THE MONEY GAME, CHEATERS EDITION

The coronavirus has thrown us into truly unprecedented times. Most countries have enforced a lockdown, and global travel has ground to a halt, and this, in turn, has had an enormous impact on the economy.

Stock markets all over the world experienced huge volatility. Wall Street suffered its worst day since ‘Black Monday’, oil prices went negative for the first time in history and governments all over the world have been implementing extreme fiscal and monetary policies.

Many analysts have suggested that rather than coronavirus being the cause of this economic downturn, instead, it was merely the pin that popped the bubble and the enormous debts that have been amounting since long before the 2008 global financial crisis was a disaster waiting to happen.

So, how do we get out of this mess? Who stands to benefit from government money printing? Who has to pay this money back? And, why the fuck is Steve Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury?

To answer these questions and more, I am joined by leading finance experts: Andrea Ferrero, Andreas M. Antonopoulos, Caitlin Long, Ben Hunt & Raoul Pal. We look at the corruption and mismanagement of the economy by central banks and governments.

‘Food Doesn’t Grow Here Anymore. That’s Why I Would Send My Son North.’

A stark choice for some Guatemalans: watch crops wither, and maybe die with them, or migrate.

NENTÓN, Guatemala — To understand why President Trump’s new sanctions and other flailing to end Central American immigration aren’t working, step into the dark, melancholy hovel of Ana Jorge Jorge.

She lives in Guatemala’s western highlands in the hillside village of Canquintic, near the town of Nentón, and she’s a widow because of the American dream.

Her husband, Mateo Gómez Tadeo, borrowed thousands of dollars and migrated north to the United States several years ago after his crops here failed. He found work in Alabama cutting flowers but then caught an infection and died, leaving hungry children back home and a huge debt hanging over the family.

Two of their sons, aged 7 and 14, soon died as well, apparently of malnutrition-related illnesses. Jorge Jorge pulled another son, Juan, out of school in the second grade so that he could work in the fields and help pay off the debt. If it isn’t paid, lenders will seize the family land.

“We all suffer now,” Jorge Jorge told me grimly. “I have to struggle daily.”

If any family understands the risks of traveling to the United States, it’s this one. Yet Juan, now 11, is talking about trying to make his own way north. And Jorge Jorge, while terrified at the prospect of losing him, approves.

“I say, ‘Go,’” she said bleakly. “‘There’s nothing here, so go.’”

I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student on a reporting trip, and we’ve come to Guatemala to report on migration. My student winner, Mia Armstrong of Arizona State University, and I have heard from innumerable Guatemalans that the most fundamental driver of emigration is desperation — and, to an extent that most Americans don’t appreciate, this desperation often reflects drought and severe weather linked to climate change.

Food doesn’t grow here anymore,” Jorge Jorge said. “That’s why I would send my son north.

There are other factors as well, and the despair also reflects a marginalization of Mayan communities that goes back hundreds of years, presided over in the capital by an incompetent kleptocracy. But climate change is aggravating the desperation.

“The weather has changed, clearly,” said Flori Micaela Jorge Santizo, a 19-year-old woman whose husband has abandoned the fields to find work in Mexico. She noted that drought and unprecedented winds have destroyed successive corn crops, leaving the family destitute, adding, “And because I had no money, my children died.”

A third son, now 14, will be the next to try his luck. Remaining as crops fail and children suffer is not an option.

There’s no rain, and no way to grow crops,” Mateo Mateo said. “One can’t live here.”

The Key to Making Peace in Africa

Fighting Corruption Can Help End Conflict

Mike Pence, Holy Terror

Are you sure you want to get rid of Donald Trump?

There are problems with impeaching Donald Trump. A big one is the holy terror waiting in the wings.

That would be Mike Pence, who mirrors the boss more than you realize. He’s also self-infatuated. Also a bigot. Also a liar. Also cruel.

To that brimming potpourri he adds two ingredients that Trump doesn’t genuinely possess: the conviction that he’s on a mission from God and a determination to mold the entire nation in the shape of his own faith, a regressive, repressive version of Christianity. Trade Trump for Pence and you go from kleptocracy to theocracy.

.. The book persuasively illustrates what an ineffectual congressman he was, apart from cozying up to the Koch brothers, Betsy DeVos and other rich Republican donors

..  the strong possibility that he wouldn’t have won re-election; his luck in being spared that humiliation by the summons from Trump, who needed an outwardly bland, intensely religious character witness to muffle his madness and launder his sins; and the alacrity with which he says whatever Trump needs him to regardless of the truth.

.. In Pence’s view, any bite marks in his tongue are divinely ordained. Trump wouldn’t be president if God didn’t want that; Pence wouldn’t be vice president if he weren’t supposed to sanctify Trump. And his obsequiousness is his own best route to the Oval Office, which may very well be God’s grand plan.

.. “I don’t think he’s as resilient, politically, as Bill Clinton was,” D’Antonio said. “He doesn’t relish a partisan fight in the same way. He loves to go to rallies where people adore him.”

There’s no deeply felt policy vision or sense of duty to sustain him through the investigations and accusations. “If the pain is great enough,” D’Antonio said, “I think he’d be disposed not to run again.”

.. It suggests callousness at best toward African-Americans. As governor, Pence refused to pardon a black man who had spent almost a decade in prison for a crime that he clearly hadn’t committed. He also ignored a crisis — similar to the one in Flint, Mich. — in which people in a poor, largely black Indiana city were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. D’Antonio told me: “I think he’s just as driven by prejudice as Trump is.”
.. he rallied behind the unhinged former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a speech he called Arpaio a “tireless champion” of the “rule of law.” This was after Arpaio’s contempt-of-court conviction for ignoring a federal judge’s order to stop using illegal tactics to torment immigrants. The conservative columnist George Will seized on Pence’s speech to write that Pence had dethroned Trump as “America’s most repulsive public figure.”
.. You can thank Pence for DeVos. They are longtime allies, going back decades, who bonded over such shared passions as making it O.K. for students to use government money, in the form of vouchers, at religious schools.
Pence cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm her as education secretary.
.. Pence once spoke positively on the House floor about historical figures who “actually placed it beyond doubt that the offense of abortion was a capital offense, punishable even by death.” He seemed to back federal funds for anti-gay conversion therapy. He promoted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

He is absolutely certain that his moral view should govern public policy,” D’Antonio told me.

..  Pence sees himself and fellow Christian warriors as a blessed but oppressed group, and his “hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation.”

.. Is America worse off with Trump or Pence?

“I have to say that I prefer Donald Trump, because I think that Trump is more obvious in his intent,” he said, while Pence tends to “disguise his agenda.”

 

Maria Butina is just the tip of the Russia iceberg

There is no right to bear arms in Russia, and under this regime there never will be. According to court papers, Butina nevertheless convinced some naive members of the National Rifle Associationthat she was a genuine activist. In doing so, she gained access to their world.

.. They were both seeking to assist political movements they believed to be pro-Kremlin (the Communist Party of the 1930s; the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party of the 2010s). They were both backed by Kremlin money, diverted through cutouts (the Communist International, in the former instance; a couple of Russian oligarchs, allegedly, in the latter).

.. Butina, even if considering only her role as an open, pro-Kremlin activist, also has many counterparts, agents of influence who are openly agitating for Russian interests, now on the far-right edge of Western politics instead of the far-left.

  • Gianluca Savoini, the leader of the enigmatic Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, seems to perform a similar role in Italian politics, even showing up recently as a member of an official Italian government delegation to Moscow.
  • Bela Kovacs , a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, is on trial in Budapest on a charge of spying on European Union institutions on behalf of Russia.

.. they too are part of a long-term project, though it’s not a proletarian revolution. Instead, it’s a kleptocratic coup d’état: The modern Kremlin project seeks to undermine Western democracies, break up the E.U. and NATO, and put corrupt relationships rather than the rule of law at the center of international commerce.

.. it’s worth remembering why Golos and his network failed. In large part,

  • it was because the center-left — especially the anti-Soviet wing of the American trade union movement — rejected Soviet-style communism in the United States. It’s also because,
  • in the 1940s and 1950s, the American political establishment, Democratic and Republican, unified around the need to defeat Soviet-style communism in Europe. And it’s because,
  • even in the depths of the Depression, the majority of Americans were never beguiled by the appeal of authoritarianism.

.. A wing of the Republican Party is preparing to double down and support the Russian autocracy, which it believes, mistakenly, is “Christian.” 

.. To push back against them, as well as their equivalents from the rest of the autocratic world, we will need not only to catch the odd agent but also to

  • make our political funding systems more transparent, to
  • write new laws banning shell companies and money laundering, and to
  • end the manipulation of social media.

It took more than a generation for Americans to reject the temptations of communist authoritarianism; it will take more than a generation before we have defeated kleptocratic authoritarianism too — if we still can.

 

 

Finding the Way Forward on Iran

the question of what Iran is. This isn’t just about whether it’s a dictatorship. What kind of dictatorship? To get the answer right is to know what kind of pressure can change its behavior or break its back.

The conventional wisdom is that it’s a dictatorship with democratic characteristics, and that it’s riven between hard-liners who want to make it more repressive and militant and reformists who want to make it less. Western policy, according to this analysis, should do what it can to encourage and reward the latter at the expense of the former.

But the analysis fails to explain why, for instance,

  • the number of executions in Iran rose under the ostensibly reformist leadership of President Hassan Rouhani.
  • It doesn’t account for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laying a wreath in honor of Imad Mugniyeh, the Hezbollah terrorist responsible for killing hundreds of Americans. And it doesn’t explain
  • Tehran’s hyperaggressive foreign policy in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal, which was supposed to inaugurate its opening to the rest of the world.

A better way of describing Iran’s dictatorship is as a kleptotheocracy, driven by impulses that are by turns doctrinal and venal.

.. Note how quickly the provincial protesters turned their sights on the supreme leader: Maybe it’s because they know better than most how thoroughly he’s fleecing them.

.. a supposedly charitable foundation controlled by Khamenei, known as Setad, had assets worth an estimated $95 billion.

.. “Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians

.. the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, estimated to controlanother 15 percent of the Iranian economy.

.. But it also means that the kleptotheocracy is uniquely vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.

.. All Islamist movements take the concept of justice (as opposed to freedom) as their organizing political concept, and all of them ignore it at their peril.

.. Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute has argued that the U.S. government “should release details on the billions in stolen assets” held by the I.R.G.C. and the supreme leader. That — and making sure ordinary Iranians learn about them, one scandalous disclosure at a time — is the right idea.

.. put Setad, along with its scores of front companies and subsidiaries, under U.S. sanctions for corruption. The Obama administration did such a thing in 2013, only to reverse course as part of the nuclear deal.

Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups

Authorities scour private chats on messaging apps for blacklisted words, sensitive images

One night this September, construction supervisor Chen Shouli fired off a joke in a chat group.

“Haha,” he typed on his black iPhone 7, followed by an off-color wisecrack about a rumored love triangle involving a celebrity and one of China’s most senior government officials.

Four days later, he says, the police telephoned, ordering him in for questioning.

“I thought, I haven’t done anything wrong, have I? I’m law-abiding,” recalls Mr. Chen, a wiry 41-year-old. “So I went in. Once I arrived, they wouldn’t let me leave.”

Mr. Chen was locked in a cell for five days, he says. According to the police report, his comment on the WeChat messaging app was deemed “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a broad offense that encompasses gang fighting and destruction of public property and is punishable by detention without trial.

.. Zhu Shengwu was an intellectual-property lawyer in cases involving technology firms such as search engine BaiduInc. before taking on a free-speech case this year. He says that monitoring closed chats is akin to eavesdropping in someone’s home.

.. After he called President Xi Jinping a “baozi”—a steamed dumpling—in one WeChat post, and Chairman Mao a “bandit” in another, Mr. Wang was arrested, court records say. A local court in April sentenced him to two years in prison, a term that was reduced to 22 months after a retrial last month.

.. Mr. Guo says he wants to expose what he calls China’s “kleptocrats” and bring rule of law to the country.