Dec 192019
 


Saul Leiter Harlem 1960

 

Lots of news outlets labeled yesterday’s House vote to impeach President Trump “historic”. It was. But what was historic about it was not that Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached. What was historic was the way it was done. That was a first.

Because it was not the House that impeached President Donald Trump, it was the Democratic Party. Which just happened to have the majority in the House. They appear to think that this is all that’s needed, which is a big mistake and an even bigger gamble. A gamble on the value and future of the US Constitution and the entire political system.

In an exercise in sanctimonious rhetoric, Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic House members claim they are the only ones upholding the Constitution, and they’re the only ones who know what America’s Founding Fathers had in mind while writing the Constitution, and what they wrote about impeachment. Maybe someone should point out -again- that the Constitution is a document written by slaveholders. See how that flies with their black constituency.

Then again, none of this is really much different from what their witnesses in the past weeks had to say about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Zelensky, the one and only issue that impeachment eventually came to rely on, after years of trying to find something “impeachable”. That is, it’s not about facts, it’s about opinion and interpretation.

Trump asked Zelensky to look into a number of issues. But never said he wanted him to do that in order to elevate his chances in an election which was at that point a year and a half away, and in which Joe Biden’s role was not then, nor is it now, anywhere near assured. While there are many lingering questions surrounding the roles of both Joe and Hunter Biden.

For most of the witnesses called by the Democrats, including 3 “legal experts”, it was for some reason clear what Trump meant even though he never said it. That is a mighty slippery slope. That all three were donors to various Democrats is just icing on the slippery cake. But what remains most important is these were opinions, and they were not based on facts.

 

And we should at least be able to agree that facts are undoubtedly what the Founders meant for impeachment to be based on. They were wary enough of the instrument to set it up the way they did, with the role of the House and the separate role of the Senate, where a 2/3 vote is required. They did not want it based on hearsay and personal bias.

What they did not foresee was what has happened now, they trusted both the system and future politicians to safeguard themselves against using impeachment as a partisan political tool. They were wrong.

Well into this year, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi still emphasized the need for impeachment proceedings to be bipartisan. In March she said: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path..”

And on June 16, a full two months after the Mueller report came out: “I don’t think there’s anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States, and so you have to handle it with great care..”

By September 24, however, again two full months after the Trump-Zelensky call, she abandoned that principle, and it’s not fully clear why, other than “unverified claims of an anonymous whistleblower”. She insisted it was because of the Zelensky call, but we’ve all been able to read there was not enough in that call for either her change of mind or, for that matter, impeachment itself.

 

Nancy Pelosi now hints she will delay sending articles of impeachment to the Senate because she wants to make sure the process is bipartisan. But does anyone want to claim that what happened in the House was bipartisan? If so, pray tell how we can tell it was.

Adam Schiff, like Nancy, questions if there will be a fair trial in the Senate. Does he mean like the one he presided over in the House, with behind closed doors testimony, no witnesses for the other side, and a committee chairman who constantly interrupts representatives from the other side? He may well get exactly that, just from a very different angle.

Schiff and his Democrats have been after Trump since before the 2016 elections, and the number of times they have uttered terms like “overwhelming” and “uncontested evidence” are impossible to count. But the “evidence” never was uncontested. And it isn’t to this day.

Something I don’t quite understand is that everybody knows Trump knew the call was recorded, and many people were listening in on it while it took place, so the entire interpretation of contents of the call as impeachable -he didn’t say it but he meant to- must be based on the idea that Trump is incredibly dumb – or evil?! Even if he would have wanted dirt on Joe Biden because of 2020, he could have gone about it in less “evident” ways than a semi-public phone call.

 

A house divided cannot stand. Yet the Democrats use their majority in the House to de facto say they ARE the House and thereby divide it. Unfortunately for them, this House too, cannot stand divided. It will crumble.

If one values the Constitution, the House, the Senate and the Office of President of the United States, one must treat all of these with the utmost care and respect. Which means you cannot get rid of a president just because you don’t like him or her, because if you do, you open the floodgates and you might as well throw everything America’s politics is based upon, out the window.

You can’t impeach a president based on hearsay, opinions, conjecture or personal interpretations of words s/he said. But that’s all I’ve seen and read and heard.

The Democrats are confident they can come out of this in one piece, and many even think as winners. Donald Trump doesn’t feel much of a threat, and why should he, but it’s been three years of great nuisance that now culminate in Pelosi not even having the courage to go to the Senate with her cherished impeachment articles.

Meanwhile though, the divisions in America have grown so deep it feels like Moses himself created them. And that is the real damage done. You can’t attack the political system, and the presidency, with anything but solid evidence, without doing real damage. Well, it has been done.

If Trump gets re-elected, and I would wager he will be after all the circus, the Dems can only start the wheel again. If a miracle Democrat gets the nod, the Republicans will initiate the same treatment Trump has received during his entire presidency. And so on and so forth until death do us part.

 

PS I stole the title from Michael Goodwin, who used it as his closing line.

PS2 I know there are not really two political parties in the US, but the growing gaping divide between the people is very real

 

 

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Dec 052019
 


Pablo Picasso Couple on a bench 1943

 

No no no, I want to do something else, but they won’t let me. There are just too many assumptions, opinions, interpretations and hearsay that linger on in what I see, and I can’t let that just go now that we’ve come so far. Nancy Pelosi just now:

The California congresswoman told Thursday morning’s news conference: “The facts are uncontested. The president abused his power for his own political benefit at the expense of our national security , by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement for an investigation into his political rival.”

No, “the facts are NOT uncontested”. The one Constitutional judge the Dems allowed yesterday that they did not pick, Jonathan Turley, made that abundantly clear. Why “allow” him to speak at all if you’re going to drown him out anyway? Turley also made it very clear that he voted for Obama and Clinton, not the GOP that invited him. He simply doesn’t approve of the process that’s taking place. But he did “contest” the “facts”.

Meanwhile, Jerry Nadler, tag teaming from Adam Schiff as head of the Judiciary Committee said:

The committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, said that Trump was the first president to engage in conduct that met all three criteria for impeachment contemplated by the framers of the constitution: abuse of power, betrayal of national security, and interference in the conduct of elections. “Never before has a president engaged in a course of conduct that included all the acts that most concerned the framers,” Nadler said. Nadler was echoed by witnesses including Gerhardt. “If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil,” Gerhardt said.

Okidoki, let’s take a look. “Abuse of Power”. That’s a very broad stroke, it could mean anything really. What they mean is Trump asked Zelensky to look into – Hillary-linked- Crowdstrike and Joe Biden. And their interpretation of that is that this constitutes asking a foreign government to look into not a past, but a future election. Thing is, where’s the proof? I’ve seen the tape, read the relevant part of the transcript, and it’s not there. One may think or feel it is, but that’s not the same thing.

“Betrayal of National Security”. What they mean here is Trump delaying military aid to Ukraine. But there is no evidence he did that to get Zelensky to start probing Biden. That’s just a story. Moreover, Obama withheld “lethal aid” to Ukraine for a very long time. Where were the Dems shrieking about national security back then? Trump was the one to reverse that policy. It’s upside down world.

“Interference in the conduct of elections”. Really? After Crowdstrike and Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, you sure you want to make this point?

 

More from yesterdays’ “Law experts”:

Prof Feldman testified that the “evidence clearly constitutes” an impeachable offence because Mr Trump’s interactions with Ukraine show him “corruptly using the powers of the presidency for personal political gain”.

Eh, no, they don’t. That’s opinion, not fact. Trump, again, asked Zelensky to look into Crowdstrike and Burisma, because the White House had a hard time figuring out what went on with both. Impeachable? Personal political gain? Both are very much up in the air. Nothing that “clearly constitutes” anything.

Mr Trump has attacked the “safeguards against establishing a monarchy in this country”, Prof Gerhardt stated. “The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favour from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing,” he said in his opening remarks. “If what we’re talking about here is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable,” he added.

Gerhardt introduces, and I betcha he didn’t think of this himself, if only because Pelosi used the same meme today, the idea that Trump wants to be a monarch. They do this because the Framers in 1776 had such worries vis a vis the British crown. In 2019, though, it’s a ridiculous notion. But they use it because Trump may one day want to crown himself. No kidding.

Prof Turley, who was chosen as a witness by Republicans, said he disagreed with Mr Trump’s conduct but “this is not how an American president should be impeached”. He also warned that Democrats are setting a dangerous precedent. “I get it. You are mad. The President is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad….” he said. “We are all mad and where has it taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?”


[..] Jonathan Turley, picked by the Republicans, acknowledged that the president’s actions were far from “perfect,” but lamented the anger in American politics and warned that action in this case would dangerously lower the bar for impeachable conduct for future presidents.

There’s your contest to what Pelosi said is “uncontested”. The sole voice of reason, outnumbered 3 to 1, by design. Designed so that Pelosi can claim something is “uncontested”. And there’s still more Pelosi, and lo and behold, it involved Putin:

Pelosi Says Impeachment Inquiry Is About Russia, Not Ukraine

Asked by a reporter whether there was an “aha” moment when she decided to back impeachment, Nancy Pelosi said the decision has been slowly building for more than two years — since the start of the Russia investigation. This is a noteworthy comment because some Republicans have argued the inquiry is moving far too quickly, an opinion echoed yesterday by a legal witness called by the House minority yesterday. “This isn’t about Ukraine; this is about Russia, who benefitted from the withholding of that military assistance,” Pelosi said. She then added her oft-repeated line about the investigation, “All roads lead to Putin.”

I was going to get into the insane RussiaRussia rant by Democrat donor “law expert” Pamela Karlan, but let it go, it’s plenty obvious by now who these people are.

Matt Taibbi: “We laughed at this logic when George W. Bush used it to justify his Mideast wars: “We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.”

Michael Tracey: “This woman was ostensibly called to testify about the legal and Constitutional questions around impeachment and instead ends up going on a bizarre Cold Warrior rant implying that Russia plans to invade the United States”

 

Just one last thing, the final nail in Joe Biden’s coffin, who I never thought Trump was worried about in the least, but that’s the Ukraine story don’t you know, is John Kerry now endorses him. Please John, don’t, you’re going to kill me! There’s not enough people who like ketchup that much! Let alone Hillary!

“I’m not endorsing Joe because I’ve known him a long time. I’m endorsing him because I know him so well,” Kerry told the Washington Post. “The world is broken. Our politics are broken. The country faces extraordinary challenges. “And I believe very deeply that Joe Biden’s character, his ability to persevere, his decency and the experiences that he brings to the table are critical to the moment. The world has to be put back together, the world that Donald Trump has smashed apart.”


Kerry specifically cited Trump’s performance this week at the Nato summit in London as a reason why the country needed Biden. “The petulance and smallness and ridicule that he invited is very dangerous for all of us,” Kerry said. “And that just underscores the urgency of people recognizing the assets that Joe Biden brings to the table.”

There’s so much more I could write here about the “experts” paraded in front of a TV audience yesterday -and last week-, and about all the things they said that were not legal facts but their personal opinions, but I’m not trying to write a book here, just an essay, and I should be able to trust people’s intelligence on this, right? And I can be skeptical of anything and everything without being painted into a corner, right? Turley is not alone?!

 

 

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Apr 192019
 
 April 19, 2019  Posted by at 1:18 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


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:

Rumors of War – Washington Is Looking for a Fight

[..] 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?

 

 

Apr 112019
 


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.

 

 

Dec 022018
 


Frans Masereel Montmartre 1925

 

 

The way ‘news’ is reported through known outlets changes so fast hardly a soul notices that news as we once knew it no longer exists. This is due to a large extent to the advent of the internet in general, and social media in particular. On the one hand this has led to an absolute overkill in ‘news’, forcing people to pick between sources once they find they can’t read or view it all, on the other hand it has allowed news outlets to flood the former news waves with so much of the same that nobody can compare one source with the other anymore.

Once you achieve that situation, you’re more or less free to make the news, rather than just report on it. The rise of Donald Trump has made the existing mass media realize that one-sided negative reporting on the man sells better than anything objective can. The MSM have sort of won the battle versus the interwebs, albeit only in that regard, and only for this moment, but that is enough for them for now; just like their readers, they don’t have the scope or the energy to look any further or deeper.

This is in a nutshell, and we really should take a much more profound look but that’s another chapter, what has changed the news, and what will keep on changing it until the truth sets us all free. This is what drives outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian today, because it provides them with readers and viewers. Which they would not have if they didn’t conduct a 24/7 war on a set list of topics they know their audience can’t get enough of.

For these outlets, there are are three targets: Assange, Putin and Trump. And it’s especially the alleged links between the three that gets media -and politicians- excited, because if such links exist, the case against the individual targets is greatly reinforced. Trump can be portrayed in a much more damaging light if he’s painted off as Putin’s stooge, Putin becomes an enemy of America, Britain and the EU is he’s deciding elections in these countries (and poisoning people), and Assange can really only be set in a negative light if he aids and abets both of them.

The problem would be evidence. Or it would seem to be, at least. But the news has changed. We are well into the second year of ‘reporting’ on how Trump and Putin have conspired against Hillary, and there is still no proof other than intelligence services swearing on their mothers’ graves that really, Assange, Putin and Trump have targeted our democracies in order to take over control of them by illegal means.

They are the enemy, and you, who are of course on the other side, are their victims. But your trusted media will save you from a grueling fate. Now, if the passing of George HW Bush makes anything clear, it’s how united politicians and media are in praise of him, and against everyone else. The Observer, Guardian’s Sunday sister, puts it ever so eloquently today:

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office.

What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that HW was basically a war criminal in thinly veiled disguise, who ordered the bombing of a caravan of civilians in Iraq 27 years ago, as the US had invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait egged on by that same US. If you can call that dignified, you have issues.

By the same token, it shouldn’t be necessary for anyone to point out that the umpteenth Guardian hit piece on Julian Assange was just that, and invented from A to Z as well. If, when seeing the headline, you didn’t see that in the first fraction of a second, you haven’t been paying attention; you’re well into the news matrix. By now, everyone should recognize these things for what they are. But it only appears to get harder. It’s what outlets like to report, and readers like to read. It paints the world into a nice neat scheme, in which the bad guys are easy to spot, and you find yourself in a safe and cozy corner.

The problem, though, is that the entire thing is fantasy. The headline Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy, Sources Say does not contain one iota of truth. But what does it matter? Assange has been cut off from the world, he can’t defend himself. Manafort is about to be thrown in jail for lying. The Russians can’t be trusted on anything, whatever they say must be a lie. And Trump gets so much of this stuff, he wouldn’t know where to begin anymore if he’d want to sue for libel.

One interesting detail about that ‘article’, after we’ve already established that they made it up, we know there’s not a single sign of Manafort having been in London around the time he allegedly met with Assange, is the connection between the Guardian and Ecuador. The paper has stationed people in Quito, the country’s capital. And sources within the Ecuadorian government appear to be feeding them material. Such as the claim that Manafort visited Assange. He wasn’t there. We know that from his passports and surveillance cameras.

The Guardian has a vendetta with Julian Assange, and Ecuador’s new president uses the paper to smear Assange’s name, painting him as an unwashed slob and a cat hater. This is your news, Britain and other anglo readers, this is what it’s come to. Already. And we’re just in the first inning of the game of making up the news as we go along.

The byline of that Manafort/Assange fantasy piece says “Luke Harding and Dan Collyns in Quito”. Now, on May 16 2018 I published an article entitled I Am Julian Assange, in which I referred to no less than three Guardian articles all published the day before, and all with the same topic.

The first one, Revealed: Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange, lists Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Luke Harding, Fernando Villavicencio and Cristina Solórzano as authors. The second one, How Julian Assange Became An Unwelcome Guest In Ecuador’s Embassy, lists Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns.Number three is Why Does Ecuador Want Assange Out Of Its London Embassy?, written by poor lonely Dan Collyns in Quito all by himself.

It seems obvious that ‘Ecuador’ didn’t get sick of Assange. What happened was Ecuador changed presidents. Rafael Correa’s longtime friend and right hand man Lenin Moreno ran for president as his logical successor, only to turn against his former mentor as soon as he was elected. And not long after that, the Guardian has sources in Quito which it could use to smear Assange even further.

 

This way of ‘making’ the news is not limited to the Guardian, and it’s not limited to its coverage of WikiLeaks. We must ask ourselves every step of the way if we can still call this sort of thing ‘news’, ‘coverage’ and ‘reporting’. Let’s hope both WikiLeaks and Paul Manafort sue the paper, but apparently they’ll need a lot of money to do it. An additional layer of protection for fake news.

The Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the paper’s editors on November 30. The fallout of the Manafort/Assange piece has made them sort of careful in that they say: “what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!”

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump?

That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

They prompted the setting up of the Mueller inquiry into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Another document this week suggests a longtime Trump adviser, Roger Stone, may have sought information about WikiLeaks plans to release hacked Democratic party emails in 2016. There is nothing in the documents released this week that proves that Mr Trump conspired with Russian efforts to win him the presidency.

Yet those efforts were real. For two years, Mr Trump has gone to unprecedented lengths to attack the special counsel. After November’s midterms, he seemed on the verge of firing Mr Mueller. He may yet do so. But this week’s charges suggest that there is plenty more still to be revealed. Mr Trump still has questions to answer from the investigating authorities, from the new Congress – and from America’s long-suffering allies.

You see what they do, and how they do it? Big statement, and then say it’s probably not true. Post Manafort/Assange disaster piece, their lawyers have provided a way to legally make outrageous claims. It’s still smear, and it’s still slander, but they’ve already covered their asses by saying it’s probably a step too far. Still managed to say it though… And hey, what’s not to like about the phrase “..America’s long-suffering allies”?

Also on November 30, the Guardian ran the following piece. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Smear Slander Rinse and Repeat. All you need to do is add “it’s probably not true” here and there, and you’re good to go. People claim that the coming age of AI and algorithms is a threat to news dissemination, but at this pace there won’t be much left to threaten.

I think I’ll close with that Observer quote I posted above. It’s just perfect.

Donald Trump’s Growing List Of Failures (Observer Op-Ed)

“Whether it’s his shabby efforts to defend Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, his professed “love” for North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong-un, or his unashamed kowtowing to Putin, Trump undermines his office. What a sorry contrast he presents with the dignified former president, George HW Bush, who died this weekend. Bush Sr wasn’t perfect, but he understood what making America great really means.”

Okay, can’t help myself. MbS: not shabby efforts, but a refusal to risk being singled out and be blamed for $400 oil prices by the same Senators who tolerated Saudi behavior for decades. Kim Jong-un: Trump is closer to peace in Korea than anyone in decades. The claim Trump is ‘kowtowing’ to Putin only makes sense if you believe the unproven allegations of collusion. Robert Mueller hasn’t provided any evidence of it in 18 months, but a bunch of guys in a London office know better? As far as the dignity of Bush 41 is concerned, I see no reason to add one single syllable.

I will never get tired of defending Julian Assange. I do get tired of defending Trump, but the media leaves me no choice. There’s a dire need for at least a little balance in what passes for the news, and that balance seems to get further out of reach every passing day. News outlets have resorted to propaganda campaigns against individuals, organizations and even entire nations because it helps them sell copies, ads and airtime.

And frankly, we must prepare for smear and allegations thought up out of thin air just to make a profit, to be used to lock away people for life regardless of what a nation’s laws say, for presidents to be impeached because it suits the owners of papers or TV stations (despite Trump being their meal ticket), and we must for the inevitable endgame, fake news as the reason to start a -nuclear- war.

 

 

Sep 212018
 


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Aug 172018
 


William Hogarth Humours of an Election, Plate 2 1754

 

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.

 

 

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 12:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Jacques-Louis David Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus’ Disease 1774

 

One thing that’s not receiving enough attention in the respective Assange and Russia coverage is to what extent both protagonists are needed in each other’s narratives to keep each of these alive. Without explicitly linking Assange to Russia, allegations against him lose a lot, if not most, of their credibility. Likewise, if Assange is not put straight in the middle of the Russia story, it too loses much. Linking them is the gift that keeps on giving for the US intelligence community and the Democratic party.

In that light, as the shameful/shameless treatment of Julian Assange continues and is on the verge of even worse developments, I was wondering about some dates and timelines in the whole sordid affair. And about how crucial it is for those wanting to ‘capture’ him, to tie him to Russia in any form and shape they can come up with and make halfway credible.

10 days ago in The True Meaning of ‘Collusion’ I mentioned how Robert Mueller in his indictment of 12 Russians -but not Assange-, released on the eve of the Trump-Putin summit, strongly insinuated that WikiLeaks had actively sought information from Russians posing as Guccifer 2.0, that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. I also said that Assange was an easy target because, being closed off from all communication, he cannot defend himself. From the indictment:

 

a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

 

Now, the indictment itself has been blown to shreds by Adam Carter, while the narrative that the Russians hacked DNC servers and provided what they stole to WikiLeaks, has always categorically been denied by Assange, while the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and others have concluded that the speed at which the info was downloaded from the servers means it couldn’t have been a hack.

Oh, and Carter left little standing of Mueller et al’s portrait of Guccifer 2.0 as being of Russian origin. Plus, as several voices have pointed out, Assange had said on British TV on June 12 2016, ten days before the date the indictment indicates, that WikiLeaks was sitting on a batch of material pertaining to Hillary Clinton. An indictment full of allegations, not evidence, that in the end reads like Swiss cheese.

But it does serve to keep alive, and blow new fire into, the “The Russians Did It” narrative. And obviously, it also rekindles the allegation that Assange was working with the Russians to make Trump win and Hillary lose. Allegations, not evidence, against which neither Assange nor “the Russians” are in a position to defend themselves. Very convenient.

 

In his June 25 article How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal, The Hill’s John Solomon details how negotiations in early 2017 between legal representatives for Julian Assange and the US Justice Department were suddenly halted when James Comey, then FBI director, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) suddenly and entirely unexpectedly told Adam Waldman, Assange’s attorney, and David Laufman, then head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section, who had been picked to lead the talks, to stand down.

This happened when Waldman reached out to Warner, who informed Comey, among other things, about Assange’s offer to provide evidence that he did not get the DNC files from the Russians. That would have dealt a huge blow to the Russia-Did-It allegation, and it would also have destroyed the narrative of Assange working with Russia. And lest we forget: it would have made Mueller’s indictment worth less than the paper it’s written on.

That Comey’s order for Waldman and Laufman to stand down risked the lives and safety of CIA operatives receives surprisingly(?) little attention, but apparently it was worth it for Comey to keep the narrative(s) alive. What do the operatives themselves think about it, though?

It’s not fully clear from Solomon’s article when exactly the stand down order was given, and/or when the talks broke down entirely. Going through the dates, we know it’s sometime between March 28 2017, when we know talks were still ongoing, and April 7 2017, when Assange “released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks.” After that, then CIA director Mike Pompeo labeld WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

Why is the date interesting? For one thing because present Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno was elected to his job on April 2 2017 (he took office on May 24). And it’s Moreno who now holds Assange’s fate in his hands. It was Moreno, also, who cut off Assange completely from the outside world last March.

Moreno’s about-face since becoming president is something to behold. He had been vice-president, trustee and friend to his predecessor Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2013. Moreno, who’s wheelchair bound after being shot in a burglary in 1998, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts for the disabled in Ecuador.

What made him turn? Or should we perhaps ask: when did the Americans get to him? And what do they have on him? Is it bribe or blackmail? There’s talk of new and generous IMF loans as we speak. What’s clear is that Moreno is in London this week, and it’s unlikely that Assange’s situation doesn’t come up in talks at all, even if that’s what Moreno’s people want to make us believe. It’s way more likely that discussions are happening about how to put Assange out on to the street and then in a British or even US jail.

 

But Assange’s case may not be as hopeless as we think. First, all the British have on him is a charge of jumping bail. That carries three months and a fine. It’s not labeled a serious charge, that goes for offences that carry three years and more. New UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt misspoke seriously when he said Assange faced serious charges. He doesn’t. And Britain still has a court system, and Assange still has lawyers.

More important, perhaps, is that Moreno will come under a lot of pressure, and probably already is, to not hand over Assange. The UN has been very clear about what it thinks about Assange’s treatment. It violates more international laws than we can count. But who cares about the UN anymore these days, right?

Even more outspoken has been the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I know, I had never heard of them either. But they’re a serious body, most South American nations are members, and many Caribbean ones. Here’s what the court said on July 13:

 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on Friday the right to seek asylum in embassies and other diplomatic compounds. The ruling includes a mandatory safe process, and the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum. Without naming Julian Assange, the ruling was deemed a huge victory for the WikiLeaks founder who has been held up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.

The court released a public statement, which said that it had “interpreted the reach of the protection given under Article 22 (7) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XXVII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which recognize the right to seek and receive asylum in a foreign territory.”

“In particular, the Court declared upon the relative issue of whether this human right protects both territorial asylum and diplomatic asylum. Similarly, the Court determined the human rights obligations of the Member States of the Organization of American States regarding the host country and, in this case, for third States, in virtue of the risk that persons seeking international protection could suffer, which was the reason for the principle of non-refoulement.

 

This court is not some hobby club. Wiki: “The Organization of American States established the Court in 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Its two main functions are thus adjudicatory and advisory. Under the former, it hears and rules on the specific cases of human rights violations referred to it. Under the latter, it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to its attention by other OAS bodies or member states.”

The court is also very clear in its ruling. Note: “the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum”. Moreno may want to think twice before he surrenders Assange and goes against the ruling. The consequences could be far-reaching. Nobody wants to start a fight with ALL of their neighbors all at the same time. Violating the ruling would make the court obsolete.

The ideal solution would be if Australia would offer Julian Assange safe passage back home. Another country could do the same. Assange has never been charged with anything, other than the UK’s bail-skipping charge, a minor offence.

Julian Assange is a journalist, and a damn good one at that. The silence in the Anglo -and international- media about his case is shameful and deafening. So is the smear campaign that’s been going on for over a decade. How many women have been turned against the man by the false Swedish rape charges? Condemning someone to isolation without access to daylight or medical care goes way beyond shameful.

It’s time to end this horror show, not prolong or deepen it. But the power of international intelligence services is at stake, and they’re going to go to great lengths to impose that power. The US has already even claimed that freedom of speech, i.e. its entire Constitution, does not apply to non-Americans.

That’s quite the claim when you think about it. That also tells us how much is at stake for ourselves. The mainstream media are already captives to the system, lock, stock and barrel. But if Assange can be silenced this way, what are Jim Kunstler, the Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge going to do? Are we all going to shut up?

 

We need to rage against the dying of the light more than ever. Because the light, indeed, is dying. We should not go gentle into that night without ever being heard from again. We owe that to ourselves, our children, and to Julian. It’s all the same thing. Not standing up for Assange means not standing up for your children. Are you sure you’re okay with that?

 

 

Jul 142018
 
 July 14, 2018  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pablo Picasso The blue room 1901

 

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)
It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)
No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)
Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)
Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)
Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)
The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)
Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)
How Amazon Rules (WS)
Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)
Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

 

 

Xi halts outflows.

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)

NAB’s survey results have highlighted to a trend decline in foreign buying activity in recent quarters resulting from policy changes in China on foreign investment outflows and tighter restrictions on foreign property buyers in Australia. In Q2 2018, there were fewer foreign buyers in the market for Australian property, with their market share dipping to 9.6% (10.9% in Q1 2018) in new housing markets and to 4.8% in established housing markets (5.7% in Q1 2018 and their lowest share since Q1 2012).

In established housing markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states. They continued to be most active in VIC but their market share of total sales fell to a 4-year low of 6.2% (8.2% in Q1 2018). The decline was even more pronounced in NSW, where their market share fell to 4.8% (5.4% in Q1 2018) – the lowest level in over 6 years. In QLD, foreign buyers accounted for 5.4% of total sales (5.6% in Q1 2018), while in WA their share fell to 2.2% (4.7% in Q1 2018).

In new property markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states except QLD where their share jumped to 22.8% (11.5% in Q1 2018). This may have reflected anecdotal reports of increased Chinese property investment associated with record numbers of Chinese student enrolments in the state. In contrast, the share of foreign buyers fell to 11.7% in VIC (down from an average of 14.4% since the survey started), 7.4% in NSW (from an average of 10.2%) and 4.6% in WA from an average of 6.8%.

Read more …

Sydney house prices down 11-15%.

It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)

Australia’s housing market is getting rattled. The mortgage industry is in turmoil. Banks are battered by incessant revelations of misconduct. Home prices in the Sydney and Melbourne metros, after surging to an astounding degree, are deflating. And the once splendid and vast game of real-estate speculation just isn’t fun anymore. Lindsay David, of LF Economics in Sydney — who has long played a role in exposing misconduct in Australia’s banking system including, in early 2016, by calling for a Royal Commission investigation into the mortgage sector — put some findings of his boots-on-the-ground analysis into a note to clients. Here are some of them:

1. Drop-off in Speculative Demand: “We spent countless hours” in recent months “observing buyer turnouts to scheduled property inspections of houses for sale,” he writes. “While there may still be a small sum of properties on market that continue to see very large turnouts, there was a clear visual drop-off of engaged interest from buyers and indeed ‘property snoops’ across the majority of properties for sale that we had observed.” “On many occasions, we observed either no interested parties, or less than 4 parties inspecting a property across a very decent chunk of offerings on the market,” he writes. “This lower rate of turnouts was something we simply had not observed over the years at such a dramatic scale.”

2. Sharper drop in selling prices than shown in official data: According to CoreLogic (the official data), home prices in Sydney fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos down 0.7%. In the most expensive quartile, prices fell 7.3%. But Lindsay David writes: “It is our view based on all the resources made available that house prices in the Sydney area have broadly fallen somewhere between 11% and 15% over the comparison period.”

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This one stinks.

No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)

The Special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 12 Russian people alleged to be officers or personal of the Russian Military Intelligence Service GRU. The people, claims the indictment, work for an operational (26165) and a technical (74455) subunit of the GRU. A Grand Jury in Washington DC issued 11 charges which are described and annotated below. A short assessment follows. The first charge is for a “Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States” by stealing emails and leaking them. The indictment claims that the GRU units sent spearfishing emails to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party organizations DNC and DCCC. They used these to get access to email boxes of John Podesta and other people.

They are also accused of installing spyware (X-agent) on DNC computers and of exfiltrating emails and other data from them. The emails were distributed and published by the online personas DCLeaks, Guccifer II and later through Wikileaks. The indictment claims that DCLeaks and Guccifer II were impersonations by the GRU. Wikileaks, “organization 1” in the indictment, is implicated but so far not accused. Note: There is a different Grand Jury for the long brewing case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Assange has denied that the emails he published came from a Russian source. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, said that he received the emails on a trip to Washington DC and transported them to Wikileaks.

The indictment describes in some detail how various rented computers and several domain names were used to access the DNC and DCCC computers. The description is broadly plausible but there is little if any supporting evidence.

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The Special Counsel was for collusion. There is none.

Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)

Lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after special counsel Robert Mueller charged against 12 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election Friday. Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, alongside a growing list of other Democratic lawmakers, called on the president to abandon the meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Helsinki, Finland. In their statements, many Democrats said they did not trust Trump, who has often expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, to confront Putin about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

They were joined by at least one high-profile member of the opposing party: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic and a Russia hawk, called on the president to cancel the summit if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.” But the Trump administration appears unlikely to do so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News on Friday afternoon that the summit is “still on.” The White House downplayed the significance of the indictment, noting there were no allegations against members of Trump’s campaign team. The president’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the charges were “good news for all Americans” and called on the special counsel to end his investigation and declare the president innocent.

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“Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.”

Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)

Does Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Hillary’s emails and interfering in the US election have any purpose other than to throw a monkey wrench in President Trump’s upcoming summit with Putin? Don’t forget that Rosenstein is implicated in the orchestration of Russiagate as a weapon against Trump, a weapon that serves the interests of the Democratic Party and the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 56 years ago to no avail. Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russians for allegedly hacking computers is a political indictment aimed at President Trump. The indictment is otherwise pointless as the Russian government will certainly not turn over its military personnel to a Washington kangeroo court.

The indictment serves no purpose except to poison the atmosphere of the summit. If you read the indictment, you will see that it consists of nothing but improbable accusations. There is no way on earth that the US Justice (sic) Department would be able to acquire the information in this fictional story that Rosenstein has presented. Moreover, there is no sign whatsoever of any evidence in the indictment. Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.

Rosenstein has thrown red meat to the presstitutes, who are assets of the military/security compex and Democratic Party, and the presstitutes will pressure the Republicans to get behind Rosenstein’s call for a united front against Russian interference. You can imagine what would happen if Trump and Putin were to have a successful summit and normalize the relations that Washington ruined between the two countries.

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“As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes.”

Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)

As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.”

According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”

An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.

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The fear of peace.

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The following so stretches credulity that sources will have to be cited and an exact quotations given to be believed. A case in point is the following title: “Fears growing over the prospect of Trump ‘peace deal’ with Putin”. The Times does not here fear a military escalation in Ukraine, an armed clash in Syria, a false-flag poisoning in England, or a new Cold War. The Times does not fear a nuclear apocalypse, the end of humanity, the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. No, one of the most authoritative and respected broadsheets in the world is fearful of the prospect of peace! The Times is afraid that the heads of two nuclear-armed superpowers are able to talk to each other.

The Times fears that Putin and Trump will be able to come to some kind of agreement that can help avert the danger of a global catastrophe. These are the times in which we live. And this is the type of media we deal with. The problem with The Times is that it forms public opinion in the worst possible way, confusing, deceiving, and disorienting its readers. It is not by accident the world in which we live is increasingly divorced from logic and rationality. Even if the outcome of this meeting does not see any substantial progress, the most important thing to be achieved will be the dialogue between the two leaders and the opening of negotiation channels for both sides. In The Times article, it is assumed that Trump and Putin want to reach an agreement regarding Europe.

The insinuation is that Putin is manipulating Trump in order to destabilize Europe. For years now we have been inundated with such fabrications by the media on behalf of their editors and shareholders, all part of the deep state conglomerate. Facts have in fact proven that Putin has always desired a strong and united Europe, looking to integrate Europe into the Eurasian dream. Putin and Xi Jinping would like to see a European Union more resistant to American pressure and able to gain greater independence. The combination of mass migration and sanctions against Russia and Iran, which end up hurting Europeans, opens the way for alternative parties that are not necessarily willing to Washington’s marching orders.

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“..this endgame of competing impossibilisms..”

Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)

Donald Trump’s outburst may have done Theresa May a fleeting favour. Had the grand Shrek not delivered every imaginable insult (short of impugning St Gareth of Southgate) to his host country yesterday, the story in the spotlight this weekend would have been on the growing disquiet around May’s handling of the Chequers agreement on Brexit, and the darkening mood that has descended on her own benches. As it turned out, May rode out the turbulence. But with the awkward visitor gone, the stony road to Brexit – “a tough deal”, as the US president observed – resumes. What started a mere week ago as applause for the prime minister in facing down her most troublesome ministerial insurgents has slipped into acute agitation.

It turns in part on the convoluted deal itself – but also on a fresh bout of panic about her ability to lead when the pressure is on. The departures of Boris Johnson and David Davis disconcerted Brexiteers – but did not unleash rebellion. Thursday’s white paper was another matter. Its use of the term “association agreement” (not used previously) was a red rag to many bulls. Given that the last one the European Union signed was with Ukraine, it hardly takes a marketing genius to see the problem. In this endgame of competing impossibilisms – hard Brexit versus a byzantine arrangement of near-customs-union “associations”, segmented agreements on goods and services, and somewhat indeterminate reassurance for the City on how its practices will be affected – the prime minister’s nightmare is that both enemy camps conclude they don’t want whatever she is offering.

This is the Zero Dark Thirty moment at which a serious move to oust May becomes probable – unless she can take back control of her disputatious party. May is not quite at that point – but perilously close. As one recently departed senior figure put it, there is no such thing as summer relief “because Graham Brady’s letter box is open over the recess”. Brady is the chair of the backbench MPs’ committee to which no-confidence votes would be submitted.

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It’s gotten far too big.

How Amazon Rules (WS)

Amazon is a Goliath in very different sectors. One is the internet cloud, a booming business. Amazon Web Services has evolved into the single largest player offering cloud computing services to companies, governments, and individuals. In the first quarter, AWS owns 33% share of the cloud infrastructure market, ahead of Microsoft with a 13% share, and Google with a 6% share. Being the biggest kid on the block, it has become the shoo-in for a multi-year $10-billion Pentagon contract. That business is highly profitable.

Less profitable are Amazon’s e-commerce operations. But in terms of magnitude, Amazon totally rules. According to a report from eMarkter, cited by CNBC, Amazon’s online sales in the US are expected to surge 30% in 2018 compared to a year earlier, to $258 billion. This would boost Amazon’s share of US e-commerce sales of 49.1%! The other combatants are fighting over the crumbs in terms of market share. The next nine largest e-commerce operations combined grab about 22% of the market: eBay (EBAY): 6.6% Apple (AAPL): 3.9% Walmart (WMT): 3.7% Home Depot (HD): 1.5% Best Buy (BBY) 1.3% QVC Group (QVCA): 1.2% Macy’s (M): 1.2% Costco (COST): 1.2% Wayfair (W): 1.1%

That leaves 29% of e-commerce for all the other retailers with online operations, from Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) to the tiniest home-office operations, millions of them. Amazon online sales fall into two categories: its “direct sales” and the sales from other sellers that use Amazon’s platform and execution (“Marketplace sales”). Both are growing in leaps and bounds, but Marketplace sales are growing the fastest. In 2018, Marketplace sales are expected to account for 68% of Amazon’s e-commerce sales, and direct sales for 32%, according to eMarketer estimates. Overall, e-commerce sales in the US have soared 16% in the first quarter from a year ago and are on track to exceed $500 billion this year.

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Sabraw rules again.

Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)

A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay. The U.S. government is working to reunite around 2,000 children with their parents, who were detained and separated as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to deter illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego.

The government missed a deadline this week for getting the youngest of the children back with their parents. Trump has made his hardline immigration policies a central part of his presidency. His administration adopted the family separation policy as part of its effort to discourage illegal immigration, but Trump bowed to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy on June 20. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers.

Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources. “The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded. The judge also agreed to impose timelines on the government for reporting details about its reunification efforts.

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Fat Americans can have more tattoos.

Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

It seems unfair that the earnest polymath Elon Musk should go broke in the electric car business while Kylie Jenner becomes a billionaire at age 20 hawking lip gloss on Snapchat, but that’s how the American Dream rolls these late days of empire. Perhaps the lesson here, for all you MBA wannabes, is that Mr. Musk could switch his production facilities from cars to lip gloss. Of course, to successfully market his new line of cosmetics on social media, Elon might have to consider sexual “reassignment” surgery — unless he could persuade American men via Facebook and Twitter, that lip enhancement boosts male self-esteem almost as much as the purchase of a Ford F-450 pickup truck at a laughable fraction of the cost.

Which raises an interesting question: if President Donald Trump’s most winning personal feature is that magnificent golden hair-do, why doesn’t he (or his family) get out of the pain-in-the-ass hotel business, with all its construction and maintenance issues and dirty sheets, and just put out shampoo? He is obviously adept at Twitter marketing and surely scores high in global brand recognition. Which raises any number of other major questions about the proper functioning of the US economy. For instance, millions of Americans, especially of Kylie J’s gen, are wasting their lives working dead-end minimum wage jobs manning (personing?) the nation’s fry-o-lator stations when they could start billion dollar cosmetic companies.

After all, if you really want to be successful in this land of success stories, don’t you have to first look and feel successful? Perhaps that’s all you really need… forget all those pain-in-the-ass products with their vexing assembly-line, packing, and shipping problems. Just get America feeling great about itself, starting with the most important person in the room: YOU! Only two things stand in the way: tattoos and blubber. At the rate our fellow citizens are adorning themselves with inky autobiographies, ever fewer will want to cover up their personal messaging with icky makeup. And the remorseless increase in body size implies a concomitant increase in available epidermal sites for said personal messaging — so maybe the tattoo industry ought to be the basis of the next American economy, not electric cars and journeys to Mars, or even lip gloss. Just think of all those empty brick-and-mortar retail spaces out there begging to become Ink Spots! I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard of any tattoo billionaires…yet. Who will dare to be first? (Yet another Kardashian?)

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Mar 182018
 
 March 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Bartolomeo Schedoni The Deposition (of Jesus’ body by St. Joseph of Arimathea) 1613

 

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)
Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)
Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)
NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)
Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)
UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)
French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)
Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)
At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)
Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

 

 

Several people punch sizable holes in the UK story blaming Russia. Found on Twitter, from “Harry Dilemma”:

“Without any evidence, the probability of millions of people being infected with bullshit is higher than the probability of two people being infected with a toxic agent.”

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)

Here’s what we know so far: • UPDATE I: Former spy and double agent, Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Julia were allegedly poisoned. • Initial reports claimed the culprit was a chemical which falls under the category of ‘novichoks’, a collection of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been no official medical or scientific confirmation of these claims. The doctor that was allegedly one of the first people on the scene of the Skripals’ poisoning asked to remain anonymous. • No pictures or footage of the victims have been provided. • Skripal’s daughter, Julia, is a member of the Russian Federation but has been denied consular access by the British government.

• The Russian Embassy officially requested the Foreign Office provide information on Sergey and Julia Skripal’s health and details of investigation the day after the poisonings occured on March 5th. Almost two weeks have passed and it still has received no confirmation from the UK government, nor granted access to the alleged victims. • Skripal received at least $100,000 for sharing Russian state secrets with British intelligence. • Skripal was feeding secrets to MI6 at the time Christopher Steele was an MI6 officer in Moscow. • Skripal’s handler was British MI6 agent, Pablo Miller who was previously involved as a suspect in a criminal case against Skripal who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for spying for Britain.

Russia is not alone in the development of novichok nerve agents. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray revealed that similar nerve agents are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Skripal was poisoned. • Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture. • The official British government story is that these nerve agents are only manufactured “To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems”. • Israel also has a chemical and biological weapons program that manufactures similar poisons. A 1983 CIA intelligence estimate revealed that US spy satellites had uncovered a chemical nerve agent production facility in the Negev Desert the year prior. This fact was censored by the CIA before a version was released to the National Archives in 2009. The information would likely not have come to light were it not for the discovery of the redacted document by a researcher at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

• Russia has never killed a swapped spy before. • Miller had a Salisbury address, according to his LinkedIn account which has since been deactivated. He specialised in the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eastern Europe and his diplomatic postings included Tallinn, Estonia. • Both Steele and Miller were members of Orbis Intelligence, the same firm that produced the sensational Steele Dossier which alleged Trump’s links with Russia, including a certain episode involving Russian prostitutes and golden showers.

Read more …

There are quite a few tales about how the victims were supposedly infected with Novichok. Powder or liquid, in Russia or Britain.

Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)

• May claimed that the nerve agent was Novichok, developed in the USSR. In order to identify it, the UK experts had to have had a sample of it. Since neither the USSR, nor Russia, have ever been known to export it, we should assume that it was synthesized within the UK. The formula and the list of precursors are in the public domain, published by the scientist who developed Novichok, who has since moved to the US. Thus, British scientists working at Porton Down could have synthesized it themselves. In any case, it is not possible to determine in what country a given sample of the substance was synthesized, and the claim that it came from Russia is not provable.

• It was claimed that the victims—Mr. Skripal and his daugher—were poisoned with Novichok while at a restaurant. Yet how could this have been done? The agent in question is so powerful that a liter of it released into the atmosphere over London would kill most of its population. Breaking a vial of it open over a plate of food would kill the murderer along with everyone inside the restaurant. Anything it touched would be stained yellow, and many of those in the vicinity would have complained of a very unusual, acrid smell. Those poisoned would be instantaneously paralyzed and dead within minutes, not strolling over to a park bench where they were found. The entire town would have been evacuated, and the restaurant would have to be encased in a concrete sarcophagus by workers in space suits and destroyed with high heat. None of this has happened.

• In view of the above, it seems unlikely that any of what has been described in the UK media and by May’s government has actually taken place. An alternative assumption, and one we should be ready to fully test, is that all of this is a work of fiction. No pictures of the two victims have been provided. One of them—Skripal’s daughter—is a citizen of the Russian Federation, and yet the British have refused to provide consular access to her. And now it has emerged that the entire scenario, including the Novichok nerve gas, was cribbed from a US/UK television drama “Strike Back.” If so, this was certainly efficient; why invent when you can simply plagiarize.

• This is only one (and not even the last) in a series of murders and assumed but dubious suicides on former and current Russian nationals on UK soil that share certain characteristics, such the use of exotic substances as the means, no discernible motive, no credible investigation, and an immediate, concerted effort to pin the blame on Russia. You would be on safe ground if you assumed that anyone who pretends to know what exactly happened here is in fact lying. As to what might motivate such lying—that’s a question for psychiatrists to take up.

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Imagine the outrage.

Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)

Russia’s EU ambassador has suggested a UK research laboratory could be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack on an ex-spy and his daughter. Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. He said Russia did not stockpile the poison and that the Porton Down lab was only eight miles (12km) from the city. The government dismissed his comments as “nonsense.” Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on 4 March.

Theresa May had told MPs that personnel from the Defence Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire had identified the substance used on them as being part of a group of military-grade nerve agents developed by Russia known as Novichok. Mr Chizhov told the BBC that Mr Skripal could “rightly be referred to as a traitor” but “from the legal point of view the Russian state had nothing against him”. Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury, he said: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.” But pressed on whether he was suggesting Porton Down was “responsible” for the nerve agent in the attack, Mr Chizhov said: “I don’t have evidence of anything being used.” He added: “I exclude the possibility of any stockpiles of any chemical weapons fleeing Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union but there were certain specialists, including some scientists who today claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents, that have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom.”

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But of course.

NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)

Nato must improve its defensive capabilities and willingness to act in the wake of increasingly aggressive and unpredictable actions by Russia, the head of the transatlantic alliance said in a German newspaper interview published on Sunday. The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said he expected the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other Nato leaders to revamp their approach at the next Nato summit this summer, given a risk that Russia could gradually give more weight to nuclear weapons in its doctrine, exercises and new military capabilities. “I think Chancellor Merkel and her colleagues will face new decisions at the Nato summit in July in Brussels. We must be alert and resolute,” Stoltenberg was quoted saying by Welt am Sonntag.

The Nato leader last week accused Russia of trying to destabilise the west with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action, including the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury. “We can always do more and must reflect on that now. Salisbury follows, by all appearances, a pattern we’ve observed for some years – Russia is becoming more unpredictable and more aggressive,” he said. Russia denies any involvement and says it is the US-led transatlantic alliance that is a risk to peace in Europe. “Russia must not miscalculate,” Stoltenberg told the newspaper. “We are always ready to respond when an ally is attacked militarily. We want credible deterrence. We don’t want any war. Our goal is de-escalation.“

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The curious valuations of Amazon and its profitless prosperity.

Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)

The first law of Bubble Finance is that stock market crashes trigger recessions, not vice versa. That stands your grandfather’s macroeconomics on its ahead, yet the casual chain from which it arises is straight forward. To wit, in a world of Peak Debt ($230 trillion globally), central bank money pumping mainly inflates financial bubbles. Such bubbles eventually reach blow-off extremes and then burst, thereby sending stock (option) obsessed corporate C-suites into paroxysms of restructuring and downsizing designed to appease the trading gods of Wall Street. The main street sacrificial lambs thus tossed overboard – workers, inventories, plants, stores, warehouses, other “redundant” fixed assets and CapEx outlays – are what we are pleased to call recessions nowadays.

Needless to say, you can’t see these bouts of C-suite mayhem coming if your dashboard is still cluttered with your grandfather’s macro-monitors. That is, the junk data from the BLS and Commerce Department. By the same token, you will most surely espy Goldilocks prancing through these incoming data reports because at this late stage of the business cycle they are really nothing more than a read-out on capitalism’s inherent impulse to trudge forward until it is monkey-hammered by the central bank and its imploding bubbles. That is to say, the next recession is embedded in the stock charts because they are the Bubble tracker in plain sight. And here is the leading indicator at the present moment – the utterly lunatic trading metrics for Amazon (AMZN).

As the current bubble metastized after the immediate post-recession rebound in the stock market, the momo crowd piled into AMZN because the “price action” was just plain awesome. Between the March 2009 bottom and January 2017, the stock soared from $65 to $750 per share or by nearly 1100%. And it did so without any regard for AMZN’s profitless prosperity—perhaps signified by its 170X PE multiple at the end of 2016. Then again, when it comes to miracle stocks and the Great Disrupters, profits are–apparently–a matter of will, not performance. If Jeff Bezos wanted profits, the true believers insist, he would will them. Simple. Still, since the beginning of 2017, even the willpower meme has begun to get way in front of its skis.

During the past 14 months, Amazon’s market cap exploded by $400 billion – rising from $360 billion in January 2017 to $760 billion at present. At the same time, its LTM operating free cash flow plunged from a meager $9.5 billion ( on $136 billion of sales) to just $6.5 billion during the year ending in December. Since the rules of arithmetic apparently have not yet been “disrupted”, AMZN’s implied multiple on operating free cash flow has erupted from an already frisky 39X to a completely absurd 120X. Needless to say, a 24-year old company with virtually no cumulative profits and free cash flow to show for itself should not trade at anything remotely close to a triple digit multiple – and that’s to say nothing of one that’s essentially in the books, schmatta, gadgets and food sourcing, moving, storage and moving business.

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The Brexit mayhem hides behind the Russia story for now.

UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)

An influential Commons committee has become mired in a bitter row after Leave members refused to back its report recommending a potential delay to Brexit and extending the transition period afterwards. After they fell out with Remain backing members of the Brexit Committee, the group was forced to publish two sets of recommendations on Sunday. Prominent Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is a member, attacked others in the group as the “high priests of Remain”, claiming they had attempted to force through a “partisan” document. The committee’s Labour chair Hilary Benn said the divisions demonstrated just how difficult achieving an agreement on Brexit will be.

The group was set to call for an “extension to the Article 50 time”, which dictates the UK will formally leave the EU in March 2019, in order to ensure a comprehensive agreement can be reached. Their report was also due to back a provision in withdrawal arrangements to allow the transition period after departure, to be extended beyond the 21 months currently set, “if necessary”. Mr Benn highlighted that the extension would likely be needed because with just seven months left to reach an agreement, a host of highly complex issues remain. He said: “While the committee welcomes the progress that has been made in some areas, the Government faces a huge task when the phase two talks actually begin.

“The Government must now come forward with credible, detailed proposals as to how it can operate a ‘frictionless border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because at the moment, the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the same time as the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union.”

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“There was a time when everyone in the bubble spoke French..”

French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)

Once upon a time speaking French was easy in Brussels, but things have changed. Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, felt that keenly during a recent panel event with European steel-makers after several hours of speaking English with EU counterparts. “Maybe one in French if possible, otherwise I will run the risk of being criticised,” Le Maire, who speaks perfect English, said as he scanned the audience for questions. But raised hands quickly dropped away, leaving just one from a journalist, who asked the question in English anyway. Such is the fate of the speaker of French in today’s EU bubble, that small world of European decision-making where the language of Catherine Deneuve and Moliere was once essential.

Even after the shock vote of Brexit, English – or at least that simplified, beat-up version known as Globish – is firmly rooted as the lingua franca of the Brussels elite. “In the last 20 years, English has become completely dominant. French is not going to replace English in any way,” said Nicolas Veyron, one of the most respected economists in Brussels, who spends most of his day speaking English although he is French. That reality stings for French-speaking veterans of the Brussels bubble who remember a time when the top echelon of Europe was a coterie of francophones.

“The retreat of French has been catastrophic,” said Jean Quatremer, the longtime EU correspondent for French daily Liberation who has championed holding the line against the advance of English. “There was a time when everyone in the bubble – commissioners, officials, spokespeople, even (Brexit-backing British foreign minister) Boris Johnson, who was a journalist here – spoke French,” said AFP’s Christian Spillman, who first came to Brussels as a corespondent in 1991.

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Whenever Europe talks about peace, remember this.

Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)

Even after Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin, the German government has approved the supply of millions of euros in armaments to its partner, Turkey. The situation is revealed by a response from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to a request by the Green MP Omid Nouripour. In the first five and a half weeks of Turkey’s so-called “Operation Olive Branch” against the Kurdish militia YPG, and unfortunately civilians, in Afrin, 20 export authorisations for German armaments worth 4.4 million euros were granted. This is even more than the average value of the previous year for the same period (14 permits worth 3.6 million euros). Despite the strong opposition of German public opinion and media, arms sales to Turkey aren’t disrupted.

The type of armaments is unclear. In addition to weapons such as rifles, tanks or missiles, for example, unarmed military vehicles or reconnaissance armaments are possibly on the list. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), who resigned on Wednesday, had repeatedly assured in February, since the beginning of the Syrian offensive, that there is a complete export ban for all armaments to Turkey. “We did not deliver any armaments because of the conflict in northern Syria. That is forbidden in Germany, even to supply military armaments to a NATO partner like Turkey, “he said to the media on 16 February, the day of release of the journalist Deniz Yucel. Gabriel added, “Before this conflict, we would have been willing to deliver armaments that are not weapons. But that too has been stopped because of the conflict in Syria. And we can not and do not want to change that. ”

State Secretary Matthias Machnig (SPD), however, now writes in his reply to the request that the Federal Government has issued export licenses “in individual cases” even after the beginning of Turkey’s offensive. “These are either in connection with international arms cooperation, in which Germany is bound by contractual obligations to other EU and NATO partners, or they serve the NATO Alliance defence.” “The Federal Government has lied publicly and systematically to the public,” Nouripour told the media. “Permits, given despite the disproportionate assaults of the Turkish forces in northern Syria, cause heavy damage on the credibility of the new federal government and unmask their commitment to a restrictive arms export policy as empty promises.”

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Mere numbers.

At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)

Fifteen people, including at least five children, drowned on Saturday when the small boat they were travelling on capsized in the Aegean Sea, Greek coast guard officials said. The incident occurred off Greece’s Agathonisi island, which is close to the Turkish coast. The identity and nationality of the victims was not immediately known. “At least four more [migrants] were unaccounted [for],” a coast guard official told Reuters. Three others were rescued. Saturday’s incident was thought to be the highest death toll of migrants trying to reach outlying Greek islands in months.

Greek authorities said they believed there were 22 people on the boat. Greek coast guard vessels assisted by two helicopters were searching for more survivors. “We can’t tolerate losing children in the Aegean Sea … the solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits,” Greek migration minister Dimitris Vitsas said in a press release.

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Because man is smarter than nature.

Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

Scientists have outlined plans to build a series of mammoth engineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to help slow down the disintegration of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and huge pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting and sliding into the sea. The researchers say the work – costing tens of billions of dollars a time – is urgently needed to prevent polar glaciers melting and raising sea levels. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands.

Flooding in these areas is likely to cost tens of trillions of dollars a year if global warming continues at its present rate, and vast sea-wall defences will need to be built to limit the devastation. Such costs make glacier engineering in polar regions a competitive alternative, according to the team, which is led by John Moore, professor of climate change at the University of Lapland. “We think that geoengineering of glaciers could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming,” the scientists write in the current issue of Nature. “Geoengineering of glaciers has received little attention in journals. Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree.”

Ideas put forward by the group specifically target the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic because these will contribute more to sea rise this century than any other source, they say. Their proposals include: • Building a 100-metre high wall on the seabed across a 5km wide fjord at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier in western Greenland. This would reduce influxes of warming sea water which are eroding the glacier’s base; • Constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers in Antarctica in order to buttress them and limit their collapse as their ice melts due to global warming; • Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica – in order to prevent their bases from melting and sliding towards the sea.

In each case, the team – which includes scientists in Finland and the US – acknowledges that costs would be in the billions. Construction is also likely to cause considerable disruption. For example, building a dam across the Jakobshavn fjord could affect ecology, fisheries and tourism, and large numbers of workers would have to be shipped in to complete the project. Similarly, building artificial islands in front of glaciers would mean importing about six cubic kilometres of material, a task that would be immensely difficult in stormy Antarctic waters. And drilling through ice that is kilometres thick to pump down cooled water would also stretch the capabilities of engineers.

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