Jan 062020
 
 January 6, 2020  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943

 

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)
Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)
Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)
Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)
Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)
Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)
PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)
Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)
Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)
Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)
Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)
Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

 

 

With war cries rulling the waves, “investors” wonder where their money is safest: with a sweat-shop using company that buys back its shares all the time, or with gold. Given volumes, governments, central banks also appear involved.

Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)

Tensions in the Middle East after the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States pushed an index of Asian shares off an 18-month high on Monday as investors pushed safe-haven gold near a seven-year high, and oil jumped to four-month peaks. The United States detected a heightened state of alert by Iran’s missile forces, as President Donald Trump warned the United States would strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacked any American person or target. Iraq’s parliament on Sunday recommended all foreign troops be ordered out of the country after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a drone strike on a convoy at Baghdad airport.


Spot gold gained 1.6% to $1,579.55 per ounce in jittery trade to reach its highest since April 2013. Oil prices extended gains on fears any Middle East conflict could disrupt global supplies. Brent crude futures rose $1.9 to $70.50 a barrel, while U.S. crude climbed $1.5 to $64.57. “The risk of further escalation has clearly gone up – given the direct attack on Iran, Iran’s threat of retaliation and Trump’s desire to look tough – posing the threat of higher oil prices,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital. “Historically though oil prices need to double to pose a severe threat to global growth and we are long way from that.”

Read more …

Max Blumenthal takes a bit much as gospel: “Iraqi PM Reveals…”

Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)

At a January 3 State Department briefing, where reporters finally got the chance to demand evidence for the claim of an “imminent” threat, one US official erupted in anger. “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” he barked at the press. Two days later, when Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed his country’s parliament, Trump’s justification for killing Soleimani was exposed as a cynical lie. According to Abdul-Mahdi, he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic rapproachment that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Abdul-Mahdi said that Trump personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad.


Soleimani had arrived in Baghdad not to plan attacks on American targets, but to coordinate de-escalation with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he was killed while on an actual peace mission that could have created political distance between the Gulf monarchy and members of the US-led anti-Iran axis like Israel. The catastrophic results of Soleimani’s killing recall the Obama administration’s 2016 assassination of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a Taliban leader who was eager to negotiate a peaceful end to the US occupation of Afghanistan. Mansur’s death wound up empowering hardline figures in the Taliban who favored a total military victory over the US and triggered an uptick in violence across the country, dooming hopes for a negotiated exit.

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Again: who gets what they wanted?

Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)

Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to expel foreign troops from the country as Iran-US tensions escalate following the killing of a top Iranian military commander and Iraqi armed group leader in a US strike in Baghdad. In an extraordinary parliamentary session on Sunday, parliament called on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq and to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition which had been working with Baghdad to fight ISIL. “The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the resolution read.


“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.” Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding and the move would require new legislation to cancel the existing agreement. Ahead of the vote, chants of “No, no, America…long live Iraq”, rang out inside the hall, before Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also called on parliament to end foreign troop presence. “Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” said Abdul Mahdi in an address to parliament ahead of the vote.

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Latest proposal: mandatory simulator trainning for all pilots. That’s what started the whole charade, so a nice round circle.

Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)

[..] as part of a December audit of the plane’s safety ordered by the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing found “previously unreported concerns” with wiring in the 737 Max, according to a report earlier Sunday from the New York Times. The company informed the FAA last month that it is looking into whether two sections of wiring that control the tail of the plane are too close together and could cause a short circuit — and potentially a crash, if pilots did not react appropriately — the Times reported, citing a senior Boeing engineer and three people familiar with the matter. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the report to CNN Business on Sunday, saying the issue was identified as part of a “rigorous process” to ensure the plane’s safety.


“Our highest priority is ensuring the 737 Max meets all safety and regulatory requirements before it returns to service,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulators on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design.” The spokesperson said it “would be premature to speculate” whether the discovery will lead to new design changes for the plane, or further extend the timeline for its recertification. It will be a challenge for Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, who officially takes over the job on January 13 after former CEO Dennis Muilenburg was ousted on December 23. “A change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders,” the company in December.

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We would still do much better if central banks wouldn’t strangle interest rates.

Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)

Norway has a wealth tax. Now, I’m in favour of a greater role for wealth taxes but, whatever your view, there’s at least one benefit we should all appreciate: lots of data on who owns what. Recent research delves into this Norwegian data mine and helps us investigate the popular view that those with more wealth build it up by saving more. You might call this the “wealth as the reward for doing the right thing” view of the world. But the research finds it’s nonsense – Norwegians save around 7% of their income, however much they may own. Despite saving the same proportion as those with much less, those with lots accumulate more. Why? Because we can accumulate wealth by the rising value of assets, such as property and shares.


The wealthier have more assets and more capital gains. These are banked, not consumed, so the gap grows. This is a huge deal, explaining 80% of wealth growing faster than income in Norway. The UK has also seen a wealth boom from rising house prices. These unexpected windfalls – rather than active savings like paying off a mortgage – explain 82% of increased property wealth since the early 1990s. Yet we pretend that wealth comes from savings and we ignore these capital gains when considering who is doing well, and so we make a dog’s dinner out of taxing them. It’s time we woke up to where wealth has actually come from in modern Britain … and Norway.

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They can only exit repo if they support banks somewhere else.

Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)

Wall Street’s worst fears of a year-end funding squeeze never materialized thanks in large part to the quarter-trillion dollars the Federal Reserve stuffed into the market to ensure nothing became gummed up. The question now, though, is what it will take for the U.S. central bank to withdraw from its daily liquidity operations in the $2.2 trillion market for repurchase agreements, or repos – after it became a dominant player in a short three months. “The repo operations are a band-aid, but the wound isn’t healed fully,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities. The New York Fed began injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into the repo market in mid-September, when a confluence of events sent the cost of overnight loans as high as 10%, more than four times the Fed’s rate at the time.

A month later, the Fed moved to expand its balance sheet – and boost the level of reserves – by snapping up $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills. The Fed will continue pumping tens of billions a day into the repo market through at least the end of January. Its ability to exit from the repo market after that time will depend on how long it takes the central bank to make the balance sheet large enough so there are adequate reserves in the banking system – and the repo operations are no longer needed. “It seems implausible to me that the Fed will be able to stop their repo operations by the end of January,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting released on Friday showed its staffers expected repo operations to be “gradually” reduced after mid-January. However, staff members also said the central bank may need to continue offering some repo operations until at least April, when tax payments could reduce the level of reserves. Another challenge for Fed officials: Deciding just how big the central bank’s balance sheet, which is currently about $4 trillion, should be.

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Michael Pettis on Twitter: “So far “prudent policies” has meant that for several years China has generated nearly five times as much debt per unit of GDP as the rest of the world — even more if you think GDP growth has been overstated on a comparable basis.”

PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)

China will maintain a prudent monetary policy while keeping it flexible this year to ensure reasonably adequate liquidity, and it will strengthen adjustments to support economic growth, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a statement on Sunday. [..] The PBOC will promote credit financing for small and private companies, it said in its statement. Last year, it increased large commercial banks’ loans for small and micro companies by more than 30 percent, leading to a drop in lending costs of 1 percentage point. “These targets have been over-fulfilled,” it said.

The central bank is aiming this year to “win the battle of preventing and reducing large financial risks” and reiterated its role as “the lender of last resort”, which means the it will provide money to financial institutions that are experiencing financial difficulty to prevent their collapse. Last year, financial regulators took over Baoshang Bank in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and provided liquidity to prevent the spread of financial risks. To support liquidity and improve commercial bank’s asset quality, the PBOC will supplement commercial banks’ capital in 2020 through issuance of perpetual bonds — a credit instrument having no date to pay back.

Other risk-control measures will be taken for internet and real estate financing, and a macro-prudential regulatory system will be built to supervise cross-border capital flows, according to the central bank. Regulatory control over monetary policy operations is expected to continue to strengthen in China. “Monetary easing, if any, is expected to be limited and should not translate into relaxed regulatory control over the riskier types of leverage, which is positive to system stability,” said Rowena Chang, associate director of Non-Banks Asia Pacific at Fitch Ratings, an international rating agency.

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Military use is a deal killer.

Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)

The Trump administration mounted an extensive campaign to block the sale of Dutch chip manufacturing technology to China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbying the Netherlands government and White House officials sharing a classified intelligence report with the country’s Prime Minister, people familiar with the effort told Reuters. The high-level push, which has not previously been reported, demonstrates the importance the White House places on preventing China from getting hold of a machine required to make the world’s fastest microprocessors. It also shows the challenges facing the U.S. government’s largely unilateral efforts to stem the flow of advanced technology to China.

The U.S. campaign began in 2018, after the Dutch government gave semiconductor equipment company ASML, the global leader in a critical chip-making process known as lithography, a license to sell its most advanced machine to a Chinese customer, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Over the following months, U.S officials examined whether they could block the sale outright and held at least four rounds of talks with Dutch officials, three sources told Reuters. The effort culminated in the White House on July 18 when Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman raised the issue with Dutch officials during the visit of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was given an intelligence report on the potential repercussions of China acquiring ASML’s technology, according to a former U.S. government official familiar with the matter.

The pressure appears to have worked. Shortly after the White House visit, the Dutch government decided not to renew ASML’s export license, and the $150 million machine has not been shipped. [..] The ASML machine uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light beams, generated by lasers and focused by giant mirrors, to lay out extraordinarily narrow circuits on slabs of silicon known as wafers. That in turn makes it possible to create faster and more powerful microprocessors, memory chips and other advanced components, which are critical for consumer electronics and military applications alike. Only a few companies, including America’s Intel, South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC, are currently capable of manufacturing the most sophisticated chips.

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Curious: CBS puts a whole team on this for 5 months, and then writes about a note that says nothing, instead of photos that say a lot. Bloody neck, bloodless noose.

Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)

While Epstein surrounded himself with a collection of powerful and high profile figures, the wealthy financier lived a majority of his life in privacy, avoiding television appearances and media interviews almost entirely. And though the federal charges brought against Epstein in July served as a gateway into learning more about the secretive life the 66 year-old led, filled with a controversial plea deal, luxurious travels around the world and alleged sex abuse rings, public intrigue about Epstein, who neglected to give any public statements following his arrest, has heightened.


In the course of a five-month investigation, 60 Minutes obtained photos of Epstein’s cell after his apparent suicide. Also found was a note, giving the world a look into what Jeffrey Epstein may have been thinking in his final days. The note was written on yellow lined paper with a blue ballpoint pen and there were complaints about jail conditions. The note says that one guard “kept me in a locked shower stall for 1 hour.” “[Another prison guard] sent me burnt food.” “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!” Epstein’s apparent discomfort about jail conditions comes as no surprise. According to Bruce Barket, Epstein’s former cellmate’s lawyer, Jeffrey Epstein and his legal team took up one of the two attorney visiting rooms “all day, every day.”

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No, I don’t know how credible the Daily Mail is here. But it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)

Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is being guarded round the clock by former US Navy SEALs amid concern that her life is in danger, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. A source says ex-special forces are shuttling the 58-year-old friend of Prince Andrew from one safe house to another across the American Midwest following ‘credible death threats’. She is now the principal focus of an FBI investigation and is said to hold the key to the truth about the Duke of York’s relationship with the disgraced financier and whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The Duke has repeatedly denied these allegations and any suggestion of wrongdoing.


While Miss Maxwell has never been accused by the authorities of criminal wrongdoing, Epstein’s alleged victims have portrayed her as his ‘madam’ and ‘fixer’. A source said: ‘There has been so much rubbish written about Ghislaine. The reality is she receives multiple, credible death threats on a daily basis. The hate mail is sometimes 2ft high. ‘She is constantly moving. Her life is in danger. She is being guarded by the best of the very best and that includes former US Navy SEALs. She’s not under the protection of any government. She’s on her own.’ Asked about reports last week that Miss Maxwell was being sheltered in Israel and supported by wealthy friends, the source said: ‘I only wish. This is costing her a fortune. She moves constantly. The reports are just b*******.’

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The reason Victoria’s Secret had no 2019 show is Epstein. But interesting that as America gets fatter fast, models go the opposite way. Neither looks very healthy.

Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Neelam Vashi says she is fascinated by women’s waist-to-hip ratio, the hourglass curve from the narrowest point of the waist to the widest point of the hips. She was curious, she says, to see whether previous cross-cultural findings that men tend to prefer women with a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio would hold true across time in a group known for beauty — models in the famed Victoria’s Secret fashion show. So Vashi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University and director of the Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues analyzed the measurements of models who walked the runway at the now-defunct fashion show over 23 years, from 1995 to 2018.

She found that the 0.7 ratio — roughly a 24-inch waist divided by 35-inch hips — did hold true for the models, a nice confirmation of her hypothesis. But the results from other measures the team examined were surprising — and, she says, concerning. “Overall, these models became slimmer and their dress size decreased,” says Vashi. “The ratio stayed the same, but each one of those measurements did decrease.” And as Victoria’s Secret models got thinner, the average American woman’s measurements grew — with the average woman now at least a size 16. Concern over that rising disparity comes across in the research paper’s title, which begins: “Unattainable Standards of Beauty.”

“These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman,” says a news release accompanying the study. In 2019, with ratings low, Victoria’s Secret canceled the fashion show, saying it needed to evolve and be rethought for a new media era. As a cosmetic dermatologist, Vashi focuses on enhancing people’s looks, she says, but she also hopes people recognize that Victoria’s Secret models, “have bodies that are just not attainable by an average person.” Though that hasn’t stopped some from trying. The study notes a dramatic recent rise in cosmetic surgery, “with buttock and lower body lift [procedures] increasing by 4295% and 256%, respectively, since 2000.”

[..] The study found that bust measurements dropped from 32.9 inches in the 1990s, to 32 inches 20 years later. Waist size dropped from 24.7 inches to 23.6 inches, and hips shrank from 34.9 inches to 34.4 inches. Average dress size dropped from 5.2 to 3.7. The research also found the models became more racially and ethnically diverse. “To decrease a dress size from 5.2 to 3.7, that’s a significant difference,” Vashi says. “To slim an inch off one’s waist — that’s very hard to do.”

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And then you realize you really couln’t get one single American to say it. Painful.

Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)

British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais returned to host the Golden Globe awards on Sunday, cracking scathing jokes about Hollywood’s elite that got both laughs and disapproving looks from the A-list audience. Gervais last hosted the Globes four years ago, before the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements shined a spotlight on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in Hollywood. He said the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, had planned to have a segment honoring celebrities who died in 2019, “but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough.”


Gervais also called out Hollywood actors as hypocrites for giving impassioned political speeches at awards shows while working in movies or television series produced by major tech and media corporations. “You say you’re woke, but the companies you work for – I mean, unbelievable – Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t ya?,” he asked. “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You are in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. “So if you win, right? Come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God” and leave the stage, he concluded, using an expletive.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jan 052020
 
 January 5, 2020  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Jack Delano Foggy night in New Bedford, Massachusetts 1941

 

Suleimani’s Death Huge Blow To Iran’s Plans For Regional Domination (Hassan)
Trump Could Start A War Via Twitter; The Social Network Is OK With That (Keys)
Sanders, Warren Want No War With Iran, Biden, Buttigieg Better-Run Wars (IC)
Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani (Murray)
Doubling Down Into Yet Another ‘March of Folly,’ This Time on Iran (VIPS)
To Stop Trump’s War with Iran, We Must Also Confront the Democrats (ITT)
PBOC Says Will Keep Monetary Policy Prudent, Flexible And Appropriate (R.)
Bernanke: Fed Has Ample Clout To Fight Downturn If Toolkit Used Properly (R.)
How the Two-Party System Broke the Constitution (Atlantic)
Bushfire Turns Aussie Sky Into A Re-Creation Of The Aboriginal Flag (DMA)

 

 

It’s very hard not to wonder what everyone would have been writing and talking about in these first few days of 2020 if Australia weren’t burning and the US hadn’t killed Soleimani. Because this is all people are on about. Nobody talks about impeachment, for one thing.

It’s a shame that virtually all use the two events to reaffirm their prior positions, that they see to tweak events to reinforce their prior positions. It’s nigh impossible not to read that Trump will start a grand war, or the US will. This first article by Hassan Hassan is a rare exception.

Something else that crossed my mind: Soleimani’s death has -perhaps greatly- increased the chance that US troops will have to leave Iraq. Who would want that to happen?

Suleimani’s Death Huge Blow To Iran’s Plans For Regional Domination (Hassan)

The killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani could prove to be the most consequential US slaying of an enemy operative in recent memory. It will eclipse in its significance the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a decade ago or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. Not because it might spark another Middle East war, as many have warned, or merely because Suleimani was irreplaceable. Rather, his killing came at a time when the project he had led – to create an Iranian hegemony in the region – is facing unprecedented challenges in Iraq and Lebanon, through cross-sectarian and grassroots protests, while in Syria the project is still in its infancy. One can add to this picture a more aggressive policy adopted by the US.

Indeed, Suleimani was killed while he was trying to deal with these very challenges. His successor is unlikely to be able to complete that mission and contain the spiral of events in countries where, only a year ago, Iran declared major victories – in Syria against the rebels, in Lebanon through a Hezbollah-friendly government and in Iraq and Syria against Isis. In the short term, doomsday scenarios seem far-fetched. Neither side is interested in an outright war, even if developments over the past few years indicate that both have been caught in an unpredictable cycle of escalation and mounting tension. Crucially, nearly all the most influential public figures in Iraq, so far the main battle-space for the two powers, have called for a restrained and clear-headed response to prevent the situation in their country from spinning out of control.

These calls reduced significantly the chances for the worst-case scenario – of Iraq’s public figures mobilising impulsively and collectively against the United States in a way that might spark attacks and retaliations. Such scenarios would have made the US presence in Iraq unsustainable, at best. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered cleric, condemned Washington for its “flagrant aggression” but, in the same breath, he also called for restraint. What’s more, he cited the Iran-linked attack on the US embassy in Baghdad as part of a dangerous whirlwind of events that could steer Iraq into renewed chaos.

Beyond the extreme scenarios, Iran’s options for retaliation seem limited to familiar patterns of proxy and asymmetric warfare. Even Iranian officials have suggested any response to Suleimani’s killing would have to come later; foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that Tehran would launch “legal measures” at international level to hold the US to account. While a future response is possible, alarmism about a spiral into confrontation between Iran and the US is misplaced.

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Hmmm. Yes, Trump was the first to use Twitter, social media the way he does. because they didn’t exist the way they do. Presidents, CIS etc., would use the NYT and WaPo to start wars, sell them to voters. Does any of this mean Twitter should censure Trump? Or that not doing it makes them warmongers?

Trump Could Start A War Via Twitter; The Social Network Is OK With That (Keys)

Lost in the back-and-forth over the legality of the assassination and whatever future consequences it may hold is that Trump may be the first president to stoke, and perhaps even declare, war through the Internet. [..] Since taking office, Trump has used Twitter to antagonize North Korea, start false rumors about Russia, intimidate witnesses, harass journalists, slander political rivals and — perhaps we should have seen it coming — threaten Iran. For its part, Twitter seems okay — maybe even pleased — that Trump has selected their platform to connect directly with the public. To date, no other social media platform has been able to boast that two sitting presidents have actively used their platform with the level of tenacity seen on Twitter.

That was likely the thought in mind when Twitter responded to criticism over its selective enforcement of its own terms of service — the kind that prohibit direct harassment against a person, incitement of violence, certain slurs and other acts of malfeasance — by saying it would give greater leniency to world leaders because what they have to tweet is important for people to read. “Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation,” a blog post published in January 2018 said. “Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”

Twitter goes on to argue that removing a world leader like Trump from the platform would not silence them as some would wish, but rather “hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.” “We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly,” Twitter said. So far, that enforcement has amounted to a blank check for Trump to say whatever he want with impunity, with the social network apparently figuring that whatever Trump has to say — on his personal account that he used for several years before he became president — has roots in political discourse. And, hey, it’s not like anyone has died from a president’s tweet before.

But the assassination of Gen. Soleimali at Trump’s direction changes everything. Nowhere has Trump’s trademark approach to public discourse — filterless, unhinged, often ignorant and without regard to consequence — played out more than on Twitter. Now, people are paying closer attention to what Trump has to say, particularly on Iran, and a lot of the focus is on what Trump will tweet next. Certainly among those waiting with baited breath are world leaders — allies who are trying hard to prepare for what’s ahead with virtually little advance notice and foes who are looking for any excuse to attack.

As the crisis between the United States and Iran over the killing of Gen. Soleimali intensifies, it’s not unreasonable to assume Trump will, at some point, tweet something that instigates an attack or declaration of war. When that happens, Americans will die. By choosing not to enforce its terms equitably across users and show privilege and favor to world leaders, Twitter — as a platform and as a company — will play a role in whatever comes next.

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Trump alos said he wants no war with Iran. Biden and Mayor Pete are twisting like pretzels, Warren has a hard time keeping up with events.

Sanders, Warren Want No War With Iran, Biden, Buttigieg Better-Run Wars (IC)

Warren, who faced criticism from the left for initially prefacing her alarm at the threat of “another costly war” with the statement that Suleimani was “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” amplified Sanders’s anti-war message more clearly on Friday. “Donald Trump is dangerous and reckless,” she wrote. “He’s escalated crises and betrayed our partners. He’s undermined our diplomatic relationships for his own personal, political gain. We cannot allow him to drag us back into another war. We must speak out.”

Biden also criticized the killing of the general as needlessly provocative, but issued a statement that embraced the Trump administration’s argument that Suleimani, who orchestrated deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers during the post-war occupation of Iraq, “deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops.” The former vice president — who voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq when he was still in the Senate, and later authored a bizarre plan to partition the country along ethnic and sectarian lines — was critical mainly of what he called Trump’s failure to explain his “strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel” and Trump’s lack of a “long-term vision” for the U.S. military’s role in the region.

Warren, who faced criticism from the left for initially prefacing her alarm at the threat of “another costly war” with the statement that Suleimani was “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” amplified Sanders’s anti-war message more clearly on Friday. “Donald Trump is dangerous and reckless,” she wrote. “He’s escalated crises and betrayed our partners. He’s undermined our diplomatic relationships for his own personal, political gain. We cannot allow him to drag us back into another war. We must speak out.”

Biden also criticized the killing of the general as needlessly provocative, but issued a statement that embraced the Trump administration’s argument that Suleimani, who orchestrated deadly attacks on U.S. soldiers during the post-war occupation of Iraq, “deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops.” The former vice president — who voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq when he was still in the Senate, and later authored a bizarre plan to partition the country along ethnic and sectarian lines — was critical mainly of what he called Trump’s failure to explain his “strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel” and Trump’s lack of a “long-term vision” for the U.S. military’s role in the region.

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Propaganda is what it is.

Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani (Murray)

In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence. Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. [..] The truth of the matter is that if you take every American killed including and since 9/11, in the resultant Middle East related wars, conflicts and terrorist acts, well over 90% of them have been killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported out of Saudi Arabia and its gulf satellites, and less than 10% of those Americans have been killed by Shia Muslims tied to Iran.

This is a horribly inconvenient fact for US administrations which, regardless of party, are beholden to Saudi Arabia and its money. It is, the USA affirms, the Sunnis who are the allies and the Shias who are the enemy. Yet every journalist or aid worker hostage who has been horribly beheaded or otherwise executed has been murdered by a Sunni, every jihadist terrorist attack in the USA itself, including 9/11, has been exclusively Sunni, the Benghazi attack was by Sunnis, Isil are Sunni, Al Nusra are Sunni, the Taliban are Sunni and the vast majority of US troops killed in the region are killed by Sunnis.

Precisely which are these hundreds of deaths for which the Shia forces of Soleimani were responsible? Is there a list? It is of course a simple lie. Its tenuous connection with truth relates to the Pentagon’s estimate – suspiciously upped repeatedly since Iran became the designated enemy – that back during the invasion of Iraq itself, 83% of US troop deaths were at the hands of Sunni resistance and 17% of of US troop deaths were at the hands of Shia resistance, that is 603 troops. All the latter are now lain at the door of Soleimani, remarkably.

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“One short week ago, for example, Iran launched its first joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman, in an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. in the region.”

Doubling Down Into Yet Another ‘March of Folly,’ This Time on Iran (VIPS)

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) SUBJECT: Doubling Down Into Another “March of Folly”?

The drone assassination in Iraq of Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani evokes memory of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in June 1914, which led to World War I. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quick to warn of “severe revenge.” That Iran will retaliate at a time and place of its choosing is a near certainty. And escalation into World War III is no longer just a remote possibility, particularly given the multitude of vulnerable targets offered by our large military footprint in the region and in nearby waters. What your advisers may have avoided telling you is that Iran has not been isolated. Quite the contrary. One short week ago, for example, Iran launched its first joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman, in an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. in the region.

Cui Bono? It is time to call a spade a spade. The country expecting to benefit most from hostilities between Iran and the U.S. is Israel (with Saudi Arabia in second place). As you no doubt are aware, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. He continues to await from you the kind of gift that keeps giving. Likewise, it appears that you, your son-in-law, and other myopic pro-Israel advisers are as susceptible to the influence of Israeli prime ministers as was former President George W. Bush. Some commentators are citing your taking personal responsibility for providing Iran with a casus belli as unfathomable. Looking back just a decade or so, we see a readily distinguishable pattern.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon payed a huge role in getting George W. Bush to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Usually taciturn, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, warned in August 2002 that “U.S. action against Iraq … could turn the whole region into a cauldron.” Bush paid no heed, prompting Scowcroft to explain in Oct. 2004 to The Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush “mesmerized”; that Sharon has him “wrapped around his little finger.” (Scowcroft was promptly relieved of his duties as chair of the prestigious President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.)

In Sept. 2002, well before the attack on Iraq, Philip Zelikow, who was Executive Secretary of the 9/11 Commission, stated publicly in a moment of unusual candor, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.” Zelikow did not explain how Iraq (or Iran), with zero nuclear weapons, would not be deterred from attacking Israel, which had a couple of hundred such weapons.

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Guess who the main Democratic donors are. Except for Bernie and Warren, but she’s already in funding trouble.

To Stop Trump’s War with Iran, We Must Also Confront the Democrats (ITT)

Since President Trump took office in 2017, the leadership of the Democratic Party has overwhelmingly supported the precursors to today’s dangerous U.S. escalation towards Iran: sanctions, proxy battles and a bloated military budget. Yet, now that we stand on the brink of a possible U.S. war of aggression, Democratic leaders are feigning concern that Trump is leading a march to war without congressional approval, and using a faulty strategy to do so. These objections, however, are grounded in process critiques, rather than moral opposition—and belie Democrats’ role in helping lay the groundwork for the growing confrontation.

The U.S. drone assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and a ranking official of the Iranian government, takes confrontation with Iran to new heights, inching the U.S. closer to the war the Trump administration has been pushing for. While Trump deserves blame for driving this dangerous escalation, he did not do it on his own.

As recently as December 2019, the House overwhelmingly passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 with a vote of 377-48. Two amendments were stripped from that bill before it went to a vote: Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-Calif.) amendment to block funding for a war with Iran barring congressional approval and Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) amendment to repeal 2001’s “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” (AUMF). That AUMF effectively allows the government to use “necessary and appropriate force” against anyone suspected of being connected to the 9/11 attacks, and has been interpreted broadly to justify U.S. aggression around the world. Officials from the Trump administration have suggested that the 2001 AUMF may give them authority to go to war with Iran.

Of the 377 Representatives who voted for the $738 billion defense bill, 188 were Democrats. Just 41 Democrats opposed the legislation. The bill cleared the Senate with a tally of 86-8, with just four Democrats voting against it. None of the Senators running for the 2020 Democratic nomination were present for the vote. Before the vote, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to brag about the fact that “partisan demands” had effectively been removed from the bill and declared that “sanity and progress” had won out. “Reassuringly, the past few days have finally brought an end to bipartisan talks and produced a compromise NDAA,” said McConnell.

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Talk about propaganda. Hollow words.

PBOC Says Will Keep Monetary Policy Prudent, Flexible And Appropriate (R.)

China will keep monetary policy prudent, flexible and appropriate, and continue to deepen financial reforms, the central bank said on Sunday, reiterating previous policy statements. After a work meeting chaired by People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang, the central bank also vowed to prevent any financial crisis, and said it would continue to help small companies seeking financing, according to a statement posted on PBOC’s website. It also said it will continue to let market play a decisive role in the currency exchange rate, but would keep the yuan exchange rate stable within a reasonable range. China’s economic growth cooled to a near 30-year low of 6% in the third quarter, but is expected to meet the government’s full-year 2019 target of 6%-6.5%. The PBOC on Wednesday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves for the eighth time in nearly two years…

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And there’s more where that came from. The rate cuts Bernanke once labeled “uncharted territory”, he now calls “conventional”.

Bernanke: Fed Has Ample Clout To Fight Downturn If Toolkit Used Properly (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve still has enough clout to fight a future downturn, but policymakers should state in advance the mix of policies and policy promises they plan to use to get the most bang for their buck, former Fed chief Ben Bernanke said on Saturday. In an address to the American Economics Association, Bernanke pushed back on the notion that central banks have lost influence over the economy, and laid out his thoughts about how the Fed in particular could change its monetary policy “framework” to be sure that is not the case. Citing new research of his own and others at the Fed and elsewhere, Bernanke said the bondbuying programs known as “quantitative easing” were effective in lowering long-term interest rates even after the Fed’s target policy rate had been cut to zero.


Several rounds of QE were rolled out in response to the deep 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession, and Bernanke said bondbuying should be made a permanent part of the U.S. central bank’s toolkit. Similarly, “forward guidance,” or promises about future policy, proved effective particularly as those pledges became more specific and tied to particular goals like reaching a certain level of unemployment. “Forward guidance in the next downturn will be more effective – better understood, better anticipated, and more credible – if it is part of a policy framework clearly articulated in advance,” Bernanke said. “Both QE and forward guidance should be part of the standard toolkit going forward.” “The room available for conventional rate cuts is much smaller than in the past,” Bernanke said, but “the new policy tools are effective.”

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You can talk about the Framers all you want, but the country has changed a lot since them.

How the Two-Party System Broke the Constitution (Atlantic)

From the mid-1960s through the mid-’90s, American politics had something more like a four-party system, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alongside liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Conservative Mississippi Democrats and liberal New York Democrats might have disagreed more than they agreed in Congress, but they could still get elected on local brands. You could have once said the same thing about liberal Vermont Republicans and conservative Kansas Republicans. Depending on the issue, different coalitions were possible, which allowed for the kind of fluid bargaining the constitutional system requires.

But that was before American politics became fully nationalized, a phenomenon that happened over several decades, powered in large part by a slow-moving post-civil-rights realignment of the two parties. National politics transformed from a compromise-oriented squabble over government spending into a zero-sum moral conflict over national culture and identity. As the conflict sharpened, the parties changed what they stood for. And as the parties changed, the conflict sharpened further. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats went extinct. The four-party system collapsed into just two parties.

The Democrats, the party of diversity and cosmopolitan values, came to dominate in cities but disappeared from the exurbs. And the Republicans, the party of traditional values and white, Christian identity, fled the cities and flourished in the exurbs. Partisan social bubbles began to grow, and congressional districts became more distinctly one party or the other. As a result, primaries, not general elections, determine the victor in many districts.

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Nice find, dark humor.

Bushfire Turns Aussie Sky Into A Re-Creation Of The Aboriginal Flag (DMA)

An amazing photo taken by a woman as fires raged nearby seemed to mimic the Aboriginal flag. South Australian woman Rose Fletcher took the photo at Victor Harbour as the sun rose on New Year’s Day when fires near her home were at their worst. ‘It was taken on New Year’s Day, just after sunrise, when the fires were arguably at their worst, and hearts were heavy and people were frightened – me included,’ Mrs Fletcher told Daily Mail Australia. ‘The rising sun was just a pale disc behind the layers of smoke over the Southern Ocean – and then, for just a few magic seconds, as it moved up through successively dense layers, it formed the Aboriginal flag.’


Towns on Australia’s east coast have been plunged into darkness in the middle of the day recently, while others have witnessed the sky turn apocolyptic red as the fire front approached. At least 24 people have died so far and dozens more are still missing so far this fire season. Authorities predict that number will rise. In addition to the death toll, more than 1,500 homes and four million hectares of land have been wiped out. More than 500 million animals are feared to have perished. Ms Fletcher said she recognised right away the power of the image and immediately went home to share it. ‘So I went home and put it up on Facebook, hoping that those moments would speak to other people as they spoke to me, and the rest is history,’ she said.

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Include the Automatic Earth in your 2020 charity list. Support us on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Jan 042020
 


Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

 

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)
Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)
How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)
Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)
Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)
The Dogs of War (Kunstler)
Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)
Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)
Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)
Slow Burn (John Quiggin)
Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)
Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

 

 

See far too many people pretending they’re far too sure about what’s going on. Mostly in line with their pre-conceived views, but others, too, appear to think there’s shame in not having a strong opinion on things they don’t know much about (there will be a war!). While Israel and Saudi are almost completely missing from those opinions and reports.

First victim of war is truth, guys, and that war for now only exists in opinions. And don’t believe everyone in Iran is in deep mourning now. There, too, in the upper echelons there’s a constant power battle, with lots of bloodshed and torture and renditioned people. Just like in America. Plenty Iranians will be happy to see Soleimani gone.

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)

Much has been written by MintPress and other outlets about the long-standing efforts by prominent neoconservatives in the U.S. as well as the Israel lobby and Israeli government to prod the U.S. into a major war with Iran. Neoconservative efforts at regime change in Iran have been decades in the making and the current presidential administration has several notable Iran hawks in prominent positions. Furthermore, both President Trump and his foremost ally in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are facing domestic efforts aimed at removing them from office and are facing fresh elections, giving both leaders incentive to ratchet up tensions abroad to distract from their own domestic conflicts.

Yet, the current pressure facing both Trump and Netanyahu in their respective policies is only the latest factor that has pushed both administrations into a renewed and increasingly desperate push to satisfy the decades-old effort of Iran hawks in both countries to stoke war and “reshape” the Middle East in favor of the U.S.-Israel axis. Given the recent assassination of Soleimani, however, it is essential to point out that the U.S. airstrike targeting the Quds Force leader came just a few months after Israel tried but failed to assassinate the general. Indeed, the most recent of these failed attempts was slated to occur early last October and, per The Times of Israel:

“The assassins planned to dig under a religious site associated with Soleimani’s father and set off an explosion under the building when he was inside, and then try to deflect blame so that it ignited an interfaction[al] religious war. The assassins prepared some 500 kilograms to use for the bomb.” Israel’s government did not comment on the alleged plot, though it is notable that the plan to dig below a Muslim holy site and plant a bomb has been attempted by Israeli extremist groups in the past, groups which have a major foothold in Israel’s current government.


This alleged attempt by Israel to kill Soleimani came after claims that, in 2018, the Trump administration had given Israel a “green light” to assassinate the general. The report claimed that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region” and was published by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, which is widely considered to be “an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East,” according to Israeli media.

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Geez, what a surprise.

Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)

Israel had advance notice of the U.S. plan to kill Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, Israeli military and diplomatic analysts reported Friday night while refraining from providing further details due to heavy military censorship. “Our assessment is that the United States informed Israel about this operation in Iraq, apparently a few days ago,” Barak Ravid, a journalist and commentator with deep sources in the Israeli security establishment, said on Channel 13. An Israeli army officer with knowledge of Israeli military assessments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to reporters, told the Los Angeles Times that the attack on Suleimani “did not come as a surprise.”

The reactions of Israel’s political leadership to Suleimani’s assassination were mostly positive, though deep concern was registered throughout the leadership. Iran and Israel maintained warm relations for almost four decades before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah and imposed a theocratic Shiiite Muslim regime that for four decades now has called for “death to Israel” and is accused of backing and masterminding numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets, including the 1992 and 1994 attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left over 100 people dead. Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy militia, has in recent years been accused of perpetrating further attacks against Israeli targets in India, Thailand and Bulgaria.


[..] Due to the heightened alarm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece, where he had signed an agreement for a regional gas pipeline. He made a statement on the tarmac ahead of boarding his flight back to Israel, saying that the United States had the right to defend itself. “Qassem Suleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively. Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense.” The Israeli army officer described the situation as “definitely higher readiness than usual, but not DEFCON One. We want to err on the side of caution, but we know we are not the first target. We are the second.”

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Lots of stories of Trump spilling the beans before the attack to run of the mill Mar-a-Lago guests. While Howie Carr didn’t know anything until afterwards. Don’t let news outlets shape your opinions for you.

How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)

Hours before the U.S. military sent a Reaper drone to kill one of the most wanted men on the planet, President Donald Trump was relaxing at his palatial Florida properties. In the morning, he played 18 holes at Trump International, his West Palm Beach golf club. At around 3 p.m., he returned to Mar-a-Lago, the historic oceanfront estate he’s branded “the Winter White House,” and waited, donning a navy blue suit with a powder-blue tie and an American flag pinned to his lapel. He’d already made a risky—and potentially world-altering—decision to allow the U.S. military to kill Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary forces.

Earlier this week, he’d been surrounded at Mar-a-Lago by top officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. Throughout the entire week, Trump sought input from other advisers by phone. “He was calm, cool and collected,” said conservative radio host Howie Carr, who spoke with Trump on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago soon after the news first broke, as the president dined with GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy. “I had no idea there was anything out of the ordinary going on until I got home.”

As rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq intensified over the last two months, the president had granted the Pentagon extraordinary latitude: The U.S. military had his permission to kill Soleimani the next time it had an opportunity to do so, according to a senior defense official who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We had authority before the strike to take that action,” said the official, who wouldn’t say how recently Trump gave the Pentagon that authorization—whether it was hours, weeks or even months earlier. As recently as New Year’s Eve, the president was telling reporters that he didn’t want war with Iran.


For a man U.S. officials have portrayed as a terrorist mastermind, an evil genius responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, Soleimani often flaunted his influence as he jetted between Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut for meetings with local potentates. “I don’t think it was so hard [to find him] because he was not below the radar in the last two or three years,” said a former senior Israeli government official, who noted that Soleimani had previously moved around under strict operational secrecy. “But the last two or three years, he worked in the open.”

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We simply don’t know what is fact and what fiction. And that’s okay.

Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)

In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters. The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight.

Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. The two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports. Interviews with the Iraqi security sources and Shi’ite militia commanders offer a rare glimpse of how Soleimani operated in Iraq, which he once told a Reuters reporter he knew like the back of his hand.


Two weeks before the October meeting, Soleimani ordered Iranian Revolutionary Guards to move more sophisticated weapons – such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters – to Iraq through two border crossings, the militia commanders and Iraqi security sources told Reuters. At the Baghdad villa, Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries – unknown to the United States – who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases. He ordered Kataib Hezbollah – a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran – to direct the new plan, said the militia sources briefed on the meetings. Soleimani told them such a group “would be difficult to detect by the Americans,” one of the militia sources told Reuters.

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That second strike everyone’s talking about? Did it even happen?

Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)

The Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have dropped their claims that a medical convoy was destroyed in a US air raid along Taji road, north of Baghdad. In a new press release cited by several news agencies, the PMF leadership retracted their statement in which the group said their medics were hit by a US airstrike. This happened after Reuters cited Iraqi Army sources who said that six people were killed in a raid near Taji. The Iraqi Army, however, later denied that an airstrike took place there. In a statement quoted by local media, the military urged everyone to be “careful” about spreading unverified information and “rumors” in the future. The US-led coalition in Iraq also said that no air raids have been conducted in that area in recent days.

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“..the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine.”

The Dogs of War (Kunstler)

In that mercifully quiet week between Christmas and New Years, I re-watched Ken Burns’ documentary of the first Civil War, in contemplation of a possible second. What an almighty bloodbath that was. Thousands butchered in minutes in one battle after another, heads and limbs flying, men turned inside-out, and horses, too. The blue and the gray were hostage to their battlefield tactics and didn’t seem to learn from the insane extravagance of souls wasted in massed assaults against massed artillery again and again and again. The population of the whole nation (Confederacy included) was 31 million in 1860 and the war killed two percent of that, almost entirely young men.

Another impression left by that documentary was the startling beauty of the countryside in that day, and of the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine. Everything human-scaled and so many buildings graced with beauty deliberately made: pediments, steeples, cupolas, columns, and swags. Walt Disney could not have imagined a more tender and appealing place. The lyrical names of those towns are linked to rivers of blood: Shiloh, Spotsylvania, Missionary Ridge, Cold Harbor….


And the last impression accumulated over each installment was that this we did it to ourselves, and couldn’t seem to stop, just as today various parties to current events can’t seem to stop their provocations to a new episode of national domestic violence. This time it is the very government at war with itself, and so far the war is merely legalistic, the battles of lawyers — of which, one senses, we have far too many for our own good. The Department of Justice in particular is at war with itself, one faction in it refusing to cooperate with the other, hiding documents, trafficking in political muck, kluging up the works with deceptions, and still at it in the yet-unresolved case of General Flynn, which should have been thrown out of court months ago based on obvious prosecutorial malice.

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These people think you are really really stupid…

Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers who last year were frequently at odds over where to set U.S. borrowing costs opened 2020 telegraphing confidence in the state of the economy and signaling broad agreement that monetary policy is right where it should be. In their first remarks in the new year, heads of several regional Fed banks noted a strong job market, robust consumer spending and a rising optimism for a resolution to the trade tensions that had nicked growth in the second half of 2019.


And after cutting interest rates three times last year to bring the Fed’s target to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% and ensure global headwinds didn’t short-circuit the longest U.S. economic expansion in history, “I think most of us think that we are well-calibrated now,” Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said in an interview on the sidelines of an economics conference in San Diego. Based on forecasts of her fellow policymakers on the Fed’s rate-setting committee, she said, “the committee thinks a flat path (for interest rates)… is appropriate.” Mester had been among a handful of Fed policymakers who argued last year that the U.S. economy did not need lower rates to continue to grow.

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… so stupid, in fact, that they say whatever sounds good, truth be damned.

Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)

Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester, among the Fed policymakers most concerned that easy monetary policy would risk excessive inflation, said on Friday she has put those fears to rest for now and is willing to leave rates at their current level absent some substantial change in the economy. Her comments in an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the American Economic Association conference suggest how firmly the Fed is anchored to its current setting for overnight interest rates, fixed in a range of between 1.5% and 1.75% after three rate cuts last year. Advocates for even deeper rate reductions now agree the current setting is helping the economy enough that the Fed can stand pat while Mester and others who worried that lower rates might court faster inflation or risky lending have concluded that at this point there is little cause for concern.


I have been kind of forecasting inflation to go up to 2% for quite a while and we have been undershooting,” said Mester, who assumes a voting role this year on the Fed’s policy-setting committee. Mester, who was skeptical last year that rate cuts were needed, said, “I think we are really well calibrated now.” A rate increase would not be needed, “until I see either financial stability issues looming or some indication that inflation is going to pick up strongly. I don’t see that now and it is not in my forecast.” “You want to see that inflation really is at 2%. You want persistence. You want to be able to say that I am confident now that inflation is meeting our goal,” which was set at 2% in 2012 but never consistently achieved, she said.

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Finally, and even then it’s just reserve troops.

Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced 3,000 reserve troops will be deployed to help tackle raging bushfires across the country. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said this is the first time this has happened in Australia’s history. Temperatures have surpassed 40C (104F) in parts of south-east Australia. Officials had warned that Saturday was set to be a “dangerous day”. Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 23 people. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Mr Morrison told reporters: “We have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”


An emergency warning was issued for areas of eastern Victoria that told remaining residents it was now too late to leave. “The safest option is to plan how you will safely take shelter indoors as conditions worsen,” the warning said, adding: “Leaving now would be deadly.” Residents were instructed to attempt to take shelter indoors or in a large clearing or body of water. Dozens of people are missing and some 1,500 homes have already been lost this fire season. Mr Morrison also announced A$20m (£10m) has been allocated to lease four water bomber planes. Defence force bases would provide temporary accommodation, he said.

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Just think about all the plastics and paints etc. that are burning.

Slow Burn (John Quiggin)

At least eighteen people have already been killed by this season’s bushfires — and, with most of January and all of February still to come, that number is sure to rise. But these dramatic deaths are far outweighed by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that will ultimately result from the toxic smoke blanketing Australian cities.

The most dangerous component of bushfire smoke are tiny particulates, no more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5. Over the past twenty years, studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 have contributed to millions of premature deaths in highly polluted cities like Beijing and Delhi. Sydney, Canberra and other Australian cities have recently joined this list. In 2016 alone, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to an estimated 4.1 million deaths worldwide from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections.

Even before the current cataclysm, air pollution was a major health hazard. While Sydney’s prevailing average of 6 micrograms per cubic metre (6 μg/m3) is within international health standards, it is above the levels observed in most European and American cities. A study led by the Sydney Public Health Observatory’s Richard Broome estimated that particulates and associated forms of pollution already account for between 310 and 540 premature deaths annually.

As far as can be determined, the mortality and health risks of PM2.5 are a linear function of the level of exposure. Being exposed to 6 μg/m3 every day for a year, for example, amounts to 2190 “microgram days.” Broome and his colleagues’ work implies that each microgram day is associated with between 0.14 and 0.25 premature deaths. This figure is consistent with a range of international studies they cite.

The overall mortality effects are also a linear function of the number of people exposed. That’s why a city like Delhi, with thirty million people and an average PM2.5 of 150 μg/m3, suffers tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

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Think anyone cares? Always had the impression white Australia only wants to sell off all resources as fast as they can, because they know they stole all of them to begin with. Before you get caught, make sure the money’s in your pocket.

Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)

Close to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet. Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks. “It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live,” said Hodgens, an ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group. “The habitat is decimated.” On Friday afternoon word came through that three other Land for Wildlife sites protecting dunnarts and other endangered species, including the southern brown bandicoot, had also been consumed by fire on the island off the South Australian coast.


Prof Sarah Legge, of the Australian National University, said the prognosis for the Kangaroo Island dunnart was “not good” and its plight was symbolic of what was happening all across the east coast of Australia. “Many dozens” of threatened species had been hit hard by the fires, she said. In some cases “almost their entire distribution has been burnt”. So far, the Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna. Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction. The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and, as climate heating grips, some species may never recover. Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.

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AMLO doesn’t appear to be very effective so far, certainly not internationally. A socialist right on America’s doorstep. Can’t be easy.

Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday called for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be released from prison in London, urging an end to what he described as his “torture” in detention. Assange, 48, is in a British jail for skipping bail when he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he spent nearly seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape that were dropped in November. Assange is also battling U.S. attempts to extradite him over Wikileaks’ publication of vast caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables. He faces a lengthy prison term if extradited to the United States.


A U.N. human rights investigator last year said Assange has suffered psychological torture from a defamation campaign and should not be extradited to the United States where he would face a “politicized show trial.” Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has close ties with Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, expressed his solidarity with Assange and said he hoped the former hacker and activist is “forgiven and released” from prison. “I don’t know if he has recognized that he acted against rules and norms of a political system, but at the time these cables demonstrated how the world system functions in its authoritarian nature,” Lopez Obrador said in response to a question about Assange at a regular government news briefing. “Hopefully consideration will be given to this, and he’s released and won’t continue to be tortured.”

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