May 282019
 


Photo: Steve Biro

 

 

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)
Rumors of War (Kunstler)
In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)
A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)
Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)
Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)
Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)
Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)
Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)
Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)
German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)
Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

 

 

“From the start, Assange faced political persecution.”

Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law (J. Cook)

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it. If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

[..] Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again. His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

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Starting energy wars just as you run out of energy.

Rumors of War (Kunstler)

China compressed its version of the industrial revolution into a few decades, catching up to a weary, jaded West that took two hundred years achieving “modernity,” and now it is seeming to surpass us — which is the reason for so much tension and anxiety in our relations. The real news is: we’re all already in the climax of that movie. Nobody will surpass anyone. The reason is the decline of affordable energy to run the stupendously complex systems we have come to rely on. China never had very much petroleum. They import over 10 million barrels a day now, and most of that comes from far far away, having to pass through some very hazardous sea lanes like the Straits of Hormuz and Molucca.

They run things mostly on coal, and they’re well past peak — and let’s not get into the ecological ramifications of what they’re still burning. Even some intelligent observers in the West think that the Chinese have made gigantic strides in alt-energy, and will soon be free of old limits, but that’s a pipe dream. They have met the same disappointments over wind and solar as we have. Alt-energy just doesn’t pencil out money-wise or physics-wise. Plus, you absolutely need fossil fuels to make it happen, even as a science project. The US is smugly and stupidly under the impression that the “shale oil miracle” has put an end to our energy worries.

That comes from a foolish nexus of wishful thinking between a harried populace, a dishonest government, and the aforementioned brain-damaged news media. We want, with all our might, to believe we can keep running the interstate highways, WalMart, Agri-Business, DisneyWorld, the US Military, and suburbia just as they are, forever. So, we spin our reassuring fantasies about “energy independence” and “Saudi America.” Meanwhile, the shale oil companies can’t make a red cent pulling that stuff out of the ground. For the moment, ultra-low interest rate loans, riding on the back of all that wishful thinking, keep the racket going and sustain America’s illusions.

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Wish this was only funny.

In Honor Of Memorial Day, John Bolton Announces 7 New Wars (Babylon Bee)

In a moving speech to honor Memorial Day, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced seven new wars the U.S. will launch in the coming months. It’s customary for military leaders to say a few words on Memorial Day, sometimes thanking past soldiers for their sacrifice or reminding Americans of the price of freedom. This year, Bolton is going above and beyond, actually announcing new unnecessary wars as a special gift to the country on this solemn occasion. Bolton teased wars on Canada, Mexico, England, France, Russia, India, and California, all in honor of the memory of soldiers who have died in past American wars.


The national security advisor said that he selected these countries “kind of at random,” picking the names out of a MAGA hat. “The best way we can remember the fallen is to launch a bunch of new wars and make more fallen,” he said solemnly. “Remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in foreign wars, so that we would have the freedom to launch more foreign wars. They died for your freedoms, they died for your sins. They died so we could attack Iran again.” “Amen.”

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Many millions.

A Million Americans Could Lose Their Pensions (HP)

The mining work also assured him security in old age through retiree health coverage and a defined-benefit pension – crucial perks that made the dangerous work and risk of black lung disease worth undertaking for Brown, who was one of just a few African Americans in his mine. When his injuries forced him into early retirement and onto disability in 2002, the benefits became even more vital. “It was in writing that the pension would be secure,” Brown, now 78, said on a recent afternoon, taking a break from remodeling his bathroom. “A pension ’til I pass away – that was the deal.”

But the pension plan through the United Mine Workers of America that Brown and 86,000 other retirees rely on is on track to be insolvent in about three years, which could result in deep cuts to once-guaranteed monthly payments. A growing number of plans are in similarly bad shape. If nothing is done, the coming rash of insolvencies could torpedo part of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, the government-run corporation that insures defined-benefit pensions. Brown’s is what’s known as a multiemployer pension plan. Anywhere from a handful to hundreds of companies contribute funds to these plans on behalf of their workers, with payments negotiated through union contracts.

The plans are common in the construction, transportation and service sectors, providing a portable benefit in cyclical industries where workers frequently change jobs. But many plans have run into trouble, losing their stream of income, as industries change and unionized employers go out of business. While most of the 1,400 multiemployer plans in the U.S. are not in any danger, some 130 plans are projected to be insolvent within 15 to 20 years. The PBGC’s multiemployer insurance program, which would need to step in to help cover pension payments for those plans, is expected to go under by 2025 if lawmakers don’t intervene with a plan to save it.

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Do the MSM have anything on their former princeling?

Michael Avenatti To Face 2 Arraignments In One Day (Fox)

Embattled attorney Michael Avenatti will have a busy day in Manhattan federal court Tuesday afternoon — but as a defendant, not as counsel. Avenatti, 49, is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he stole nearly $300,000 from adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the client who rocketed him to national prominence. Approximately three-and-a-half hours later, Avenatti is scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he tried to extort up to $25 million from athletic apparel giant Nike by threatening to expose claims that the shoemaker paid off high school basketball players to steer them to Nike-sponsored colleges.

In the Nike case, Avenatti is charged with one count of extortion, one count of sending interstate communications with intent to extort and two counts of conspiracy. In the Stormy Daniels case, he is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all counts, Avenatti could face a total of 69 years in prison. Avenatti repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to plead not guilty to all charges. [..] Avenatti was indicted formally in the Nike matter this past Wednesday. That same day, prosecutors indicted him in the Daniels case, in which they claimed Avenatti stole two payments totaling $297,500 from an advance Daniels was supposed to receive from a book deal in the summer of 2018.

Court documents said Avenatti gave Daniels’ literary agent a doctored letter with her signature directing the agent to divert the money to an account controlled by Avenatti. The lawyer then allegedly spent the money “on airfare, hotels, car services, restaurants and meal delivery, online retailers, payroll for his law firm and another business he owned, and insurance.”

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“More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016..”

Canada’s Ontario Province Says Will Sue Opioid Makers (AFP)

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario on Monday announced plans to sue opioid makers to recover health care costs related to the deadly addiction epidemic. Ontario’s attorney general, Caroline Mulroney, said the province will join a lawsuit launched last year by British Columbia against more than 40 opioid manufacturers and wholesalers. “The opioid crisis has cost the people of Ontario enormously, both in terms of lives lost and its impact on health care’s front lines,” Mulroney said. She unveiled legislation to set up the legal action “to battle the ongoing opioid crisis and hold manufacturers and wholesalers accountable for their roles in it.”


More than 10,000 Canadians have died of opioid-related overdoses since 2016, according to government figures. Combatting the crisis is estimated to have cost Ottawa nearly Can$400 million (US$300 million). Historically, opioid overdose deaths — mainly from the powerful painkiller fentanyl — were concentrated among drug addicts. But many victims became addicted to prescribed painkillers before turning to street drugs and others were experimenting with recreational drugs for the first time.

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Lobby. Trade. Compromise.

Macron and Merkel At Odds Over EU Top Jobs After European Elections (G.)

Paris and Berlin appear on a collision course over the replacement of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European commission after poor results for the centre-right in the European elections damaged Angela Merkel’s choice for the post. The German chancellor’s backing for the German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the European People’s party of which her CDU party is a member, is facing tough resistance from the French president Emmanuel Macron in the post-election jockeying for top jobs. The EU heads of state and government, including Theresa May, are due to meet on Tuesday night to kickstart their discussions over the leadership of the bloc’s institutions after a set of election results that weakened the grip of the traditional centrist parties on the levers of power in Brussels.


The European People’s party (EPP) remains the largest in the parliament, but during a disappointing night its haul of seats plummeted from 221 in 2014 to 180, prompting Weber to concede that the “centre is shrinking”. The Socialists and Democrats group’s 191 seats five years ago fell to 145 despite surprisingly strong results in Spain and the Netherlands, where they topped the polls. It is the first time in 40 years that the two groups are not able to form a stable majority to allow them to carve up the top jobs and set the legislative agenda. The member states choice for commission president also requires endorsement by a majority in the parliament.

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Macron got rid of Weber. So why would they give him Barnier?

Ireland Likely To Back Barnier As Head Of European Commission (IT)

The [Irish] Government is likely to back Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier as the next head of the European Commission if, as expected, the bid of German Manfred Weber falters in the face of French opposition. EU leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss who should lead the commission and also the Council of EU leaders for the next five years, while the next head of the European Central Bank will also be discussed. No decisions are expected that evening. Officially, the Government is backing Mr Weber “to the hilt”, says a spokesman, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly expressed his support. But privately senior officials acknowledge that his chances are falling away.

Mr Weber is the candidate of the European People’s Party, to which Fine Gael is attached, and under the system known as “spitzenkandidaten” the largest group in the European Parliament should nominate the incoming head of the European Commission. However, it is the Council of EU leaders which actually makes the appointment – to be confirmed by a vote of the parliament – and French president Emmanuel Macron has made his opposition to Mr Weber clear. Though the EPP remains the largest party in the new European Parliament, it suffered significant losses in the elections – a development which will damage Mr Weber, already considered a weak candidate to head the commission, when current president Jean Claude Juncker retires in the autumn.

The commission is the EU’s civil service and its policymaking engine. It is also charged with protecting the treaties. Mr Macron has been lobbying EU leaders on appointments to the EU’s top jobs and dined in Paris last night with the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. Though other candidates, such as current competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, the Dutch socialist Franz Timmermans or Belgian prime minister Charles Michel may be considered, Mr Macron is expected by many to back Mr Barnier, who is also French and a former EPP politician.

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The man who says Yes to everything. Once too often.

Greek PM Comes Unstuck Over Macedonia, Austerity In European Vote (R.)

His leftist Syriza, which stormed the Greek political stage in 2015 on the back of a popular backlash against painful economic reforms, suffered its first major defeat in years to the opposition conservative New Democracy party. Smarting from the fallout, Tsipras has called snap elections, speculated to take place by June 30 at the earliest. The full term of his administration ends in October. In his first appearance after calling the snap poll, a sombre-looking Tsipras told Syriza party faithful on Monday evening: “The crucial thing in life is not if you will fall, but if you will get up.” “I want to ask you all, today, to get up, and regroup, and fight. We very well know we can do it. Because our main strength is that we are defending what is just: our values, the values of the democratic faction and of the left.”

Tsipras is the longest-serving Greek prime minister since the country lurched from crisis to crisis from the onset of financial turmoil in 2010. Political analyst Theodore Couloumbis said that while Tsipras may be hurt, he is not a spent force. “(Syriza) will still remain at the forefront as the second-largest party,” he said. Another analyst, pollster Costas Panagopoulos from ALCO Research, said political parties that do well in European Parliament elections would do better in the national vote, meaning a projection of victory for New Democracy. Once a leftist firebrand, Tsipras, 44, built his career as the crowd-pleaser who stood up to creditors and their austerity demands. But he was forced into a painful new bailout in 2015 months after sweeping to power, when Greece was confronted with a choice of that or being turfed out of the euro zone.

His U-turn went down badly with many voters. A subsequent, deeply unpopular agreement that resolved a long-running country name dispute with North Macedonia also upset many Greek voters. Tsipras signed the so-called Prespes accord last year agreeing to a name change for its Balkan neighbor, resolving a decades-old wrangle which kept Macedonia out of the European Union and NATO. But for many Greeks, it was an unacceptable national defeat and an appropriation of Greek national heritage. A former associate said the Prespes accord was Tsipras’ nemesis. “It was probably one of the most important factors (in the European election outcome),” the former associate said on condition of anonymity.

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Lest we forget.

Icebreakers And The Arctic Power Play (SF)

The Arctic remains one of the few areas of the globe with relatively little human activity and therefore limited prospects for international conflict. Even during the Cold War the Arctic remained comparatively under-resourced by both adversarial blocs. The main theater was Europe, supporting theaters included the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but the Arctic was mainly visited by strategic nuclear platforms such as submarines and bombers which rehearsed their WW3 missions there. The end of the Cold War gradually raised the Arctic’s importance, and it did so for two reasons.

The current multipolar power distribution means the addition of two independent or largely independent political actors, namely the EU and China, and the shifting of the global economic “center of gravity” eastward. This development is increasing Russia’s importance as the economic and political link between the EU and China. However, while the European and Asian economic powerhouses are exploring various forms of economic linkages with Russia serving as a vital component of the relationship, United States is actively seeking to drive a wedge between them by isolating the EU from Russia and therefore also China, and fully subordinating Europe to its economic and political interests.

Whether the EU acquiesces to being merely a US protectorate or asserts its independence remains to be seen, however, in the meantime the Arctic is acquiring importance as a trade route linking Europe and Asia. The second reason for the Arctic’s importance is the presence of considerable reserves of energy resources in the region on which the global economy will depend. National control over these resources or lack thereof will in turn determine the power ranking of the country in question.

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From the same world that you live in.

German Woman With 1,800 Cows Allowed To Stay In India (AFP)

It’s a long way from Berlin to India, where Friederike Irina Bruening devotes her life to sick and abandoned cows. Now, after intervention from the Hindu nationalist government, she has been allowed to stay. “Currently we have around 1,800 cows,” Bruening told AFP from outside the holy city of Mathura in northern India where she keeps the animals. “Between five and 15 are brought in every day.” Bruening, 61, had threatened last week to return a top civilian award for cow protection that she won — the Padma Shri award — after her request for a visa extension was denied. This prompted Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to take to Twitter and announce she had “asked for a report”, and on Monday Bruening said she had been issued with a new visa allowing her to remain in India.

Bruening came to India around 25 years ago and says she has since spent around 200,000 euros ($225,000) of her own money over the years on her cow shelter, which costs around $45,000 per month to run. Many of the cows that arrive are blind or have been injured in road accidents, while others are sick from eating the vast amounts of plastic waste littering India. Around half of the new arrivals die. Since coming to power in 2014 one of the signature policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, newly re-elected, has been the protection of cows, which for many Hindus are sacred. Laws against the slaughter and consumption of beef have been strengthened, and lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits — who have traditionally been involved in the sector — have risen.

This has prompted many people to abandon old and infirm cows instead of selling them for slaughter, resulting in more of the animals on the loose, including in cities like Delhi where they are a common sight. But Bruening, who has become a Hindu and is known as Sudevi Dasi, said that allowing the slaughter of old or sick cows is not the answer. “Killing a cow is the worse thing you can do,” she said.

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Agriculture had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

Where Are All The Insects Gone? My Unease Deepens Year By Year (Viney)

[..] the new and formidably sourced UN report on the destruction of nature seems to have left the human world largely dumbstruck or indifferent. After so many years of chronicling the trends in this column, species by species and habitat by habitat, I find the new figures properly appalling but their message no surprise. Allowed, in old age, to entertain grand if gloomy explanations, I find what is happening entirely consistent with the basic history of our species. This has been set out quite brilliantly by an Israeli academic, Dr Yuval Noah Harari, in his recent and best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Bill Gates recommends it, if that counts.

For more than two million years, as Harari reminds us, various breeds of humans fed themselves by gathering plants and hunting animals, their numbers generally in balance with the rest of the natural world. About 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens in many separate parts of the planet began to spend their time manipulating the lives of a few edible plants and biddable animals and finding the need to settle down. “Scholars once proclaimed,” writes Harari, “that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity [in which] evolution gradually produced ever more intelligent people.” He finds no evidence for this. And the extra food “did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather it translated into population explosions and pampered elites.” It had “the cumulative effect of forcing ancient foragers to spend their days carrying water buckets under a scorching sun”.

One chapter, History’s Biggest Fraud, chronicles the traps set by the long-term pursuit of an easier life. When luxuries become necessities, they spawn new and never-ending obligations. “Humanity’s search for an easier life,” he concludes, “released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted.” Among them, as I see it, is a mindset of expectation, entitlement and addiction to unremitting novelty, matched to the siren imperative of “growth”. With the world population nudging 10 billion by 2050, human usage spread across three-quarters of the planet’s land, and a million plants and animals at risk of extinction, the collapse of global ecosystems seems inevitable.

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May 252019
 


 

What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)
A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)
Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)
The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)
Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)
Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)
The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)
Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)
Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)
For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)
EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)
We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)

 

 

Hundreds of assessments of what the Assange charges mean. Turley’s not a bad place to start.

What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)

For over a decade, there has been a raging debate over precisely what Julian Assange is – whistleblower, journalist, or spy. Now that question will have to be answered after the United States hit him with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act for receiving and publishing information from Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The Trump administration has now crossed the line that many counselled it to avoid – and may have triggered the most important press freedom case in the US in 300 years. While the status of Assange has long been hotly debated, his actions in publishing classified information on Wikileaks is a common component of journalism. Indeed, the most celebrated cases in history – such as the failed attempts to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 – were based on the publications of classified evidence.

Assange’s supporters note that his publications revealed alleged war crimes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that were unlikely to have been exposed otherwise. If it was a crime for Assange to receive and publish such information, much of the journalism in the US would become a de facto criminal enterprise. In April, the government avoided this threshold question by charging Assange with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charge related to helping Manning obtain access to defence department computers in 2010. In doing so, the justice department stayed clear of charging him as a publisher as opposed to an intruder. That is until Thursday.

The charges were brought under the controversial Espionage Act of 1917. Passed after World War One, it was used to target anti-war activists and political dissidents. The law has long been denounced as unconstitutional in its criminalising of receiving and publishing classified information. It is no surprise that the justice department had to use this much-ridiculed law to achieve this ignoble goal. Counts nine through 17 against Assange concern the publications of “national defence information.” The justice department takes pains to try to argue that Assange is not a journalist and that the publication counts concern the disclosure of not just classified information but the actual names of intelligence sources. That however may establish that Assange is a poor journalist, but a journalist all the same.

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Everybody does what WikiLeaks does. Just not as successful.

A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)

The indictment says that Assange and WikiLeaks “repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to the serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States.” That is almost a textbook definition of the job of a reporter covering national security at a major news organization. Take a look at the tips pages of most news outlets, and you’ll see a remarkable similarity between what journalists ask for and what WikiLeaks sought. The indictment goes on to say that “WikiLeaks’s website explicitly solicited censored, otherwise restricted, and until September 2010, ‘classified’ materials.”


Today, virtually every major news organization has a similar secure drop box where sources can provide information anonymously. WikiLeaks popularized that technique for soliciting anonymous leaks, but it is now common journalistic practice. “Assange personally and publicly promoted WikiLeaks to encourage those with access to protected information, including classified information, to provide it to WikiLeaks for public disclosure,” the indictment says. Nearly every national security reporter goes on television, gives speeches, or launches book tours to promote their work and hopefully obtain new sources. All of this raises an obvious question: If the government can charge Assange for conspiring to obtain leaked documents, what would stop it from charging the CIA beat reporter at the New York Times for committing the same crime?

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Rachel Maddow is a giant blemish on our world.

Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)

“And, you know, I know you,” Maddow continued, pointing to the camera. “Given everything else that we know about the WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed feelings about what I am saying. I can feel what may be, perhaps, a certain lack of concern about Julian Assange’s ultimate fate, given his own gleeful and extensive personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interfere in our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks’ help. Okay? I know. Okay, I feel ya. I got it. But, it is a recurring theme in history, heck, it is a recurring theme in the Bible, that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this stuff on first.

Despite anyone’s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center, swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here. Because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.” Wow. Make no mistake, this is a hugely significant development. This isn’t just some columnist for the New York Times or the Guardian, this is Rachel effing Maddow, the Queen Mother of all tinfoil pussyhat-wearing Russiagate insanity.

This same pundit was just a couple of months ago not just smearing but outright lying about Assange, deceitfully telling her audience that the new legal rings closing around Assange were about his 2016 publications then instructing viewers not to Google anything about it because they’ll get computer viruses. Now that she’s recognized that this could actually hurt her and her network directly, she’s finally feeding her audience a different narrative out of sheer enlightened self-interest.

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Violence is the sole language of empire.

The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)

Violence is the sole language of empire. It is this only currency it uses to enforce its precepts and edicts, both at home and abroad. Eventually this language becomes internalized within the psyche of the subjects. Social and cultural conditioning maintained through constant subtle messaging via mass media begins to mold the public will toward that of authoritarian conformity. The American Empire is emblematic of this process. There is mass compliance to the dictates of the ruling class and this occurs most often without any prompting or debate whatsoever. In this dictatorship of money the poor are looked at with ridicule and contempt, and are often punished legally for their imposed poverty.

But the social conditioning of the American public has led toward a bizarre allegiance to its ruling class oppressors. Propaganda still works here and most are still besotted with the notion of America being a bastion of “freedom and democracy.” The growing gap between the ultra-wealthy and the poor and the gutting of civil liberties are ignored. And blind devotion is especially so when it comes to US foreign policy. Most Americans still believe they live in the greatest country on the planet. They believe the American military to be noble and that they always reluctantly go into or are forced into war. Indeed, both the Democrats and Republicans possess an uncanny ability to bridge their ideological distances when it comes to defending US militarism, the Pentagon and the war machine of imperialism.

But this is tied to the defense of capitalism, the ruling class, and the ultimate reason for war: the protection of that class’s global capital investments. The persecution of Chelsea Manning, much like the case of Julian Assange, is demonstrative of this. It is a crusade against truth tellers that has been applauded from both sides of the American establishment, liberal and conservative alike. It does not matter that she helped to expose American war crimes. On the contrary, this is seen as heresy to the Empire itself. Manning’s crime was exposing the underbelly of the beast. A war machine which targeted and killed civilians and journalists by soldiers behind a glowing screen thousands of miles away, as if they were playing a video game.

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They would have already if they wanted.

Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)

The Australian film-maker who spent 15-months in a Cambodian jail on spying charges says he fears Julian Assange is being used as an “example” to other journalists as part of what he described as “a fundamental attack on the fourth estate”. James Ricketson spent more than a year inside the overcrowded Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on spying charges before his release last September after a public outcry and lobbying by the Australian government. On Friday he told Guardian Australia he hoped the Morrison government would make “a forthright public statement” in support of Assange and the principle of press freedom.


“I would like to think the Australian government is woking in the background to forge some kind of resolution that is fair and equitable in the Julian Assange case,” he said. “Although it was not clear to me at the time, it’s now clear that from at least January last year there were fairly high-level representations being made to the Cambodian government on my behalf. “The government had its own reasons for why it needed to keep that secret [but] it would certainly be nice if it were to make a public statement to the effect that we’re concerned about the fate of Julian Assange and the impact of this extradition attempt on investigative journalism in Australia and worldwide.”

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Talking about Australia…

Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)

Donald Trump has said he wants Australia’s role in setting off the FBI inquiry into links between Russia and his election campaign examined by the US attorney general, William Barr. It is a potentially explosive development for the historically solid US-Australian alliance and the first time Trump has publicly named Australia while discussing what he calls the “Russia hoax” and “witch hunt”. A spokesman for Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, responded to the comments on Saturday by saying: “Australia and the United States are the closest of allies.” “The government has not commented on these matters and doing so could prejudice any ongoing investigation,” he said.

Trump said he had declassified “potentially millions of pages” of intelligence documents related to surveillance activities on his campaign and Barr would be in charge of analysing it. “So what I’ve done is I’ve declassified everything,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a trip to Japan. “He can look and I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine. “I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.” Trump’s former campaign aide George Papadopoulos has claimed that Australia’s former high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, spied on him during a meeting at a London bar in May 2016.

Downer has rejected this, but said that during the meeting Papadopoulos had told him Russia had damaging material on Trump’s presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. In an interview with the ABC’s Matt Bevan, Downer said Papadopoulos told him during the meeting he was confident Trump would win the election because the Russians had some information on Clinton which could be damaging to her if released. Downer then passed this information on to Canberra. Papadopoulos denies he ever mentioned Russia and Clinton during the meeting.

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“..the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton..”

The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)

There’s perhaps a lot to dislike about Donald J. Trump, US President No. 45. Despite all the grooming and tailoring, there’s little savoir faire there. He tweets not like a mellifluous songbird, but in snorts like a rooting aardvark. His every predilection is an affront to the refined Washington establishment: his dark business history, his beloved ormolu trappings, his Mickey-D cheeseburgers, the mystifying hair-doo. Even so, the bad faith of his antagonists exceeds even Mr. Trump’s defects and vices. The plot they concocted to get rid of him failed. And, yes, it was a plot, even a coup. And they fucked it up magnificently, leaving a paper trail as wide as Interstate-95.

Now all that paper is about to fall over the District of Columbia like radioactive ash, turning many current and former denizens of rogue agencies into the walking dead as they embark on the dismal journey between the grand juries and the federal prisons. Hence, the desperate rage of the impeachment faction, in direct proportion to their secret shameful knowledge that the entire RussiaGate melodrama was, in fact, a seditious subterfuge between the Hillary Clinton campaign and a great many key figures in government up-to-and-including former president Barack Obama, who could not have failed to be clued-in on all the action. Even before the declassification order, the true narrative of events has been plainly understood: that the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton to illegally “meddle” in the 2016 election.

[..] The evidence already public indicates that Robert Mueller must have known as early as the date of his appointment (and likely before) that the predicating evidence for his inquiry was false. After all, his lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, was informed of that in no uncertain terms by Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in 2016. Justice may seek to know why Mr. Mueller did not inform the target of his inquiry that this was so. The answer to that may be that Mr. Mueller’s true mission was to disable Mr. Trump as long as possible while setting an obstruction of justice trap — which also failed tactically.

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“..Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.”

Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)

Avenatti became an instant celebrity after he filed a lawsuit seeking to void the non-disclosure agreement between Trump and Daniels, in which she received a $130,000 payoff to be quiet about what she would later call “the least impressive sex I ever had.” In that, Avenatti had something cable television wanted more than anyone ever wanted anything: details about the president’s “smaller than average” tackle and Daniels’ tale of “getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart.” Avenatti leveraged being the gatekeeper of this story into daily TV appearances, where he quickly became a political figure in his own right, someone who would play the Democrats’ bare-knuckle answer to Trump.

By last summer in Iowa, he was already giving speeches as a presidential hopeful. CNN gushed: “Cribbing but amending Obama, Avenatti added, “When they go low, I say, we hit harder…” Whether by calling Michael Cohen a “thug,” or demanding an “immediate indictment” over the hush money issue, Avenatti could be counted on to take the maximally aggressive posture. Media figures couldn’t praise him enough. He was great, emotionally satisfying TV! Our own version of Trump! Ana Navarro compared him to the “Holy Spirit” on The View, while Joy Behar said “being a lawyer is minimal compared to what he’s doing.” MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle said, ”The Democrats could learn something from you.”

Brian Stelter, who later excused his admiration on the grounds Avenatti showed “Trump-like mastery” of media, said Avenatti should be taken “seriously as a contender.” In another forum he was called the “savior of the Republic.” Avenatti wasn’t the savior of anything. He turned out to be an epic buffoon and massive net minus for Democrat causes. His performance in the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation last fall – where the Maya Angelo-quoting self-described feminist ended up having his own witness tell NBC he’d “twisted” her words – was just one faceplant. He was soon after arrested for domestic violence. This helped lead to cancellation of campaign events, as Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.

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Empire.

Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)

The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers Friday of the administration’s plans. “These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement that put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.


In a Friday letter to congressional lawmakers, Pompeo said that he “determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan “in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region,” according to a copy obtained by CNN. The notification comes on the same day as President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that “today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran.”

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First time they announce it anyway.

For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)

There was a time when in the years following the financial crisis, every Friday the FDIC would report of one or more small and not small banks failing, as their liabilities exceeded their assets, who were taken over by larger peers with a taxpayer subsidy to cover the capital shortfall. And while this weekly event, also known as “FDIC Failure Friday” has faded from the US, for now, it has made a grand appearance in China. China’s financial regulators said on Friday the country’s banking and insurance regulator and the central bank, will take control of the small, troubled inner Mongolia-based Baoshang Bank due to the serious credit risks it poses.


The regulator’s control of Baoshang will last for a year starting on Friday, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) said on their websites. China Construction Bank (CCB) will be entrusted to handle the business operations of the small lender, based in the industrial city of Baotou, the statement said. Such a takeover by national authorities is extremely rare, and takes place amid gathering concerns among regulators and financial analysts about a renewed surge in bad debts…

… a record pace of corporate defaults, amounting to 39.2 billion yuan of domestic bond defaults in the first four months of the year, 3.4 times the total for the same period of 2018…

Moody’s analyst Yulia Wan told the WSJ that regulators likely decided to take over Baoshang to limit any fallout to businesses in Inner Mongolia. “The move is to reduce the risk of a shock to the local economy,” said said, adding that the Baoshang takeover appeared to be the first time that national authorities seized control of a bank since Chinese lenders started listing on stock markets in the 1990s. In the past when banks came under pressure, local authorities would pull together funds from local state-owned firms and investors, or have another bank stage a takeover.

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He’ll claim it’s a witch hunt.

EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)

The European Union’s anti-fraud watchdog is considering whether Nigel Farage should be investigated for any illegal activity over lavish payment from Arron Banks, the Guardian has learned. The agency, which goes by its French acronym, Olaf, revealed it was carrying out an assessment, which could lead to a formal investigation. This “initial assessment … does not mean that the individuals in question are guilty of any wrongdoing”, it said. While not a full-blown inquiry, it is a rare and significant step for Olaf to consider investigating a member of the European parliament. The European parliament this week opened an investigation into revelations made by Channel 4 that the insurance tycoon Arron Banks funded a lavish lifestyle for Farage in the year of the Brexit referendum.


In 2016, Farage received expenses of about £450,000, including rent on a Chelsea home, furniture, security and promotional trips to the US, where he attended the Republican national convention. Nothing was declared, an apparent violation of the European parliament’s code of conduct, which states that MEPs must report expensive gifts and attendance at events bankrolled by third parties. “We are aware of the press reports and public statements on the matter you are referring to,” a spokesperson for Olaf said, in response to questions from the Guardian. “It is only after such an initial assessment, which is currently ongoing, that Olaf decides whether or not to open an investigation.” The agency usually takes two months to carry out an assessment, which will examine whether the case falls under its remit and if there is “sufficient suspicion of fraud, corruption or any illegal activity affecting the EU’s financial interests”.

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Death cult.

We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)

The coffee tasted bad. Acrid and with a sweet, sickly smell. The sort of coffee that results from overfilling the filter machine and then leaving the brew to stew on the hot plate for several hours. The sort of coffee I would drink continually during the day to keep whatever gears left in my head turning. Odours are powerfully connected to memories. And so it’s the smell of that bad coffee which has become entwined with the memory of my sudden realisation that we are facing utter ruin. It was the spring of 2011, and I had managed to corner a very senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a coffee break at a workshop. The IPCC was established in 1988 as a response to increasing concern that the observed changes in the Earth’s climate are being largely caused by humans.

The IPCC reviews the vast amounts of science being generated around climate change and produces assessment reports every four years. Given the impact the IPPC’s findings can have on policy and industry, great care is made to carefully present and communicate its scientific findings. So I wasn’t expecting much when I straight out asked him how much warming he thought we were going to achieve before we manage to make the required cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. “Oh, I think we’re heading towards 3°C at least,” he said. “Ah, yes, but heading towards,” I countered: “We won’t get to 3°C, will we?” (Because whatever you think of the 2°C threshold that separates “safe” from “dangerous” climate change, 3°C is well beyond what much of the world could bear.)

“Not so,” he replied. That wasn’t his hedge, but his best assessment of where, after all the political, economic, and social wrangling we will end up. “But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?” He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”

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May 232019
 


Leonardo da Vinci The madonna of the carnation1478-80

 

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi Warfare Hits New Level (USA Today)
AG Barr Puts Former Intel Bosses Clapper, Brennan On Notice (Brock)
Trump To Declassify “Bucket 5” Russiagate Docs (ZH)
Avenatti Indicted For Defrauding Stormy Daniels, Extorting Nike (ABC)
Inside The Epic Fall Of Michael Avenatti (VF)
Credit-Card Charge-Offs Rise Across Banking System (WS)
The Corporate Maginot Line (Lebowitz)
The Truth About US Inequality (Colombo)
Xi Calls Trade War “New Long March” (R.)
Panasonic, Toshiba Join Firms Stepping Away From Huawei (AFP)
FAA Chief Has No Timetable For Boeing 737 MAX Approval (R.)
UK Government To Lodge Complaint Over UN’s Austerity Report (G.)
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Are Parasites (Hawley)

 

 

Whoever you favor, it seems obvious that calling for impeaching Trump makes bipartisan work on issues impossible. Pelosi doesn’t do that, but most of her party does.

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi Warfare Hits New Level (USA Today)

President Donald Trump’s decision to storm out of an infrastructure meeting with Democrats left lawmakers scrambling to assess whether the fallout would reach other White House priorities, including a pending trade deal with Canada and Mexico that the president hopes will replace NAFTA. Fuming about longstanding Democratic investigations, Trump refused to shake hands with Democrats Wednesday and walked out of a meeting, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accuse the president of throwing “a temper tantrum for us all to see.” Trump disputed the characterization in a tweet late Wednesday. “This is not true. I was purposely very polite and calm, much as I was minutes later with the press in the Rose Garden,” Trump wrote. “Can be easily proven. It is all such a lie!”


Trump has already indicated he’s prepared to push most of his legislative agenda off until after the 2020 election, a recognition that Democrats and Republicans were unlikely to reach consensus on much of anything as nearly two dozen Democratic presidential candidates barnstorm early primary states in the hunt for the nomination. Trump appeared to further close the door on bipartisan agreement with a hastily called statement Wednesday in the Rose Garden in which he indicated Washington could not be on an “investigations” track while also pursuing legislation. “Let them play their games. We’re going to go down one track at a time,” Trump said of Democrats. “Let them finish up. And we’ll be all set.”

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Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

AG Barr Puts Former Intel Bosses Clapper, Brennan On Notice (Brock)

Attorney General William Barr has signaled that his interest in examining the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign extends beyond whether the FBI operated “by the book,” as former FBI Director James Comey asserts. Barr also wants to understand the role that the larger intelligence community, or IC, may have played in all of this. Barr has thrown punches that have left an interesting mix of characters with a standing eight count. Certain eyes around D.C. are a little glassy right now. Barr’s words and actions are telling. First, he raised the concern that the Trump campaign was “spied” upon. His use of the word “spying” appears more calculated than casual. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed is also telling.

“The FBI doesn’t spy” became the sputtering counter-refrain of those trying to mask their nervousness. It’s a fair point that’s beside the point. The FBI is charged with acting under strict legal restrictions and court orders. Spying is not a term traditionally associated with those activities. But it also misses the point Barr appears to be making. The IC does spy; that’s what they do. Barr may have been referring less to the FBI and more to the IC’s possible murky involvement. This seems to be validated by Barr’s second haymaker in as many weeks: his appointment of a surrogate investigator, U.S. Attorney John Durham.

Why would the attorney general add a third investigation to those under way by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and U.S. Attorney John Huber? Because those investigations are focused on the FBI. Durham’s assignment is not similarly constrained; his marching orders appear broader. Through Durham, Barr can start dusting for fingerprints across the government, not just the FBI. The squirming has begun.

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Wonder what will be kept secret.

Trump To Declassify “Bucket 5” Russiagate Docs (ZH)

As Congressional Democrats insist on conducting post-Mueller probes into President Trump and those around him, much of the recent infighting and backpedaling we’ve seen from former Obama intel chiefs is starting to make sense. Appearing with Fox News’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night, The Hill’s John Solomon revealed that according to his sources (and Hannity’s as well), President Trump will begin declassifying ‘Russiagate’ documents in the next 6-7 days. Among those will be the so-called “Bucket Five” – documents which were originally presented to the Gang of Eight in 2016, which included everything the FBI and DOJ used against Trump campaign aide Carter Page – including the FISA surveillance application and its underlying exculpatory intelligence documents which the FISA court may have never seen.

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The MSM’s favorite boy. What a story. He even forged Stormy Daniels’ signature. Tried to shake down Nike for $20 million. He could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Avenatti Indicted For Defrauding Stormy Daniels, Extorting Nike (ABC)

Federal prosecutors in New York charged Michael Avenatti with additional financial crimes Wednesday, including allegedly forging the signature of his former client Stormy Daniels and diverting nearly $300,000 owed to her for a book advance into his own account, according to court records filed on Wednesday. Prosecutors said that he then used money he took from Daniels to make monthly payments on his Ferrari, as well as to cover airfare, dry cleaning, hotels and restaurant bills, as well as payroll and insurance costs for his law firm’s employees. The new charges accuse Avenatti of misappropriating money that was supposed to be paid to Daniels when Avenatti was representing the adult film actress in her public battle against President Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen.


“Avenatti used misrepresentations and a fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Avenatti then spent the money principally for his own personal and business purposes.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan – who have already accused Avenatti of extortion in a case involving Nike – also indicted him separately on extortion charges in the Nike case on Wednesday.

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Background at Vanity Fair.

Inside The Epic Fall Of Michael Avenatti (VF)

[..] federal prosecutors in Los Angeles filed a 197-page complaint accusing him of wire and bank fraud, in which the office detailed allegations of Avenatti misappropriating client settlement money for personal use (the receipts were gaudy: $216,720 to a Neiman Marcus, six figures to a Porsche dealership, and $68,500 at a luxury watch store). The complaint also claimed that Avenatti defrauded a bank by submitting false tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans. A few weeks later, on April 11, federal officials in California handed down a 36-count indictment, including 19 tax-related charges, 10 counts of wire fraud, 4 counts of bankruptcy fraud, and 2 bank-fraud charges. Avenatti had “[taken] money from one scheme and [used] it to lull clients, to string them along, to prevent them from going to authorities and [took] money from different pots as needed.”


One such client was a paraplegic man who had reached a $4 million agreement to settle a case related to his injuries but had not received the money. Avenatti allegedly deposited some of the settlement into a personal account associated with his car-racing team. Avenatti pleaded not guilty. He would not get into specifics about the case, but told me, “I look forward to all of the documents and all of the facts coming to light when it comes to the allegations set forth.” He noted: “The facts, in reality, are not as clear-cut as the government has made them out to be.”

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Are we about to see bank failures again?

Credit-Card Charge-Offs Rise Across Banking System (WS)

In the first quarter, the credit-card “charge-off” rate at the 4,650 or so smaller US commercial banks – all banks other than the largest 100 banks – ticked down to 7.37%, the sixth quarter in a row above 7%. During the peak of the Financial Crisis, the charge-off rate at these banks was above 7% only four quarters, but not in a row, topping out at 8.9%. These smaller banks have taken a lot of risk in their credit card strategies in recent years, going aggressively after subprime customers that had run out of luck at the largest banks. The credit-card charge off rate at the largest 100 banks rose to 3.78%, the highest since the first quarter of 2013. For all commercial banks combined, the charge-off rate rose to 3.83%, the highest since the fourth quarter 2012. The largest banks have learned a costly lesson during the Financial Crisis, when they got hammered with double-digit charge-off rates and have since focused on customers with lower risk profiles. And yet, slowly but surely, credit card charge-offs are rising across the board:

These data points that the Federal Reserve Board of Governors reported Tuesday afternoon are another warning in consumer land where serious auto-loan delinquencies, driven by subprime loans, have reached Q3 2009 levels. Credit cards have not yet reached this stage, but problems are beginning to pile up. A credit card loan is deemed “delinquent” when it is 30 days or more past due. Balances are removed from the delinquency basket when the customer cures the delinquency, or when the bank “charges off” the delinquent balance (net of whatever it was able to recover) against its loan loss reserves. The charge-off rate is figured as a percent of average credit-card balances, and is annualized.


The delinquency rate on credit-card loan balances at commercial banks other than the largest 100 banks declined to 5.43%, after having spiked to 6.2% in the third quarter. During peak-Financial Crisis, the delinquency rate at these smaller banks topped out at 5.9%. So these smaller banks got walloped last year, and they’re now scrambling to clean up, and tighten the lending standards.

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Remember AAA? Guess where your pension fund is invested today.

The Corporate Maginot Line (Lebowitz)

Since the post-financial crisis era began more than a decade ago, record low-interest rates and the Fed’s acquisition of $4 trillion of the highest quality fixed-income assets has led investors to scratch and claw for any asset, regardless of quality, offering returns above the rate of inflation. Financial media articles and Wall Street research discussing this dynamic are a dime-a-dozen. What we have not heard a peep about, however, are the inherent risks within the corporate bond market that have blossomed due to the way many corporate debt investors are managed and their somewhat unique strategies, objectives, and legal guidelines.

[..] Often overlooked, the bifurcation of investor limits and objectives makes an analysis of the corporate bond market different than that of the equity markets. The differences can be especially interesting if a large number of securities traverse the well-defined BBB-/BB+ “Maginot” line, a metaphor for expensive efforts offering a false line of security. The U.S. corporate bond market is approximately $6.4 trillion in size. Of that, over 80% is currently rated investment grade and 20% is junk-rated.This number does not include bank loans, derivatives, or other forms of debt on corporate balance sheets.

Since 2000, the corporate bond market has changed drastically in size and, importantly, in credit composition. Over this period, the corporate bond market has grown by 378%, greatly outstripping the 111% growth of GDP. The bar chart below shows how the credit composition of the corporate bond market shifted markedly with the surge in debt outstanding.

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Very long from my friend Jesse. Haven’t had time to read it yet, it’s a huge project. named Explaining Capitalism. Agree with most of what I have seen, but he has to be careful about terminology. Elizabeth Warren is not a far left politician for most people in the world, that’s at best a narrow US view.

Also: a 70% top-tax-rate is not by definition socialist; we know because the US in the 1950s-60s was not a socialist country.

As for wealth redistribution, I’m afraid you can’t escape it, because the whole edifice has gotten so out of whack. Even if you would turn back all the Fed’s failed policies today, you wouldn’t repair the consequences. Call that socialist if you want, but if you don’t do it, all hell will break loose.

The Truth About US Inequality (Colombo)

Rising economic inequality and how to address it has been one of the most important issues in the United States since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Rising inequality has spurred a powerful left-wing economic movement that kicked off with Occupy Wall Street in 2011, led to the 2016 presidential campaign of socialist Bernie Sanders (which was very popular with young Americans), and has now contributed to the rise and growing clout of far-left politicians including Elizabeth Warren and millennial socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are both calling for wealth redistribution policies. At the core of this left-wing economic movement is a growing disbelief and distrust in capitalism itself, as well as the belief that an excessive rich-poor gap is an inevitable outcome of capitalism.


As a result, young Americans now favor socialism over capitalism. Even 45% of Republican voters support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% top-tax-rate proposal, while “conservative” Fox News host Tucker Carlson threw in the towel on capitalism. The report you are reading – “The Truth About U.S. Inequality” – completely turns the conventional wisdom (i.e., the left-biased explanation) about growing U.S. wealth and income inequality on its head. Here’s the reality in a nutshell: growing U.S. economic inequality is not the fault of capitalism, but the byproduct of unbacked fiat (aka “paper”) currency, central banking/the Federal Reserve, and a massive wealth bubble that has been inflated by the Fed. Instituting free market capitalism and sound money is actually the only solution to America’s growing economic inequality.

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Still longing back to Mao.

Xi Calls Trade War “New Long March” (R.)

China must prepare for difficult times as the international situation is increasingly complex, President Xi Jinping said in comments carried by state media on Wednesday, as the U.S.-China trade war took a mounting toll on tech giant Huawei. The world’s two largest economies have escalated tariff increases on each other’s imports after talks broke down to resolve their dispute, and the acrimony has intensified since Washington last week blacklisted Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei. The listing, which curbs Huawei’s access to U.S.-made components, is a potentially devastating blow for the company that has rattled technology supply chains and investors, and saw several mobile carriers on Wednesday delay the launch of new Huawei smartphone handsets.


During a three-day trip this week to the southern province of Jiangxi, a cradle of China’s Communist revolution, Xi urged people to learn the lessons of the hardships of the past. “Today, on the new Long March, we must overcome various major risks and challenges from home and abroad,” state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Xi as saying, referring to the 1934-36 trek of Communist Party members fleeing a civil war to a remote rural base, from where they re-grouped and eventually took power in 1949. “Our country is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, but the international situation is increasingly complicated,” he said. “We must be conscious of the long-term and complex nature of various unfavorable factors at home and abroad, and appropriately prepare for various difficult situations.”

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Feels like this is going to take a long time.

Panasonic, Toshiba Join Firms Stepping Away From Huawei (AFP)

Japan’s Panasonic said Thursday it would stop supplying some components to Huawei, joining a growing list of firms distancing themselves from the Chinese telecoms giant after a US ban over security concerns. Japan’s Toshiba also announced it was temporarily halting shipments to Huawei to check whether US-made parts were involved, in order to comply with Washington’s new restrictions. The moves came a day after major Japanese and British mobile carriers said they would delay releasing new Huawei handsets, upping the pressure on the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer.


In an official statement emailed to AFP, Panasonic said it had announced in an “internal notification” that it would “suspend transactions with Huawei and its 68 affiliates that were banned by the US government”. It declined to comment on “other transactions that are not banned by the US”. Asked about its opinion about the news, Huawei pointed to a statement on Panasonic’s Chinese website that said the firm was supplying Huawei “normally” and doing so “strictly abiding by the relevant laws and regulations of countries and regions where Panasonic is present”.

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Loud calls for simulators. Which don’t exist. First one to be delivered by December. This ain’t over.

FAA Chief Has No Timetable For Boeing 737 MAX Approval (R.)

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday he does not have a specific timetable to approve Boeing Co’s 737 MAX for flight after two fatal crashes since October prompted the plane to be grounded worldwide. The FAA is meeting with more than 30 international air regulators including China, the European Union, Brazil and Canada on Thursday to discuss a software fix and new pilot training that Boeing has been developing to ensure the jets are safe to fly. “It’s a constant give and take until it is exactly right,” Deputy FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters of the discussions with Boeing. “It’s taking as long as it takes to be right,” he said, adding: “I’m not tied to a timetable.”

[..] Asked if it is realistic that the 737 MAX could be flying again by August, Elwell declined to be specific. “If you said October I wouldn’t even say that, only because we haven’t finished determining exactly what the training requirements will be,” Elwell said. “If it takes a year to find everything we need to give us the confidence to lift the (grounding) order so be it.” Elwell said he plans to share the FAA’s “safety analysis that will form the basis for our return to service decision process” on Thursday. But he said the agency is still waiting for Boeing to formally submit the software upgrade for approval, and emphasized the FAA has not decided on the revised training requirements, including whether to require simulator training.

Elwell rejected any idea that he was trying to win consensus with international regulators over the path to re-approving the MAX at the meeting. “We have to be the first to lift the order. We are the state of design,” he said. [..] Foreign regulators have signaled disagreements over measures to end the grounding, with Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau calling in April for pilots to receive simulator training for the MAX, rather than just computer courses. Canada and Europe said on Wednesday they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms if their specific concerns are not addressed. “From our point of view, if we all work together and we all reach the same aim, fine. If we don’t, we’ll choose our own time to decide when the planes are safe to fly again,” Canada’s Garneau told Reuters in an interview.

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The Tories are set for historic losses in the EU elections this weekend. They feel the pressure. Getting rid of May won’t solve a thing.

UK Government To Lodge Complaint Over UN’s Austerity Report (G.)

The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, plans to lodge a formal complaint with the UN about the damning report on austerity in Britain by its special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. Rudd will argue that Alston is politically biased and did not do enough research. The minister is seeking guidance from the Foreign Office on the best way to respond after Alston compared her department’s welfare policies to the creation of Victorian workhouses. Alston quoted the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes to warn that unless austerity was ended and welfare cuts were reversed, millions of poorer Britons faced lives that would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

The 21-page report said the government appeared unwilling to debate the impact of its austerity policies since 2010, which it said were “in clear violation of the country’s human rights obligations”. Alston accused ministers of “window dressing to minimise political fallout” by insisting the country was enjoying record lows in absolute poverty, children in workless households and unemployment. The “endlessly repeated” mantra about rising employment overlooked that “close to 40% of children are predicted to be living in poverty two years from now, 16% of people over 65 live in relative poverty and millions of those who are in work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope,” he said. The report will be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 June.

The government believes Alston, a New York-based human rights lawyer, could not credibly have reached his conclusions after only an 11-day trip to the UK. Last November he visited nine towns and cities in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, holding town hall meetings and visiting poverty-related charities and organisations including food banks and youth programmes. Rudd is said to be particularly frustrated by Alston’s accusation that the government was responsible for the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”. She also believes Alston ventured off his beat by making criticisms about cuts to police numbers and legal aid. In a statement, the government said his report was “a barely believable documentation of Britain based on a tiny period of time spent here” and “a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, is on the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. He wants Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to disappear completely.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Are Parasites (Hawley)

Social media consumers are getting wise to the joke that when the product is free, they’re the ones being sold. But despite the growing threat of consumer exploitation, Washington still shrinks from confronting our social media giants. Why? Because the social giants have convinced the chattering class that America simply can’t do without them. Confront the industry, we’re told, and you might accidentally kill it — and with it, all the innovation it has (supposedly) brought to our society. Maybe. But maybe social media’s innovations do our country more harm than good. Maybe social media is best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society.

Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared. Ask the social giants what it is that they produce for America and you’ll hear grand statements about new forms of human interaction. But ask where their money comes from and you’ll get the real truth. Advertising is what the social giants truly care about, and for an obvious reason. It’s how they turn a profit. And when it comes to making money, they’ve been great innovators. They’ve designed platforms that extract massive amounts of personal data without telling consumers, then sell that data without consumers’ permission.

And in order to guarantee an audience big enough to make their ads profitable, big tech has developed a business model designed to do one thing above all: addict. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — they devote massive amounts of money and the best years of some of the nation’s brightest minds to developing new schemes to hijack their users’ neural circuitry. That’s because social media only works — to make money, anyway — if it consumes users’ time and attention, day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we enjoyed and did perfectly well before social media existed.

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Mar 262019
 


Jean Metzinger The blue bird 1912-13

 

Russiagate: The Great Tragic Comedy of Modern Journalism (Bivens)
Mueller Madness: The Media Pundits Who Got It Most Wrong (NYPost)
Mueller Probe Accusations Were ‘Equal To Treason’ – Sarah Sanders (MW)
As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin (Taibbi)
Apologies to President Trump (Hill)
Democrats Refuse To Retreat On Trump Legal Issues (G.)
Democrats Not Yet Ready To Conclude There’s No Russia Conspiracy (CNN)
Buyer’s Remorse (Kunstler)
Michael Avenatti Arrested On Extortion Charges (G.)
General Election Looms As Theresa May Calls Cabinet Talks (Ind.)
UK MPs Seize Control Of Brexit Process (G.)
Nasa Cancels All-Female Spacewalk, Citing Lack Of Spacesuit In Right Size (G.)

 

 

Lots of Mueller report coverage today. Can’t be helped. Who’s going to apologize to Russia?

 

 

Matt Bivens is a former editor of the St. Petersburg Times and the Moscow Times who has left journalism to become an emergency room doctor.

Russiagate: The Great Tragic Comedy of Modern Journalism (Bivens)

In its Russiagate coverage, The New York Times has repeatedly offered a graphic accusing the President’s retinue of “more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” This decision to question the loyalty of people who have had contact with a Russian national -so, for just knowing or meeting a Russian- has been a staple of New York Times coverage. “More than 100 contacts with Russian nationals.” It’s incredible that this can even be an allegation -in our paper of record- there in explainer graphics almost every day, for more than two years now. It smacks of the famous Senator Joseph McCarthy speeches in the 1950s: “I have in my hand a list of 205 [or 57, or 81]…” And yet no one ever seemed to mind.

After all, as former intelligence chief (and liar to Congress) James Clapper has asserted on television, “Russians are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” Worse, I may have already been co-opted and penetrated without even knowing it! As Clapper said recently on CNN when asked if Trump could be “a Russian asset,” it is “a possibility, and I would add to that a caveat, whether witting or unwitting.” Unwitting! So you can be an unwitting traitor? Infected with Russian mind-control, like a zombie? Yes. As mainstream media have argued repeatedly and quite explicitly. Consider the stunning set of short films on The New York Times op-ed webpages titled “Operation Infektion: How Russia Perfected the Art of War”.

[..] I was not surprised to see politicians up on their hind legs, panting mindlessly about Russians. But to see journalists at CNN, The New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, competing to be even dumber … hot on the trail of a non-story, recklessly discarding fairness and professionalism … dragging us gleefully down every rabbit hole … applauding the collateral damage to bystanders, as they indulge their collective rage against Donald Trump, their hysterical certainty that he must be a Russian asset … What can I say? It’s been heart-breaking. I know of smart, progressive-leaning journalists who politically oppose Donald Trump, but who feel like strangers in their own newsrooms, afraid to speak out against this mob psychosis. When I meet old colleagues, we have to feel each other out cautiously, until with relief we realize: Thank God, you’re not one of them – not one of the pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that might point at me and scream.

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No, I don’t like having to go to the NY Post.

Mueller Madness: The Media Pundits Who Got It Most Wrong (NYPost)

Special counsel Robert Mueller has definitively put to rest the collusion theory of President Trump’s election. That’s not a little embarrassing for the many journalists, talking heads, celebrities and instant experts who spent more than two years furiously speculating about Moscow “pee-pee” tapes, treasonous rendezvous and the president’s imminent arrest. The president’s haters no doubt wish to memory-hole collusion and move on to the next anti-Trump theory. But not so fast: We want to laurel the punditry “champion” — the one who peddled the most nonsensical nonsense, the wildest inanities, the weirdest theories and unsubstantiated stories. That’s where your brackets come in.

Our contenders are divided into four groups (not unlike NCAA conferences): the print journalists, the cable TV talkers, the Twitterati and the network news reporters and “analysts.” And the brackets are seeded, with the most visible and influential figures contending against the lesser-known. In the Print category, the top seed is the never-Trump honcho Bill Kristol, who in August predicted that “Mueller will find there was collusion between Trump associates and Putin operatives; that Trump knew about it; and that Trump sought to cover it up and obstruct its investigation.” Or not. Pick your brackets — no, not for March Madness. This is Collusion Madness!


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“They are literally — the media and the Democrats — have called the president an agent of a foreign government. That is an accusation equal to treason, which is punishable by death in this country.”
Sarah Sanders

Maybe we can stop smearing her as well.

Mueller Probe Accusations Were ‘Equal To Treason’ – Sarah Sanders (MW)

President Donald Trump wasn’t the only one taking a victory lap a day after the Justice Department announced that the long-awaited Mueller report found no evidence that the president’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie on Monday morning that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page letter to Congress summarizing the two-year investigation was a “total exoneration” of the president. What’s more, she called on the media and Democrats to apologize for “wasting” the past two years on treasonous charges.

The exchange between Sanders and Guthrie got heated at times, with the “Today” anchor — who has a law degree and previously covered courts — arguing with Sanders that the Barr letter is not a full exoneration. “Let’s be clear about what this report, what this letter is and what it isn’t,” said Guthrie. “It is a legal exoneration with regards to conspiracy and collusion. As to whether he obstructed justice, the special counsel doesn’t say. … Would you acknowledge that it is incorrect for the president to call this is a total exoneration? “It is complete and total exoneration, and here’s why — because the special counsel couldn’t make a decision one way or another — the way the process works is they then leave that up to the attorney general,” countered Sanders.

She also referred to the two-year, $25 million investigation as something that “never should have happened,” adding that “this should never happen to another president, and we want to make sure that the institution of the president is protected.”

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“..a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent.”

As the Mueller Probe Ends, New Russiagate Myths Begin (Taibbi)

On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress, summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The most telling section, quoted directly from Mueller’s report, read: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That one sentence should end a roughly 33-month national ordeal (the first Russigate stories date back to July 2016) in which the public was encouraged, both by officials and the press, to believe Donald Trump was a compromised foreign agent. After the 2016 election, the storyline instantly became that Trump was an illegitimate president, a foreign operative who’d cheated his way into office and would therefore need to be removed ahead of schedule.

There were too many stories that dwelled on this theme to count here, but we all saw them. New York asked, Was Trump “meeting his handler” in Helsinki? The Daily Beast asked, “Is he a Russian asset?” (Note: the extravagant use of hack spy-novel language during this period is going to look particularly ridiculous in history books decades from now.) Some outlets didn’t even put their beliefs in the form of a question. “Trump Is Compromised by Russia” read a not-unusual editorial in the New York Times last November. If you tried to protest that this had not been proven, that journalists should be more careful about leveling such serious accusations, the first line of response (if it wasn’t accusing you of being in league with Putin) was usually a version of: Be quiet, you don’t know what Mueller knows.

Mueller knows became the cornerstone belief of nearly all reporters who covered the Russial investigation. Journalists reveled in the idea of being kept out of the loop, thrilled to defer to the impenetrable steward of national secrets, the interview-proof Man of State. He was no blabbermouth Donald Trump, this Mueller! He won’t tell us a thing! “What Robert Mueller knows — and Isn’t Telling Us,” proclaimed Wired in February, going on to list the many areas where Mueller “probably knows far more than he’s willing to say.” Last month’s “What we know we don’t know from Mueller’s investigation,” by the Washington Post, marveled at Mueller’s ability to keep secrets. It made note of former Trump aide George Papadopoulos: “Mueller’s team kept him under wraps for months, with barely a hint of his importance.”

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“We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them. ”

Apologies to President Trump (Hill)

With the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe now known to a significant degree, it seems apologies are in order. However, judging by the recent past, apologies are not likely forthcoming from the responsible parties. In this context, it matters not whether one is a supporter or a critic of President Trump. Whatever his supposed flaws, the rampant accusations and speculation that shrouded Trump’s presidency, even before it began, ultimately have proven unfounded. Just as Trump said all along. Yet, each time Trump said so, some of us in the media lampooned him. We treated any words he spoke in his own defense as if they were automatically to be disbelieved because he had uttered them.

Some even declared his words to be “lies,” although they had no evidence to back up their claims. We in the media allowed unproven charges and false accusations to dominate the news landscape for more than two years, in a way that was wildly unbalanced and disproportionate to the evidence. We did a poor job of tracking down leaks of false information. We failed to reasonably weigh the motives of anonymous sources and those claiming to have secret, special evidence of Trump’s “treason.” As such, we reported a tremendous amount of false information, always to Trump’s detriment.

And when we corrected our mistakes, we often doubled down more than we apologized. We may have been technically wrong on that tiny point, we would acknowledge. But, in the same breath, we would insist that Trump was so obviously guilty of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet that the technical details hardly mattered. So, a round of apologies seem in order.

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Sure. Keep digging.

Democrats Refuse To Retreat On Trump Legal Issues (G.)

“It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this,” a defiant Trump said Sunday. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.” Democrats nonetheless demanded the release of the full Mueller report, while suggesting Barr’s summary could not be trusted given his prior criticisms of the special counsel investigation. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” the Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“Given Mr Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.” Democrats took particular issue with the claim by Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove Trump had obstructed justice. The special counsel examined several actions by Trump in considering the question of obstruction, including his firing of the former FBI director James Comey, public and private attempts to pressure the former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and role in misleading the public about a meeting between his campaign and a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

In a joint statement, the Democratic chairmen of the House intelligence, judiciary and oversight committees called for the complete release of Mueller’s report and “all underlying documents”. “It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the president in under 48 hours,” the chairmen said.

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When will they start attacking Bill Barr for real? And Mueller?

Democrats Not Yet Ready To Conclude There’s No Russia Conspiracy (CNN)

Special counsel Robert Mueller found that no one in the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in 2016 – but Democrats are not ready to accept that finding. In interviews since Attorney General William Barr issued his four-page letter on Sunday, Democrats have refused to accept that determination, saying there’s ample evidence of Trump campaign and Russia contacts that may not have risen to the level of criminal conduct. They are demanding the full release of the Mueller report to determine what else the special counsel found, and they say they will continue investigating ties between Trump and Russia.

But that strategy risks political backlash for Democrats if they are viewed as overreaching and probing into an area that has already been exhaustively investigated by a special counsel whose investigation turned up no criminal wrongdoing. “What I accept was there was apparently no criminal conspiracy … with the Russians,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, told CNN. “That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of activity with the Russians that ranges from unsavory to treacherous.” [..] House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, called for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s resignation from the committee on Monday – payback after Schiff and the panel’s other Democrats pushed former Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, to recuse himself from the panel’s Russia investigation in 2017.

“When you look at the claims that they’ve made, Chairman Schiff said he had more than circumstantial evidence that there was collusion. Whether he was misleading people or he was misled himself, he ought to be held accountable,” Scalise told reporters. “A lot of people, I think, should be angry today that for two years they’ve had people misleading and lying to them, saying there was collusion when there wasn’t.”

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“..the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards..”

Buyer’s Remorse (Kunstler)

What actually happened with RussiaGate? A cabal of government officials colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and, failing to achieve their desired outcome, engineered a two-years-plus formal inquisition to deflect attention from their own misconduct and attempt to overthrow the election result. The Cable News characters, quite a few of them lawyers, were litigating the living shit out of the story on Sunday night in their usual spirit of obdurate rank dishonesty. For instance, Jeffrey Toobin, who plays Attorney General on CNN, went off on the infamous 2016 Trump Tower Meeting in which the president’s son, Donald, Jr., met with Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.

Toobin omitted to mention that Ms. Veselnitskaya was, at that very time, on the payroll of Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton’s “oppo” research contractor. In other words, Trump Junior was set up. That was characteristic of the collusion that actually occurred between the Hillary campaign, the FBI, the DOJ, the CIA, the NSA, the UK’s MI6 intel agency, and the Obama White House, striving to prevent the election of a TV reality show star, and to disable him afterwards — also of the news media’s role in the whole interminable scam of RussiaGate. Their fury and despair were as vivid the night of March 24, 2019, as on November 8, 2016. And now they will attempt to spark off a sequel.

[..] My favorite college professor and mentor, David Hamilton, once put a curious question to us when we were vexing him for some reason now forgotten: “Why,” he asked, “Did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times?” We twiddled our cigarettes and pulled our chins. “Because he was just that pissed,” he said.

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Who made this guy a star? You own that.

Michael Avenatti Arrested On Extortion Charges (G.)

The high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort more than $20m from the sports company Nike. Avenatti, the former lawyer for Stormy Daniels and a prominent critic of Donald Trump, threatened to release damaging information about Nike unless it paid him off, according to a criminal complaint filed by federal authorities in New York. He was also charged with wire and bank fraud in a separate case in Los Angeles, where prosecutors said he embezzled money from a client. Avenatti, a California lawyer who has teased the idea of a presidential bid, rose to national fame as the lawyer for Daniels, the porn star who was paid off to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump. They parted ways this month.

He used his prominence to try to extort millions from Nike, prosecutors alleged. He threatened to publicize allegations of misconduct against Nike unless the company paid a client he represented $1.5m, and paid Avenatti and another lawyer up to $25m to conduct an internal investigation, the criminal complaint says. “A suit and tie doesn’t mask the fact that at its core, this was an old-fashioned shakedown,” said Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York. Avenatti was arrested in New York on Monday morning and later appeared in court. He did not enter a plea and was released on a $300,000 bond.

Berman said Avenatti, 48, acted as an attorney bringing a case on behalf of a client merely to “provide cover for [his] extortionate demands for a massive payday for himself”, adding: “When lawyers use their law licenses as weapons as a guise to extort payments for themselves, they are no longer acting as attorneys. They are acting as criminals.”

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It all comes apart.

General Election Looms As Theresa May Calls Cabinet Talks (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has been left in disarray and her leadership under threat after three of her ministers resigned and MPs dramatically voted to take control of the process from the government. A total of 30 Tory MPs defied the party whip and supported a cross-party amendment which will allow MPs to potentially dictate the business of the House of Commons. The move could pave the way for a “softer” deal that keeps Britain closer to the European Union, as ministers warned of the prospect of a third UK general election in four years.

[..] More than 80 per cent of people think the government has handled Brexit badly, a new survey has found. The NatCen Social Research poll found that just 7 per cent of voters think Theresa May’s team has done well, while 81 per cent said the opposite. The figures are significantly worse for the government those from 2017, when only 41 per cent said Brexit was being managed badly, while 29 per cent thought the government was doing well.

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But May could still try and steer the country into a no-deal.

UK MPs Seize Control Of Brexit Process (G.)

MPs have inflicted a fresh humiliating defeat on Theresa May, voting to seize control of the parliamentary timetable to allow backbenchers to hold a series of votes on alternatives to her Brexit deal. An amendment tabled by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin passed, by 329 votes to 302 on Monday night, as MPs expressed their exasperation at the government’s failure to set out a fresh approach. The prime minister had earlier declined to say whether she would abide by the outcome of a process of “indicative votes”. The government issued a punchy statement after the amendment passed, warning that it “upends the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future”.

Three ministers resigned from government in order to back the Letwin amendment: the foreign affairs minister, Alistair Burt, the health minister Steve Brine and the business minister Richard Harrington. A total of 29 Tory MPs rebelled to vote for the amendment. Harrington, who has been outspoken in his warnings about the risk of a no-deal Brexit in recent weeks, accused the government of “playing roulette with the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of people in this country” in his resignation letter. The amendment was drawn up by a cross-party group – led by Letwin and Labour’s Hilary Benn – and gives MPs a series of votes on the alternatives to May’s deal, such as a softer Brexit or revoking article 50.

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The pride of America. Once.

Nasa Cancels All-Female Spacewalk, Citing Lack Of Spacesuit In Right Size (G.)

Nasa’s plans for an all-female spacewalk have fallen through – at least in part because the agency doesn’t have enough spacesuits that fit the astronauts. Early this month, Nasa announced that Christina Koch and Anne McClain would take part in the first-of-its kind mission on 29 March, walking outside the international space station (ISS) to install new batteries. In the past, missions have been all-male or male-female. But in a press release on Monday, Nasa said its plans had changed, “in part” due to a shortage of outerwear.

McClain had “learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso – essentially the shirt of the spacesuit – fits her best.” Only one such top can be made by Friday, the agency said, and it will go to Koch. When McClain took part in a spacewalk last week, she became the 13th woman to do so, Nasa says; Koch will be the 14th. McClain is now “tentatively scheduled” to perform her next one on 8 April.

[..] The first woman to perform a spacewalk was the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, 35 years ago. More than 500 people have been into space, but only 11% have been women, Reuters reported. But Koch and McClain were both part of Nasa’s 2013 class, which was half female. Fitting for spacesuits is a tricky business, according to Space.com, since microgravity makes you taller. McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched.

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Oct 172018
 


René Magritte Pandora’s box 1951

 

They can’t help themselves even as they hurt themselves. Look guys, chill! I saw someone imply on Twitter that Donald Trump is an accomplice in a murder cover-up. This person knows as well as all the ones who liked the tweet that they all just don’t know. They don’t know exactly what Trump knows about the chilling Khashoggi execution.

Just like they don’t know exactly what happened in the consulate. Information from anonymous Turkish sources is dripping through drop by drop, and it looks terrible -and terribly graphic-, but the conclusion that Trump wants to cover up a murder is multiple tokes over the line.

The Saudi attempt at labeling the execution a kidnapping gone wrong is out the window if only a tenth of the Turkish sources’ claims is true. What emerges is a picture of premeditated torture and murder. And one that was ordered by someone in the royal family. Which can really only be one of two people: the King or his son, MbS, and the latter seems more suspect. But what any of it has to do with Trump remains to be seen,

He’s not liking the whole thing one bit, that’s for sure. If only because whatever America does vis a vis the Saudi’s is now ultimately his call. While the strong link between the two countries was established decades ago, and would be very hard to untangle, if it comes to that. See, I can write Ban Saudi Oil, as I did last week, but I also realize how extensive the consequences for the US economy would be if such a thing were considered.

Not a decision you take lightly. Trump for instance knows full well what would happen to his standing and popularity if gas prices were to double or triple overnight. Is that a reason to let the Saudi’s get away with murder? No, but it is a reason to be circumspect, and to demand solid evidence. Doing that doesn’t make anyone an accomplice to a murder cover-up.

Moreover, the dependence on Saudi oil and the petrodollar arrangement is just one facet of what has driven US Middle East policy since WWII -and arguably before-, shaped by governments from both parties in Washington, and driven by very powerful intelligence agencies -both American and foreign- as well as the military-industrial complex.

You can’t blame that all on one man. Not Khashoggi, nor the ‘war’ in Yemen, or any of the bloodshed that has occurred before he became president. And you can’t expect him to end it all on a rainy afternoon either. If he would be inclined to do so. Since no president before him has been, you’d only be criticizing him for continuing established policy.

Every US president for many years has been an accomplice to murder, not just a cover-up, in Saudi Arabia, where women and gays and everyone else the House of Saud didn’t like end up without their heads attached to their torso. It’s how we get cheap oil, how we have built our societies and communities into what they are at present. Good design? Hell no. But it is what it is.

 

Still, allegations like the murder cover-up one keep coming. The reason is, as I’ve written many times now, that it makes the media money. Being anti-Trump sells. It has given us the Russiagate narrative, the Mueller investigation and tons of other stories that don’t go anywhere. Because it doesn’t matter if they are true, what counts is that they sell newspapers and TV commercials.

And there are some in the media, and certainly many in the anti-Trump echochamber, who still dream of impeaching him. But, as I said before, that doesn’t include the owners of papers and TV channels. They’ve never had a single person bring in sales like this, and it has saved many of their assets. All they need to do is twist everything that happens into something Trump can be blamed for.

That the Democratic Party is the main victim of this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, really. Or maybe only Trump himself. Three weeks before the midterms, his detractors handed him another two main victories, free of charge. And one can’t help thinking: don’t you guys see what you’re doing?

A lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, about a Trump tweet no less, was thrown out by a judge. The Senate a few weeks back refused to even talk to Avenatti’s other client, Julie Swetnick, in the Kavanaugh hearings, who had come up with a story about coordinated gang rape.

Avenatti has proven incredibly toxic to the Democrats, and they don’t appear to realize it. But he’s nothing compared to Elizabeth Warren, who all but folded her political career this week, after media -reluctantly- reported that the DNA test she wanted Trump to pay a million bucks over, showed she’s less Cherokee than 90-odd percent of white Americans. Liz, why, how, what were you thinking?

 

Guys, chill! You have elections coming up. Don’t hand it to the guy on a platter, let him at least exert some effort. The Democrats apparently still think they’re going to win the elections, that their echochamber tactics will turn people against Trump. In reality, they’re only talking, shouting, to themselves, and to people who already see things the same way they do anyway.

How many Democrats have you seen declaring that the US should stop selling weapons to the Saudi’s, should tell them to stop starving millions of Yemeni children, should cut off all communication until the truth about Khashoggi is revealed? Me neither. Their identity is no different from Trump, other than on minor issues, the only identity they have is they’re against him. And that’s the same as having none.

While there are so many issues that people should really go after Trump for, all that we see are fake narratives about Russian collusion, which, as I’ve explained, we now know are false because Mueller hasn’t reported anything, and if he had any proof he would have to reveal it because he couldn’t sit on evidence about a president colluding with a foreign power for even one day.

Which is perhaps why, though the timing is strange with the midterms in less than three weeks, two of the strongest anti-Trump media, the Washington Post and the BBC, came out with pieces in the past 24 hours that hesitantly say a few positive things about Trump, albeit clad in inevitable smears and accusations.

The WaPo:

 

Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern US History

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history. Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet).

In part, it’s a New York thing – everything is the biggest and the best. But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness – keeping his promises – Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

 

And the BBC:

 

Is This The Most Successful Month Of The Trump Presidency?

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One. Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge. The president seems more willing to answer reporters’ questions, partly because there is a better story to tell.

Last week he also sat for the first 60 Minutes interview of his presidency, which aired on Sunday night. The veteran CBS presenter Lesley Stahl, who conducted this cross-examination, was struck by his self-assurance. “Right now,” she said afterwards, “he’s so much more confident. He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.”

 

If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’re trying to boost the guy ahead of the elections. Me, I’m wondering why such media don’t harp every single day on the ongoing issue of family separation. And keep at it till every American -and Brit- talks about it. Instead, their biggest story this week has been that Pocahontas was of 1/1024th Native American descent. Or something in that vein.

As for Khashoggi, that story appears to have taken on a life of its own, drip-fed by Erdogan at first, but it seems to have reached a point where even if Erdogan gets what he wanted and cuts the drip, it won’t stop. It’s been a weird dynamic, how one man’s fate is more important than that of millions of others.

Where did that come from? Someone powerful seeing an opportunity to get rid of MbS? Still find it hard to gauge. It doesn’t look as if MbS can be maintained in his position by his father. Too much bad publicity, too much at risk financially. And it would be convenient if Trump and King Salman would agree to push him aside, put all the blame on him, and see if that satisfies the media and public.

But the King may still try and go for broke. And his son may also have usurped too much power for the dad to order him gone. But that would mean a major headache for Trump. How about if either the king or the prince decide to gamble and threaten to end the petrodollar? What would the echochamber suggest Trump does then?

 

 

Aug 232018
 
 August 23, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Gustave Caillebotte Young man by his window 1875

 

If there’s one thing that is exposed in the sorry not-so-fairy tale of former Trump aides Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, it’s that Washington is a city run by fixers. Who often make substantial amounts of money. Many though by no means all, start out as lawyers and figure out that let’s say ‘the edges of what’s legal’ can be quite profitable.

And it helps to know when one steps across that edge, so having attended law school is a bonus. Not so much to stop when stepping across the edge, but to raise one’s fees. There’s a lot of dough waiting at the edge of the law. None of this should surprise any thinking person. Manafort and Cohen are people who think in millions, with an easy few hundred grand thrown in here and there.

But sometimes the fixers happen to come under scrutiny of the law, like when they get entangled in a Special Counsel investigation. Both Manafort and Cohen now rue the day they became involved with Trump, or rather, the day he was elected president and solicited much more severe scrutiny.

Would either ever have been accused of what they face today had Trump lost to Hillary? It’s not too likely. They just gambled and lost. But there are many more just like them who will never be charged with anything. Still, a new fixer name has popped up the last few days who may, down the line, not be so lucky.

 

And that’s not even because Lanny Davis is a registered foreign agent for Dmytro Firtash, a pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch wanted by the US government. After all, both Manafort and Cohen have their contacts in that part of the world. Manafort made tens of millions advising then-president Yanukovich in the Ukraine before the US coup dethroned the latter. Cohen’s wife is Ukrainian-American.

Lanny Davis is a lawyer, special counsel even, for the Clintons. Has been for years. Which makes it kind of curious that Michael Cohen would pick him to become his legal representation. But that’s not all Davis is involved in. Like any true fixer, he has his hands in more cookie jars than fit in the average kitchen. Glenn Greenwald wrote this in August 2009 about the health care debate:

 

Lanny Davis Disease

After Tom Daschle was selected to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services and chief health care adviser, Matt Taibbi wrote: “In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle.” One could easily have added: “And then there’s Lanny Davis.” Davis frequently injects himself into political disputes, masquerading as a “political analyst” and Democratic media pundit, yet is unmoored from any discernible political beliefs other than: “I agree with whoever pays me.”

It’s genuinely difficult to recall any instance where he publicly defended someone who hadn’t, at some point, hired and shuffled money to him. Yesterday, he published a new piece simultaneously in The Hill and Politico – solemnly warning that extremists on the Far Left and Far Right are jointly destroying democracy with their conduct in the health care debate and urging “the vast center-left and center-right of this country to speak up and call them out equally” – that vividly illustrates the limitless whoring behavior which shapes Washington generally and specifically drives virtually every word out of Lanny Davis’ mouth.

Davis’ history is as long and consistent as it is sleazy. He was recently hired by Honduran oligarchs opposed to that country’s democratically elected left-wing President and promptly became the chief advocate of the military coup which forcibly removed the President from office. He became an emphatic defender of the Israeli war on Gaza after he was named by the right-wing The Israel Project to be its “Senior Advisor and Spokesperson.” He has been the chief public defender for Joe Lieberman, Jane Harman and the Clintons, all of whom have engaged his paid services.

And as NYU History Professor Greg Grandin just documented: “Recently, Davis has been hired by corporations to derail the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize, all the while touting himself as a “pro-labor liberal.” Davis was also the chief U.S. lobbyist of the military dictatorship in Pakistan in the late 90s and played an important role in strengthening relations between then President Bill Clinton and de facto president General Perez Musharraf.”

There’s much more in that article, but you get the drift. And now Davis, the Clinton fixer, is Michael Cohen’s lawyer. The fixer defending a fixer. So who pays the bill? Well, ostensibly no-one, because Davis started a Go Fund Me campaign where people can donate so Cohen “can tell people the truth about Trump”. The goal is $500,000. Which goes to .. Lanny Davis.

On TV yesterday he apparently promoted a wrong URL, which was promptly picked up by someone else who had it redirect to the Trump campaign. Even fixers screw up, right? Still, there’s already well over $100,000 donated for Cohen Davis. But why $500,000? One of the accusations against Cohen concerns lying to a bank for a $20 million loan. He bought an apartment not long ago for $6.7 million. He owned multiple apartments in Trump buildings.

Did he lose everything when Robert Mueller et al raided his office, home and hotel room on April 9 2018? Were all his assets frozen? Possibly. What we do know is that he ‘expected’ the Trump campaign to pay for his legal fees. Which they declined. Or rather, as Fortune reported in June: “The Trump campaign has given some money to Cohen to help cover legal expenses for the Russia investigation. To date, though, it has not offered financial assistance in the investigation of his business practices.”

It seems safe to assume that’s the point where Cohen turned, or was turned, to Lanny Davis. From a full decade of being Trump’s fixer to being fixed by the Clintons’ fixer. That’s a big move. It raises a number of questions: why did Trump not pay Cohen’s legal fees? This is 2 months after the raid on the man’s office, home, hotel room, in which huge amounts of files and disks etc. were seized.

Second question: if Lanny Davis only now sets up a Go Fund Me campaign, who’s been paying him over the past 2 months? Did Cohen sell assets, or is someone else involved?

Anyway, so Davis goes on TV with big words about how Cohen will tell all about Trump -provided people donate half a million- and adding “I know that Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the oval office. And [Cohen] has flatly authorized me to say under no circumstances would he accept a pardon from Mr. Trump.”

Oh, and that “the turning point for his client’s attitude toward Trump was the Helsinki summit in July 2018 which caused him to doubt Trump’s loyalty to the U.S.” That, to my little brain, doesn’t sound like something that would come from Cohen. That sounds more like a political point the likes of which Cohen has never made. That’s plain old Russiagate.

 

But anyway. So Lanny Davis, fixer of fixers and presidents, goes on a talk-show tour last night and what do you think happens? He walks back just about everything he’s said the previous day. Aaron Maté made a list in this Twitter thread:

 

 

Is Michael Cohen sure he wants this guy as his lawyer? Is he watching this stuff?

If Cohen and Manafort have broken laws, they should be punished for it. The same goes for all other Trump campers, including the Donald. But it would be good if people realize that Cohen and Manafort are not some kind of stand-alone examples, that they are instead the norm in Washington. And Moscow, and Brussels, London, everywhere there’s a concentration of power. In all these places, and probably more so in DC, there are these folks specializing in the edge of the law.

What do you think will happen when someone of the stature of Bob Mueller spends 18 months investigating the Clintons and their fixers? Perhaps the events of the past few days won’t bring such a 2nd Special Counsel any closer, but by the same token they might do just that. Offense is the best defense.

I don’t know, we don’t know, what monsters Trump has swept under his luxurious carpets. But we do know that those are not the only monsters in Washington. Meanwhile, the Steele dossier that was used to start the entire Mueller remains just about entirely unverified. The Russian collusion meme he was tasked with investigating has so far come up empty.

That he would find something if he tried hard enough was obvious from the start. That is both dangerous in that the mandate of a Special Counsel should be limited lest it becomes endless and veers off the reasons it was initiated, as well as in the risk that it can easily turn into a party-political tool to hurt one’s opponent while one’s own dirt remains unscrutinized.

In the end, I can draw only one conclusion: there are so many sharks and squids swimming in the swamp that either it should be expanded or the existing one should be cleaned up and depopulated. So bring it: investigate the FBI, the Clintons, and fixers like Lanny Davis and Michael Avenatti, the same way the Trump camp has been.

Because if you don’t do that, you can only possibly end up in an even bigger mess. You can’t drain half a swamp.