Friday, March 31, 2023

Notations On Our World (Special Month-End Edition): On the #TrumpIndictment

 The former President of the United States was indicted this week by a Grand Jury in Manhattan, New York.    Our team pulled together a snapshot of the week that was in America as we will launch The Q2 2023 weekly "Virtual Route 66" next week:  

Monday, March 27, 2023

On Our Virtual Route 66: On the Week That Was

 We present a compilation of the week that was in our World with thoughts courtesy of Politico, The Financial Times, Crooked Media, the Bulwark, Atlantic Media, the National, Institute for Economics & Peace and Le Monde Diplomatique:

In the news this month

Recent events as seen through our archive
    20 MARCH 2023.
    On 20 March 2003, a coalition led by the United States (US) launched a ground invasion of Iraq under the false pretext, supported by many in the media, that the country had weapons of mass destruction. In doing so, it flouted the United Nations (UN) charter and international humanitarian law.

    Twenty years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on this excuse, and the strategy at play: 'The grand strategy authorises the US to carry out preventive war: preventive, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term "preventive" is too charitable. Preventive war is, very simply, the supreme crime that was condemned at Nuremberg.' Hundreds of thousands of civilians died as a result of the Iraq war, which plunged the country into chaos.

    Both main US political parties align to back wars, agreeing on a species of 'moral neo-imperialism' that launches democratic crusades, and protects authoritarian leaders who are allies.

    Back in December 2003, at a press conference Vladimir Putin said: 'The use of force abroad, according to existing international laws, can only be sanctioned by the United Nations. (...) Everything that is done without the UN Security Council's sanction cannot be recognised as fair or justified.' In 2022, Russia illegally invaded Ukraine. 'The idea,' Serge Halimi and Pierre Rimbert write in our current issue, 'that other people might compare Russian imperialism to that of the US — wars without a UN mandate in Kosovo and Iraq, Washington's denunciation of several disarmament agreements with Moscow, embargoes and boycotts against Cuba and Iran, extra-judicial executions by drone, the persecution of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning — is unwelcome in most newsrooms.'
  • One against all

    Serge Halimi, February 2023
    20 MARCH 2023.
    Last Thursday the French president urgently gathered his cabinet ministers to trigger Article 49.3 of the constitution. This is the only means still available to him to impose his pension reform, despite the opposition of parliament, the unions and the people.
  • The Internet and me

    Kenzaburo Oe, December 1998
    14 MARCH 2023.
    On 3 March, the great Japanese writer Kenzaburō Ōe died. Born in 1935, he experienced war as a child of six to ten years old and, as an adult, parented a son with disabilities, feeding his novels with these experiences — from Hiroshima Notes (1963) to Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1982), to M/T and the Narrative About the Marvels of the Forest (1986). When, in 1994, Ōe received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he gave a speech provocatively titled 'Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself'. He joined progressive struggles, publishing a manifesto against State nationalism, and taking positions against consumerism and new technologies. In 1998, Ōe articulated his expectations , impressions and questions regarding a new medium that promised to change our way of understanding texts and language: the Internet.
  • Five Eyes on the world

    Philippe Leymarie, April 2022
    14 MARCH 2023.
    Eighteen months after the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia signed the AUKUS pact to provide Canberra with nuclear submarines that use UK and US technology, the three countries have published a road map of their plans. These are extensive and longterm, looking decades ahead with the aim of containing China's ambitions in the Pacific. Back in May 2022, Philippe Leymarie mentioned AUKUS in an article on Five Eyes, the spy alliance that has brought together the agreement's signatories, as well as Canada and New Zealand, since 1943.
  • How states divide up the world's oceans

    Didier Ortolland, January 2023
    13 MARCH 2023.
    The United Nations (UN) has finalised a treaty on the protection of the high seas. The new legal framework was the result of intense negotiations and has been hailed by activists as an important step forward. Last December, Didier Ortolland looked at the future of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was ratified 40 years ago, a 'miracle' that the new treaty will extend.
    13 MARCH 2023.
    On Friday, 2,952 deputies of the National People's Congress reelected Xi Jinping to the presidency of the People's Republic of China for a third five-year term. Xi had already been reelected secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party and president of the Central Military Commission in October. He is the first Chinese leader to serve more than two mandates since Mao Zedong's death, having abolished term limits in 2018. His trusted ally Li Qiang will replace Li Keqiang as prime minister.

    Last October, Martine Bulard identified the challenges that will be faced by the man sometimes dubbed 'chairman of everything'.
  • The Saudi predicament

    Gilbert Achcar, March 2018
    13 MARCH 2023.
    On 10 March, a major diplomatic agreement was struck between Saudi Arabia and Iran under the aegis of China. Negotiations between the countries' national security advisers took place over four days, from 6-10 March, culminating in the restoration of ties after a seven-year rift.

    Saudi Arabia is the heart of Sunni Islam and allied to the West; Iran, a Shia power, is under American sanctions and accused of wanting to produce an atomic bomb. The two countries, which seemed irreconcilable, have brokered what is, in effect, a geopolitical turning point.

    The consequences of this deal could be considerable. Will Saudi Arabia push on with the war in Yemen (see 'Who wants what in Yemen?')? What will the effect be on matters of security in the Gulf region? Will the normalisation of relations between Iran and a US ally cause Israel to revise its regional strategy and reconsider the treatment of Palestinians (see 'Palestine: still resisting, against all the odds')? These are important questions. What is clear is that China has made a dramatic entry into the diplomatic Great Game in the Middle East.
    13 MARCH 2023.
    After large-scale protests, last week the Georgian government dropped a planned law on 'foreign agents'. The text stipulated that NGOs and media organisations with more than 20% overseas funding had to officially register as 'foreign agents'. According to its detractors, the law was inspired by Russian methods of repressing opposition.

    In October 2021, Pierre Daum wrote about 'the great Georgian paradox: a people who are suffering from the Russian occupation of a fifth of their territory and who at the same time welcome hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists every year and maintain the tradition of legendary Georgian hospitality'. The war in Ukraine has accentuated this contradiction. Unlike countries in the European Union, Georgia has not closed its airspace to Russian flights, and several thousands of Russian exiles, opposed to the Kremlin's military aggression, have joined the usual tourists. But this massive influx is increasingly worrying a section of the population.

Kellyanne Conway, talking about the very serious issue of China making domestic shipments. 

All week we’ve been talking about catastrophic consequences to malfeasance in the American financial system. Now it seems that lawmakers are, once again, realizing they have to do something about it.

  • President Biden released a statement today calling on Congress to give fiduciary regulators more power over the banking sector, including imposing higher fines on managers, reducing executive compensation, and barring certain officials from failed banks from ever returning to the banking industry. Can I get an, “It’s about fucking time!”??? According to Biden, current laws limit the White House’s authority to hold executives responsible for, you know, tanking the economy through the classic combination of greed and being bad at their jobs.

  • Biden specifically asked Congress to give the FDIC greater authority to tamp down executive compensation “including gains from stock sales - from executives at failed banks like Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.” SVB CEO Greg Becker sold $3.6 million worth of shares in late February (interesting timing, Greg!!) just two weeks before the bank entered FDIC receivership. 

  • Answer: Current laws stipulate that the FDIC can only prohibit this kind of executive self-dealing if one of the country’s largest banks were to fail, and can only bar executives from the industry if they are found to have engaged in “willful and continuing disregard,” in running the bank securely. SVB announced today that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company said it has about $2.2 billion in liquid assets, compared to $209 billion at the end of last year.

For their part, Republicans (and way too many centrist Democrats, it turns out) have taken a break from feigning moral outrage about the bank failures to…oppose legislation that would prevent it all from happening again!

  • A group of Democratic lawmakers led by (our girls) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) introduced a bill on Wednesday to repeal the partial rollback of Dodd-Frank the GOP Congress passed during the Trump administration in 2018. The Secure Viable Banking Act would put banks with at least $50 billion in assets under strict Federal Reserve oversight and Dodd-Frank Act stress tests. There’s one problem: A bunch of their Democratic colleagues joined Republicans in voting to loosen Dodd-Frank back in 2018, and now they’re standing by those votes. Politicians? Not admitting huge, obvious errors? They would never! So now, not unlike what happened with the train derailments, Republicans are in faux hysterics about the bank bailouts, while ignoring that their deregulation caused it, and also opposing any additional regulations that would prevent future bank failures. And moderate Dems are standing with them! In case there was any confusion, these are the kinds of Democrats worth primarying! 

  • The problem with trying to stamp-out malfeasance and highlight the perils of insufficient regulation is that in the United States, the call is coming from inside the house. When federal regulators prepared the emergency measures they ultimately deployed on Sunday to secure deposits at SVB and Signature Bank, the Biden administration wanted to emphasize the shortcomings of financial regulation, but Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell blocked the inclusion of any mention of regulatory failures. The final statement only spoke of regulation in positive terms, referring to the laws enacted after 2008, but omitting the fact that they didn’t go far enough, and that some measures that were sufficient had been rolled back with bipartisan support. 

As we continue to take stock of the damage, Democrats have an opportunity to actually distinguish themselves as the party that stands up to big banks and big business and on the side of working Americans who are time and again harmed by deregulation. Those who don’t should be shown to the door.

Two major BNSF trains derailed Thursday, one in Arizona and the other in Washington state, with the latter resulting in 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel being spilled on Swinomish tribal land along the Puget Sound. Officials said there were no indications that the spill reached the water or affected wildlife, but…5,000 gallons were spilled on tribal lands so that’s not particularly comforting?? A spokesperson for BNSF said the cause of the derailments were “under investigation.” Might it have something to do with industry deregulation and greedy corporations skimping on safety measures? No, no, a grand conspiracy of *wokeness run amok* is probably the more logical explanation. 

A federal judge ruled Friday that Trump attorney Evan Corcoran must provide additional testimony before the grand jury investigating mishandling of classified presidential documents, invoking the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. 


The International Criminal Court announced today that it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes against children in Ukraine


The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating TikTok, focusing on previously disclosed allegations that employees used company technology and data to spy on journalists. 


A new study shows that negativity in headlines drives online news consumption, and each negative word in a headline increased clicks by 2.3 percent. 


YouTube restored disgraced former president Donald Trump’s channel today, over two years after suspending it in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. 


After taking a fine-toothed comb to…math textbooks to weed out “prohibited topics,” the state of Florida is reviewing its social studies curriculum, and is expected to make dramatic changes to what students learn about history. 


Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is asking the FDA to investigate the potential health risks of chemical hair straighteners after the National Institutes of Health published research showing that women who use the products are twice as likely to develop uterine cancer by the time they reach age 70. 


According to a new report from House Dems, federal officials cannot locate two gifts received by disgraced former president Trump and his family from foreign nations. Trump and his family failed to report over $300,000 worth of gifts to the State Department, which is, you guessed it, a violation of federal law. It’s important to note that one of the missing gifts is a massive portrait of Trump himself from the president of El Salvador. Huge mystery as to who stole that one.


Character actor Lance Reddick, best known from The WireFringe, and John Wick died suddenly today at age 60

A U.S. appellate court has revived a lawsuit brought by Uber and Postmates challenging a California law that makes it more difficult for them to exploit their workers.