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Russia & Trump

Traci Seltzer-Castillo

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Trump “bought” the POTUS by 1) manipulating voters through big data (ie. The block chains and other manipulations of tracked data), and 2) getting help from Russian hackers who hacked into key states’ voting systems.  He needed both elements to be able to win because without them, there is a very good possibility that Hillary would have won. Trump’s history of dishonesty and bankruptcy should have eliminated him from the presidential election but it did not (the American legal system may need some adjustment and honing).  He settled his fraud case out of court right before Election Day 2016. He defrauded students with his fake online university.  He is also notorious for “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, and for his using his fake non-profit organization’s donation to pay his legal bills when he is sued, and for the fines he is ordered to pay by the US court system.

Trump is correct that the US should try to “make nice” with Russia.  Too many Americans (at least the ones who vote and understand and follow politics; mostly older Americans) still have the mindset from the Cold War Era that Russians are “Commies” and dishonest (A daily reading of American news shows Americans are not extremely honest either…..for example, the Panama Papers).  Russia has the largest amount of millionaires in the world, most living in Moscow.  They have had a free market system for 25 years now, and they are just now starting to feel the social impacts of this new system; the stresses that such a system causes over the quest/greed for money.

Of course, there is government corruption in Russia, but there is here in the US too. It is both interesting and ironic that many of the activities the US accused the Soviets and Russians of doing in the past are the exact same acts the US has been and is still doing to its own citizens. Julian Assange, Private Manning, and other whistleblowers have shown the world that this is true. They have suffered for their risks of exposing the truth.

The Russian free market economy was and still is an untapped income source for international businesses. In fact, Trump has many businesses in Russia, and these felt the financial crunch when the sanctions were levied against Russia in 2014 after the Ukraine Conflict.  So, Trump wasn’t making money either from his business investments he had already established on Russian soil before he became POTUS.  This further motivated him to ask the Russians to help him win the POTUS (because greed or money is a very effective motivating factor). The economic sanctions were levied collectively by the US and the European Union, but also unilaterally by the US. Russia also levied import bans that hurt many European and American businesses that were still allowed to do business in Russia under the economic sanctions.

There is a very good possibility that Trump made a deal with the Russians that if they got him into POTUS, he would lift the sanctions against Russia (specifically Putin’s inner circle of extremely wealthy friends who were most affected by the sanctions). The reasons Russia would have made this deal is that 1) Russia’s economy was shrinking because of the sanctions, and 2) Russia’s “bread and butter” is based on oil.  Russian social programs and the government function due to the proceeds of oil sales.  The sanctions against Russia included no sale of replacement parts for the oil drilling rigs, and most of these rigs were purchased from American companies. So, as the parts began to wear out, the Russian oil companies (especially Gazprom) could not easily extract oil, therefore, they could not sell much on the world market (but the Russians asked Chinese engineers to design similar replacement parts,  but this took a lot of time for development).

Unfortunately for the Russian oil market, in September 2016, the 5 years of oil embargo that mandated that Iran could not sell oil on the world market ended.  This flooded the global oil market since Iran started selling oil at a very low price so that they could raise hard currency (US Dollars) to improve their very hurt economy. This further hurt the Russian economy since oil customers could now choose a different supplier (the law of supply and demand).  Oil was selling at its lowest for about USD30/barrel, but on average around USD50/barrel for the last 2 years (and now up to about 70USD as for 25 Mar 2018).  Russia needs at least USD100 per barrel just to break even on its government and social program bills. Russia has drained most of its two big money reserve accounts. The long term drop in oil prices has certainly caused devastating effects on countries that rely on income from selling oil on the world market, including Venezuela, which has its own political problems and corruption.

Also, Russia’s currency devalued to the dollar.  At one time, it was at an amazingly high rate of 95 rubles per 1 US dollar (Each bank may have a different exchange rate. The USD/RUB exchange rate was 1:30 before the Ukraine situation).

Since most goods (and travel) are purchased using US dollars as the international purchase currency, the cost of consumer goods in Russia greatly increased while people bought appliances and electronics in bulk (to sell later; again, the law of supply & demand) and people were losing their jobs or taking pay cuts just to keep their jobs because the economy greatly slowed and shrank. Many Russians lost their jobs during this time, or they had to greatly tighten their financial belts. For some Russian banks, their supply of USD was greatly limited or cut off because these banks refused to give the names of their American clients to the US government, so the US Federal Reserve refused to sell USD to such banks (as a form of “blackmail” or “leverage”). Many small Russian banks actually closed during the worst of this economic situation in Russia.

Trump wasn’t too “street smart”. He allowed his hormones to cloud is otherwise substandard judgment. The Russians videoed him with various beautiful Russian women in his hotel room. This was released to Trump to show him that the Russians had secret videos of Trump, but he did not know what else the Russians had recorded about him and his activities. Since Trump certainly remembers the activities he did, he was probably concerned about which, if not all, of those activities were recorded.  This was done to make him “behave” and to do his part that he promised to do (lift the sanctions). Videoing Trump was the Russians’ insurance that Trump would do his part.  However, he was not able to deliver the promise of lifting sanctions because of the way the US “checks & balances” work (which work relatively well,  but still need to be honed, obviously since Trump’s past allowed him to become president).  Russia did their part but Trump didn’t deliver his part; a “breach of contract”.

This left Russia in a bind to stimulate their economy since the US and the world sanctions against it are still practiced.  What Trump didn’t realize is that Russia had other options, “Plan B or more” by forming economic trade with other countries such as Venezuela (that does not like the US, and they don’t try to hide that fact) and with Asia, especially the Far East. The Russians gained an edge over Trump because of his arrogance and narcissism.

There are similarities between Trump and Hitler.  Hitler outright killed those he did not like, or who opposed him, or who he felt had a low quality of life. Trump is doing this too by taking away healthcare in the US so that people die.  Trump has taken away healthcare for children of indigent families including a lot of immigrant families (a passive form of ethnic cleansing).  He has taken away educational assistance for children with disabilities. He has taken away the subsidies to help the elderly pay for heat, utilities and prescriptions.  Hitler did an “ethnic cleanse + quality of life cleanse” but Trump is doing an “ethnic cleanse + socioeconomic cleanse + quality of life cleanse” by use of his executive orders and other methods to “Make America Great Again”.

Hitler also consolidated his power into a dictatorship shortly after being elected. Trump tried this too as soon as he was sworn in. He signed many executive orders in his first few months as POTUS. He has limited communication from government offices.  He has also cut funding to government offices or organizations that he feels are not important such as climate change.  Now the world is considering replacing the US Dollar as the reserve currency which would cause many problems because international contracts are normally written in US Dollars, and the contracts may span future decades with predicted exchange rates. For example, Boeing and Airbus have contracts that may span decades). The US credit rating has been downgraded for the first time in US history, thanks to the Republicans, for which Trump is. The US may be headed towards yet another credit rating downgrade since Trump just signed the new US budget in March 2018.

My business experience includes a decade of job titles such internal fiscal and compliance auditor for various government and private sector entities, criminal analyst, and academic teacher in a men’s prison. My education achievements includes an MBA (in Leadership & International Business), a Master’s of Science in Psychology, a future Master’s of Education (in International Education; June 2018), a Bachelor’s of Arts in International Relations, and a 140-hour TEFL certificate. Email: Traci.Seltzer[at]gmail.com

Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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Americas

The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Americas

Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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