Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top TILIS posts of 2014

The following list is not exactly precise, since all-powerful Google's Blogger platform doesn't give me an easy way to count for the year, but more or less, these were my most popular posts of 2014. Gratifyingly, many were not simply re-posts, but were hardcore analysis by moi, Mr. JT.

So here goes, in chronological order:

"VIDEO: Russians interrogate female pilot captured INSIDE UKRAINE (subtitles)" -- I'M STILL SURPRISED HOW POPULAR THIS RE-POST HAS BEEN.

Granted, a large number of my posts this year were about Ukraine and Russia, and that's no accident, since yours truly speaks Russian and Ukrainian and has had some very personal experience there. I thought that my East-meets-West perspective was lacking in the U.S. blogosphere and could perhaps help others to understand what was happening there.

Case in point, back home I even gave a half-hour seminar to the local Tea Party group about the crisis in Ukraine! They were attentive, polite and grateful. And I kept it to the facts, ma'am, no Obama or lib'rul bullcrap.

That said, here are a few posts that I enjoyed and wished had received more attention:


Happy New Year, everybody!

A Year That Did Truly Suck

2014 sucked. That's pretty much the consensus. Here's an (incomplete) list why, in no particular order:

> Russia attempted to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi and dark comedy ensued... 

> ...Including Russia's re-drawing Europe's borders for the first time since World War II (HA! HA! Who's laughing now, decadent West!)

> Commercial airplanes were shot down (with no repercussions), or just disappeared without a trace. 

Global warming is definitely happening and it's probably unrealistic to do anything about it now.

> Foreign tax inversions to avoid U.S taxes officially became a cool "thing" in the corporate world.

> Old wars became young and bloody again in Syria and Iraq.

> Ebola scared the shit out of us -- no deaths though -- and killed from 5 to 15 thousand of them, over there, where they tend to be scared less and die more.

> ISIS / ISIL / Islamic State / Daesh / Those Crazy Murderers In Two Countries Where Lots of People Get Murdered.

> It became news to us (but not to them, or the people they've been shooting) that U.S. police can shoot just about anybody and get away with it.

> Although the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent of the labor force in November 2014, the lowest since July 2008, the labor force participation rate (i.e. excluding those too young, old, sick or beaten down by failure to work) is still below 63 percent; and wages were up only 2 percent for the year.

> Congress did not raise the minimum wage, again.

Voter ID laws are still in effect (mainly in the South) and still doing what they're intended to do: suppress youth and minority votes.

> Red Lobster (a fav of ur's truly) became an economic bellwether instead of that place with the cheesy biscuits.

> We found out (but weren't really surprised) that up to 18 percent of NCAA revenue sports athletes read like children.

> We discovered that sandwich makers earning minimum wage are being asked to sign non-compete agreements.

> We found out the CIA is filled with sadistic, sicko torturers (and their defenders) who are nonetheless incompetent.

> The GOP held onto the House and took over the Senate.

> The GOP put taxpayers on the hook in the amount of $300 trillion in bailouts for Wall Street's derivatives bets.

> U.S. corporations are even more, uh, endowed with personhood than ever.

> Likewise, robots (AI) continued their exponential Moore's-rate progress toward enslaving humanity... or just taking all humanity's jobs.

> Still no federal prosecutions of Wall Street banks that committed securities fraud, wire fraud, perjury during Congressional testimony.... (Thanks, Obama and Eric Holder)

> Stephen Colbert put to rest The Colbert Report -- and worse -- his genius farcical Bill O'Reilly persona.

> Dick Cheney managed to stay alive -- and stay on FOX -- for another year.

Did I miss anything?

2014 sucked for conservatives as well. I hear their whining so I know. Yet few of these will sound like victories to liberals (and notice that most involve Obama):

> Obamacare remains the law of the land (because the federal government remains funded).

> 44 states have adopted Common Core standards.

> Obama escaped an impeachment vote on (take your pick).

> The Keystone XL pipeline is still not approved.

> Obama remains extremely popular abroad.

> Uppity blacks (no, they don't use that adjective anymore!) protested and rioted about police all over the country and didn't seem to be punished for it.

> The Tea Parties' power in the GOP diminished and the Establishment came back.

> The gay marriage steamroller is unstoppable.

> Obama's Ebola "czar" wasn't qualified to thwart an Ebola epidemic that wasn't coming anyway.

> Obama granted "amnesty" to approx. 11 million illegals.

> Unlike the last guy, this Pope is a flaming lib.

> Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder got to leave his job at the time and manner of his own choosing.

> Obama tightened rules for US coal power plants and made a deal with China on greenhouse gas emissions.

> And all of Obama's other "tyrannical" executive orders (yeah, you know the ones, don't get me started).

> White conservatives lost their best black spokesman for personal responsibility among African-American males when it was revealed he was a serial rapist. (On the other side, liberals lost a great stand-up comedian).

> The latest (the 10th?) GOP Congressional report on Benghazi! did not conclude that Hillary Clinton murdered those four Americans with her bare hands.

> And Hillary seems like an unbeatable juggernaut in 2016 when compared to (insert RINO or TP wacko's name here).

2014 sucked for me as well. Maybe the worst year ever. For instance, being unemployed for most of it. Of course there are always silver linings, silver linings...

Begone and good riddance, 2014!  2015, you'll have to try really hard to suck worse. Talk to you next year, folks!

Taibbi: NYPD protests by making arrests 'only when they have to'?!

Before you jump with a knee-jerk reaction in defense of the NYPD because they saved the universe on 9/11, you should keep in mind that "... the protesting [NYC] police have decided to make arrests "only when they have to." (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds)."

Yeah, think about that. Isn't that how we want police to do their job all the time?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Khodorkovsky on Western sanctions, Putin's prospects

I'm pretty sympathetic to most of erstwhile oligarch Khodorkovsky's arguments about Western-Russian relations. Even regarding the harm of economic sanctions. Yet the sad truth is that, barring sanctions, the West has no real way to influence the Kremlin besides military force. 

Sanctions that hurt the Russian people, who could be looked upon as captives of an authoritarian Putin regime, are a kind of evil, let's not deny that. But they are a lesser evil than: 1) doing nothing, i.e. appeasing the use of military conquest in Europe, and the scary consequences that unopposed aggression could bring, or 2) open military conflict, up to and including World War III.

The most hopeful statement in Khodorkhovsky's piece is his prediction that Putin's regime won't last more than 10 more years. But what kind of regime will follow it?  Unfortunately, the czarist-Stalinist-Putinist template has worked in Russian history, and no other template has. A peaceful, Western-integrated Russia would have to establish a new paradigm, and that would be very difficult without some kind of political or societal revolution in Russia. And revolutions are scary, unpredictable things, especially in a psychologically scarred, brain-drained, isolated and economically depressed country like Russia.

By Mikhail Khodorkovsky
December 11, 2014 | Huffington Post

Where were the Tea Parties on CRomnibus?

Where were the Tea Parties when their Republican party just put taxpayers on the hook for up to $300 trillion in bailouts for banks' risky bets on derivatives??

(NB: America's GDP in 2013 was $17 trillion.)

The TPs, as legend has it, were a spontaneous "grassroots" movement in response to the TBTF bank bailouts, but were actually about opposing a minor proposed bailout for distressed mortgage borrowers. A bailout that never happened. 

At any rate, despite all the TPs' huffing and puffing, the TBTF banks were bailed out to the tune of about $30 trillion, and now the 10 largest banks are 28 percent LARGER than they were before!. Just to show Wall Street's power, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon himself made calls to wavering Congressmen urging them to vote on the CRomnibus bill. (Ask yourself: Why was this provision on derivatives so important to Dimon? The answer should scare you.)

Opposing this CRomnibus rider would seem to be right in the TP's anti-bailout wheelhouse, wouldn't it?

Wouldn't it??  Where are you Tea Parties when America needs you? Where was your outrage?  Your consistency? [Crickets chirping].You're just far-right Republicans, that's all you are. To the dustbin of history with you!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Conservatives decry U.S. 'elite'...just the wrong one

An anonymous conservative forwarded this op-ed to me. In response, I'm not going to get into this whole Gruber-Obamacare thing because it's dumb. But it is odd that Mitt Romney gets a pass for employing Gruber while Obama does not.

I'm bringing Williams' column to your attention because of his repetition of a conservative meme: that liberal professors are the "elite" in America

What gets me is that conservative willfully ignore the real American elite: the super rich, the One Percent, or more exact, the 1% of one percent.

Indeed, the Sunlight Foundation discovered that, "In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States."

But no, nutty professors with elbow patches are really running things.

Here's another illustration of the absurdity of a professorial "elite."  There are about 1.2 million college professors and instructors in the U.S. And there are over 11 million company CEOs and Presidents in the U.S.  The average CEO makes over $15 million, while the average full-time professor makes $127,000 and the average college instructor makes $50,000. 

So there are much fewer college teachers than CEOs, they're poorer, they don't influence consumer tastes, the economy, lobby the government or give huge campaign contributions the way CEOs do. And that's not even counting the CFOs, CMOs, boards members, and the true "capitalists" of the private sector who don't have jobs and let their money work for them. 

I think what really bothers conservative is that college professors' influence over American society is not proportional to their wealth and political influence. After all, isn't getting your way most of the time and bossing people around what rich people are supposed to do? Isn't that the whole point? That just seems correct to conservatives. Yet somehow in our free-market country, these eggheads in academia have managed to carve out a precious exception where they enjoy the power, (often while earning less than six figures), to mold young minds. That just goes against the natural order.

It's the same thing at the level of K-12, (even though conservatives would blush to call schoolteachers America's "elite"): these poorly paid teachers, most of them women, very sneakily or just by default (since nobody else wants to do it) retain the enormous power to shape young people's attitudes about the world. And it drives conservatives nuts. Nobody with so little economic power should have so much (potential) influence over people, they believe. It's unnatural.

By Walter E. Williams
November 2014 | Creators

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Friedman's 2009 piece on U.S. torture still correct (Stratfor)

Here's the practical part of George Friedman's 2009 op-ed on U.S. torture for intelligence gathering, and it's still on-target:

The problem with torture — as with other exceptional measures — is that it is useful, at best, in extraordinary situations. The problem with all such techniques in the hands of bureaucracies is that the extraordinary in due course becomes the routine, and torture as a desperate stopgap measure becomes a routine part of the intelligence interrogator's tool kit.

At a certain point, the emergency was over. U.S. intelligence had focused itself and had developed an increasingly coherent picture of al Qaeda, with the aid of allied Muslim intelligence agencies, and was able to start taking a toll on al Qaeda. The war had become routinized, and extraordinary measures were no longer essential. But the routinization of the extraordinary is the built-in danger of bureaucracy, and what began as a response to unprecedented dangers became part of the process. Bush had an opportunity to move beyond the emergency. He didn't.

If you know that an individual is loaded with information, torture can be a useful tool. But if you have so much intelligence that you already know enough to identify the individual is loaded with information, then you have come pretty close to winning the intelligence war. That's not when you use torture. That's when you simply point out to the prisoner that, "for you the war is over." You lay out all you already know and how much you know about him. That is as demoralizing as freezing in a cell — and helps your interrogators keep their balance.

And here's the philosophical part:

And this raises the moral question. The United States is a moral project: its Declaration of Independence and Constitution state that. The president takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. The Constitution does not speak to the question of torture of non-citizens, but it implies an abhorrence of rights violations (at least for citizens). But the Declaration of Independence contains the phrase, "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." This indicates that world opinion matters.

At the same time, the president is sworn to protect the Constitution. In practical terms, this means protecting the physical security of the United States "against all enemies, foreign and domestic." Protecting the principles of the declaration and the Constitution are meaningless without regime preservation and defending the nation.

Let me repeat something: The U.S. is a moral project on display for the whole world.  It's not just another country defending its people and borders. U.S. conservatives and liberals alike believe in "the American way," whatever they take that to mean. So if we allow harm to that moral project, we allow harm to the essence of who we are. We become something else. That's why myself and others have argued since 9/11 that if we allow the terrorists to change who we are, then they've already won. They've convinced us to abandon our moral project.

Now to Friedman's qualifier on that: "Protecting the principles of the declaration [of Independence] and the Constitution are meaningless without regime preservation and defending the nation."

But the U.S. regime has never been threatened; and the defense of the nation was never in question -- perhaps only the defense of a few thousand potential citizens of that nation. No threat that we know about has risen to the level of a gun to the head of America, or an existential threat.

Furthermore, it's clearly not worth taking every possible precaution possible against any imaginable threat. Those threats have to be real and of sufficient magnitude and likelihood. And the costs mustn't exceed the benefits.

To put it in everyday terms, as my conservative friends like to do, think about the safety of your home. If you're honest, you would probably admit there are several measures you could take to make your home safer against intruders, accidental injury, fires and natural disasters. But there are costs and trade-offs to all these measures; and at a certain point each one of us says, "I've done enough," knowing full well we could be safer if we were willing to spend more, endure more inconvenience, etc. And these are only the material costs and trade-offs -- not moral costs and trade-offs involved in torturing people!

I say this to ward off oft-heard arguments, mostly from conservative politicians and pundits, that the U.S. Government exists primarily to protect us from every military or terrorist threat, both real and imaginable. No, it doesn't. Because the costs of doing that wouldn't be worth it. Indeed, trying to do "everything possible" could even make life in the U.S. not worth living, and make abandoning our "moral project" seem like a more appealing option. That's the danger. 

By George Friedman
April 20, 2009 | Stratfor

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Godspeed, Ebola 'czar' Ron Klain!

Am I missing something or is the "unqualified" Ebola czar Ron Klain the most successful "czar" under any U.S. President? No Americans died, Ebola is off the TV and out of the papers, we're all breathing easy again.... I mean, the only possible retort I can think of is that Ebola wasn't that big a deal to begin with; that the CDC had it under control all along; that maybe the GOP and its colleagues on Fox and talk radio just made it erupt into a pants-shitting crisis to win votes and then promptly dropped it mid-November as soon as they had what they wanted -- a Congressional majority...

..But no, no. I can't accept that cynical explanation. I prefer the more positive explanation: that Ron Klain is public health genius on par with Albert Sabin and a saint on par with Mother Teresa.

Godspeed, Mr. Klain!  We thank you for your selfless service to our country!

By Anita Kumar
December 8, 2014  | McClatchy Washington Bureau

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why poor people stay poor: A firsthand account

[HT: GP].  My Tea Partying friends need to read this firsthand account of real life in America and try for one millisecond to get out of their own self-righteous skin and imagine the lives of America's working poor, who walk the knife edge of bankruptcy, joblessness and homelessness.

Related but unrelated... Sometimes I listen in the car to the show "Simply Money" on conservative talk radio, the running theme of which is useful and "true," as far as it goes: to have a household budget and stick to it. 

Often the hosts chastise their listeners for not setting aside an "emergency fund" of at least $20,000. And again, that's true as far as it goes, an emergency fund is definitely a good thing to have... assuming you could possibly manage, by Hurculean efforts and monastic self-denial, to earn and set aside such an amount if you're working two part-time jobs in America. Yet the real truth is that rainy day funds and savings accounts are a fantasy for most working Americans. We're all living hand to mouth.

Until conservatives and the GOP acknowledge real life in America, they will never be trusted by the majority. They may win midterm elections with low turnout in gerrymandered districts, but they won't be trusted, they won't win support except from the already comfortably converted.

By Linda Tirado
December 5, 2014 | Slate

Putin: Separatism in Chechnya is bad but good in Ukraine

[HT: DK]. Putin's authoritarian logic of anti-separatism in rebel Chechnya contradicts his official logic in rebel-held Donbas and Russia-annexed Crimea: "There is no one who can explain to the Chechen people why (separatism) is acceptable for Crimea and the Donbas but not for them."

It's unassailable. And as I wrote recently, likewise the logic of the Western leftwing press that once criticized "Putin's War" in Chechnya, (part of Russia), becomes illogical in their misguided defense of Putin's aggression in sovereign Ukraine.

By Vitaliy Portnikov
December 6, 2014 | Euromaidan Press

The hysterical reaction of Ramzan Kadyrov to the events that took place in Grozny on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly even more than the fighting itself in the Chechen capital indicates that we are dealing with a new round of tension in the North Caucasus.

It appears that the battle between the Chechen security forces and the militants has ended. This would be the time to speak about stability and peace. However, Kadyrov cannot control himself. He has threatened to destroy the homes of the families of suspected militants and to expel them from Chechnya (and this despite the fact that they are leaving the republic as soon as possible). He is even threatening Ukrainian parliamentarians who dared to compare the situation in Chechnya with the situation in the occupied regions of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the comparison is clearly not to Kadyrov’s advantage. On the one hand, he is fighting for the territorial integrity of Russia and is ready to destroy fellow citizens who are advocating the independence of Chechnya. On the other hand, he is sending Chechen forces to fight against the territorial integrity of Ukraine and supporting other militants. Where is the logic?

There is logic here, however. Kadyrov is Putin’s vassal and ready to carry out any order of the Kremlin lord. It is more than logical. It is inevitable. If Putin goes, Kadyrov’s regime either will  be replaced by a new Russian president or it will be swept away by civil war in Chechnya. The conditions for such a war existed earlier as well. However,  they have only increased with the new unstable situation. The battles in Grozny are only the first drops of rain on the red-hot roof of new clashes in the long-suffering republic.

Kadyrov has established a real personal dictatorship in Chechnya . It was only through dictatorial powers and the support of his own clan from the Tsentoroi village that he has been able to suppress the resistance  of the supporters of independence and the opposition of the representatives from other clans, including those loyal to Moscow. But such a dictatorship is possible only when there is a relationship with a strong center. What happened in Grozny has demonstrated that Kadyrov’s enemies are no longer convinced of Putin’s power nor in the prospects of his vassal. Otherwise, they would not have succeeded in carrying out a daring operation on the very eve of a very important event for Putin and Kadyrov.

The fact that any crisis in Russia inevitably leads to destabilization in the Caucasus is not news. What is newsworthy is the fact that Putin, who has represented himself as the chief enemy of separatism, is also the main sponsor of separatism. It is this fact that may undermine further crackdowns by Kadyrov. There is no one who can explain to the Chechen people why (separatism) is acceptable for Crimea and the Donbas but not for them.

Putin and Kadyrov have destroyed their own glass house with the heavy stones of shortsightedness.

Friday, December 5, 2014

News digest / Catching up on news (12.06.2014)

I've been way too busy and there's way too much catching up to do, so here's a selection of important stories from the past month. If you read them then you'll know some of what I do:

"Ebola control: the Cuban approach." By Shah Ebrahim, et al, December 6, 2014, The Lancet. URL:

"Judge Allows Glenn Beck Boston Marathon Defamation Lawsuit To Move Forward." By Kyle Mantyla, December 2, 2014, Right Wing Watch. URL:

"Driessen: Corporate Tax Fate May Hinge on Modeling Omission." By Paul Caron, December 2, 2014, TaxProfBlog. URL:

"Russia Warns Of Recession In 2015 Amid Sanctions And Low Oil Prices." By Nataliya Vasilyeva, December 2, 2014, AP. URL:

"Study: Campaign Cash Brings Tax Benefits On Capitol Hill." By Peter Oberby, December 2, 2014, NPR. URL:

"Whites greatly overestimate the share of crimes committed by black people." By Ana Swanson, December 1, 2014, Washington Post. URL:

"Capital controls feared as Russian rouble collapses." By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, December 1, 2014, The Telegraph. URL:

"Real world contradicts right-wing tax theories." By David Cay Johnston, December 1, 2014, Al Jazeera. URL: 

"Which past is prologue for Putin’s Russia?" By Hannah Thoburn, November 30, 2014, Reuters. URL:

"Let's talk about 'black on black' crime." By Leonard Pitts Jr., November 30, 2014, Miami Herald. URL: 

"In America, black children don’t get to be children." By Stacey Patton, November 26, 2014, Washington Post. URL:

"Keynes Is Slowly Winning." By Paul Krugman, November 26, 2014, New York Times. URL:

"Why Interstellar Should Be Taken Seriously -- Very Seriously." By Paul Stefanski, November 26, 2014, Huffington Post. URL:

"An Open Letter of Apology to the United States of America [about Benghazi]." By Brian Joyce, November 25, 2014, Huffington Post. URL:

"Should Putin fear the man who ‘pulled the trigger of war’ in Ukraine?" By Lucian Kim, November 25, 2014, Reuters. URL:

"Why America may be set for success." By Fareed Zakaria, November 24, 2014, CNN. URL:

"Falling apart: America's neglected infrastructure." By Stefe Kroft, November 23, 2014, CBS News. URL:

"Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons potential for reassurances it would be defended." By Bennett Ramberg, November 22, 2014, Guelph Mercury. URL:

"Special Report: Crimean savers ask: Where's our money?" By Steve Stecklow, Elizabeth Piper and Oleksandr Akymenko, November 20, 2014, Reuters. URL:

"Enough Is Enough: The President's Latest Wall Street Nominee." By Sen. Elizabeth Warren, November 20, 2014, Huffington Post. URL:

"Top Obama official: Ky. not ready on new bridge." By Deirdre Shesgreen, November 19, 2014, Cincinnati. URL:

"Clarke and Dawe - Growth first. Then these other things can be dealt with, whatever they are." ClarkeAndDawe, November 19, 2014, YouTube. URL:

"Sen. Bernie Sanders On How Democrats Lost White Voters." By Steve Inskeep, November 19, 2014, NPR. URL:

"Legal Panel At [Conservative] Federalist Society Begrudgingly Accepts Obama's Immigration Powers." By Sam Stein, November 19, 2014, Huffington Post. URL:

"Stop calling me 'the Ebola nurse'." By Kaci Hickox, November 17, 2014, Guardian. URL:

"US voter turnout is an international embarrassment. Here's how to fix it." By Bernie Sanders, November 10, 2014, Guardian. URL:

"Про що мовчать розумні українці." By Stanislav Bilchenko, November 9, 2014, Ukraininska Pravda. URL:

"Beyond The Unemployment Rate: Look At These 5 Labor Indicators." By Sonari Glinton, November 7, 2014, NPR. URL:

"Capitalism Is Making China Richer, But Not Democratic." By Frank Langfitt, November 7, 2014, NPR. URL:

"Fewer Babies Are Born Prematurely, But Many Still Suffer." By Nancy Shute, Novebmer 6, 2014, NPR. URL:

"Interstellar Travel? Nah! (Part 2)." By Dr. Sten Odenwald, November 5, 2014, Huffington Post. URL: