Mar 272019
 


Pablo Picasso Mandolin and guitar 1924

 

The EU’s Censorious Copyright Directive Will Create Two Internets (CapX)
All New UK Cars To Have Speed Limiters By 2022 Under EU Plans (G.)
Brexit Extension Could Be Until 31 March 2020 (G.)
Brexiters Demand May Exit Date To Back Deal (G.)
EU Cannot Betray ‘Increasing Majority’ Who Want To Cancel Brexit – Tusk (G.)
McConnell Backs Push For Investigation Of Russia Probe Missteps (R.)
Mueller Report Details To Be Issued In ‘Weeks, Not Months’ (R.)
Ecuador Ambassador Tells Assange to ‘Shut up’ and Accept Spying (GP)
Boeing 737 MAX Software Fix: Easy To Upload, Harder To Approve (R.)
US Jury To Determine Liability, Damages In Roundup Cancer Trial (R.)
Widespread Losses Of Pollinating Insects Revealed Across Britain (G.)

 

 

Behemoth overreach. It’s like they’re trying to tell the British that leaving is a really good idea.

Sure, there are things that can be improved, but Brussels wants to do BIG.

The EU’s Censorious Copyright Directive Will Create Two Internets (CapX)

The European Parliament’s approval of the Copyright Directive today is the end of the internet as we know it. This new regulation creates substantial new controls on what we can share online which threaten freedom of expression, undermine creativity, and cement the dominance of technology giants. The Copyright Directive will create two internets. The first, a heavily censored version for European users, including filters to prevent you from uploading content. The second, a free internet where creativity is encouraged, for everyone else. The directive represents everything that’s wrong with the EU’s policymaking process. It was written at a substantial distance from Europeans, heavily influenced by lobbyists and national compromises.


There is a serious lack of accountability. The opposition to the directive was substantial, but it didn’t seem to matter. Over 200 intellectual property academics have warned that the directive serves “narrow sectional interests”. Even substantial parts of the European music industry have raised concerns about the scheme. The Change.org petition opposing the directive has reached over 5.1 million signatories, the most in the website’s history. Last weekend – while some Brits were marching to stay in the EU – thousands of Europeans took to the street in Save the Internet marches.

Read more …

More overreach.

“Safety campaigners described the move as one of the biggest leaps forward in 50 years and said it could save 25,000 lives by 2037..”

Oh yeah? How many lives could be saved by designing your infrastructure to make cars unnecessary?

All New UK Cars To Have Speed Limiters By 2022 Under EU Plans (G.)

All new cars sold in the UK and Europe are to be fitted with devices to automatically stop drivers from exceeding the speed limit under sweeping changes to vehicle safety rules provisionally agreed by the EU. Although Britain may no longer be part of the EU when the rules come into effect, the UK regulator, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has said it will mirror safety standards for vehicles in the UK. The speed limiter is one of a range of safety features to be made mandatory from 2022, along with automated emergency braking, electronic data recorders and improved visibility built into lorries for drivers to see vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians around the vehicle.


Safety campaigners described the move as one of the biggest leaps forward in 50 years and said it could save 25,000 lives by 2037. The package of measures needs to be ratified by the European parliament, which is likely by September. The speed limiter device, called intelligent speed assistance, or ISA, uses GPS data and sign recognition cameras to detect speed limits where the car is travelling, and then will sound a warning and automatically slow down the vehicle if it is exceeding the limit. However, drivers will be able to override the device simply by pushing hard on the accelerator, reassuring some motoring groups that have argued that in certain situations – such as when trying to swiftly overtake a vehicle in front – speeding up could be safer.

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A long extension appears to be the only way forward.

Brexit Extension Could Be Until 31 March 2020 (G.)

The EU has pencilled in April Fools’ Day 2020 as a leading option for Britain’s first day outside the bloc, should the UK government ask Brussels for a lengthy extension of article 50 in three weeks’ time, it can be revealed. The date was to be offered at the leaders’ summit last week if Theresa May had followed through on her promise to request a short extension in the event of passing her Brexit deal, and a longer one should it be rejected again by the House of Commons. Such was the disapproval of her cabinet, the prime minister only sought a short delay until 30 June in her formal letter. She was subsequently given an unconditional extension until 12 April, or a longer one to 22 May in the unlikely event of the withdrawal agreement being ratified this week.


Without having received a request from Downing Street for a prolonged extension, the EU’s leaders instead left open the offer of a lengthy delay should there be a new political process or event before 12 April, such as a general election or second referendum, but they did not stipulate its potential length. A one-year extension, ending on 31 March 2020, was, however, written into internal EU papers before the summit as an offer that could be made to May should she formally seek a longer extension, sources said. It will likely remain an option if May comes back to Brussels having failed to ratify her deal. Such a UK departure date would ensure the British government would not have any opportunity to meddle in the EU’s long-term plans, including its budget, sources suggested.

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The same deal they fought so hard against.

Brexiters Demand May Exit Date To Back Deal (G.)

Theresa May is under intense pressure to set out a timetable for her departure from Downing Street to seal the support of Brexit hardliners for her twice-rejected deal. The prime minister will address Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday as the House of Commons prepares to vote on alternatives to her Brexit deal. There are renewed signs that leavers are reluctantly preparing to back her in a third meaningful vote rather than risk seeing Brexit slip away altogether. MPs will hold a series of “indicative votes” on alternative Brexit options on Wednesday after three ministers resigned to back a motion to seize control of the parliamentary timetable from the government.


Leavers fear this could lead to what May has a called a “slow Brexit” – a lengthy delay to the article 50 process, leading to a closer future relationship with the EU. Options for MPs to consider may include revocation of article 50, a second referendum, leaving with no deal and backing a Norway-style deal that would include single market membership and a customs arrangement. Boris Johnson appeared to pave the way for a climbdown over May’s deal on Tuesday night. Asked at a Telegraph event whether he would vote for it, the leading Brexiter said: “I am not there yet.” He described it as a “terrible deal, something which I bitterly opposed for a long time”. However, he said he needed “to see that the second phase of the negotiations will be different from the first” and highlighted the “appreciable risk” that not voting for the deal could lead to no Brexit.

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“In a pantomime moment, Farage turned to those sat behind him to ask whether they really wanted him to return as an MEP.”

EU Cannot Betray ‘Increasing Majority’ Who Want To Cancel Brexit – Tusk (G.)

Donald Tusk has issued a rallying call to the “increasing majority” of British people who want to cancel Brexit and stay in the European Union. In a stirring intervention, the European council president hailed those who marched on the streets of London and the millions who are petitioning the government to revoke article 50. Speaking to the European parliament, Tusk reprimanded those who voiced concerns about a potential lengthy extension to article 50 in the event of the Commons rejecting the withdrawal agreement again this week.

Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you. “Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union”

To heckling from Ukip MEPs, Tusk went on: “They may feel that they are not sufficiently represented by the UK Parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans.” The former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, responded to Tusk by describing him as “deluded” and claiming that a second referendum would deliver a larger majority for leave. Initial suggestions that 1 million people marched last weekend in favour of remaining in the EU have been questioned in recent days. In a pantomime moment, Farage turned to those sat behind him to ask whether they really wanted him to return as an MEP. He ended his speech to the parliament by appealing to the EU’s leaders to “get the British out”.

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2nd Special Counsel.

McConnell Backs Push For Investigation Of Russia Probe Missteps (R.)

The top Republican in the U.S. Senate said on Tuesday he supported a push by a Republican colleague for an inquiry into potential law enforcement missteps in a probe of possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. “I think Senator (Lindsey) Graham has raised a legitimate question,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. “I think it’s not inappropriate for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over the Justice Department, to investigate possible misbehaviors.”


Graham, who heads the panel, said on Monday he wanted to see a special counsel appointed to look into the origins of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page. The warrant was based in part on information in a dossier on Trump compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who co-founded a private intelligence firm. Graham said he would use the panel’s subpoena power if necessary, whether or not a special counsel is appointed, to look into the matter.

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Barr’s on his way to becoming America’s new punchbag.

Mueller Report Details To Be Issued In ‘Weeks, Not Months’ (R.)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr plans to issue a public version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election within “weeks, not months,” a Justice Department official said on Tuesday. Barr released his own summary of the report’s central findings on Sunday, but said he needed more time to review the report to determine how much of it could be made public. He relayed his plans to release a public version of the report in the coming weeks to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham during a phone call this week, the official said.


The official said there is no plan to share an advanced copy of the report with the White House. Some portions of Mueller’s confidential report contain materials that arose during secret grand jury proceedings. Federal rules generally prohibit the government from releasing that information to the public. The report also contains information about ongoing criminal investigations that Mueller referred to other U.S. attorneys offices. Barr has not yet revealed a precise date for when the final public version might be ready.

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Cassandra Fairbanks’s intensely sad story.

Ecuador Ambassador Tells Assange to ‘Shut up’ and Accept Spying (GP)

It was meant to be a routine visit by a journalist to another journalist. Instead, I found myself locked in a cold, surveilled room for over an hour by Ecuadorian officials, as a furious argument raged between the country’s ambassador and Julian Assange on Monday. The room was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Julian Assange currently lives under the ostensible protection of political asylum. Yet the WikiLeaks publisher was barred from entering the room, where he was supposed to join me for a pre-approved meeting, because he refused to submit to a full-body search and continuous surveillance. In the fireworks that followed, Assange accused the ambassador of being an agent of the United States government.


The crackdown on visitors was felt before I even entered the embassy. It’s the third time I’ve visited in the past year, and each time the atmosphere seems progressively worse. Just like my previous visit, since new rules for visitors were enacted, I couldn’t take my phone into the meeting without giving the Ecuadorian officials a swathe of data. If you want to take it in with you, they request its brand, model, serial number, IMEI number, and telephone number. I was also advised that Ecuador could not be trusted to hold my phone while I met with Assange, so I left it behind and walked to the embassy phoneless, several minutes early to make sure I was on time.

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This is not going to be easy.

Boeing 737 MAX Software Fix: Easy To Upload, Harder To Approve (R.)

Boeing engineers armed with laptops and thumb drives will be able to upload a crucial software fix for the 737 MAX anti-stall system in about an hour. That’s the easy part. Before Boeing’s workhorse of the future can resume flying, the upgrade must first be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then by wary regulators around the globe who have grounded it in the wake of two deadly crashes.R egulators in China, Europe and Canada have signaled they will not rubber stamp an FAA decision to allow the planes back into the air but conduct their own reviews. With the FAA under pressure for its role in certifying the newest 737, and other regulators challenging its leadership of the airline safety system, Boeing’s money-spinning jet could remain parked for months.


“We are guessing this thing’s not going to be put to bed until the July or August time frame,” said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Smith Capital Group, which holds shares in Boeing. The world’s largest planemaker has been working on the upgrade for its MCAS stall-prevention system since October’s Lion Air crash, when pilots are believed to have lost a tug of war with software that repeatedly pushed the nose down. Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told the U.S. Senate Tuesday in written testimony that the agency will agree to allow the 737 MAX to return to service “only when the FAA’s analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is appropriate.”

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“The case is only the second of more than 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States..”

US Jury To Determine Liability, Damages In Roundup Cancer Trial (R.)

A lawyer for a man who said his cancer was caused by Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup on Tuesday urged U.S. jurors to “send a message” to the company by holding it liable and awarding millions in damages. The case is only the second of more than 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States as litigation setbacks and a prior jury verdict against the company have sent Bayer shares plunging. “A responsible company would test its product. A responsible company would tell their customers if they knew it causes cancer,” Aimee Wagstaff, a lawyer for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, said during closing arguments on Tuesday. She called conduct by Bayer’s Monsanto unit reckless and offensive.


Bayer, which bought Roundup maker Monsanto in a $63 billion deal last year, denies the allegations, saying decades of studies by independent scientists have shown glyphosate and Roundup to be safe for human use. In Hardeman’s case, the jury on March 19 found Roundup to have been a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That verdict followed a first phase of the trial that focused exclusively on science. The decision allowed the trial to proceed to a second phase in which the same jury will decide if Bayer is liable. In the second phase lawyers for Hardeman were able to present previously excluded internal documents allegedly showing the company’s efforts to influence scientists and regulators about the popular product’s safety.

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These findings have become our new normal: “the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980.”

Widespread Losses Of Pollinating Insects Revealed Across Britain (G.)

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which scientists say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature. The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11. A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.


Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Read more …

Dec 202018
 


Giovanni Bellini Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and Female Saint 1500-04

 

It’s 100 days to Brexit (Ind.)
Powell Breaks The Market (ZH)
A Major Technical Breakdown Just Occurred In Stocks (Colombo)
Peter Schiff : Not A Bear Market But ‘A House Of Cards The Fed Built’ (MW)
Asian Shares Battered After Fed Raises Rates For Fourth Time (G.)
Short-Term Funding Bill Announced To Stop Trump’s Government Shutdown (Ind.)
Trump Plans Full Withdrawal Of US Troops From Syria (AFP)
Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria (CN)
US Occupation of Middle East Doesn’t Suppress Terrorism, It Causes It (Murray)
Big Pharma Returning To US Price Hikes In January After Pause (R.)
Italy Avoids EU Sanctions After Reaching 2019 Budget Agreement (G.)
French Police Threaten To Join Protesters (NW)
London’s Gatwick Airport Shut Down After Drones Spotted Overhead (AP)
Der Spiegel Says Top Journalist Faked Stories For Years (G.)
Finless Porpoise, China’s Smiling Angel, Fights To Survive (AFP)

 

 

Yes it is. And so of course the UK talked about one thing only. Did Corbyn call Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’ or did he say ‘stupid people’ about a group of Tories, as a whole contingent of lipreaders claimed?

They sure know what’s important, and what not.

It’s 100 days to Brexit (Ind.)

The vote of the House of Commons on the Brexit deal will now be in the week beginning 14 January, the prime minister confirmed on Monday. She hopes that her MPs are slowly coming round to the deal as the least worst option. She may also hope that Jeremy Corbyn gives his MPs a free vote, in which case enough of them may vote for her deal as a way of avoiding another referendum. It still seems more likely that Theresa May will lose, in which case the Brexit timetable will slip further. She would probably then ask the Commons to vote again after it had rejected the other options.

The one that is easiest to eliminate would be that of leaving the EU without a deal, even if it were dressed up as a “managed no deal” – at least, it ought to be easy to eliminate this option, but, until all the hoops have been jumped through, a no-deal Brexit remains the default, which is why there was such a fuss about no-deal planning at yesterday’s cabinet. The more difficult course for parliament to rule out is that of postponing Brexit and holding a referendum. If Corbyn backs a final say referendum, a Commons vote could be close, but, if May can defeat that option, she could then ask MPs to vote again on her deal. That seems to be her plan: to wear parliament down. That way she might finally win the vote at a second attempt a week later, in the week beginning 21 January – or even after that.

By then, the country would be running out of time to complete Brexit by 29 March. The problem is that a vote to approve the deal, important though it is, is only one of the things that need to be done to take us out of the EU. Once the deal has been approved, parliament also has to pass legislation to give effect to the withdrawal agreement in UK law. This will be called the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – yet another bill that sounds similar to all the others. It will be a complex and contentious bill that will be tricky to get through a hung parliament. In particular, it will contain a mechanism to entrench parts of the withdrawal agreement in UK law and make it hard for future parliaments to change them.

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Well, not really. Powell and his predecessors built such a huge zombie that it can’t be called a market. So he’s not breaking a market but a zombie, and how exactly can that be a bad thing?

Powell Breaks The Market (ZH)

“Everything was awesome” and then Jay Powell said… Some years ago, we took away the lesson that the markets were very sensitive to news about the balance sheet, so we thought carefully about how to normalize it and thought to have it on automatic pilot, and use rates to adjust to incoming data. That has been a good decision, I think, I don’t see us changing that…. we don’t see balance sheet runoff as creating problems” And everything broke…

Overnight futures show hopeful buying – “surely The Fed will deliver and capitulate… for goodness sake, someone has to rescue my FANG portfolio!!??” – But The Fed did not – cutting their rate outlook by a mere one hike, with plenty still seeing 3 hikes ahead in 2019…

The market now expects 18bps of RATE CUTS in 2020!!!

And Futures collapsed…

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Same here with my buddie Jesse: comparing what happens with today’s zombie, with functioning markets of the past, is dangerous and of limited value.

A Major Technical Breakdown Just Occurred In Stocks (Colombo)

The much-anticipated December Fed meeting has finally come and gone, and the stock market did not like what it heard. The Fed raised rates by 0.25% and cut its expectation for 2019 rate hikes from three to two. Because the Fed didn’t sound as dovish as many investors would have liked, the S&P 500 promptly fell 1.54% to a fresh 2018 low. From a technical perspective, today’s action is extremely concerning because the S&P 500 broke the key 2,550 to 2,600 support zone that I’ve been showing for the past couple months. Today’s breakdown increases the probability of further bearish action unless the index somehow manages to close back above that zone.

The longer-term S&P 500 chart shows how critical today’s breakdown is. Today’s breakdown is the second important technical breakdown in recent months (the first one being the break below the trendline that formed in early-2016, which I said was a bad omen). Assuming today’s breakdown remains intact, 2,100 (the 2015 and 2016 highs) is the next price target and support level to watch.

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Peter Schiff appears to agree with me, only he calls it a house of cards, not a zombie.

Peter Schiff : Not A Bear Market But ‘A House Of Cards The Fed Built’ (MW)

Where in the world is Peter Schiff, as the stock market entered an apparent unraveling phase? Find the chief executive of Euro Pacific Capital, a longtime gold bug and market pundit, on a beach in Puerto Rico, where he’s taken up residence as he watches the equity market get rocked. “I’m watching the U.S. economy implode from the beach,” Schiff told MarketWatch during a recent phone interview. “We’re in a lot of trouble,” he said. “This isn’t a bear market, we’re in a house of cards that the Fed built,” he said. Indeed, despite recent attempts to rebound, the Dow Jones is on track for its worst year since 2008 — down by about 3.5% — when the financial crisis brought global markets to their knees, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

The same goes for the S&P 500 which would also notch its worst year in a decade, if its roughly 4% decline thus far this year hold. Schiff is a polarizing figure on Wall Street, a man that critics say has harbored a persistent and unrealized post-crisis narrative for the Fed’s monetary policy, with predictions of soaring inflation and a dollar collapse. However, the prominent investor should be worthy of investors’ attention, on the back of his prescient calls ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, which earned him plaudits as one of the few able to spot a global economic crisis emanating from the housing market.

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“The Fed’s been a huge friend of the stock market and they are now a little bit of an enemy and will probably become worse of an enemy..”

Asian Shares Battered After Fed Raises Rates For Fourth Time (G.)

Asian stock markets have taken a battering after the US Federal Reserve voted to raise borrowing costs for the fourth time this year, signalling a further squeeze on liquidity around the world. In Tokyo, the Nikkei closed down nearly 3% to its lowest point for 14 months as the Fed’s pledge to continue with “gradual” rate hikes next year sent shivers through financial markets. Shares in Hong Kong and Seoul were both down more than 1% while stocks in Sydney finished at a two-year low. Futures trading pointed to a drop of 2% in the FTSE100 index in London and the Dax in Frankfurt when when the markets open on Thursday morning.

Investors’ confidence that the global economy is headed for a significant slowdown was further weakened when China’s central bank introduced a new lending facility for small private businesses, which was seen as a targeted rate cut designed to kickstart the spluttering economy. The move by the People’s Bank of China shows the two biggest economies are out of step with Beijing responding to a rate hike in the US with a de facto cut. The Shanghai Composite share index was down nearly 1% in afternoon trade while the yuan wad fixed 0.22% lower against the US dollar. [..] “The Fed’s been a huge friend of the stock market and they are now a little bit of an enemy and will probably become worse of an enemy before this is all over,” Bob Doll, Nuveen chief equity strategist and senior portfolio manager, told Bloomberg.

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McConnell saves the day…

Short-Term Funding Bill Announced To Stop Trump’s Government Shutdown (Ind.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced a short-term spending bill to finance the US government and avoid a shutdown at the end of the week Mr McConnell, the leading Republican in the Senate, said that the funding bill known as a continuing resolution “will ensure continuous funding for the federal government” until 8 February. The short-term bill needs to be approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives before it can proceed to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law. Mr McConnell’s bill comes as Congress races against time before funding for the government runs out on Friday at midnight, amid a contentious push by Mr Trump to make $5bn worth in funding for his controversial border wall a requirement for any spending agreement.

But, while Mr Trump had indicated that he would take responsibility for a shutdown in order to make a point about the wall, the White House has since stepped back from that threat. We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion”, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday. On the Senate floor, Mr McConnell lashed out at Democrats, who will reclaim their House majority in January, for failing to give Mr Trump any of the $5bn he has asked for. “This seems to be the reality of our political moment,” Mr McConnell said. “It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy.”

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We’re going to see endless and contradictory ‘analyses’ of this. It’s already drawn out the likes of Lindsey Graham and Mario Rubio and exposed them as deep state soldiers.

Trump Plans Full Withdrawal Of US Troops From Syria (AFP)

The United States will withdraw its troops from Syria, a US official told AFP on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump said America has “defeated ISIS” in the war-ravaged country. The stunning move will have extraordinary geopolitical ramifications and throws into question the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the Republican president tweeted. The US official told AFP that Trump’s decision was finalized Tuesday. “Full withdrawal, all means all,” the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from all of Syria.

Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS. The official would not provide a timeline for a withdrawal, saying only: “We will ensure force protection is adequately maintained, but as quickly as possible.” Echoing Trump, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said IS has been defeated territorially, noting the US-led coalition that includes dozens of nations would continue fighting IS. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in a statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”

[..] Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the president’s decision was shortsighted. “President @realDonaldTrump is right to want to contain Iranian expansion,” Graham said on Twitter. “However, withdrawal of our forces in Syria mightily undercuts that effort and put our allies, the Kurds at risk.” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, called the decision “extraordinarily short-sighted and naive.” “This move will look like a ‘withdrawal,’ not a ‘victory,’ and yet more evidence of the dangerous unpredictability of the US president,” Lister said. “This is not just a dream scenario for ISIS, but also for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, all of whom stand to benefit substantially from a US withdrawal.”

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It is quite possible that the deep state will eventually swallow Trump’s announcement whole. However, if he had gone through the usual channels to make his announcement, they would have caught it before it became public. That’s why he has Twitter.

Don’t Hold Your Breath on US Troop Withdrawal from Syria (CN)

The announcement on Wednesday that the U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Syria within the next month looked at first like a rare victory for Donald Trump in his admittedly erratic opposition to senseless wars of adventure. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” the president tweeted with an unmistakable air of triumph. Don’t get your hopes up. Just about everything in these initial reports is either wrong or misleading. One, the U.S. did not defeat the Islamic State: The Syrian Arab Army, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militias did. Two, hardly was ISIS the only reason the U.S. has maintained a presence in Syria. The intent for years was to support a coup against the Assad government in Damascus—in part by training and equipping jihadists often allied with ISIS.

For at least the past six months, the U.S. military’s intent in Syria has been to counter Iranian influence. Last and hardly least, the U.S. is not closing down its military presence in Syria. It is digging in for an indefinite period, making Raqqa the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 U.S. troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital. Unofficially, according to The Washington Post and other press reports, the figure is closer to 4,000—twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil. It would be nice to think Washington has at last accepted defeat in Syria, given it is preposterous to pretend otherwise any longer.

Damascus is now well into its consolidation phase. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are currently working with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to form a committee in January to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution. It would also be nice to think the president and commander-in-chief has the final say in his administration’s policies overseas, given the constitution by which we are supposed to be governed. But the misleading announcement on the withdrawal of troops, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggest something close to exactly the opposite. As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call “the deep state” will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.

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The Grand Coalition includes the media.

US Occupation of Middle East Doesn’t Suppress Terrorism, It Causes It (Murray)

Even the neo-con warmongers’ house journal The Guardian, furious at Trump’s attempts to pull US troops out of Syria, in producing a map to illustrate its point, could only produce one single, uncertain, very short pen stroke to describe the minute strip of territory it claims ISIS still control on the Iraqi border. Of course, the Guardian produces the argument that continued US military presence is necessary to ensure that ISIS does not spring back to life in Syria. The fallacy of that argument can be easily demonstrated. In Afghanistan, the USA has managed to drag out the long process of humiliating defeat in war even further than it did in Vietnam.

It is plain as a pikestaff that the presence of US occupation troops is itself the best recruiting sergeant for resistance. In Sikunder Burnes I trace how the battle lines of tribal alliances there today are precisely the same ones the British faced in 1841. We just attach labels like Taliban to hide the fact that invaders face national resistance. The secret to ending the strength of ISIS in Syria is not the continued presence of American troops. It is for America’s ever closer allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to cut off the major artery of money and arms, which we should never forget in origin and for a long time had a strong US component. The US/Saudi/Israeli alliance against Iran is the most important geo-political factor in the region today.

It is high time this alliance stopped both funding ISIS and pretending to fight it; schizophrenia is not a foreign policy stance. There has been no significant Shia Islamic terrorist or other threat against the West in recent years. 9/11 was carried out by Saudi Sunni militants. Al Qaida, ISIS, Al Nusra, Boko Haram, these are all Sunni groups, and all Saudi sponsored. It is a matter of lunacy that the West has adopted the posture that it is Iran – which has sponsored not one attack on the West in recent memory – which is the threat in the Middle East.

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Trump will have to act, or risk looking like a fool.

Big Pharma Returning To US Price Hikes In January After Pause (R.)

Novartis and Bayer are among nearly 30 drugmakers that have taken steps to raise the U.S. prices of their medicines in January, ending a self-declared halt to increases made by a pharma industry under pressure from the Trump administration, according to documents seen by Reuters.The hikes will pose a new challenge to President Donald Trump’s pledge to lower the costs of prescription medications in the world’s most expensive pharmaceutical market. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a slew of policies aimed at lowering prices and passing more of the discounts negotiated by health insurers on to patients.

Those measures are not expected to provide relief to consumers in the short-term, however, and fall short of giving government health agencies direct authority to negotiate or regulate drug prices. 28 drugmakers filed notifications with California agencies in early November disclosing that they planned to raise prices in 60 days or longer. Under a state law passed last year, companies are required to notify payers in California if they intend to raise the U.S. list price on any drug by more than 16 percent over a two-year period. [..] “Requests and public shaming haven’t worked” to lower drug prices, said Michael Rea, chief executive of RX Savings Solutions, which helps health plans and employers seek lower cost prescription medicines. “We expect the number of 2019 increases to be even greater than in past years.”

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I think Salvini will get away with presenting this as a victory. But I may be wrong. How far removed is it from what Tsipras pulled in summer 2015? And how much is it like Macron and the yellow vests?

Italy Avoids EU Sanctions After Reaching 2019 Budget Agreement (G.)

Italy has managed to avert EU sanctions after reaching a compromise with the European commission over its 2019 budget. The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the government had managed to reach an agreement to reduce the deficit target to 2.04% of GDP from 2.4%. This has been achieved without making drastic changes to key budget proposals such as the promise of a universal basic income and lowering the pension age. “Over the last few weeks we worked to bring the positions closer without ever moving backwards with respect to the objectives the Italian people set us in the 4 March election,” Conte said.

“The economic-financial estimates about the measures that attracted the most attention of our European partners revealed that the resources [needed] were less than forecast.” The yield, or effective interest rate, on Italian 10-year government bonds fell to 2.79%, the lowest level since September. Less than two months ago the yield, the price the Italian government has to pay to borrow, rose to 3.8%. However, Valdis Dombrovskis, a European commission vice-president, described the agreement with Italy as a “borderline compromise” that fails to provide long-term solutions to the country’s economic problems. “But it enables us, for now, to avoid opening a debt procedure, as long as the negotiated measures are fully applied,” he said at a press conference in Brussels.

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Hilarious: “Police have accumulated some 23 million hours of overtime that is yet to be paid.”

French Police Threaten To Join Protesters (NW)

The French government is desperately trying to keep its exhausted police force onside following weeks of violent protests demanding economic reforms, improved living standards and the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron. On Wednesday, French officials met with police trade union leaders to work out a deal to soothe anger in law enforcement ranks regarding overwork, unpaid overtime and difficult working conditions, Le Monde reported. But some activists are calling on police to walk out on government negotiations, close down police stations and join the “gilets jaunes”—or yellow vest—protesters with whom they have been facing off since November 17. Negotiations between three unions—Alliance, UNSA-Police and Unity-SGP-FO—and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Tuesday failed to reach a settlement.

As talks resumed on Wednesday, France 24 reported that activists were calling on forces across the country to commit to a “slowdown” and only respond to emergencies until the dispute had been settled. Police have accumulated some 23 million hours of overtime that is yet to be paid. According to The Local France, police union leader Frédéric Lagache explained, “Faced with this irresponsibility [of the government], we are forced to be irresponsible in our actions.” The Alliance and Unity-SGP-FO unions called for a “black day for the police” on Wednesday. The Alliance is using Twitter and Facebook to rally support for what it calls “Act 1” of the police protests, using the name given to the ongoing demonstrations held by the gilets jaunes. The group has also threatened to hold “Act II” and “Act III” if required.

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I’m thinking one word here: copycats. Too easy not to try at home.

London’s Gatwick Airport Shut Down After Drones Spotted Overhead (AP)

London’s Gatwick Airport shut down late Wednesday while officials urgently investigated reports that two drones were flying above the airfield. The airport suspended all flights, causing severe disruptions just days before Christmas during one of the heaviest travel times of the year. Police and aviation authorities were still investigating early Thursday as incoming flights were diverted to other locations in Britain and nearby countries. Passengers complained on Twitter that their flights had landed at London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. Other flights were sent to France and the Netherlands. One traveler whose flight was diverted tweeted that passengers were not being told when they could continue to their destination.

Gatwick advised travelers via Twitter to check flights scheduled for Thursday before heading to the airport. It also advised anyone planning to pick up arriving passengers to check first. Any problem at Gatwick causes a ripple effect throughout Britain and continental Europe, particularly during a holiday period when the air traffic control system is under strain. It is a busy airport 27 miles south of London, hosting a variety of short- and long-haul flights and serving as a major hub for the budget carrier easyJet. Gatwick normally operates throughout the night but the number of flights is restricted because of noise limitations. The airport website says it usually handles 18 to 20 flights overnight during the winter months.

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Yes, it’s priceless to read the Guardian on fake news.

Craig Murray tweets: ..The Guardian today published a story about a German journalist who invented stories, but still has never apologised for its own 100% fabricated Luke Harding piece about Manafort’s “visits to Assange in the Embassy”, and Harding and Viner are still employed..

Der Spiegel Says Top Journalist Faked Stories For Years (G.)

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has been plunged into chaos after revealing that one of its top reporters had falsified stories over several years. The media world was stunned by the revelations that the award-winning journalist Claas Relotius had, according to the weekly, “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles that appeared in its print and online editions, warning that other outlets could also be affected. Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to the scam. He had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.

Earlier this month, he won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) for his story about a young Syrian boy, which the jurors praised for its “lightness, poetry and relevance”. It has since emerged that all the sources for his reportage were at best hazy, and much of what he wrote was made up. The falsification came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius’s reporting, having harboured doubts about him for some time.

The colleague, Juan Moreno, eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November. Both said they had never met Relotius. Relotius had also lied about seeing a hand-painted sign that read “Mexicans keep out”, a subsequent investigation found. Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about the American football star Colin Kaepernick.

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Sometimes I think that if all my friends are leaving, why would I stay behind?

Finless Porpoise, China’s Smiling Angel, Fights To Survive (AFP)

In an oxbow lake along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, a breathy sigh pierces the surface stillness as one of China’s most endangered animals comes up for a gulp of hazy air. A slick black back with no dorsal fin arches briefly above the water line before plunging back down. Such glimpses of the shy Yangtze finless porpoise, the only aquatic mammal left in China’s longest river and known in Chinese as the “smiling angel” for its perma-grin, are increasingly rare. Pollution, overfishing, hydroelectric dams and shipping traffic have rendered them critically endangered, worse off even than China’s best-known symbol of animal conservation, the panda.


AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE

China’s government estimates there were 1,012 wild Yangtze finless porpoises in 2017, compared to more than 1,800 giant pandas, which is no longer endangered. But researchers see signs of hope. Porpoise numbers fell by nearly half from 2006-2012 to an estimated 1,040. But the rate of decline has slowed markedly since then, suggesting that conservation may be making a dent. A central component of the rescue effort is the introduction of porpoises to several conservation areas off the busy river, where researchers say numbers have been actually increasing. [..] Chinese officials are keen to avoid a repeat of the “baiji”, or Yangtze dolphin, the river’s only other aquatic mammal, which since 2006 has been considered extinct in a huge conservation setback for China. Losing the “smiling angel” would be a further tragedy, conservationists say.

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