Populism as a coming force in elections

Midwest farmers started populism as a political force in the US

Midwest farmers started populism as a political force in the US

Voters increasingly are angry at corruption in high places, cronyism, endless war, and a feeble economy made worse by systematized looting from the top. This is populism. However, for now, populism is spread all over the political spectrum. Should it somehow coalesce, with the various factions coming together on issues they agree on, it would be a powerful force.

Populism is the US was started by Midwest farmers who were losing their farms to predatory banks and getting screwed by crop speculators. Once of the first things they did was create co-ops. They sold their crops to the co-ops for a fair price. The co-op controlled enough crops that it could demand better prices. Populism in the 1880’s-1890’s was a serious third political force (which the Democratic Party cheerfully stabbed in the back.)

Joel Kotkin explores the three faces of populism.

Over the coming years, party factions that can form a convincing and broad-based populist agenda will have an advantage. Any party that believes, as some Democratic shills now say, that things are “pretty awesome” misses broad-based public sentiment, which remains very negative about the state of the country and the economy. Growing inequality, reduced opportunity – particularly for the new generation – will remain the defining issue of our time. It is time for the political class, in both parties, to confront this reality.

Do It Like Davos
This is faux populism, in other words not really populist at all. A genuinely populist Adminstration would have jailed the banksters long ago. Obama hasn’t even tried. It’s really more of a “we the tech overlords know what is best for the rest of you” and our thoughts are not requested. Eric Scmidt at Google is a perfect example of this. He is no populist nor a friend to anyone but his own class. Our last genuinely populist president was Teddy Roosevelt, who got many of his ideas from the Populist Party.

Only in the bizarre world of contemporary “progressivism” could the words “Davos Populism” appear together. Yet, as we saw recently at the Davos Conference, the agenda of the gentry Left – epitomized by the 1,700 private jets that brought attendees to the Swiss event – has merged with that of our current “populist in chief,” Barack Obama.

The New Old Left
The hard left is increasingly urban and coastal, dismissive towards those who live in rural areas or the heartland, way too insular, and wed to the past. Forget about harkening back to the glory days of massive labor strikes and serious unrest. That was decades ago. Today, that coalition has mostly crumbled. Labor unions aren’t going to come roaring back. The US working class isn’t going to wake up one morning and decide that fellow Marx had some fine ideas after all. What the left desperately needs is new ideas.

But the new Old Left has a problem with what should be its base: the working class. As Democrats have become more concentrated along the East and West coasts, they have become a biregional, urbancentric party whose cultural and environmental agenda is more in sync with the oligarchs of Davos and Wall Street than middle-class, Main Street businesses.

Constitutional Populists
These are mostly right-wing libertarians who oppose banksters, rule by DC, and too often think gays and minorities are icky.

But unlike the rigidly pro-Wall Street mainstream GOP, the populists also oppose benefits for crony capitalists. Perhaps the most intriguing tax proposals, for example, are those from former Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, who called for a graduated “flat tax” that would reduce the enormous advantage that capital gains now gives the Davos crowd and their minions.

Populism can go left or right. Teddy Roosevelt used it to break up Standard Oil. Hitler arguably was populist too. It can be good or evil. What happens with populism depends on what we do with it.

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Shepard Fairey, still a street artist despite major success

Shepard Fairey of Obey fame remains a committed political street artist even as his fine art sells for five figures now. I find this inspiring. His work still have edge, still afflict the comfortable. The street art posters are bold, stark, with a clear message, which is precisely how street art should be. It needs to grab you and make its point within in few seconds. His fine art, like a mixed media of Joan Jett, can be more nuanced. A new series uses block foil and screen-printed metallics.

It’s that dichotomy that’s really important to me. The name of the series is “Power & Glory,” and it’s about how certain symbols, industries, aspirations can be a double-edged sword. The American flag is a very malleable symbol; it means a lot of different things. I’m looking at it to say it can be good or bad; at all the triumphs and failures of the American dream that it might connote.

Artsy has a detailed mini-site featuring 118 of Fairey’s pieces, with bio, interview, and more. It has an intuitive, powerful interface that lets you easily follow artists, types of art, museums. For example, I’m now following Street Art, as well as Raymond Pettibon and Fairey. Also, check, be sure to check out Fairey’s Obey Giant site.

Without trepidation, Fairey makes his stances clear, ones that haven’t wavered since the late ’80s when he first confronted the world with now-ubiquitous images of Andre the Giant. Through 16+ arrests for vandalism and a grueling legal battle with the Associated Press after his Barack Obama “Hope” poster became the emblem of the 2008 presidential campaign, Fairey perseveres, and to listen to him describe a new body of work, which hijacks the American flag, he finds no threat in controversy.


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Tor cannot be relied upon for anonymity


Uber-geek and security expert Steve Gibson explains on his “Tor: Not So Anonymous” Security Now podcast why Tor isn’t secure. He’s not just theorizing and, as always, gets seriously up close and personal with the technical details. You think you’re a geek? Hah. Not compared to Gibson, you’re not… :)

The underlying problem is Tor only protects against weak attacks that monitor part of the network. It does not protect against traffic confirmation attacks (which can unmask anonymity.) Even worse, it does not protect against an adversary capable of monitoring all the nodes, because it doesn’t assume that can happen.

The Internet was never designed for anonymity. Source and destination IP addresses were meant to be open so messages and data can find their destination. Researchers deliberately interfered with traffic coming from a server and used existing Cisco router technology to deanonymize Tor users. This was a fuzzy attack. If this can be done by researchers with a Cisco router, then a state actor (NSA, etc.) will certainly be able to do a better and faster job.

From the shownotes:

81% of Tor users can be de-anonymised by analysing router information, research indicates. Using weak but pervasive built-in Cisco “NetFlow” tech and deliberate traffic perturbation. Perturb the traffic from the server a user is connecting to, and watch the exit nodes’ traffic. The point was that even very weak “NetFlow” aggregation was enough. More expensive “per packet” monitoring and analysis was not needed.

Despite the use of Tor, FBI investigators were able to identify IP addresses that allegedly hosted and accessed the servers, including the Comcast-provided IP address of one Brian Farrell, who prosecutors said helped manage SilkRoad

Bottom line… *I* would never rely upon TOR alone. Consider it, itself, another layer of a more full “Defense in Depth.” The dream is that someone can sit at home and be fully anonymous. But that’s not the reality.

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Tesla plans solar-powered home battery storage

Tesla, perhaps to distract from lackluster car sales, just announced plans for battery packs powered by solar panels for residential homes. This is not a new idea. Off-grid homes as well as grid-connected homes with solar panels already have batteries to store energy. So really, why is this news, except that Tesla announced it with great fanfare and says the batteries will look elegant. The amount of hype emanating from Tesla has always made me a bit suspicious.

Working with SolarCity (of which Musk is Chairman) to power the batteries with solar energy just makes the whole endeavor sound like a fantastically Earth-friendly project.

Um, no. Batteries by definition are not earth-friendly at all. They require mining, often in impoverished areas where workers are exploited, use noxious chemicals, and are difficult to dispose of. So don’t go hugging trees quite yet because of the not really green at all Tesla home battery. Is it better than powering your home with coal power? Absolutely. But it’s not green. Batteries probably never can be.

Another problem is the utilities, some of whom are dinosaurs that don’t want to lose revenue because people install solar.

Unregulated batteries to power homes attached to solar panels that keep the battery charged mean some annoyed executives at utilities, especially if the battery’s storage is large enough that it wouldn’t even need much in the way of the electric grid to supplement the solar panels. Not that you’ll ever hear it spelled out so bluntly. Tesla has said that utilities are partners, not enemies, but arguably that just depends on where you look.

Smart utilities, like Green Mountain Energy in Vermont, are leading the move towards home solar. And yes, home batteries do need some regulation. For example, they must never ever send power grid into the grid during a blackout to prevent electric shock to linemen fixing, say, downed power lines, who aren’t expecting power to be coming upstream to them.

Stored power from home solar is a great idea. Let’s hope it becomes ubiquitous soon. For that to happen, the grid will need to be rejiggered to handle distributed energy  flowing from many places to many places rather than the centralized system we have now.

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HSBC. Banker of choice for laundering drug money?

drug map

A consortium of India journalists detail meticulously how HSBC is at the center of laundering money from drugs. Oh, there is lots of dirty money in other high places, to be sure. From the opium wars of the 1800’s, to prominent American families profiting from illegal opium trade, to the west invading Afghanistan which curiously caused opium production to soar, far too many of our supposedly respectable elites are awash in drug money. It’s important to note they were not somehow recently corrupted but rather have always profited from the drug trade.

The edifice of international banking is very dirty and very corrupt indeed.

Drug money saved banks in in 2008, says the UN.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

Little or nothing has been done about this except for fining banks, which essentially is  a protection racket by governments. Governments pretend to enforce the law, dirty banks pay fines and pretend they will sin no more. Nothing changes. Government officials leave office and are then amply rewarded in any number of ways for their refusal to enforce Rule of Law.

Currently HSBC is smack in the middle of the drug trade, say the India journalists. Emphasis added.

For years, when banks have been caught laundering drug money, they have claimed that they did not know, that they were but victims of sneaky drug dealers and a few corrupt employees. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that a considerable portion of the global banking system is explicitly dedicated to handling the enormous volume of cash produced daily by dope traffickers.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is not “demand” from the world’s population which creates the mind destroying drug trade. Rather, it is the world financial oligarchy, looking for massive profits and the destruction of the minds of the population it is determined to dominate, which organized the drug trade. The case of HSBC underscores that point. Serving as the central bank of this global apparatus, is HSBC.

CBS News on the charming dealings of HSBC with all manner of slime, criminals, and thugs.

A 37-year-old computer security specialist named Hervé Falciani stole the huge cache of data in 2007 and gave it to the French government. It’s now being used to go after tax cheats all over the world. 60 Minutes, working with a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, obtained the leaked files. They show the bank did business with a collection of international outlaws: tax dodgers, arms dealers and drug smugglers — offering a rare glimpse into the highly secretive world of Swiss banking.

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Atlantic City. How not to do urban renewal and urban planning

Atlantic City should have prospered when it legalized gambling in 1976. Yet today many of its casinos have closed or are struggling. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Urbanism blog Granola Shotgun (great name!) ponders what went wrong and what their faulty assumptions were. Meanwhile, Vegas, where we live now, just keeps reinventing itself. It’s now the biggest convention city in the US, is family friendly, with world-class food and entertainment.

Using Atlantic City as an example, these four assumptions apply to many other cities too.

Number One on the list goes like this. “Bring in lots of good paying jobs and the neighborhood will blossom.” Not so much.

So if you were to visit Atlantic City today you’d see the triumph of nearly four decades of accumulated wealth and a thriving middle class, right? No. The place is still a slum. Mind you, it’s a slum with a lot of very flashy casinos and resorts hot glued to the beach like a complete set of Lee Press On Nails all polished in garish colors. But step outside the multi-story parking garages (something that is exceptionally hard to do, by the way) and you’ll see blight, abandonment, and despair in all directions. Why? Because the people who were best able to take advantage of those jobs immediately carried their pay checks out of town and bought homes in other places. Left behind are the hard cases that are apparently permanently unemployable.

This sounds a lot like Hartford CT, near where I grew up, a decaying city surrounded by mostly prosperous suburbs. Vegas has a geographical advantage over Atlantic City on this. There are no outlying suburbs to live in. Once you get past Vegas and adjoining Henderson, there’s nothing but desert that can’t be built up because it’s BLM land. Money stays in the Vegas area because it has to.

Number Two on the list. “Induce new commercial activity to bring in sales tax revenue.” This doesn’t work either.

Big surprise. Crumbling old schools were abandoned, replaced with ticky-tacky trailer schools, while too much tax revenue went to constantly maintaining beaches so casino visitors would not be inconvenienced by too little or too much sand. Naturally the casinos paid for none of this directly.

Number Three on the list goes something like this. “If we invest in infrastructure the town will thrive.” No. Not even close.

New roads were built to shuttle tourists to new casinos in the area when downtown existing casinos faltered in the 1990’s, a victim of Vegas reinventing itself and new casinos appearing on the east coast. The roads isolated the city even further, leading to more decay.

Number Four on the list might go like this. “Provide financial assistance to your home industries to help them set deep roots and ride out the rough spots.” Oh God, no.

Handing out subsidies, tax breaks, cheap loans, and zoning exceptions won’t help businesses that would have failed anyway and puts more burden on surviving companies. Yet large established nationwide chains like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Costco  routinely ask for and get special deals.

Each and every one of these places routinely asks for, and receives, heavy subsidies by local governments as part of “business friendly” “economic development” policies which are designed to encourage employment, generate sales tax revenue, and cultivate economic growth. It’s exactly the same set of arrangements with precisely the same eventual results as Atlantic City. Some towns do it with more flash and fail more spectacularly. But it’s all the same.

What does actually work to build durable long term wealth in a community? That’s a topic of another blog post.

I’m looking forward to it.

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JFK’s last safe ride. Lincoln to Fort Worth airport

Lincoln JFK rode in to airport to Dallas

This is the Lincoln that took JFK, Jackie Kennedy, and Gov. John Connally to the Fort Worth airport and the fateful flight to Dallas. Two hours later, in a different Lincoln, JFK was dead.

The car is at The Auto Collection at the Linq, Las Vegas, which has 250+ cars. Almost all their cars are in pristine condition, some are impossibly rare, and most are for sale. The Lincoln is $2 million. (Coming soon. Photos of their 1956 Ford Parklane 2-door station wagon.)

Vegas casinos are filled with surprises like this. We played tourist yesterday and took the Las Vegas Monorail to various casinos. The monorail is nice but pricey, $12 for a 24-hour pass, and it only goes a few miles, mostly through the heart of the Strip. Locals can get two 1-stop passes a day for $1 each, which might be handy if you worked at a casino. It is also useful if you want to get to a huge convention at the convention center but didn’t want to hassle with parking there. The Westgate station is the easiest to get in and out of and parking there, like at all Vegas Strip casinos, is free. The monorail is privately operated and uses no public funds.

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Salt water barriers may come to Sacramento Delta, amid squabbling

The California Department of Water Resources says it doesn’t need to file an Environmental Impact Report before installing salinity barriers in the Sacramento Delta to prevent intrusion of salt water from the San Francisco Bay into the crucial Sacramento River. Locals in the Delta strongly disagree, and rightfully protest degradation of their area (which has enormously fertile farmland) for the benefit of the Central Valley and southern California.

Current salinity levels are at 200, which is safe. A 900 reading is a warning and 1,400 would be apocalyptic. A few big rains and the problem would be gone for this year. However, if the drought continues, then barriers will probably need to be used. The problem is the Sacramento Delta and River provide large amounts of water for the entire state, with canals sending water hundreds of miles southward. In a serious drought there simply isn’t enough to go around, and salinity intruding simply cannot be allowed. Once the salt is in, it’s very difficult to get it out.

In my opinion, those in and around the Delta generally getting shafted in water fights against much bigger and better funded Central Valley and SoCal water interests.

It may look like just a sleepy little slough 30 miles from California’s capitol, but the Steamboat area in Courtland is really a hotbed of worry – all about water and how salty it may become in the intensifying drought.

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HSBC deliberately pushed clients to engage in tax fraud


HSBC deliberately pushed schemes on wealthy clients to transfer their money from private accounts into shell corporations chartered in Lichtenstein and other areas because a loophole said corporate money wasn’t taxable.

However, the corporations have no other function and did nothing else. Putting money into an entity whose sole existence is to avoid taxes is a textbook definition of abuse of tax shelters and tax fraud. Their clients are hardly blameless and had to know what HSBC was advising was tax evasion.

HSBC appears little more than a continuing criminal enterprise. It needs to be smashed to pieces and its criminals put in prison. And this might happen. HSBC is currently facing criminal charges in Belgium, a criminal investigation in France, and possibly in the US too.

Former tax inspector Richard Brooks said the files show that the bank “was actively encouraging them not to pay their tax bill … finding ways to get round new rules introduced in 2005 to tackle tax evasion. It was saying, ‘OK you don’t have to play along with those, we’ve got another product for you that will allow you to carry on evading tax.’”

HSBC also cheerfully laundered money for all manner of vermin.

Documents detail customers who faced allegations including drug-running, corruption, doping and money laundering

Despite being legally obliged since 1998 to make special checks on high-risk customers, the bank provided accounts for clients implicated in six notorious scandals in Africa, including Kenya’s biggest corruption case, blood diamond trading and several corrupt military sales.

HSBC also held assets for bankers accused of looting funds from former Soviet states, while alleged crimes by other account holders include bribery at Malta’s state oil company, cocaine smuggling from the Dominican Republic and the doping of professional cyclists in Spain.

HSBC is just one example, egregious to be sure, of rampant corruption at big banks worldwide. The entire international banking world is mostly rotten to the core.

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Jordan invading Iraq may be precisely what ISIS wants

Getting all macho may be precisely what ISIS wants

Getting all macho may be precisely what ISIS wants

Jordan is massing troops on their border with Iraq. An invasion is certain to follow. Despite much macho blustering from Jordan and the US, an invasion may well fail, and fail spectacularly. This may have been ISIS’s intent in burning the pilot alive, to provoke Jordan into rage, then sucker them into a trap. All of this is greatly aided by chowderhead US politicians and generals (who mostly seem to be pimping for the war machine) screaming we must have more war, even as we use the exact same tactics that have failed us multiple times in the past. Surely this time will be different. Air strikes will defeat the foe. The populace won’t turn against us just because we accidentally bomb a few wedding parties.

John Robb:

ISIS used the video to provoke Jordan. ISIS selected the punishment (it was insulting) and the victim (he was the son of a politically important tribal chief) with care. This implies that the video was meant to produced outrage, not coercion. ISIS did this to provoke Jordan into rash actions that it could take advantage of.

Further, ISIS knows there isn’t a strong coalition against ISIS, that bombing won’t hurt them much, and is hoping Jordan will make a strategic mistake, like getting sucked into the Syrian civil war, invading deep into Iraq and getting its supply lines too stretched-out, cracking down massively on dissent within the country with the usual effects of driving more people to ISIS.

But the war machine only know how to do one thing.

A week after the release of a clip with sported professionally produced, near Hollywood-level editing and effects, showing the brutal burning of a Jordanian pilot hostage, Jordan announced it has deployed “thousands” of ground troops to its border with Iraq as it ramps up a campaign against ISIS militants, two Jordanian government officials told NBC News.

The crown jewel in all this for ISIS would be to create enough chaos that they could attack the Saudi border.

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