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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is having a moving sale!

by John MacBeath Watkins

Twice Sold Tales in Ballard is moving from our current location in the back of Bauhaus Coffee at 2001 NW Market to either a location three blocks east of there or one four blocks west of there. We will still be on Market Street. Our lawyer is currently reviewing both leases before we make a decision.

We've got to be out of here by the end of September, so we need to decide soon! Either location will give us a lot more visibility than the windowless back room we currently occupy.

So, we're having a moving sale, currently 30% off. It applies to the books on the open shelves, not to the stuff that's cataloged on the internet.

The next question is, how the hell am I going to move all these books and shelves? Anybody out there willing to help? If so, drop me a line. The shop email is twicesoldtalesud@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

If Trump stiffs the Russians, what will they do to him?

by John MacBeath Watkins

Donald Trump has a well-earned reputation for stiffing vendors, creditors, and investors. But what about the Russian money that's been flowing into his business? Could exploiting those investors have far worse consequences?

Most American banks won't lend to him, according to the Wall Street scuttlebutt.  And, as the Washington Post has reported, Trump has found a new source of financing.

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Bayrock, a company that helped finance the Trump SoHo project, was accused of getting its money from some questionable sources. From the New York Times:
Shortly before the condo buyers’ lawsuit was filed, another suit appeared, this one by Jody Kriss, a former finance director of Bayrock. It claimed that by concealing Mr. Sater’s criminal record, Bayrock had committed fraud on banks and investors with which it did business. Mr. Trump is not a defendant in that case, which is continuing. 
Mr. Kriss’s lawsuit was filled with unflattering details of how Bayrock operated, including allegations that it had occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.
Now, Donald Trump's finances are fairly opaque, because he has refused to release tax returns either for last year, for which he's being audited, or from any of the years for which he is not being audited.

But the fact is, there is virtually no clean Russian money. If you are rich, you support Putin, or you won't be rich for long, as some have discovered. For example, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, financed parties critical of Vladimir Putin. He was arrested, tried for a series of crimes that were either not illegal when he was alleged to have committed them or were still not illegal, convicted, and imprisoned. He has since been released and lives in exile on a much diminished fortune.

So, if you are getting much Russian money, it probably has ties to Putin and his ruling clique. This may explain Trump's constant praise of Putin, and his financial interests being tied to Russian sources of finance may have something to do with his heterodox views on foreign policy, like questioning our commitment to NATO.

But Trump is unlikely to win the presidency, and it is quite likely that his Russian investors will be as disappointed as some of his past investors.

How will they respond?

Well, consider what Masha Gessen, who wrote a book (The Man Without a Face)about Putin, described his background, starting with the period in East Germany prior to the fall of the Wall:
'Everything Putin had worked for was now in doubt,’ Gessen writes. 'Everything he had believed was being mocked.’ He would not return home until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 
'I think a lot of his resentment goes back directly to that period,’ Gessen says. 'Having been in the KGB at a bad time, having been outside the country when everything was changing… He’s a very vengeful man – that’s one of his particular traits of character. And that vengefulness has carried through. He’s pursuing a vendetta against everybody who was ever opposed to the Soviet Union.’ 
Putin returned to St Petersburg, where he became assistant to the mayor, while continuing in the KGB. For all the reforms that were taking place in Russia, St Petersburg, Gessen writes, was 'a state within a state’: a place where the KGB remained all-powerful, where local politicians and journalists had their phones tapped, and the murder of major political and business players was a regular occurrence.' 
In other words, very much like Russia itself would become within a few years, once it came to be ruled by the people who ruled St Petersburg in the 1990s.’ In other words, Putin.

I think the nature and extent of his ties to Russia may have a bearing on Trump's business future and even on his own health and that of those close to him. Suppose he were to change his tune, and start to criticize Putin, and stiff his friends who invested with Trump.  Here's some guidance from Gesson:
'There is a theory that is popular among journalists that to Putin there are enemies and there are traitors. And enemies have a right to exist; he might not like them, but they have a right to exist. Traitors don’t have a right to exist. It’s a nice theory. I like it because I’m such a clear-cut enemy that I should be safe.’
Can Trump afford to have Putin see him as a traitor? He's not going to win the election, and he won't always have the protection of the Secret Service. So I think we can expect to see him continue to toady to the Russian leader.

Trump is heavily in debt to Deutsche Bank AG, but the Russians seem to have taken equity stakes in his ventures. We don't know how much money is involved, or which Russian oligarchs are involved, or how close all that money is to Putin. We don't know how his Russian investors will react if they suffer as badly as investors in his casinos did, or how dependent the continuation of Trump's empire is on their continued investment.

I think it's a pretty good bet that he is more financially beholden to foreign investors than any previous presidential candidate, and that it's likely his investors are heavily entangled with the Russian kleptocracy. That, if true, would mean that Trump is himself entangled with a government that has shown a willingness in the past to poison or otherwise kill its critics.

Now, there is a way for Trump to set our minds at rest, and assure us that he is not entangled with a foreign power. Let's see some transparency on his finances, starting with those pesky tax returns.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The science of creating ignorance and the Republican dilemma

by John MacBeath Watkins

Agnotology, or the science of creating ignorance, is now firmly entrenched in our politics. The Republican Party, which has become associated with the use of this science, is facing a dilemma as a result.

Once they had used it to undermine the legitimacy of other elites, they discovered that they had also undermined the legitimacy of the Republican Party elite. They have created so much ignorance and distrust, they are not trusted to be informed about what is best for their constituents.

The name of this science dates from 1995, but its use in public discourse started in the 1960s.

It started with the tobacco industry, after the Surgeon General's Report tying tobacco use to cancer. The industry responded by trying to undermine the science behind the report.

First, they said that the research had been done on mice, and did not indicate that humans would suffer similar problems. Then, they engaged in a program of sponsoring studies to put against the science the Surgeon General used. Some of it was to show that other things cause cancer as well, so why blame cigarettes? Some were shaky science to put against more solid studies to argue that "some scientists say one thing, some say another."

A 1969 memo called the Smoking and Health Proposal, written by an executive of the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, said “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

If the notion of "establishing a controversy" after the science has been settled seems familiar, it's because this is the tactic used by climate change deniers to argue that "the science isn't settled" on climate change.

Agnotology entered the political realm when a corporate lawyer who had represented the tobacco industry laid out the game plan for business interests to take control of public discourse.

Lewis Powell, who Ronald Reagan later appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote the memo at the request of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1970.

In it, he suggested a series of steps to take, including founding think tanks, funding seats on university faculties, and using radio and television to spread their message.

Powell suggested a sort of ideological siege of academia by establishing a staff of friendly faculty, speakers, speaker's bureau, and attacking views they didn't like that were expressed in textbooks. 

He had a special place for business schools:

The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.

In short, business schools were to indoctrinate future business leaders. He also thought there was a neglected opportunity in the courts:

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Appointing Powell to the Supreme Court can be viewed as one way business took action on this proposal.

Most of what Powell proposed was to change what people thought they knew about their world.

Flash forward to the present. The Republican Party, funded to a surprisingly large extent by the fossil fuel industry, contended for years that climate change was a hoax, that the president of the United States wasn't a citizen, that the Affordable Care Act was a socialist job-killer, that President Obama was a Muslim, & etc.

Every half-baked conspiracy theory could get a hearing from the party elite as long as it stirred up the base and got more Republicans elected.

But a strange thing happened. One of the conspiracy theorists was a rich man with a need for attention. Donald Trump entered Republican circles through his adherence to the Birther conspiracy theory -- the outlandish notion that our president was born not in the United States, but in Kenya. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, even courted his endorsement.

The idea was clearly racist, an attempt to delegitimize our first African American president. But party leaders never disowned the theory, or that of President Obama being a Muslim. Instead of ridiculing the conspiracy theories and trying to win based on reality, they allowed the mechanism Lewis Powell had called for -- the radio, news, and now the internet conservative echo chamber -- to spread these theories far and wide.

Believing this nonsense became a tribal marker for conservatives, adhered to even by seemingly intelligent people who should have known better.

When Donald Trump came for the Republican Party elites, they had no other elites trusted to speak up for them. The party base of whites without a college degree had no faith in any of the elites, including that of their own party. They had been asked to believe in lies so often that the nature or even possibility of truth seemed to be illusory, as if all that continued to exist was the Republican Party's reptile brain, threat sensitive and emotional, raging against unfairness with no clear notion of how they had been betrayed, but aware that in their lifetimes, they were one group for whom things had gotten worse. For them, there was no longer any real truth, just whose side you were on.

The party had taught them not to blame the rich, but to blame the people they competed for directly for jobs and prestige -- immigrants, people of other races -- and the people they might have turned to for information -- those intellectuals they had been told time after time not to trust.

And now, the Republican Party faces the dilemma they have created. The party's base no longer trusts any elite, even their own. They can no longer tell the rank and file, "this guy's a nut, he can't win and shouldn't be nominated." They have unwittingly abdicated the party's role as the gatekeeper who gets them to select a viable candidate.

The people who thought they were running the party aren't in control any more. They can see the cliff, but they can't reach the wheel, can't press the brake. They know that to save the party, they must get control again, but they have created too much ignorance in the service of temporary goals.

The base is acting as if it believed all the convenient lies, all the conspiracy theories that were just supposed to be used to manipulate them. They don't even care if they lose, they just want a voice to shout their rage at their supposed enemies.

They are the beast who shouted hate at the heart of the world.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How to buy a used cat

by John MacBeath Watkins

In a universe parallel parked just two down from ours, buying a used cat is just like  like buying a used car.

We will illustrate the pitfalls with the case of Bill.

One day, Bill's old cat died. We need not dwell on the causes of his old companion's death, and we turn away from Bill's private grief. However, when the tears had fallen, Bill was left with a universal truth. To paraphrase Jane Austen:

"IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a cat."

But the search for the cat is like the search for a used car, so this will not exactly be Pride and Prejudice. Not even Pride and Pedigree.

Bill set out hoping he could afford a new cat. He looked into the exotics, just because a man can dream, even if he can't really afford something fast and dangerous that isn't really suited to his lifestyle.

The Savannah cat struck his fancy, but it cost about half as much as a hose in flyover country, and he was still renting.

A brand-new Manx kitten had a muscular, aggressive stance with a sort of Kammback look that enticed him, but after it ran up his pants leg leaving a trail of fresh wounds on his leg, he realized that even if he could afford the sticker price, the insurance on his drapes would be ruinous.

This is when he fell into the hands of a used-cat salesman.

"This is your lucky day," said the salesman, clad in cheap, chequered sport coat and polyester pants. "I've got a used cat that will just knock your eyes out."

It was an old cat, sleeping rather noisily in the back row of the cat lot. Aside from the snoring, it had long, tangled fur and more than a few notches in its ears.

"This cat looks like it's got a lot of city miles on it," Bill said.

"Let me tell you about this wonderful feline," the salesman said. "It would never have come on the market at all, were it not for a fortunate accident. I mean, fortunate for you."

"What's that smell?" Bill asked.

"This cat was the beloved companion of a large and demonstrative family, the kids carried it everywhere and it never once scratched them," the salesman went on.

"Is it leaking fluid?"

"No, no, we had another cat parked here before we sent it to be repaired. Can't sell defective merchandise, can we?"

"Can't you?"

"So, anyway, the family so loved this cat, they would never let it out of their sight. They took it to church of Sunday, and the rest of the week, I tell you, they worshiped that cat like ancient Egyptians."

"So how did it end up here?"

"Well, one day, the whole family was walking to church, and little Willie, who had fallen in with fell companions on the second-grade playground, said a naughty word. Well, you know how God feels about that, he sent a bus to run them all down and wiped out the whole family."

"That's terrible, but wouldn't that have killed the cat, too?"

"God so loved the cat, he spared it. And now, it's your good fortune that the cat is here, before you, ready to begin a new life with you."

"Um...I kind of swear a lot, is that a problem?"

"You go to Church every Sunday?"

"Not so's you'd notice."

"I wouldn't worry about it."

"Think I'll pass, anyway."

"Well, sir, what will it take to put a cat in your arms today?"

Bill told the salesman his budget.

"What else have you got in my range?" he asked.

"Yer lookin' at it."

So, Bill bought the elderly, flatulent cat and began waking home with it in his arms. It woke, farted again, and began to purr. He began to like it, when suddenly, he stubbed his toe.

"Fuckshitcuntcockpiss!" he said, before considering the consequences. "Oh, God, that hurts," he amended.

Just then, a severely depressed neighbor with bad aim tried to kill himself, and instead took off Bill's hat. Bill picked up his ventilated hat and looked reproachfully at the cat.

"Did you tell God I said that?" he asked.

The cat yawned hugely, revealing some bad teeth and breath that would make a passable paint stripper.

"Well, God dammit, I don't believe a word that salesman said," Bill declared. The cat scratched him, causing him to lurch away from the road just as a dump truck ran into a light pole next to him. Bill realized that the truck would have pinned him against the light pole if he hadn't lurched.

"Cat, are you cursed?" Bill asked.

The cat avoided his gaze, nonchalantly licking a paw.

Bill went back to the cat lot, where the salesman showed himself extraordinarily agile, dodging him and locking himself in the office.

"Open up, you sold me a lemon, dammit," Bill shouted. The salesman dived under a divan just before an eagle dropped a turtle on Bill's head, crushing his battered, bullet-riddled hat and leaving him dazed.

"Don't curse!" the salesman called from under the divan, "one lightning bolt could wipe out this office!"

"I want my money back!"

After a moment's consideration, the salesman said, "You can have your money back if you take the cat with you."

"Fine."

The salesman wouldn't open the door. He slid an envelope under it and dived back under the divan.

Bill checked the amount in the envelope, then put down the cat and walked away. "Serves the S.O.B right," he thought. That only resulted in distant thunder.

As he neared his home, Bill stepped into the crosswalk without looking, and a car screeched to a halt inches away from him.

"Watch where you're going, you God-damned idiot!" the driver yelled, and the engine of the car immediately caught fire. That's when Bill looked around, saw that the cat had followed him home, and resigned himself to cleaning up his language.