KLEPTOCRACY AND AUTOCRACY

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“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
George Orwell

KLEPTOCRACY AND AUTOCRACY

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“The thing about long-serving autocrats is that they become increasingly detached from not only the truth but also from being able to tolerate criticism.”
James Bruno

 

January 24, 2023

Corporate Fraud Investigation

the hubris of the super-rich

By Freya Berry — The Guardian

While the fraudsters are often cunning, sooner or later they get carried away.

FTX’s HQ, we now know, was not your typical one. CEO Sam Bankman-Fried ran his business from a $40m Bahamian penthouse named the Orchid, complete with Venetian plaster walls and a grand piano. The lot was nestled beside a championship golf course and a mega-yacht marina. Since Amazon doesn’t deliver to the Bahamas, private jets did the job instead.

It wasn’t your typical corporate HQ – but then, FTX is not your typical corporation. It’s bankrupt, dragged down by its own financial abuses, with its chief executive facing prison. Yet while FTX has made headlines, its tale is not as unusual as you might think.

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January 22, 2023

The ‘Cryptoqueen’ Scammed Investors Out of $4 Billion

Then she boarded a plane and disappeared

By CNN Business

Ruja Ignatova strode onto the stage in a flowing burgundy ball gown adorned with black sparkles. Beams of light flashed, fireballs erupted and Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” blared through the speakers at London’s Wembley Arena.

That was in June 2016, when cryptocurrency was an emerging buzzword and investors were scrambling to cash in. 

“In two years, nobody will speak about Bitcoin anymore,” she said, as investors applauded and whistled.

Sixteen months later, Ignatova boarded a plane in Sofia, Bulgaria, and vanished. She hasn’t been seen since.

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January 21, 2023

Is the War in Ukraine at a Major Turning Point?

It sure looks that way

By Lucian K. Truscott IV — Salon

With a series of high-level meetings in Europe, U.S. sends a signal to Putin: We think Ukraine can win this year!
  • Last Friday, CIA Director William Burns met secretly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
  • On Monday, Gen. Mark Milley was in Germany to observe the training of a new Ukrainian mechanized infantry battalion that is destined for the front lines in the conflict with Russia.
  • On Tuesday, Milley traveled to a secret location in eastern Poland to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhny, the highest-ranking officer in Ukraine’s armed forces.
  • On Monday, John Finer, the deputy national security adviser, Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, and Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, met with President Zelenskyy and his top advisers in Ukraine to discuss the status of the war and U.S. support for Ukraine.
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January 20, 2023

Don’t Fear Putin’s Demise

Victory for Ukraine, Democracy for Russia

By Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky — Foreign Affairs

The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin is living on borrowed time. The tide of history is turning, and everything from Ukraine’s advances on the battlefield to the West’s enduring unity and resolve in the face of Putin’s aggression points to 2023 being a decisive year. If the West holds firm, Putin’s regime will likely collapse in the near future.

Yet some of Ukraine’s key partners continue to resist supplying Kyiv with the weapons it needs to deliver the knockout punch. 

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January 16, 2023

Conspiracy Theories About Davos

As elites arrive in Davos, conspiracy theories thrive

By Sophia Tulp — AP

NEW YORK (AP) — When some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential figures gathered at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting last year, sessions on climate change drew high-level discussions on topics such as carbon financing and sustainable food systems.

But an entirely different narrative played out on the internet, where social media users claimed leaders wanted to force the population to eat insects instead of meat in the name of saving the environment.

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Now Available!   January 3, 2023

Courage Under Fire

UNDER SIEGE AND OUTNUMBERED 58 TO 1 ON JANUARY 6

Courage under Fire: Under Siege and Outnumbered 58 to 1 on January 6 by [Steven A. Sund]

By Steven A. Sund

One of the darkest days in American history became an extraordinary story of courage under fire.

United States Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund’s gripping personal account takes readers inside the events leading up to January 6, and provides a detailed and harrowing minute-by-minute account of the attack on the US Capitol, which was valiantly defended in hand-to-hand combat by the US Capitol Police officers who found themselves outnumbered fifty-eight to one.

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Paul Krugman Predicts

How GOP ‘Fanatics’ Will Make People Feel In 2023

By Lee Moran — HUFFPOST

The “prospects don’t look good,” the economist warned in his New York Times column. The party’s unhinged lurch will lead people to “spend much of 2023 feeling nostalgic for the good old days of greed and cynicism” in U.S. politics.

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Pigs at the Trough

How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America

Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America by [Arianna Huffington]

By Arianna Huffington

An exposé of the financial meltdown–and the flagrant greed that triggered it.

Once again, Huffington takes on the nexus of corporate highfliers, lobbyists, and Washington insiders who have created and zealously protected a culture of corruption in America. Hearkening back to the days of Enron and WorldCom, she draws a line connecting those accounting frauds to the much larger and more sophisticated corruption that drove the latest financial crisis.

The list of new culprits is long. Huffington calls them out–including AIG, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch–and asks the probing questions of how things went so wrong and how we can rebuild our free market capitalist system on a sounder moral foundation.

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The QAnonization of America and the Rise & Demise of Donald Trump

Is there any hope for a people three-quarters of whom believe in angels and over half of whom read below the sixth grade level? 

By James Bruno — Dispatches From Exile

Misinformation and populism go hand-in-hand.

  • 77 percent of Americans believe in angels.
  • Two-thirds believe in ghosts.
  • A quarter believe in witches.
  • 60 percent believe in evolution.
  • 30 percent think that the government inserts secret mind-controlling technology into television broadcast signals.
  • More Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Half think that the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution.
  • 54 percent of U.S. adults — some 130 million — read below the sixth-grade level.
  • 20 percent believe government, media and finance are controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
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Collective Illusions

Conformity, Complicity, and the Science of Why We Make Bad Decisions

By Tod Rose

Much of our thinking is informed by false assumptions—making us dangerously mistrustful as a society and needlessly unhappy as individuals. 

The desire to fit in is one of the most powerful, least understood forces in society. 

As human beings, we continually act against our own best interests because our brains misunderstand what others believe. A complicated set of illusions driven by conformity bias distorts how we see the world around us.

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Low Sense of Personal Control

Increases People’s Affinity for Tighter, Rules-Based Culture

By Jim Silwa — Neuroscience News

People who feel a lack of personal control in their lives are more likely to prefer a culture that imposes order, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. These “tighter” cultures, in turn, perpetuate their existence by reducing individuals’ sense of personal control and increasing their sense of collective control.

“Strong social norms—a core feature of tight cultures—help people view the world as simple and coherent. As strong norms guide people’s behaviors and allow them to predict others’ behaviors, they can provide a significant source of order and predictability in everyday social life,” said lead author Anyi Ma, PhD, of Tulane University.

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“Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other … Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result.”
— Hannah Arendt

 

 

Dark Money

The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by [Jane Mayer]

By Jane Mayer

Donald Trump’s election victory was a huge victory for the billionaires who have been pouring money into the American political system.

  • Why is America living in an age of profound and widening economic inequality?
  • Why have even modest attempts to address climate change been defeated again and again?
  • Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers?

In a riveting and indelible feat of reporting, Jane Mayer illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys—who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.

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The Psychology of Money

Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness

The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness by [Morgan Housel]

By Morgan Housel

In The Psychology of Money, award-winning author Morgan Housel shares 19 short stories exploring the strange ways people think about money and teaches you how to make better sense of one of life’s most important topics.

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The Petroleum Papers

Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change

The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change by [Geoff Dembicki]

By Geoff Dembicki

Burning fossil fuels will cause catastrophic global warming: this is what top American oil executives were told by scientists in 1959. But they ignored that warning.

Instead, they developed one of the biggest, most polluting oil sources in the world—the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. As investigative journalist Geoff Dembicki reveals in this explosive book, the decades-long conspiracy to keep the oil sands flowing into the U.S. would turn out to be one of the biggest reasons for the world’s failure to stop the climate crisis.

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Exxon’s Climate Crisis Predictions

have increased its legal peril

Exxon climate scientists ‘correctly and skillfully’ predicted climbing global temperatures, rising by around 0.2C a decade due to the burning of fossil fuels.

By Oliver Milman — The Guardian

Further revelations of the extent of Exxon’s historical knowledge of the unfolding climate crisis may have deepened the legal peril faced by the oil giant, with several US states suing the company for alleged deception, claiming their cases have now been strengthened.

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Why We Need New Stories on Climate

‘If you win the popular imagination, you change the game’

By Rebecca Solnit — The Guardian

So much is happening, both wonderful and terrible – and it matters how we tell it. We can’t erase the bad news, but to ignore the good is the route to indifference or despair.

Every crisis is in part a storytelling crisis. This is as true of climate chaos as anything else. We are hemmed in by stories that prevent us from seeing, or believing in, or acting on the possibilities for change. Some are habits of mind, some are industry propaganda. Sometimes, the situation has changed but the stories haven’t, and people follow the old versions, like outdated maps, into dead ends.

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The Revenge of Power

How autocrats are reinventing politics for the 21st century

The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century by [Moisés Naím]

By Moisés Naím

In The Revenge of Power, Naím turns to the trends, conditions, technologies and behaviors that are contributing to the concentration of power, and to the clash between those forces that weaken power and those that strengthen it. He concentrates on the three “P”s—populism, polarization, and post-truths. All of which are as old as time, but are combined by today’s autocrats to undermine democratic life in new and frightening ways. Power has not changed. But the way people go about gaining it and using it has been transformed.

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The 48 Laws of Power

The 48 Laws of Power by [Robert Greene, Joost Elffers]

By Robert Greene

Some laws teach the need for prudence (“Law 1: Never Outshine the Master”), others teach the value of confidence (“Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness”), and many recommend absolute self-preservation (“Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally”). Every law, though, has one thing in common: an interest in total domination. In a bold and arresting two-color package, The 48 Laws of Power is ideal whether your aim is conquest, self-defense, or simply to understand the rules of the game.

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The U.S. Needs a New Strategy

Toward the Autocratic World

By Anne Applebaum — The Atlantic

By enabling Putin and other global kleptocrats, the West undermined democracy. It’s time to change tactics.

THINGS HAVE CHANGED:

“Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance personnel), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries.”

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Fascism: A Warning

Fascism: A Warning by [Madeleine Albright]

By Madeleine Albright 

A personal and urgent examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world.

A Fascist, observed Madeleine Albright, “is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.” 

The twentieth century was defined by the clash between democracy and Fascism, a struggle that created uncertainty about the survival of human freedom and left millions dead. Given the horrors of that experience, one might expect the world to reject the spiritual successors to Hitler and Mussolini should they arise in our era. 

Fascism, as she shows, not only endured through the twentieth century but now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II. The

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The Origins of Totalitarianism

The Origins Of Totalitarianism (Harvest Book Book 244) by [Hannah Arendt, Anne Applebaum]

By Hannah Arendt

The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements, focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian government in our time—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—which she adroitly recognizes were two sides of the same coin, rather than opposing philosophies of Right and Left.

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The Psychology of Totalitarianism

The Psychology of Totalitarianism by [Mattias Desmet]

By Mattias Desmet

The world is in the grips of mass formation—a dangerous, collective type of hypnosis—as we bear witness to loneliness, free-floating anxiety, and fear giving way to censorship, loss of privacy, and surrendered freedoms. It is all spurred by a singular, focused crisis narrative that forbids dissident views and relies on destructive groupthink.

Totalitarianism is not a coincidence and does not form in a vacuum. It arises from a collective psychosis that has followed a predictable script throughout history, its formation gaining strength and speed with each generation—from the Jacobins to the Nazis and Stalinists—as technology advances. Governments, mass media, and other mechanized forces use fear, loneliness, and isolation to demoralize populations and exert control, persuading large groups of people to act against their own interests, always with destructive results.

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“These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country…”
— Thomas Paine 1776

 

Autocracy Is Winning

By Anne Applebaum — The Atlantic

If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse.

Democratic revolutions are contagious. If you can stamp them out in one country, you might prevent them from starting in others. 

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“The thing about long-serving autocrats is that they become increasingly detached from not only the truth but also from being able to tolerate criticism.”
James Bruno

 

The Heartland Theory & Vladimir Putin

Back to the 19th Century

By James Bruno — Dispatches From Exile

Putin aims to return the world to a hierarchical and largely anti-democratic time when Great Powers called the shots. He must be stopped.

In many ways, the world has been harkening back to the 19th century, Halford Mackinder’s century which was lorded over by kaisers, tsars, emperors and sultans, when realpolitik was marked by the moral conscience and actions of junkyard dogs, when cultural communities were divvied up like so much real estate and potentates drew lines on the map delineating spheres of influence. Vladimir Putin aims to return the world to this hierarchical and largely anti-democratic time when Great Powers called the shots.

He must be stopped.

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There Is No Liberal World Order

Unless democracies defend themselves, the forces of autocracy will destroy them.

By Anne Applebaum — The Atlantic

We convinced ourselves that there was no harm in enriching dictators and their cronies. Trade, we imagined, would transform our trading partners. Wealth would bring liberalism. Capitalism would bring democracy—and democracy would bring peace.

But while we were happily living under the illusion that “Never again” meant something real, the leaders of Russia, owners of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, were reconstructing an army and a propaganda machine designed to facilitate mass murder, as well as a mafia state controlled by a tiny number of men and bearing no resemblance to Western capitalism. 

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“A handful of billionaires now have unprecedented control over banking, the food we eat, the healthcare we can access and, now, the information we receive.  This is what oligarchy looks like.”
— Robert B. Reich

 

Putin Doesn’t Fear a Coup by Oligarchs

But he should fear his fellow spies!

By Steven L. Hall — The Washington Post

Russia’s security services have tried to topple its leaders before!

“If the security elite perceives the system is rotting, they will do what’s necessary to protect their interests.”

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Putin’s Nuclear Threats

A Wake-Up Call for the World

By Uri Friedman — The Atlantic

The Russian leader’s actions have opened our eyes to how dependent we all are on the whims of one man and his nuclear arsenal.

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“The entire system of nuclear deterrence is and always has been incredibly dangerous and fragile. We tend not to notice this—or, perhaps, are more able to push this knowledge far enough into the background to ignore how disturbing it is—until there is a crisis that brings the absurdity of the whole system into focus.”
— Eryn MacDonald, global-security analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists

 

Ukraine’s Revolt, Russia’s Revenge

Ukraine's Revolt, Russia's Revenge by [Christopher M. Smith]

By Christopher M. Smith

An eyewitness account by a U.S. diplomat of Russia’s brazen attempt to undo the democratic revolution in Ukraine

Told from the perspective of a U.S. diplomat in Kiev, this book is the true story of Ukraine’s anti-corruption revolution in 2013—14, Russia’s intervention and invasion of that nation, and the limited role played by the United States. It puts into a readable narrative the previously unpublished reporting by seasoned U.S. diplomatic and military professionals, a wealth of information on Ukrainian high-level and street-level politics, a broad analysis of the international context, and vivid descriptions of people and places in Ukraine during the EuroMaidan Revolution. The book also counters Russia’s disinformation narratives about the revolution and America’s role in it.

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Time Is Not On Ukraine’s Side

By Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates — Opinion at The Washington Post

When it comes to the war in Ukraine, about the only thing that’s certain right now is that the fighting and destruction will continue.

Vladimir Putin remains fully committed to bringing all of Ukraine back under Russian control or — failing that — destroying it as a viable country.

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“With searing clarity, Red Famine demonstrates the horrific consequences of a campaign to eradicate ‘backwardness’ when undertaken by a regime in a state of war with its own people.”
The Economist

 

Red Famine

Stalin’s War on Ukraine

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by [Anne Applebaum]

By Anne Applebaum

In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization—in effect a second Russian revolution—which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil. 

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Blowing Up Russia

The Book that Got Litvinenko Murdered

Blowing up Russia: The Book that Got Litvinenko Murdered by [Alexander Litvinenko, Yuri Felshtinsky]

By Yuri Felshtinsky and Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko wrote Blowing up Russia to reveal in gripping detail how his FSB colleagues in the Russian secret service started an unprecedented ‘Islamist’ bombing campaign of apartment buildings in Moscow as part the first election campaign of Vladimir Putin. MI6 judged this whistleblowing book to be the reason for his assassination with Polonium-210 in London in 2006.

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How the War in Ukraine Could Change History

A political scientist on why the fate of the global political order hangs in the balance.

By Sean Illing — Vox

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a world-historical event and the effects of it will likely ripple out for years to come.

Since 1945, the world has done a remarkably good job of preventing wars between great powers and making the costs of unprovoked aggression extremely high. In a matter of days, Russia has upended this system. A major war, if not probable, is at least plausible — and that’s a significant shift.

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The War in Ukraine Could Change Everything

TED Talk on YouTube

By Bruno Giussani and Yuval Noah Harari

Concerned about the war Ukraine? You’re not alone. Historian Yuval Noah Harari provides important context on the Russian invasion, including Ukraine’s long history of resistance, the specter of nuclear war and his view of why, even if Putin wins all the military battles, he’s already lost the war.

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“How people think about the country depends on the stories they hear about it.”
Heather Cox Richardson

 

Malcolm Nance in Mariupol

The Plot to Hack America

How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election

The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election by [Malcolm W.  Nance, Spencer Ackerman]

By Malcolm Nance

Published a full month prior to the divisive Trump vs. Clinton 2016 presidential election, this book exposed the Russian hacking while the CIA was drafting their own report. In April 2016, computer technicians at the Democratic National Committee discovered that someone had accessed the organization’s computer servers and conducted a theft that is best described as Watergate 2.0. In the weeks that followed, the nation’s top computer security experts discovered that the cyber thieves had helped themselves to everything: sensitive documents, emails, donor information, even voice mails.

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The Plot to Destroy Democracy

How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by [Malcolm W. Nance, Rob Reiner]

By Malcolm Nance

A provocative, comprehensive analysis of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s master plan to destroy democracy in the age of Donald Trump.

In the greatest intelligence operation in the history of the world, Donald Trump was made President of the United States with the assistance of a foreign power. For the first time, The Plot to Destroy Democracy reveals the dramatic story of how blackmail, espionage, assassination, and psychological warfare were used by Vladimir Putin and his spy agencies to steal the 2016 U.S. election — and attempted to bring about the fall of NATO, the European Union, and western democracy. It will show how Russia and its fifth column allies tried to flip the cornerstones of democracy in order to re-engineer the world political order that has kept most of the world free since 1945.

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The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

315 years. 20,528 Voyages. Millions of lives.

By Andrew Kahn and Jamelle Bouie — Slate

From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. 

Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4 percent of the total—came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

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