Patterico's Pontifications

9/24/2017

How to Make the Comments of Annoying Commenters Disappear from Your Screen

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:46 pm

I don’t like to ban people. I generally ban people only when they commit an egregious offense. I often get requests to ban people whom folks find annoying. But being annoying isn’t a bannable offense.

But you shouldn’t have to suffer the annoyance of seeing a comments section overrun by people who do nothing but aggravate you. Am I right?

Today, there’s a better way!

Beldar explained how to do it in this comment. An edited version of Beldar’s explanation appears below, correcting one minor error in his explanation.

Follow these instructions and the annoying commenters will disappear from your screen. Just hit the bookmark after accessing the page. It has the effect of refreshing the page while eliminating the annoying commenter.

(more…)

Trump’s Russia Defense Funded in Part by Man with Ties to Russian Oligarchs

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:30 pm

The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Friday titled GOP Funds Donald Trump’s Defense in Russia Probe With Help From a Handful of Wealthy People. The deck headline reads: “Payment arrangement is legal, but ethics experts warn that reliance on party and campaign accounts could raise thorny political issues.” And here is the opening paragraph:

President Donald Trump’s attorneys in the probe of Russian election interference are being funded in part through a Republican Party account with a handful of wealthy donors—including a billionaire investor, a property developer seeking U.S. government visas and a Ukrainian-born American who has made billions of dollars doing business with Russian oligarchs.

The article lists details about several other donors, but I skipped ahead to the part about the Ukranian guy, to see what the Wall Street Journal says about who he is and why he is donating to Trump’s defense:

In April, billionaire Len Blavatnik gave $12,700 to the RNC’s legal fund, on top of donations of about $200,000 to other RNC accounts. He also gave the legal fund $100,000 in 2016, according to FEC filings.

The contribution from Mr. Blavatnik came during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe of U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, a month before the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee its probe of Russian interference—which subsequently prompted Mr. Trump to hire a private legal team.

Moscow has denied interfering in the election. Mr. Trump has denied his campaign colluded with Russia and called the investigations a “witch hunt.”

A spokesman for Mr. Blavatnik didn’t return a request for comment. The White House referred questions to the RNC.

Mr. Blavatnik, who was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, and moved to the U.S. in his early 20s, amassed his fortune in Russia in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He is a longtime business partner of Viktor Vekselberg, who is one of the richest men in Russia and has close ties to the Kremlin.

In 2013, Mr. Blavatnik earned billions when he, Mr. Vekselberg and two other partners sold their stake in the oil company TNK-BP to Rosneft, a Kremlin-controlled oil company. Rosneft’s chief executive is Igor Sechin, a top ally of Russian President Vladmir Putin.

During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Blavatnik through his company donated to several Republican presidential campaigns, including for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. He didn’t donate to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Well. That doesn’t sound like great cause for concern. Yes, Blavatnik’s business partner has close ties to the Kremlin. But who doesn’t? Sure, Blavatnik earned billions from a sale made to a Kremlin-controlled company. Who among us can’t say the same about ourselves? But — he donated to other Republicans and not Trump during the presidential election. If he’s helping to fund Trump’s Russia defense, who are we to complain? It’s rather standard influence-seeking by a businessman, of the sort any wealthy American citizen does routinely.

Shall we stop there or shall we dig deeper?

Sure, let’s dig deeper. Why not?

First, Blavatnik’s ties to Trump run a little deeper than the Wall Street Journal revealed. His company Access Industries donated a cool million to Trump’s inaugural committee. And Blavatnik became a business partner with Trump’s Treasury Secretary:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just got a new Hollywood business partner: a man who made billions investing in Russia.

A company run by Len Blavatnik announced a deal Tuesday to buy a stake in a film-finance firm that, in turn, is engaged in a joint venture with Mnuchin, backing blockbusters including “The Lego Batman Movie.” The Treasury secretary has pledged to sell his own interest in the business by June.

All of that seems legal and aboveboard. What big businessman doesn’t have some ties to a presidential administration, after all?

But here’s what got my attention.

It also turns out this same fella, Len Blavatnik, gave a gang of money to Oxford University in 2010. Like $75 million worth. So the folks at Oxford named their school of government the “Blavatnik School of Government” (as you do) . . . and then something weird happened. A group of folks wrote a letter to The Guardian suggesting that Blavatnik has some unsavory ties with folks who have reason to oppose the Magnitsky Act:

Blavatnik has not been alone in seeking to collaborate with Oxford. His fellow oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven from Alfa-Bank gave a joint “award for excellence in foreign investment in Russia” with the Oxford Saïd Business School from 2007 to 2011.

All these oligarchs belong to a consortium of Russian billionaires called Access-Alfa-Renova (AAR). The consortium has long been accused of being behind a campaign of state-sponsored harassment against BP. In 2008-09 dozens of British and other western managers were forced out of Russia. As part of this campaign, Vladimir Putin’s FSB intelligence agency fabricated a case against two Oxford graduates. According to evidence from its jailed owner Sergei Bobylyov, Alfa-Bank oligarchs also raided a retail company called Sunrise.

The spy case and the attack on Sunrise involved the participation of Russian officials who are listed as gross human rights violators by the US Treasury in line with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.

These corporate abuses took place in Russia with active official support. There was a backdrop of state-sponsored propaganda. Russian state media broadcast libelous assertions against western and Russian citizens. AAR went on to make billions from a highly controversial deal with Rosneft.

Oxford University apparently failed to investigate these facts, AAR’s track record from the beginning, and its close ties with the Kremlin.

We insist that the university should stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates.

Isn’t it weird how that name “Magnitsky” keeps coming up in connection with Trump?

The letter to The Guardian was signed by what Cherwell.org describes as “a group of Oxford graduates and human rights activists” including Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet-era dissident who wrote a book I read recently called To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter. (If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.)

Blavatnik’s lawyer, I should hasten to add for fairness, denies all this. Below the letter, The Guardian published the following:

Lawyers for Mr Blavatnik contacted us after publication, in May 2016, stating that Mr Blavatnik is not an associate of Vladimir Putin, with whom he has had no personal contact since 2000. Mr Blavatnik’s lawyers also stated that he is a strong believer in encouraging democracy and freedom throughout the world and that he had no involvement whatsoever in any alleged state-sponsored campaign of harassment against BP in Russia.

That may be. Lawyers tend to be biased, but I don’t know who’s right here. I just flag the issue for you, the reader.

Let’s sum it all up. This group of dissidents, human rights activists, and others signs a letter saying Blavatnik — the fella who is partially funding Trump’s defense to the Russia claims, who gave a ton of money to his Inaugural Committee, and who was a business partner with his Treasury Secretary — is part of a consortium alleged to have been involved with a raid tied to human rights abusers named in the Magnitsky Act.

Well, that’s kind of interesting. Especially given that, if you read my recent series (you did read my recent series, didn’t you?), you know that the Magnitsky Act is what Natalia Veselnitskaya was trying to get repealed when she met with Trump Jr., Paul “Shady” Manafort, and Jared “I Told Trump Not to Do It” Kushner.

As I always say when I write posts about Russia, this does not show collusion between Trump and the Russian government. (People ignore me when I say that, but I say it anyway.) But it’s interesting to see the interconnections here . . . and how often things come back to the Magnitsky Act.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

Who Will “Take a Knee” on This Sunday?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:19 am

Many will take two, in church. But what about just one — on the field, with a hashtag in front of the phrase?

#TAKEAKNEE!!!!

Not being a sports guy, I could not care less about any of this — but some of you probably want to talk about it because it’s one of those hot topics that everyone has to have a passionate opinion about. So have at it.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back, if you want to discuss the topic without having people insult you. Sometimes people like that kind of thing.]

The First to Stop Applauding

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:00 am

I began reading The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn yesterday. I’m only 100 pages in or so, but in Chapter Two I ran across a great story that I wanted to recount to you here. It is timeless, and frightening, and funny, and horrific — all at the same time. And Solzhenitsyn assures the reader that this story — like every thing else he recounts — really happened.

Is it relevant to today? You be the judge!

Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred. A district Party conference was underway in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop?

The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first!

And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on –- six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly –- but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?

The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. . . .

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”

(And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

It’s easy to suppose that such fits of insanity can never happen to us. Well. In a foreward to the version of the book I am reading, Solzhenitsyn writes:

There always is this fallacious belief: “It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.”

Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible anywhere on earth.

Settle down, Trumpers. I’m not saying or suggesting in any way that Donald Trump is the return of Stalin or Hitler. Nor is this a post about Barack Obama, or a suggestion that he resembled those monsters.

But each has led cults of personality — and while those cults have not approached anything approaching the fanaticism that was seen under a Stalin or a Mao, such evils are “possible anywhere on earth.” We would be fools not to learn the lessons of history — not to be on the lookout for a repeat of such horror.

Crying wolf is not just foolish. It is dangerous. But if the wolf has attacked in the past, it is equally foolish and dangerous not to watch for the warning signs that the wolf may approach again. When I read the accounts of the torture suffered in Soviet Russia, I recognize some of the same techniques that were used in Abu Ghraib. When Solzhenitsyn writes that for men to do evil, they must convince themselves that they are doing good — and when he writes that ideology helps men justify their evil deeds as serving a greater good — I recognize the attitude of the more ideological Trump or Obama or Hillary or Bernie supporters, who argue that the use of a nasty tactic by the other side justifies the use of the same tactic by their own side. And a Clickhole article I saw yesterday sums up nicely, in humorous fashion, the attitude of some of the more mindless Trump drones:

Before attacking the president by pointing out the many flaws in his reasoning, why don’t you try agreeing with everything he says? The only people complaining about Trump are biased against Trump according to Trump, so you can’t trust anyone that questions the president, even when that person is you. This is America. If you’re not prepared to sell your values down the river to spew President Trump’s talking points word for word, well, you can find a different country to live in.

For the good of the country, Republicans like me must unite to automatically parrot whatever knee-jerk policy announcement Trump has surprised us with over Twitter. Conservatives must abandon our own long-held viewpoints and ideologies in favor of the random hodgepodge of right-wing causes Trump happened to talk about today. Sometimes it’s difficult to repeat Donald Trump verbatim when it goes against my very sense of right and wrong, but I know history will look kindly on patriots like me who compromise their integrity to echo the rhetoric of a president they vehemently disagree with.

It’s relevant to Trump today because he’s president, but let’s not pretend this is a phenomenon that happens only on one side. (Of course, many on this blog will argue that it does happen only on one side. And many commenters on a partisan lefty blog will argue that it happens only on one side. They’ll just disagree as to which side is the source of original and inherent evildoing.)

I’m tired of arguments that suggest that human nature is different for different political parties. After all, we on the right really thought we had the left pegged as the people who followed a cult leader. And then Trump came along. It’s a little hard to be too smug now.

The Clickhole article is very funny. And yet: the phenomenon of a room full of people who all know they are supporting something crazy, but are all scared to say so, is a reality that has been no joke at times in human history.

No, Trump drones and Obama cultists, I am not saying these guys are the return of history’s greatest monsters. Nor am I saying that you are the return of their supporters.

But . . .

But if you think such a thing could never happen again . . . think again.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]


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