Sunday, November 29, 2020

If Voltaire called shotgun.

 I often think about the notion of "aristocracy", comparing what we think of it in historical terms and what is required to 'qualify' for that status now. We don't have a structural class system that might include 'the nobility', but how might that compare to societies of the past that did?

I don't know where the title of 'marquis' fit in the grand scheme of French nobility, but that was the title that Voltaire held until his death.  Voltaire may have been an anagram of AROVET LI, the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of le jeune ("the young"). According to a family tradition among the descendants of his sister, he was known as le petit volontaire ("determined little thing") as a child, and he resurrected a variant of the name in his adult life.

What if Voltaire (or le Chevalier de St. George) were in the passenger seat of the Nissan Leaf I was driving tonight? What if, instead of handing the wad of bills I gave to the girl panhandling under the overpass of 45, it was Jean Valjean? What if it was Rousseau or Voltaire that I picked up? Imagine Voltaire in an electric car in 2020. Not only is it freakily quiet, but the torque will throw your head to hit the headrest if the ECO mode isn't on.  65 mph is probably 3 times faster than a carriage ever carried Voltaire anywhere - and that would have involved at least 2 horses and a carriage that would have rattled the cobblestones. My Leaf would seem like a spaceship to anyone from 200 years ago. 

I calmly took the ramp that takes me over Parmer (at 65 mph) when Carol called (interrupting the "Chainsmokers with ColdPlay" Our conversation would have sounded foreign - even if he understood English:

(C) - What was the size of filter I was supposed to get?"

(R) - I got them at Wal-Mart.

(C) - So you don't know.

(R) - It's 18 by 24 and I got them at Wal-Mart.

(C) - OK, bye.

This conversation came over the car's audio system as I was taking the off-ramp at 100 kilometers/hour and changing lanes. 

What would a "nobleman" - a member of the aristocracy from 200 years ago, have thought of these few seconds which, to me, could have been totally mundane? Would I have appeared as some sort of advanced alien?

We have electric appliances that can do the work of several servants from years ago. We have unbelievably easy access to information that was unknown even 100 years ago. We are all taller, stronger, healthier, more technologically advanced than kings of old.  

All that, of course, leads to a consideration of the nature of wealth. If 'wealth' is relative, then what is its relativity compared to? Is my wealth compared only to my contemporaneous peers, or could it be compared with my 'relative' peers from centuries past?

Did King Louis XIV ever talk to his queen through wireless communication in his carriage, travelling at a speed faster than 100 horses could have carried him? Did that king have the ability to control the temperature, humidity, and cleanliness of his castles? Was that king capable of learning Mandarin Chinese without hiring a tutor?

How much richer am I than the richest mother fucker 200 years ago? Put that into perspective for a second.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Spies Like US

Whether you're a fan of the HBO series "The Americans" or not, it's relevant to know what true story it's actually based on.  This story is not ancient history - this happened in 2010.

This is the mug shot of "Anna Chapman"
Anna Chapman was a Russian intelligence agent who was arrested in the United States on June 27, 2010 as part of the Illegals Program spy ring.  She and the other Russians were deported to Russia on 8 July 2010, as part of the 2010 Russia–U.S. prisoner swap.

Since her return to Russia, Chapman has become a media personality and model and has worked in a variety of fields, including for the government as head of a youth council, a catwalk model in Russian fashion shows, and running a television series.
The Illegals Program (so named by the United States Department of Justice) was a network of Russian sleeper agents under non-official cover. An investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) culminated in the arrest of ten agents on June 27, 2010, and a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States on July 9, 2010.

The ten sleeper agents were charged with "carrying out long-term, 'deep-cover' assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation."

These were 10 who were caught.  It's unknown how many more were involved or may still be involved.  However, simply in terms of ROI (Return On Investment), it was a highly ineffective program.  The spies were bumbling (like the movie), were bored, and weren't returning much intelligence.  Keep in mind, though, that Russia did not just give up on espionage.  They simply found better, more effective methods.

Friday, November 22, 2019

How do you solve a problem like Marie Ya-?

So, did you ever wonder why Marie Yovanovich was suddenly removed as ambassador to Ukraine?  
Do you remember these two whom the FBI arrested last month?

Parnas and Fruman, two members of President Donald Trump’s legal team, were arrested for campaign-finance violations while apparently trying to flee the country. According to the indictment, Parnas and Fruman allegedly laundered money through a pro-Trump 2020 political action committee while lobbying for the removal of US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch—who was indeed removed in May.

Parnas and Fruman started a new natural gas venture and were trying to swing a deal with Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state run oil and gas company, where they would export liquefied natural gas.  Naftogaz wasn’t interested, not least because Parnas and Fruman had no experience in the energy industry.  So Parnas and Fruman started to push for Naftogaz to change its board, replacing executives with ones who would go along with their schemes.  While they were doing that, Rich Perry was trying to get one of his favorites installed on the same board. 

The board of Naftogaz is controlled by the Ukrainian president, and has a number of seats filled by representatives from the U.S. and the EU (to prevent corruption).  To get their deal, they needed to change the board, specifically the US members of the board. In order to do that, they needed the Ukrainian president and the US government to agree, especially the US ambassador, Yovanovich. But Yovanovich is a professional diplomat whose role was to fight corruption in Ukraine, not promote it.  She opposed their plan.  So, Parnas and Fruman plotted to get her removed.  

Lutsenko worked with Parnas and Fruman  to get Yovanovich removed.  To push this plan, they had several meetings with Pete Sessions, lobbying him for Yovanovich’s removal.  Sessions wrote the letter to the Trump administration that started the smear campaign against Yovanovich. What did Sessions stand to gain from that (besides money?)

Remember where Parnas and Fruman were going (with one-way tickets) when they got arrested.  Remember that Giuliani was heading there soon afterwards.  Who is under arrest and out on bail in Geneva, fighting extradition to the US? 
Trump has already begun trying to distance himself from Parnas and Fruman, telling reporters he doesn’t know the two men who’ve taken photos with him dating back to at least 2014dined with his son, and worked closely with his personal lawyer on the president’s personal project. But with Giuliani reportedly under investigation as well for his business with the duo, it’s clear that Trump won’t be able to run away from the evidence of his corruption for long.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Know your Russia sanctions

As the impeachment inquiry continues, I think it's important to understand what these sanctions are all about.  Why? Because if you know WHAT Putin really doesn't like and really wants removed, you may start to understand WHY someone is pushing for some of the things he's pushing for. 

It is not my intention here to sway anyone's opinion, but rather to inform with background information.  I trust in our ability to continue to use our logic and judgement.

2012 - The  Magnitsky Act - sanctions on those who have committed human rights abuses.

March 2014 - for the invasion of Crimea -  sanctions, including travel bans and the freezing of U.S. assets.  Russia kicked out of G8.

April 2014 - for the invasion of Ukraine - Europe suspended the Russia's voting rights. The U.S. imposed a ban on business transactions on 7 Russian officials, including Igor Sechin, chairman of Rosneft (Russian state oil company).

July 2014 - for shooting down the Malaysian airliner - the U.S. bans all transactions with two major Russian energy firms, Rosneft and Novatek.

December 2016 - for election interference - sanctions on Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to Paul Manafort, from the U.S. financial system for being part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

August 2019 - for attempting to assassinate Skripal and daughter on U.K. soil - US banks are now banned from providing loans to Russia, and Washington will also be opposing any loan extension to Moscow by international institutions.

If you want, I challenge you to research for yourself any of the following:

  • Who is advocating for Russia to be readmitted to the G8?
  • Who is trying to give Crimea to Russia?
  • Who is promoting the notion that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 elections?
  • Who benefits from any of these things happening?  Which of these are in the U.S. interest?  Which of these are in Russia's interest?

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Trump's personal lawyer in Ukraine

Yes, but not that one.  It seems this "drug deal" with Giuliani isn't the first time Trump's personal lawyer has been involved with politics in Ukraine.  In 2017, Michael Cohen was meddling in much the same way and in exactly the same role as Trump's personal lawyer.

Take a look at this New York Times article from February 2017.  Also note the context of two critical phrases in it:

  • "...The amateur diplomats..."
  • "...the diplomatic freelancing..."

When Trump became president, Poroshenko was president of Ukraine.  President Obama had imposed sanctions against Russia for invading eastern Ukraine.  Putin and all pro-Russian actors really wanted those to be removed.

A week before Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser, Cohen hand-delivered a sealed proposal to his office, outlining a way for Trump to lift sanctions against Russia by establishing peace with Ukraine.  If Russia and Ukraine were no longer technically at war, then there would be no need for sanctions.  All they wanted in return was for Lutsenko to drop the Ukranian investigation into Paul Manafort.

Cohen has a personal connection to Ukraine: He is married to a Ukrainian woman and once worked with relatives there to establish an ethanol business.

Before the plan could be considered, Flynn was forced to resign and was convicted of lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. It was Comey's refusal to drop the investigation against Flynn that prompted Trump to fire him, bragging about it the day after with the same Russian ambassador that Flynn had been talking to.  At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

"The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. 'Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?' Mr. Cohen asked."

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.

While it is unclear if the White House will take the proposal seriously, the diplomatic freelancing has infuriated Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, said Mr. Artemenko “is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government, including the U.S. administration.”

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You're E. Lutsenko

The Ukranian Prosecutor General that Giulani would have been talking to was Yuryi Lutsenko, who got the office after Shokin resigned.  Lutsenko did not agree to revisit the investigations into the Burisma, which is probably why Trump asked Zelensky to put Shokin back in.

Watch this short interview -

Ex-Ukraine Prosecutor Says He Spoke With Rudy Giuliani 'Maybe 10 Times'

Something is said in the first 30 seconds of that segment.  A Prosecutor General with "no legal training"?  Well, not exactly.  Lutsenko does have some "legal experience" in that he was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office while he was Interior Minister. He was pardoned in 2013 by Viktor Yanukovych.

In 2016, the Ukranian parliament appointed Lutsenko Prosecutor General of Ukraine, but only after it passed legislation allowing a person to hold the office without a law degree. He had been demanding this position since 2007.

This is the Prosecutor who claimed that Marie Yovanovich gave him a "do not prosecute" list, a claim he later retracted. 
Ukrainian Prosecutor General admits that US ambassador did not give him 'do not prosecute' list

Lutsenko resigned from office in late August, but like many who get into business with Trump, he is now (and again) facing legal troubles.
Ukraine opens case against former prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko

Friday, November 15, 2019

Some Shokin revelations

Prosecutors in Ukraine have been infamous for using the state’s power to investigate crimes, then demanding a payoff from the target, and closing the case.

Viktor Shokin was the Prosecutor General of Ukraine under president Poroshenko.

In March 2016 Shokin's office carried out a raid against one of Ukraine's leading anti-corruption groups, the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC), a critic of Shokin, claiming that it had misappropriated aid money. In another notorious case, two of Shokin's prosecutors were caught with stashes of diamonds, as bribery. When other prosecutors from another department of Shokin's office attempted to bring a prosecution against the so-called "diamond prosecutors", they were fired or reassigned.

Trump endorses Ukraine's swamp monster, prosecutor Viktor Shokin

In 2016, Shokin's immediate deputy, Vitaly Kasko resigned from his post, describing his boss' "hotbed of corruption."

Trump called this ex-Ukrainian prosecutor ‘very good.’ But he resigned in disgrace.

“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair.  A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.”