3-judge panel while under appeal. I think this will happen quickly.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Trump Investigations

Just as I completed my list, a couple additional Congressional investigations appear to be starting. Congress can investigate wrong doing, but they can’t prosecute people. They can refer potential criminal actions to the Justice Department for further investigation and determination if a crime has been committed.

The list below does not include the deleted text messages from Secret Service agent’s cell phones on January 6. It does not include a pressure campaign by the Justice Department to go after Trump’s enemies including John Kerry. The allegation is very serious, as the Department of Justice has to be non-partisan in its investigations.

The list is compiled based on several websites. I particularly like a website called grid.news which seems to keep up with events. See link: Trump investigation tracker. To keep this as brief as possible, I have included only a few details and the most recent news on the cases. Please refer to the above link for more information.

Right now the Mar-a-Lago Documents case is getting the most air time. Soon, media attention will focus on the January 6 House Committee investigation, which seems to have many subplots.

Mar-a-Lago Documents case (Criminal). The DOJ has informed the court that one of the possible Special Masters proposed by Trump’s lawyers is acceptable to the DOJ. DOJ asks that only non-classified document be examined. Other issues on the scope and payment of the Special Master remain.

Trump’s tax returns to be submitted to House Ways and Means Committee (Fact Finding). Trump lost in Appellate Court on August 18, 2022 and asked for a review by full court. If this fails, Trump indicated that he will seek a review by the US Supreme Court, In my opinion, the Supreme Court will not take up this case.

NY Attorney General and Manhattan DA Office, Trump’s organization business fraud (Criminal/Civil). This case began as a civil lawsuit, but now criminal charges are likely are likely as well. The matter could go to trial in October. The matter was brought by Attorney General Leititia James and has withstood challenges from Donald Trump.

On May 18, 2021, the NY Attorney General’s spokesperson stated:

“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature. We are now actively investigating the Trump Organizations in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA.” So it does sound like two trials, one for civil violations and another for criminal ones. This case is “People v Trump org.”

This is the case which compelled Trump to answer questions, and after losing the appeal, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment rights 440 times in August 2022:

Trump took Fifth Amendment more than 440 times in refusing to answer New York attorney general’s questions

The case “People v Trump Organization” will hopefully be heard in Court sometime later this year.

Georgia Election Interference Case (Criminal). For those who relish Donald Trump to spend time locked up, this could be the case. Hopefully, the evidence will put Trump at the center of the “Stop the Steal” movement and include the recorded phone call of Trump pressing Georgia officials to find 11,000 votes.

See link: 5 things to know about the special grand jury investigating former President Trump and his allies

January 6 House Committee (Investigative, fact finding). Public hearings to resume in September. Committee can not charge Trump or anyone else with crimes. But, the evidence so far presented is pretty damning that Trump encourage the violence on the Capital, and was very slow to take any action to prevent injury and loss of life to the Capital police.

I am hoping that more attention is put on the massive fund raising rallies Trump organized, to encourage his followers to take action to reject the election results. The submission of “fake electors” is likely to be part of the hearings, but I think the DOJ probe is already covered as a criminal matter.

January 6 Department of Justice Jan 6 investigation (Criminal). AG Merrick Garland has kept a tight lid on this investigation. “We do not comment on ongoing investigations” is often repeated by the Attorney General in response to questions and it is really for good reasons, as he builds a case against those who broke the law. Everything ultimately will be out in the open once charges are brought.

The very latest news is that over 30 subpoena have been issued by the Grand Jury investigating January 6 activities. The CBS report states: “The Justice Department is examining how money was raised and spent on alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election; efforts to submit fake “alternate” electors to Congress from states lost by Trump; and the “Stop The Steal” rally held at the Ellipse, adjacent to White House grounds, on Jan. 6, just before the Capitol riot.”

There are two grand juries hearing evidence from prosecutors. These proceedings are supposed to be secret. So, I suggest it is best to wait for actual indictments at this point. It may be next year before this happens.

Trump’s associates keep on being charged and in some cases, convicted. The former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon was found guilty of refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena and his conviction is under appeal. Bannon will be back in state court, after being charged with defrauding his contributors in the “Build the Wall” fund, which funneled money to himself. Stay tuned for coming attractions. Trump’s pardon let the federal charges be dropped, but it was refiled as a state fraud case.

Bannon’s spin is the big THEY are trying to shut him up, which now is getting a bit tiring. The idea of Bannon as being a leader against the Washington elites, becomes a bit more absurd when he is arrested on billionaire Guo Wengui yacht in 2020, who has his own series of legal problems. Bannon is an elite spin doctor, always looking to cash in.

CNN Steve Bannon pleads not guilty to NY state charges of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud related to border wall effort

Pete Navarro will be in court in November for refusing to comply with a January 6 congressional subpoena.

Lots of other lawsuits out there, including the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case, whose primary target is not Lou Dobbs, or Sidney Powell, but Fox News. There could be an out of court settlement. After all, it is all about money. Dominion wants 1.6 billion dollars for damage to their reputation.

CNN also tracks investigations against Trump and his organization, and also includes five individual lawsuits, ranging from Mary Trump to the Capital Police Officers. See CNN link.

I guess that’s enough. You can Google Rudy Giuliani John Eastman, Mark Meadows, and a long list of people who worked with Trump. They all have legal problems. So Trump’s lawyers need lawyers.

Trump’s counter attack fails

“A good offense is the best defense” is a good adage, but it hasn’t been particularly successful in Trump’s case. The court recently threw out his lawsuit, (Trump v Clinton) in which was a “shotgun attack” on all the baseless grievances stemming from the Russian investigation. Yes, Trump’s lawyers plan to appeal.

See Link: Trump Suit Against Hillary Clinton Dismissed as ‘Manifesto’

I believe the lawsuit as motivated by (1) Trump’s PAC has lots of money to spend on lawyers and (2) It would be the storyline for another video to be distributed by radical right wing conspiracy theorists, of which there seems to be plenty.

On May 22, 2022, Trump’s lawsuit attempting to stop the Attorney General of New York from investigating his taxes was dismissed. AG Leititia James issued the following statement:

“Time and time again, the courts have made clear that Donald J. Trump’s baseless legal challenges cannot stop our lawful investigation into his and the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” said Attorney General James. “No one in this country can pick and choose how the law applies to them, and Donald Trump is no exception. As we have said all along, we will continue this investigation undeterred.”

Trump lost again in court on September 12, 2022, in an effort to delay the start of the trial against the Trump organization. Note, this is a criminal trial against the corporation, not Donald Trump. Per Reuters posting, “The Trump Organization, which manages golf clubs, hotels and other real estate around the world, has pleaded not guilty and faces possible fines and other penalties if convicted.”

The trial is scheduled to begin October 24, 2022. It isn’t what Trump wants before the mid-term elections.

_____

Lots can happen until then. All these lawyers need to be paid, so look forward to more “Save America” rallies, which are fund raisers for Donald Trump and friends, not political candidates. Even Mitch McConnell is complaining that Trump’s PAC does little to contribute to his selected candidates.

The more indictments are brought against Trump and his corporation, we will see more push back from Trump supporters. Conspiracies are elastic beasts, the number of evil conspirators continue to expand. to include more government officials who are doing their job. First, Trump told his followers that election results were rigged and he won by a landslide. So, he had to kick out Attorney Bill Barr, who told him it was bullshit. And, as more investigations occurred, the THEY (enemies of the people) now include President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Department of Justice, legal system in general, FBI, etc, etc.

I guess, the very best comment came from Trevor Noah, on how active Donald Trump must be, to be involved in so many crimes in so many different areas. When does he find time to golf, organize political rallies, or even just eat and sleep?

Stay tuned,

Dave

Putin’s Plan

There’s some very scary stuff out there. Some of this is relatively new. It is not Communism, nor Fascism, but autocracies without regard to international order and expansionary ambitions. Add in nuclear capabilities, and Russia poses a grave threat.

The Wagner Group is Putin’s secret weapon, and operates very much like a terrorist organization. More specifically, the Group looks like ISIS, which profits from captured territory and uses brutality as their weapon. In my last post, The Wagner Group was hired by the existing Central African Republic to bring the diamond mines under government control, but soon the Group was collaborating with the rebel groups to also profit from the diamond industry. So, putting the fox to guard the chicken pen, and you’ll end up without many chickens.

What goes around, comes around. That’s my first axiom. Chechnya might have seem a far off conflict in 2007 when Putin’s puppet was installed, by the name of Ramon Kadyron, in the Caucasian region, but the invasion of Ukraine, first in Crimea in 2014, then full scale invasion into Donbas in 2022 made crystal clear Putin’s game plan. Of course, prior to this, Putin had vastly increased the military strength of Russia, and their involvement in Syria was kind of a testing ground for further military interventions.

What threatens autocracies is basic civil liberties, including freedom of assembly and speech. The military is used to suppress freedoms. The judiciary system loses its independence. Belarus under President Lukashenko is a perfect example of a country in decline, due to the autocratic government. Putin had easy access to Ukraine through Belarus.

Putin’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is another threat, and it is no question that they will use cyberattacks against its enemies, including the US and our western allies. Russia interfered in our elections in 2016, and they will do it again. It wasn’t headline news, but the “Rewards for Justice” program offer of 10 million dollars for information on Russia’s interference, as posted on July 28, 2022, is a very serious effort to deepen our understanding of this threat to us and our allies.

See link: Rewards for Justice

Next axiom. The problems with Putin are long term, and awareness instead of denial, is necessary. Also, I’ll add Biden’s axiom, which is when Russia and the US are on the same battlefield, you have World War III. I give Biden high marks on finally pulling out of Afghanistan and finding ways to keep Ukraine supplied with arms without putting boots on the ground.

During the campaign, Trump loudly proclaim that he would withdraw from Afghanistan and never did. He knew how terrible it was going to look, for the US to lose a war.

In February 2022, Russia was going to blitzkrieg Kyiv through a column of tanks entering through the northern front in Belarus. This fell apart.

I don’t know where or when the next large scale advance of Putin’s expansionary plans will be. Part of his strategy is to rebuild the Russian Federation, but it is not easily done. Belarus and Chechnya toe the line with Putin, to avoid invasion. Finland and Norway are now likely to be admitted to NATO. I congratulate Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as able to persuade Turkey not to block their admission.

Russia will continue to look at weaker or less stable countries in Africa, such as Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, Madagascar and Libya as opportunities to intervene. These are also countries ripe for terrorists organizations. Certainly, Libya could easily be the next Syrian style proxy war involving both the US and Russia. Military forces from the US and France are assisting Niger from the threat of terrorist group, Boko Haram, which now affects Nigeria.

Keeping Ukraine alive is expensive. From Wikipedia, “On 28 April 2022, US President Joe Biden asked Congress for an additional $33 billion to assist Ukraine, including $20 billion to provide weapons to Ukraine. On 5 May, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that Ukraine had received more than $12 billion worth of weapons and financial aid from Western countries since the start of Russia’s invasion on 24 February. On 21 May 2022, the United States passed legislation providing $40 billion in new military and humanitarian foreign aid to Ukraine, marking a historically large commitment of funds.”

Putin’s push requires push back, and there is not better way right now, than by helping to defend Ukraine sovereignty. All Democrat senators voted to support aid to Ukraine. Per CNN:

“Eleven Republican senators voted against final passage of the bill: Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.” Aid to Ukraine has become political.

Link: CNN Senate votes to pass $40 billion aid to Ukraine,

Putin’s aggressive intervention policies must be met with resistance with a coordinated response from the US and our allies. It should never become political. I strongly support all the economic sanctions levied against Russia. The US and our European allies must do everything possible to strengthen emerging democracies around the world. Every Democrat in the Senate recognized the importance of Ukraine, and seem to have a better international perspective of the dangers of Putin. So, for my part, I’m supporting Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Central African Republic and Russia

This posting is really about Putin’s expansionary policies, and using mercenaries to gain control of countries. Central African Republic serves as just one example.

The invasion of Ukraine shows the world that Russia under Putin has little respect for international law and conventions. There are many countries which are vulnerable to Russia’s control, and Putin will take advantage of any weakness to exert maximum control. In a previous post, I explained how the leader of Chechnya, Ramon Kadyron, is essentially Putin’s puppet, through channeling funds directly to him. Two of his wives own property in Moscow, worth about 8 million dollars. So, not only can Kadyron enrich himself from stealing from his own country, being Putin’s constant ally has enormous fringe benefiits.

Central African Republic is about the same size as France. Geographically, it is located above the equator, bordered by two larger countries to the north, Chad and Sudan, and to the south, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is a very poor country, ranked 188 of 189 countries, based on human development. It has an abundance of mineral wealth, including gold and diamonds.

Wikipedia: Central African Republic

Russia, I believe, sees an opportunity to dominate the country due to the geographic strategic importance and mineral wealth. Plus, in a way, they were invited in. Prime Minister Touadera welcomed the assistance of the Russia’s mercenary force, the Wagner Group, to secure the diamond mines from rebel groups shortly after his election in 2014. As reported by the New York Times, updated May 4, 2020:

“But Russia’s help comes at a cost. Its representatives have struck deals with the government to mine diamonds where the trade is legal — one of many signs that Russia’s push into the country is closely tied to the profits it can reap.

Russian operatives have even partnered with murderous rebels to obtain diamonds in areas where the trade is outlawed, cashing in on the very lawlessness they have been brought in to end, according to members of the Central African government, Western officials and some of the warlords themselves.”

Links to New York Times article: Gems, Warlords and Mercenaries: Russia’s Playbook in Central African Republic (originally published September 30, 2019)

Wikipedia, Wagner Group

The link above identifies the many countries where the Wagner Group mercenaries are deployed. The “Russian operatives” are members of Russia’s Wagner group. It is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin[a] (Russian: Евге́ний Ви́кторович Приго́жин; born 1 June 1961) is a Russian oligarch[5] and close confidante of Russian president Vladimir Putin.[6] Prigozhin controls a network of companies including Wagner, a Russian state-backed mercenary group accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria, and Ukraine.

Further it is stated, “Prigozhin, his companies and associates face economic sanctions and criminal charges in the United States.” This is in connection to the Russian interference in US elections in 2016.

Per Wikipedia: Yevgeny Prigozhin

“In April 2022, during Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that [Yevgeny] Prigozhin travelled to the Donbas to oversee personally Wagner Group’s campaign. He was pictured wearing military fatigues with Russian Duma member Vitaly Milonov who had travelled to the front line. In August 2022, Wagner Group began using billboards to recruit new members in Russia.

Former journalist and observer of the Group, Denis Korotkov said “It looks like they have decided that they will no longer try to hide their existence.”

Wow. Below is an AP photo of Yevgeny Prigozhin from 2016.

Wikipedia, Wagner Group

From Wikipedia, “Russian and some Western observers believe that the organization does not actually exist as a private military company but is in reality a disguised branch of the Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense] that ultimately reports to the Russian government.[133][134][135][136] The company shares bases with the Russian military,[137] is transported by Russian military aircraft,[138][139][140] and uses Russia’s military health care services.[141][142][143] The Russian state is also documented supporting the Wagner Group with passports.”

I left the reference numbers in, as these statements can all be verified. I believe CAR is going to be turned into another autocracy like Chechnya, subservient to Putin.

I also fear that Russia is using the Wagner group to gain control of Libya, through aiding Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. National elections seem to be continually postponed. Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, and now, more than a decade later, the country is divided.

See link: Libya Could Be Putin’s Trump Card

The US is offering 10 million dollars reward for information on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Any additional information will most likely complete the various connections among Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the Wagner Group and Russia’s chief intelligence office (GRU).

See State Department link: Rewards for Justice

Please read the State Department statement. The Mueller investigation was not fake and the US State Department is taking very seriously the threat that Russia is posing to free and fair elections in the US.

There are other ways to hit back. Mercenaries in Ukraine posted a photo of their group, and the Ukrainians were quick to identify their location, allowing them to direct a missile strike against them.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-16/ukraine-hits-wagner-group-base/101336834

So, the intervention of CAR by the Russians using a mercenary force is not an isolated incidence, but more of their overall game plan since at least 2014. Seeking help from Putin is make pact with the devil. It guarantees that the leaders will be rich, and not have to worry about re-election. In return, the government is just a puppet regime for Putin.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Director of the FBI: Christopher Wray

AG Merrick Garland yesterday, reminded us that the Justice Department must be unbiased, as follows:

“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing. All Americans are entitled to the evenhanded application of the law, to due process of the law, and to the presumption of innocence.”

I think AG Merrick Garland and Director Christopher Wray make a very good team in fighting crime at all levels. The FBI investigates and Justice Department prosecutes. Frequently, the FBI works in close cooperation with local officials, like the recent arrests of Mexican drug smugglers in both Texas and Arizona.

Authorities bust multi-million-dollar drug operation with ties to Mexican drug cartels

FBI Wiretap Opens Window To Murderous Drug Gang—And A Crucial Flaw In Snapchat Privacy

Drugs come through both Texas and Arizona, so the FBI is in the perfect position to coordinate state investigations.

Christopher Wray is the 8th Director of the FBI. He was sworn in on August 2, 2017. He was nominated by Donald Trump and was confirmed by the Senate 92-5. Normally, his term is 10 years. I was very glad to see Biden keeping him on. He’s got the right education and experience for the job.

Wray’s nomination was confirmed by a GOP-led Senate, with votes from Trump allies such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Josh Hawley of Missouri. At the time Trump called him a man of “impeccable credentials.” See Wray’s bio in the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_A._Wray

See how quickly the Republicans have turned against the FBI. From Ted Cruz’s tweet:

“The FBI raiding Donald Trump is unprecedented. It is corrupt & an abuse of power. What Nixon tried to do, Biden has now implemented: The Biden Admin has fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies. And with 87K new IRS agents, they’re coming for YOU too.”

And to respond to Ted Cruz, hopefully some of these new agents will work in the criminal investigations department (IRS-CI) and they are coming for you, particularly if your name is Kunal Kalra or Jon Woo Son:

Kunal Kalra, AKA “shecklemayne”, operation: In August 2019, Kunal Kalra operated an unlicensed Money Service Business (MSB) in which he exchanged about 25 million dollars for drug dealers, credit card fraudsters, and performed other illicit activities. Kalra owned and operated a Bitcoin Kiosk (aka Bitcoin ATM) that would allow for the exchange of large amounts of money with no Know Your Customer requirements. This is believed to be the first federal criminal case charging an unlicensed money remitting business that used a Bitcoin kiosk.

In October 2019, Welcome to Video, one of the largest Darkweb child pornography sites in the world was shut down. IRS-CI was instrumental in the investigation by the tracing the bitcoin transactions used by people from all over the world to pay for the illicit material. Jong Woo Son, a South Korean national and the administrator of the website, was arrested and an eventual seizure of the child pornography material was conducted. IRS-CI performed the operation in conjunction with other agencies: U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom and the Korean National Police.

Things are getting tougher for the IRS Criminal Investigation, given the ease at which money is transferred over the internet. Fortunately, they usually get their man with over a 90% conviction rate.

Now, I guess you can tell, tough law enforcement means you can never pick sides. Agents have to be meticulous and persistent. There’s no fear or favor as Garland put it. There can be no Republican or Democrat side, only the rule of law side.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Raid on Trump’s home

Commentators on Fox News were making all kinds of claims of how outrageous this action is, while other commentators on other cable stations were stressing that Trump often acts in defiance of the law, as if he should be given special privileges.

The Department of Justice does not comment on on-going investigations. Neither does the FBI, which would normally sign off on the search warrant as a necessity for their investigation. If it an unreasonable search, the law is on Trump side. Nothing gathered in an illegal search can used in any court case.

The former president’s protection against unreasonable searches comes from the Fourth Amendment. Prosecutors must convince a judge that the search warrant is justified based on current information. The fact that Trump’s home has been searched does not mean he has violated any law. The AG may find there is insufficient evidence to hold Donald Trump personally responsible for the removal of documents.

The Attorney General does not owe Congress an explanation as to why Trump’s home was searched. I do not believe the AG should testify in front of Congress in either an open hearing or closed session. Important information on the investigation will leak out. The Justice Department should move as quickly as possible to either bring charges or close out the investigation.

Per Bloomberg news: “All of a president’s official papers, no matter how trivial, are considered public property, not his alone, according to the Presidential Records Act of 1978. When the president leaves office, those papers go to the National Archives and later as part of a presidential library.”

Also, the article goes on to state: “Theft or destruction of federal records is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison — and disqualification from federal office. But it’s unlikely that the law applies to the office of president, because those qualifications are set out in the Constitution.”

I also have great trust in FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, and AG Merrick Garland, in following all the rules in obtaining and executing the warrant.

The independence of the Department of Justice and FBI is critical. They did not inform the White House, and that is exactly correct.

Stay tuned,

Dave

What’s wrong with this recession?

I know this is not a particularly exciting topic. If I had done a piece on International Beer Day, which as everyone knows was August 5, then perhaps there would be a lot more interest. And yes, I’m sure that as I write this blog, there are still some people celebrating. International hangover day is January 1.

Can one word have more than one definition? I caught a bit of Sean Hannity show on Fox News, and it seemed he really had difficulty with this idea. His favorite definition of recession is two quarters of negative GDP growth. And, so by this definition, we are in one. He really made a big deal that the Democrats were hiding something big. They weren’t and he is wrong.

There is a second definition, which is also real simple. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) panel of 8 economists makes a formal declaration that the country is in one, using all the relevant data. This hasn’t been done yet. They meet in secret. Economic data always lags behind the actual events, so economists at NBER back date the onset or end of recessions.

There’s No US Recession Until an Obscure Panel of ‘Eggheads’ Says It Is So

Case in point is the 2020 recession created by Covid-19 health restrictions. With health shut down, economic activity was cratering in February to March 2020. Unemployment of course was soaring, as businesses shut down or restricted the number of people inside their business. However, NBER had to wait for the jobs data. So, on June 8, 2020, they announced a recession had begun back in February. Of course, by then, it was obvious to just about every living sole who worked in the hospitality area, we were in a recession. Then, 17 months later, on July 19, 2021, the NBER declared the recession had ended in April 2020. Yes, you read that right! So, the June 8, 2020 announcement, the NBER was declaring we were in a recession, when it had already past. Don’t believe me- read the following links:

It’s official: The Covid recession lasted just two months, the shortest in U.S. history

Ok. The nice way to avoid the topic is to admit that economic contraction is likely, then change the topic quickly to something everyone can agree on, like why International Hangover day is not on August 6, immediately following International Beer day.

The second quarter GDP decline was only 0.9%, as reported on July 28, 2022. The second quarter is from April to June 2022. So, it is likely economists are looking at other data, including unemployment. If we are in a recession, then unemployment should be going up. Latest numbers show the unemployment rate is slightly lower.

US Job Growth Surges, Tempering Recession Worry and Pressing Fed

Sean Hannity is a Fox News commentator, who enjoys bashing Democrats. Incumbent presidents rarely get re-elected if there has been a recession within 2 years of their re-election. Donald Trump had the misfortune to be running for re-election in 2020, during the Covid recession.

See link: All the U.S. Presidents Who Won Re-Elections During a Recession

See link: U.S. recession ended in April 2020, making it shortest on record

So Hannity’s rant was pure politics.
But, there are real concerns. Inflation is real, and with high gas prices, consumers may spend less. So, a contraction in the economy, brings down inflation. But, it should cause unemployment to increase. So be careful what you wish for. Do you want gas prices back to $3.50/gallon or job security?

Stay tuned,

Dave

The Build Back Better Plan

Biden’s “Build back better” package is very close to passing. Senator Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, has been in negotiations with Senator Chuck Schumer, to find a way to pass this bill. If it passes, it may have been stripped of very critical elements.

The bill is hated by Republicans. They will immediately point to the enormous cost of the bill. Democrats counter by saying they have closed tax loopholes in the bill so it pays for itself. At least it does as initially proposed.

Link from the White House summarizing the bill. It is a combination of many programs, including extension of child care credits, measures to combat climate change, expand health benefits, reduce prescription drugs costs and expand educational programs beyond high school. I call them the “goodies” and others would call them social benefits.

All eyes are now on Senator Kyrsten Sinema, to see if the bill passes. If Sen. Sinema goes along with the plan, the Senate would be divided 50:50, and VP Kamala Harris could vote to break the tie. The two holdouts are quite different. Senator Joe Manchin is quite vocal on what he doesn’t like in a bill, and has worked with the majority leader to find a compromise. Not so with Senator Sinema. She doesn’t talk to the press.

It appears from the trickle of news, she’s onboard with all the social benefits in the program. She is from Arizona, so unlike Joe Manchin, there is no climate change issues. (Manchin is from West Virginia, known for its coal production). It’s the self funding part of the bill. The claim of Republicans is that it would be absurd to make a massive increase in government spending at a time when the country is on the brink of recession. I admit, they have a point.

The apparent objections from Kyrsten Sinema, are the minimum tax rate of 15% for corporations and the carried forward interest provision. Many corporations have sufficient write-offs so they pay no federal tax.

See link: Sinema Seeks to Keep Private Equity Break, Curb Corporate Tax

So, as the Bloomberg article suggests, if the Democrats satisfy Sinema and reduce the applicability of the minimum tax rate, they lose Manchin. They also will be immediately shown as hypocrites, because they claimed the package was self funding.

The bill will repeal Trump’s personal tax cuts in 2017, the so-called “welfare for the rich,” where rich is defined as those with income over $400,000. So far, leaked reports are that Sinema objections are on the corporate tax benefits (or loopholes), which is still a big piece of the self-funding claim.

I don’t know if we have a “humpty-dumpty” moment, where through the compromises needed to get Manchin and Sinema onboard, we lose the vital elements of the package, one of which is the increase in renewable energy. Trump put us behind for four years, with climate change deniers and fossil fuel advocates. I hoped Biden could reverse this, and bring internation cooperation together again, as Obama was trying hard to do.

I guess the real solution is to elect a few more Democrat senators, so two senators can’t change the bill, so it does not provide what it should (Manchin’s cuts) or is not funded properly (Sinema’s cuts). The Republicans in the end, may celebrate, with a bill that does not deliver the goods, particularly in reduction of fossil fuel consumption and is not self funding. A win for oil companies and corporate America.

Global warming is here. California wildfires continue to grow. Yes, Washburn which threatened Yosemite is under control, but the McKinney fire, right on the California/Oregon border is only 10% contained, and has destroyed 57,000 acres. Horrible injuries and loss of lives with homes and wilderness destroyed.

We can do better than this.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Humpty dumpty reference:

Something beyond repair. from a children’s rhyme: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, All the king’s horses, And all the king’s men, Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Going beyond the Jan 6 Hearings

People involved in the violence of January 6 need to go to jail. I don’t ever want our Capital police to be afraid of a mob. One death of a police officer and over 150 people injured. Unfortunately, some of those who stormed the Capital, were thinking they were patriots and doing something in the national interest. A patriot does not break the law and threaten police. There have been 884 individuals arrested. There is a constitutional right to assemble and protest, but violence can never be condoned.

People involved in the planning of the storming of the Capital and other activities aimed at illegal actions to overturn our elections, need to be tried and go to jail. I hope the efforts of the Department of Justice will result in convictions of the top echelons in the Trump campaign organizers.

Those individuals who think subpoenas for documents and testimony are optional, will need time to rethink their decision behind bars. That includes Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon. I’d like to see more convictions.

Others will suffer the consequences of making false claims in court by actions taken by Dominion voting machines. This includes Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. These are civil cases, which are tough to prove. Rudy Giuliani’s law license has been suspended in New York, and similar proceedings are occurring in Washington.

Whether Donald Trump or his closest allies will be charged with crimes, remains to be seen. The latest scandal is the apparent erasing of text messages by the Secret Service, and likely connected to the leadership in Homeland Security. Obstruction of justice is a criminal offense.

New laws need to be enacted, so there is not the slightest doubt that State legislatures can never override the outcome of elections. Claims of election fraud are always serious, and the courts are the proper place to address any irregularities. After the Safe Harbor date of December 8 has passed, lawsuits which challenge the results are frivolous

Within new laws, the role of the Vice President on January 6 should be made absolutely clear, his role is strictly ceremonial.

New laws will not be enough. The electorate needs to help clean house. Yes, “Drain the Swamp” if you like the phrase. I have a long list of Senators and Congress representatives who I’d like to see gone after their election.

The January 6 committee has shown us so clearly that Donald Trump did not care at all for the orderly transition of government or respect for decision of the electorate. Mike Pence did what every Vice President has done. He stood at inauguration day with President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The White House was an open door to people who had no respect for the rule of law. The President sat there on December 18, while “outside advisors” (aka, the crazies) suggested he fire his entire staff, and direct the military to seize voting machines. This was simply to stop the next administration from being sworn in on Jan 20. His actions immediately after this meeting, was to tell everyone to come to the Capital on January 6, because “it’s going to be wild.”

The message was clear, that although the electorate had spoken, Trump had no reservations on breaking the law, so he could stay in power. This is by definition a planned coup. He nearly fired the acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, because he would not sign a memo to be sent to Georgia, filled with false statements on election fraud.

Trump and his supporters encouraged a riot that they knew would be violent. This was brought out so clearly in the hearing as Trump’s security detail wanted metal detectors to protect the president, but he did not, as he said these were “his people.” He targeted his own vice president in his speech on January 6.

A good first step, would be the “firing” by the electorate on election day of the coup supporters, namely Rep. Pat Gosar, Senator Ted Cruz, Rep. Jody Hice, Rep. Josh Hawley. Rep Mo Brooks, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Scott Perry and Rep. Louis Gohmert.

Of course, it is not who is voted out, but who comes in to replace this group of election deniers. We need senators and representatives who strongly believe we settle our differences at the ballot box.

Stay tuned,

Dave

https://ballotpedia.org/Counting_of_electoral_votes_(January_6-7,_2021)