Tuesday, May 23, 2017

IS THE RETAIL APOCALYPSE UPON US?

Via Virtual Capitalist, we learn about America's consumption patterns in "Retail Apocalypse: Everything You Need to Know ..."


First up we see that our brick and mortar retail stores (like Radio Shack) are taking a hit, big time, with bankruptcies starting to stack up through America.

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The primary reason for soaring bankruptcies in the retail world is the continuing surge in online sales across America (and the world). Simply put, more and more Americans are increasingly comfortable buying their stuff online.
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For more on this story, click here to access more charts and graphs on Virtual Capitalist.

- Mark

Monday, May 22, 2017

JOHN OLIVER EXPLAINS TRUMP'S NEVER ENDING SCANDAL PALOOZA IN 'STUPID WATERGATE'

John Oliver explains how America may be getting Trump Fatigue, sort of ... 



In "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" we're told how President Trump's penchant for outdoing what's supposed to be a "scandal of epic proportions" one day with something that's even more scandalous and insane the next. Oliver explains how Donald Trump's on-going scandal palooza just gets bigger and bigger, in "Stupid Watergate" ...



- Mark

Friday, May 19, 2017

KGET 17 NEWS ROBERT MUELLER / TRUMP ANALYSIS

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When the former director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, agreed to take over the investigation into President Donald Trump's links to Russia, Republican Cathy Abernathy and I were invited by KGET 17 News to speak about these and other developments. As you will see in this video clip, Cathy believes there's nothing to the Russian investigation, and is content with the idea that the Russians might have meddled in an American presidential election (since their guy "won").

Then it got fun.

At 3:40 into the clip Cathy tries to explain how bombing Russia's ally, Syria, means - in Cathy's world - that Donald Trump isn't really Putin's pet. When I reminded Cathy (while chuckling) that Trump called Russia in advance so they could "move their stuff" she took offense, and started to lecture me, telling me that I "needed to understand" how we would have "been at war with Russia" if a Russian had been killed in the bombing ... which, again, explains why Trump called to give Russia a heads up about the bombing.

Yeah. She really said that.

At the end of the day, I'm having fun. I'm not so sure about Cathy. Then again, the looks she gives me tell me that she likes having me up there with her, I'm guessing. ☺

- Mark

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WATCHING TRUMP IS LIKE WATCHING A KID PLAY WITH A LOADED GUN ... EVEN VLADIMIR PUTIN SEES IT


This is what happens when incompetence and bluster merge together in one man on an international stage ...

It was the summer of 1940 and Italy's Benito Mussolini was tired of sitting on the sidelines, watching Adolf Hitler and the Germans set the world on fire. To show the world, and Hitler, that the Italians were a force to be reckoned with, Mussolini unilaterally decided to invade Greece, telling a confidant "[Hitler] will find out from the newspapers that I have occupied Greece."

Unfortunately for Mussolini and the Italians, things didn't go as planned. Greece fought back, and were preparing to hand Mussolini's military a stinging defeat. Hitler was forced to postpone his plans to invade Russia by five weeks so he could come to the aid of his incompetent ally in 1941.

Fast forward 76 years, and we have similar Mussolini-like blustering incompetence occurring, only on a much smaller level ...


Like Benito Mussolini, President Donald Trump wanted to show his authoritarian-minded Russian friend that he's a big man on the world stage.

He's already blustered about North Korea, with the Chinese and South Koreans sitting idly by, unafraid, and bemused by all the commotion. Trump has also spouted nonsense about the Germans being "behind" on their NATO payments, which only opened him up to ridicule from the Germans and others in the international community. He's also boldly threatened to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, only to have the project stall because Trump doesn't understand how Congress or real policy initiatives work.

With the world snickering and laughing at America, this past week Donald Trump thought it would be a good idea to try and impress his Russian friends by sharing highly classified intelligence. Specifically, what Trump did was brag about information "so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies."

Ignore, for a moment, that President Trump would not allow U.S. or other western media outlets into the Oval Office during this meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador (he did, however, allow Russia's foreign ministry photographer). Ignore that Trump once called divulging secrets to Russia treason. Ignore, as well, that Israel (the source of the intel) might not share sensitive information in the future, which could compromise national security.

The real important development here is that Russia's Vladimir Putin is now offering to come to President Trump's rescue, claiming that the Russians 'can provide record' of Trump's Russia meeting. Like Hitler did with Mussolini in 1941, Vladimir Putin is coming to the aid of a blustering buffoon.

He understands that America's running train wreck is in trouble.


To be sure, the scale of the circumstances here are far less serious than they were in 1941 with Hitler and Mussolini. So far we're only talking about general incompetence and diplomatic ignorance on a relatively small scale. The ripple effects are relatively modest, for the moment. But that's precisely the point.

Donald Trump is making so many little mistakes on a regular basis that the scale of power in his hands insures that one of Trump's little mistakes, or his constant misstatements, will one day cost the United States, and quite probably the world, bigly.

Seriously, following Trump around is like watching a reckless kid play with a loaded gun.

Sooner or later, as long as Donald Trump is in the White House, Trump's baby steps of incompetence is going to do some real damage. And when it does, Vladimir Putin's assistance - or his ire - will be the last thing Trump, or the United States, will want.

- Mark


SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK PARODY: "I'M JUST A LIE"



A School House Rock political parody from Jimmy Kimmel, "I'm just a lie" ...



- Mark

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

FINAL EXAM NOTES / PS 4640

We have a mid-term Thursday morning in my International Political Economy class (PS 4640). Below are links to topics I have discussed on my blog, which tie directly into lectures I have given and, not coincidentally, are important for answering the questions that will be asked on the final exam. These are issues my students should be familiar with for Thursday's final exam. So, yeah, what's below is a list of ancillary "cliffs" notes for my class. To be sure, my regular readers (and those who have read my book) will understand the broader story. 

Of course, for those who are just interested in knowing about this stuff, you can begin by clicking on and reading the links below.

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EXAM-BLOG NOTES FOR PS 4640


Part I
History and Concepts from the First Two Mid-Terms

What makes the magic of the market work? A useful analogy from Disneyland's Aladdin. 

From War to Mercantilism: The historical role the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Enlightenment had in paving the intellectual path for Market Capitalism to arrive.

Waves of Imperialism ... War and Markets: Why Great Wealth is not a product of individual initiative alone. Here we learn about the three waves of imperialism, which were driven by successive but distinct eras of mercantilism after 1648, 1815, and 1919,

The Moral Justification of Capitalism is on the Ropes ... Here's Why. This is a review of the transformation from feudalism and mercantilism towards the modern liberal state.

Waves of Imperialism, II ... It's not free markets ... the state creates the conditions under which wealth is created (with an all too brief discussion-mention of John M. Keynes and Friedrich List).

Developing Afghanistan and Iraq ... It's mindless Modernization Theory, again.





Part II
Rise of the Symbolic Economy / Roots of Market Crash(es)


A flood of dollars, new competition, and a crumbling economic framework ... yet we do nothing, still (this one touches on the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system).

Why the American Dream is Disappearing: What's wrong with Detroit ... and America.

Decoupling of Productivity from Labor ... The Rise of the Machines, Part I.

Decoupling of Productivity from Labor ... The Rise of the Machines, Part II.

Converting Euro trash into European gold ... how the gods are smiling on Spanish and European banks, again.

A monkey throwing darts ... A flood of dollars has made investing and making money a lot easier than it should be, as the the graph below suggests. In fact, it's gotten so easy that a monkey throwing darts at stock choices, pasted on a wall, could make money in the market, as the story I recount here suggests. 

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- Mark

Sunday, May 14, 2017

THE MAN WHO CREATED A FOREST, AND AN ECOSYSTEM

Meet the man from India, Jadav "Molai" Payeng, who planted a tree every day in the same area for 37 years. Over time he turned a deserted section of the sandbar island into a forest larger than Central Park.



The ecosystem he created is phenomenal, and an example of the legacy one individual with few resources can leave to future generations. Today it contains 115 elephants, a number of rhinos and a handful of deer and tigers. The clip below is almost 1 minute long (an annoying commercial is injected at 58 seconds). Jump to the longer commercial free clip below for a more complete story on the forest.



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- Mark

UPDATE: I edited and added the longer second clip to this post because it's informative, and because the annoying commercial super imposed at 58 seconds in the first clip is a distraction from the larger message.

Friday, May 12, 2017

GENERALISSIMO TRUMP BEGINS TO EMERGE


President Donald Trump is a sick man.

In an apparent threat, today Trump's suggesting there may be "tapes" of private conversations of him with former FBI Director James Comey.


While the threat to Comey is serious, here's the problem and message Trump is sending to the world: We now have a president who's going to use the privilege of his office to threaten and blackmail anyone who has a conversation with him.

Think about what this means in practical terms.

Analysts and experts who have ideas about policy proposals can forget about thinking outside of the box, or thinking out loud in front of the Trump.

Analysts and experts who may disagree with President Trump will not feel comfortable expressing their reasons for fear of selective leaks and mocking references from Trump.

Analysts and experts who should feel comfortable speaking in confidence about classified or sensitive issues, can no longer assume their thoughts and conversations are safe with Trump.

On another level, President Trump is sending the message that anyone who exists in his orbit needs to tow the line or risk retribution.

Here's the real tragedy in our nation's running train wreck. What Trump wants is unfailing loyalty to him, not the nation.


If you have any doubts about this, consider what the New York Times reported yesterday. In a private dinner just seven days after being sworn in, President Trump demanded loyalty from FBI Director James Comey. He was rebuffed. According to the NY Times:

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

Comey's response was what every president, who's concerned about the safety and integrity of the United States of America, should demand from advisers and security experts: the truth. In fact, after being asked for his personal loyalty to the president, then FBI Director Comey said he would always be honest with him, but that he was not 'reliable' in the conventional political sense.

My friends, the separation of powers and our system of checks and balances were created for a reason. Our Founding Fathers did not want power concentrated in the hands one person, or within a small group of people (an oligarchy).

Trump is making it abundantly clear why the Founding Fathers were opposed to both monarchy and oligarchy. Absolute power corrupts, while concentrated power - as our friends in Africa and Latin America showed us in the 20th century - is a recipe for intolerance and disaster. Trump is on a quest to acquire both.

A pliant and sycophantic Republican-led Congress is only the stage setting in Trump's evolving presidential play. The first act for President Trump was firing an acting Attorney General (Sally Yates), dismissing a sitting FBI director (James Comey), and demanding the resignation of a U.S. Attorney (Preet Harara) for doing their jobs (which included investigating Trump's Russian ties). Act Two will, no doubt, continue to gut and eviscerate the integrity of state institutions that are designed to protect the United States.


The longer President Trump is in office the more you can bet a constitutional crisis is coming. Firing, threatening, and demanding personal loyalty from career professionals who are sworn to defend the Constitution and this country from enemies, both foreign and domestic, is not how you make America great again.

Sigh ...

- Mark

Thursday, May 11, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP ... THE MAKING OF A DICTATOR (and the dismantling of the U.S. Constitution)


Remember when President Trump slammed the U.S. Constitution, saying it was "archaic" and "really bad" for the nation? This was followed with his threat to change the rules. He made these comments in part over his frustration with our system of checks and balances, after failing to accomplish anything of merit during his first 100 days (and, no, executive orders don't count).

Famously, Trump ignored how his legislative proposals are so wildly unpopular he can't get any of his major initiatives through the U.S. Congress, where both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Better to blame the Constitution than take responsibility for incompetence and wildly reckless policy proposals, right?

What really upset Trump, however, is how the press and pesky judges keep reminding him that he can't rule like he's some kind of Latin American or African dictator. The media and various court decisions have let Trump know that he has a responsibility to respect and abide by the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, this isn't what dictators and wannabe dictators like to hear when they're trying to impose their will.



So President Trump has resorted to what reckless despots and dictators do best. He's acting like a petulant tyrant, and has threatened North Korea, picked on the powerless (migrants, Muslims, the poor, and people of color), and fired anybody that crosses him. The recent dismissal of FBI director James Comey falls right into that frame of thought.

Think about it. With FBI Director promising to trace President Trump's Russian ties, wherever the evidence leads him (more on this below) Trump understands that he's in over his head. An independent legal and judicial body with the power to investigate Trump and his friends is not something President Trump or wannabe dictators want.

It's those pesky checks and balances, again.

This explains why Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

It also explains why Trump fired U.S. Attorney Preet Harara, who not only was looking into stock trades of HHS Secretary Tom Price, but refused to return a phone call from the White House when they left a message for him to do so (separation of powers makes this standard protocol).

It also explains why Trump fired acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who refused to uphold Trump's immigration ban that unconstitutionally targeted seven predominantly Muslim countries.

By themselves, each of these dismissals might not mean much. But with Russian subterfuge in the background, and President Trump's known and increasingly exposed ties to Russia, these three high profile and poorly timed firings smell like a cover up.

The stench of a cover up only grows when we include other developments from Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday night prosecutors began issuing grand jury subpoenas for Michael Flynn's associates. This means Trump's associates are next. The same evening Senate investigators asking the Treasury Department to look for financial ties between Team Trump and Russia. Those links are long, and already well documented. Finally, when President Trump met with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, he locked out White House reporters while inviting Vladimir Putin's photographer into the Oval Office to report on their meeting (nothing wrong there, right?).

I don't know about you, but locking out the American press from the Oval Office and firing the acting Attorney General, the director of the FBI, and a U.S. attorney - who all happen to be involved in independent investigations of your office - sure looks like a petty tyrant trying to cover his Russian tracks.


One thing's certain at this point. Donald Trump wasn't kidding when he said he didn't like the U.S. Constitution. Going after the media - which is often referred to as America's 4th estate - while dismissing key players in our legal and law enforcement infrastructure, make it clear that Trump has no respect for our separation of powers system.

In fact, if there's anything that President Trump has accomplished it's demonstrating to the world that he's thin-skinned, and doesn't like people looking into things that he's done, especially when it comes to Russia.

If our Republican-led Congress want to sit back and watch as the Trump Train Wreck disrespects and dismantles the U.S. Constitution, and the institutions that have made this country great, that's on them.

It also makes them traitors to our nation. It's really that simple.

- Mark

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

OUR NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT JUST MIGHT BECOME A STAIN ON HUMANITY


The Guardian article posted below - "Donald Trump's ignorance is becoming more evident with each passing day" - makes it clear that Donald Trump is a train wreck waiting to happen. His common man style of not playing by the rules says more about his inability to understand the world we live in, and about his incredible ignorance of basic facts, than it does to his imagined swag. It might play well to the mafia of mediocrity that voted for him, but it's going to get us all in trouble one day.

The article by David Cay Johnston helps explain why.

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Donald Trump's ignorance is becoming more evident with each passing day


Let’s connect the dots between Donald Trump’s “tax plan”, his invitation to the murderous leader in Manila and saying he would be “honored” to meet with the dictator of North Korea. And let’s throw in his claim that Trumpcare will be better than Obamacare and that his skeletal tax plan would make him pay more.
While these facts might seem unrelated, each points to a fundamental truth about Trump that I have been trying to get people to understand since he announced his latest presidential campaign in June 2015: Trump doesn’t know anything.
And Trump’s ignorance should scare you because the White House says he plans to fulfill all of his campaign promises – and among them is starting wars and using nuclear weapons.
Human beings have thousands of years of experience with taxes and diplomacy and yet Trump lives unaware of the basic principles of government finance and international relations.
Don’t take my word for it, even as someone who knows the man and has studied him closely for 29 years. Just listen to Trump’s own words. They show he acts like a classic con artist, all bluster and vagaries. He lives blissfully unaware of his ignorance of basic facts that anyone who paid attention in high school, much less college, should know.
Trump declared recently that Andrew Jackson was furious about the civil war even though he died 16 years before it began. Trump seems unaware Jackson was a slave-owning white supremacist.
Meeting with black leaders in February, Trump said that Frederick Douglass was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more”.
That’s a neat trick for someone who was buried 122 years ago, not that Trump has a clue that Douglass was an abolitionist newspaper publisher, pastor and orator.
Trump is even ignorant about his tax plan, all 100 words of it, or that it violates principles of taxation articulated by Plato, Adam Smith and many other philosophers.
Trump said under his tax plan, he would pay more. Nope. He’d pay 86% less, based on his 2005 federal income tax filing, which I revealed in March at DCReport.org, the nonprofit news service I founded to track what Trump does, rather than tweets.
His tax wishlist would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, a 1986 law signed by President Ronald Reagan. That law cost Trump nearly $31.3m of his $36.6m federal income tax bill in 2005.
Had Trump’s tax wishlist been in effect in 2005, he would have paid just $5.3m in federal income tax on an income of $152.7m.
That works out to slightly less than 3.5% of his income, which is lower than the effective income tax rate paid by the poorest half of American taxpayers that year. They paid slightly more than 3.5%. The difference is that Trump’s income was almost $3m a week while the poorer half got by on a tad more than $300 per week.
Then there’s geopolitics. Not only does Trump not know a Shia from a Sunni or the reasons it matters, he also came into office knowing nothing of the thousands of years of relations between China and Korea. Trump said Xi Jinping, the supreme leader in Communist China, schooled him during a recent telephone conversation ...
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You can read the rest of the article by clicking here. But know one thing. President Trump, our national embarrassment, just might become  a stain on humanity.

- Mark