Monday, February 9, 2015

Last Call For Feeding The Dragon

Here in NKY the talk is about the case of Louis and Rosemary Brothers, who are both facing ugly federal charges of selling high-tech military grade microchips to the Chinese.

A Union, Kentucky, couple are accused of potentially jeopardizing the future safety and security of the United States by illegally selling satellite and missile circuitry to China, and laundering those proceeds through Russian banks. 
Louis and Rosemary Brothers, both 62, are accused in federal court of selling $37 million of sophisticated technology to China –technology that could help that nation weaponize space. 
Selling any defense technology to the People's Republic of China is strictly prohibited under U.S. law. 
Radiation-hardened microcircuits, like those manufactured and sold to China by Louis Brothers' company, Valley Forge Composite Technologies, are essential to recent Chinese attempts to arm themselves in space, according to Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Virginia think tank.

Selling military tech to the Chinese is bad enough, but using Russian banks to launder the transactions?  The Brothers are going to end up in very substandard federal housing for the rest of their lives, I would think.

"Starting in 2009 ... the company, at the direction of Brothers, began the illegal exportation of millions of dollars worth of military semiconductors to" China, the suit alleges. It also alleges Brothers lied by saying all of the company's revenues were from momentum wheels, when they actually came from illegal microcircuit sales to China. 
The law requires such sales – before they are made – to be submitted to the U.S. government for approval under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation, or ITAR. 
That is done to try to prevent sales to foreign governments of items that could imperil American safety. Brothers is accused of making the sales without government approval. 
The result was lucrative for Valley Forge – ironically named after a seminal place in Revolutionary War history – and Brothers. 
The company had zero annual revenues in 2007 and $132,000 in 2008. After it started selling radiation-hardened microcircuits to China, its annual revenues rose to $3.2. million in 2009, $18.7 million in 2010 and $15 million in 2011.

That's usually the kind of thing that gets the attention of the Feds when looking at a defense contractor that went from zero revenues to tens of millions.  Pretty sure this case is going to be brutal and short.

Obama Explains It All

President Obama sits down with the braintrust at Vox and gets into some wonkery over his policy positions.  It's actually a pretty good set of interviews,with footnotes, charts, and graphs that the Vox guys have worked in as sort of a running fact check, and it makes for some good reading. The president speaks first with Ezra Klein on domestic policy questions like income inequality:

Ezra Klein
To focus a bit on that long-term question, does that put us in a place where redistribution becomes, in a sense, a positive good in and of itself? Do we need the government playing the role not of powering the growth engine — which is a lot of what had to be done after the financial crisis — but of making sure that while that growth engine is running, it is ensuring that enough of the gains and prosperity is shared so that the political support for that fundamental economic model remains strong
Barack Obama
That's always been the case. I don't think that's entirely new. The fact of the matter is that relative to our post-war history, taxes now are not particularly high or particularly progressive compared to what they were, say, in the late '50s or the '60s. And there's always been this notion that for a country to thrive there are some things, as Lincoln says, that we can do better together than we can do for ourselves. And whether that's building roads, or setting up effective power grids, or making sure that we've got high-quality public education — that teachers are paid enough — the market will not cover those things. And we've got to do them together. Basic research falls in that category. So that's always been true.
I think that part of what's changed is that a lot of that burden for making sure that the pie was broadly shared took place before government even got involved. If you had stronger unions, you had higher wages. If you had a corporate culture that felt a sense of place and commitment so that the CEO was in Pittsburgh or was in Detroit and felt obliged, partly because of social pressure but partly because they felt a real affinity toward the community, to re-invest in that community and to be seen as a good corporate citizen. Today what you have is quarterly earning reports, compensation levels for CEOs that are tied directly to those quarterly earnings. You've got international capital that is demanding maximizing short-term profits. And so what happens is that a lot of the distributional questions that used to be handled in the marketplace through decent wages or health care or defined benefit pension plans — those things all are eliminated. And the average employee, the average worker, doesn't feel any benefit.

And in the second half he talks with Matthew Yglesias on foreign policy issues such as the Arab Spring.

Matthew Yglesias
In the Middle East, where we're still very much engaged despite the draw-down from Iraq, the Clinton administration had a policy they called Dual Containment of Iraq and Iran. The Bush administration had an idea about preventative war and about rollback and democracy promotion. Under your administration, the country is still very involved in that region, but I don't think we have as clear a sense of what is the sort of strategic goal of that engagement
Barack Obama
Well, partly it's because of the nature of what's happened in the Middle East. I came in with some very clear theories about what my goals were going to be. We were going to end the war in Iraq. We were going to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, trying diplomacy first. We were going to try to promote increased economic development in the Muslim countries to deal with this demographic bulge that was coming into play. We were going to promote Palestinian and Israeli peace talks. So, there were all kinds of theories. 
And then the Arab Spring happened. I don't recall all the wise men in Washington anticipating this. And so this has been this huge, tumultuous change and shift, and so we've had to adapt, even as it's happening in real time, to some huge changes in these societies. But if you look at the basic goals that I've set: making sure that we are maintaining pressure on terrorist organizations so that they have a limited capacity to carry out large-scale attacks on the West. Increasing our partnering and cooperation with countries to deal with that terrorist threat. Continuing to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And using the tool of sanctions to see if we can get a diplomatic breakthrough there. And continuing to try to move the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a better place, while at the same time helping the region as a whole integrate itself more effectively into the world economy so that there's more opportunity. Those basic goals still hold true.

It's actually pretty illuminating stuff here, despite my usual complaints about the Ezra and Yggy Show being too cute by half, they actually do ask some crunchy questions here and get thoughtful and nuanced answer from President Obama.

Vox has also included videos of each question and the President's response, each containing their usual explainer pop-up graphics for context and additional information.  I have to admit, grudgingly, this is well done stuff.

Do check it out.

Slave Mentality

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, conservatives accused President Barack Obama of comparing Christianity to the Islamic terrorist group ISIS when he observed that many religions had been used to justify violence throughout history.

"So we're responsible for the Crusades a thousand years ago?" Carlson complained. "Who's 'us' anyway? And by the way, who ended slavery and Jim Crow? Christians. The Rev. Martin Luther King. Christians."

"Christianity is the reason we don't have slavery in the world today
," he added. "I mean, talk about ahistorical."

Dear Mr. Carlson:

First of all, please take the time to educate yourself about the practices of modern slavery and human trafficking.  A good place to start that education is right here in Cincinnati at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.  Believe me when I say slavery is very much alive in the world today and is a scourge that ruins millions of lives yearly.  There are many activists, lawmakers, and NGO leaders who are working to end modern slavery today.  They could use our help.

Secondly, as Eric Loomis points out at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

Good thing none of those slaveholders were Christian. Because there’s no way that Christians would hold slaves or create a Christian doctrine around defending slavery.
Of course, like everything else in Christianity, slaveowners decided for themselves to what extent they would adhere to this ideology, so throwing an old slave out into the swamps to die or beating a slave to death, well, these things just happen. Praise Jesus.

And finally, really awful things are still called for by "Christians" here in America in God's name on a pretty regular basis.  Religion as a cover to justify acts ranging from bigotry and discrimination (hello Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum!) to brutality, slavery and genocide is a game as old as religion itself.  This was President Obama's point, but you either chose to ignore it, or are too full of your fake outrage to even comprehend it.


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