It took just 4 months after the deplorably failed Mueller probe of alleged Trump links to Russia, for the Democrats to raise the next -faded- red flag, Ukraine. And they do so in a manner that reminds me, personally, a lot of what happens in the UK. That is, the process has now moved on to what is legal or not and who decides what is or not.
Nancy Pelosi apparently has been told by her legal advice that it’s okay for her to move ahead with an inquiry, that she can even label an Impeachment Inquiry, without following established Capitol Hill procedure. Needless to say, them slopes are mighty slippery. Because if true, it would mean she can call the ‘other side’ offside for as long as she wishes.
She would, in effect, prorogate the US House the same way Boris Johnson tried to do Parliament in Britain. And not by shutting it down from the outside (Boris as PM) but from the inside (using her powers as Speaker). It would appear it’s time for every American to pay attention, because this could have grave consequences far into the future.
Pelosi’s plan is to not have a House vote on initiating the inquiry, but to just go ahead and have one, and stealing the name Impeachment Inquiry for it. Why? Because she thinks that way she can have only Democrats ask questions, issue subpoenas etc., while House Republicans could only sit and watch the spectacle (not what they were elected for).
I am not a lawyer, let alone a constitutional scholar, but when I read these things there are a million red hot five-alarms going off in my head. Because this is not about enacting the law, it’s about circumventing it. Just because you have a House majority cannot mean you can simply ignore the minority, or procedure. That would turn democracy into a proxy dictatorship. You don’t want to go there, not even if you’re a desperate Democrat.
But she seems to have made up her mind. So now we face Trump not being allowed to investigate what Joe Biden was up to in the run-up to the 2016 election though Joe’s party could turn that same run-up into a 3-year Special Counsel probe, which turned up less than .. well, you fill it in. It is something to behold.
At the same time, though, there is no Impeachment Inquiry, even if Pelosi calls it that. The White House today will send a letter to a judge contesting exactly that. A House Impeachment Inquiry has a procedure, and if she doesn’t follow that, the White House will deny it’s actually happening, and not respond.
Now, if you follow the headlines this week, you wouldn’t know this. Because they all talk of an impeachment inquiry going on. But you can’t get impeachment without following the official procedure, and Pelosi doesn’t follow it. And the media just go along for the ride without caring about procedure.
And obviously you can’t watch this theater and not think that Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff et al have not thought about stretching out this whole tragedy for another year, right on the eve of the 2020 election, or even beyond. That they think allegations about Russia, Ukraine and China will help them win.
Because it’s clear that flouting procedure the way they try to do in the House will inevitably have to lead to court decisions, and eventually to the Supreme Court. They’re counting on the damage they can do to Trump while the courts decide. But it won’t just be damage to Trump, however it turns out, it will be damage to the entire country.
And you would think both sides of the aisle recognize that (after all, we do), but there are very few if any signs of that. Everyone’s gearing up for a very big fight because everyone else in their echo chamber is. The problem is, whatever happens, and whoever becomes president, the dividing lines will only become deeper and darker.
AG Bill Barr, along with the State Department and DOJ, and whoever else is involved, will release multiple reports from investigations conducted by US Attorney John Durham, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz and potentially others. The Dems and MSM viewpoint appears to be that is was fine to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Trump’s links to Russia, but not Democrats’ links to, well, anyone at all.
And yeah, I know that’s Fox, and I know I’ve on occasion had to turn to right wing media for news because the MSM have closed ranks and ‘report’ only on one side of the story. Sue me for wanting actual news.
None of this negates the fact that we’re in for ever bitter fights, up to and including at the US Supreme Court, ever more, to decide who rules the country. Just like in Britain.
I don’t think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. At least, unlike Britain, they cared enough to write a Constitution. A lot of good that did.
A lot of seemingly serious people are commenting on the bad theater the Democratic debate has become. Nothing better to do with your lives?! It doesn’t matter what any of the ‘candidates’ says or does, the DNC will pull another Bernie 2016. It’s bad theater, it’s cheap, you’re being had, and everyone who watches it should watch themselves instead.
Yeah, just like the central banks. To clean up the US economy, you have to take -most of- the Fed’s powers away. To clean up US politics, you have to burn down the DNC. Or Trump will win forever.
The Federal Reserve has turned. The U.S. central bank on Wednesday cut its target overnight interest cost by a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%. For some, like U.S. President Donald Trump, that’s surely not enough. For others – and going by most economic statistics – it’s too much. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has found another way to please nobody. The last federal-funds rate reduction was in 2008, as the financial crisis cut deep. It then bounced along near zero for seven years before Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, oversaw the start of a period of gradual rate hikes in late 2015. Since a quarter-point hike last December, the Fed had held steady at 2.25%-2.5%, until now.
The proximate causes of the move are external – mainly the threat to economic activity from Trump’s confrontational stance on trade. It’s a telling irony that a president who claims the Fed is damping the benefits of his policies by holding rates too high is providing one of the few reasons for the U.S. central bank to cut them. Wednesday’s modest move by the Federal Open Market Committee surely won’t satisfy him. Yet seen through the lens of the Fed’s dual mandate – full employment and stable prices – everything is still humming as the longest expansion in U.S. history enters its second decade, with economic growth steady, unemployment at historic lows and inflation tame. Prices increased just 1.4% in the year to June by the personal consumption expenditures measure, released on Tuesday.
The Fed would prefer inflation nearer its 2% target but that’s a somewhat flimsy rationale for lower rates given the backdrop. A significant minority of traders, meanwhile, expected a half-point cut, according to CME data, so they’ll be disappointed, too – even though buoyant stock and credit markets are hardly crying for help. Two of Powell’s colleagues also dissented, preferring not to cut rates, so they’re unhappy for a different reason.
Since QE began, nearly 30% of the new corporate debt issued was used for stock buybacks. Putting the pieces of the mosaic together, it is fair to say the most intense corporate debt-for-equity swap in recorded history was enabled by the Fed via monetary policy and the federal government through tax-cuts. This is symptomatic of a variety of issues that have been created by prolonged extraordinary monetary policy. In the same way that corporate behavior has been seriously altered as described above, every central bank in the developed world has undertaken even more extreme measures to foster growth, dictating that the behavior of market participants transform in some manner.
The chart below is a stark reminder of how the Fed has changed the natural order of the corporate debt market. Over the past 25 years, when corporate debt loads became onerous, investors required higher yields and wider spreads to compensate them for the added risks. Today, despite the extreme amount of corporate leverage and the low quality of corporate credit, junk spreads remain near all-time lows. As shown below and highlighted by the red arrow, the long-standing correlation between leverage and high yield spreads is broken.
Expectations – and, for many economists, rather bad ones – have been confirmed: the European Central Bank has decided to inflate the eurozone. Following the ECB’s latest policy meeting on 25 July, the outgoing president Mario Draghi made it clear that the bank’s seemingly harmless inflation target of 1.9% will in fact be the basis for a new phase of expansionary monetary policy over the next few years. This will go well beyond the ECB’s stimulus measures to date and is likely to pose further risks to the European economy. We should remember that the Maastricht treaty assigned the ECB the single, non-negotiable goal of maintaining stable prices, which, if taken literally, would mean an inflation rate of zero.
This is very different from the mandate given to other central banks. The introduction of the euro, however, caused interest rates in southern Europe to fall, leading to an inflationary bubble that raised annual price growth to well over 2% in some countries. The ECB’s governing council then argued that the goal of price stability could not be achieved exactly and also pointed to several measurement errors that complicate policymaking. So, the authorities said, they would tolerate average inflation of up to 2% for the eurozone as a whole. The governing council did not fancy a restrictive monetary policy aimed at reducing inflation, as it gave only little weight to the risk of reducing competitiveness in some countries and did not want to slow down countries in stagnation such as Germany.
Then came the euro crisis. With inflation plummeting, the ECB turned the still-tolerable upper limit for the inflation rate into its target. Suddenly, it was argued, the bank would seek to achieve inflation of “close to, but below 2%”. Draghi even went before the television cameras to claim in all seriousness that this was the ECB’s mandate. And now, at the end of his term of office, Draghi is seeking to bind his successor, Christine Lagarde, to a council decision that will force her to aim for 1.9% inflation with a symmetrical concern about potential deviations. In plain language, this means the ECB will try to achieve this figure on average over time, netting out future above-average inflation rates with below-average inflation in recent years.
China’s central bank kept its main policy rates on hold on Thursday, opting not to follow an overnight benchmark rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve as policymakers wait to see if earlier support measures start to stabilize the economy. But market watchers say continued support is still needed, and expect more modest forms of policy easing from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) in coming months if pressure on the economy persists. Amid mounting worries about risks to global growth, the Fed lowered its benchmark rate by a quarter-point on Wednesday, as expected, but the head of the U.S. central bank ruled out a long series of cuts.
Though China’s central bank does not always follow the Fed’s moves in lockstep, some analysts had thought a token PBOC cut, likely in one of its short-term rates, was a possibility. However, no move was apparent by midday on Thursday. The PBOC refrained from daily open market operations (OMOs) early in the session, saying banking system liquidity was “reasonably ample”. “The PBOC skipped OMOs and hence there was no rate adjustment,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore. “The market may need to wait until mid-August when the next tranche of medium term lending facility (MLF) matures to see if there is any action. Arguably they can adjust policy parameters anytime, and are not constrained by any meeting schedule, but we see no pressure on OMO rates.”
The Bank of England is likely to push back on Thursday against investors who bet that it will follow other central banks and cut rates in the coming months, even as the risk of a messy Brexit darkens growth prospects. Economists polled by Reuters are almost certain that the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee will vote 9-0 to keep rates on hold at 0.75%. But it is less clear how Governor Mark Carney will tackle the challenge posed by a possible no-deal Brexit. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without a transition deal if Brussels does not rewrite the deal it hammered out with his predecessor Theresa May.
The risk of a disruptive no-deal Brexit that could push Britain into a recession means interest rate futures now price in an almost 90% chance of a 25 basis point rate cut before Carney steps down at the end of January. The U.S. Federal Reserve reduced its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, and the European Central Bank is expected to take similar action next month, as both battle a slowdown driven by the U.S.-China trade conflict. But the BoE says Britain is a special case. Chief economist Andy Haldane highlighted last week how British rates had not risen to anything like the extent they had in the United States, while Britain’s job market and inflation were much more buoyant than in the euro zone.
Carney wrote that article with Michael Bloomberg talking about how to make a profit off of disaster. And here again: ..there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.” Dangerous.
Capitalism is “very much part of the solution” to tackling the climate crisis, according to the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Challenged in an interview by the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow over whether capitalism itself was fuelling the climate emergency, Carney gave a strident defence of the economic system predicated on private ownership and growth but said companies that ignored climate change would “go bankrupt without question”. “Capitalism is part of the solution and part of what we need to do,” he said in the interview broadcast on Wednesday.
The economist, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, said he recognised the costs of ignoring climate change were rising, but stressed there were increasing opportunities for “doing something about it”, and that capital would shift in this direction. “Now there is $120tn of capital behind that framework that is saying to companies: ‘Tell us how you are going to manage these risks’ – that’s the first thing,” Carney said.
“The second thing the capitalist system needs to do is to manage the risks around climate change, be ready for the different speeds of the adjustment. And then the most important thing is to move capital from where it is today to where it needs to be tomorrow. The system is very much part of the solution.” He added: “Companies that don’t adapt – including companies in the financial system – will go bankrupt without question. [But] there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.”
To the surprise of markets and the chagrin of shareholders, the U.K.’s largest lender, Lloyds Banking Group, has reported disappointing profits for the second quarter of 2019. And no, it’s not because of Boris Johnson’s antics or the prospect of no-deal Brexit. It’s the final flourish of a much older issue – the U.K.’s long-running PPI scandal. Lloyds has had to take an additional provision of £550m ($670m) to cover a flurry of new PPI claims. This reduced its half-year profit to a paltry £2.2bn ($2.7bn). The share price dropped 5% on the news. Mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) is by far the U.K.’s biggest financial scandal.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says that since January 2011, British banks and financial institutions have paid out £37.5bn ($45.73bn) in compensation to customers who were wrongly sold PPI insurance. Lloyds Banking Group alone accounts for more than half of this total. The origins of the scandal date back to the 1990s, when financial institutions in the U.K. started selling PPI on lending products including mortgages, car loans and credit cards. PPI was meant to cover loan interest and repayments if the customer became unable to pay, for example due to illness or unemployment. As it was highly profitable for lenders and insurance companies, it was, unsurprisingly, heavily promoted. By 2005, there were an estimated 20 million PPI contracts in existence with annual gross premiums of over £5bn ($6.1bn).
PPI was expensive: premiums could raise the cost of a loan by up to 50%. And it mostly didn’t work. In 2005, the U.K.’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) complained that there were so many exclusion clauses in the contracts and administrative barriers to claiming that many people couldn’t make successful claims. Furthermore, the CAB reported, people were being sold policies that they did not need or were unsuitable for them.
A Wednesday court hearing determined that Jeffrey Epstein’s trial for two federal counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy will begin no sooner than June 8, 2020, while his lawyers requested more time to prepare “a case of this magnitude.” Prosecutors said in the hearing that bringing the case to trial quickly is in the public’s interest. Epstein’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said they expect to review more than one million pages of evidence while preparing his case. Given the large amount of evidence, Epstein’s team asked for his trial to begin in September 2020, after Labor Day.
Wednesday’s hearing was Epstein’s first court appearance after a possible suicide attempt, and a day after he was reportedly served a new lawsuit from a woman claiming he raped her as a 15-year-old. He showed no signs of injuries, specifically bruising on his neck, from the potential suicide attempt. Epstein is being held in a Manhattan jail without bail, and will likely remain there until his trial begins next year. If convicted, he could spend up to 45 years in prison.
The Justice Department’s chief watchdog is preparing a damning report on James Comey’s conduct in his final days as FBI director that likely will conclude he leaked classified information and showed a lack of candor after his own agency began looking into his feud with President Trump over the Russia probe. Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz’s team referred Comey for possible prosecution under the classified information protection laws, but Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors working for Attorney General William Barr reportedly have decided to decline prosecution — a decision that’s likely to upset Comey’s conservative critics.
Prosecutors found the IG’s findings compelling but decided not to bring charges because they did not believe they had enough evidence of Comey’s intent to violate the law, according to multiple sources. The concerns stem from the fact that one memo that Comey leaked to a friend specifically to be published by the media — as he admitted in congressional testimony — contained information classified at the lowest level of “confidential,” and that classification was made by the FBI after Comey had transmitted the information, the sources said. Although a technical violation, the DOJ did not want to “make its first case against the Russia investigators with such thin margins and look petty and vindictive,” a source told me, explaining the DOJ’s rationale.
But Comey and others inside the FBI and the DOJ during his tenure still face legal jeopardy in ongoing probes by the IG and Barr-appointed special prosecutor John Durham. Those investigations are focused on the origins of the Russia investigation that included a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign at the end of the 2016 election, the source said.
A US judge has ruled that WikiLeaks was fully entitled to publish the Democratic National Congress (DNC) emails, which means no law was broken. The ruling is highly significant as it could impact upon the US extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. On 30 July, federal judge John G. Koeltl ruled on a case brought against WikiLeaks and other parties in regard to the alleged hacking of DNC emails and concluded that: “If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them ‘secret’ and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet.”
In other words, if WikiLeaks is subject to prosecution, then every media outlet in the world would be. The judge argued that: “[T]he First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.” Significantly, the judge added that it’s not criminal to solicit or “welcome” stolen documents, and how: “A person is entitled to publish stolen documents that the publisher requested from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft.”
[..] Greg Barns, a barrister and longtime adviser to the Assange campaign, told The Canary: “The Court, in dismissing the case, found that the First Amendment protected WikiLeaks’ right to publish illegally secured private or classified documents of public interest, applying the same First Amendment standard as was used in justifying the The New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers. That right exists, so long as a publisher does not join in any illegal acts that the source may have committed to obtain that information. But that doesn’t include common journalistic practices, such as requesting or soliciting documents or actively collaborating with a source. So this case is important in restating what is and is not protected under the First Amendment. But does it have implications for the extradition hearing? Well it certainly helps to remind the courts in the UK that the First Amendment protection is very broad.”
Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signs, part of an expanding national effort to “Sinicize” its Muslim population. Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products and visited by Reuters in recent days said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs. Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.
“They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager, who, like all restaurant owners and employees who spoke to Reuters, declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue. The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture. The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas. China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.
The circus will be coming to town a week later, but not to worry, the show will go on longer and there will be many added attractions, including a full troop of 800-pound gorillas and an entire herd of 8000-pound elephants in the room. And once the balancing acts, the clowns and the ferocious beasts pack up and move on, America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize.
The circus is the testimony of Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary (extended to 3 hours) and Intelligence Committees (2 hours). The Democrats will aim to use Mueller’s words to finally achieve their long desired impeachment of Donald Trump. But is there anyone who’s not a US Democrat who thinks that is realistic? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to think so.
In order for the Dems to get their wish, Mueller would have to say a lot of things that are not in his report. It all appears to hang on the interpretation of his assessment that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, which the Dems take to mean that there actually was a crime that could -or should- be prosecuted.
It’s not clear why the hearing was delayed from July 17 to 24, but don’t be surprised if it has to do with US District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s decision that Mueller must stop talking in public about a case that is in front of her, because his words might prejudice a jury. That is the case that Mueller brought in February 2018 against Internet Research Agency, Concord Management, their owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin (aka Putin’s cook), and 12 of his employees.
Mueller thought he could get away with presenting a case against them because they would not show up, but Prigozhin did hire a major law firm. Ironically, Friedrich has reportedly also decided that the lawyers cannot talk about the case to their own client(s). She hasn’t thrown out the case or anything, she’s simply told everyone including Mueller to stop discussing it in public.
So it’s quite possible that once the House Democrats figured this out (the decision stems from May 28 but was unsealed only on July 1), they had to change strategy. Mueller has been barred from saying a single word about it, including in the House.
In his report, Mueller tried to establish a link between the Russian firms and the Kremlin, but never proved any such link. They are accused of meddling in the 2016 election through emails and social media posts, an accusation that looks shakier by the day.
With that part of his report out of the way, what is left for him to talk about? He himself already gave up on the whole collusion narrative, which would appear to leave only obstruction. Well, there’s the Steele dossier, but with John Solomon blowing another gaping hole in it yesterday, that may not be the wisest topic to discuss on the House floor. By now, only the very faithful still believe in the dossier.
The Republicans surely don’t, and they also happen to be House members, and get to ask questions of Mueller on the 24th. The spectacle last night where Nancy Pelosi insisted on calling Trump a racist was nutty (you don’t do that in the House), but the Mueller hearings promise to be much much more nuts still.
In the background a second investigation is playing out: DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been probing if DOJ or FBI officials abused their powers to spy on the Trump campaign. His report has been delayed, if reports are correct, because Christopher Steele at the very last minute agreed to testify. Those talks apparently were long and detailed. Wonder what he had to say.
And there’s a third probe too: AG Barr has tasked John Durham, the US attorney for Connecticut, to follow up on the Horowitz report and look at whether officials at the CIA, the NSA, and/or foreign intelligence agencies (think MI6), violated protocols or statutes.
That case is about whether the FISA court was misled to secure a warrant to put Trump campaign aide Carter Page under surveillance. It can also take a new look at the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, messages that Trump tweeted about on Saturday: “This is one of the most horrible abuses of all. Those texts between gaga lovers would have told the whole story. Illegal deletion by Mueller. They gave us “the insurance policy.”
The deletion reportedly may have been accidental. But it does set the tone. The door is wide open for the Republicans to go after Mueller. And he knows it, always has. He never wanted the hearings, he said it was all in his report. But the Dems wanted more, they want Mueller to say Trump is guilty of obstruction (of a probe that perhaps should never have taken place).
Personally, I wonder whether a Republican congressman/woman will have the guts to ask Mueller why he refused to talk to Julian Assange, the most obvious person for him to talk to in the whole wide world. But since the GOP hates Assange as much as the Dems, I don’t have high hopes of that happening.
What they certainly will ask is when he knew his probe wasn’t going anywhere. And if that was perhaps as much as a whole year before he presented his report. The Dems will tear into Mueller looking for obstruction. Like: if Trump were not the president, would you sue him? Problem with that is none of this would have happened if Trump were just a citizen.
But I lean towards Ray McGovern’s take, who says that the circus may not come to town on July 24 either. Because there’s no there there (something Peter Strzok himself said about the Steele dossier), and because the Dems know this is their last shot at glory. And the GOP doesn’t mind another week or so of preparation.
Since the Democrats, the media, and Mueller himself all have strong incentive to “make the worst case appear the better” (one of the twin charges against Socrates), they need time to regroup and circle the wagons. The more so, since Mueller’s other twin charge — Russian hacking of the DNC — also has been shown, in a separate Court case, to be bereft of credible evidence. No, the incomplete, redacted, second-hand “forensics” draft that former FBI Director James Comey decided to settle for from the Democratic National Committee-hired CrowdStrike firm does not qualify as credible evidence.
Both new developments are likely to pose a strong challenge to Mueller. On the forensics, Mueller decided to settle for what his former colleague Comey decided to settle for from CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC despite it’s deeply flawed reputation and well known bias against Russia. In fact, the new facts — emerging, oddly, from the U.S. District Court, pose such a fundamental challenge to Mueller’s findings that no one should be surprised if Mueller’s testimony is postponed again.
And I was serious when I said before that once the Mueller hearings are done, “America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize”. Because if and when the Mueller circus fails to provide the impeachment dream (try elections!), where are they going to go, what else is there to do?
They’ve been clamoring for impeachment for collusion (big fail), for obstruction (Mueller wouldn’t have it) and now racism, but that is merely based on interpretation of tweets. Nancy Pelosi wrote about ‘women of color’, not Donald Trump.
America needs a strong Democratic party, and it certainly doesn’t have one right now. The Dems should be calling for an end to regime change wars, that is a popular theme among their voters. But they don’t, because guess where their money comes from. They are in a very deep identity crisis, and Trump just has to pick them off one by one. They should look at themselves, not at him. Do these people ever do strategy?
What follows are items from sources not everyone may like, such as Fox and The Hill. But please bear with me, because if you want to understand what is about to happen in the US, you’re going to need this kind of info, and you’re not likely to get it from the mainstream media.
The overall term here is questions. There are too many to list. Some will merely be asked, some will be asked and answered, others will not be asked at all. It’s going to be a jousting match between lawyers and prosecutors, investigators and politicians. It’s safe to say it’s going be ugly.
First off, as Zero Hedge reports, Christopher Steele, after long refusing to, has agreed to talk to investigators from the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele has finally agreed to meet with US officials to discuss his relationship with the FBI, and the now-infamous dossier of unfounded claims against Donald Trump which he assembled on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The 54-year-old Steele has agreed to meet with investigators from the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), according to The Times of London, after a former US official told Politico that the OIG report would “try to deeply undermine” Steele.
The news marks a 180-shift in Steele’s past refusals to engage with US authorities. In April, Politico reported that Steele would not meet with the OIG to assist them with their investigation, while just last week, Reuters reported that he wouldn’t meet with US attorney John Durham, who was handpicked by AG William Barr to review the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
Steele, a MI6 Russia specialist for more than two-decades, has worked with the FBI as a confidential source since 2010. According to the report, he will retain the services of a top American attorney if the interview goes ahead, and is only willing to discuss the narrow scope of his dealings with US intelligence. Steele also wanted US officials to seek the approval of the British government.
Steele’s lawyers will try to limit the topics on the table as much as they can. But that may not be enough. There are very serious doubts and allegations surrounding the Steele Dossier, as well as the clients he prepared the report for. There’s Hillary Clinton, there’s the DNC, there’s their law firm Perkins Coie, there’s Fusion GPS, there’s its CEO Glenn Simpson, there’s the FBI, there’s the 2016 DOJ, and then there’s John Brennan and James Clapper. All these parties have played roles in making sure the dossier was ‘prepared’.
That is a lot of parties. How Steele is going to talk under oath without implicating one or more of them in shady dealings if not downright criminal activities is hard to imagine. If only because the dossier leads straight to the Mueller report, which would never have been written if the Steele dossier had not been used to -possibly illegally- get FISA warrants.
Moreover, Robert Mueller is now being accused of tampering with evidence he used in his report. I know I seem to be jumping from Steele to Mueller kind of suddenly, but these things are very closely connected, so I’ll allow myself that freedom.
It appears from files released on the order of judge Sullivan that Mueller has tampered with his own evidence. He omitted part of a phone conversation between lawyers for Trump and those for Michael Flynn, ostensibly to create the impression that the former sought confidential information.
Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was reacting to the release of a voicemail message that John Dowd, a former lawyer for President Trump, had left for a lawyer representing former national security adviser Michael Flynn, in which Dowd asks for a “heads up” if Flynn planned to say anything damaging about Trump to Mueller’s team. Nunes retweeted a side-by-side comparison of the Dowd transcript text and the Mueller report text, suggesting that the Mueller report did not disclose the full Dowd message.
The Mueller report had redacted the part of the voicemail where Dowd said he wanted the heads up “not only for the president but for the country” and that he wasn’t asking for “any confidential information.” Alan Dershowitz claimed on “Hannity” Monday night that the quotation was “distorted.” “This is a very, very serious issue,” he said. “The distortion of the Dowd quote is very serious. Especially since, remember, that a report by a special counsel is always going to be one-sided. Therefore, you have to trust it.”
Totally separate from the above development, Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wants Mueller to talk to Congress no matter what. The Dems of course want to get dirt on Trump from Mueller, but given that development, added to many other questions GOP Congressmen already wanted to ask him, the Mueller testimony may well backfire in spectacular fashion. Do they realize this?
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democrats should insist on special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress, even if it requires a subpoena. “I think he ought to testify. He may want a subpoena, for all I know,” Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in his Capitol office. “He indicated that his report speaks for itself. Very frankly, … questioning is an important fact-finding pursuit.”
Mueller said last week during brief remarks at the Justice Department that he hoped those statements — combined with his 488-page report — would be his last word on the topic. It was a clear indication that the former FBI chief — who’s built a reputation for nonpartisanship over his long career in Washington — is hoping to avoid the political circus that would surely accompany his return to Capitol Hill.
But Democrats are fighting to secure his testimony, emphasizing the importance of hearing the author of the report elucidate its conclusions. Both Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, are in negotiations with Mueller’s team in an effort to secure the special counsel’s testimony. [..] Another Democratic lawmaker familiar with the talks said a major sticking point remains Mueller’s reluctance to testify publicly, as Democrats are insisting.
“We’re trying to do everything possible to get him out in the open,” said the lawmaker, who spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive negotiations. Democrats are also wary that Mueller will be unwilling to answer clarifying questions outside the literal text of his report, the lawmaker said. “The concern is that Mueller is just going to sit there like a parrot and parrot the report,” the lawmaker said. “And there’s not going to be anything meaningfully new coming out of the testimony.”
Here are a few questions Mueller may be called upon to answer, courtesy of Sharyl Attkisson at The Hill. Most if not all appear to me to be reasonable, and there seems to be little reason not to demand they are answered. The credibility of the entire American political system, as well as the intelligence community, is at stake.
The statement Mueller chose to give carries with it an implication that his team looked for evidence of President Trump’s innocence but simply could not find it. With that in mind, I thought of a short list of questions I’d like to ask Mueller, if ever permitted to do so:
1) What witnesses did you interview and what evidence did you collect in an attempt to exonerate Trump or prove him not guilty? (I believe the answer would be, “None. It’s not the job of a special counsel or prosecutor to do so.” Therefore, was Mueller’s comment appropriate?)
2) Does it concern you that the FBI claimed “collection tool failure” in stating that 19,000 text messages between former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strozk had been deleted and were unavailable for review by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general? Is it worth investigating how the inspector general was able to recover the messages, when the FBI said it could not? Does the FBI lack the technical expertise, or the will? Isn’t it a serious issue that should be addressed, either way?
3) Along the same lines, do you think it strange or inappropriate that the DOJ wiped text messages between Strzok and Page from their special counsel cell phones? The deletions happened shortly after they were ejected from the team and before the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General could review them — at a time when all had been informed that their actions were under review. Did technicians attempt to recover the messages? Were the circumstances of the deletions thoroughly investigated?
4) When did you first learn that the FBI and DOJ signed off on and presented unverified, anti-Trump political opposition research to a court to get wiretaps on an innocent U.S. citizen? Doesn’t this violate the strict procedures enacted while you were FBI director, intended to ensure that only verified information is seen by the court? Who will be held accountable for any lapses in this arena?
5) Do these issues point to larger problems within our intelligence community, in terms of how officials operate? Does that put you in a position where there’s a conflict of interest since you were in charge of the FBI when prior surveillance abuses were identified by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court? Did you consider disclosing this potential conflict and stepping aside, or referring any issues that overlap with your interests?
6) What steps did you take after Strzok and Page were exposed, to try to learn if other investigators on your team likewise were conflicted? Did you take action to segregate the work of these agents and any potential biases they injected into your investigation and team? Wasn’t their behavior a beacon to call you to follow an investigative trail in another direction?
7) Did you become concerned about foreign influence beyond Russia when you learned that a foreign national, Christopher Steele, claimed to have obtained opposition research from Russian officials connected to Putin — and that the FBI and DOJ presented this material to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain wiretap approvals?
8) Were you aware that some Democratic Party officials acknowledged coordinating with Ukraine in 2016 to undermine Trump and his associates and to leak disparaging information to the news media?
9) Is it true that you applied for the job as FBI director but Trump rejected you, the day before then-Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed you as special counsel to investigate Trump? Does that put you in a potentially conflicted position?
10) Do you think Donald Trump is guilty of a crime? If so, then do you believe he is perhaps the most clever criminal of our time since he was able to conceal the evidence despite all the government wiretaps, investigations, informants, surveillance and hundreds of interviews spanning several years?
And then when the DOJ, as well as AG William Barr’s team, are done with Mueller, The Hill’s John Solomon has another set of questions, this time for Hillary Clinton. And again, the credibility of the entire American political system, as well as the intelligence community, is at stake. Is Hillary untouchable?
1) In January 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a formal investigative request for documents and written answers from your campaign. Do you plan to comply?
2) Please identify each person in your campaign who was involved with, or aware of, hiring Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele.
3) Please identify each person in your campaign, including Perkins Coie lawyers, who were aware that Steele provided information to the FBI or State Department, and when they learned it.
4) Describe any information you and your campaign staff received, or were briefed on, before Election Day that was derived from the work of Simpson, Steele, Fusion GPS, Nellie Ohr or Perkins Coie and that tried to connect Trump, his campaign or his business empire with Russia.
5) Please describe all contacts your campaign had before Election Day with or about the following individuals: Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele, former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, former foreign policy scholar Stefan Halper and Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud.
6) Did you or any senior members of your campaign, including lawyers such as Michael Sussmann, have any contact with the CIA, its former Director John Brennan, current Director Gina Haspel, James Baker, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page or former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe?
7) Describe all contacts your campaign had with Cody Shearer and Sidney Blumenthal concerning Trump, Russia and Ukraine.
8) Describe all contacts you and your campaign had with DNC contractor Alexander Chalupa, the Ukraine government, the Ukraine Embassy in the United States or the U.S. Embassy in Kiev concerning Trump, Russia or former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
9) Why did your campaign and the Democratic Party make a concerted effort to portray Trump as a Russian asset?
10) Given that investigations by a House committee, a Senate committee and a special prosecutor all have concluded there isn’t evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, do you regret the actions by your campaign and by Steele, Simpson and Sussmann to inject these unfounded allegations into the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community and the news media?
The Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, had their day in the sun with the 2 years Mueller probe. Now ‘the other side’ has its turn. And it makes no difference what side you are on, or even whether you think that is fair, this is going to happen. How it can go down without people being indicted, I can’t see. Same as with some Trump allies. Paul Manafort was sent to Rikers Island today.
Still, in the same way that it’s impossible to predict which questions will eventually be asked, and which the legal experts on all sides decide should not be asked, it’s not possible at this point to foresee where the hammer will come down hardest. But it’s not going to be pretty.
Then again, we’re looking, down the line, at Brennan and Clapper and the entire intelligence community. Do Barr and IG Horowitz have the clout and the strength and determination to clean up that mess? Here’s hoping that they do. America needs a thorough cleansing, badly.
Who will be the first in the world of finance to understand what’s going on AND be honest about it? It won’t be Roubini. Nothing has anything to do with recession or trade risks anymore. It’s the Fed and the Fed only. And there are no investors as long as the Fed monopolizes what were once markets. These so-called investors are in reality a bunch of rich socialists waiting for a central bank to hand them money. They’ll also be the first to warn about the dangers of socialism.
Financial markets tend to undergo manic-depressive cycles, and this has been especially true in recent years. During risk-ons, investors – driven by “animal spirits” – produce bull markets, frothiness, and sometimes outright bubbles; eventually, however, they overreact to some negative shock by becoming too pessimistic, shedding risk, and forcing a correction or bear market. Whereas prices of US and global equities rose sharply throughout 2017, markets began to wobble in 2018, and became fully depressed in the last quarter of the year. This risk-off reflected concerns about a global recession, Sino-American trade tensions, and the Federal Reserve’s signals that it would continue to raise interest rates and pursue quantitative tightening.
But since this past January, markets have rallied, so much so that some senior asset managers now foresee a market “melt-up” (the opposite of a meltdown), with equities continuing to rise sharply above their current elevated levels. One could argue that this latest risk-on cycle will continue for the rest of the year. For starters, growth is stabilizing in China, owing to another round of macroeconomic stimulus there, easing fears of a hard landing. And the United States and China may soon reach a deal to prevent the ongoing trade war from escalating further.
At the same time, US and global growth are expected to strengthen somewhat in the second half of the year, and the disruption of a “hard Brexit” has been averted, with the European Union extending the deadline for the United Kingdom’s departure to October 31, 2019. As for the eurozone’s prospects, much will depend on Germany, where growth could rebound as global headwinds fade. Moreover, central banks, particularly the Fed, have become super-dovish again, and this appears to have reversed the tightening of financial conditions that produced the risk-off in late 2018.
The Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate has inched up to its highest level in 11 years even though the central bank has sent a clear message that it is done tightening policy indefinitely. In recent days, the effective fed funds rate, which targets the overnight level that banks charge each other for loans, has moved up to 2.44%. That’s the highest since March 2008 and is just 6 basis points from the top of the target range and the closest to the top since December, when the Fed last raised rates. For now, the move is looked on as not being especially problematic given that there is still room between the current level and the top of the 2.25% to 2.5% range in which the rate is supposed to trade.
But moves toward the upper end of the band have prompted action before, and the trend likely will be a topic of discussion at next week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting. When the Fed first began raising rates in December 2015, it succeeded in keeping the funds rate around the midpoint of the target range. But that has changed over the past year. “At 6 basis points from the top of the range, you’re still within the target. The question becomes whether they think technical pressure is driving this,” said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP and formerly of the New York Fed. “The only concern is whether you’ll have to make a technical adjustment in the future from preventing it from going higher.”
Home builders, the ultimate pros in the housing market, have figured out something after the malaise in the second half last year: Cut prices and buyers will come. The median selling price of new houses dropped 9.7% in March from March last year to $302,700, the Commerce Department reported this morning. This took the price back to about where it had first been in December 2014 ($301,500):
Homebuilders are motivated to move their speculative inventory. They’re making deals at lower prices, and they’re building homes at lower price points. And buyers responded. House sales at the lower end gained market share while houses at the higher end lost market share. Houses that were sold below $200,000 made up 16% of the mix in March, up from 11% in March 2018. Houses that were sold at prices of $400,000 or higher in March made up 29% of the mix, down from 32% in March 2018. This shift in the market, and the price cuts by homebuilders, has pushed the median new house price down 11.8% from the peak in December 2017. The year-over-year price drops starting in November last year were the sharpest such drops since Housing Bust 1:
The new-house sales data, produced jointly by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is volatile. It is revised in the following months, often quite drastically. But after a while, the trends become clear. For the long-term view: The median price of new houses ballooned by about 55% from the range in 2011 and 2012 to the peak in December 2017 ($343,300). This peak had exceeded by 31% the crazy peak of Housing Bubble 1 in March 2007. When it comes to price, the sky is not the limit:
Following the biggest quarterly credit injection in Chinese history, it is safe to say that China’s banks are flush with yuan loans. However, when it comes to dollar-denominated assets, it’s a different story entirely. As the WSJ points out, in the past few years, a funding problem has emerged for China’s biggest commercial banks, one which is largely outside of Beijing’s control: they’re running low on US dollars so critical to fund operations both domestically and abroad. As shown in the chart below, the combined dollar liabilities at China’s four biggest commercial banks exceeded their dollar assets at the end of 2018, a sharp reversal from just a few years ago.
Back in 2013, the four together had around $125 billion more dollar assets than liabilities, but now they owe more dollars to creditors and customers than are owed to them. The reversal is the result of just one bank: Bank of China, which for many years held more net assets in dollars than any other Chinese lender, ended 2018 owing $72 billion more in dollar liabilities than it booked in dollar assets. The other “top 3” lenders finished the year with more dollar assets than liabilities, even though their net dollar surplus has shrunk substantially in the past five years.
And yet, as everything else with China, there is more than meets the eye: as the WSJ reports looking at Bank of China’s annual report, the bank’s asset-liability imbalance is more than addressed by dollar funding that doesn’t sit on its balance sheet. Instruments like currency swaps and forwards are accounted for elsewhere. This is reminiscent of the shady operations discussed recently involving Turkey’s FX reserves, where the central bank has been borrowing dollar assets from local banks via off balance sheet swaps, which it then used to prop up and boost the lira at a time of aggressive selling of the local currency. It is safe to assume that the PBOC has been engaging in a similar operation.
Just hours after Nancy Pelosi attempted to mend the gaping division between the realists and the extremists in her party, failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton decided to pile into the impeachment debate with her own take on the Mueller Report. “Well, I think what Nancy means, and I agree with what she means, is that it shouldn’t be a preordained conclusion, it shouldn’t be what you do for partisan, political purposes almost outside the framework of the Constitution,” she said during an appearance at the Time 100 Summit in New York. “You don’t put impeachment on the table as the only item on the table and say you’re going to get there no matter what, which is what happened in ’99. Instead, you say we are going to proceed with the seriousness that this demands.”
Dripping with irony, Clinton – whose husband was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice (only to be acquitted the following year by the Senate), and allegedly used her position to gain personal wealth through pay-to-play peddling of her and her husband’s influence – discuss the roadmap to President Trump’s impeachment and said he should have been indicted. “I have a kind of weird personal history about impeachment,” Clinton said to laughter from the audience. But, “not what you’re thinking,” she added, referring to her time as a staff attorney serving on the impeachment inquiry for former President Richard Nixon two decades earlier in 1974.
“I was one of the young lawyers who actually drafted the memo about what is a high crime and misdemeanor, and it was truly meant by our founders to describe actions that undermine the integrity of our government that placed the personal or political interest in a president over the interest of the nation,” she said.
It makes no difference where you stand on the issue(s), this is what you will have to deal with going forward. First off, the Horowitz report next month: “he intends to make criminal referrals as a result of his investigation.”
Whether the Mueller report is definitive very much depends on the people they chose to interview and the questions they chose to ask, which is something that will no doubt be discussed for the next year if not longer. Beyond declaring that the Trump team did not collude with Russia, it cast little light on the possible Deep State role in attempting to vilify Trump and his associates. The investigation of that aspect of the 2016 campaign and the possible prosecutions of former senior government officials that might be a consequence of the investigation will likely be entertaining conspiracy theorists well into 2020. Since Russiagate has already been used and discarded the new inquiry might well be dubbed Trumpgate.
The media has scarcely reported how Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice (DOJ), has been looking into the activities of the principal promoters of the Russiagate fraud. Horowitz, whose report is expected in about a month, has already revealed that he intends to make criminal referrals as a result of his investigation. While the report will only cover malfeasance in the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, the names of intelligence officers involved will no doubt also surface. It is expected that there will be charges leading to many prosecutions and one can hope for jail time for those individuals who corruptly betrayed their oath to the United States Constitution to pursue a political vendetta.
A review of what is already known about the plot against Trump is revealing and no doubt much more will be learned if and when investigators go through emails and phone records. The first phase of the illegal investigation of the Trump associates involved initiating wiretaps without any probable cause. This eventually involved six government intelligence and law enforcement agencies that formed a de facto task force headed by the CIA’s Director John Brennan. Also reportedly involved were the FBI’s James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Department of Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson, and Admiral Michael Rogers who headed the National Security Agency.
Brennan was the key to the operation because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court refused to approve several requests by the FBI to initiate taps on Trump associates and Trump Tower as there was no probable cause to do so but the British and other European intelligence services were legally able to intercept communications linked to American sources. Brennan was able to use his connections with those foreign intelligence agencies, primarily the British GCHQ, to make it look like the concerns about Trump were coming from friendly and allied countries and therefore had to be responded to as part of routine intelligence sharing. As a result, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Gen. Michael Flynn were all wiretapped. And likely there were others. This all happened during the primaries and after Trump became the GOP nominee.
Theresa May has accused Labour of dragging its heels in the bid to find a cross-party compromise to deliver Brexit, even before the talks resumed after Easter. “The discussions with Labour have been serious but had also been difficult in some areas, such as in relation to the timetable for the negotiations,” the prime minister told her cabinet. No 10 fears Jeremy Corbyn does not share Ms May’s desire to avoid next month’s European parliament elections – which would require an agreement within days. The criticism is striking because it is the first time the government has turned on Labour since approaching the opposition three weeks ago.
Until now, it has been Mr Corbyn’s party that has blamed the prime minister for the lack of progress, accusing her of refusing to shift on her red lines – in particular, membership of a customs union. The cabinet discussion took place even before the talks resumed on Tuesday afternoon – but after a failure to hold any meaningful negotiations last week. Ms May’s spokesman told journalists: “The PM said the discussions with Labour had been serious, but had also been difficult in some areas, such as in relation to the timetable for the negotiations. “The PM said that the government’s position was that progress needed to be made urgently as it was vital to deliver on the result of the referendum and for the UK to leave the European Union as soon as possible.”
Labour has accused Theresa May of failing to offer any substantive changes to her Brexit deal in cross-party talks, as Downing Street’s hopes of a breakthrough in time to avoid taking part in European parliamentary elections waned. Brexit talks resumed on Tuesday between a team of ministers and shadow ministers. But Labour sources said the government team again appeared unwilling to countenance changes to the political declaration, which sets out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Instead, ministers offered alternative ways of giving reassurance about the issues Labour has raised, such as on environmental standards and workers’ rights, including through redrafting the withdrawal act implementation bill (WAB) and tweaking separate planned government bills.
Downing Street continues to insist that it hopes to secure parliamentary ratification of a Brexit deal in time to avoid the UK having to participate in next month’s European parliament elections. The government has been considering tabling the WAB as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock, but Labour has rejected the idea. “There’s a sequence; you have got to start with a different deal,” said a source. After the talks, Jeremy Corbyn blamed the government’s refusal to compromise on central issues such as membership of a customs union for the failure to make significant progress. “We’ll continue putting our case but quite honestly there’s got to be change in the government’s approach. They cannot keep on just regurgitating what has already been emphatically rejected three times by parliament, there’s got to be a change,” Corbyn said.
Theresa May has been criticised for allowing Donald Trump to make a state visit in June for D-day commemorations, with MPs orchestrating a campaign to stop the US president addressing parliament. Labour said it “beggars belief” that the government is offering the red-carpet treatment to Trump given his attacks on British and American values. Backbenchers began gathering signatures for a petition aiming to force the cancellation of the trip. The three-day trip starting on 3 June was confirmed by Buckingham Palace and the White House on Tuesday. The initial invitation was extended soon after Trump took office but a planned state visit in 2018, with all its pomp and ceremony, was downgraded to an official visit amid security concerns.
This time, Trump is likely to dine with the Queen, attend discussions with May in Downing Street and join an event in Portsmouth to mark the D-day landings. No 10 said the D-day event would be “one of the greatest British military spectacles in recent history” and would include a flypast of 26 types of RAF aircraft and at least 11 Royal Navy ships in the Solent. May said the visit would emphasise that the UK and US “have a deep and enduring partnership that is rooted in our common history and shared interests”. “We do more together than any two nations in the world and we are both safer and more prosperous because of our cooperation,” May said. “The state visit is an opportunity to strengthen our already close relationship in areas such as trade, investment, security and defence, and to discuss how we can build on these ties in the years ahead.”
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006, but it was the April 5, 2010, publication of “Collateral Murder” that made the whistleblower-publisher a world-wide phenomenon, attracting admirers and enemies. WikiLeaks wrote of the film: “The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.” WikiLeaks noted that Reuters had unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to the video through the Freedom of Information Act in the years after the strike. The day after the release of the footage, The New York Times described WikiLeaks as a once-fringe website that had moved into the big time.
“The site has become a thorn in the side of authorities in the United States and abroad,” it said. “With the Iraq attack video, the clearinghouse for sensitive documents is edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and to advocacy.” Before 2010 WikiLeaks received a few high-profile journalism awards. But in the years since the publication of the video, it has received a slew of honors, including The Sam Adams Award for Integrity. On April 16, WikiLeaks announced a fresh award for its founder, Julian Assange, even as he remains isolated in a London prison. “Collateral Murder” was one of the most prominent releases sourced from then-Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in a military prison as a result.
Manning, who had access to the video, having a Top Secret clearance, first offered the video to The New York Times and The Washington Post, which both turned her down. Manning then turned to WikiLeaks. Manning described the events that led up to her decision to submit the footage to the press in leaked audio of her testimony during her 2013 court-martial. She said Reuters’ inability to get the footage via a freedom-of-information request contributed to her decision to leak it. “The most alarming aspect of the video for me, was the seemingly delight of bloodlust they [the pilots] appeared to have. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging with, and seemed to not value human life in referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
Marjorie Cohn, a legal analyst, is one of those who has described the contents of the footage as evidence of U.S. war crimes. As such she argues that Manning was legally obligated to expose such information. In a 2013 column for Truthout, she cites the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual and the Uniform Code of Military Justice as all setting forth the duty of a service member to disobey unlawful orders. None of the pilots, military officials nor policy-makers have ever been charged or otherwise held responsible for the events shown in the video.
Theresa May is set to enrage her critics within the Conservative party after setting herself up to stay on as prime minister until the winter while presiding over a long delay to Brexit. She told MPs just weeks ago that she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June” as prime minister and said she would resign once this stage of talks was complete – prompting her rivals to gear up for a summer leadership contest. But as EU leaders met on Wednesday night to decide on another lengthy Article 50 extension, a Conservative source said the prime minister’s promised departure was tied to passing the withdrawal agreement rather than a specific date.
After six hours of talks late into the night leaders agreed to extend the new Brexit deadline until 31 October, with a potential summit in June to review the situation. Ms May tried to play down the consequences of the expected long extension as she arrived at the meeting on Wednesday evening, telling reporters that “what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point we ratify the withdrawal agreement” rather than the length. Asked whether the 30 June date was still a red line for the prime minister, the Tory source said: “She understands that the Conservative Party feels a sense that new leadership is required for the second phase of negotiations. That was the commitment she gave to her parliamentary colleagues and that’s one she stands by.”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, enraged fellow leaders after standing alone against a long extension to Britain’s membership of the EU. Macron insisted on speaking last during a working dinner in Brussels on Wednesday night during which he set his stall against a longer extension up to 31 December backed by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Over a dinner of scallop salad, cod loin and macadamia nut parfait, it soon emerged that France was nearly isolated, with only a handful of member states, such as Belgium, sounding sympathetic to his arguments. The French president angered some EU leaders with his attempt to block a long extension of nine to 12 months that was favoured by the majority.
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, told the room that Macron’s opposition meant that “we are now only solving French domestic problems”. German officials were said to be “very irritated” with Macron. France argued that a long delay risked serious damage to the EU, an outcome Paris said was worse than no-deal. “We do not want to import Britain’s political crisis into the EU,” said an Élysée official. Theresa May’s talks with Jeremy Corbyn were not a justification “that we have a long extension without guarantees for the functioning of the European Union”. The French source said no-deal could not be ruled out, arguing that damaging the running of the EU was the worst possible outcome. “The default position is no deal. Endangering the functioning of the EU is not preferable to no-deal.”
After the new deadline was announced, Macron said leaders had found “the best possible compromise” because the 31 October date preserved EU unity, allowed the British more time and preserved “the good functioning of the European Union”.
We’re in Brussels reminding Europe’s leaders of the donkeys responsible for this Brexit shambles. SOUND ON.
Car production in Britain could collapse by almost half by the mid-2020s in a no-deal Brexit scenario, with plant closures triggering job losses across the country, according to an Oxford University study. Matthias Holweg, an automotive expert at Oxford, said Britain leaving the EU without a deal and trading on World Trade Organization terms would trigger a big fall in output. According to the study, car production has already slipped by about 9% since the EU referendum in 2016. Production volumes have fallen from more than 1.7m cars per year to less than 1.5m, but could drop further to about 900,000 a year in 2026 if Britain leaves without a deal.
Holweg said the UK’s current volumes of production could not be sustained under a WTO trading regime with the EU, as higher levels of border friction and tariffs would render UK car manufacturing less competitive. Car plants across the country would at first be starved of investment before their owners eventually closed them. The study found that investment has already dropped by about 80% over the past three years. “This would invariably lead to a hollowing-out of the UK’s component supply chain, effectively condemning the automotive industry to a slow ‘death by a thousand cuts’,” said Holweg, professor of operations management at Oxford University’s Saïd business school. “The great and present danger is that the decisions on where to produce new models will continue to go against the UK.”
Former FBI Agent Peter Strzok could face ‘serious’ charges for his involvement and actions in the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to send classified emails, as well as the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s campaign, multiple sources with knowledge of Strzok’s actions told SaraACarter.com. Further, sources contend that the nearly year long investigation by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, will reveal explosive information and shed light on alleged malfeasance by FBI and DOJ officials directly involved in the Russia investigation. The Inspector General’s report may be completed as early as May or June, according to testimony provided this week by Attorney General William Barr.
Strzok who has already been investigated by Horowitz for his role in the FBI’s Clinton investigation is also expected to be named in the IG’s upcoming report on how the Russia investigation was handled by the FBI. He was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017 and then fired from the FBI in August, 2018. He was fired by the FBI after an extensive review by Horowitz’s office into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and was removed from Mueller’s team after the IG discovered his anti-Trump text messages to his paramour former FBI Attorney Lisa Page.
“There are a number of individuals who are looking at Peter Strzok’s actions and inactions and how those actions affected both of the investigations he was involved in,” said a U.S. official, with knowledge. “Further evaluation of what Peter Strzok did or did not do needs to be evaluated thoroughly.” The official did not reveal what Strzok’s “actions or inactions” may have been but said “obstruction, is a serious concern.” Strzok “is in hot water,” said another government official, with knowledge. “I’m certain he’s not the only one.”
Attorney General William Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that spying did occur during the 2016 presidential election, but he needs to “explore” whether or not it was “predicated.” “News just broke today that you have a special team looking into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? I wonder if you can share with this committee who’s on that team, why you felt the need to form that kind of a team and what you intend to be the scope of their investigation,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked Barr. “As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”
“A lot of this has already been investigated, and a substantial portion of it has been investigated and is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General at the department, but one of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the department and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed,” Barr said. Shaheen asked Barr why he felt “a need to do that.” “For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections,” Barr said.
Readers of The Washington Post on Monday were treated to more of the same from editorial page chief Fred Hiatt. Hiatt, who won his spurs by promoting misleading “intelligence” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and suffered no consequences, is at it again. This time he is trying to adjust to the fading prospect of a Deus ex Mueller to lessen Hiatt’s disgrace for being among the most shameless in promoting the Trump-Russia collusion narrative. He is not giving up. When you are confident you will not lose your job so long as you adhere to the agenda of the growing Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex (MICIMATT if you will), you need not worry about being a vanguard for the corporate media. It is almost as though Hiatt is a tenured professor in an endowed chair honoring Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who perhaps did most to bring us Iraqi WMD.
In his Monday column Hiatt warned: “Trump was elected with the assistance of Russian spies and trolls, which he openly sought and celebrated. But he did not (or so we are told) secretly conspire with them.” In effect, Hiatt is saying, soto voce: “Fie on former (now-de-canonized) Saint Robert of Mueller; we at the Post and our colleagues at The New York Times, CNN et al. know better, just because we’ve been saying so for more than two years.” Times executive editor Dean Baquet said, about the backlash to the Times‘ “collusion” coverage: “I have no regrets. It’s not our job to determine whether or not there was illegality.” CNN President Jeff Zucker said: “We are not investigators. We are journalists.” (One wonders what investigative journalist Bob Parry, who uncovered much of Iran-Contra and founded this site, would have thought of that last one.)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been the subject of a sophisticated spying operation in the Ecuadorean embassy where he has been holed up since 2012, the group said on Wednesday. “Wikileaks has uncovered an extensive spying operation against Julian Assange within the Ecuadorean embassy,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief said, adding that Assange’s “eviction” from the embassy could happen at any time. Hrafnsson did not immediately give evidence for his claims. Reuters was unable to independently verify the allegations. Assange’s relations with his hosts have chilled since Ecuador accused him of leaking information about President Lenin Moreno’s personal life. Moreno has said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.
To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined the security of the United States. “We know that there was a request to hand over visitors’ logs from the embassy and video recordings from within the security cameras in the embassy,” Hrafnsson told reporters, adding that he assumed the information had been handed over to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
WikiLeaks has said it has uncovered a surveillance operation against Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy and that images, documents and videos gathered have been offered for sale. Spanish police were said to have mounted a sting operation against unnamed individuals in Madrid who offered the material for sale in what lawyers and colleagues of Assange said on Wednesday was an attempt at extortion. Some of the material came from video cameras with a capacity to record audio and which had been installed last year, a press conference organised by WikiLeaks was told. WikiLeaks said material including video, audio, copies of private legal documents and a medical report had turned up in Spain, where a group was said to have threatened to start publishing unless they were paid €3m.
The Guardian reported last year that Ecuador had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar surveillance operation to protect and support Assange at the embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police. Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said he had met four individuals, one of whom he was told was a ringleader and who had prior convictions. There was a possibility that at least one was not a Spanish national, he added. The matter is now in the hands of an investigating Spanish magistrate, according to the whistleblowing website.
Hrafnsson said the surveillance at the embassy – which had led to Assange living a “Truman Show existence” – was part of an escalation designed to result in Assange being extradited to the US. “If you connect the dots it’s easy to draw that picture,” said Hrafnsson, who was appearing with the barrister Jennifer Robinson and Fidel Narváez, a former consul of Ecuador in London. It remained unclear whether Assange was planning to leave the embassy of his own accord at any point soon. His legal team said they would still need assurances from the UK government that Assange would not face onward extradition to the US. WikiLeaks said the surveillance had constituted a total invasion of privacy, which had included recordings of Assange’s meetings with his lawyers and doctor.
Ecuador caught in espionage operation against its refugee Julian Assange which:
1. Spied on his legal, medical visits
2. Stole legal notes during the middle of a court hearing against them
3. Secretly cooperated with US
4. Tried to extort him for 3M Euro
A Spanish judge is investigating an alleged extortion scheme in which suspects in Madrid offered video and audio surveillance to the editor of WikiLeaks in exchange for €3 million, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday. The surveillance was taken over the past year inside the Ecuador embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has legally been granted political asylum since 2012, said Kristinn Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks editor, at a press conference in the British capital. Included in the “trove” of material was a copy of a legal document regarding Assange’s defense strategy that was briefly left behind in a conference room in the embassy, Hrafnsson said. “It is a grave and serious concern when legal meetings are being spied upon and legal documents are stolen,” he said. “That is something that not even prisoners have to endure.”
Assange was also filmed being examined by his doctor in the embassy, Hrafnsson said. “Nobody expected that this was recorded and stored and found its way to some dubious individuals in Spain,” he said. Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, called it a breach of attorney-client privilege. “The documents you have seen [presented at the press conference] demonstrates just how much surveillance he has been under and it is a breach of confidence for us, his lawyers, and his doctors to provide medical care in the embassy,” Robinson said. “This is a severe breach of attorney-client privilege and fundamentally undermines our ability to defend and provide defense to Julian Assange.”
Hrafnsson communicated with the alleged extortioners and was given samples of what they possessed, the WikiLeaks editor said. He then traveled to Spain and secretly videotaped a meeting with “four individuals” in which Hrafnsson learned the extent of the material that they possessed. They told them him that €3 million was “a good deal” as they had had offers of €9 million for the material. Hrafnsson then went to the Spanish police who opened an investigation. He said he knew the identity of one of the four who had a prior conviction on similar charges and was seen as the “ringleader.”
Aitor Martinez, the Assange lawyer who said he’d briefly left the legal document in the embassy conference room that was copied, then took part in a sting operation with the police. He wore a wire as he met with the alleged extortioners in Madrid, Hrafnsson said. A full investigation by a special extortion team was then opened and the case is now in the hands of an investigative judge, he said. “Extortion is a serious matter,” Hrafnsson said, “but of greater concern to me is that this is material gathered by spying by the government of Lenin Moreno and officials who work on his behalf against an individual who was granted diplomatic protection by the Ecuadorian government.”
Central banks are running the risk of a severe financial crisis through policies aimed at boosting short-term economic growth, the International Monetary Fund has warned. In its half-yearly global financial stability report, the IMF said the removal of the threat of higher interest rates had prompted a rapid recovery in financial markets after last autumn’s turbulence but would lead to a fresh buildup in already high levels of debt. The report expressed concern about a sharp increase in lower quality corporate bonds, the vulnerability of European banks to falling government bond prices, debt levels in China, flows of hot money in and out of developing countries, and the risk of house price crashes.
The report said the tightening in financial conditions during the final three months of 2018 – when markets were unnerved by the possibility of the US Federal Reserve tightening policy throughout 2019 – had been too short-lived to have a material impact on the buildup of vulnerabilities. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci, two IMF officials, said in a blogpost released alongside the report that policymakers faced a dilemma as they sought to counter a slowdown in the global economy that has seen the IMF cut its growth forecast to 3.3% this year.
“In the United States, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP is at record-high levels. In several European countries, banks are overloaded with government bonds. In China, bank profitability is declining, and capital levels remain low at small and medium-size lenders,” Adrian and Natalucci said. “By taking a patient approach to monetary policy, central banks can accommodate growing downside risks to the economy. But if financial conditions remain easy for too long, vulnerabilities will continue to build, and the odds of a sharp drop in economic growth at some later point will be higher.”
My fancy-schmancy Fed Hawk-o-Meter jumped 18% from 22 to 26, after having been on a downtrend for four Fed meetings in a row. Something’s up. The Fed Hawk-o-Meter checks the minutes of the FOMC meetings for signs that the Fed sees the economy as strong and that rates should rise; or that the economy is OK but not strong enough to raise rates further; or that the economy is spiraling down to where rates need to be cut. It quantifies and visualizes what the Fed wishes to communicate to the markets by counting how often “strong,” “strongly,” and “stronger” appear in the minutes to describe the economy. In the minutes of the March 19-20 meeting, released this afternoon, those words appear 26 times, up 18% from 22 times in the prior minutes:
The average frequency per meeting minutes of “strong,” “strongly,” and “stronger” between January 2013 and December 2017 was 8.7 times. The 26 mentions in the March-meeting minutes were 226% the pre-redline average. The 18% jump in the March minutes from the January minutes is particularly striking because the Fed had spent the prior four meetings backing off ever so gingerly its bullish assessment of the economy. But in March, the direction changed. Yet the reading still hasn’t jumped back to the peak levels of last August, when the Fed, with the economy running red hot, was telling the markets that it would raise rates four times in the year.
The current reading of 26 is just above the average over the past 11 meetings minutes of 25.2, starting with the December 2017 meeting, when the Hawk-o-Meter started redlining.
Edwin Hardeman and his wife, Mary, never expected that they would become de facto leaders of the federal court fight against the world’s most widely used weedkiller. They just wanted Monsanto to acknowledge the dangers – and potentially save other families from the horror they endured. “This is something that was egregious to me. It was my personal battle and I wanted to take it full circle,” said Edwin, whose cancer is now in remission. “It’s been a long journey.” Mary bristled when she thought about Monsanto’s continued defense of its chemical: “They should have been with us when we were in the chemo ward … not knowing what to do to relieve the pain.“ I get angry,” she added. “Very angry.”
Monsanto first put Roundup on the market in 1974, presenting the herbicide, which uses a chemical called glyphosate, as a breakthrough that was effective at killing weeds and safe. The product has earned the corporation billions in revenue a year, and glyphosate is now ubiquitous in the environment – with traces in water, food and farmers’ urine. But research has repeatedly challenged Monsanto’s assertions that Roundup is safe, culminating in a key 2015 ruling by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (Iarc), which said glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The Iarc classification opened the floodgates to litigation alleging that Roundup exposure caused their NHL, a cancer that affects the immune system.
Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees. Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence. “This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.
According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size. The experiments, described on March 27 in a Beijing journal, National Science Review, and first reported by Chinese media, remain far from pinpointing the secrets of the human mind or leading to an uprising of brainy primates. Instead, several Western scientists, including one who collaborated on the effort, called the experiments reckless and said they questioned the ethics of genetically modifying primates, an area where China has seized a technological edge. “The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,” says James Sikela, a geneticist who carries out comparative studies among primates at the University of Colorado.
Astronomers have finally glimpsed the blackness of a black hole. By stringing together a global network of radio telescopes, they have for the first time produced a picture of an event horizon — a black hole’s perilous edge — against a backdrop of swirling light. “We have seen the gates of hell at the end of space and time,” said astrophysicist Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, at a press conference in Brussels. “What you’re looking at is a ring of fire created by the deformation of space-time. Light goes around, and looks like a circle.” The images — of a glowing, ring-like structure — show the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy M87, which is around 16 megaparsecs (55 million light years) away and 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun.
They reveal, in greater detail than ever before, the event horizon — the surface beyond which gravity is so strong that nothing that crosses it, even light, can ever climb back out. The highly anticipated results, comparable to recognizing a doughnut on the Moon’s surface, were unveiled today by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration in six simultaneous press conferences on four continents. The findings were also published in a suite of papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters on 10 April. [..] Nearly a century ago, physicists first deduced that black holes should exist from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but most of the evidence so far has been indirect. The EHT has now made a new, spectacular confirmation of those predictions.
The team observed two supermassive black holes — M87’s and Sagittarius A*, the void at the Milky Way’s centre — over five nights in April 2017. They mustered enough resolution to capture the distant objects by linking up eight radio observatories across the globe — from Hawaii to the South Pole — and each collected more data than the Large Hadron Collider does in a year. It took two years of work to piece the pictures together.