Archive for Politics

Madame Mao, Hillary Clinton: Political Power Grows Out of a Horndog Hubby

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

20111031-wikicommons JiangQingmovieshot 1934

“Every Communist must grasp the truth; Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

So said Mao Zedong, dictator extraordinaire. According to some historians of totalitarianism, Mao did democide (murder by government) even better than his mentor, Joseph Stalin. Whatever. Both were masters of mass starvation. Mao’s visionary Great Leap Forward, an accelerated modernization program, produced the Great Chinese Famine of 1958 to ’61. The dead numbered between 20 and 43 million. Thereby proving Mao’s maxim that “revolution isn’t a dinner party”.

As well as a go-go dictator, Mao was a celebrated author. His Little Red Book (aka Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung) a  compendium of revolutionary nuggets informed by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, was must reading for the masses. Though the Red Book’s reputation dwindled after Mao’s death in 1976, a revaluation is in the works. Literary critics laud Mao’s anticipation of the formal terseness of Twitter. Indeed, if Mao’s epigrams were accompanied by emoji they’d seem thoroughly modern.

Mao wasn’t all revolutionary work and no play. The Chairman was also a prodigious horndog. Plowing his way through four wives, myriad girlfriends, and countless quickies. Partners for the latter were delivered by minions upon demand. Those chosen were honored to Serve the Revolution.

Mao’s fourth and final wife was Jiang Qing, an actress (stage name Lan Ping) blessed with looks and the correct line. She and Mao met in the late 1930’s in Yan’an in Shannnxi Province, the center of the Chinese Communist revolution during the Japanese occupation. In order to marry the much younger Jiang Qing, Mao jettisoned his third wife, He Zizhen. Not a popular move…

He Zizhen, a skilled guerrilla fighter and crack shot, had been with Mao on the Long March to Yan’an during the Chinese Civil War and was highly respected. Plus, Mao’s Communist Party comrades at leadership level were suspicious of Jiang Qing’s ambitions. Perhaps Mao had a few suspicions of his own; the new Madame Mao was forced to sign an agreement banning her from positions of political power for several decades. However, Jiang Quing was allowed to serve as Mao’s personal secretary. And she kept her hand in showbiz by overseeing films for the Party’s Propaganda Department.

Meanwhile, Mao continued to nail as much tail as possible.

By the time Madame Mao’s time in power purgatory ended, she’d built up quite a head of steam. Mao owed her big time for  tolerating his infidelities– and he knew just what payoff would suit her.

In 1966, Mao made Madame Mao deputy director of the Cultural Revolution Group (CRG), the prime mover of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Before you could say “purge”, Madame Mao was unleashing mobs of roving teenage Red Guards (SJWs on bath salts), rooting out implicit thought crime via reeducation sessions featuring public humiliation, torture, and slaughter, and oh yeah– settling scores with Mao’s myriad perceived enemies (particularly those who blamed him for the Great Famine) and pumping his Cult of Personality to ever more bloated proportions.

Here and Now

Half a century later, a woman whose political power also grew out of tolerating the infidelities of a horndog hubby may become President of the United States. But we can rest assured that if elected, Hillary Clinton will not be aping Madame Mao. Times have changed for women; despite all the power she finally wielded Madame Mao was still very much her husband’s bitch. She said as much when on trial in 1980. To those who wished to shield Mao’s image by painting Madame Mao as acting independently, she retorted “I bit whomever he asked me to bite.”

Hillary however, is her very own tool.

Under President Hillary, we won’t be seeing any massive statues of Bill being dragged through the streets at week long rallies devoted to his veneration. Any statues dragged, or rallies held, will venerate Hillary thank you very much. Crowds will be chanting “I’m With Her” not “Him”. Yeah, some rooting out of implicit thought crime from the populace will be required– but as for settling scores, Bill’s old enemies will have to take a back seat to Hillary’s new ones. (Here’s looking at you, Bernie!)

Far-fetched to think Hill might cherish Chairman Mao dreams?

Uh..have you checked those suits she’s been wearing lately?

Hillary in Yellow

Hillary in Blue

Hillary in Orange

hil_suits

 

 

 

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President Hillary nixes Pardon for Sanders/The Burlington College Thing

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Babyface Bernie

Now that Hillary has schlonged him by hook and crook, Bernie needs to fear for his future. Sure, Hillary will be forced to do a reach-out. Bernie will get the star treatment at the Dem Convention. Progressive promises will be made. The party platform will be symbolically tweaked. Little Debbie may even go down. But if Hillary is elected president, vengeance will be hers.

Bill Clinton has already said Bernie’s supporters will be “toast” come election day. Can Bernie’s burn be far behind? The strength of Bernie’s challenge has been a humiliation for Hillary. And she doesn’t do forgive and forget. Not for Hill that Godfather distinction between personal and business. Political opponents aren’t reps of valid difference; they’re agents of the perpetually churning vast conspiracy (launched by the right, swollen by the left) out to get the Clintons.

First, they came for Bill.

Then they came for Hill.

Trying to cheat her of the throne she’s earned by being married to him.

O to be a fly in the mind of potential President Hillary as she plots Senator Sanders’ future

“I’ll show that socialist nobody. How dare he manspread all over MY party. I’ll put his office in the Senate basement bathroom. Committees? Don’t make me laugh. (Cackle cackle.) Funding? That– and a nickel! As for those ‘rumors’ of a federal investigation into the Burlington College thing– lawyer up, Bernie and Jane! I’ll be hands-on at the Justice Department.”

The Burlington College Thing

Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city (pop 42,452) and the home turf of Bernie and Jane Sanders. From 2004 till 2011, Jane was president of Burlington College, a private, non-profit liberal arts college. Burlington College was very small and very progressive. Official slogan: “Start a fire”. (Presumably a socially transformative one, not just a wienie roaster.) The college closed this May after staggering along financially for years. The killing burden was a $10 million mortgage loan engineered by Jane Sanders in 2010. Jane’s goal was to expand Burlington College via relocation to a more impressive setting. At the time, the college was operating out of a former supermarket which served a surrounding blue collar neighborhood.

Until a few decades ago, Burlington was primarily a working and middle class town with naturally occurring affordable housing. Though there were certainly social divisions, it was a pretty laid back place. Teens called it “Borington”. Thanks to progressive planning by local pols (including former Mayor Bernie Sanders) and assorted public and private real estate players, Burlington has been transformed into a hip happening city blessed with stacks of cookie cutter condos attractive to wealthy folks with a taste for views of Lake Champlain. Not that affordable housing doesn’t exist– subsidized digs are available for the qualified. Social divisions? Considerably more pronounced.

Jane Sanders’ aim was to move Burlington College out of the supermarket and into a former Catholic orphanage set on thirty-some wooded acres overlooking Lake Champlain. The lake front land was traditionally treated as public parkland by locals. In its day, the orphanage had a sinister reputation; the building eventually transitioned into headquarters for the Burlington Catholic Diocese. It was/is a mound of Victorian stone. A big place for a student body of roughly 200 (130 full time) but Jane reasoned that if you buy it, they will come. And while the acreage was extensive much of the building was unusable due to disrepair, keeping the actual learning space cozy.

Jane arranged for the college to purchase the building and surrounding acreage from the Burlington Catholic Diocese. They were eager to sell. Their coffers had been depleted by $17 million in settlements paid to litigants claiming diocese leaders covered up for predatory priests.

The deal Jane Sanders engineered was a private/public combo platter. The Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency issued $6.5 million in tax free revenue bonds. People’s United Bank bought the bonds; Vermont College was on the hook to People’s for principle and interest. Also in play– a $3.5 million loan from the Catholic Diocese (guess those litigants didn’t totally strip the coffers) and a “bridge loan” of $500,000 from local developer Tony Pomerleau, a vintage Sanders supporter.

Long story short: Burlington College wasn’t able to meet its obligations and this spring, People’s United Bank lowered the boom.

Attempts had been made to save the college. But fund raising efforts were inconsistent and the results disappointing. Student body growth never met projected numbers. In 2011, Jane Sanders was ousted/retired as president– with a $200,000 parachute. The next president was the college’s former chief financial officer and a friend-of-Jane. She quit a few years later after receiving a no-confidence vote from students, faculty and staff. Eventually, the acres of lake front land surrounding the college were sold to a developer. (More condos coming soon, affordable slots included!) The money from the sale was helpful but insufficient. And the college’s accreditation was set to be canceled, due to its long running financial woes.

The announcement that Burlington College was closing was made the day after this year’s graduation ceremonies. No warning was given, students and faculty were left scrambling. Many are still twisting in the wind over things such as financial arrangements, transcripts, and pension plans.

Whether recent rumors of a federal investigation played a part in the suddenness of the endgame are unknown.

The issue said to be of federal interest? Jane Sanders allegedly misrepresented the college’s assets and projected income to the tune of $2 million when engineering her purchase deal. (Among other things, a future death bequest was painted as money in hand.) And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, fudging assets and income to obtain mortgage loans qualifies as bank fraud, a federal crime.

Of course, in her eagerness to “start a fire” Jane may have just made mistakes. Ones the college board of directors didn’t spot. And Jane still has the support of the Burlington Catholic Diocese; its leaders say proceeds from the sale of the college property (the college building was recently purchased by the same developer who bought the surrounding land) covered what they were owed. However, some parishioners are not so sanguine and want legal action.

Meanwhile, the last few Republican Party animals in Vermont have been writing letters to Washington, requesting a federal investigation. Their most recent missive even targeted Bernie; claiming they have credible info that Senator Sanders improperly pressed People’s United Bank to do Jane’s deal. Bernie’s spokespeople characterize the charges as political lies.

In normal times, I’d say Bernie and Jane have nothing to worry about. Questionable real estate deals involving politicians on their home turf are a dime a gazillion. Intent to defraud is hard to prove. And as we all know post housing-bubble collapse, mortgage shenanigans are rarely prosecuted. But these aren’t normal times. Hillary could become president. And with her, any stick will do to beat an enemy.

I like Bernie– even if he did help turn Burlington into one more Bobo Paradise. I admire his grit. His run has been inspirational in many ways. I voted for him in the New York State Democratic primary.

For his sake– and Jane’s– I’m praying Trump wins in November.

 

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The Working Class Rides Again!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

work_or_riot_cropped

Holy moldering Marx, the working class is back! Drawn out of hiding by the Donald and Bernie. Cheerleaders for the Ownership Society who pushed subprime mortgages and equity draining as a substitute for NAFTA-gone jobs are aghast. As are devotees of identity politics. Solidarity Forever? Screw it. An overarching concept like class, with its multi cultural inclusiveness, could undermine decades of hard work fanning social divisions.

As for snobs on both sides of the political divide, for them it’s a real knuckle-drag to see the return of the “great unwashed”. Yes, West Virginia– there still are folks who use that phrase. Or think in its terms. That many of them are no better off economically or secure in their futures than the Morlocks they imagine and despise matters not. Illusions of superiority are as comforting as a baby’s blankie.

So– where has the working class been hiding? Answer: in plain sight. Only the term “working class” disappeared, not the actual people.

In an infamous scene from Sex & the City, the gals are discussing their sex lives (did they ever discuss anything else?) while getting a pedicure in a Korean nail salon. Miranda, a high-powered attorney, is dating a bartender. Charlotte, an art gallery manager with a wealthy husband, says the relationship has no future because a bartender is “working class”. The gals all laugh at such an archaic concept. Then the camera pans down to show the Korean women kneeling at their feet…

The term “working class” began fading out in the 1970’s; its erasure has been helpful politically to both left and right. The boon to the right is obvious; no working class means no need for organized labor. Not saying that not using the term is the sole reason unions have shrunk to a ghost of their former selves– just that it’s harder to organize people when they can’t name the group with whom their economic interests lie. And when that increasingly nameless group is made to appear ridiculous, boorish, and bigoted the organizing gets even harder. I mean, who wants to identify with–

Archie Bunker

Ah, Archie. The creation of liberal TV god Norman Lear, blue collar Archie ruled the sitcom world in All in the Family between 1971 and ’79. Talking trash with little cash. The latter wasn’t a sympathy factor, just another indicator of Archie’s social inferiority. Some claim Archie was an anti-hero and that white viewers secretly identified with him while pretending to scorn. But anti-heroes, after decades of cultural presence, tend to segue into respectability. So why does the term ”Archie Bunker” remain an insult?

Archie Bunker was an ugly stereotype. One that was allowed to stand because its target, the working class, was no longer deemed worthy of respect. Also because those being targeted were ambivalent about identifying as “working class”. Doing so flew in the face of middle class aspiration. Plus, the term was an ideological one associated with communism, our Cold War enemy, and in this country with hoary political groups still fighting the Stalin v. Trotsky wars. Many such groups featured the word “workers” in their titles. Comrades dressed the part, circa Woody Guthrie. The New Left called these groups “Old Left”. By 1971 their worker-centric influence had dwindled to an echo.

Not so New Left influence. Thanks to their piggy-backing the counterculture, rads of the New Left were hip and happening. Their cultural judgments carried weight. And from them, the working class got no respect.

Few groups on the New Left called themselves “worker” anything. In New Left minds, American workers had been corrupted by the success of organized labor and were now part of the problem not the solution. They had houses, cars, and televisions. Refrigerators full of beer. Cupboards stuffed with white bread. They worked in factories that belched pollutants and/or produced gas-guzzlers that carried people away from urban slums to suburban tract homes with lawns. (The New Left, with its amazing ability to intuit hidden motives, knew the exodus was really about racism not lawns.) But the biggest sin was support for the Vietnam War. That most working class people had kids, siblings, spouses, or friends fighting the war was no excuse. In Vietnam, the USA was Hitler. Which made all its supporters back home “good Germans”. Something New Left activists took great moral pride in not being.

Back to Norman Lear. Creator of Archie Bunker. Wealthy as hell but still an ace identifier of all things working class ugly, Lear has denounced Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump’s blue collar supporters are often called Archie. “Meathead” aka Rob Reiner, liberal son-in-law of apocryphal Archie, has also delivered a finger wag.  Apostle Meathead spreading his Creator’s Word…

One Last Thing

Thankfully for fans of the TV working class, Archie Bunker wasn’t the only blue collar guy to grace sets in the 70’s. There was also Detective Columbo of the LAPD. Underestimated. Rumpled. Smoking a cheap stogie, driving a beloved beater. Unlike Archie, Columbo never talked politics. All he did was ask homicide suspects gazillion nagging questions. Relentlessly. The payoff being his nailing arrogant elite types who thought they could get away with murder.

When I look at the people cheering Trump– and Sanders– at rallies in post-industrial places I don’t see the face of Archie Bunker. I see Columbo bringing it home. I can almost hear it…

“One last thing. Nothing important. I just need to clear up a few small details. It won’t take long. I know you need to get on with ruling. But first, can you tell me where you were when American jobs were being exported, cheap labor was being imported, and working class/middle class incomes were stagnating?”

Everybody into the beater!

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Net governance is a game – play it to win

by David Solomonoff

While we take the Internet for granted as an essential part of everyday life, decisions are being made behind the scenes that affect its future and the lives of everyone who relies on it. Net users are like players in a game where the rules are unknown and can change at any time.  Decisions are made by technologists, government regulators and legislators, nonprofits and civil society groups — with a great deal of influence by special interests — far from public view or understanding.

The recent announcement by Department of Commerce that the United States would relinquish part of its controlling role in managing the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), although long in the offing, was accelerated by fears of US control of the Net in the wake of recent NSA spying scandals.

The DNS essentially controls real estate in cyberspace by translating a human-understandable domain name like “google.com” to an Internet Protocol (IP) address that computers understand.

In October 2013 leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet. In the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation they expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. They also called for accelerating the globalization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who manage the DNS, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.

On March 14, 2014 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. NTIA asked ICANN, as the IANA  functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal for the transition. In addition, NTIA explicitly stated that it would not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.

That fear of repressive government control of the Net also inspired three bills, H.R. 4342  (ih) – Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2014, H.R. 4367  (ih) – Internet Stewardship Act of 2014 and H.R. 4398  (ih) – Global Internet Freedom Act of 2014 to be introduced to the US Congress to prevent or delay the transition.

Supporters of the transition say critics betray their lack of understanding of Net governance with the proposed legislation. Several human rights and civil liberties groups supporting the transition wrote a letter arguing that the move would actually be preemptive and would sustain the current multi-stakeholder model.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is ICANN itself which has been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability. Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project writes:

When the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it would end its control of the domain name system root, it called upon ICANN to “convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.” Many people worried about ICANN’s ability to run a fair process. As an organization with a huge stake in the outcome, there were fears that it might try to bias the proceedings. ICANN has a very strong interest in getting rid of external oversight and other dependencies on other organizations.

It was in this environment that the Brazilian President  Dilma Rousseff  (who herself was a victim of NSA spying) organized the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance which was co-sponsored by ICANN. Concurrently with the conference, she signed the Marco Civil da Internet, a bill that sets out new guidelines for freedom of expression, net neutrality and data privacy.

Wired UK compared NETmundial to a game:

To set the scene for a Brazilian meeting over internationalising the internet, we compare the little-known world of internet governance with the greatest spectacle in football

As Brazil gears up to host the 2014 World Cup, another world game is gathering pundits and crowds. Far from the flashy arena, this other contest is over Internet governance. It’s about how, and by whom, the paradigmatically ‘unowned’ internet is managed.

Quietly waged by smooth corporate strategists, diplomats, and tech-geeks, the fight over net governance goes to the heart of global politics and economics. The bets, most curiously, run close to those in football. Brazil and Germany are leading the charge, with several other European and South American teams as potential challengers. The big question is whether they can nudge perennial football underdog and undisputed internet champion, the United States, from the top spot.

The analogy between Internet policy and games is not new or inaccurate – in 2007 Google hired game theorists to assist in their strategy in an FCC auction for wireless spectrum.

Like any other game with winners and losers, there was disappointment in the outcome of NETmundial.

Sara Myers of Global Voices, an Internet freedom group wrote:

Provisions addressing net neutrality and the principle of proportionality were not included in the final version, and a section on intermediary liability lacked safeguards to protect due process and the rights to free expression and privacy.

But the greater problem for Internet governance and Internet freedom is how few Net users even know that the Internet is governed or managed at all. While recent surveys in the US show an alarming decline in understanding of how the US government works, the number of people who even know what ICANN is is probably far smaller.

Recently the Governance Lab at New York University developed a series of proposals to make ICANN more “effective, legitimate and evolving”. The most interesting was Enhance Learning by Encouraging Games:

ICANN must take seriously its commitment to engage its global stakeholder base in decision-making, especially those who are ultimately impacted by those decisions …. ICANN could make the complexities of Internet governance and ICANN’s work more open, accessible and interesting to people with games and activities aimed at the next generation … The use of game mechanics in decision-making contexts can bolster ease and equitability of participation (enhancing legitimacy); produce incentive structures to target expertise (enhancing efficiency); and mitigate complexity through simple rules (enhancing adaptability and the ability to evolve).

While the Gov Lab has not yet begun development of such games, another group has. Media artist Josephine Dorado and game developer Jeremy Pesner, working with the Internet Society (disclaimer: as President of New York Chapter of Internet Society I am also involved in development) are modifying reACTor, their online game to promote social activism, to specifically address issues involving Internet governance and Internet freedom.

Several years ago the Internet Society explored several alternate scenarios for the evolution of the Internet in a series of animated videos. These videos are a model for the type of scenarios the game will explore. Combined with feeds from news media, activist organizations and the Internet Society’s extensive documentation on Internet governance and policy, the game will award points and prizes to players who most effectively work for an open Internet.

To integrate the game with real-world action, POPVOX, a non-partisan platform which facilitates constituents contacting US legislators and regulators, will be used. Net governance organizations like ICANN could also be integrated.

reACTor re-envisions news engagement, online activism and mobile gaming. It connects news with augmented activism: calls to action inspired by news and sustained by gameplay.

Online activist movements have previously been organized by different actors, around different issues and on different platforms. reACTor is the unified platform that activist organizations as well as game players can easily add new actions to.

reACTor brings news and activism into the 21st century by closing the gap between becoming informed and becoming involved.

Let the game begin!

 

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The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Think totalitarians are dull boys (and girls) who wear matchey matchey duds, never quaff cocktails or croon torch tunes in the wee small hours? If so, you’re wrong. No need for shame though. I thought the same. Until I found a copy of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings! in a box of old records at a junk store.

At first I figured it was some sort of spoof production. Lenin sings? Yeah, right. Maybe in his shower after rolling out a little Red Terror. But no. Lenin did cut a record (actually, a wax cylinder) in 1922, around the time he became premiere of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union). After Lenin’s death in ’24, the album disappeared into a memory hole dug by his successor, Joseph Stalin.

Luckily for lovers of pop culture esoterica, the master somehow survived…

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually emerged as head of the single party USSR. In ’56, he delivered his famous Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, ripping Stalin and the personality cult that let Stalin be Stalin. Among other things, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for expanding the use of the term “enemy of the people” to include Party officials who disagreed with Stalin. Thereby putting them in the same non-human, expendable category as, say, kulaks— those Greedy Gus peasants who resisted having their farms collectivized.

Khrushchev also distributed copies of Lenin’s Testament at the Congress. Lenin wrote it in late 1922, after being been laid low by a stroke. Death was on the way. In the Testament, Lenin assessed various Party biggies with an eye to future leadership. No thumbs up for Stalin. Lenin dished “Comrade” Stalin’s “rudeness” and “capricious temper” and suggested he be booted from his position as Secretary-General of the Party’s Central Committee.

Until recently few knew Lenin’s Testament wasn’t the only thing Khrushchev distributed; he also passed out remastered vinyl copies of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

What motivated Khrushchev to include the record? Did he hope hearing Lenin sound so presciently Rat Pack would make rude boy Stalin seem totally yesterday?

Whatever. The album stands on its own as a pop music classic. Lenin delivers the goods from first cut to last, opening with a subversively scat-shattered version of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band and closing with a high octane, finger-snapping delivery of Cole Porter’s little known Ha, Ha, They Must Sail for Siberia. Twixt Berlin & Porter, Vlad turns sad. Waxing middle-of-the-night moody with lush ballads– including one written by himself titled What is to Be Done (When your Lover Leaves).

Though copyright laws make it impossible to include cuts from Swingin’ Totalitarian, I’ve reproduced the album’s cover, a gatefold hinged at Lenin’s waist with identical images front and back. The doubled Lenin is shown lounging at the type of bar typically found in suburban basement rec rooms. (Swingin’ was recorded at Lenin’s dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.) Those octopus-like suckers sprouting from his head? Symbolic. As said, the record was cut ’round the time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

Album Cover

Interestingly, the graphic from Lenin’s album surfaced in altered form during the late 1960’s as an advertisement for Romanov Vodka. Not to be confused with the Romanov Vodka currently being marketed by the India-based UB Group, the Romanov Vodka that featured Lenin in its ads was produced in Romania under the aegis of Nicolae Ceaușescu. A swingin’ totalitarian in his own right…

Romanov Vodka Ad

 

Next in the Swingin’ Totalitarian series: Mao Wow! The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Zedong

 

 

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Now Running 4 President: The Year of Living Idiotically

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Go to the polls and keep smiling!

I loathe presidential election years. Let me count the ways.

1. Everything is subject to partisan spin. If pollen triggers hay fever, flaks din that the other party did it. The media echoes the act. (The story of O is getting an extra loud yodel!) Worse yet, so do boots on the ground. Hitherto charming intelligent friends hit the social media streets loaded with dogma. Your email gets clogged with petitions urging you to tell the left/right fanatics in the White House/Congress/Temple of Dagon that you won’t tolerate their war on business/women/the cosmos.

2. Politics trump friendship. I know someone who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 (as I did) and was cut dead for a decade. His friends blamed him for Al Gore’s defeat. Go figure why they didn’t blame Gore.

3. Presidential elections turn thoroughly modern Millies & Mikes into medieval hysterics. The devil is supposed to have left the secularized building. Yet he surfaces every four years as the candidate of the other party. Quoting a friend in New Jersey: “Vote for whoever you like. But don’t tell me the other guy eats babies.”

4. There is no real humor in Mudville. Only partisan sallies. (Did ya hear the one about Sarah Pelosi?) A true sense of the absurd is an unwelcome guest at partisan parties. Could be worse tho. Totalitarians 86 it. Like, totally.

5. In election years the effort to shape reality by limiting language and subverting meaning ramps up. (See Newspeak for basic theory.) The publics’ flirtation with “outsider” candidates such as Donald Trump and Herman Cain reflects weariness with parsing and PC patter. Better a plainspoken zany than one who hides his strobe light under a bushel.

6. Brain dead hyperbole becomes the norm. This year’s zombie meme: “The War On”. Followed by whatever will rile The Base. But is limiting funding for morning-after birth control or raising taxes on the wealthy really the same as being bombed to smithereens or starving in the rubble of a ruined country?

7. The social issue boom-car pounds 24/7. This year’s divisive device doesn’t have much sub woof. Same sex marriage matters to its fervent supporters and opponents but frankly my dear, most people don’t give a damn. They don’t gasp with admiration or outrage when candidates strike a pose pro or con, they just wish they’d stop voguing for the media. The economy is a dry subject (dangerous to boot) but anything about sex– Hoohah!

8. None of the above tops the horror the horror of hearing candidates wax folksy on TV. When these ultimate entitled elitists drop letters from words, call people “folks”, and reference decisions made by “American families sitting round the kitchen table” my flesh creeps. I recently saw VP Joe Biden doing the populist doo. My hands were full of hot pots (I was in an actual kitchen) and I couldn’t reach the remote in time. Move over Chucky, Pinhead, and assorted killer clowns. The nightmare of Farmer Joe is seared in my brain.

According to pundits, coolness is a major factor in this year’s presidential race. If so, Ron Paul should have done better in the primaries. He doesn’t do dialect. On the leftover front, if Mitt promises to keep droning away in characterless cadences he just might get my vote. I hate candy corn that much.

 

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When Hitchens Met Clinton/Oh What a Lovely War!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Farewell Christopher Hitchens. Gone but not forgotten. A memorial for Hitchens (he died in December) was held in late April in New York City. The New York Times announcement of the event touched on some high points of Hitchens’ career, including his 20 year stint as columnist at Vanity Fair. It also mentioned that Hitchens “had no compunction about jabbing his pen into sacred figures, like Mother Teresa, or ripe targets, like Henry Kissinger.” Not mentioned was the jab Hitchens gave President Bill Clinton. But then, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton wasn’t a jab, it was a dissection. CSI with razor wit and moral scalpel.

No One Left to Lie To was originally published in 1999. Other editions followed and– silver lining to a cloud– it’s been reissued in light of Hitchens’ death. I just read it for the first time. A word of caution; reading No One Left aloud while a passenger in a moving vehicle is extremely dangerous. (It should probably be outlawed like texting while driving.) While zooming along the Thruway recently, my husband almost swerved off the road laughing as I read Hitchens’ skewer of a scene from Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village

One morning back in 1986, Bill, Hill, and child Chelsea were sitting round the breakfast table in the Arkansas governor’s mansion. Hill was explaining to Chelsea that Daddy was going to run for governor again. Saying that if he won “we would keep living in this house and he would keep trying to help people. But first we have to have an election”. The nasty part (besides the necessity of an election) was that bad people would be telling lies about Daddy to try to stop him from being re-elected:

‘Like most parents, we had told her that it was wrong to lie, and she struggled with the idea, saying over and over, “Why would people do that?” I didn’t have an answer for that one. (I still don’t.)’

It Takes a Village was published in 1996. That Hillary was still pondering why people lie at that late date seems to support Christopher Hitchens’ perception of her as “quite devoid of reflective capacity”.

When No One Left to Lie To first appeared a major flash point was Hitchens’ assertion, which he swore to in an affidavit during the impeachment process, that Sidney Blumenthal, prominent journalist and senior advisor to Bill Clinton, tried feeding him (Hitchens) a line about Monica Lewinsky being a delusional stalker who’d been “threatening” the president. (This was before Bill’s precious bodily fluids were found on Monica’s blue dress.) Blumenthal swore under oath he said no such thing.

Incidentally– or not– the question of Blumenthal as a Clinton funnel to the press arose again during the 2008 presidential race via a rumor that Blumenthal, who was affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was leaking negative info about Barack Obama.

Sidney Blumenthal and Christopher Hitchens were professional friends. They also shared a background on the left. Hitchens was deeply disappointed in Blumenthal’s willingness to toss aside ethics and ideology in order to protect Bill Clinton. In general, Hitchens was appalled by the willingness of so many liberals to do likewise. The calculating fealty of party hacks wasn’t surprising. What bothered him profoundly were the delusions and moral evasions of those who felt that in protecting Clinton, they were protecting progressive liberalism.

The dissection of Bill (and Hill) by Hitchens in No One Left to Lie To was particularly irksome to Clinton defenders because it didn’t come from a member of the vast right wing conspiracy, but from someone who believed Clinton’s policies, foreign and domestic, betrayed liberal ideals. Hitchens also believed Bill Clinton’s political character was rotten to the core and that his sex scandals reflected that rot. Hence they were not purely personal and were open to scrutiny.

Finally, Hitchens believed the protective coloring Clinton received from the left helped him pull off the biggest lie of all; his lionization as Man of the People.

Clinton’s non-qualifications for that title are laid out extensively in No One Left. Among other things, Hitchens cited Clinton’s wag-the-dog bomb drops in Sudan and Iraq, his pandering to the middle class while whittling down welfare, and his embrace of capital punishment (in particular, his personal oversight of the execution of brain damaged Rickey Ray Rector) in order to dodge the Dukakis soft on crime bullet. Financial corruption and cronyism? No need to cover miles of familiar ground. Let’s just say Hitchens ran it down.

As for the sex scandals, Hitchens stressed abuse of power. As Arkansas attorney general and governor, and as president of the U.S., Bill Clinton consistently hit on women who were beneath him socially and susceptible to pressure. After the lovin’, Bill (and Hill) were never reluctant to go to war against inconvenient women. Enlisting official colleagues and political connections as needed.

One of the most searing sections in No One Left to Lie To deals with Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of nursing home operator Juanita Broaddrick in 1978, when Bill was Attorney General of Arkansas (the state’s chief law enforcement officer) and making his first run for governor. Hitchens lays out a convincing case for believing Broaddrick. Read it and weep. Or not.

Disclosure: In the 1970’s, I did volunteer work at several rape crisis centers. As a councilor, most of the stories I heard were totally believable. A few seemed to contain elements of falsehood. When Broaddrick first went public with her charges in 1999, I didn’t immediately assume Bill Clinton’s other scandals made him capable of rape. But after seeing Broaddrick tell her story on TV, reading pro and con accounts, and comparing her to women I’d known as a councilor, I believed her. My own experience of rape (in the 70s, most rape crisis centers were staffed by rape survivors) made that conclusion extra disturbing.

Also disturbing was how little the possibility that Broaddrick’s story was true mattered to Clinton’s defenders on the left. These were the people who were supposed to be pro-woman. Saying rape wasn’t about sex but power. Decrying the social stigma that kept women silent. Urging them to come forward, promising support and belief. Juanita Broaddrick might well have asked “Ain’t I a woman?

The chapter in No One Left titled Is There a Rapist in the Oval Office? closes with this: “the mute reception of Jaunita Broaddrick’s charges illuminates the expiring, decadent phase of American liberalism.”

Before wrapping the chapter, Christopher Hitchens had a high time describing how presidential candidate Al Gore dithered and dissembled when a woman in the audience at a 1999 campaign event asked him if he believed Juanita Broaddrick.

When Hitchens was good, he was very very good. But he did have bad hair days…

Hitchens’ anti-religious writings too often read like screeds. One picks up a whiff of obsession. And his support for the war in Iraq was rife with the same types of moral evasions he derided in Clinton’s enablers. Hitchens’ passion for truth-above-all went south. That 9/11 was used by the Bush administration as an excuse to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with the attack mattered not. If the American public was manipulated into supporting that war through lies about WMD and images of incipient mushroom clouds, the end justified the means.

This from the man who wrote Why Orwell Matters.

Which by the way, is an excellent book. And as the memory holes open around our feet, a perfect election year read.

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Cat Runs For Office In Virginia

by David Solomonoff

Former Virginia Govs. George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) now face a feline foe. Hank’s a former street cat and political independent who advocates a job creation platform and “milk in every bowl.” According to his Twitter account, Hank is also passionate about the creation of a Privacy Bill of Rights and the protection of consumer data.

Such campaigns have even been successful in the past — Bosco Ramos, a black Labrador-Rottweiler mix, served as mayor of Sunol, Calif., from 1981-1990.

via HuffPo

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Mortgage Settlement Madness!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

There have to be clowns. Without them, we might cry a river during election years. Pinching your nose while voting brings tears to the eyes of many. So send in the clowns. Or at least– a really sharp comedy.

Some clarification as to what counts as comic. The Mitt/Newt/Rick Show and MSM’s Fist Pump 4 Obama are stale. They keep working the same lines and pratfalls. Not all old shows are dullsville. The Government Real Estate Game is hoary as hell but keeps reinventing itself. The latest twist:

Mortgage Settlement Madness!

Honk-a-dollar. As in, the 25 billion of ’em coughed up by five mega lenders via the national mortgage servicer settlement. Also called the national foreclosure settlement. The lenders who hit homeowners with funky foreclosures and hence had to cough are Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally Financial Inc. Ally is the loan artist formerly known as GMAC. Why the name change? Cause “everybody needs an Ally”*.

Fun factoids about GMAC aka Ally: In 2008, the US Treasury invested $5 billion in GMAC (a sub of General Motors) from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In 2009, they added 7.5 billion, giving the government a majority stake in GMAC. In 2010, GMAC “rebranded” itself as Ally Financial Inc. By January, 2012, TARP had 12 billion invested in GMAC/Ally.

Is Ally’s slice of the mortgage settlement being served by TARP?

If so, please notify Peter he’s being robbed to pay Paul.

The Obama administration in the form of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pushed the mortgage servicer settlement; 49 state attorney generals added their heft. A few balked at first. Not enough money for my state said some. Others were bugged that the settlement scotched legal actions supposedly in the hopper. (The ultimate deal doesn’t nix actions re other bads the AGs may have discovered when investigating foreclosure abuses. Future prosecutions could still take place in the future.) New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the scariest holdout. He was in the belly of the Wall Street beast. He was gonna get them bastids!

Compassion for struggling homeowners– and quid pro quo– eventually won over the AGs. The settlement will help homeowners avoid foreclosure via various programs (insert pratfall sound effect here) and in some cases, mortgage modifications. About 750,000 victims of foreclosure fouls will receive $2000 each. No mule though.

Not all homeowners will qualify for assistance. Selections must be made. Homeowners best get busy kissing butt on their local politicized housing scene; non profit housing helpers will be guiding the mortgage settlement dispensation.

By the time the settlement makes it to local levels, there will be less to dispense. Hands at higher levels are already helping themselves.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) immediately skimmed $1 billion from the payout kicked in by Bank of America (BofA). Apparently BofA boffed the FHA with a boatload of bad loans. Poor FHA. Their taxpayer-backed loan portfolio is always giving them trouble. As for BofA, they must have really been macking around. Their part of the settlement is the heftiest.

State pols are also swarming the mortgage settlement, with governors and state reps claiming that since the busted housing bubble busted their budgets they deserve a piece of the pie.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat) wants to use almost all of his state’s $41 million cut as a budget plug. The state legislature leaders (Republican) say Yay Jay. In Pennsylvania, Dems are pushing the Republican attorney general to channel settlement funds into poverty programs. Maryland’s attorney general will give 10% of the state’s settlement cut to Governor Martin O’Malley (Democrat) and state reps “to spend as they choose”**.

Just when you think Mortgage Settlement Madness! couldn’t get any funnier, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Republican) flaps onto the stage with a plan to use $26 million of the foreclosure rescue fund to plug his budget hole. This from the Friend-Of-All-Homeowners.

It also seems funny (as in “weird”) that state attorney generals will be dispensing money to public officials from a national settlement made by major financial institutions under threat of legal action by the very same attorney generals. The AGs’ leeway to control the cash was a crucial part of the mortgage settlement deal. Overall, the settlement is an attorney general power enhancer.

An oft asked question is why the financial crash of 2008 and the massive taxpayer bailouts that ensued didn’t lead to any prosecutions of major players. One of the answers– and there are many, none of which go down easy– may be that our state attorney generals increasingly treat financial crime in high places as a power tool and revenue source rather than something to be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, out in the lesser criminal fields, the mortgage servicer settlement is sparking new grifts. According to a press release*** by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, scammers in that state are already working the “landmark settlement”. (North Carolina’s banking commissioner incidentally, will be overseeing the mortgage servicer settlement.) Calling homeowners and promising I can get you a piece of the settlement but first I’ll need your bank account number…

The Government Real Estate Game has done it again. Mortgage Settlement Madness! promises to be a comedy keeper.

*ally/Ally Financial, FAQs, Why is GMAC rebranding to Ally Financial, Inc.? 2010

**Some money from mortgage settlement to be diverted, David A. Lib, Associated Press, 02/22/12

***Watch out for sham mortgage settlement calls, AG warns, North Carolina Department of Justice, 02/22/12

 

 

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Parker’s Chill, Cuomo’s Crony Capitalism Fever

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

While down with the flu in January, I read a lot of Richard Stark. Aka Donald Westlake. A pile of volumes from Stark/Westlake’s Parker series towered on my nightstand. The adventures and misadventures of Parker, an ultra cold hearted professional thief, were the perfect antidote to fever.

The late Donald Westlake grew up in Albany, New York. When interviewed in 1995, Westlake sounded sardonic and oblique about his youth in the capital city. And while a number of books in the Parker series take place in upstate New York, Albany is never a central location*. Characters pass through it or around it. Usually in a stolen car.

In Backflash (Mysterious Press, 1998) Albany as the seat of state government is central to the plot, yet few scenes are set in the city. A complex heist and series of murders are put in motion by Hilliard Cathman, a retired fiscal planner for the state. Cathman whiles away his retiree time as a public policy consultant with a low rent office near the “huge dark stone pile of the statehouse”. He is, as Parker puts it, one of the “camp followers of state government”.

Due to his opposition to legalized gambling, Cathman is an unsuccessful camp follower. His potential clients in legislative places are eager to tap into a major new source of revenue; Cathman won’t give them his consultant stamp of approval. His objections to gambling are arguable but reasonable. But as Parker suspects, Cathman’s ego investment in being proven right has become unbalanced.

To prove his premise that gambling draws crime, Cathman recruits Parker to rob a riverboat casino that’s being allowed to ply the Hudson between Albany and Poughkeepsie as a limited-time experiment. The casino’s political backers hope the experiment proves so successful as to open the door to gambling statewide. As a fiscal planner for the state, Cathman was privy to inside info about the casino’s security arrangements, etc. He feeds the info to Parker and his crew. They successfully pull the heist.

As usual in a Parker book, there are numerous slips twixt cup and lip. Most caused by the greed and stupidity of pilot fish swarming the haul. But the wildest card in the set-up is Cathman. In a final confrontation in Cathman’s home in Delmar (an Albany suburb popular with state employees) Parker discovers just how far round the bend Cathman has gone– and that he has a self-aggrandizing plan which if allowed to play out will doom Parker.

How many times do regular citizens make the same discovery about policy planners? Parker is Everyman!

Speaking of planners with killer bees in their bonnets…

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is big on forging more public-private partnerships as engines of state economic development. He said so in his Executive Budget speech on January 17th. (While sick I read non-fiction fiction as well as the real stuff.)

Yes indeed. More crony capitalism will cure New York’s economic ills. And Anna Nicole Smith needed bigger breast implants.

New York is crony capitalism central. The quadruple D example? The public-private partnership of Wall Street and Washington that pumped the housing bubble and sank the economy beneath a mountain of dodgy mortgage-backed investment paper. As assistant secretary and then secretary of HUD from 1993 to 2001, Andrew Cuomo helped steer housing policy when the bubble started swelling and the paper flying. Cuomo’s HUD policies included pushing “a reform that allowed Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac) to receive affordable-housing credit for buying private subprime mortgage-backed securities”**.

HUD was also the parent organization of OFHEO (Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight), the agency then charged with oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. OFHEO, under Cuomo and other HUD heads, resisted efforts to change Fannie and Freddie’s murky and ultimately disastrous public-private status.

By the time the bubble popped, Andrew Cuomo was New York State Attorney General. In 2007, Attorney General Cuomo announced that in light of the pop, he was launching an investigation into “industry-wide mortgage fraud”. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were prime targets. In a letter to Freddie Mac Cuomo implied that Fan and Fred had colluded with lenders to profit from mortgages based on inflated appraisals. In a matter of months, Cuomo’s investigation dissolved into a payout of $24 million from Fannie and Freddie. No admittance of wrongdoing required. The fraud problem was found to lay mainly with– and could be corrected at– the appraisal level.

Fannie and Freddie’s payout went to establishing the Independent Valuations Protection Institute. The institute, with board members approved by Andrew Cuomo, would monitor lenders for compliance with a new Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) authored by Cuomo. Though merely a state attorney general, Cuomo’s national clout re appraisal policy was enhanced by support for the code from OFHEO, the agency overseeing Fannie and Freddie.

In the bubble years many appraisers complained about being pressured by lenders to inflate values. Yet equally large numbers hate the reform Cuomo engineered. Some claim he had a conflict of interest when establishing HVCC.

Starting in 2004 and until becoming NY attorney general, Cuomo was chairman of the board of advisors at Appraisal Management Company (AMCO) a Cleveland-based private “independent valuations solutions company” doing business with national lenders. AMCO, a subsidiary of Worldwide Outsource Solutions Ltd., had a board full of HUD; including former HUD secretary Jack Kemp (under Bush 1) and assistant secretary William Apgar (under Clinton). Edward J. Davidson (Ed Davidson), CEO and board chairman of AMCO and Worldwide Outsource, has been a consultant for Fannie Mae.

In October, 2004, Cuomo, Kemp and Apgar told reporters at the Mortgage Bankers Association annual convention that “the integrity of the appraisal process has broken down”. American Banker described the presentation as “part admonishment of lenders, part sales pitch for a vendor”.***

In March, 2005, Cuomo, Davidson, Kemp and Apgar, in a letter on AMCO stationary, pressed OFHEO’s drirector, Armando Falcon, to have a “totally independent source” review the loans within Fannie and Freddie’s “securities field”.

In February 2006, AMCO issued a press release applauding board member Andrew Cuomo’s support for the newly formed non-profit Appraisal Advocacy Coalition. According to Inman News (a real estate publication), the coalition’s missions included protecting appraisers from “unfair competition“.

Maybe HVCC was a much needed reform. Note “was”. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is slated to end HVCC. (Then again, it may just be whittled down. Appraisers fear that the reports of HVCC’s death are greatly exaggerated.)

Discerning the true motives of public-private players can be tough. When on the public side, they so often launch investigations and reforms that obfuscate obfuscate obfuscate. I say keep the public public and the private private. It makes the game easier to call.

When Governor Andrew Cuomo touts public-private partnerships as the path to NY economic development, a sizable majority of New Yorkers get starry eyed. Not I.  It took more than the housing bubble and its bad paper and players to make me an unbeliever. Viewing New York’s public-private deal maker, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC or ESD), in action has also been instructive…

See corruption and wishful thinking meet and marry! See billions in public money tossed at elephantine projects that come to naught! See ginormous tax breaks produce handfuls of jobs in depressed regions! And oh yeah– see small property owners get dispossessed at the behest of powerful developers. Rampent eminent domain abuse being one of the rottenest of New York’s public-private fruits.

Next up in the fruit bowl: Governor Cuomo’s plan for a massive Las Vegas style casino in New York City. Most likely at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The casino would be built by the Genting Group of Malaysia. (They already run slots at Aqueduct.) To enhance the project, the state would erect “the largest convention center in the nation”  nearby. And get this; the casino could put all of New York State on “an inside track to expanded gambling”.

I just hope nobody tries to chill the project with a Parker.

As for Cuomo, his crony capitalism fever keeps rising. In late January, corporate campaign donors with their eyes on infrastructure prizes paid $50,000 each to sit next to Cuomo on a panel at a national Democratic Governors Association conference. The confab, which was held in Manhattan, was hosted by Governor Cuomo. No press or public allowed.

Sometimes it pays to go private.

 

* “I’ll leave Albany to Bill Kennedy. He’s found a lot more there to write about than I did.”  Mystery Man award-winning novelist Donald Westlake remembers his Albany haunts, Paul Grondahl, Albany Times Union, 10/21/95

** Cuomo’s HUD career under scrutiny, Buffalo News, 08/21/10

***Fears about Appraisals, and Other MBA Buzz, Jody Shenn, American Banker, 10/27/04

 

 

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