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  • feedwordpress 09:01:18 on 2019/02/13 Permalink
    Tags: corruption, , , Jesse James, kleptocracy, , oligopolies, Quantrill's Raiders, Russia,   

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”*… 


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    kleptocracy

     

    When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist values—and lost…

    Much of the rest of the world wanted to shout for joy about the trajectory of history, and how it pointed in the direction of free markets and liberal democracy. [CIA Moscow station chief Richard] Palmer’s account of events in Russia, however, was pure bummer. In the fall of 1999, he testified before a congressional committee to disabuse members of Congress of their optimism and to warn them of what was to come.

    American officialdom, Palmer believed, had badly misjudged Russia. Washington had placed its faith in the new regime’s elites; it took them at their word when they professed their commitment to democratic capitalism. But Palmer had seen up close how the world’s growing interconnectedness—and global finance in particular—could be deployed for ill. During the Cold War, the KGB had developed an expert understanding of the banking byways of the West, and spymasters had become adept at dispensing cash to agents abroad. That proficiency facilitated the amassing of new fortunes. In the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Palmer had watched as his old adversaries in Soviet intelligence shoveled billions from the state treasury into private accounts across Europe and the U.S. It was one of history’s greatest heists.

    Washington told itself a comforting story that minimized the importance of this outbreak of kleptomania: These were criminal outliers and rogue profiteers rushing to exploit the weakness of the new state. This narrative infuriated Palmer. He wanted to shake Congress into recognizing that the thieves were the very elites who presided over every corner of the system…

    The United States, Palmer made clear, had allowed itself to become an accomplice in this plunder. His assessment was unsparing. The West could have turned away this stolen cash; it could have stanched the outflow to shell companies and tax havens. Instead, Western banks waved Russian loot into their vaults. Palmer’s anger was intended to provoke a bout of introspection—and to fuel anxiety about the risk that rising kleptocracy posed to the West itself. After all, the Russians would have a strong interest in protecting their relocated assets. They would want to shield this wealth from moralizing American politicians who might clamor to seize it. Eighteen years before Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election, Palmer warned Congress about Russian “political donations to U.S. politicians and political parties to obtain influence.” What was at stake could well be systemic contagion: Russian values might infect and then weaken the moral defense systems of American politics and business.

    This unillusioned spook was a prophet, and he spoke out at a hinge moment in the history of global corruption…

    This was capital flight on an unprecedented scale, and mere prologue to an era of rampant theft. When the Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman studied the problem in 2015, he found that 52 percent of Russia’s wealth resided outside the country.

    The collapse of communism in the other post-Soviet states, along with China’s turn toward capitalism, only added to the kleptocratic fortunes that were hustled abroad for secret safekeeping. Officials around the world have always looted their countries’ coffers and accumulated bribes. But the globalization of banking made the export of their ill-gotten money far more convenient than it had been—which, of course, inspired more theft. By one estimate, more than $1 trillion now exits the world’s developing countries each year in the forms of laundered money and evaded taxes.

    An amazing amount of the illicit cash is being solicited and handled by Americans– by banks, lawyers, real estate developers actively conspiring with he mobsters. dictators, and oligarchs whose money they are hiding in anonymized investments.

    The defining document of our era is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. The ruling didn’t just legalize anonymous expenditures on political campaigns. It redefined our very idea of what constitutes corruption, limiting it to its most blatant forms: the bribe and the explicit quid pro quo. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion crystallized an ever more prevalent ethos of indifference—the collective shrug in response to tax avoidance by the rich and by large corporations, the yawn that now greets the millions in dark money spent by invisible billionaires to influence elections.

    In other words, the United States has legitimized a political economy of shadows, and it has done so right in step with a global boom in people hoping to escape into the shadows.

    American collusion with kleptocracy comes at a terrible cost for the rest of the world. All of the stolen money, all of those evaded tax dollars sunk into Central Park penthouses and Nevada shell companies, might otherwise fund health care and infrastructure. (A report from the anti-poverty group One has argued that 3.6 million deaths each year can be attributed to this sort of resource siphoning.) Thievery tramples the possibilities of workable markets and credible democracy. It fuels suspicions that the whole idea of liberal capitalism is a hypocritical sham: While the world is plundered, self-righteous Americans get rich off their complicity with the crooks.

    The Founders were concerned that venality would become standard procedure, and it has. Long before suspicion mounted about the loyalties of Donald Trump, large swaths of the American elite—lawyers, lobbyists, real-estate brokers, politicians in state capitals who enabled the creation of shell companies—had already proved themselves to be reliable servants of a rapacious global plutocracy. Richard Palmer was right: The looting elites of the former Soviet Union were far from rogue profiteers. They augured a kleptocratic habit that would soon become widespread. One bitter truth about the Russia scandal is that by the time Vladimir Putin attempted to influence the shape of our country, it was already bending in the direction of his.

    Read Franklin Foer’s important report in full at: “Russian-Style Kleptocracy Is Infiltrating America.”

    * Friedrich Nietzsche

    ###

    As we get down with Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1866 that Jesse James robbed his first bank, in Liberty, Mo.  James and his crew (a remnant of his Civil War service in the Confederate guerrilla outfit known as Quantrill’s Raiders) are believed to have targeted the bank because it was owned by abolitionist Republican former militia officers.

    220px-Jesse_james_portrait source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:14 on 2018/12/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , Russia, ,   

    “Three meals a day are a highly advanced institution”*… 


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    breakfast_lunch_dinner_1050x700

    The typical American “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern is a product of the Industrial Revolution.

    Early U.S. dining habits were shaped by those of English colonists. And, as Anne Murcott, a British sociologist specializing in food, writes, for centuries, up until about 1800, most English people ate two, not three, meals a day. The larger of these was often called dinner, but it wasn’t typically an evening meal. During the reign of Henry VII, from 1485 to 1509, the day’s big meal normally took place around 11 am.

    In both England and the U.S., dinner became the large afternoon meal for farm families—which is to say most families—in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It might be preceded by breakfast—the meal to break the nighttime fast—and followed by some kind of light meal or meals, variously called supper or tea.

    Lunch is the newest addition to the triad of U.S. meals. Back in 1968, the English-language scholar Anne Wallace-Hadrill traced the etymology of the word itself, along with its close relation, “luncheon.” One possible origin of the words is from “lump.” A 1617 source mentions “eating a great lumpe of bread and butter with a lunchen of cheese.” In 1755, one dictionary writer defined lunch or luncheon as “as much food as one’s hand can hold,” but not as a specific meal. Somewhere in the first half of the nineteenth century, the word “lump” seems to have merged with “nuncheon,” a light midday meal (with the “nun” coming from “noon.”)

    As workers and kids left the farms for factories and schools over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, eating patterns shifted. Workers and children might shove a lunch of bread into their pocket to eat during the day or return home for a quick luncheon, but dinner now had to wait for the end of the day, creating the set of mealtimes we know so well…

    The origin of the familiar breakfast-lunch-dinner triad: “Why Do Americans Eat Three Meals a Day?

    * E.C. Hayes, Introduction to the Study of Sociology (1913)

    ###

    As we dig in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1999 that the Russian Duma (its legislature) voted 273-1 to pass an animal rights bill that prohibited Russians from eating their “animal companions”– their pets.  Shortly thereafter the newly-elected President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, vetoed the bill.

    group-of-pets-together-15229056 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:56 on 2014/08/25 Permalink
    Tags: Bulgaria, fink, , , Pinkerton, private detective, Russia, , ,   

    “We shall fight against them, throw them in prisons and destroy them”*… 


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    The Moscow Times is reporting that Bulgarian pranksters are repainting Soviet-era monuments so that the Soviet military heroes depicted are recast as American Superheroes:

    Russia is demanding that Bulgaria try harder to prevent vandalism of Soviet monuments, after yet another monument to Soviet troops in Sofia was spray-painted, ITAR-Tass reported.

    The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria has issued a note demanding that its former Soviet-era ally clean up the monument in Sofia’s Lozenets district, identify and punish those responsible, and take “exhaustive measures” to prevent similar attacks in the future, the news agency reported Monday.

    The monument was sprayed with red paint on the eve of the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s celebration of its 123rd anniversary, the Sofia-based Novinite news agency reported.

    The vandalism was the latest in a series of similar recent incidents in Bulgaria — each drawing angry criticism from Moscow…

    [continues at Moscow Times]

    Via Disinformation ((h/t to trans-atlantyk posting at reddit’s /r/worldnews):

    * Vladimir Putin

    ###

    As we dream of empire, we might send enforceable birthday greetings to Allen Pinkerton; he was born on this date in 1819.  After migrating from Scotland, Pinkerton landed a job as Chicago’s first police detective; then, partnering with a Chicago attorney, founded the North-Western Police Agency, which later became Pinkerton & Co, and finally Pinkerton National Detective Agency (still in existence today as Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations).  Pinkerton provided a range of services, but was especially involved solving railway robberies.  After his death in 1884, his firm became deeply involved as agents– Pinkerton men, or “Pinks,” served as spies and enforcers– for employers resisting the development of the labor movement in the U.S.and Canada.  Pinkerton and his firm were so famous that “Pinkerton” became slang for “private detective”– and given their strike-busting activities, for authorities that sided with management in labor disputes. Indeed, it has been suggested that “fink” is a derivation of “Pink.”

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:28 on 2014/03/24 Permalink
    Tags: Azerbaijan, Baku, boom town, , , , oil spill, Rothschild, Russia, , Valdez   

    “Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh, and nineteenth-century Paris”*… 


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    Oil wells in a Baku suburb, circa 1900

    In 1900, Baku, a small town on the western edge of the Caspian sea in what is now Azerbaijan, produced half the world’s oil.  Its inhabitants included the Nobel brothers, later of Nobel prize fame, and the Rothchilds. The town boasted garish displays of wealth never before seen, but it was so poisoned with oil that the life expectancy of its residents was only thirty…

    Baku was a city of ‘debauchery, despotism and extravagance,’ and a twilight zone of ‘smoke and gloom.’ Its own governor called it ‘the most dangerous place in Russia’…

    Baku was created by one dynasty. Swedish by origin, Russian by opportunity and international by instinct, the Nobels made their first fortune selling land mines to Tsar Nicholas I, but in 1879, the year of Baku’s first ‘fountain’ of oil, the brothers Ludwig and Robert Nobel founded the Nobel Brothers Oil Company in the town known mainly for the ancient Zoroastrian temple where Magi priests tended their holy oil-fuelled flames. The drilling had already started; entrepreneurs struck oil in spectacular gushers.

    The Nobels started to buy up land particularly in what became the Black City. Another brother, Alfred, invented dynamite, but Ludwig’s invention of the oil tanker was almost as important. The French Rothschilds followed the Nobels into Baku. By the 1880s, Baron Alphonse de Rothschild’s Caspian Black Sea Oil Company was the second biggest producer — and its workers lived in the industrial township called the White City. By 1901, Baku produced half the world’s oil — and the Nobel Prize, established that year, was funded on its profits.

    Its oil boom, like the Kimberley Diamond Fever or the California Gold Rush, turned peasants into millionaires overnight. A dusty, windy ex-Persian town, built on the edge of the Caspian around the walls and winding streets of a medieval fortress, was transformed into one of the most famous cities in the world.

    Its ‘barbaric luxury’ filled the newspapers of Europe, scintillated by instant riches, remarkable philanthropy and preposterous vulgarity. Every oil baron had to have a palace, many as big as a city block. Even the Rothschilds built one. The Nobels’ palace was called Villa Petrolea, and was surrounded by a lush park. One oil baron insisted on building his palace out of gold but had to agree to cover it with goldplate because the gold would melt; another built his mansion like the body of a giant dragon with the entrance through its jaws; a third created his vast palace in the shape of a pack of cards emblazoned in golden letters: ‘Here live I, IsaBey of Gandji.’ A popular singer made his fortune when a performance was rewarded by some land on which oil was struck: his neo-classical palace is now the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s state oil company.

    Baku was a melting-pot of pitiful poverty and incredible wealth, its streets, observes Anna Alliluyeva, full of ‘red-bearded Muslims … street porters called ambals bent under excessive loads … Tartar hawkers selling sweetmeats, strange figures in whispering silks whose fiery black eyes watched through slits, street barbers, everything seemed to take place in the streets,’ …

    Burning oil reservoir in Baku, circa 1905

    Yet the source of all this money, the derricks and the refineries, poisoned the city and corrupted the people. ‘The oil seeped everywhere,’ says Anna Alliluyeva. ‘Trees couldn’t grow in this poisonous atmosphere.’ Sometimes it bubbled out of the sea and ignited, creating extraordinary waves of fire.

    The Black and White Cities and other oil townships were polluted slums. The 48,000 workers toiled in terrible conditions, living and fighting each other in grimy streets ‘littered with decaying rubbish, disembowelled dogs, rotten meat, faeces.’ Their homes resembled ‘prehistoric dwellings.’ Life expectancy was just thirty. The oilfields seethed with ‘lawlessness, organized crime and xenophobia. Physical violence, rapes and bloodfeuds dominated workers’ everyday lives.’ …

    ‘Equal parts Dodge City, medieval Baghdad, industrial Pittsburgh and nineteenth-century Paris,’ Baku ‘was too Persian to be European but much too European to be Persian.’ Its police chiefs were notoriously venal; its Armenians and Azeris armed and vigilant; its plentiful gunmen, the kochis, either performed assassinations for three roubles a victim, guarded millionaires or became ‘Mauserists,’ gangsters always brandishing their Mausers. ‘Our city,’ writes Essad Bey, ‘not unlike the Wild West, was teeming with bandits and robbers.’

    From Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore; via the indispensable DelanceyPlace.com.

    * Essad Bey

    ###

    As we remind ourselves that There Will Be Blood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that the Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Prince William Sound, off Alaska, and spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the sea.  The largest oil spill ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, it happened in more remote waters and is considered one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.

    The Exxon Valdez, surrounded by spilled oil

    source

     

     
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