Afghanistan’s president favors offshore transparency, Robert Rubin not so much?

March 30, 2015 – In a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, spoke of the international drug trade and grand corruption damaging his country. He said: “The global criminal economy is 1.7 trillion [dollars] a year. Afghanistan is certainly among the 20 top contributors to this because of the heroin trade. But heroin has been sidelined as a phenomenon and its impact.

We have at least 15—or 35 people who are worth $10 to $20 billion, and they have yearly income from this trade, it’s 300 to $500 million. We—they fuel insecurity. So, that, again, needs to be understood.”

And, “The first problem is grand corruption. Corruption is the system.” He emphasized that “corruption has become very deep and entrenched and we have to break it.”

So, I asked him this: You talked a number of times about the grand corruption and also about the international drug trafficking that has a number of billionaires in your country.

To what extent do you think that this is facilitated especially by the big players, by the international offshore bank and corporate secrecy system, where they can stash their money in accounts that do not have their names?

“The Audience” — Queen’s meetings reveal class lines of Britain’s prime ministers

British playwright Peter Morgan is a subtle political historian, here suggesting what went on over sixty years in private meetings between ten British prime ministers and Queen Elizabeth. In Buckingham Palace. It’s all in his imagination, but it is a careful critique of the politics and class loyalties of the characters and the Queen.

The play is fascinating, and I enjoyed it immensely. Helen Mirren is brilliant as Elizabeth through the years. Cool, contained, to the manor born, aging but ageless in her sense of self.

Morgan has written a number of notable political works, including “Frost/Nixon” and “The Special Relationship,”about the U.S. and the UK. Stephen Daldry, who directed the play “Billy Elliot,” with Margaret Thatcher the villain in the miners’ strike, does an excellent job etching Morgan’s critique of privilege. (Morgan’s father was a German Jew who escaped the Nazis, his mother a Polish Catholic who emigrated after the Soviet takeover.)

“The Nether” is a surprising, provocative look at immorality via avatar

People that do bad things should be punished for them. People that video bad things and post them on the internet should get punished. What about people who use avatars to do bad things on fantasy internet sites? And what if those bad things are realistic pedophilia and murder?

Jennifer Haley’s unusual play shows a fantasy world where bad things, (which you don’t ever see) go on. It is not an erotic or sadistic drama. It’s sci fi, but only partly. It’s rather an intellectual provocation. It is crisply directed by Anne Kauffman.

CIA Director John Brennan dodges question about offshore

March 16, 2015 – You don’t expect the CIA director to give away the crown jewels, but you do expect him to take seriously a question about the offshore bank and corporate secrecy system. That is the opaque system of bank accounts and shell companies set up in banking centers and networked islands and mini-states and used by terrorists, criminals, arms traffickers, corporate crooks, tax evaders and the like.

But when I asked him about it at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting, that was later broadcast on the Charlie Rose show Friday, he evaded and waffled.

“Abundance” a fine feminist take on mail order brides in the 1800s West

Money is power is the message of Beth Henley’s engrossing 1990 feminist play about two mail order brides and the men they marry in the late 19th-century Wyoming Territory. It gets a realistic staging by director Jenn Thompson. The story starts in the 1860s and for 25 years follows the reversal of fortunes of the two couples. Henley based the story and characters on true events.