Category Archives: Class

Panama Papers law firm founders arrested


Once in a while a single event provides a juncture between two ongoing stories we’ve been following.

First up, the legislative coup that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent criminal indictments filed against the coup participants as the result of a massive bribery investigation.

The second story is the Panama Papers leaks, the documents proving the existence of and participants in a vast network of “black flag” operation concealing a great deal of the planet’s wealth.

From teleSUR English:

The two founders of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on Saturday, the attorney general’s office said, after both were indicted on charges of money-laundering in a case allegedly tied to a wide-ranging corruption scandal in Brazil.

Firm founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca were detained because of the risk they might try to flee the country.

Attorney General Kenia Porcell told reporters on Saturday that the information collected so far “allegedly identifies the Panamanian firm as a criminal organization that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins.”

Mossack Fonseca is also at the center of a separate case known as the Panama Papers, which involved millions of documents stolen from the firm and leaked to the media in April 2016.

The fallout from the leaks provoked a global scandal after numerous documents detailed how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to hide money and potentially evade taxes.

Fonseca, a former presidential adviser in Panama, has previously denied that the firm had any connection to Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.

The billionaire who gave Trump millions, Bannon


And so much more.

Two journalists look at Robert Mercer, a late-arriving big money donor to the Trump campaign, a billionaire who had bankrolled Ted “The Grand Inquisitor” Cruz before the convention, then came to Trump’s rescue just as things were falling apart, contributing both millions in cash and a cast of personnel, including Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

Mercer, who made his pile running a hedge fund, holds nightmarish beliefs and considerable cunning. And he’s succeeded in creating a powerful, covert institution designed to create a dystopian world, run by the best crew money can by.

In this report from The Real News Network, reporters Thomas Hedges of the Center for Study of Responsive Law, where his beat is the role of money in politics, and Carrie Levine, who covers the same beat for the Center for Public Integrity, take a close look at Mercer and his agenda:

The Bizarre Far-Right Billionaire Behind Bannon and Trump’s Presidency


From the transcript:

THOMAS HEDGES: The fuel behind Mercer’s influence are the absurd sums of money he approves at the investment company he runs, Renaissance Technologies, based on Long Island. Its famed Medallion Fund is one of the most successful hedge funds in investing history. Averaging 72% returns before fees, over more than 20 years. A statistic that baffles analysts, and outranks the profitability of other competing funds, like the ones George Soros and Warren Buffet run.

In 2015, Mercer had single-handedly catapulted Cruz to the front of the Republican field. Throwing more than $13 million into a super PAC he created for the now failed candidate. But with the Trump campaign faltering, and struggling for support, there’s a second chance for the Mercers to make a big bet.

The Trump campaign is well aware of this, in fact, sources within Mercer’s super PAC would later tell Bloomberg News that shortly after Cruz drops out of the race, Ivanka Trump and her wealthy developer husband Jared Kushner, approach the Mercers, asking if they’d be willing to shift their support behind Trump. The answer is an eventual, but resounding yes.

In the months leading up to Trump’s presidential win, the Mercers would prove a formidable force. Beginning after the disastrous Republican Convention in July, they would furnish the Trump campaign with millions of dollars, and new leadership, but they would also furnish it with something more — a vast network of non-profits, strategists, media companies, research institutions and super PACs that they themselves funded and largely controlled.

CARRIE LEVINE: I think what you’ve seen is a lot of these organizations in this network come out to play a role in the 2016 elections.

HEDGES: With the Mercer family in the picture, the post-convention shake-up starts to make sense. Take Steve Bannon. He and Robert Mercer have been close for years, and Mercer is a top investor at Breitbart News, where Bannon was Chief Editor.

Kellyanne Conway also comes out of this network. Before becoming co-manager of Trump’s campaign, she headed up operations for Robert Mercer’s super PAC when it was still supporting Ted Cruz. And as for Deputy Campaign Manager, David Bossie, he was president of Citizens United, an organization Mercer has heavily funded since at least 2010.

Cambridge Analytica, the mysterious data-mining firm that received grudging praise after predicting the race’s outcome more accurately than any other polling company, is also heavily funded by Robert Mercer, and was employed by the Cruz campaign before Mercer switched over to Trump. In fact, the Mercers’ political infrastructure is so entrenched, that Rebecca Mercer herself sits on the 16-person executive committee of Trump’s transition team.

Mercer’s foray into the White House may seem to have been born partly out of luck, especially with Trump, instead of Cruz, as a stalking horse. But his rise to power was systematic, and it was years in the making.

The web of connections Mercer’s built over the last decade is vast and complex. It includes efforts to dismantle tax law, and weaken the IRS.

It’s about funding quack scientists and conspiracy theorists, who blame the government for, among other things, playing a role in the San Bernardino Massacre. Or of colluding with the United Nations, and using climate change as an excuse to implement environmental laws meant to depopulate America’s Midwest. It’s about pouring money into the neo-conservative John Bolton super PAC, which props up candidates who ascribe to Bolton’s hawkish foreign policy.

But one of Mercer’s earliest activist ventures was financing a slew of fringe documentary projects that have helped raise the profiles of people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and most notably, the director of those films, Steve Bannon.

Bannon, who was previously a naval officer and Goldman Sachs investment banker, made his first documentary in 2004 about Ronald Reagan. It retold his biography, using washed out black and white archival footage of the Hollywood actor. Painting him as a brave protector of Western democracy from the threat of Communism.

Headline of the day: Just another boring story


As in boring tunnels.

Beneath Los Angeles.

From the London Daily Mail:

The billionaire so tired of being stuck in traffic he is creating a TUNNEL under LA to get to work: Elon Musk reveals first image of his giant boring machine that will beat congestion

  • He posted the photo with a reference to the popular video game Minecraft
  • Musk first announced the plans while stuck in heavy traffic in December
  • He tweeted: ‘Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging’
  • Musk began digging a trench at SpaceX’s headquarters in California last week
  • Test trench reportedly measures 30 feet (9 metres) wide, 50 feet (15 metres) long, and 15 feet (4.5 metres) deep

And here’s the tweet in question:

blog-musk

After five months living in Los Angeles, we can sympathize with Musk’s road rage, given that a trip to see granddaughter Sadie Rose can take anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours, depending on that state of coagulation on regional freeways.

Quote of the day: The nature of American fascism


From Henry A. Wallace, American’s most progressive vice president, writing in the 9 April 1944 edition of the New York Times, while he was serving as second in command to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Via The Living New Deal:

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

>snip<

In every big nation of the world are at least a few people who have the fascist temperament. Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership.

The obvious types of American fascists are dealt with on the air and in the press. These demagogues and stooges are fronts for others. Dangerous as these people may be, they are not so significant as thousands of other people who have never been mentioned. . . .The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

Protesters win Mexican gas price hike delay


Following privatization of large parts of the state-owned national oil company, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto gave his people a New Year’s present — a twenty percent hike in the price of gasoline.

First, some background.

Big Oil is still smarting over the 18 March 1938 decision of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas to nationalize foreign oil company holdings in the midst of a sometimes violent strike by Mexicans employed by U.S. and Anglo-Dutch oil companies.

The result was the creation of Petróleos Mexicanos, better known as Pemex.

In recent decades, as the neoliberal ideology metastasized, aging infrastructure and politically backed corruption took their toll, as new corporate extraction technologies and aging oil fields caught Pemex in a double bind.

Neoliberalism dictated the solution: Privatize.

So in 2014 Peña won congressional backing to sell off the rights to all new oil fields, leaving Pemex with the aging existing fields and those rapidly obsolescing pipelines and refineries.

Stuck with the increasingly costly side of the deal, Peña ordered the price hike.

The gasolinazo [gasoline punch], which now meant a tank of gas cost more than a minimum wage worker’s daily pay, sent Mexicans pouring into the streets, blocking off roads, barricading the U.S. border, and engaging in violent, sometimes lethal, confrontations with police and the military.

And now their actions have borne fruit.

From teleSUR English:

The Mexican government announced late Friday that it would postpone a second scheduled hike in gas prices, known as the ‘gasolinazo’, in response to the massive protests which have taken place since the first price hike at the start of January.

The Secretariat of Finance and Public credit declared that for the next two weeks the maximum prices for both regular gasoline and diesel fuel will remain the same since prices here hiked upwards of 20 percent on Jan. 1 2017.

The announcement came after protests continued to rock Mexico this week over the massive spike in gas prices which has crippled much of Mexico’s economy and led to massive social upheaval.

Since the Jan. 1 ending of fuel subsidies which led to the price hike, more than 500 people have been arrested throughout the country during protests which saw tens of thousands of people taking the streets, hundreds of gas stations closed, and a reported 250 stores looted.

Protests continued Friday and more were expected for Saturday in anticipation of the hike.

“The austerity measures already announced by the Government of the Republic, as well as the recent evolution of the exchange rate and the international price of gasoline, have created the conditions to keep the maximum prices unchanged during the indicated period,” the secretariat said in a statement release on Friday.

Critics have accused Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and other government officials of ransacking Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, which has undergone a gradual privatization process in recent years that has broken up the longstanding monopoly.

School shootings link to high unemployment rates


Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

While there are other facts at work in individual cases, ranging from psychopathology and poor home relationships to immediate provocations, could high jobless rates play a key role in America’s school shootings?

That’s the conclusion of a just-published major study from Northwestern University:

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

“The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America,” said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work.”

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence,” said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools, [open access] was published Monday by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers’ backgrounds in data science and modeling.

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Empire Files: America’s tawdry meddling in Russia


The utter hypocrisy of the United States complaining about Russia meddling in U.S. affairs is, to say the least, mind-boggling.

Never mind that American intelligence agencies have yet to share the full body of information they say would prove that Russia hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee.

And never mind the fact that the U.S. has directly interfered in scores of other countries’ elections — at least 81 times between 1946 and 2000 alone, according to one study.

Only consider the fact that the United States directly and repeatedly interfered with post-Soviet Russia in countless ways and with hundreds of millions of dollars, all aimed at ending decades of social protections and ensuring the rise of the oligarchs.

In this, the latest edition of her teleSUR English series, Abby Martin sits down with veteran Russia-watcher Mark Ames and lays bare the scale of American efforts to bend Russia to its will:

Empire Files: Post-Soviet Russia, Made in the U.S.A.


Program notes:

The increased aggression towards Russia from US politicians and media is made more clear when taking into account the real history of the post-Soviet period. The hidden story of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency explains how deeply the US government, along with Western capitalist institutions, cheered, shaped and exploited the country after the fall of the Soviet Union, paving the way for the political system they all condemn today.

To uncover just how much the US Empire has interfered in Russia’s political evolution, Abby Martin interviews Mark Ames, an American journalist who spent a decade reporting from Yeltsin’ and Putin’s Russia and witnessed the country’s transformation from an American “colony” to it’s “number one threat.”