Caravaggio The seven works of mercy (Sette opere di Misericordia) 1607
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
– Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, one day before he was murdered
What Martin Luther King King won through many hard-fought battles, and in the end through sacrificing his own life, has to be won all over again: freedom, truth, justice. And this time it’s Julian Assange who stands in the frontline. With Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden by his side. But I know you’re not very likely to agree with that assessment.
For one thing, I picked the kind of headline that will probably make many people not read an essay. But I’m not kidding, and I’m not saying this for effect. Julian Assange is like Martin Luther King in many ways, and he deserves for people to recognize that.
Assange and Dr. King were born in different times, the former 3 years after the latter was murdered. But when anyone wants to talk King’s legacy, then Assange very much IS that legacy. It would be nice if people like Dr. King’s youngest daughter Bernice, who is very vocal on her father’s legacy, would acknowledge this. Her father certainly would have.
What Julian Assange and Martin Luther King have in common is a superior intelligence, combined with unwavering courage and an unrelenting drive for justice and truth. Both men were born so brave they realized that they might have to give their lives for their causes. And then brought that realization into practice. Both in their own way gave their lives for our sins.
Shared intelligence and courage, justice and truth. Unfortunately, another thing the two share is gross and vile sex smears. Which hurt both men much more than anything else thrown at them. Not a coincidence. Sex smears invariably and for good reason work strongest in women. And in Reverend King’s case, his religious following, who were 99% black people. Lose the women and you lose half of your potential support.
In Assange’s case, the smears, which have even been upgraded to ‘rape’, keeps people from standing up for him. Once you have that word attached to you, you will never fully get rid of it no matter what happens. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI knew this in the 1960’s, and Robert Mueller and James Comey’s FBI certainly never forgot it half a century later.
And of course there are many many people saying that Assange is no Martin Luther King, that Dr. King was a much better man than Assange could ever be. I would urge them to study how Dr. King was perceived in the last 10 years of his life. The nation didn’t exactly revere him, far from it. Most didn’t like him at all, he was seen as a troublemaker, including by many black people, who thought he would make their lives even harder. And then there were Hoover’s sex smears.
After his murder, it took just a few years for the first campaign to establish a public holiday in his name to start. 15 years after the murder, in 1983, President Reagan signed it into law. Even if and when such a petition were started in the case of Assange’s death, which we should all hope will be many years away, the odds of it getting anywhere are slim. But the same would have been true in 1965. So there is hope.
Those willing to give their own lives in order to make other people’s lives better, richer, more just, are special people. Not flawless, for that would make them not people, but special. Yes, Jesus is an obvious example. And so is Mahatma Gandhi. And sure, I hear you say Assange is no Jesus and no Gandhi, but the pattern of peaceful resistance cannot be denied.
There are obviously plenty people who fight for what’s right. What makes Assange, Dr. King, Gandhi, Jesus stand out is that they are examples of people standing up to entire empires. They guy standing in front of the tanks in Tienanmen square in 1989 was another one. Dr. King, Gandhi, Jesus were murdered for what they did. The Chinese guy in all probability also was. That leaves us with Assange.
Does he need to die first before we can appreciate and recognize what he has achieved in our names, that he changed the world we live in for good, as in literally for good? Does it really have to end the same way? Julian Assange hasn’t even received his Nobel Peace Prize yet.
Here’s an article by Roy Peter Clark for the Poynter, November 25, 2014, about the FBI and sex smears.
Is it possible that we have to thank the white Southern press of the 1960s – even the segregationist press – for its restraint in resisting FBI attempts to smear the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., with sexual scandal? That question is raised, but not sufficiently developed, in a Nov. 11 New York Times piece written by Yale historian Beverly Gage. She discovered in the files of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover an uncensored draft of what has been called the “suicide letter.” The letter was part of an elaborate effort to discredit King, who was about to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Based on wire taps and audio tapes, the one-page letter, supposedly sent by an outraged black citizen, described in the vivid language of the day examples of King’s marital infidelities and sexual adventures. The writer, actually an FBI agent, threatened to go public in 34 days with details of King’s affairs. “There is only one thing left for you to do,” it read near the end. “You know what it is.”
From the article, a conversation between Gene Patterson, editor of the Atlanta Constitution from 1960-1968, later editor of the St. Petersburg Times, and Howell Raines, political editor of the St. Petersburg Times, who in 1977 published an oral history of the civil rights movement entitled My Soul Is Rested. In that book Patterson describes to Raines how he was approached by the FBI to smear Dr. King:
“An FBI agent was sent to see me with the bugging information that Dr. King had been engaged in extramarital sexual affairs. The FBI agent, obviously under orders of the director, Hoover, because nobody acted without his direction, urged me – he said, ‘Gene,…here you on this paper have raised Dr. King up to be some kind of model American, some kind of saint, some kind of moralist.’ He said, ‘Now, here’s the information, and why don’t you print it?’ The FBI, the secret police of this country!
And I had to explain to him, ‘Look, we’re not a peephole journal. We don’t print this kind of stuff on any man. And we’re not going to do it on Dr. King.’ And I said, ‘Furthermore, I’m shocked that you would be spying on an American citizen, whether it’s Dr. King or some other person because if it can happen to him, it can happen to all of us.’ And I asked him if he thought this wasn’t a misuse of the FBI. But he was highly offended at me, seeing us as an immoral newspaper for not printing back-alley gossip that the secret police of the United States were trying to ruin this man with.”
Patterson told Raines that one of the editors contacted by the FBI was Lou Harris of the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, a paper that supported segregation on its editorial pages. Patterson recalls:
“So I had a phone call from Lou Harris one day, and he said, ‘Gene, I had a call from an FBI agent over here, and you’d be amazed at what he told me about Dr. King.’ And I said, ‘Lou, you mean sex exploits.’ …He said, ‘Have you heard about this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, the FBI has been to see me, too.’ And I said, ‘What are you gonna do with it?’ he said, ‘Hell, I wouldn’t print that stuff. That’s beyond the pale.’ And this was a segregationist editor talking to me. And I said, ‘Lou, I’m proud of you. I’m not gonna mess with it either.’”
And then perhaps the most revealing bit.
One night, Patterson found himself on a plane to Atlanta with John Doar, one of Bobby Kennedy’s top aides in the Justice Department. Hoover was a powerful man, but supposedly subject to the direction of the Attorney General. “I want you to tell the attorney general about this,” said Patterson. “He should know what the FBI is up to.”
“Because the more I thought about it,” Patterson said, “the more worried I’d become about the misuse of secret police powers.” Patterson remembered that throughout his narrative, Doar never looked at him, staring straight ahead in stony silence. “And all of a sudden,” said Patterson, “it hit me like a thunderclap that Bobby Kennedy knew about it. I had made Doar very uncomfortable by relating it to him. Not one expression crossed that deadpan face of his. He just did not respond. It was like talking to a dead man.”
A half century after these incidents, the American intelligence and security apparatus have snooping powers well beyond anything that could be imagined by Dr. King, Patterson, and their contemporaries. Imagine the corruption of a J. Edgar Hoover armed with the weapons of the digital age. His original bugging of King, whom he hated and criticized publicly, was not in search of sexual indiscretions. Hoover’s goals were measured by the paranoid politics of his time: that King had consorted with Communists.
No matter where it leads, no matter what abuses it will bring, I’m going to tell the truth
A federal judge has ordered Chelsea Manning to be jailed again for refusing to testify in a grand jury probe of Julian Assange, threatening the whistleblower with fines if the defiance continues. Manning says she would rather die. “I would rather starve to death than to change my opinion in this regard. And when I say that, I mean that quite literally,” Manning said during a hearing at a federal courthouse in Virginia on Thursday. The US Army intelligence specialist has already spent seven years behind bars for handing over classified military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks in 2010, and another 62 days in jail until last week for refusing to testify before another grand jury.
This time, Manning faces a fine of $500 a day if she continues to refuse cooperation after 30 days in jail. The fine will go up to $1,000 a day after two months. “I have never heard of jailing a witness for this long,” former FBI agent and whistleblower Colleen Rowley told RT. If the grand jury term goes on for 18 months, the fines could exceed half a million dollars, she added, calling it “draconian.” Rowley added that the jailing of Manning is either illegal retaliation by the Trump administration, “or the case against Julian Assange is just that weak that they absolutely need Chelsea Manning’s testimony in order to firm up these specious charges.”
[..] The new grand jury subpoena appears to be related to the US prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was arrested last month and is currently awaiting his extradition hearing in the UK. Assange is officially accused of conspiring with Manning to hack into Pentagon computers, while acknowledging the hack never actually happened. “I’ve read the indictment and the affidavit that came with the indictment” against Assange, Manning said on Thursday, “and the case doesn’t make sense, it seems kind of bananas.” If there is already an indictment against Assange, what’s the purpose of another grand jury, Manning asked reporters.
For WikiLeaks, 2010 was an exceptionally eventful year. In April the transparency organization released “Collateral Murder,” the video of U.S. Army helicopters as they shot more than a dozen Iraqis in Baghdad. That proved a worldwide shock and put the 4-year-old publisher on the global media map. “Afghan War Diaries,” a cache of 75,000 documents, followed in July. Three months later, on Oct. 22, 2010, WikiLeaks released an even more explosive trove: 391,831 documents and videos it named “Iraq War Logs.” This superseded “Afghan War Diaries” as by far the most extensive leak of classified material in U.S. history. It shone a stark light on the U.S.–led coalition’s conduct in Iraq after its 2003 invasion, when the nation had erupted into a violent sectarian war.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, said the Logs “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.” The source for the “Iraq War Logs” was once again Chelsea Manning, who by then was in a military prison awaiting trial on charges connected to “Collateral Murder” that wound up including 22 counts of theft, assisting the publication of classified intelligence and aiding the enemy. With the publication of the “Iraq War Logs,” WikiLeaks disgorged an unprecedented profusion of documents, military reports and videos. The Logs cover the six-year period from Jan. 1, 2004, (a matter of months after the 2003 invasion) to Dec. 31, 2009.
WikiLeaks partnered with The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera and Le Monde to disseminate the Iraq Logs. Taken together, the Logs portray Iraq under allied occupation as the scene of lawless mayhem and violence. Codes of conduct were routinely ignored, shootings were often indiscriminate and torture of detainees was regularly treated as acceptable practice. Innocent civilians were under constant threat of U.S.-led coalition gunfire and arrest, interrogation, and mistreatment by allied military units and the Iraqi army and police.
The United States has just suspended flights to Venezuela. Per the New York Times: “CARACAS — The United States banned all air transport with Venezuela on Wednesday over security concerns, further isolating the troubled South American nation…” A disinterested historian — Herodotus raised from the dead — would see this as just the latest volley in a siege tale. America has been trying for ages to topple the regime of President Nicholas Maduro, after trying for years to do the same to his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The new play in the Trump era involves recognizing Juan Guaidó as president and starving and sanctioning the country. Maduro, encircled, has been resisting.
The American commercial news landscape, in schism on domestic issues, is in lockstep here. Every article is seen from one angle: Venezuelans under the heel of a dictator who caused the crisis, with the only hope a “humanitarian” intervention by the United States. There is no other perspective. Media watchdog FAIR just released results of a study of three months of American opinion pieces. Out of 76 editorials in the New York Times, Washington Post, the “big three Sunday morning talk shows” or PBS News Hour, zero came out against the removal of Maduro. They wrote: “Corporate news coverage of Venezuela can only be described as a full-scale marketing campaign for regime change.”
Allowable opinion on Venezuela ranges from support for military invasion to the extreme pacifist end of the spectrum, as expressed in a February op-ed by Dr. Francisco Rodriguez and Jeffrey Sachs called “An Urgent Call for Compromise in Venezuela”: “We strongly urge… a peaceful and negotiated transition of power rather than a winner-take-all game of chicken…” So we should either remove Maduro by force, or he should leave peaceably, via negotiation. These are the options. After the disaster of Vietnam eons ago, American thought leaders became convinced we “lost” in Indochina because of — get this — bad PR. The real lesson in Vietnam should have been that people would pay any price to overthrow a hated occupying force. American think-tankers and analysts however somehow became convinced (and amazingly still are) that the problem was Walter Cronkite and the networks giving up on the war effort.
[..] Earlier this month, onetime fierce Iraq war opponent Rachel Maddow went on TV to embrace John Bolton in a diatribe about how the poor National Security Adviser has been thwarted by Trump in efforts to topple Maduro. “Regardless of what you thought about John Bolton before this, his career, his track record,” Maddow said. “Just think about John Bolton as a human being.” The telecast was surreal. It was like watching Dick Cheney sing “Give Peace a Chance.”
Trump promised to get the US out of “stupid wars.” But now he and John Bolton are on the brink of launching us into a very stupid and costly war with Iran. Join me in sending a strong message to President Trump: The US must NOT go to war with Iran. #TULSI2020pic.twitter.com/Q1sHDNwZSy
A new report in Britain’s The Times says the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) is standing by its senior officer in the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, who earlier this week publicly contracted the Pentagon and US administration by appearing to dismiss US intelligence claims over the heightened Iran threat. The awkward public exchange unfolded between the US military and its closest allied military coalition force during a Pentagon press conference on Tuesday wherein a top British commander in charge of anti-ISIS coalition forces rebuked White House claims on the heightened Iran threat.
“No – there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, a deputy head of the US-led coalition, asserted confidently in a video link briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon in response to a CNN question. Essentially this meant the powerful number two commander of “Operation Inherent Resolve” Combined Joint Task Force was questioning the entire basis on which the “imminent threats” and “high level of alert” shift in mission readiness decision was made. But now Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is said to be fuming over the handling of the situation. The public disagreement, quickly picked up in world headlines, and further weakening the White House’s stance on the “Iran threat”, has unleashed a storm of controversy among allies behind the scenes.
The Times report includes the following bombshell details: “Officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are understood to be angry at the MoD’s handling of the situation. The row raises questions about the extent of intelligence that the US has shared with Britain about the alleged threat from Iran. Israeli media reported that the warnings were passed on by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The US State Department has ordered non-emergency employees to leave Iraq.”
A dispute has erupted over whether former FBI Director James Comey or his CIA counterpart, John Brennan, promoted the unverified Steele dossier as the Obama-era intelligence community targeted the Trump campaign. According to Fox News, an email chain exists which indicates that Comey told bureau subordinates that Brennan insisted on the dossier’s inclusion in the intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russian interference. Also interesting is that the dossier was referred to as “crown material” in the emails – a possible reference to the fact that Steele is a former British spy. In a statement to Fox, however, a former CIA official “put the blame squarely on Comey.”
“Former Director Brennan, along with former [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper, are the ones who opposed James Comey’s recommendation that the Steele Dossier be included in the intelligence report,” said the official. “They opposed this because the dossier was in no way used to develop the ICA,” the official continued. “The intelligence analysts didn’t include it when they were doing their work because it wasn’t corroborated intelligence, therefore it wasn’t used and it wasn’t included. Brennan and Clapper prevented it from being added into the official assessment. James Comey then decided on his own to brief Trump about the document.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling for an end to the fighting in Libya is like an arsonist calling for the house he’s just burned to the ground to stop emitting smoke. For this reason it can only be an excess of black humor or wilful amnesia on the part of Mr Stoltenberg that explains his perverse call for this particular conflict to end in this particular country, eight years after it received a prolonged visit from a Western military alliance over which he currently presides. Along with recent NATO exercises in Estonia, involving 9,000 troops operating just 15km from Russia’s border, Jens Stoltenberg’s call for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis in Libya suggests that the pride of place above the entrance to NATO headquarters in Brussels should be inscribed in bold letters with the Orwellian mantra of ‘War is peace. Freedom is slavery’.
Because ever since the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO has been engaged in a perennial quest for meaning and relevance, which means to say for opportunities to unleash its democracy missiles and drop its democracy bombs. It is a quest that has and continues to involve ideologues in the media, neocon think tanks, and governments going out of their way to convince people across Europe and the US that without NATO manning the ramparts of Western civilization, the barbarians located to the North, South, East and West of them will come and destroy everything they hold dear.
Stripped of obfuscation, what we have here is a tawdry and base exercise in scaremongering; its aim to inculcate the belief that Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela (you can take your pick) is their enemy and a threat to their security. Thus it is that the extent to which people living in the West refuse to internalise the propaganda of their own ruling class and its functionaries is determined by their ability to see the world as it truly is, rather than continue to exist in the darkened room of Western exceptionalism.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom unexpectedly voted in a referendum to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, when or if it will ever indeed quit the European club it joined in 1973. Brexit talks between May’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party are about to close without an agreement, the BBC said, hours after May agreed on Thursday to set out a timetable for her departure in early June. “If the talks are not going anywhere, from my point of view that leads to only one conclusion,” Hilary Benn, the chairman of parliament’s Brexit committee, told BBC radio. “There are only two ways out of the Brexit crisis that we’ve got: either parliament agrees a deal or we go back to the British people and ask them to make the choice.”
After the Brexit deal that May struck with Brussels was defeated a third time by parliament, she announced on April 2 that she would open talks with Labour. But the two parties have failed to agree on major issues such as the opposition party’s demand for a post-Brexit customs union. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who voted against membership of the EU in 1975, has said that May refused to budge on key demands. May’s hands have been tied, knowing that to make concessions to Labour would lead to fury in her divided party. Labour has feared that any compromises on issues such as workers’ rights would be torn up by May’s successor. The two party leaders will now move to a second phase, aimed at agreeing on a process for parliamentary votes designed to find a consensus, the BBC said.
In his opening statement Wednesday at the House Aviation subcommittee hearing on the 737 MAX in Washington, D.C., the lead Republican congressman blamed errors by the Indonesian and Ethiopian pilots for the two deadly MAX crashes in those countries. “Pilots trained in the United States would have successfully been able to handle” the emergencies on both jets, said Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He added that preliminary reports about the accident “compound my concerns about quality training standards in other countries.” Graves was repeating the main points in a report written by two pilots at a major U.S. airline that pointed to pilot error as “the most consequential factor” in both crashes.
Their report was commissioned and paid for by institutional investors with large holdings in Boeing stock. That case for pilot error as the major cause of the crashes seems close to a surrogate for what Boeing has only hinted at, and may be a key part of the manufacturer’s legal defense in liability lawsuits. Yet two flight-simulator sessions replicating the conditions on the doomed flights contradict Graves’ contention that better trained pilots would have escaped disaster. And some Western-trained pilots criticize the report as based on unverified assumptions and minimizing the intense stress Boeing’s runaway flight-control system imposed on the two flight crews.
“I’m disappointed with those who sit in their lofty chairs of judgment and say this wouldn’t have happened to U.S. pilots,” said a veteran captain with a major U.S. airline, who asked not to be named to avoid involving his employer. The flight crew on the March 10 Ethiopian flight faced a barrage of alerts in the flight that lasted just 6 minutes. Those alerts included a “stick shaker” that noisily vibrated the pilot’s yoke throughout the flight, warning the plane was in danger of a stall, which it wasn’t; repeated loud “DON’T SINK” warnings that the jet was too close to the ground; a “clacker” making a very loud clicking sound to signal the jet was going too fast; and multiple warning lights telling the crew the speed, altitude and other readings on their instruments were unreliable.
Boeing could be on the hook for enough to bankrupt a small country — but it the Chicago-based company were found not to bear any responsibility for the issues with the 737 MAX, then it could have to pay nothing, though whoever is found to be at fault would still be liable, of course. If Boeing were found liable, then the court would have to decide the appropriate award Boeing would have to pay out to the airlines — enough to compensate the plaintiff for the damage to its business from lost fares, sunk costs in the defective aircraft, etc.
If, in the least likely but most sensational possibility, Boeing officials are found to have actively covered up a problem with the aircraft in what amounts to a crime, then the plaintiffs would probably be awarded not just compensatory damages but punitive damages — typically three times the amount of the compensatory damages. None of this, however, addresses the likely wrongful-death lawsuits from the families of the passengers who perished in the 737 MAX crashes. In those cases, the airlines and Boeing will probably be sitting on the same side of the courtroom — as co-defendants. But Dedmon stressed that, as the 737 MAX crisis is still unfolding, it’s still hard to speculate where things will go, in the courtroom or outside it. “It’s the tip of the spear,” he said.
Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently called for the US government to be more proactive in regulating social media. His former dorm mate Chris Hughes went a step further last week. Mr Hughes wants to break up the social network he co-founded. The controversies surrounding Facebook point to a broader need for a new competition law. At a time when governments in Europe are already moving against Big Tech’s excesses, the US should take the chance to reform its own outdated rules. In his article, Mr Hughes excoriates Mr Zuckerberg for chasing profits over user security.
The Facebook co-founder is alarmed by Mr Zuckerberg’s ability to decide what millions of people read via the network. Mr Hughes goes on to criticise the US government for its relative inaction, emphasising that fining Facebook or instituting new privacy rules is insufficient. In calling for the company to be broken up, Mr Hughes rejects the school of competition law dominant in the US since the 1980s. This views pricing as the only metric for assessing competition. Such a narrow focus collapses when applied to Facebook and other Big Tech firms, which provide services for “free” in return for taking users’ data, rather than their cash.
Facebook epitomises the dangers of data oligopolies, with its plan to tie WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram into a single encrypted messaging system. With control of three major platforms, it can use metadata such as contacts or external pages to provide useful data to advertisers and to train algorithms. New competitors without access to these data reservoirs will inevitably struggle to compete. In the past, Big Tech firms have simply acquired them and folded them into their business or copied their ideas at scale. The data rich get data richer, even though there is no apparent cost to consumers under current competition law.
Huawei Technologies’ chip arm HiSilicon said on Friday it has long been prepared for the “extreme scenario” that it could be banned from purchasing U.S. chips and technology, and is able to ensure steady supply of most products. HiSilicon, which mainly designs chips for Huawei equipment, made the comments in a letter to staff attributed to President He Tingbo dated “the small hours of May 17”, shortly after the United States officially banned Huawei from buying U.S. technology without special approval. The ban has thrown into disarray prospects for sales at some of the largest tech companies and drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, further ratcheting up tensions over trade.
Huawei confirmed authenticity of the letter seen by Reuters and published by Chinese media on Friday. HiSilicon has been secretly developing back-up products for years in anticipation of the unlikely scenario that Huawei may one day be unable to obtain advanced chips and technology from the United States, He said in the letter. HiSilicon’s efforts have ensured a steady supply and “strategic safety” of most products, He said, adding that Huawei will aim to be technologically self-sufficient. He described HiSilicon’s efforts as a “long march in the history of technology” that would now pay off with the United State’s “crazy decision” that brought this “extreme and dark moment”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended austerity policy in Greece and other debt-hit countries in the eurozone, however acknowledging that the people had to shoulder a “considerable” burden. “What counts is that the currency union and the euro were maintained,” Merkel said in an interview with Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung. Merkel, who is in her fourth and final term in office, said that reforms in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain “have proven to be right, even if I don’t dispute that the burden for the population was considerable.” Speaking about Europe’s refugee crisis, Merkel said that the problem requires greater burden-sharing among EU members as well as efforts to tackle the roots of the problem.
The Tower of London will be protected from a prophesied demise for years to come, after the first ravens in 30 years were born inside its walls. At least six ravens have been kept at the fortress since the days of King Charles II, who feared the Tower and the kingdom would fall if they were ever allowed to leave. Ruination loomed large last year as the number of legal raven breeders continued to shrink across the UK, making it harder for the ancient quota to be honoured. A new aviary was eventually installed inside the London landmark, into which two breeding ravens – Huginn and Muninn – were brought at the end of last year.
Few expected the couple to be settled in time for the 2019 mating season, but, not without some sense of occasion, new life began emerging on April 23 – St George’s Day. All four chicks have now hatched, the first to do so at the Tower since 1989. They join seven other ravens in addition to the breeding couple and shore up the Tower’s safety for the foreseeable future. Chris Skaife, ravenmaster at the Tower of London, said: “My suspicions were first piqued that we might have a chance of baby chicks when the parents built a huge nest suddenly overnight and then almost immediately the female bird started to sit on it, then on the April 23 I noticed the birds going to the nest with food.”
For me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years. I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology. It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was. And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.
If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice. Now she is back in prison. Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S. Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything. We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining. Nothing happened.
A great example of how it’s done. I stumbled upon this in the Guardian, “Ask Hadley” by one Hadley Freemen. Yes the kind of thing men won’t read, it’s directed at women. Who in this way get told what to think of Assange. The rape smear against him from MI6 et al has been more successful than anything else in turning especially women against him. This is how. It’s vile and it’s very dirty. And this Hadley person has no qualms about throwing another woman, Pamela Anderson, under the bus to do it. Because, you know, of her reputation.
Anderson made a long comment to the handily assembled press ranks outside the jail after her visit. She talked about how horrifically unjust it was that Assange was “really cut off from everybody”, to which you can only answer: “Well then, he should be delighted, given he chose to do exactly that for the past seven years when he holed himself up in the Ecuadorean embassy.” Anderson continued: “He does not deserve to be in a supermax prison. He has never committed a violent act. He is an innocent person.”
‘Nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison.’ Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
And again, Ms Anderson, one must beg to remind you that, while that may all be true, no one knows that for certain because – and apologies for bringing up this inconvenient truth yet again – he avoided extradition to Sweden to answer to crimes he is accused of by hiding out in an embassy in Knightsbridge for seven flipping years. You remember that, right? You visited him there. That place where your warrior for truth would – according to Ecuador’s UK ambassador, Jaime Marchán – leave half-eaten meals in the sink. As Andrew O’Hagan explained way back in 2014 when describing what it was like spending time with Assange: “If you asked him to do the dishes, he would say he was trying to free economic slaves in China and had no time to wash up.”
Anderson added: “He is a good man, he is an incredible person. I love him.” She clearly rather fancies herself and Assange as the 21st century’s Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller (as opposed to what they actually are, which is a real-life Harley Quinn and Joker from Batman: The Animated Series). Still, good for you, Pamela! Love is a wondrous thing. This column sincerely hopes you have many happy years of washing his dishes ahead of you. Anyway, just in case Anderson’s word salad was not sufficiently persuasive, she also wore a blanket emblazoned with writing that included the words “free speech”, “gagged” and “Cromwell”. Because, honestly, nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison. Anderson is just the latest in a long and not especially noble line of people who have decided that the best way to express themselves is by writing words on their clothing.
Pamela Anderson admits to feeling 'sick, nauseous' after visiting Julian Assange at HM Prison Belmarsh. pic.twitter.com/91W8F3SPTx
The diplomatic cable from Beijing arrived in Washington late on Friday night, with systematic edits to a nearly 150-page draft trade agreement that would blow up months of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, according to three U.S. government sources and three private sector sources briefed on the talks. The document was riddled with reversals by China that undermined core U.S. demands, the sources told Reuters. In each of the seven chapters of the draft trade deal, China had deleted its commitments to change laws to resolve core complaints that caused the United States to launch a trade war: theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets; forced technology transfers; competition policy; access to financial services; and currency manipulation.
U.S. President Donald Trump responded in a tweet on Sunday vowing to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent on Friday – timed to land in the middle of a scheduled visit by China’s Vice Premier Liu He to Washington to continue trade talks. The stripping of binding legal language from the draft struck directly at the highest priority of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – who views changes to Chinese laws as essential to verifying compliance after years of what U.S. officials have called empty reform promises. Lighthizer has pushed hard for an enforcement regime more like those used for punitive economic sanctions – such as those imposed on North Korea or Iran – than a typical trade deal.
“This undermines the core architecture of the deal,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the talks. [..] Liu last week told Lighthizer and Mnuchin that they needed to trust China to fulfil its pledges through administrative and regulatory changes, two of the sources said. Both Mnuchin and Lighthizer considered that unacceptable, given China’s history of failing to fulfil reform pledges. One private-sector source briefed on the talks said the last round of negotiations had gone very poorly because “China got greedy”. “China reneged on a dozen things, if not more … The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.
President Trump is having second thoughts about “his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela,” complaining to aides and advisers that “he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman,” President Nicolas Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guadió, The Washington Post reports. “The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”
Officially, U.S. policy in Venezuela is the same, and last week’s failed effort to oust Maduro has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response,” and “Trump is now not inclined to order any sort of military intervention in Venezuela,” the Post reports, citing current and former officials and outside advisers. Instead, the U.S. is settling in to wait out Maduro on the expectation he will fall on his own, with the help of U.S. sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said last week, after a 90-minute phone call with Putin. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.” U.S. officials say Russia is deeply involved in backing Maduro.
President Trump, speaking at a rally hours after the White House invoked executive privilege to block the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, predicted congressional Democrats’ investigations would propel him to a reelection victory in 2020. Trump did not directly address his administration’s decision to defy a subpoena from House Democrats, a move that raised the specter of a constitutional crisis, but he said the party’s desire to probe his administration, campaign and businesses would backfire politically. “They want to do investigations instead of investments,” the president told a crowd of supporters at an outdoor amphitheater just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. “I think it drives us on to victory in 2020.”
Trump said Democrats’ focus on investigations is a “disgrace” and that they should instead work with him on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and improving veterans’ health care. [..] Trump mentioned Barr only in passing during the Wednesday rally but did not address the proceedings. “Now the Democrats — we have a great attorney general — now the Democrats are saying, ‘We want more.’ You know, it was going to be like, ‘We want the Mueller report.’ Now they say, ‘Mueller report? No, we want to start all over again.’”
If ever there were an admission that taints the FBI’s secret warrant to surveil Donald Trump’s campaign, it sat buried for more than 2 1/2 years in the files of a high-ranking State Department official. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with FBI informant Christopher Steele shows the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded British intelligence operative admitted that his research was political and facing an Election Day deadline. And that confession occurred 10 days before the FBI used Steele’s now-discredited dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s ties to Russia.
Steele’s client “is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8,” the date of the 2016 election, Kavalec wrote in a typed summary of her meeting with Steele and Tatyana Duran, a colleague from Steele’s Orbis Security firm. The memos were unearthed a few days ago through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec’s notes do not appear to have been provided to the House Intelligence Committee during its Russia probe, according to former Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “They tried to hide a lot of documents from us during our investigation, and it usually turns out there’s a reason for it,” Nunes told me. Senate and House Judiciary investigators told me they did not know about them, even though they investigated Steele’s behavior in 2017-18.
One member of Congress transmitted the memos this week to the Department of Justice’s inspector general, fearing its investigation of FISA abuses may not have had access to them. Nonetheless, the FBI is doing its best to keep much of Kavalec’s information secret by retroactively claiming it is classified, even though it was originally marked unclassified in 2016. The apparent effort to hide Kavalec’s notes from her contact with Steele has persisted for some time. State officials acknowledged a year ago they received a copy of the Steele dossier in July 2016, and got a more detailed briefing in October 2016 and referred the information to the FBI.
House Democrats voted on Wednesday to hold the US attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress, citing his failure to hand over the full, unredacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The decision came on a day of escalating tensions between Congress and the White House. Earlier on Wednesday, the White House invoked executive privilege to block the House judiciary committee’s request for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence. Later in the day, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, subpoenaed Barr for “documents and materials related Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including all counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials produced during the Special Counsel’s investigation, the full unredacted report, and the underlying evidence”.
According to a statement from Schiff’s office, the justice department must produce the documents by 15 May. The Senate intelligence committee, meanwhile, has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The panel is calling in the president’s son to answer questions about his 2017 testimony to the panel as part of its investigation into Russian election interference. It is the first known subpoena of a member of Donald Trump‘s immediate family, and a new sign that the Senate panel is continuing with its own Russia investigation even after the release of Mueller’s report on the same subject.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and represented the House of Representatives in its successful challenge to executive actions under the Affordable Care Act..
The House Judiciary Committee is voting to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress and to secure a vote of the entire House of Representatives in order to send the matter to federal court. The problem is that the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt. Indeed, with a superficial charge, the House could seriously undermine its credibility in the ongoing conflicts with the White House. Congress is right on a number of complaints against the White House, including possible cases of contempt, but this is not one of them. As someone who has represented the House of Representatives, my concern is that this one violates a legal version of the Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm.”
This could do great harm, not to Barr, but to the House. It is the weakest possible case to bring against the administration, and likely to be an example of a bad case making bad law for the House. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler laid out the case for contempt. He raised three often repeated complaints against Barr in that he failed to release an unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller, allegedly lied twice to Congress, and refused to appear before the committee. Yet, notably, the only claim the committee seeks to put before a federal court is the redaction of the report. That seems rather curious since, if Barr lied or refused a subpoena as House leaders claim, it normally would be an easy case of contempt. The reason for this move is that House Democrats know both claims would not withstand even a cursory judicial review.
When Mueller accepted his appointment as special counsel, he did so fully aware of the federal regulations governing his office. The regulations make it absolutely clear that the special counsel is prohibited from discussing his report publicly. Leading members of Congress now demanding that Mueller testify know he is barred from doing so. The current special counsel regulations were passed while they were members of Congress. In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act. It created a process for appointing special prosecutors. This is a different position from special counsels like Mueller. Under the 1978 law, Congress could mandate the appointment of a special prosecutor. Congress could remove the special prosecutor, and the special prosecutor was required to report to Congress. The executive and legislative branches were both a direct part of the process.
However, the law on special prosecutors expired and it was not renewed. In 1999, the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed became law and remain in effect today. These regulations were written and heavily promoted by President Bill Clinton’s administration. They changed the 1978 law in several important ways. Under the current regulations, the special counsel does not report to Congress. Congress cannot require the appointment or removal of a special counsel. These powers and duties lie exclusively with the attorney general. Section 600.9 of the special counsel regulations backed by the Clinton administration places very limited requirements on the attorney general in regard to what he needs to provide to Congress, and he has already exceeded these requirements.
James Comey’s planet is getting noticeably warmer. Attorney General William Barr’s emissions are the suspected cause. Barr has made plain that he intends to examine carefully how and why Comey, as FBI director, decided that the bureau should investigate two presidential campaigns and if, in so doing, any rules or laws were broken. In light of this, the fired former FBI director apparently has decided that photos of him on Twitter standing amid tall trees and in the middle of empty country roads, acting all metaphysical, is no longer a sufficient strategy. No, Comey has realized, probably too late, that he has to try to counter, more directly, the narrative being set by the unsparing attorney general whose words in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week landed in the Trump-opposition world like holy water on Linda Blair. Shrieking heads haven’t stopped spinning since.
And so we’ve seen Comey get real busy lately. First he penned a curious op-ed in The New York Times. Then a Times reporter, with whom Comey has cooperated in the past, wrote a news article exposing an early, controversial investigative technique against the Trump campaign in an attempt to get out front and excuse it. Next, Comey is scheduled to be encouraged on a friendly cable news “town hall.” In the op-ed, Comey trotted out his now-familiar St. James schtick, freely pronouncing on the morality of others. He sees himself as a kind of Pontiff-of-the-Potomac working his beads, but comes across more like an unraveling Captain Queeg working his ball bearings. Comey adjudged the president as “amoral.” He declared the attorney general to be “formidable” but “lacking inner strength” unlike — the inference is clear — Comey himself. A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.
By 2016, emerging market corporations were issuing ten times more money ($711 billion) than before, much of it in hard foreign currencies (mainly euros, dollars and yen) that will prove much harder to pay back if their local currency slides, as is happening in Turkey and Argentina right now. Although bond issuance by emerging market companies declined by 29% in 2017 and remained around the same level in 2018, it is still approximately 7.5 times higher than the pre-crisis level. Much of the increase has been driven by China as it transitioned from a negligible level of issuance of corporate debt prior to the 2008 crisis to a record issuance amount of $590 billion in 2016.
During that time the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451 and the total amount of corporate debt in China exploded from $4 trillion to almost $17 trillion, according to BIS data. By late 2018 it had reached $19.7 trillion. “There has been a persistent buildup of private debt to record levels in China,” Cunliffe said. Much of this increase took place in the direct aftermath of the financial crisis. The largest increases have been in the corporate sector, mainly in state-owned enterprises. At last count, China’s corporate debt-to-GDP ratio was 153%, enough to earn it seventh place on WOLF STREET’s leaderboard of countries with the most monstrous corporate debt pileups (as a proportion of GDP), 18 places above the US. This chart compares the rise of non-financial corporate debt in China and the US:
Yields on five-year Greek government bonds are lower than those of U.S. Treasurys — and have been this way for the past month. Yes, on 3- and 5-year bonds, Greece, with its rating deep in junk territory, pays investors less than the double-A-plus-rated U.S. government does. Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French government bonds — also lower-rated than the U.S. — offer lower, indeed considerably lower, yields than the U.S. government does, even for 10-year maturities. Even if we stipulate that Greece’s government is, in fact, as creditworthy as the U.S. government, why would investors accept a lower yield on the Greek bond? And why are they willing to accept the even lower yields on the bonds of other eurozone governments?
One possible reason is that they expect the euro to appreciate. Despite the low eurozone bond yields, investors may expect eventually to boost their returns by selling the expensive euros and buying cheaper dollars and other currencies. Indeed, there is some basis for such a strategy. As of late April, the consensus among analysts was that the euro will appreciate significantly over the next couple of years, and more modestly thereafter; forward markets (where buyers and sellers settle the price of a future transaction in advance) support this consensus view.
But if expectations of an appreciating euro solve the low-bond-yield puzzle, they raise another, deeper puzzle. Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible. Current growth forecasts point worryingly in the opposite direction. The IMF projects world economic growth to slow more markedly than it already did a year ago. Crucially, of all major economies, those in the eurozone appear to be decelerating particularly quickly.
In salmon’s case, we have interrupted one of the most dramatic cycles of nature, the wild fish’s journey from the rivers where they spawn to the oceans where they grow and back again. The result is that fish have died, species that eat them have died, communities that depend on them have faded, the food supply has been polluted and a lot of tax dollars have been wasted. [..] In an inspired gambit, Artifishal takes a swerve into the metaphyscial, framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive.
The contention of the film-makers is that while it may be human nature to seek dominion and control over the rest of nature, the very thing we need to survive is precisely that which defies our control, that thing which, when we seek to subjugate it, instead either slips through our nets, or is caught and dies. If we drive the wild to extinction, the film suggests, we will bring our own that much closer. “I really hope the film leaves the viewer with this disquieting question, which is, have we reached the end of wild?” said Murphy in a phone conversation near the end of a tour to promote the movie, which debuted at the Tribeca film festival after a tour of screenings in Patagonia stores. “At the outset we kept wondering if we would find a bad guy. And we didn’t. In fact, I kept feeling that the force of antagonism was us – we’re the bad guy. Because humans just are always looking out for themselves.”
Only a third of the world’s great rivers remain free flowing, due to the impact of dams that are drastically reducing the benefits healthy rivers provide people and nature, according to a global analysis. Billions of people rely on rivers for water, food and irrigation, but from the Danube to the Yangtze most large rivers are fragmented and degraded. Untouched rivers are largely confined to remote places such as the Arctic and Amazonia. The assessment, the first to tackle the subject on a worldwide level, examined 12m kilometres of rivers and found that just 90 of the 246 rivers more than 1,000km (621 miles) long flowed without interruption.
The scientists, whose research, published in the journal Nature, was led by Günther Grill, at McGill University in Canada, were particularly concerned to discover that only a quarter of long rivers that once flowed freely to the sea, rather than to an inland lake or other river, still had such a course. Separate research in Britain, which included the effects of smaller infrastructure such as weirs, fords and culverts, suggests that 97% of the nation’s river network has been interrupted by human-built structures. Thriving wildlife in rivers is crucial to keeping water clean but freshwater habitats were found to be the hardest hit of all the ecosystems, with wildlife populations having plunged by an average of 83% since 1970 due to dams, overuse of water and pollution.
Great rivers that flow freely are now rare in populated areas. Heavily fragmented rivers include the Danube, Nile, and Euphrates, the Paraná and Missouri in the Americas, the Yangtze and Brahmaputra in Asia, and the Darling in Australia. The Congo and Amazon were found to be among the least affected. The biggest impact comes from physical barriers created by dams, but reservoirs also seriously affect the natural seasonal flow of rivers. “It can be really freaky sometimes, when the electricity is produced one hour on, one hour off, and the river goes up and down by a metre, which is very stressful to the ecosystems downstream,” said Grill. The study estimates that there are about 60,000 large dams worldwide and 3,700 in planning or construction, in addition to millions of smaller dams.
Eight European countries have called for an ambitious strategy to tackle climate change – and to spend a quarter of the entire EU budget on fighting it. The joint statement says the EU should have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “at the latest”. It was signed by France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The group says their plan can “go hand in hand with prosperity” and “set an example for other countries to follow.” The position paper comes ahead of a major summit of European leaders in the Romanian city of Sibiu, beginning on Thursday, which will discuss the future of Europe and the EU’s strategy for the next five years. But not everyone is on board – there are 28 countries in the EU, and several of those absent from the joint position statement are significant players – including Germany.
The position of the eight countries is that climate change has “profound implications for the future of humanity” and that its impacts are already apparent – citing “the heat waves and scorching fires of last summer”. [..] “The EU budget currently under negotiation will be an important tool in this respect: at least 25% of the spending should go to projects aimed at fighting against climate change,” the paper said. Annual EU budgets have spending limits set by what is known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF). The current one allowed the EU to spend more than €900bn between 2014-2020. The eight-nation group is eyeing the next framework, which is set to cover 2021-2027. [..] At the moment, EU countries are required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020, with the aim of raising that to a 40% reduction by 2030. But many are set to miss these targets – some by a wide margin.
Remember Spying on Trump was called “Crossfire Hurricane”? Well now it’s renamed to “Crossfire Boomerang”. BOOM. Karma!
From the moment the Special Counsel investigation into Trump-Russia collusion began, we’ve been presented with a portrait of Robert Swan Mueller III as a man of unassailable character, a straight shooter, as impartial as can be. But Mueller was director of the FBI for 12 years (2001-2013), he was the king of the spies.
Does anyone really have the idea that the people who work in US intelligence are the country’s straightest shooters? Not everybody does. For instance, not Mike Pompeo, who bluntly stated: We lied, we cheated, we stole; It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
So why should we believe Mueller is a man of such unassailable character when he rose to one of the very top ranks in intelligence? It doesn’t make much sense, except of course it’s what politics and media – and intelligence- want us to believe. It may not make sense, but boy, does it work.
And then at some point obviously you have to wonder why Mueller got the Special Counsel job on May 27 2017. Because of that unassailable character, we were told at the time. But if that doesn’t apply to Pompeo, why would it be true of Mueller? And why Mueller while there were strong links to US intelligence that would obviously have to be probed by the counsel (but were not).
That brings us straight to the next question: The main issue, post-report, is not whether Trump tried to stop the Mueller probe. The main issue instead is why it was instigated to begin with. Yes, US intelligence. CIA. And then there’s yet another question: When did Mueller know there was no collusion? Not just 1 or 2 weeks before presenting his report, that’s for sure.
So when? 6 months ago? A year? Did he ever really think there was collusion? If so, based on what? The almost entrirely discredited Steele dossier? Did he have faith in that? The Mifsud-Papadoloulos-Downer connection ‘engineered’ by CIA asset Stephen Halper? Did he have faith in that? Or was the whole thing goal-seeeked from the start?
It appears very silly to assume that Mueller did not start his job with an agenda, because of the heavy involvement of his former employees and colleagues and his best friend James Comey, whose firing by Trump was one of the main reasons to start the investigation. Sounds like a very hard one to sell, but the media did a great job. Everybody bought into it.
And then the whole thing collapsed. Yes, collapsed. Because this was never about finding the truth, it was always about digging for dirt. On Trump. Think Mueller wasn’t aware of that? I own a bridge….
Mueller was forced to find Trump and his team not guilty on conspiracy or collusion -and obstruction. This is because he would have had to prove this, and couldn’t. But he’s left the accusations against the Russian government and Julian Assange stand. Not because he has evidence for that, but because he doesn’t have to prove them.
Nobody believes a word any Russian says anymore, thanks to the MSM and US intelligence campaign against them. As for Assange, it’s obvious what Robert Mueller has done. He’s completely ignored the one person who could have helped him find the truth -just not the dirt-. and let him rot in hell. Here’s wishing for that same hell to befall Mueller and all of his family.
There is zero chance that Mueller didn’t know his buddy and successor James Comey prevented Assange from talking with the DOJ in 2017. Neither wanted Assange’s evidence to become public, because that would have killed the Russia narrative as well as the WikiLeaks one. And then what?
Let’s make one thing clear. All that proof of Russian hacking and Russian Facebook ads? It doesn’t exist. The entire story is fictional. How do we know? Because the only source that says it is true is US intelligence. And they can not be believed. As Mueller’s investigation once again shows.
Mueller and Barr, like all of Washington -it’s a bipartisan effort-, want the narrative to remain alive that the Russians hacked and meddled in the US elections in favor of Trump, and that Julian Assange was in cahoots with them. None of which Mueller has any evidence for. And Mueller at all have no problem sacrificing Assange and Chelsea Manning while they’re at it.
Assange is not the only expert source who is silenced. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity -VIPS- also can’t get their voice heard. People who ran US intelligence for decades are being silenced by those who succeeded them. As if they don’t exist. As if their expertise is worthless.
The evidence they offer simply doesn’t rhyme with the official narrative promoted by their successors and the CIA and FBI. Remember: Mueller only dropped in his report what he would have had to provide evidence for. The rest is still there, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
One VIPS member is Larry Johnson, “former CIA Intelligence Officer & former State Department Counter-Terrorism Official, (ret.)”. Trump referenced him the other day on Twitter:
“Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson accuses United Kingdom Intelligence of helping Obama Administration Spy on the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign.” @OANN WOW! It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!
And sure enough, the Guardian today described Johnson as a “conservative conspiracy theorist”. This stuff is predictable. But at least we know that while Mueller et al ignore the VIPS, Trump knows at least something about them. A few excerpts of a letter they sent to Trump last week (which he hasn’t seen, undoubtedly):
[..] the Mueller report left unscathed the central-but-unproven allegation that the Russian government hacked into the DNC and Podesta emails, gave them to WikiLeaks to publish, and helped you win the election. The thrust will be the same; namely, even if there is a lack of evidence that you colluded with Russian President Vladimir Putin, you have him to thank for becoming president.
Mueller has accepted that central-but-unproven allegation as gospel truth [..] Following the odd example of his erstwhile colleague, former FBI Director James Comey, Mueller apparently has relied for forensics on a discredited, DNC-hired firm named CrowdStrike, whose credibility is on a par with “pee-tape dossier” compiler Christopher Steele. Like Steele, CrowdStrike was hired and paid by the DNC.
[..] In Barr’s words: “The Special Counsel found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks.
Based on these activities, the Special Counsel brought criminal charges against a number of Russian military officers for conspiring to hack into computers in the United States for purposes of influencing the election.” We are eager to see if Mueller’s report contains more persuasive forensic evidence than that which VIPS has already debunked.
“But They Were Indicted! “Circular reasoning is not likely to work for very long, even with a U.S. populace used to being brainwashed by the media. Many Americans had mistakenly assumed that Mueller’s indictment of Russians — whether they be posting on FaceBook or acting like intelligence officers — was proof of guilt. But, as lawyers regularly point out, “one can easily indict a ham sandwich” — easier still these days, if it comes with Russian dressing.
The VIPS mention a few times they can’t get heard. They sent Barr a letter 5 weeks ago, and never got an answer. Here they say: “.. specialists will have a field day, IF — and it is a capital “IF” — by some miracle, word of VIPS’ forensic findings gets into the media this time around.”
The evidence-impoverished, misleadingly labeled “Intelligence Community Assessment” of January 6, 2017 had one saving grace. The authors noted: “The nature of cyberspace makes attribution of cyber operations difficult but not impossible. Every kind of cyber operation — malicious or not — leaves a trail.” Forensic investigators can follow a trail of metadata and other technical properties. VIPS has done that.
If, as we strongly suspect, Mueller is relying for forensics solely on CrowdStrike, the discredited firm hired by the DNC in the spring of 2016, he is acting more in the mold of Inspector Clouseau than the crackerjack investigator he is reputed to be. It simply does not suffice for Mueller’s former colleague James Comey to tell Congress that CrowdStrike is a “high-class entity.” It is nothing of the sort [..] Comey needs to explain why he kept the FBI away from the DNC computers after they were said to have been “hacked.”
And former National Intelligence Director James Clapper needs to explain his claim last November that “the forensic evidence was overwhelming about what the Russians had done.” What forensic evidence? From CrowdStrike? We at VIPS, in contrast, are finding more and more forensic evidence that the DNC emails were leaked, not hacked by the Russians or anyone else — and that “Guccifer 2.0” is an out-and-out fraud. Yes, we can prove that from forensics too.
No Russian hacking. No Guccifer 2.0. But Mueller mentions both a lot.
Again, if Mueller’s incomplete investigation is allowed to assume the status of Holy Writ, most Americans will continue to believe that — whether you colluded the Russians or not — Putin came through for you big time. In short, absent President Putin’s help, you would not be president.
Far too many Americans will still believe this because of the mainstream-media fodder — half-cooked by intelligence leaks — that they have been fed for two and a half years. The media have been playing the central role in the effort of the MICIMATT (the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank) complex to stymie any improvement in relations with Russia.
We in VIPS have repeatedly demonstrated that the core charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election are built on a house of cards. But, despite our record of accuracy on this issue — not to mention our pre-Iraq-war warnings about the fraudulent intelligence served up by our former colleagues — we have gotten no play in mainstream media.
Most of us have chalked up decades in the intelligence business and many have extensive academic and government experience focusing on Russia. We consider the issue of “Russian interference” of overriding significance not only because the allegation is mischievously bogus and easily disproven. More important, it has brought tension with nuclear-armed Russia to the kind of dangerous fever pitch not seen since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Russian provocation was real — authentic, not synthetic.
[..] We recall that you were apprised of that Memorandum’s key findings because you ordered then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo to talk to William Binney, one of our two former NSA Technical Directors and one of the principal authors of that Memorandum. On October 24, 2017, Pompeo began an hour-long meeting with Binney by explaining the genesis of the odd invitation to CIA Headquarters: “You are here because the president told me that if I really wanted to know about Russian hacking I needed to talk to you.”
[..] Binney, a plain-spoken, widely respected scientist, began by telling Pompeo that his (CIA) people were lying to him about Russian hacking and that he (Binney) could prove it. [..] As we told Attorney General Barr five weeks ago, we consider Mueller’s findings fundamentally flawed on the forensics side and ipso facto incomplete. We also criticized Mueller for failing to interview willing witnesses with direct knowledge, like WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
You may be unaware that in March 2017 lawyers for Assange and the Justice Department (acting on behalf of the CIA) reportedly were very close to an agreement under which Assange would agree to discuss “technical evidence ruling out certain parties” in the leak of the DNC emails and agree to redact some classified CIA information, in exchange for limited immunity. According to the investigative reporter John Solomon of The Hill, Sen. Mark Warner, (D-VA) vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learned of the incipient deal and told then-FBI Director Comey, who ordered an abrupt “stand down” and an end to the discussions with Assange.
Why did Comey and Warner put the kibosh on receiving “technical evidence ruling out certain parties” [read Russia]? We won’t insult you with the obvious answer.
Assange is now in prison, to the delight of so many — including Mrs. Clinton who has said Assange must now “answer for what he has done.” But is it too late to follow up somehow on Assange’s offer? Might he or his associates be still willing to provide “technical evidence” showing, at least, who was not the culprit?
VIPS can’t get their voices heard. Everyone ignores them. These are highly experienced veterans of US intelligence, whose successors, and politics, and media, simply act as if they don’t exist. And while it’s curious to see how they go out of their way NOT to create the impression that Mueller makes his “mistakes” on purpose, the gist is just that.
What this adds up to is not just that Mueller has come up with nothing in his $20-30-50 million investigation, but that he has purposely left things in his report that he has no evidence for but also doesn’t have to prove, because those he accuses cannot defend themselves. Note also that Mueller has never indicted Assange, he has only smeared him.
Mueller doesn’t just have nothing, he has less than nothing. What is left of his “findings” once the collusion and obstruction elements are gone, are things that either he himself (his team) or US intelligence has concocted out of thin air. And have you seen even one ‘journalist’ who has questioned these fantasies?
I see only ‘reporters’ more than willing to heap their own fiction on top of the report’s. They’ll grudgingly accept there’s no collusion only to run away with what can still be construed as obstruction, but not a single one questions the Russian hacking or emails or Facebook ads anymore or Assange’s involvement, though Mueller offers zero proof for any of these things. Ditto for Guccifer 2.0.
The GRU (Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces, formerly the Main Intelligence Directorate) is a very advanced operation. When they hack something they leave no traces. US intelligence is just as capable of leaving GRU “traces” as the GRU itself is of NOT leaving them. The CIA is not smarter than the GRU. That’s what we’re looking at here.
How many Americans do you think there are who think this is the way to conduct investigations ostensibly aimed at truth-finding? You know, if only they knew?!
The only thing perceived as reality in America today is a bunch of fantasies designed to hide the truth. What truth there is, is left to rot in hell. What a place -and time- to live.
Yellow Vests protests brought clashes and tear gas back to the streets of Paris, despite politicians’ calls for “unity” in the wake of the Notre Dame fire. For protesters, the response to the fire only showed more inequality. Saturday’s protests mark the 23rd straight weekend of anti-government demonstrations, but the first since Notre Dame de Paris went up in flames on Monday. Officials were quick to criticize the protesters for returning to the streets so soon after the disaster. “The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters on Friday. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”
Joan of Arc monument, Toulouse
For many of the protesters, grief over the destruction of the 800-year-old landmark has made way for anger. With smoke still rising from Notre Dame, a group of French tycoons and businessmen pledged €1 billion to the cathedral’s reconstruction, money that the Yellow Vests say could be better spent elsewhere. “If they can give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, they should stop telling us there is no money to respond to the social emergency,” trade union leader Philippe Martinez told France 24. Some 60,000 police officers were deployed across the country, while a security perimeter was set up around Notre Dame in Paris.
A planned march that would have passed the site was banned by the authorities, but sporadic incidents of vandalism and looting took place across the city, with at least one car torched. There were also clashes between protesters and gendarmerie in the capital. The police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, arresting 189 people, according to France Info. Yellow Vest rallies also took place in Nantes, Pau, Caen, Montbeliard, Bordeaux, Lyon and other French cities. The total number of people who took to the streets on Saturday reached 9,600, with 6,700 of them protesting in Paris, the Interior Ministry said.
A group of former military and intelligence officials, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), conducted their own forensic tests that received a bit of attention in the United States press because they were some of the first people with prior backgrounds in government to question the central allegations of hacking into DNC servers. They asserted their examinations of the files showed DNC emails published by WikiLeaks were leaked, not hacked. However, the Mueller report makes no mention of the claims made by VIPS over the past two to three years—not even to debunk them.
The report stated, “Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by WikiLeaks in July 2016.” But “appear to have” indicates the team did not have incontrovertible proof. They could only speculate. “The Office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries, who visited during the summer of 2016,” the report acknowledged. “For example, public reporting identified Andrew Müller-Maguhn as a WikiLeaks associate who may have assisted with the transfer of these stolen documents to WikiLeaks.”
Yet, this is wildly misleading. The source for this example is a 2018 profile of Müller-Maguhn by journalist Ellen Nakashima that was published by the Washington Post. Müller-Maguhn told Nakashima it “would be insane” for him to hand deliver sensitive files, especially when the CIA has labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” “How many of you wouldn’t be scared shitless by the head of the CIA declaring you the next target?,” he said.
Comey didn’t want Assange’s knowledge to get public, because it would have killed the “Russians hacked the DNC” narrative. And that would be a threat to the whole Russiand-did-it story Mueller kept in his report. These guys are just story tellers, it’s fiction.
[..] it was only in 2017, in the Trump era, that the Deep State went totally ballistic; that’s when WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 files – detailing the CIA’s vast hacking/cyber espionage repertoire. This was the CIA as a Naked Emperor like never before – including the dodgy overseeing ops of the Center for Cyber Intelligence, an ultra-secret NSA counterpart. WikiLeaks got Vault 7 in early 2017. At the time WikiLeaks had already published the DNC files – which the unimpeachable Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) systematically proved was a leak, not a hack. The monolithic narrative by the Deep State faction aligned with the Clinton machine was that “the Russians” hacked the DNC servers.
Assange was always adamant; that was not the work of a state actor – and he could prove it technically. There was some movement towards a deal, brokered by one of Assange’s lawyers; WikiLeaks would not publish the most damning Vault 7 information in exchange for Assange’s safe passage to be interviewed by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The DoJ wanted a deal – and they did make an offer to WikiLeaks. But then FBI director James Comey killed it. The question is why. Some theoretically sound reconstructions of Comey’s move are available. But the key fact is Comey already knew – via his close connections to the top of the DNC – that this was not a hack; it was a leak.
Ambassador Craig Murray has stressed, over and over again how the DNC/Podesta files published by WikiLeaks came from two different US sources; one from within the DNC and the other from within US intel. There was nothing for Comey to “investigate”. Or there would have, if Comey had ordered the FBI to examine the DNC servers. So why talk to Julian Assange? The release by WikiLeaks in April 2017 of the malware mechanisms inbuilt in “Grasshopper” and the “Marble Framework” were indeed a bombshell. This is how the CIA inserts foreign language strings in source code to disguise them as originating from Russia, from Iran, or from China. The inestimable Ray McGovern, a VIPS member, stressed how Marble Framework “destroys this story about Russian hacking.”
No wonder then CIA director Mike Pompeo accused WikiLeaks of being a “non-state hostile intelligence agency”, usually manipulated by Russia. Joshua Schulte, the alleged leaker of Vault 7, has not faced a US court yet. There’s no question he will be offered a deal by the USG if he aggress to testify against Julian Assange. It’s a long and winding road, to be traversed in at least two years, if Julian Assange is ever to be extradited to the US.
Julian Assange was always respectful but went through “hell” in the Ecuadorian embassy as officials tried to “break him down”, according to a former senior diplomat. Fidel Narvaez worked at the London embassy for six of the seven years the WikiLeaks figurehead lived there and says they became friends. Assange was evicted a few weeks ago after a change of government in Ecuador. Its new president, Lenin Moreno, publicly criticised the whistleblower and gave the impression the government ended his stay after growing tired of his alleged bad behaviour.
Assange birthday party, Ecuador embassy, July 2015
Speaking to Sky News, Fidel Narvaez disputed claims that Assange had assaulted guards, didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t take care of his pet cat and even smeared human excrement on the walls of the embassy. He said: “Julian had a respectful relationship with staff, diplomats and administrative staff. I don’t recall a single incident when he disrespected someone until I left in July 2018. “He was 100% respectful. Clean and tidy? What is clean and tidy? Did he put the dishes in the dishwasher? Probably not at weekends. Is that a crime?”
Mr Narvaez worked at the embassy in Knightsbridge in central London between 2010 and 2018 as consul and first secretary. Assange went into the embassy in June 2012 and did not leave until he was carted away by British police a few weeks ago with the agreement of the authorities in Ecuador. Mr Narvaez said: “The last year was hell for Julian in that embassy. “I was there the first months of the last year and I witnessed when Julian was told that he would no longer be allowed to have internet or access to the phone and wouldn’t be able to have visitors. “The strategy was very clear – break him down. The government didn’t know how to end the asylum and face the catastrophic historical shame for doing that.”
A top member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party will tell her in the coming week that she must step down by the end of June or her lawmakers will try again to depose her, the Sunday Times reported, without citing sources. May survived a vote of no confidence in December and although party rules mean lawmakers cannot challenge her again until a year has passed, lawmaker Graham Brady will tell her the rules will be changed unless she quits, the newspaper said.
Brady, who chairs the Conservative Party’s influential 1922 Committee of backbench lawmakers, will tell her that 70 percent of her members of parliament want her to resign over her handling of Brexit, the Sunday Times said. Britain was originally due to leave the European Union on March 29, but that deadline was pushed back to April 12 and then again to Oct. 31 as May failed to break an impasse in parliament on the terms of Brexit.
London home prices in February took their biggest one-off hit since the dark days of the last crisis, according to data published Thursday by the UK’s Office of National Statistics. The average price of a residential property in London tumbled 2% in February from January, the sharpest monthly drop since November 2008, when the City was grappling with the fallout from the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. For the 12-month period, the average price dropped 3.8%, the sharpest year-over-year fall since August 2009, during the Global Financial Crisis. The average home in London is now worth £459,800 ($600,000), down 5.9% from the peak in July 2017:
But it’s still more than double the median UK home price (£225,000). In other words, while prices may have moderated somewhat they’re still well beyond the reach of average Londoners. Here are some more standouts from the ONS report: The slowdown is spreading out from London. Home prices in the south east of England recorded an annual decline (-1.8%) for the first time since 2011. Prices also fell in the North East and remained virtually unchanged in Yorkshire and the Humber. Home price annual growth is slowing in England; prices tick down in Scotland.
Prices did increase in a few places. Home price growth was strongest in Wales and the North West, increasing in both regions by 4.1% in the year to February 2019. It’s a very different story in the capital, which during the first decade and a half of this century enjoyed much faster home price growth than the rest of the country but which is now suffering a much sharper slowdown.The most exclusive boroughs of the city center — often referred to as Prime Central London — have been hit hardest, with prices falling an estimated 14% from their 2014 peak.
Frogs, salamanders, and toads across the world are now under attack from a widening range of interacting pathogens that threaten to devastate global amphibian populations. That is the stark warning of leading zoological experts who will gather this week in London in a bid to establish an emergency plan to save these endangered creatures. “The world’s amphibians are facing a new crisis, one that is caused by attacks by multiple pathogens,” said Professor Trent Garner of the Zoological Society of London, which is hosting the conference. “We desperately need to devise strategies that can protect them.”
The golden toad of Costa Rica, which is now considered to be extinct. Photograph: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images
Thirty years ago experts noticed that amphibian populations were plunging in different areas of the world as an emerging fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis, or simply chytrid, began taking its toll of frogs and toads. At least 100 species have since been wiped off the face of the planet. These include the golden toad in Costa Rica (Incilius periglenes); the southern gastric-brooding frog of Australia (Rheobatrachus silus); and Arthur’s stubfoot toad (Atelopus arthuri) in Ecuador. Hundreds of other amphibian species have also suffered severe declines – as a result of chytrid infections.
But scientists also know chytrid is not the only cause of the amphibian deaths now occurring around the world. Another pathogen known as the ranavirus, which exists in at least four varieties, has been observed killing amphibians. In addition they found that there are at least two species of chytrid, and within these, many different genetic types.
Emissions from thawing Arctic permafrost may be 12 times higher than previously thought, scientists have discovered. Permafrost is a mix of soil, rock or sediment that has been frozen for at least two years which is mostly found in the uppermost areas where temperatures are rising more quickly than the rest of the world. When it thaws because of global warming, it releases large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise and creating a perpetual cycle where more permafrost melts. Nitrous oxide, a third greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, stays in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It has “conventionally been assumed to have minimal emissions in permafrost regions”, according to a fresh study published in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal. However the research team behind the study, led by Harvard University scientists, has found that nitrous oxide emissions are 12 times higher than previously thought and therefore more of a threat. The group used a small plane with a probe on its nose to measure greenhouse gases over 120sqm of thawing permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. They found that nitrous oxide emissions reached what was previously thought to be the expected yearly limit within just one month in August 2013. Nitrous oxide also poses a second threat because “up in the stratosphere, sunlight and oxygen team up to convert the gas into nitrogen oxides, which eat at the ozone”, Harvard University said in a statement.
You sense that Our Planet was unfortunately timed for the BBC. In Climate Change: The Facts, the gloves are now not so much off as thrown to the floor in a certain rage. It’s right there in the title, bold and stark. This hour-long documentary, part of the Our Planet Matters season, is wide-ranging yet concise, easy to understand, not blighted by the ego of, say, An Inconvenient Truth, and it is designed to do for climate change denial what 2017’s Blue Planet did for single-use plastic. That’s not to say it should be Attenborough’s responsibility to get the wider public to pay attention, nor that it is down to the BBC. It isn’t.
But Climate Change: The Facts is a rousing call to arms. It is an alarm clock set at a horrifying volume. The first 40 minutes are given over to what Attenborough calls, without hyperbole, “our greatest threat in thousands of years”. Expert after expert explains the consequences of rising CO2 levels, on the ice caps, on coastal regions, on weather and wildlife and society itself. The most powerful moments are in footage shot not by expert crews who have spent years on location, but on shaky cameras, capturing the very moment at which the reality of our warming planet struck the person holding the phone.
In Cairns, Australia, flying foxes are unable to survive the extreme temperatures; rescuers survey the terrible massacre, and we learn that while 350 were saved, 11,000 died. A man and his son talk through their escape from raging wildfires, over the film they took while attempting to drive through a cavern of blazing red trees. These are horror movies playing out in miniature. It is difficult to watch even five minutes of this and remain somehow neutral, or unconvinced.
After -how many?- too many years of silence, David Attenborough finally speaks out in his 90s. A very late wake-up. By now he’s so old, it’s not going to hurt him much, he won’t be around to see it. What if he’d done this 20-30-30 years ago? He’s THE voice on planet issues. And hey, he’s got the best camera people on the topic, so yeah, go full screen for the entire hour this doc lasts (click YouTube, bottom right corner).
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential solutions to this global threat. Interviews with some of the world’s leading climate scientists explore recent extreme weather conditions such as unprecedented storms and catastrophic wildfires. They also reveal what dangerous levels of climate change could mean for both human populations and the natural world in the future.
Rembrandt van Rijn A woman bathing in a stream 1654
A dear friend the other day accused me of defending Trump. I don’t, and never have, but it made me think that if she says it, probably others say and think the same; I’ve written a lot about him. So let me explain once again. Though I think perhaps this has reached a “you’re either with us or against us’ level.
What I noticed, and have written a lot about, during and since the 2016 US presidential campaign, is that the media, both in the US and abroad, started making up accusations against Trump from scratch. This included the collusion with Russia accusation that led to the Mueller probe.
There was never any proof of the accusation, which is why the conclusion of the probe was No Collusion. I started writing this yesterday while awaiting the presentation of the Mueller report, but it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other: the accusation was clear, and so was the conclusion.
Even if some proof were found though other means going forward, it would still make no difference: US media published over half a million articles on the topic, and not one of them was based on any proof. If that proof had existed, Mueller would have found and used it.
And sure, Trump may not be a straight shooter, there may be all kinds of illegal activity going on in his organization, but that doesn’t justify using the collusion accusation for a 2-year long probe. If Trump is guilty of criminal acts, he should be investigated for that, not for some made-up narrative. It’s dangerous.
Axios report[ed] that since May 2017, exactly 533,074 web articles have been published about Russia and Trump-Mueller, which in turn have generated “245 million interactions – including likes, comments and shares – on Twitter and Facebook.” “From January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day) through March 21, 2019 (the last night before special counsel Robert Mueller sent his report to the attorney general), the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts produced a combined 2,284 minutes of ‘collusion’ coverage, most of it (1,909 minutes) following Mueller’s appointment on May 17, 2017,” MRC reports
What the Mueller report says is that 500,000 articles about collusion, and 245 million social media interactions in their wake, were written without any proof whatsoever (or Mueller would have used that proof). That doesn’t mean they may not have been true, or that they can’t be found to be true in the future, it means there was no proof when they were published. They Were All Lying.
The same goes for the Steele dossier. It holds zero proof of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. Or Mueller would have used that proof. New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN: they all had zero proof when they published, not a thing. Or Mueller would have used that proof. Rachel Maddow’s near nightly collusion rants: no proof. Or Mueller would have used that proof.
That there is no proof also means there has never been any proof. Why that is important, and how important it is, is something we’re very clearly seeing in the case concerning Julian Assange. That, too, is based on made-up stories.
I suggested a few days ago in the Automatic Earth comment section that the advent of the internet, and social media in particular, has greatly facilitated the power of repetition: say something often enough and few people will be able to resist the idea that it must be true. Or at least some of it.
If you look at the amount of time people spend in ‘their’ Facebook, the power of repetition becomes obvious. 245 million social media interactions. On top of half a million articles. How were people supposed to believe, in the face of such a barrage, that there never was any collusion?
Or that Assange is squeaky clean, both in person and in his alleged involvement in the collusion? There is only one way to counter all this: for people like me to keep pointing it out, and to hope that at least a few people pick it up.
That has nothing to do with defending Trump. It has to do with defending my own sanity and that of my readers. Of course it would have been easier, and undoubtedly more profitable, to go with the flow and load on more suspicions, allegations and accusations.
All those media made a mint doing it, and the Automatic Earth might have too. But that is not why we are here.
The Democrats, and the media sympathetic to them, now have seamlessly shifted their attention from Collusion to Obstruction. Which leads to a bit of both interesting and humorous logic: No Collusion? No Obstruction.
The Mueller probe would never have happened if it had been clear there was no collusion. But everyone and their pet hamster were saying there was. And there was the Steele dossier, heavily promoted by John McCain and John Brennan. Neither of whom had any proof of collusion.
The obstruction the anti-Trumpers are now aiming their arrows at consists of Trump allegedly wanting to fire Mueller and/or stopping an investigation that should never have been instigated into a collusion that never existed and was based on a smear campaign.
And now they want to impeach him for that? For attempting to stop the country wasting its resources and halt an investigation into nothing at all?
Know what I hope? That they’ll call on Mueller to testify in a joint session of Senate and Congress and that Rand Paul gets to ask him to address this tweet of his:
“Rand Paul: BREAKING: A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report… Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”
And why Mueller refused to go talk to Assange, who offered actual evidence that no Russians were involved. Or how about these stonkers:
“Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Adam Schiff said. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised? … It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”
Preet Bharara: “It’s clear that Bob Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.”
There’ll never be such a joint session, the Democrats want to play a home game in Congress. So there will have to be a separate session in the Senate. No doubt that will happen. Trump was right about one thing (well, two): 1) A special Counsel fcuks up a presidency, and 2) this should never happen to another president again.
Not that I have any faith in Capitol Hill, mind you. Because they will agree, and they will agree on one thing only, as Philip Giraldi stipulates once more:
[..] even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people. A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189.
It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.”
And that brings us back to Robert Mueller’s investigation into hot air, which, while it entirely eviscerates even the notion of collusion, still contains accusations against Julian Assange and ‘the Russians’.
Why does he leave those in, when there was no collusion? It’s dead simple. Because unlike accusations against Trump, he doesn’t have to prove them. Which is why I will not stop saying, as I first did some 10 weeks ago, that Robert Mueller Is A Coward And A Liar.
Again, this has nothing to do with defending Trump, it’s about defending and maintaining my own sanity and yours, and the rule of law.
As I said back then about Mueller refusing to talk to Assange, and James Comey in 2017 making sure the DOJ didn’t either :
Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves. Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.
Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.
And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.
I’ve said this before as well: I’ll always defend Julian Assange, but I won’t defend Donald Trump. Is that clear now?
William Hogarth Humours of an Election, Plate 2 1754
While we’re republishing articles about the newly arrested Julian Assange, in his honor, here’s one on the role the press has played in his ordeal. And will undoubtedly continue to play. What does it say about a society that you have to hold not only the government, but also the press to account?
We originally published this essay on August 17 2018.
Two thirds of Americans want the Mueller investigation (inquisition, someone called it) over by the midterm elections. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said that if Mueller wants to interview Trump, he’ll have to do so before September 1, because the Trump camp doesn’t want to be the one to unduly influence the elections. Mueller himself appears to lean towards prolonging the case, and that may well be with an eye on doing exactly that.
And there’s something else as well: as soon as the investigation wraps up, Trump will demand a second special counsel, this time to scrutinize the role the ‘other side’ has played in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath. He’s determined to get it, and he’ll fire both Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein if they try to stand in his way.
There have of course been tons of signs that it’s going to happen, but we got two significant ones just the past few days. The first is the termination of John Brennan’s security clearance. It looks impossible that no additional clearances will be revoked. There are more people who have them but would also be part of a second special counsel’s investigation. That doesn’t rhyme.
The second sign is Senator Rand Paul’s call for immunity for Julian Assange to come talk to the US senate about what he knows about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Obviously, we know that he denies its very existence, and has offered to provide evidence to that end. But before he could do that, a potential deal with the DOJ to do so was torpedoed by then FBI chief James Comey and Senator Mark Warner.
Both will also be part of the second investigation. Rand Paul’s motivation is simple: Assange’s testimony could be a very significant part of the process of figuring out what actually happened. And that should be what everybody in Washington wants. Question is if they all really do. That’s -ostensibly- why there is the first, the Mueller Russian collusion, investigation. Truth finding.
But Mueller doesn’t appear to have found much of anything. At least, that we know of. He’s locked up Paul Manafort on charges unrelated to collusion, put him in isolation and dragged him before a jury. But don’t be surprised if Manafort is acquitted by that jury one of these days. The case against him seemed a lot more solid before than it does now. A jury that asks the judge to re-define ‘reasonable doubt’ already is in doubt, reasonable or not. And that is what reasonable doubt means.
But it wasn’t just Brennan and Comey and Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and all the rest of them in the intelligence community who played questionable roles around the election and the accusations of Russian meddling in it. The American media were also there, and very prominently. Which is why when 300 papers publish editorials pushing against Trump ‘attacking’ the media, you can’t help but -wryly- smile.
Why does Trump attack the press? Because they’ve been attacking him for two years, and they’re not letting go. So the press can attack the president, but he cannot fight back. That’s the rationale, but with the Mueller investigation not going anywhere it’s a hard one to keep alive.
There are three reasons for the behavior of the New York Times, WaPo, MSNBC, CNN et al. The first is political, they’re Democrat hornblowers. The second is their owners have a personal thing against Donald Trump. But these get trumped by the third reason: Trump is their golden goose. Their opposition makes them a fortune. All they need to do is publish articles 24/7 denouncing him. And they have for two years.
That puts the 300 papers’ editorials in a strange light. Many of them would have been fighting for their very lives if not for anti-Trump rhetoric. All 300 fit neatly and easily in one echo chamber. And, to put it mildly, inside that chamber, not everyone is always asking for evidence of everything that’s being said.
It’s not difficult to whoop up a storm there without crossing all your t’s. And after doing just that for 2 years and change, it seems perhaps a tad hypocritical to claim that you are honest journalists just trying to provide people with the news as it happened.
Because when you’ve published hundreds, thousands of articles about Russian meddling, and the special counsel that was named to a large degree because of those articles, fails to come up with any evidence of it, it will become obvious that you’ve not just, and honestly, been reporting the news ‘as it happened’. You have instead been making things up because you knew that would sell better.
And when the second special counsel starts, where will American media be? Sure, it may not happen before the midterms, and you may have hopes that the Democrats win those bigly, but even if that comes to pass (slim chance), Trump will still be president, and the hearings and interviews won’t be soft and mild. Also, there will be serious questions, under oath, about leaks to the press.
Still, whichever side of this particular fence you’re on, there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on. That is, when we get to count how many of the 300 editorials have actually mentioned, let alone defended, Julian Assange, and I’ll bet you that number is painfully close to zero, that is where we find out how honest this defense of the free press is.
If for you the free press means that you should be able to write and broadcast whatever you want, even if it’s lacking in evidence, as much of the Russiagate stuff obviously is, and you ‘forget’ to mention a man who has really been attacked and persecuted for years, for publishing files that are all about evidence, you are not honest, and therefore probably not worth saving.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the essence of the free press. A press that is neutral, objective, fearless and determined to get the truth out. The New York Times and CNN simply don’t fit that description -anymore-. So when their editors publish calls to protect free press, but they leave out the one person who really represents free press, and the one person who’s been tortured for exactly that, you have zero credibility.
Sure, you may appear to have credibility in your echo chamber, but that’s not where real life takes place, where evidence is available and where people can make up their own minds based on objective facts provided by real journalists.
You guys just blew this big time. You don’t care about free press, you care about your own asses. And the second special counsel is coming. Good luck. Oh, and we won’t forget your silencing of Assange, or your attacks on him. If you refuse to do it, WE will free the press.
Let’s start with the Seattle Times, because this article strongly hints that Boeing’s problems cannot possibly be solved with a software tweak. It’s a hardware issue as much as anything else. Cutting corners until there’s no corner left. And well over 300 people lost their lives due to this.
“Normal” planes have 3×3 sensors. The 737MAX effectively has one. And it was known to fail.
Boeing has long embraced the power of redundancy to protect its jets and their passengers from a range of potential disruptions, from electrical faults to lightning strikes. The company typically uses two or even three separate components as fail-safes for crucial tasks to reduce the possibility of a disastrous failure. Its most advanced planes, for instance, have three flight computers that function independently, with each computer containing three different processors manufactured by different companies. So even some of the people who have worked on Boeing’s new 737 MAX airplane were baffled to learn that the company had designed an automated safety system that abandoned the principles of component redundancy, ultimately entrusting the automated decision-making to just one sensor — a type of sensor that was known to fail.
Boeing’s rival, Airbus, has typically depended on three such sensors. “A single point of failure is an absolute no-no,” said one former Boeing engineer who worked on the MAX, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the program in an interview with The Seattle Times. “That is just a huge system engineering oversight. To just have missed it, I can’t imagine how.” Boeing’s design made the flight crew the fail-safe backup to the safety system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
A faulty reading from an angle-of-attack sensor (AOA) — used to assess whether the plane is angled up so much that it is at risk of stalling — is now suspected in the October crash of a 737 MAX in Indonesia, with data suggesting that MCAS pushed the aircraft’s nose toward Earth to avoid a stall that wasn’t happening. Investigators have said another crash in Ethiopia this month has parallels to the first. [..] one problem with two-point redundancies is that if one sensor goes haywire, the plane may not be able to automatically determine which of the two readings is correct, so Boeing has indicated that the MCAS safety system will not function when the sensors record substantial disagreement.
Democrats are still reeling from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians in 2016. But they’ve now hit upon a political comeback strategy: Accuse Attorney General William Barr of a coverup. That’s the context for Wednesday’s decision by House Democrats to authorize subpoenas, on a partisan vote, demanding that Mr. Barr immediately hand over the entire Mueller report and its supporting evidence. This is intended to give the impression, abetted by a press corps that was fully invested in the collusion story, that Mr. Barr is somehow lying about Mr. Mueller’s real conclusions. That’s preposterous, since Mr. Barr’s four-page letter quotes directly from Mr. Mueller’s report.
The AG surely understood on releasing the summary of conclusions last week that he would be open to contradiction by Mr. Mueller if he took such liberties. Mr. Barr also knew he’d be called to testify before Congress once the rest of the report is released. Mr. Barr has committed to releasing as much of the report as possible subject to Justice Department rules. He’s working with the special counsel’s office to make redactions required by grand-jury rules of secrecy, intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and “the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.” Under Justice rules relating to special counsels, Mr. Barr has no obligation to provide anything beyond notifying Congress when an investigation has started or concluded, and whether the AG overruled a special counsel’s decisions.
Mr. Barr’s notice to Congress that Mr. Mueller had completed his investigation said Mr. Mueller was not overruled. Congress has no automatic right to more. The final subparagraph of DOJ’s rule governing special counsels reads: “The regulations in this part are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal or administrative.” Mr. Barr has made clear that he appreciates the public interest in seeing as much of Mr. Mueller’s report as possible. Yet his categories of information for review aren’t frivolous or political inventions. The law protecting grand-jury secrecy is especially strict, as even Democrats admit.
Trump/Russia conspiracists are like zombies: the dream can’t die. Their new hope is a) anonymously sourced, b) bereft of even one specific, c) irrelevant to *conspiracy* as opposed to obstruction & d) unrelated to the fact that Mueller indicted *zero* Americans for conspiracy
[..] Mueller could have concluded he thinks Trump was guilty of obstruction, but chose not to. He could have alleged a Trump/Russia conspiracy, or could have charged Trump officials & family members with conspiring with Russia, but didn’t. These last-gasp efforts don’t change that.
[..] Anyway, we’ve had 3 years of anonymously-sourced “bombshells” journalists spend 16-24 hours tiring themselves out celebrating on Twitter, only for it to fizzle into nothing (ie: no indictments from Mueller for conspiring with Russia). Why not have one more? An addict’s last fix.:
The conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are more damaging to President Donald Trump than Attorney General William Barr has revealed, the New York Times reported late Wednesday. The Times said some investigators who were part of the probe are frustrated that Barr has undersold the findings, which may be creating a misleading narrative that could be hard to overcome if and when the full report is released. The sources did not specify how they believe the report is more damaging to Trump. The investigators told the Times that they had written numerous summaries of their main conclusions, which were not included in Barr’s summary of the report. Barr said the report found no collusion between Trump and Russia, but did not exonerate Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice. House Democrats have pressed Barr to release the full report, but Barr claims parts of it needs to be redacted first for security reasons.
Former FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday condemned President Donald Trump’s calls for a possible investigation into how special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry started, adding that it creates a troubling precedent. During an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Comey was asked about whether he feared possible counterinvestigations. “I don’t fear it personally. I fear it as a citizen,” he said. “Right? Investigate what? Investigate that investigations were conducted? What would be the crime you’d be investigating? So it’s a terrible cycle to start.” Several days after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report, Trump and his team have called for investigations into how the probe began.
“Hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side,” Trump told reporters late last month. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has also made similar statements. On Tuesday, Trump continued to advocate for an examination of how the FBI and Mueller investigations began. “I hope they now go and take a look at the origins of the investigation, the beginnings of the investigation,” the president told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “You look at the origin of the investigation, where it started, how it started, who started it.” “Whether it‘s [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe or Comey or a lot of them, where does it go? How high up in the White House did it go?“ Trump continued, calling on reporters to investigate the origins of Mueller‘s probe, even dangling the prospect of a Pulitzer Prize to journalists in the room.
U.S. Republican and Democratic senators introduced legislation on Wednesday seeking to deter Russia from meddling in U.S. elections by threatening stiff sanctions on its banking, energy and defense industries and sovereign debt. The “Deter Act” is the latest effort by U.S. lawmakers to increase pressure on Moscow over what they see as a range of bad behavior, from its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria’s civil war to attempts to influence U.S. elections. The measure was introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican. They offered a similar measure last year, when it also had bipartisan support but was never brought up for a vote by the Senate’s Republican leaders, who have close ties to President Donald Trump.
Trump has gone along with some previous congressional efforts to increase sanctions on Russia, although sometimes reluctantly. Backers of stronger action against Russia believe such measures will have better prospects in 2019, given control of the House of Representatives by Democrats, who are less reluctant than Trump’s fellow Republicans to push back against the White House. According to details of the legislation, first reported by Reuters, it would require the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine, within 30 days of any federal election, whether Russia or other foreign government or anyone acting as an agent of that government, had engaged in election interference.
If the DNI found such interference occurred, the act would require, among other things, that mandatory sanctions be imposed within 10 days on, among others, Russian banks and energy companies. The act would mandate that sanctions be imposed on two or more of the following Russian banks: Sberbank, VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank and Rosselkhozbank. It also would order the prohibition of all transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Russian sovereign debt, Russian government bonds and the debt of any entity owned or controlled by Russia’s government.
Looking strictly at the numbers it’s hard to work up much interest in whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge after 2020. Either way, trillion-dollar deficits and extremely easy money are guaranteed, which means the US – along with most of the rest of the world – will fall off a financial cliff shortly. After that, the only non-financial issue that will matter is war – and both parties seem about equally bloodthirsty these days. However, after the November congressional elections — in which Democrats with, ahem, assertive ideas and attitudes did extremely well — proposing big, potentially transformative change now looks like the best way to cut through the media clutter and gain a following.
So the Democrat base has lost its fear of the “S” word and is now embracing a list of policies that are designed to lock in their dominance for a generation, but which carry myriad unintended consequences. If the Dems were in charge today, there’s a good chance that they would: Make Washington D.C. a state This is a no-brainer for Democrats. Since DC voters skew liberal (no surprise for people who by and large work for the government), making it a state adds two guaranteed votes in the Senate and several solid votes in the House. That alone might be enough to tip the balance on many votes.
[..] The math of elector apportionment gives more per-capita clout to small states as a way of protecting them from the whims of the large. Without this advantage, according to fans of the Electoral College, candidates would ignore Wyoming and Rhode Island and spend all their time in population centers like Los Angeles and Dallas. Subsequent governments would favor big states over small; good luck to Nevada if it has a water dispute with California. In short, without the Electoral College, flyover country is toast. But with the Electoral College it’s possible to win the most votes and still lose the election, as has happened a couple of times recently to the Dems. As the following chart shows, a majority of Democrats would abolish the College while Republicans would keep it.
The received wisdom within the City is that Brexit will cause widespread disruption to the Square Mile. But according to Dr Savvas Savouri, chief economist at Toscafund Asset Management, the $4bn London-based investment firm, so great is the extent of foreign investment in UK companies that leaving the EU carries no risk for the City at all. In an interview with Financial News at Toscafund’s Covent Garden office, when asked what is the biggest risk posed by Brexit to London’s finance industry, the abrasive and outspoken economist replied: “Nothing. The whole point about Brexit is there’s too much insurable interest in the UK across Europe for it to fail [for the UK and the EU not to form an agreement]. Ireland would go into immediate deep recession, so would Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus.”
An IMF study in August estimated that a scenario where the UK leaves the customs union and single market, and trades with the EU on WTO terms — an orderly version of a no-deal Brexit — would impose long-term costs on Ireland of 4% of output, and between 0.2% and 0.5% on countries such as Spain and Greece. Economists have warned that a disorderly Brexit would likely hit such countries even harder. “They know a bad Brexit would undermine the pound, a currency in which they have large holdings,” Savouri said. Warming to his theme, he added that the lack of short interest in European stocks exposed to the UK suggests investors are not particularly worried about a crash-out Brexit. “The people in finance who tell you they’re worrying about Brexit are not putting their money where their mouth is.”
MPs have voted by a majority of one to force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit process, in a bid to avoid any no-deal scenario. Labour’s Yvette Cooper led the move, which the Commons passed in one day. The bill will need Lords approval to become law, while it is the EU who decides whether to grant an extension. It comes as talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to end the Brexit deadlock are set to continue. Discussions between the two leaders on Wednesday were described as “constructive”, but were criticised by MPs in both parties.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested that he expects Brussels to insist on a lengthy delay to Brexit and described a public vote to approve any final deal as “a perfectly credible proposition”. Ms Cooper’s attempts to prevent a no-deal departure from the EU passed by 313 votes to 312. The draft legislation by the former Labour minister would force the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process beyond 12 April and would give Parliament the power to decide the length of this delay.
Cabinet ministers were told they must agree emergency contingency plans to keep planes flying to North America and Australia, as well as keeping British troops legally in Bosnia, in case the EU forces a no-deal exit. Before their marathon cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, briefed ministers that major security and commercial decisions would need to be completed if Brussels rejected Theresa May’s plan to ask for a short extension to article 50. A cabinet source said the decisions were likely to result in large costs to the taxpayer and that decisions would also need to be taken on direct rule in Northern Ireland and payment of the UK’s £39bn divorce bill to the EU.
Among the decisions outlined in a 14-page document handed to ministers in Downing Street were: • New agreements would be required for air services with Canada, the US and Australia. • British troops in Bosnia currently serving as part of an EU force would need to be placed under Nato command. • Negotiations would need to be urgently completed on a future fisheries agreement so that EU fishing boats could be expelled from British waters. Sedwill, the UK’s highest-ranking civil servant, is said to have warned cabinet ministers that some of the biggest decisions were likely to be very difficult to reverse, because they involved international agreements.
The warnings from Sedwill, who is also May’s national security adviser, follow an earlier letter he wrote to ministers warning that no deal would lead to food price rises and a reduction in security capacity. The 14-page leaked letter, obtained on Monday by the Daily Mail, said no deal would result in the reintroduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland. Sedwill also warned that the UK would face a recession “more harmful” than the 2008 financial crisis and that food prices could increase by up to 10%. He wrote that it was possible that the government would come under pressure to bail out companies facing collapse due to the barriers to trade with the EU and that security services and police would face a reduction in their capabilities.
Labour is on the brink of a major bust-up if Jeremy Corbyn fails to demand a second referendum as the price for any Brexit deal struck with Theresa May. A string of senior figures – including shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry – believe securing a public vote is an absolute must, while 11 MPs, including four frontbenchers, have written an open letter to Mr Corbyn in The Independent saying “it would be untenable for Labour not to insist” on one. As Mr Corbyn was in the prime minister’s office holding the talks, one of his party’s biggest trade union backers also endorsed a motion calling for a confirmatory referendum on any deal.
But key individuals on the Labour side of the talks indicated a new vote may not be one of his asks, with one shadow cabinet member attending having stated hours earlier that a deal endorsed by the party would not need a referendum. It comes despite Labour, and indeed Mr Corbyn himself, backing a motion in the House of Commons days ago which called for a referendum on any Brexit plan passed by parliament.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that the market power exercised by a small number of global companies threatens to stifle innovation and make it harder for central banks to deal with recessions. Adding its contribution to the growing public debate about the corporate power exercised by the US tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, the IMF said it would be concerned if there was any further increase in the clout of already dominant firms. The IMF said there was a need for stronger competition policy to ensure that established firms did not block the entry of potential rivals and called for excess profits to be targeted by a tougher international tax regime.
Although the study contained in the IMF’s forthcoming World Economic Outlook (WEO) did not mention any company by name, it said the past two decades had seen the concentration of market power among a small number of productive and innovative firms. Market concentrations tended to be higher in the US than in Europe, the IMF said, and in part reflected the growth of firms that exploited intangible assets. “Over the past two decades, a generally moderate but broad-based rise in corporate market power has been observed across advanced economies, driven primarily by a small fraction of firms.”
The chapter from the WEO noted that the big-picture economic implications of the trend had so far been “rather modest” and that the impact of rising market power on innovation had so far been positive. But the IMF said impact would become “increasingly negative if the market power of high mark-up firms, in particular, were to continue to rise in the future.”
This is one of the most cyclical industries, with legendary boom-and-bust cycles: Orders for Class-8 trucks plunged 67% in March compared to March last year, to 15,200 orders, the lowest March for orders since 2010, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence. These are the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US. This plunge comes after orders had already plunged 58% year-over-year in February and January and 43% in December. The chart shows the percent change of Class-8 truck orders for each month compared to the same month a year earlier. The year-over-year collapse in orders over the past four months are of the same or greater magnitude as those during the last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016:
The recipients of these orders are the truck manufacturers Peterbuilt and Kenworth (divisions of Paccar); Navistar International; Freightliner and Western Star (divisions of Daimler); and Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks (divisions of Volvo Group). The industry is notorious for over-ordering, which then, once these trucks are built, leads to overcapacity, at which point freight rates take a hit. Trucking companies see this coming and slash their orders in advance. Hence the bust that inevitably follows the boom. The last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016 led to waves of layoffs at truck and engine manufacturers. But at the moment, truck manufacturers are sitting on what was a historic backlog of orders dating from the phenomenal boom that peaked last August at 52,400 orders, as this chart of total monthly class-8 truck orders shows (data via FTR):
In the past few weeks, we have witnessed a mini ‘Belt & Road’ unfolding across the northern Middle East – linking Iran to Iraq, to Syria, and to Lebanon – a ‘Belt and Road’ that, it is envisaged, ultimately will be assimilated into China’s greater BRI project. And – as telling – Lebanon, the eternal weathervane for the Middle East wind direction, seems to be cutting a 500-year-old umbilical linking it to Rome and Europe, to look rather to Moscow (to protect the regions’ Christians, to get its Syrian refugees home to Syria, and to move under President Putin’s protective ‘wing’ in preventing Bolton and Netanyahu from detonating chaos on their patch) – and to China.
More recently, the New Silk Road infrastructure initiative landed squarely in Italy, potentially giving some real substance (i.e. infrastructure) – especially in the case of Sicily – to the notion of a Mediterranean commonality. Both these events are linked by a single motive: How to return autonomy to these states; how to recover at least a modicum of decision-making – and to break free from the strait-jacket of economic stagnation, and the deadweight of stale political shackles. As Christina Lin has noted: “China for one takes the view that security follows economic development, and has made it clear that reconstruction comes before political settlement. It is adopting a regional approach to the Levant and now views Lebanon as a platform for reconstruction in Syria and Iraq”.
[..] Both Italy and the Levant are ‘civilisation-states’ in their own right. They do not need the EU ‘brand’ to reassure them of their status as ‘civilisation-states’. As Lebanon’s former Minister of Economy noted last year, China doesn’t “look at Lebanon as a small country of 4 million citizens, but as a country with huge potential given its geographical location”. The point here is precisely that ‘the West’ is no longer the West. There is the belligerent ‘West’ of Trump, Pence, Bolton and Pompeo – and this is the ‘West’ that is incrementally losing traction across the Middle East, and beyond.
Will Nasgovitz, who oversees about $1.3 billion in assets as the chief executive of Heartland Advisors, isn’t calling for a “full blown financial crisis,” but, with trillions in corporate debt coming due in the coming years, the industry veteran’s not exactly predicting smooth sailing in the stock market, either. “With interest rates low, the economy strong, and relatively easy lending standards, the thinking went that borrowing to buyback shares or finance acquisitions was a low-risk strategy,” Nasgovitz explained in a recent post. “But the next five years could severely test that Pollyanna view.” Nasgovitz used this chart to illustrate his stance. As you can see, about $3.3 trillion — or 48% of all current outstanding commercial debt — comes due by 2023.
The timing could be problematic. “The sheer volume would be challenging for the market to digest in the best of scenarios, let alone this late in an economic expansion,” Nasgovitz wrote. “Adding to our sense of caution are early signs that lending standards have begun to tighten for commercial and industrial borrowers.” He says that, as banks become more stringent, borrowers could end up paying higher rates just to secure funds to retire outstanding obligations. “While we don’t currently see signs of a full-blown financial crisis on the horizon,” he concluded, “we do believe that excessive debt adds unnecessary challenges to companies in general and will likely be a headwind for heavy borrowers in the intermediate term going forward.”
Barely a week after being sworn in as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr is reportedly planning to announce as early as next week that Robert Mueller has completed his investigation and that a confidential report on Mueller’s findings will be submitted to Congress in the very near future. According to CNN, the preparations – which are in line with an NBC report from late last year that the Mueller report would be completed by the end of February – “are the clearest indication yet that Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation.” Barr has said that he wants to be as “transparent” as possible while being “consistent with the rules and the law.”
According to the law, Mueller must submit a “confidential” report to the AG after the investigation ends. But the rules don’t require it to be shared with Congress or the public (though, like everything involving the Mueller probe, it will almost certainly leak). One thing that remains unclear is to what extent Mueller’s findings will be shared with Congress (since the DOJ typically frowns on publicizing embarrassing or compromising information about people who haven’t been charged with a crime…though that principle has apparently gone out the window over the last two years). CNN also noted that it’s possible that Mueller has made referrals to other prosecutors besides the New York US attorney who brought charges against Michael Cohen.
The existence of other investigations might also soon come to light. CNN reported that attorneys from the US attorney’s office for Washington DC have been visiting Mueller “more than usual.” Signs that the Mueller probe is winding down have been multiplying in recent weeks. Four of his 17 prosecutors have been reassigned, and the grand jury he has used to secure his indictments hasn’t convened since late January. While Trump is probably hoping that the Russia collusion narrative will decidedly die after the report is released, former DNI James Clapper – whom Trump threatened to strip of his security clearance – warned that the report might leave open the question of whether there actually was collusion between Trump and Russia, giving the release a disappointingly anti-climactic feel, according to the Hill.
A ‘subtle’ shift: now that going after Trump himself is going nowhere, Clapper et al claim Putin uses Trump as an unwitting asset. Takeaway: they will simply continue their collusion accusations. And Putin is an even easier victim.
Give me one reason why this entire cabal should not be investigated.
As I said yesterday: “Isn’t it supremely ironic that Mueller’s main objective today is trying to come up with some narrative that justifies his own probe? It’s circular ‘logic’ at its very best.
But why is McCabe so cocky about his treasonous(-like) behavior? Imagine someone like him doing an interview like that 2 years (or 6) into Obama’s presidency, saying it was possible Barack was an asset of China. Just imagine.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday that he’s far from sure that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will clear up questions about President Trump and Russia. He said he was hopeful the Mueller probe will provide some answers, but warned it might not even draw a conclusion on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. “I think the hope is that the Mueller investigation will clear the air on this issue once and for all. I’m really not sure it will, and the investigation, when completed, could turn out to be quite anti-climactic and not draw a conclusion about that,” Clapper said Wednesday on CNN.
Clapper, a frequent critic of Trump’s, said people in the intelligence community see a strange deference on the president’s part toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The strange thing I think that has bothered a lot of people both in and out of the intelligence community is this strange personal deference to Putin by the president. I’ve speculated in the past that the way Putin behaves is to treat President Trump as an asset,” Clapper said Wednesday. He added that if Trump were indeed advancing Putin’s interests, he would more likely be doing so unwittingly.
The White House has lashed out at Clapper over his criticism in the past and announced in August it was reviewing existing security clearances for Clapper and several other former intelligence and law enforcement officials who have criticized the White House. Speculation has ramped up over Trump’s relationship with Russia after it was reported last month that the Justice Department had opened an investigation into whether the president was working on behalf of Moscow’s interests. Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Friday claimed that he believes “it’s possible” Trump is a Russian asset.
For most of the past three years, the FBI has tried to portray its top leadership as united behind ex-Director James Comey’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information over her insecure, private email server. Although in the end that may have been the case, we now are learning that Comey’s top lawyer, then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, initially believed Clinton deserved to face criminal charges, but was talked out of it “pretty late in the process.” The revelation is contained in testimony Baker gave to House investigators last year. His testimony has not been publicly released, but I was permitted to review a transcript.
During questioning by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Baker was unequivocal about his early view that Clinton should face criminal charges. “I have reason to believe that you originally believed it was appropriate to charge Hillary Clinton with regard to violations of law — various laws, with regard to mishandling of classified information. Is that accurate?” Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, asked Baker. Baker paused to gain his lawyer’s permission to respond, and then answered, “Yes.” He later explained why he came to that conclusion, and how his mind was changed: “So, I had that belief initially after reviewing, you know, a large binder of her emails that had classified information in them,” he said.
“And I discussed it internally with a number of different folks, and eventually became persuaded that charging her was not appropriate because we could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — we, the government, could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — she had the intent necessary to violate (the law).” Asked when he was persuaded to change his mind, Baker said: “Pretty late in the process, because we were arguing about it, I think, up until the end.” Baker made clear that he did not like the activity Clinton had engaged in: “My original belief after — well, after having conducted the investigation and towards the end of it, then sitting down and reading a binder of her materials — I thought that it was alarming, appalling, whatever words I said, and argued with others about why they thought she shouldn’t be charged.”
His boss, Comey, announced on July 5, 2016, that he would not recommend criminal charges. He did so without consulting the Department of Justice (DOJ), a decision the department’s inspector general (IG) later concluded was misguided and likely usurped the power of the attorney general to make prosecutorial decisions. Comey has said, in retrospect, he accepts that finding but took the actions he did because he thought “they were in the country’s best interest.”
Three Conservative MPs who resigned to join a new independent group on Wednesday said Theresa May had allowed their former party to fall prey to hardline Brexiters and declared that the Tory modernising project had been destroyed. In the latest evidence that Brexit is reshaping the political landscape, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, all outspoken critics of May’s stance on Europe, said the Conservative party as they had known it under David Cameron was dead. “I’m not leaving the Conservative party – it has left us,” said Soubry at a hastily convened press conference around the corner from the House of Commons. “The modernising reforms that had taken years to achieve were destroyed.”
Allen was asked if she could ever return to the Conservatives and answered: “If we do our jobs properly, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.” She added: “We’re about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre ground of British politics that people out there, I am convinced, we are convinced, want.” The dramatic resignations – announced shortly before May confronted Jeremy Corbyn at prime minister’s questions – sent shockwaves through Westminster, where MPs had barely digested news of the Labour split. The move reduces May’s already tenuous working majority to eight, raising still more questions over her authority amid rumours that there could be further Tory defections.
On Wednesday night, Allen told ITV’s Peston that “a third of the party” – around 100 of her former colleagues – shared her frustrations at its direction. The Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve told the BBC: “The government which I am supporting implementing a no-deal Brexit – what would I do? I would not be able to maintain my support of the government. I would have to leave the party.”
Just seven MPs announced their departure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and though there may be others to come this was their first rank. And there lies the first problem. Other than Chuka Umunna virtually nobody has ever heard of the new Independent Group of MPs who were quickly dubbed the ‘Seven Dwarfs’. [..] From a crowded field I’d say the next biggest blunder was registering their parliamentary factions as a private company in a transparent effort to avoid…transparency! It’s true that Chuka and co are the corporate suit types and most of them are more familiar with the boardroom than the boiler room but no parliamentary group in history has turned themselves into a business!
The reasons – millions of them – are not hard to discern. A political party must declare who’s funding it and how much. A private company doesn’t. But again what seemed like a wheeze is in fact a blunder. I’m now free to speculate that they’ve already received millions from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and President Putin. It’s probably not true, but how can one tell? [..] I may be wrong and Manchester United may win the Champions League but I’m perfectly sure Centrist neo-liberal politics are currently out of fashion throughout the world. I base this on 14 weeks of mayhem on the streets of France, and not much more than that in President Macron’s opinion poll ratings. On Mrs Merkel slouching out of the German Chancery in ruins. On the Rushmore like ruin of Hillary Clinton. On the portrait of Dorian Gray that is the haunted face of the most hated man in Britain, Tony Blair.
A no-deal Brexit could lead to tariffs of 40% or more being imposed on food such as beef and cheddar cheese, driving up prices in shops and squeezing household budgets across the UK and Ireland, retail organisations from both countries have warned. With mounting fears that the UK could leave the European Union without an agreement in 36 days’ time, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Retail Ireland, issued a joint warning that this outcome could lead to delays at borders and shortages of fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. The scheduled withdrawal on 29 March comes at a time in the year when the UK imports a lot of fresh, out-of-season, produce – 90% of the lettuce consumed in Britain, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruits come from, or arrive via, Europe.
Increased tariffs, the devaluation of sterling and new regulatory checks would drive up the cost of fresh food and drink, which would be passed on to consumers, the retail bodies warned. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, both fall back on the World Trade Organization’s most favoured nation tariffs, which means import duties on everyday food items from fruit to cheese. This would mean a 42% tariff on imported cheddar, 46% on mozzarella, 40% on beef, 21% on tomatoes and 15.5% on apples, the BRC said. Last year one of the UK’s largest dairy producers, based in Northern Ireland, warned that leaving the customs union under a hard Brexit could lead to the price of meat doubling in the UK and the price of dairy, half of which is imported, rising by up to 50%.
Austerity policies from the Treasury have resulted in slower growth in every year since 2010 and left each household £300 a month worse off as a result, a thinktank has said. The New Economics Foundation said its analysis of the impact of tax and spending changes since the Conservatives came to power, first as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, had left the economy £100bn smaller than it would otherwise have been. Although the peak impact of the attempt to reduce a record peacetime budget deficit occurred during the first two years of the 2010-15 parliament, the thinktank said austerity was still acting as a drag on output. The NEF said the cumulative effect of tax, public spending and welfare adjustments on growth by the end of the 2018-19 financial year would be to leave the average household £3,629 a year worse off – the equivalent of £1,495 per person.
The latest public finances figures, due out on Thursday, will show whether the chancellor, Philip Hammond, is on course to hit his forecast for a budget deficit in 2018-19 of £25.5bn – one sixth of its level in the aftermath of the financial crisis and deep recession of 2008-09. Alfie Stirling, head of economics at the NEF, said work by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies made it possible to isolate the effects of austerity. “At this time of year there is often renewed speculation over whether the chancellor will meet his year-end deficit targets by March. But for nine years, the elephant in the room has largely been missed: the sheer scale of economic damage that these targets have contributed to in the first place.”
Germany is feeling the pressure from western allies over its weapons exports freeze in the wake of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a freeze first announced in November, which included plans to reject any future export licences to Riyadh, but not previously approved deals. German allies like the UK have lately implored the German government to soften its stance, noting the potential broader economic impact on Europe. British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, currently in Berlin to discuss the terms of Brexit, reportedly wrote to the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a private letter first revealed by Der Spiegel that UK defense companies would be hindered in contractual obligations related to Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet delivery, namely to supply parts affected by the German arms freeze.
Hunt told Maas in the letter published in German press: “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.” This follows comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the past weekend’s Munich Security Conference acknowledging the need for “common export controls guidelines” across Europe. She said during a question-and-answer session after her speech at the conference: “We have because of our history very good reasons to have very strict arms export guidelines, but we have just as good reasons in our defense community to stand together in a joint defense policy. And if we want … to develop joint fighter planes, joint tanks, then there’s no other way but to move step-by-step towards common export controls guidelines.”
Just one day after officially launching his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination during an interview on Vermont Public Radio, Bernie Sanders has already raised more than $6 million through more than 220,000 individual contributions, according to CNN. Sanders, who consistently ranks near the top of most polls alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, saw the money pour in from donors in all 50 states. The average contribution was $27, which is roughly in line with the average contribution from Sanders 2016 upstart primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, in which he won a number of crucial primaries (all while actively working against the DNC). Confirming his outsize popularity in an increasingly crowded field, the self-described “Democratic Socialist”‘s haul dwarfs the $300,000 raised by Elizabeth Warren during the 24 hours after her official campaign launch.
Of the $6 million raised, some 10% (about $600,000) came in the form of recurring donations, providing “a huge, dependable grassroots donor base that will afford the campaign a consistent budgeting baseline.” During his last race, Sanders regularly touted the fact that his campaign was largely funded by small donations. And it appears this is already emerging as a central theme for the 2020 race. “The only way we will win this election and create a government and economy that work for all is with a grassroots movement – the likes of which has never been seen in American history,” Sanders said in his message announcing his campaign. “They may have the money and power. We have the people.”
On top of that $6 million haul, Sanders is entering the race with more than $9 million left in his US Senate campaign committee: funds that he can transfer to his presidential campaign. That puts him behind only Warren ($11 million) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($10.3 million).
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has refused to endorse Bernie Sanders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, despite working on the senator’s first presidential campaign. A spokesperson for Ms Ocasio-Cortez, like Mr Sanders a self-described democratic socialist, refused to comment directly on the 77-year-old’s Tuesday announcement he is running for a second time. “We’re excited to see so many progressives in the race,” spokesperson Corbin Trent said. “We’re not thinking at all about the next election.” Any endorsement by Ms Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be influential on the outcome of the race, thanks to her massive support among the grassroots of the party. But the 29-year-old, a congresswoman for New York, is unlikely to offer an endorsement before her state’s Democratic primary next year, and may even permanently withhold any explicit support for a single candidate.
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.
[..] The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry. “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
[..] what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent. A similar gap is seen among those who voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections (28 percent support withdrawal while 54 percent oppose it), as opposed to the widespread support for withdrawal among 2018 GOP voters: 74 percent to 18 percent.
Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents. This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.
With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81 percent to 11 percent; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold. The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.
“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.” Incumbent Democrats are most annoyed by Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to back primary opponents against members of their ranks she deems too moderate. But their frustration goes beyond that: Democratic leaders are upset that she railed against their new set of House rules on Twitter the first week of the new Congress. Rank and file are peeved that there’s a grassroots movement to try to win her a top committee post they feel she doesn’t deserve.
Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told POLITICO that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively. “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.” It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.
The Fed reported its preliminary results this morning for the year 2018. The headline is that it sent $65.4 billion of its profits to the US Treasury Department in 2018, and that this amount had plunged by 18.5% from the remittances, as they’re called, in 2017, and by 44.1% from the peak of $117 billion in 2015. The Fed earns interest income on the huge pile of securities it holds. After covering operating expenses, interest expenses, and some other items, it is required to remit the rest to the Treasury Department – to the taxpayer. Therefore, the amounts in interest expense the Fed pays the banks on their “Excess Reserves” and “Required Reserves” comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket and its transferred to the banks to become bank profits, and thereby bank executive bonuses and stock holder dividends, funded by the dear taxpayers. And this amount was huge in 2018: $38.5 billion!
The $38.5 billion: This is what the Fed paid US banks and foreign banks in the US on their Excess Reserves and Required Reserves on deposit at the Fed. • Required Reserves are the amounts that banks have to keep on deposit at the Fed for liquidity purposes. This is relatively small, $192 billion at year-end, and was roughly flat in 2018. • Excess Reserves are the amounts that banks voluntarily deposit at the Fed to earn risk-free income. The amount peaked in September 2014 at $2.7 trillion and has since fallen to $1.5 trillion. Of that $1.2 trillion drop, $510 billion occurred in 2018.
The interest rate that the Fed paid on both types of reserves was 1.5% at the beginning of 2018, and was raised four times with each rate hike during the year, but less than the 1/4-point hikes of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate. At its December meeting, the Fed raised this rate to 2.4%. So the balances of Excess Reserves have plunged, and the interest rate the Fed pays on those reserve balances has jumped. Both factors combined caused the Fed to pay a record $38.5 billion to US banks and foreign banks in the US.
Here is the sordid history of this annual wealth transfer from taxpayers to the banks via the Fed:
The Fed’s balance sheet would be “substantially smaller” after the Fed gets done with its QE unwind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday. [..] “Don’t know the exact level. That would depend really on the public’s appetite for our liabilities, specifically currency. To us, that’s a liability. And the public has a large appetite for currency….” “So it will be substantially smaller than it is now,” he said. “But nowhere near what it was before, and the reason is, currency was well less than $1 trillion before quantitative easing started and now is moving up toward $2 trillion.” The line item on the Fed’s balance sheet called “currency in circulation” is composed of Federal Reserve Notes – as it says on the wrinkled and thinning wad of twenties in my pocket — and coins. In other words, hard cash.
And as Powell pointed out, this is a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, not an asset. The Treasury Department produces the bills and coins. But the Fed manages the amounts in circulation via the banking system. Currency in circulation grows when there is a lot of demand for paper-dollar cash. There must always be enough paper-dollars in the banking system to satisfy the demand by customers for the physical dollars. And as Powell pointed out, “the public has a large appetite for currency.” This demand for dollars is on a global basis. People globally are hoarding this stuff, and some countries use it as their primary currency, or as an alternate currency alongside their own trashed currency. When the Financial Crisis set in, folks started hoarding more of it, and demand increased at a steeper rate. This chart shows currency in circulation. The amount more than doubled from $830 billion in February 2008 to $1.72 trillion now:
Apple’s latest iPhone models are facing huge discounts in China as retailers try to sell the struggling devices. That comes as the top-of-the-line Apple smartphones have posted poor China sales on what experts say are too-high prices for the world’s largest smartphone market and a lack of innovative features compared to local competitors like Huawei. The technology giant itself acknowledged earlier this month that unexpectedly low sales in the Chinese market would likely lead to worse-than-anticipated first quarter revenues. One of the most recent iPhone cost cuts in the country came from Suning, a large Chinese retailer, which changed the price of the 128GB version of the iPhone XR from 6,999 yuan ($1,036) to 5,799 yuan ($858) — a 1,200 yuan ($178) discount.
Other third-party sellers on the site had the devices for even cheaper, offering flash sales to try to unload iPhones.[..] Apple’s issues in China are down to two major factors, experts and local consumers say: It got its pricing wrong, and it has failed to introduce features to excite consumers in a forward-thinking technology market. Now, analysts said, competitors have taken market share in the premium smartphone space. In a public letter released on Jan. 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook blamed the slowing Chinese economy and rising trade tensions with the U.S. as one of the key reasons for lowering first quarter sales guidance. Experts, however, told CNBC that much of the iPhone’s China problem comes down to the company setting the wrong prices.
[..] “The trade war is background noise and more of a scapegoat excuse with the real issues being iPhone XR demand and a mispriced product in a competitive Chinese market,” Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, told CNBC by email. “It’s time for Cook and Apple to look in the mirror, take their medicine around pricing and execution and move forward with the biggest installed base in the world to turn this ship around from this dark chapter in Cupertino,” he added.
Apple plans to unveil three new iPhone models this year, including a successor to the XR, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The tech giant’s new phones will include new camera features, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. The higher-end model will be fitted with a triple rear camera, while the lower-end models will have a double rear camera, the report said. One will feature a liquid-crystal display, the display that Apple’s lower-end iPhone XR model comes with. The XR has reportedly struggled to win over Chinese consumers. Apple recently lowered its revenue guidance for the first quarter, alarming investors, and cited lower-than-expected iPhone revenue “primarily in Greater China” as one of the main reasons behind its warning.
Yeah, they’re not selling enough cars, i.e. they don’t create enough pollution: “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty..”
It is unclear if Germany’s recent economic setbacks are a one-off or a more lasting phenomenon caused by structural problems, particularly in its car industry, European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny said in remarks published on Saturday. Struggling to adjust to new emission testing standards, Germany’s car manufacturing contracted in the third quarter, dragging overall economic growth into negative territory and raising fears that Europe’s five-year-old growth run may be coming to a premature end. The Bundesbank said in a monthly economic report last month that Germany’s dominant car industry may take longer than previously thought to recover from a slump, weighing on growth in the euro zone’s biggest economy.
“The most important economic question for Europe is whether these are one-off slowdowns or whether structural factors are behind them,” ECB’s Governing Council member Nowotny said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard, discussing the prospect of a second quarter of negative growth in Germany. “The fear is that particularly in the auto industry we have lasting changes that affect Germany especially,” said Nowotny, who is also governor of the Austrian National Bank. The Bundesbank said in its report last month that while a quick rebound in the auto sector had been forecast, fresh data was disappointing those hopes.
It added that the slump was exacerbated by an overall deterioration in sentiment as well as uncertainty over the future of diesel cars as cities contemplate bans to reduce pollution. “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty,” Nowotny said. “If people defer the purchase of a car by just half a year, that causes a vast fall in demand. There would be lasting and dramatic consequences if there were real structural collapses in the export- and machinery-oriented economy. Germany could become vulnerable,” he said.
France braced for a fresh round of “yellow vest” protests across the country on Saturday, with the authorities vowing zero tolerance for violence after weekly scenes of rioting and vandalism in Paris and other cities over the past two months. [..] “Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many yellow vests. “Those who think that, a few thousand people, can make us question our institutions, are wrong,” Castaner added later Friday.
Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who has presented her party as the longstanding expression of many yellow vest demands, condemned the government’s reaction as “disturbing”. “To accuse all protesters of ‘complicity’ with the thugs: here is a new verbal provocation and legal ineptitude waiting to undermine our rule of law,” she wrote on Twitter. [..] Macron has called for a national debate on voters’ grievances, beginning next week, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger. But the process risks being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.
A poll by the respected Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”. And it’s uncertain if the public consultations will be enough, with many protesters calling for Macron’s resignation or an immediate referendum on his presidency. “I had some hope with this ‘great debate’, but it’s not looking good because they don’t want to talk about taxes, and they’re the ones who are deciding the subjects,” said Patrick Lerest, a 62-year-old protester in Nemours, southeast of Paris. “I want us to have a real debate,” he said.
Google’s board of directors is being sued for approving a $90m (£70m) payout to a former executive and covering up allegations including that he forced a female employee to perform oral sex. The lawsuit, brought by shareholder James Martin, claims directors made the payment to stop details of the allegations becoming public. It also cites examples of alleged sexual misconduct by other former employees which Google directors kept private. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin allowed Mr Rubin to “quietly resign” even after an internal investigation had found the allegations against him credible, the complaint filed in California alleges.
“The directors’ wrongful conduct allowed the illegal conduct to proliferate and continue,” the complaint states. “As such, members of Alphabet’s board were knowing and direct enablers of the sexual harassment and discrimination.” The lawsuit also cites allegations that while Mr Rubin was at Google he engaged in “human sex trafficking – paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women to be, in Rubin’s own words, ‘owned’ by him”. Mr Page, Mr Brin and other top executives failed in their duty by allowing harassment to occur at their company, approving excessive severance payments and keeping details of the allegations private, the lawsuit alleges. David Drummond, the chief legal officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet, and investor Ram Shriram are named among others in the court filings.
Before Christmas, the housing secretary James Brokenshire insisted that the fact the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 has nothing to do with Tory policies. Rather, he said, it was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and the number of foreigners. Brokenshire has since rowed back from this palpably ludicrous claim, admitting that Tories “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”. Anyone who has seen this for themselves – which is to say, everyone who lives in a British city – could have told him that, because what has really changed is not just the number of homeless people, but who these homeless people are.
At Shelter from the Storm, my local shelter, the co-founder Sheila Scott told me last week that, when she started a decade ago, the people who stayed were “town-square drinkers” and foreign itinerants. Now, half the inhabitants have regular jobs and three-quarters are British. Some leave every night at 2am to work at Amazon factories; some are Uber drivers who took out too many loans to buy their car to do their job. Most have been driven out of their properties by private landlords – and you have only to look at Caledonian Road to see the damage such landlords can do. Many of the shopkeepers have been driven out by what one described to me as “deliberately high rents”, their stores turned into expensive flats.
One private landlord, Andrew Panayi, owns 200 properties in the area, and even though he has been fined for renting substandard properties (one tenant called them “worse than prison cells”), he still keeps a tight grip on the street. These landlords exploit the real problem, which is a lack of social housing and the decimation of social services. Scott says councils now send people directly to her, as they have nowhere else to put them. But they will soon have to send them to a new address: Shelter from the Storm is moving, because a property developer has bought the lot they currently stand on; like so many of the people the charity helps, it is being pushed out of the area.