Tuesday, December 31, 2019

An Investment Bank, Too Good to be True?

Goldman Sachs announced that it will henceforth decline to finance Arctic oil drilling in the National Wildlife Preserve. [Pretty weak way to say “We won’t drill for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve!”] They do get a little credit for the part of the announcement regarding mountain-top removal mining, where they will also decline that opportunity.

Before you applaud too loudly — Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, and UniCredit were way ahead of Goldman Sachs in the investment responsibility line. As well, the (infamous) US investment house may still finance fracking and oil tar sands operations elsewhere. For them, fossil fuels are still alive.

You may remember Goldman Sachs from the 2007-2008 financial crisis which was precipitated by sub-prime mortgage financing and associated monkey business. That and the credit default swaps and exotic derivatives trading.

Lloyd Blankfein was the CEO of Goldman Sachs then. He took phone calls from and gave advice to the Secretary of the Treasury (and President?).  Lloyd B said he was just a banker doing God’s work.

If you think that the shenanagins of the sub-prime mortgages are over and Wall Street has turned over an ethical leaf, better think again. They are just more sophisticated and less transparent about it. Derivatives are still flying high. There are hedge funds and off-shore accounts. Now, with advanced computer technology and artificial intelligence, there is (very) high-frequency computer trading. There are still swaps, knock-out options, vulture options, and even plain vanilla options. The exchange of puts and calls is still on the basis of price agreement between buyer and seller which the SEC can’t keep records of, nor can the IRS can tax directly. 

It took all those years for the Securities and Exchange Commission to file a successful suit in federal court against Goldman Sachs and collect damages to the tune of $5 billion plus an admission that it defrauded its own investors in the process.

The players on Wall Street meanwhile are still playing games (but not with their own money). Even progressive Congress-people, both Democrats and Republicans, won’t propose that a tax be assessed on the exchange of money in these transactions. Yet, a tiniest Financial Transaction Tax [call it a Fee] would add up to enough money to pay for a) Medicare for All Without Deductibles and b) Totally Free CollegeBooks and All.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Just Practicing

Predictions of rising sea levels due to the melting of the Polar ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet have plenty of science and technology behind them. Not even Donald Trump can deny NASA’s S-D satellite images.

Well, according to an article in Nature Communications, the satellite images were at first misinterpreted, and the expected flooding will be far, far worse than anyone ever expected. Corrections in the new NASA data are now predicting extensive flooding around the World — Southeast Asia, Australia, Florida, and even the UK. 

One of the solutions proposed for the rapidly rising seas and the flooding of low-lying cities is to build massive walls around these cities and population centers.  Perhaps Donald Trump is showing great foresight when he is building a wall at our southern border. Practice makes perfect — for sooner than 2050. He also may be anticipating a large amount of climate-driven migration. Maybe the practice wall he is building will serve two purposes.

One of the mysteries in the Donald’s thinking is why his Southern White House is at Mar-a-Lago, where he often entertains foreign Heads of State.  Mar-a-Lago is on a barrier island at Palm Beach and so vulnerable to flooding that it can go underwater with the next hurricane.  Is his enigmatic nature the reason why he’s President?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

More Ways to Doomsday

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just reset the Doomsday Clock at Two Minutes to Midnight, having added Climate Chaos to the previous Nuclear Weapons danger to Mother Earth.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has been on a campaign interviewing presidential candidates on their support for a no-first-use nuclear policy. They have also polled the general public who have shown broad support for a no-first-use nuclear policy. [John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have refused to take part in any of the polls, but we know their policy.] The UCS have just printed the Fall issue of Catalyst which is self congratulatory concerning the land, sea, and air based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles).

But, now a new class of new nuclear weapons has entered the picture, and the Two Minutes to Midnight may have to be further lowered to One Minute. The new danger is the Intermediate Range Nuclear Missiles — from 500 to 5500 kilometers. An INF treaty was signed in 1987 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Now, many nations have the missiles that can reach that shortened distance and are becoming capable of arming them with nuclear warheads. Except, there is no longer a U.S.S.R. and there is no sense of anything rational going on in the White House.

The Fall issue of UCS’s Catalyst has attracted readers with an interview of Richard Garwin whose illustrious life spans over 90 years and has more awards than anyone and everyone. How many people have worked with Enrico Fermi and with Hans Bethe? Garwin also collaborated with Edward Teller — not a proud moment in his career. But anything to attract readers.

So why are Russia and China refusing to enter an INF Treaty. The US is connected in both instances. With Russia it’s politics, and with China it involves dollars as well as politics. NATO has been playing footsie with Ukraine (historically, in Russia’s sphere of influence also the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home base in the Crimea, which geographically is part of Ukraine. The bottom line was the election of President Zelensky, who is not a politician but an actor and comedian. Wonder what Ronald Reagan would have to say about a Slavic “acting president”.

So Russia agreed with the withdrawal of the US from the INF Treaty and in return started to arm its Middle Range Missiles.  Politics as ever since the 19th century Crimean War. 

China, with its long history of Opium Wars, never got over the withdrawal of Taiwan from Mainland China. [It was ceded to Britain as a Crown Colony in the mid 1800s.] It was eventually agreed that it would revert to Chinese rule in 1997. In between, other changes took place: It was declared part of the Qing Empire, and after the Sino-Japanese war was ruled by Japan. When Chaing Ki-shek fled the mainland in the face of overwhelming forces of Mao Tse-tung, Chaing established martial law, which was finally lifted after many years.

Taiwan is known as the Republic of China to many residents of the island; and is a province of Mainland China to The Peoples’ Republic. Chinese INF Nuclear Missiles don’t threaten the US but target every square meter of Taiwan. And, Walmart and the big Box stores do a brisk business with mainland China.

Americans generally support the military, but Supporting the Troops has little to do with paying millions and billions to military contractors who include the likes of: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics (Major General?), Raytheon, Grumman, Boeing, BAE, and BlackWater Services.

Let’s stop calling it the “Defense” industry. Then, it’s high time for the US to take the lead and re-establish the INF Treaty. We can bribe and otherwise strong arm lesser powers to sign it also — UK, France, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran [you can call them Persia], Brazil, Argentina, and the Seychelles Islands. It would be just like the Pact of Paris [or Kellogg Briand Treaty] when WILPF led the way through the Outlawry movement. [WILPF is still active, though Jane Addams its founder and Nobel Peace Laureate is not alive.]  Let WILPF nominate Gadfly for a Nobel Peace Prize for this latest essay.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Challenging Authority


Ever since Ancient Greece and Rome — perhaps Akkadian times, too, with the poetry of Enheduanna, the poet-daughter of Sargon the Great — authority has been blessed by challengers.

Even the name, Gadfly, originated with Socrates who corrupted the youth of Athens. Then, the playwright, Aristophanes, added that literary discipline to the compendium of satire.

Satire more recently crossed the Channel to Ireland and Britain with Jonathan Swift, and then in England (and the world) with Punch magazine. Political cartoons found a niche, and reached their height by making fun of JMW Turner, the pre-Impressionist British artist. Now, political cartoons appear on the editorial pages of many newspapers on both sides of the Pond.

GADFLY started recently in the US in the time of the Iraq War when the infamous liar called Curveball told Dick Cheney what he wanted to hear regarding weapons of mass destruction. As an add on, the (Vice) president told us that Saddam Hussein was friends with Al Qaeda. Neither was true.

A series of Letters to the Editor from Milanville followed, and soon after, The GADFLY column appeared in three different local newspapers in the Delaware Valley. Dick Cheney continued to supply raw material for GADFLY, and Donald Rumsfeld added a few select gems. More recently, GADFLY started its own blog:  gadflysmiling.blogspot.com.  

By the time The Donald assumed the Presidency, GADFLY held over 150 column with no end in sight, most of them as relevant as ever. GADFLY plans to continue to teach using the Socratic method of questioning, but has no plans to partake of hemlock

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Walls and Fences



The Gadfly Research & Revelry Gang (GRR) has heard that the White House is composing a Tweet to announce a new position: a Retroactive Poet Laureate and will name Robert Frost to the post. It seems President Trump read the last line of Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, [“Good fences make good neighbors”] and decided that Frost would be the first Ex Post Facto Poet Laureate.

Never mind that Mending Wall starts with “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and a little further asks “What am I walling in or walling out?” Frost answers the question with, “My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.”

But, President Trump is better known for creating his alternative facts than in reading a poem from beginning to end.

Neither is The Donald known to be a student of history. But someone ought to remind him that the Mexican-American war was about as shameful as the Vietnam or Iraq Wars. We literally stole one-third of the territory of Mexico. President James Polk invoked the principle of Manifest Destiny, as if taking anyone else's land could ever be a principle of anything but robbery. Then, to show that it was just a real estate deal, he signed peace treaty with a Mexican name, Guadalupe Hidalgo, and paid Mexico $15 million. $15 million even then was a fire (arms) sale for the entire US SouthWest — most of Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Texas was another whole story. It was a deal to make Trump proud.

The only ones to benefit from walls and fences seem to be the satirists and the poets. 

A recent Letter to the Editor expands the topic a little:
Asylum or Sanctuary?
The first a legal status derived
from working judges.  The second,
history and hallowed ground to set rules.

Let The Donald fire me.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Donald Trump — For All the Wrong Reasons


Only a few reasons are out there when it comes to why Donald Trump does anything. Pretty women, fame, and fortune seem to top the short list. Some say there are few if any others, but if we look at the international scene, he is ahead of even progressive Democrats. 

First, he made friends with Vladimir Putin (formerly of the KGB). Was it to end the Cold War? A Trump Tower in Moscow as an International Conference Center is more likely. The two leaders would prefer Peace Treaty conferences moved from Geneva to Moscow, each for their own reasons. Putin would like to restore Russia to its leadership role under the Czars. Trump would just like to shake things up, add to his rent rolls, and provide a venue for a formal Peace Treaty with North Korea and a subsequent Nobel Peace Prize for himself. Trump a Peace Laureate?

He’s been working on it. He has already held talks with Kim Jong Un on turning the Cease Fire of 1953 into a real Peace Treaty. To show that he means it, he has unilaterally cancelled the annual War Games the US has been holding with (not against) the South Korean military. Kim Jong Un has already said he would dismantle his nuclear works once a formal Peace Treaty is signed with the US. The best the two sides have been able to achieve since the 1953 Cease Fire has been a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, is all for rapprochement. In the Inter-Korean summit Talks of April 2018 he and Kim signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification of the Korean Peninsula. So who is against a Permanent Peace Treaty? Maybe only John Bolton (of the white mustache), the perennial war hawk.

For Trump, a Nobel Peace Prize would also add a cool $1 million to his coffers. And, who knows of the unexpected opportunities that may come up. The last model Peace Treaty was signed between Tibet and China in 821 CE (AD). In the Treaty, the Kings were given all due respect — the Kings were referred to as the Great King of China and the Great King of Tibet, the Miraculous Divine Lord. Such titles would surely suit The Donald. 

All well and good, but Trump may have painted himself into a corner with his Border Wall to keep illegal immigrants out. The Gadfly Revelry & Research Team met to discuss the matter, and found a way out for one who can change his mind when it suits him.

US Law states that any immigrant with a green card or any other color may appeal for Sanctuary. Indeed, many of the immigrants from Central America — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and others — have come to the US to escape danger, persecution or deep poverty. The Pilgrims,four centuries ago, came for religious freedom.

The R&R Team suggests that Donald just re-purpose the Wall. He can start by renaming it the Diego Rivera Wall in memory of the early 20th century Mexican muralist. Anyone who worked with such large scale frescoes would surely be attractive to Trump who was an artist in his own right. [The Art of the Deal.] 

In fact, such a tradition already exists in Honesdale PA. the county seat of conservative Wayne County.  The Great Wall of Honesdale displays large format paintings and attracts many artists.  

So, for the right reasons or wrong, if Donald Trump can bring Peace, end the Cold War, reunite North and South Korea, and welcome immigrants (artists and others) we can give him credit for such worthy achievements. The Donald will have made America Great again.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Model Peace Treaty



A Model Peace Treaty

In these days of “Shock & Awe” bombing of the capital of a country (Baghdad) by another country across the sea (the US);  the bombing by pilotless drones, based on rumor;  and the assassination of the leader of one country (Gaddafi of Libya) by a consortium of military appointees (NATO) — the World is in desperate need of a Model Peace Treaty. 

As it happens, in 821 CE, the Kingdoms of China and Tibet were wise enough to offer civilization such a Model Peace Treaty that would last for 10,000 years.

First, they were respectful, addressing each other by their proper tiles: “The Great King of Tibet, the Miraculous Divine Lord, and the Great King of China, Hwang-ti”. They seemed to know that we might need such a treaty or two in the 21st century, and so engraved a stone pillar in both languages at the Cathedral at Lhasa, “to inform future ages and generations that they extend their benevolence impartially with the single desire of acting for the peace and benefit of all their subjects. They agree on the high purpose of ensuring lasting good, and have made this great treaty to live in peace and share the blessings of happiness for 10,000 years.”

The Great Kings also instructed that messengers be sent to exchange messages of friendship regarding the harmonious relationship between the two Kings. The envoys were instructed to treat each other with honor and respect.

They also had expectations that the people of both Tibet and China would follow the example of their leaders, that “the very word ‘enemy’ shall not be spoken.”

Surely, there are leaders of nations today who are more interested in respect and in their legacy than in ordinary money, perhaps in 10,000 years of Peace.