Putin Thumbs His Nose at Basic Western Norms … and More!

In the bad old days, it was presumed that countries had agents running around who did bad things. You know, the James Bond sort of stuff. Killing people was part of that, but not the only part. One had to be prepared to “do what was needed” to protect national interests. And that might not be limited to individual agents. Covert military operations too had their proponents, among them JFK.

Was this actually the case? I am not an expert, but I assume that it was, especially during the Second World War, and the Cold War that followed. The OSS, Gestapo,  NKVD, CIA, KGB, MI6, FBI and so on fought their battles without the knowledge of , let alone consent of the general public.

The extreme bloody mindedness of the Nazis in using such nasty tactics  (mainly those terrible camps) was one of the motivations for creating the United Nations. The hope was that if the most powerful countries generally adhered to UN norms, they might become more civilized. Sadly, that has not happened. The threat of mutual nuclear annihilation has deterred massive wars, but not proxy wars, and not other types of nasty behavior. The UN is not useless, but it is not a leading force for global change either. Nations and transnational corporations (TNC’s) are not constrained to avoid moderate forms of nastiness if it is in their interests. Yes, TNC’s can be nasty and don’t like the UN either. They became happier when the UN Centre for Transnational Corporations was disbanded in 1993. To be more precise, in classic UN fashion, its budget was transferred, while its operations were curtailed.

Over the decades, there were attempts, at least in the west, to reign in  the worst abuses of covert operations. I am thinking of the Church Committee as an example. But during the Cold War, those attempts generally ran up  against the perceived harsh reality that one could not trust the Soviet Union or China or other nasty actors to do the same.  As I recall, it was like bad weather. One had to live with it and hope it didn’t get too far out of hand.

But then the Cold War ended. The Soviet Union collapsed. And everyone thought that we were entering a new era.  Exporting the “rule of law” to the former Soviet Union was supposed to fix things. In short, the results were at best mixed. When it comes to commerce, legal institutions have facilitated more transactions than ever. But one cannot say that the era is defined by the rule of law. To the contrary, power games continue, as do nasty ways of advancing powerful interests – all basically ok as long as they don’t take us all too close to nuclear war.

The recent poisoning of a double agent in the UK by a Russian nerve agent shows us that Mr. Putin is still playing this game with gusto. If anything, he has upped the ante. He wants everyone to know that he did it.  In a sense, he is shouting out “Up yours human rights lawyers!”

One’s first reaction is to think whether he is more confident with  Donald Trump in the White House. That may be so, but Putin’s disdain for and overt use of  assassination predates Trump. You might recall that Litvinenko was murdered in similar fashion in London back in 2006.

And of course, Putin’s disdain should be put in context. We also have the seemingly endless proxy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. Oops! And let’s not forget Ukraine. No one really understands the ultimate legalities of these conflicts, let alone how to end them. Meanwhile, everyone understands who suffers the most – civilians caught up in the mind numbing violence.  And I do not mean to exclude other places where rogue actors perpetrate outrageous crimes against peoples, while pretending to be upstanding adherents of constitutionally based legal regimes. And of course, there are the shadowy bandit like groups who behead people, kidnap little girls, etc.  in the name of various alleged causes that can be difficult to fathom. This is not the path towards more rule of law and less coercion for aggrandizing power.

So where is this leading us?  Long ago, one might have argued with a straight face that rigorous enforcement of human rights norms would turn the tide, and civilize the “bad actors”. And one might have hoped that global standards for the “rule of law” would emerge. Does anyone still think that way? I do not propose that we junk these norms nor the institutions that attempt to enforce them. I do suggest that we consider that we have no legal tools in our legal toolbox to fix this problem. We could create such tools if we were of a mind to do so. But at this stage, it appears that we are not of a mind to do so.

Sadly, that means that we will likely muddle forward as we are now. Double agents and vulnerable groups of people beware!


Fishing for Plastic Whales?

What a cool idea!

Plastic Whale takes thousands of people plastic fishing in Amsterdam’s canals every year, removing tons of plastic trash, according to their video. They’ve created fishing boats out of plastic collected and then decided to make something new with the garbage: office furniture. They enlisted the help of design firm LAMA Concept to design the pieces, and furniture manufacturer Vepa to produce and sell them

Even cooler – when the furniture wears out, return it. Plastic whale will make new furniture from it.

Here is a peek

Image result for Plastic Whale furniture

An Update from Pennsylvania’s 18th District

Just a few years ago,  the words “Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District” and “Republican” meant the same thing. Democrats were not competitive. That was then. Now a special election in that district is producing very different news

…  it’s looking like Democrat candidate Conor Lamb is catching up to Republican Rick Saccone. Last week, the Cook Political Report declared the race a toss-up, moving it away from its previous “lean Republican” rating.

Vox gets into this in more detail.

Bottom line:  Yet another sign that the 2018 midterms might be an enormous disaster for the GOP. And, to be blunt, they royally deserve it.

Givanchy and Collaboration

Hubert de Givenchy had a great go of it. He was renowned as a fashion designer, rich and famous. And now that he has passed on at the ripe old age of 91, we might celebrate his great success.

I like this picture of Givenchy with Audrey Hepburn

Image result for Hubert de Givenchy

I like it because it brings out an important factor in Givenchy’s great success. He became famous because of his great collaborations with celebrities like Audrey Hepburn. She genuinely liked and admired him. This quote brings that out

Her genuine friendship with Givenchy stemmed from his warm, gentleman’s persona and refined elegance, something they shared unequivocally. It’s quite rare this day and age to point out a designer-celebrity ambassador relationship that’s not tied to exclusive dealings and multimillion-dollar contracts.

So sure, Givenchy was a brilliant fashion designer. More important, he was brilliant in creating great collaborations. And this is a more rare feat!


Ostrich Alert! Here Comes the GOP House Intel Report!

This is not a huge surprise. The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee signaled a long time ago that they had no interest in finding out what happened between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.  For example, did they even demand that witnesses answer questions? No.  On the other hand, GOP Chair, _Devin Nunes, was very interested in finding any potential wrongdoing … by the FBI and Justice Department.

So here we are. The GOP is about to release an absurd report that finds no collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives. Only one member from the GOP is objecting.Rep Tom Rooney (who is retiring) said this

“We’ve gone completely off the rails, and now we’re just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news. … We’ve lost all credibility”

The rest are holding their noses and signing on.

The Democrats will issue a separate report. And that report is likely to say that despite shoddy investigation, there is evidence of collusion. We know about at least 4 episodes that suggest it

  • Papadopoulos knew back in April 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Clinton. Was it just a coincidence that a random Russian dude with Kremlin ties told him?  I doubt it, but the GOP Intel Report thinks so. Mueller most likely knows more, given that Papadapoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is a cooperating witness
  • Papadopoulos  has admitted that the Trump Campaign knew that the Russians had those thousands of stolen Clinton e mails that were posted on WikiLeaks. Why did  he share that info? Who did he tell? What did the Trump folks do with the info? The GOP Intel members don’t care. Mueller probably knows a lot more than we do about that
  • Before Trump took office, Mike Flynn bent over backwards to assure the Russians that the Trumpsters would get rid of Obama sanctions pronto. Why was that so important? Flynn has pleaded guilty and is cooperating. Mueller probably knows more.
  • And of course, the infamous meeting set up through Donald Jr. that the president lied about. If this was not attempted collusion, what was it?

You can read more here.

The bottom line is simple. We know enough about what happened and is happening to draw the conclusion that Trump has something going on with Putin. It is likely that this translated into cooperation during the election. It is likely that whatever drives that thing is not over. And that is highly troubling., no matter what Devin Nunes and his band of GOP ostriches say in their report.

A Key Game for the Sixers: The Pacers

The Sixers have 17 regular season games left., and barring a catastrophic collapse, they will make the playoffs this year. It is likely that the Pacers will as well. Amazingly, the Pacers now hold down the 3rd position in the East just ahead of the Cavs and the Wizards,  The Sixers hold down the 6th. a game up on Milwaukee, and have a very, very easy schedule to close out the season.

So how will the Sixers do in the playoffs? No one knows. It is possible that as a rookie heavy team, they will fold. At the same time, if they play the way they did against the Nets the other night, they could surprise a lot of people.

We get a preview of that tonight when the Sixers face the Pacers. The teams have split their series so far (1-1). How will this game go? Last time around, Joel Embiid got Myles Turner into very early foul trouble. This time, we cannot count on that. And Victor Oladipo will get his points. But I am betting on the Sixers  Turner may not foul out, but Indiana has no answer to Embiid or Simmons.

Can’t wait!


Sixers Lore: Thank you Nets!

I didn’t bother to watch the Sixers game against the Heat the other day. I had a feeling that the Sixers had peaked with the Cavs game and were headed for a loss. I was right. The Heat threw the kitchen sink at the Sixers from 3 and beat them.

The question was, could the Sixers bounce back? Fortunately, their next game was against the Nets. Don’t get me wrong. The Nets are not a great team. But they do play hard and on a given night, can give you headaches. They remind me of the Sixers a few years ago.

The good news – the Sixers p,layed about as well as they can, and they rolled over the Nets. And the “about as well as they can” description is better than the “about as well as they can”  of just a month ago. The additions of Ilysova and Bellinelli have given the team a boost. They now have legit 3 point shooters coming off the bench. That gives Brett Brwn a lot more flexibility in how he can blend in starters and reserves. And it meant that Embiid could play just 30 minutes.  Even TLC and Justin Anderson got minutes against the Nets!

Embiid will need the rest. Next up — the Pacers. This is a team that the Sixers can beat, but have not always beat this year. And they will have a lot better chance of beating them if Dario keeps up his incredible play. The dude is playing very smart basketball and his outside shot has improved tremendously!

Did someone write that Dario would not fit this team? That he would be a reserve at best?  When Fultz became a no show, Dario has stepped up and done the job that is needed. And he is just going to get better. Bravo!

For the Nets, it looks like D’Angelo Russell is starting to figure out the pro game. The bad old D’Amgeöp stood around, waiting for the ball. The other night, he looked much more “in the flow”, and he did get hot in the 2d and 3rd quarters.