Friday, November 24, 2017

Today's Links

“They are there not only without permission from Damascus, but also in direct violation of the wishes of the Syrian government. In fact, what they are doing could be described as occupation”.  Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Maria Zakharova

"The left needs to get beyond its opposition to the war and start pitching in with its own ideas and moral support to try to make lemons into lemonade in Baghdad:

First, even though the Bush team came to this theme late in the day, this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don't know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot."  

1-- Putin’s U.N. General Assembly speech (again)

2--US to keep troops in Syria after ISIS defeat

The US plans to keep its troops in Syria long after the defeat of ISIS – the goal used to justify their illegal presence in the first place – because the Syrian government and its ally Iran would “win” if they were withdrawn, the Washington Post reported.
The Trump administration is “expanding its goals” in Syria to include a “potentially open-ended commitment” to support the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing several anonymous US officials. The change comes as the defeat of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria seems imminent

“An abrupt US withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival – an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally. To avoid that outcome, US officials say they plan to maintain a US troop presence in northern Syria… and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas,” the newspaper said.
If true, it means Washington will be actively promoting Kurdish separatism to spite Damascus and Tehran, while paying lip service to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity.

“The conditions are there for the counter-ISIS campaign to morph into a counter-Iran campaign,” Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security told WaPo. “By placing no timeline on the end of the US mission… the Pentagon is creating a framework for keeping the US engaged in Syria for years to come.”

3--Biased Reporting on a Bad Guy: Mohammed bin Salman

4--The tyrant Abe Lincoln

There has never been a more substantial threat to a free press in the history of our country than the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln sent soldiers to destroy printing presses and related newspaper publishing tools at outlets which did not support his handling of the Southern secession. In response to negative editorials about the military invasion of the South and his overall war policy, Lincoln also commandeered, and then closed 300 Northern newspapers

President Lincoln did not stop at just destroying private property and commandeering newspapers, he also arrested and imprisoned many of the editors and publishers of those same press outlets.

5--Washington's hand in the Yemeni genocide

The Houthis are not al-Qaida or ISIS. Those are Sunni terrorist groups, and the Houthis detest them....

Are we willing to play passive observer as thousands and then tens of thousands of innocent civilians — the old, sick, weak, and infants and toddlers first — die from a starvation blockade supported by the mighty United States of America?
Without U.S. targeting and refueling, Saudi planes could not attack the Houthis effectively and Riyadh could not win this war. But when did Congress authorize this war on a nation that never attacked us?

6--Putin the world's new energy czar

In December 2016, OPEC, Russia and other major producers agreed to curb production by 1.8 million barrels per day for six months from January 1 to support the market and push prices to $60 per barrel. In May, the agreement was extended by nine months.

7--Insane clown prince calls Iran "new Hitler"

8--US plans to stay in Syria

They are following the call of the Zionist Jewish Institute for National Security of America which is pushing for a war on all Iran related entities and interests in the Middle East. JINSA advertises its huge influence on the higher U.S. officer corps. It is not by chance that a recent speech at the Jewish Policy Center in Washington described The U.S. Military as a Zionist Organization. But like other such wish-wash, it fails to explain why unquestioned support for a colony of east-European racist in west Asia is of "American interest".

A report in today's Washington Post is more specific. The fitting headline: U.S. moves toward open-ended presence in Syria after Islamic State is routed:
The Trump administration is expanding its goals in Syria beyond routing the Islamic State to include a political settlement of the country’s civil war ..
With forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies now bearing down on the last militant-controlled towns, the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria could be imminent — along with an end to the U.S. justification for being there. U.S. officials say they are hoping to use the ongoing presence of American troops in northern Syria, in support of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to pressure Assad to make concessions at United Nations-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
An abrupt U.S. withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival — an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally.
To avoid that outcome, U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northern Syria — where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF against the Islamic State — and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas.
“By placing no timeline on the end of the U.S. mission . . . the Pentagon is creating a framework for keeping the U.S. engaged in Syria for years to come,” [said Nicholas Heras of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.]...

The U.S. troops in Syria are allied with the Kurdish YPG. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the internationally designated Kurdish terrorist organization PKK. Only about 2-5% of the Syrian population are of Kurdish-Syrian descent. Under U.S. command they now control more than 20% of Syrian state territory and some 40% of its hydrocarbon reserves. This is thievery on a grand scale.

To disguise its cooperation with the Kurdish terrorists, the U.S. renamed the group into the "Syrian Democratic Forces" (SDF). Some Arab fighters from east Syrian tribes were added to it. These are mostly former foot-soldiers of ISIS who changed sides when the U.S. offered better pay. Other fighters were pressed into service. The people of the Syrian-Arab city Manbij, which is occupied by the YPG and U.S. forces, protested when the YPG started to violently conscript its youth.

New troops were added to the SDF during the last days when ISIS fighters escaped from the onslaught of Syrian and Iraq forces in Abu Kamal (aka Albu Kamla aka Bukamal). They fled northwards towards YPG/U.S. held areas. Like other ISIS fighters the U.S. helped to escape their deserved punishment these forces will be relabeled and reused.

9--The Russia Scandal Just Got Much Worse … For Hillary Clinton And Barack Obama

10--Russia slams US “occupation” of Syria after reports suggest the US will not leave Syria (important) 

11--The way forward in Zimbabwe after Mugabe

12--Russia, Turkey, Iran meet on Syria at Sochi Summit (very important)

The NATO powers do not intend to tolerate a defeat in the Middle East, and are doubtless preparing their next escalation, amid explosive war tensions with Russia in Eastern Europe.Under these conditions, Moscow is clearly seeking to balance between its partners at the Sochi conference and the more openly pro-US regimes in the region. On Tuesday, the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin held an hour-long phone call with Trump, in which Syria, where both the US and Russian military are deployed, was a principal point of discussion. He also called the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel to discuss recent developments in Syria and cooperation on various projects, including in the security and energy sectors, according to a Kremlin statement.

Citing the statement, Sputnik news reported that Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “expressed interest in the further expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas, including contacts between security services … A substantive exchange of views was held on the prospects for the development of the situation in the Middle East region, primarily in the context of the final stage of the fight against international terrorism in Syria.”

Putin’s press service added that the Russian president had informed the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah Sisi “in detail about Russian assessments of the latest developments in the situation in Syria in the context of the final stages of the military operation to destroy terrorists in that country and discussed the results of the recent talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.”
In their phone call on Tuesday, Putin and Saudi King Salman “continued the exchange of views on the situation in the Middle East region and discussed issues related to the prospects for a long-term settlement of the Syrian conflict in light of recent successes in the fight against terrorist groups there,” the statement continued...

Erdogan raised a central point of conflict, the Kurdish issue: “In this regard, political unity and territorial integrity of Syria and exclusion of the terrorist elements, which threaten the national security of our country, will continue to be among our priorities. No one should expect us to be together under the same roof, to share the same platform with a terror organization. If we express our commitment to the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria, we cannot regard a bloody gang as a legitimate actor.”
Ankara has long considered Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a terrorist group and stressed that its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), should withdraw from Afrin, a multi-ethnic region in northern Syria bordering Turkey, where Russian troops are also stationed. Erdogan repeatedly asked Putin to withdraw Russian troops from the region, so that the Turkish army could take its “own measures to secure the borders.” Recently, the Turkish army deployed additional troops near Afrin.

It is not only Ankara that opposes Kurdish autonomy in Syria for fear of provoking separatist moods within its own Kurdish population. For decades, Iran also fought Kurdish separatist groups.

13-- Tom Friedman's lovesong to Saudi tyrant (unreadable gibberish)

Now they have a young leader who is driving religious and economic reform, who talks the language of high tech, and whose biggest sin may be that he wants to go too fast. Most ministers are now in their 40s — and not 60s. And with the suffocating hand of a puritanical Islam being lifted, it’s giving them a chance to think afresh about their country and their identity as Saudis.

Saudi Arabia — I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that right. Though I came here at the start of Saudi winter, I found the country going through its own Arab Spring, Saudi style.
Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.

To better understand it I flew to Riyadh to interview the crown prince, known as “M.B.S.,” who had not spoken about the extraordinary events here of early November, when his government arrested scores of Saudi princes and businessmen on charges of corruption and threw them into a makeshift gilded jail — the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton — until they agreed to surrender their ill-gotten gains. You don’t see that every day.

We started with the obvious question: What’s happening at the Ritz? And was this his power play to eliminate his family and private sector rivals before his ailing father, King Salman, turns the keys of the kingdom over to him?

It’s “ludicrous,” he said, to suggest that this anticorruption campaign was a power grab. He pointed out that many prominent members of the Ritz crowd had already publicly pledged allegiance to him and his reforms, and that “a majority of the royal family” is already behind him. This is what happened, he said: “Our country has suffered a lot from corruption from the 1980s until today. The calculation of our experts is that roughly 10 percent of all government spending was siphoned off by corruption each year, from the top levels to the bottom. Over the years the government launched more than one ‘war on corruption’ and they all failed. Why? Because they all started from the bottom up.”

when his father, who has never been tainted by corruption charges during his nearly five decades as governor of Riyadh, ascended to the throne in 2015 (at a time of falling oil prices), he vowed to put a stop to it all, M.B.S. said:
“My father saw that there is no way we can stay in the G-20 and grow with this level of corruption. In early 2015, one of his first orders to his team was to collect all the information about corruption — at the top. This team worked for two years until they collected the most accurate information, and then they came up with about 200 names.”..

When all the data was ready, the public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojib, took action, M.B.S. said, explaining that each suspected billionaire or prince was arrested and given two choices: “We show them all the files that we have and as soon as they see those about 95 percent agree to a settlement,” which means signing over cash or shares of their business to the Saudi state treasury...

The stakes are high for M.B.S. in this anticorruption drive. If the public feels that he is truly purging corruption that was sapping the system and doing so in a way that is transparent and makes clear to future Saudi and foreign investors that the rule of law will prevail, it will really instill a lot of new confidence in the system. But if the process ends up feeling arbitrary, bullying and opaque, aimed more at aggregating power for power’s sake and unchecked by any rule of law, it will end up instilling fear that will unnerve Saudi and foreign investors in ways the country can’t afford

But one thing I know for sure: Not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for this anticorruption drive. The Saudi silent majority is clearly fed up with the injustice of so many princes and billionaires ripping off their country. While foreigners, like me, were inquiring about the legal framework for this operation, the mood among Saudis I spoke with was: “Just turn them all upside down, shake the money out of their pockets and don’t stop shaking them until it’s all out!”

(Friedman thinks MBS is a progressive) A lawyer by training, who rose up in his family’s education-social welfare foundation, M.B.S. is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the center. He has not only curbed the authority of the once feared Saudi religious police to berate a woman for not covering every inch of her skin, he has also let women drive. And unlike any Saudi leader before him, he has taken the hard-liners on ideologically. As one U.S.-educated 28-year-old Saudi woman told me: M.B.S. “uses a different language. He says, ‘We are going to destroy extremism.’ He’s not sugar-coating. That is reassuring to me that the change is real.”...

Saudi Arabia would have a very long way to go before it approached anything like Western standards for free speech and women’s rights. But as someone who has been coming here for almost 30 years, it blew my mind to learn that you can hear Western classical music concerts in Riyadh now, that country singer Toby Keith held a men-only concert here in September, where he even sang with a Saudi, and that Lebanese soprano Hiba Tawaji will be among the first woman singers to perform a women-only concert here on Dec. 6. And M.B.S told me, it was just decided that women will be able to go to stadiums and attend soccer games. The Saudi clerics have completely acquiesced.

14--More gems from  Friedman on MBS

He is much more McKinsey than Wahhabi — much more a numbers cruncher than a Quran thumper. And if he did not exist, the Saudi system would have had to invent him. Somebody had to shake up the place....

But he is replacing Wahhabism as a source of solidarity with a more secular Saudi nationalism, one that has a strong anti-Iran/Persian/Shiite tenor. And that is taking him to some dangerous places. To confront Iran, M.B.S. got the Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad al-Hariri, to quit his office on Saturday while on a visit to Riyadh, and blamed Iran and its Shiite allies for making Lebanon ungovernable — and for a missile attack from Yemen. Lebanon, which had forged a relatively stable balance among Sunnis, Christians and Shiites, is now shaking. M.B.S. also led a Gulf effort to isolate Qatar for being too close to Iran and to crush Iran’s influence in Yemen — and crush Yemen in the process. It’s overreach, and there seems to be no one around to tell him that.
As a veteran Saudi journalist remarked to me of M.B.S.: “This guy saved Saudi Arabia from a slow death, but he needs to broaden his base. It is good that he is freeing the house of Saud of the influence of the clergy, but he is also not allowing any second opinion of his political and economic decisions.”
I worry that those urging M.B.S. to be more aggressive in confronting Iran (whose malign regional influence does need counterbalancing) — like the U.A.E., Trump, Jared Kushner and Bibi Netanyahu — will push M.B.S. into a war abroad and at home at the same time, and we could see Saudi Arabia and the whole region spin out of control at the same time. As I said, I’m worried.

15-- Remember when Friedman said this--

“The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy- building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” (New York Times)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Today's links

1-- Putin’s Metamorphosis 

Whole speech-- Sept 28, 2015

With Vladimir Putin’s pivotal speech at the United Nations on September 28th, 2015, opposition to this vision was expressed in the most forceful, and frankly, humanist terms one could imagine.  I’m going to remind you of the most important passage as it relates to Syria.
In these circumstances, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to make loud declarations about the threat of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to the channels of financing and supporting terrorists, including the process of trafficking and illicit trade in oil and arms. It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one’s service in order to achieve one’s own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.

To those who do so, I would like to say — dear sirs, no doubt you are dealing with rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly. They are just as clever as you are, and you never know who is manipulating whom. And the recent data on arms transferred to this most moderate opposition is the best proof of it.

We believe that any attempts to play games with terrorists, let alone to arm them, are not just short-sighted, but fire hazardous (ph). This may result in the global terrorist threat increasing dramatically and engulfing new regions, especially given that Islamic State camps train militants from many countries, including the European countries.

2--The Trump – Putin call: summary and analysis 

Current Syrian issues, in view of the military operation to destroy terrorists in Syria which is winding down, were thoroughly discussed. Vladimir Putin stressed Russia’s willingness to actively facilitate a durable political settlement in that country on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254
There was discussion of the need to preserve the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria, and to achieve a political settlement on the basis of principles that must be worked out as a result of the broadest possible intra-Syrian negotiation process. This is precisely the aim of Russia’s initiative to hold the National Dialogue Conference in Sochi soon.

Vladimir Putin informed Donald Trump about the main outcomes of the November 20 meeting with Bashar al-Assad, where the Syrian leader reaffirmed his commitment to the political process, constitutional reform, and presidential and parliamentary elections..

More broadly, the President of Russia once again spoke in favour of joint antiterrorist efforts with the United States, noting the practical importance of coordinating efforts between the special services of both countries. The US President was supportive of this idea....

Reaffirming  [the UN Security Council’s] strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic...

What lies behind this is Russian concern about what I recently called the US’s Plan C: the attempt by some in the US to maintain US influence in Syria by carving out a quasi independent Kurdish statelet in northern Syria

3--FRAUD!   FBI  cannot verify’ Trump Dossier  

FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier….

An August 24, 2017 subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee to the FBI and Justice Department asked for information on the bureau’s efforts to validate the dossier. Specifically, the subpoena demanded “any documents, if they exist, that memorialize DOJ and/or FBI efforts to corroborate, validate, or evaluate information provided by Mr. Steele and/or sub-sources and/or contained in the ‘Trump Dossier.'”
According to sources familiar with the matter, neither the FBI nor the Justice Department has provided documents in response to that part of the committee’s subpoena. But in face-to-face briefings with congressional staff, according to those sources, FBI and DOJ officials have said they cannot verify the dossier’s charges of a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign...

The FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump-Russia affair shortly after receiving the first installment of an anti-Trump dossier from a former British spy working for the Hillary Clinton campaign. What congressional investigators want to know is whether that was a coincidence or not.
The first report in the dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele was dated June 20, 2016.
Steele told the left-leaning publication Mother Jones that he took the first part of his dossier to the FBI “near the start of July.”
James Comey, when he was FBI director, told members of the House Intelligence Committee the Trump-Russia investigation began “in late July.”
So the timeline is: The first dossier report was June 20, Steele approached the FBI near the start of July, and the FBI began its investigation in late July

The FBI was very interested in Steele’s report, according to Mother Jones’ David Corn, who was personally briefed by Steele:
The former intelligence officer says the response from the FBI was “shock and horror.” The FBI, after receiving the first memo, did not immediately request additional material, according to the former intelligence officer and his American associates. Yet in August, they say, the FBI asked him for all the information in his possession, and for him to explain how the material had been gathered and to identify his sources. The former spy forwarded to the bureau several memos — some of which referred to members of Trump’s inner circle. At that point, he continued to share information with the FBI. “It’s quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on,” he says.

Corn’s report suggested the FBI was surprised by the dossier report’s contents, which in turn suggested the FBI wasn’t already on the case when Steele approached the bureau near the start of July…..
Now, with multiple investigations underway, some officials are trying to reconstruct the events of June through October 2016. Were the allegations in the dossier accurate in the first place? If they were, did involvement go to the highest levels of the Trump campaign? But if they weren’t, was it a situation in which the Clinton campaign, through its hired foreign agent Steele, fed the FBI bad information for the purpose of having it leaked to the press in time to hurt Trump before the election?...

getting information out of Fusion-GPS and the FBI about the Trump Dossier is proving to be extremely difficult
…….Congress is trying to uncover the dossier story — what did the FBI do to try to verify it? Did agents use it as a basis for seeking wiretaps? — but getting information out of the FBI, as well as Fusion GPS, has been like pulling teeth, even after a House subpoena.

It also incidentally substantiates a claim I made in an article for The Duran on 24th June 2017, which was that the early entries of the Trump Dossier were almost certainly the ‘intelligence’ the CIA sent to President Obama in August 2016, which supposedly ‘conclusively confirmed’ that the Russians on President Putin’s orders were meddling in the US election.
The fact that – as Byron York shows – the  early entries of the Trump Dossier were being circulated throughout the US intelligence community in August 2016 all but confirms that this was the ‘intelligence’ referred to

That this strange document or collection of documents should ever have been taken seriously by the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the US intelligence community, the US Congress, the US media, and indeed the whole US governing class, is nothing short of astonishing.

4-- Syria: Is the End in Sight?

High profile discussions between heads of state from Russia, Syria, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have raised the question of whether the violent conflict in Syria could finally be coming to an end....

Putin's busy day with foreign leaders entailed informing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about "Russian assessments of the latest developments in the situation in Syria" about how to eliminate remaining terrorist elements, the Kremlin's press office said. Similar discussions were held between Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman as well, the Kremlin press service added....

How interesting is it that what we're talking about here is a post-war, post-violence government, negotiations for a real government in Syria — something that's going to include the opposition, something that's going to come about as a result of multi-party talks. It's going to be Syrian in nature, and yet it's not even really covered in the US media," said Loud & Clear host John Kiriakou, a Middle East analyst who spent 14 years as a CIA officer.

5--“There is hardly a more foolish thing in the world of politics than Saudi Arabia presenting its inherent sectarianism and prejudice as support for human rights.”

“There is hardly a more foolish thing in the world of politics than Saudi Arabia presenting its inherent sectarianism and prejudice as support for human rights.”

Adding to this, the Iranian representative pointed out that Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of Wahhabism an extremist ideology that allows Saudi preachers to freely declare others “infidels” and condemn them to death, a concept known in Arabic as takfir.

“The Saudi-born Takfiri ideology acts like the predator species, which seeks to have all other species go extinct. The Saudi government, Saudi charities, and Saudi-backed organizations continue to support this lethal poison (Takfirism), which provides the necessary hardware and software for terrorism and extremism.”

6-- Saudi crisis threatens wider war in the Middle East

7-- Saudi Arabia carries out 100th execution so far this year

8-- Assad and Putin work out differences?

Assad specifically ruled out changes to the official names of the country and the army, and said they should continue to be called the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ and the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ and not become the ‘Syrian Republic’ and the ‘Syrian Army’.

The Russians – or at least some of them – have by contrast tentatively floated ideas of Syria doing precisely those things – of creating some sort of federal structure that would grant some form of political or cultural autonomy to the Kurds and to the country’s confessional groups, with the names of the country and the army being changed to the “Syrian Republic” and the “Syrian Army” – which President Assad said in his speech would be wrong and appeared to rule out.

The meeting between Assad and Putin appears to be intended to argue out these points, in preparation for the negotiations for the final settlement of the Syrian conflict which are about to start.

9--Google announces moves to censor RT and Sputnik

10--Israel minister discloses covert ties with Saudi Arabia for first time

11--The US tax bill: A massive handout to the financial elite

12--More emails surface showing Hillary Clinton pay-to-play scheme

13--Inequality is due to irresponsible monetary policy Uh huh

14-- Saudis ask Israel to attack Lebanon?

Rania Masri: [Secretary General of Hezbollah] Hassan Nasrallah gave two talks this week concerning the resignation and the need for national unity.  In the second talk he spoke to the contents of the resignation letter and responded to these Saudi threats. Nasrallah believes that Saudi Arabia has asked Israel to attack Lebanon and is willing to support this effort with millions of dollars.  We know from statements from the Saudi ministries that the Saudi government has declared war on all of Lebanon, not just Hezbollah....I don’t know what the US position is.  The Saudis recognize that they have not achieved the level of support they would like.  It is not really clear what the next step will be by the United States.  What is clear is that the Israeli press is not enthusiastic about launching a war against Lebanon to fulfill Saudi aims.....Many feel that, if we did not have Hezbollah, the likelihood of an Israeli attack would be much higher.

Ben Caspit (and other Israeli commentators) confirm that the Israeli establishment does not see war with Hezbollah

NOTES---Thus the “Sunni axis” is really a “Saudi axis.” This isn’t a group of Sunni countries driven by religious hatred of a Shi’ite country; rather, the common denominator that unites its members is their dependence on Riyadh or their desire to be its economic ally. Moreover, the claim that there’s a risk of Shi’ite Islam spreading in Sunni states portrays Sunni countries as being weak and on the defensive – as if the sweeping Sunni majority, comprising some 90 percent of all Muslims, were actually afraid of the power of the Shi’ites, who comprise only about 10 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims
read more:

One popular theory regarding Hariri’s resignation is that he fled to Riyadh, or was ordered there, so he would not be implicated in an impending military attack by Israel on Lebanon, with Saudi backing, or an attack on Iran’s main proxy in Beirut, Hezbollah. The fact that Hezbollah has been accused of an assassination attempt on Hariri strengthened this theory. The Saudis would certainly love to have their Iranian rivals punished at this point, in some way or another, and Hezbollah would be a good target. The regime in Riyadh is in no position to launch a war itself against Iran. For the last two-and-a-half years, the Saudis have been engaging in a war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, which has been so unsuccessful that on Friday night, the Houthis were capable of taunting the Saudis by firing a ballistic missile at Riyadh airport. The Saudis are unlikely to risk a cross-Gulf offensive with the much more powerful Iranians. Especially when MBS is so busy with internal politics. But will Hezbollah respond in any way to the accusations?
read more:

Hezbollah – After fighting for over six years in Syria as Iran’s vanguard, Hezbollah can credit itself with some impressive victories and has accumulated major experience – both in the use of advanced weaponry, and in the command and control of military formations as large as brigade-size units. But they have lost at least 800 men in the fighting and thousands more have been wounded – totalling about one-quarter of Hezbollah’s original force at the start of the war. Thousands of new conscripts have been trained and sent to Syria but while this has widened the ranks, it has also fed resentment back home in Lebanon where many, including some within the Shi’a community, feel that Hezbollah has long ago ceased to serve as a Lebanese “resistance” force and is now holding the country hostage, in the service of Iran.
                                                Militarily, Hezbollah is in no condition to launch an attack on Israel. It is still fighting in a number of locations in Syria and has to rebuild its units before embarking on a new war
read more:
The public sector grew during Mr. Carter's term (up 1,304,000), during Mr. Reagan's terms (up 1,414,000), during Mr. G.H.W. Bush's term (up 1,127,000), during Mr. Clinton's terms (up 1,934,000), and during Mr. G.W. Bush's terms (up 1,744,000 jobs).  However the public sector declined significantly while Mr. Obama was in office (down 268,000 jobs).

the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab militant groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

In her OpEd, Foroohar explains how the big banks have become unmoored from their core purpose. She writes:
“In the 1970s, most of their financial flows, which of course come directly from our savings, would have been funneled into new business investment. Today, only about 15 percent of the money coming out of the largest financial institutions goes to that purpose. The rest exists in a closed loop of trading; institutions facilitate and engage in the buying and selling of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets that mainly enriches the 20 percent of the population that owns 80 percent of that asset base. This doesn’t help growth, but it does fuel the wealth gap.”

Bank credit growth continues to decelerate, to where historically, after revisions, the economy would already be in recession. Housing and vehicles look like they are already reporting negative growth, and personal income growth has decelerated to about 0% growth, with personal spending holding positive only because people are dipping into savings, which historically has always been followed by a reduction in spending

Glenn Greenwald explains how the president's actions have shaped partisan behavior and public opinion:
By blocking any form of criminal and civil accountability for these acts, President Obama has transformed what were once universally unspeakable and taboo beliefs into little more than respectable, garden-variety political disagreements. The president's nomination on Monday of John O. Brennan, a Bush-era C.I.A. official, to head the C.I.A. illustrates how complete this disturbing process now is. In late 2008, when Brennan was rumored to be Obama's leading choice as C.I.A. director, a major controversy erupted because of Brennan's overt support for Bush's programs of rendition and torture... Yet just a little over four years later, Obama obviously believes that Brennan's involvement in and/or support for these programs is no bar to his confirmation as C.I.A. director.

That's because, following Obama's lead, the country has decided to ignore the fact that it committed grievous crimes as part of the "War on Terror." Obama's Orwellian decree that we must "look forward, not backward" has convinced huge numbers of citizens to sweep this all under the rug and pretend it never happened. That is what explains how Brennan went from radioactive and unconfirmable in 2008 to uncontroversial in 2013.
"By putting Brennan in direct control of the CIA's policy [of targeted killings], the president has placed this mediating legal presence in direct control of the positions that the CIA will adopt and advance, so as to bring the CIA much more closely under direct presidential and democratic control," Emmerson told Wired

However, critics have noted that previously he defended the use of brutal interrogation techniques — including in a CBS interview in 2007 in which he said they had "saved lives" — and accuse him of shifting with political winds.

Report: Brennan drafted apology to senators for CIA hacking

CIA rendition: more than a quarter of countries 'offered covert support'
Report finds at least 54 countries co-operated with global kidnap, detention and torture operation mounted after 9/11 attacks

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" alongside former CIA Director John Brennan, Clapper said: "The threat posed by Russia, as John just said, is manifest and obvious. To try to paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and in fact, poses a peril to this country."

Clapper said, “It’s very clear that the Russians interfered in the election, and it’s still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it and also push hard against Mr. Putin.”

“I don’t know why the ambiguity about this,” Brennan said. “Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our whole process. And to try paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and, in fact, poses a peril to this country.”

“By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” former CIA director John Brennan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”

When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!

On the ICA--In a methodological annex to the report, the authors acknowledged that they had no facts to back up their conclusions:

"Estimative language consists of two elements: judgments about the likelihood of developments or events occurring and levels of confidence in the sources and analytic reasoning supporting the judgments.  Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.  Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents..."

The authors of the assessment claimed that there was much more evidence in the classified version of the report, but that intelligence had to be withheld from the public. 
Last month, at the behest of President Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with a former NSA official, William Binney, who had conducted his own investigation of the allegations that Russian hackers had obtained Democratic National Committee emails, showing a systematic campaign by the DNC to secure Hillary Clinton the nomination over Senator Bernie Sanders.  Binney concluded that the emails had been obtained by someone working at the DNC headquarters and were "leaked, not hacked."  Now, former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile has come out with a detailed, fact-filled book-length account, confirming that Hillary had, indeed, rigged the primary outcome to secure the nomination by buying off the DNC in 2015 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Today's Links

"Behind the anti-Putin campaign lies above all the fear within the American ruling class of the growing anger within the working class, an anger that threatens to blow up the two-party political monopoly through which the corporate and financial aristocracy has ruled for generations. It is a measure of how far and how sharply to the right the bourgeois political spectrum has moved in the past two generations that it is the Democrats who are spearheading the new McCarthyism today....." WSWS 

1-- US Military and CIA Leaders May Be Investigated for War Crimes

The chief prosecutor noted the alleged crimes by the CIA and US armed forces "were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals," but rather were "part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract 'actionable intelligence' from detainees." She added there was "reason to believe" that crimes were "committed in the furtherance of a policy or policies ... which would support US objectives in the conflict of Afghanistan."...

In 2008, ABC News reported that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. George W. Bush admitted in his 2010 memoir that he authorized waterboarding. Cheney, Rice and John Yoo - author of the OLC's most egregious torture memos - have made similar admissions....

The AG investigated only two incidents and found the evidence insufficient to obtain convictions. In one case, Gul Rahman froze to death after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison known as the Salt Pit. In the other, Manadel al-Jamadi died in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists which were bound behind his back. Former military policeman Tony Diaz, who witnessed al-Jamadi's torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like "a faucet had turned on" when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy concluded that al-Jamadi's death was a homicide

2--Lebanon suffers intimidation attempts to cancel gas deal with Russia – Lebanese FM

3--More on attempts to intimidate Lebanon

Lebanese Foreign Minister Geral Bassil has held a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"We are about to sign our first contract on gas field exploration on the shelf with the participation of Russian companies. We are now seeing an attempt to make Lebanon leave this positive path," Geral Bassil said.

"A campaign to scare Lebanon, to create obstacles in its path with the use of terrorist forces under different pretexts is underway," the minister said, adding that "the campaign against Lebanon is being carried out by the same forces that support terrorists in Syria."

4--Mercouris on Russiagate

5--US House passes multitrillion-dollar tax break for corporations and the wealthy

It is already becoming clear that the tax overhaul is a prelude to a frontal attack on Medicare and Social Security. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office warned that the tax bill could trigger a budget rule that would require up to half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts over the next decade....

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the House bill gives more than 80 percent of its overall cuts to corporations, business owners and wealthy families that are subject to the estate tax.
Some 70 percent of the tax benefits will initially go to individuals earning six-figure salaries, about 23 percent of tax filers. In 2019, those making $1 million or more per year (the richest 0.3 percent of tax filers) will receive 21.6 percent of the total benefit.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, while taxes will be reduced, on average, by some $1,000 by 2027, the top 1 percent will get a cut of more than $62,000, while the top 0.1 percent will get an average reduction of $320,000.
The Joint Committee on Taxation reported that the Senate version of the tax bill, which adheres to the basic framework of the House bill, will actually raise taxes on all households earning less than $75,000 after 2027

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a tax overhaul that will, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump, give corporations and the very wealthy trillions of dollars in tax cuts, driving up the deficit and setting the stage for a massive assault on basic social programs such as Medicare and Social Security....

The Democrats, for their part, are carrying out their typical half-hearted and two-faced opposition. They themselves are calling for a massive cut in corporate taxes, only a somewhat smaller one than that being pushed by the Republicans. The House and Senate tax bills currently working their way through Congress both slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. The Democrats are proposing a cut in the corporate rate to between 25 percent and 28 percent. While denouncing the Republican bills as a windfall for the rich, they are offering to negotiate a more fiscally responsible corporate boondoggle.
As always, the Republicans are setting the marker as far to the right as possible and the Democrats are mounting an insincere opposition that will inevitably end with the Republicans achieving virtually all of their demands....

According to Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the House bill would increase the federal deficit over ten years by $1.4 trillion as a result of lost federal tax revenues. The bulk of that loss would come from the cut in the corporate tax rate, accounting for $1.5 trillion. Another $696 billion cut would result from the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, which applies to households with incomes of $200,000 to $1 million....

These benefits are, however, eroded or even eclipsed in many cases by provisions that reduce or eliminate existing tax deductions on which working-class and middle-class families heavily rely. These include deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, medical expenses, student loan interest and other higher education tax benefits.
The elimination of tax credits for medical expenses will have a devastating impact on elderly people with high medical bills. Repeal of education tax breaks will add some $65 billion to the federal tax coffers over ten years, at tremendous cost to undergrads and graduate students seeking to pay off student loans and graduate students whose tuition waivers will become taxable income.

6--McCarthyism Redux: Attacks on the Russian Media

Does anyone really believe for a moment that if Russia had or did accept its place as a neo-satellite of Washington that this campaign against RT and Sputnik would be taking place? If both media channels were echo chambers of the Washington Consensus you can best believe they would be allowed to operate freely and without molestation, without their employees or contributors being traduced as ‘Kremlin propagandists’ or de facto ‘Russian agents’.

The entire thing is a sham – a malicious and ideologically driven attempt to police the portals of news dissemination and analysis to the point where rigid acceptance and obeisance to the aforementioned Washington Consensus, responsible for upending the lives of millions at home and abroad over the years, is total.

There is a simple rule of thumb that will never let you down. It dictates that those who tell you who your enemy should be are usually your enemy. It begs the question of whether Russophobia has become the acceptable form of racism for a liberal class whose hypocrisy is only exceeded by its mendacity?

As for those on the so-called left who have remained silent, or worse are gloating over the moves to shut down Russian media, they are like people feeding a crocodile hoping it will eat them last. The precedent being set by this anti-Russian hysteria is self-evident, one that it would be folly to ignore. Thus when the day comes that Russian media is driven out of existence, theirs will be a hollow victory that bespeaks the collapse of anything resembling opposition to the neoliberal, interventionist, and imperialist status quo.

7-- Democrats’ neo-McCarthyism echoes red-baiting attacks on civil rights movement of the 1950s

Behind the anti-Putin campaign lies above all the fear within the American ruling class of the growing anger within the working class, an anger that threatens to blow up the two-party political monopoly through which the corporate and financial aristocracy has ruled for generations. It is a measure of how far and how sharply to the right the bourgeois political spectrum has moved in the past two generations that it is the Democrats who are spearheading the new McCarthyism today.....

The criminalization of dissent is a bipartisan endeavor. Notwithstanding the bitterest tactical differences, the US ruling elite is united on the need to take on the working class. This includes directing outward the seething social tensions under conditions of record social inequality.
Trump and the Democrats are vying to lead the new witch hunt. While Trump encourages fascist elements and speaks in unvarnished terms of dictatorship and war, the Democrats play the anti-Russia card, trumpeting their connections to the intelligence and military establishment and leading the charge for censorship against left-wing opposition

The demonization of Russia is part of the Democratic Party’s attack on Trump from the right. Rather than exposing his fascistic rhetoric, xenophobia and attacks on the working class, the Democrats have sought to prove their patriotic bona fides, ensure a hard line against Russia and build up an atmosphere of nationalism amid deepening worldwide geopolitical tensions. More and more, this campaign is directed against left-wing websites and organizations, with the aim of criminalizing dissent...

As a recent book, Black Freedom, White Resistance and Red Menace, by Yasuhiro Katagiri, explains: “Even after the Wisconsin senator’s disappearance from the national political arena, McCarthyism’s unsavory legacies—the self-serving use and abuse of hearsay and insinuation, the deliberate indifference to hard evidence and the strident cries of ‘Communist conspiracy’ used to impugn the legitimacy of adversaries—outlived their original inventor and remained a part of the national political scene. In the South McCarthyism most often took a racist form…”

Paradoxically, McCarthy’s eclipse in the Senate breathed new life into HUAC in the House. The focus of its efforts became civil rights organizers and their liberal supporters in the South, who were depicted as “useful idiots,” allowing themselves to be used by the Moscow-directed communist conspiracy.
The charges of subversion, attributed to outside agitators, were a staple of the campaign in defense of Jim Crow....

At every point in the decade between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 some ten years later, the civil rights struggle was attacked as the work of foreign agents of a hostile power. From Little Rock in 1957 to the lunch counter sit-ins beginning in 1960, to the Freedom Rides challenging interstate bus segregation in 1961, the March on Washington in 1963 and the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter registration campaign of 1964, Matthews and others were ready with press releases, blacklists and names of alleged conspirators and Communist “dupes...

In Georgia, Attorney General Eugene Cook gave a speech in 1955 that declared that the NAACP had “allowed itself to become part and parcel of the Communist conspiracy…fomenting strife and discord between the white and negro races in the South.”...

8--Treasury Secretary "Foreclosure King" Mnuchin

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said:
“Donald Trump’s choice of Mnuchin is not only a fundamental betrayal of his promise to stand up to Wall Street — it is a punch in the gut to the thousands of American families who were thrown out of their homes by Mnuchin’s bank. The voices of these Americans should be heard loud and clear as the Senate examines his record and considers his nomination.”

“In early 2009, Mr. Mnuchin led a group of investors that purchased a bank called IndyMac, renaming it OneWest. OneWest was truly unique. While Mr. Mnuchin was CEO, the bank proved it could put more vulnerable people on the street faster than just about anybody else around.

“While he was CEO, a OneWest vice president admitted in a court proceeding to ‘robo-signing’ upward of 750 foreclosure documents a week. She spent less than 30 seconds on each, and in fact, she had shortened her signature to speed the process along. Investigations found that the bank frequently mishandled documents and skipped over reviewing them. All it took to plunge families into the nightmare of potentially losing their homes was 30 seconds of sloppy paperwork and a few haphazard signatures.

“These kinds of tactics were in use between 2009 and 2014, a period during which the bank foreclosed on more than 35,000 homes. ‘Widow foreclosures’ on reverse mortgages – OneWest did more of those than anybody else. The bank defends its record on loan modifications, but it was found guilty of an illegal practice known as ‘dual tracking.’ One bank department tells homeowners to stop making payments so they can pursue modification, while another department presses on and hurtles them into foreclosure anyway

9--Corporate debt timebomb?

This is from CNBC:
“Corporate debt is projected to swell over the next several years, thanks to cheap money from global central banks, according to a report Wednesday that warns of a potential crisis from all that new, borrowed cash floating around.
By 2020, business debt likely will climb to $75 trillion from its current $51 trillion level, according to SandP Global Ratings. Under normal conditions, that wouldn’t be a major problem so long as credit quality stays high, interest rates and inflation remain low, and there are economic growth persists.
However…should interest rates rise and economic conditions worsen, corporate America could be facing a major problem as it seeks to manage that debt. Rolling over bonds would become more difficult should inflation gain and rates raise, while a slowing economy would worsen business conditions and make paying off the debt more difficult. …
Central banks remain in thrall to the idea that credit-fueled growth is healthy for the global economy,” SandP said. “In fact, our research highlights that monetary policy easing has thus far contributed to increased financial risk, with the growth of corporate borrowing far outpacing that of the global economy…” (Corporate debt seen ballooning to $75 trillion: SandP says, CNBC)

Wall Street Journal: “SandP 500 companies through the first two quarters of the year collectively returned 112% of their earnings through buybacks and dividends.”

“Corporate debt is now near record levels, due in part to borrowing to buy back stock. It isn’t a situation that can last.
The bond market should be concerned about stock buybacks, but not because of their bullish effect on share prices. Instead, bondholders should be anxious about where the cash to pay for them comes from. It isn’t widely appreciated that the money has been borrowed in the credit markets, and that the borrowers have taken on a large amount of debt to support the buybacks. That’s cause for worry on several fronts.

The first is simply that outstanding corporate debt is now at a record high. … According to the Federal Reserve’s flow of funds data, outstanding nonfinancial corporate debt is 45.3% of GDP. That nearly matches the level seen in the first quarter of 2009 (45.4%) and exceeds the prior peak of 44.9% achieved in the third quarter of 2001…
In the first quarter, nonfinancial corporate borrowing hit $724 billion. That’s the second-highest on record and is surpassed only by, again, the third quarter of 2007 with $807 billion. The similarities should give pause.” (Stock Buybacks Are Driving Companies Into Debt, Barron’s)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Today's links

1---The Nation nails it

...Isn’t there implicit contempt for American voters implied in the charge that RT transformed decisive segments of the electorate into zombie-like pro-Trump voters through a relatively negligible stream of “foreign” news reports, commentaries and ads? Are we supposed to believe the US media environment is so fragile and vulnerable that it can be poisoned by a relatively tiny amount of Russian messaging?

2-- Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts  EPI

Wage stagnation for the vast majority was not created by abstract economic trends. Rather, wages were suppressed by policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power

3--Clown Prince continues purge

After the mass arrests in Saudi Arabia Trump tweeted: "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing. Some of those they are harshly treating have been 'milking' their country for years."..

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of "direct military aggression" through the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The crown prince has pledged to overhaul the economy of Saudi Arabia by weaning it off its heavy reliance on oil, rid the kingdom of systemic corruption, and "moderate" a society that has long been influenced by religious hardliners.

4--The worthless financial system

In her OpEd, Foroohar explains how the big banks have become unmoored from their core purpose. She writes:

“In the 1970s, most of their financial flows, which of course come directly from our savings, would have been funneled into new business investment. Today, only about 15 percent of the money coming out of the largest financial institutions goes to that purpose. The rest exists in a closed loop of trading; institutions facilitate and engage in the buying and selling of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets that mainly enriches the 20 percent of the population that owns 80 percent of that asset base. This doesn’t help growth, but it does fuel the wealth gap.”

Foroohar makes these other astute observations as well:
“The financial industry, dominated by the biggest banks, provides only 4 percent of all jobs in the country, yet takes about a quarter of the corporate profit pie…
“Finance has become the tail that wags the dog. Until we start talking about how to create a financial system that really serves society, rather than just trying to stay ahead of the misdeeds of one that doesn’t, we’ll struggle in vain to bridge the gap between Wall Street and Main Street.”

5--$24 trillion?? Whither the Fed’s “full employment, price stability” mandate?

It tells us its baloney. It tells us its public relations-hype designed to bamboozle the sheeple who can’t see what’s going on right beneath their noses.. It tells us the Fed has a secret mandate to assist the profit-accumulation process for the Kleptocrat class of ivy league moochers. (Wall Street) It tells us that the Fed’s real job is implement the policies that best facilitate the upward distribution of wealth. It tells us that the Fed’s so called “independence” is a complete and utter fraud and that if Janet Yellen or any of her meat-puppet-colleagues on the FOMC ever veered as much as a centimeter to the left of her corporate marching orders– they’d find themselves wrapped in plastic-sheeting and gasping for air at the bottom of the East River in a pair of cement booties...

Here’s a little background from an article at the WSWS:
“A new report issued by the Swiss bank Credit Suisse finds that global wealth inequality continues to worsen and has reached a new milestone, with the top 1 percent owning more of the world’s assets than the bottom 99 percent combined.

Of the estimated $250 trillion in global assets, the top 1 percent owned almost exactly 50 percent, while the bottom 50 percent of humanity owned collectively less than 1 percent. The richest 10 percent owned 87.7 percent of the world’s wealth, leaving 12.3 percent for the bottom 90 percent of the population.” (“Top 1 percent own more than half of world’s wealth“, World Socialist Web Site)
But it’s not just the fact that half of everything is owned by a handful of obscenely-wealthy, money-grubbing loafers. This same voracious crew of miscreants is pulling down the lions-share of the yearly income too. Check it out:

“The census data also reveals that income inequality in America remained virtually unchanged from 2014, with the wealthy in the top fifth of the population taking in about half of all household income, while the bottom fifth earned only 3.4 percent.” (“Despite increase in 2015, US household income still lags behind pre-recession levels“, Kate Randall, World Socialist web Site)
So –not only do the plutocrats own half of everything on planet earth– their share of the booty is actually increasing every year. Nice, eh?

The point is, none of this is accidental. These outcomes are the direct result of policy, the Fed’s policies. And the Fed is not alone either. This greatly-accelerated class war is a now global phenom. Just look at this tidbit I picked up from an article at CNBC:
“Data from JPMorgan shows that the top 50 central banks around the world have cut rates 672 times since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a figure that translates to an average of one interest rate cut every three trading days. This has also been combined with $24 trillion worth of asset purchases.” (“QE Infinity: Are we heading into the unknown?“, CNBC)
$24 trillion!

6--US Congressional hearing:--Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”

The Democrats focused their remarks on demands that the Internet companies take even more aggressive steps to censor content. In one particularly noxious exchange, Feinstein pressed Google’s legal counsel on why it took so long for YouTube (which is owned by Google) to revoke the status of Russia Today as a “preferred” broadcaster. She demanded, “Why did Google give preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? ... It took you until September of 2017 to do it...

Salgado’s apparently false statement is of a piece with Google’s other actions to censor the Internet. These include changes to its search algorithm, which, behind the backs of the public, have slashed search traffic to left-wing websites by some 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site losing some 74 percent of its search traffic.
Stressing the transformation of the major US technology companies into massive censorship operations, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked the representatives of the firms, “I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair,” to which all answered in the affirmative.

While the senators and technology companies largely presented a show of unity, just how far the companies were willing to go in censoring users’ content and helping the government create blacklists of dissidents was no doubt a subject of contentious debate in the background.

On Friday, Feinstein sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over profile information—possibly including full names, email addresses, and phone numbers—related to “divisive” “organic content” promoted by “Russia-linked” accounts.

7--Jack Rasmus 

Signs are beginning to multiply that financial markets are beginning to peak, both in the US and worldwide, many having reached bubble proportions..

Fiscal policy is generally ruled out because of fear of deficits. The policy instrument that remains is monetary—low interest rates and quantitative easing (QE), implemented in the United States, United Kingdom (UK), (EU), and Japan. Other standard policies are, in the EU, austerity—which may cut deficits but obviously does not generate growth (and, by depressing tax revenues over time, worsens deficits)—and structural reform. Besides privatization, the main component of reform is labor market flexibilization, in other words depressing wages and incomes. This has been implemented in the United States since the 1970s and 1980s, in the UK in the 1990s, in Germany and South Korea in the 2000s, and is now on the scaffolds in Japan, France, and Spain (and possibly Italy). The objective is to boost international competitiveness by depressing wages and benefits, which (a) ceases to have an effect when every country is doing the same, (b) assumes the key problem is cheap supply, whereas supply is actually abundant and what is lacking is demand, and (c) by depressing wage incomes, it further reduces domestic demand. No wonder these policies make matters worse. Thus, explanations of slow growth fall short and policies have been counterproductive. This is where Jack Rasmus’s book comes in. It offers the most pertinent analysis of the stagnation trap I have seen.

The world has turned into Japan,” according to the head of a Hong Kong-based hedge fund.“When rates are this low, returns are low. There is too much money and too few opportunities” (Sender, 2016). However, by providing an organized and systemic focus on finance and liquidity, Rasmus makes clear that the policies that aim to remedy stagnation (low interest rates, QE, competitive devaluation, and bank bailouts) and provide stability are destabilizing, act as a break on growth, and worsen the problem. According to Karl Kraus, psychoanalysis is a symptom of the diseasethat it claims to be the remedy for, and the same holds for the central bank policies of crisis management.

8--Defending RT

RT is the focus of attack precisely because it provides a means of information gathering outside the bounds of corporate media. RT viewers can access a wide variety of viewpoints, including those in opposition to United States and NATO foreign policy. Russian had already been branded as evil, but the claims of interference in the 2016 election and connections to Donald Trump have been effective and provided the perfect cover for promoting United States foreign policy and covering up the Democratic Party corruption and ineptitude which led to Donald Trump’s victory.

9--Russia-gate, BAR

The CIA, in particular, made Trump their National Security Enemy #1. They are the main architects of Russiagate -- a “conspiracy” in which the predicate Kremlin “crime” of DNC document-stealing remains unproven, and which pales into almost laughable insignificance when compared to decades of U.S. wars of regime change, economic strangulation, assassinations, and outright genocide around the world. Syria and Congo (6 million-plus dead) are crimes of the worst order known to humankind. Russiagate is a lie that would be no more than a Russian diplomatic blunder, even if true.

The corporate media are the public agents of the mass psychological operation. With media consolidation at such an advanced state, it turns out to be not all that difficult for a handful of media conglomerates, each tied inextricably to finance capital and in close collaboration with one of the corporate parties and all of the intelligence outfits, to create and sustain a “state of emergency” for a long period of time -- more than year, so far. This induced “state of emergency” is designed to prepare the American public, politically and psychologically, to maintain the momentum of the U.S. imperial offensive in the world, by demonizing Russia as an internal, as well as external, threat to the United States. In other words, Russiagate is an artificial crisis that was made necessary by the actual crisis of U.S. imperialism -- its economic decline and military dependence on jihadist foot soldiers, and just as importantly, the utter collapse of U.S. moral authority in the world.
The U.S. imperial orbit is shrinking, dramatically. Russiagate is the domestic response to this geopolitical reality.

10--Loan origination at 3 year low

Loan origination volume hit a three year low this year.  What?  How is that possible when all the cheerleaders are out in the streets preaching the good gospel of buying real estate?  Well the reality is that a good portion of the market is still driven by investors...

Isn’t the market blistering hot?  On the price side, yes.  You have people fighting over scraps.  And you should keep in mind that the economy has been on a massive bull run since March of 2009 (over 8 years now).  Some people have forgotten what it is to live in a correction.

11--Seriously underwater property owners

The housing market has recovered nearly in tandem with the stock market.  The stock market has been on a virtual nonstop bull run since early 2009.  So people have forgotten about our recent financial history.

...Back in 2012 you had 12.5 million underwater properties.  That number has fallen to 5.49 million today.  But that is the thing, you still have a large number of people that overpaid and yet somehow, Kool-Aid drinkers are trying to convince people to buy at the peak when there is clear evidence of those that over paid still out there today!...

This is really interesting.  While the number of underwater homes has decreased dramatically as property values have increased, you wouldn’t know that we still have 5.49 million underwater homeowners today based on the rhetoric we are now seeing.

12--nearly 40 percent of young Californians living at home versus 34 percent nationwide.  Make no mistake though, this is a national trend.

The numbers are startling because when we brought attention to the issue a few years ago the number was at 2.3 million young adults living at home.  Today it is now up to 3.6 million – if we combined these people it would be the third largest city in the U.S.

Young and living at home
There was this “fake news” narrative that many young Americans would be the second wind that would keep the housing market going strong.  That never materialized.  What did happen is that you had investors, foreign money, and wealthier older households buying the slim inventory available in the market.

13-- The housing ATM is now back in working order.  Hallelujah!

The housing ATM is now back in working order.  Hallelujah!  Black Knight Financial Services reported that in Q4 of 2016 44 percent of refinances were cash-outs.  Meaning, people are now using their homes like ATMs which flies in the face of all the house humpers who continually act as if people are acting prudent in buying crap shacks.  No, people are sucking on the teat of housing mania and now they are drinking from the nectar that is being produced.  This percentage was the highest level of cash-outs in the last eight years.  What was happening eight years ago?  The housing market was imploding in epic fashion and nearly 8 million people lost their homes to foreclosure.  Many lost their homes because they took out HELOCs and Home Equity loans to live beyond their means.  I have to make this point since people always forget – the vast number of foreclosures happened on traditional vanilla 30-year fixed rate mortgages....

This is a troubling indicator of mass euphoria which happens in bubbles.  In many cases, these larger economic contractions happen because of solvency issues when it comes to paying debt.  People are locking in future income to current purchases be it with houses, autos, or even going to college.  That debt still needs to get repaid.
The entire model right now is built on permanent real estate appreciation.  Even a slight decline is enough to burst this train.  But right now, you have an entire menu of new excuses that replace the excuses made back in 2007 and 2008

14-- The fact that 37% of properties sold in 2016 came from small investors is stunning

The bread and butter of any healthy housing market is having a good amount of first time home buyers.  That is what drives new home building and also allows for the homeownership rate to go up.  Most of the new household formation since the bubble burst was largely done through new rental households.  Institutional investors pulled back from the market starting in 2014.  Yet the homeownership rate continued to decline.  So who stepped in to fill in this gap?  Some of it was filled by first time buyers going in with low down payments thanks to FHA insured loans.  But a large percentage was made up by mom and pop investors with a lust for HGTV and their dreams of becoming flippers or landlords.  In most manias, once mom and pop are diving in with gusto you really need to think about what is going on.  I know Taco Tuesday baby boomers are looking for a little “excitement” in their lives and putting habanero salsa on your Chipotle burrito isn’t going to cut it.  So why not take the biggest risk by buying real estate when prices are near a new high?

37% of all properties bought in 2016 came from mom and pop investors.  That is a large number.  And this is happening in expensive areas as well.  Last year for example, there were many cases that I saw of a house being sold and then suddenly being put on the market for rent.  In one case, the property sold for $800,000 and was then rented out for $2,800.  This is an incredibly poor investment and that is why institutional investors are out but mom and pop are in it to “win it” because #YoLo housing.
This information is also is useful because it puts the brakes on the house humping cheerleaders thinking that everyone now has deep pockets and are out buying in mass.  No, you simply have fewer people able to purchase more properties and inventory is still low.  This is very telling regarding our nation where the top is getting very wealthy while the middle class is largely being pushed out

15--Credit check

Bank credit growth continues to decelerate, to where historically, after revisions, the economy would already be in recession. Housing and vehicles look like they are already reporting negative growth, and personal income growth has decelerated to about 0% growth, with personal spending holding positive only because people are dipping into savings, which historically has always been followed by a reduction in spending:

16--Personal income and spending, GDP, Trump meeting

Personal income growth continues to be depressed, which tends to keep spending down as well over time, though this month it had a nice one time increase due to the hurricanes, and the drop in the personal savings rate tells me it’s entirely unsustainable. Also the low inflation readings also support the notion of a general lack of aggregate demand

As mentioned above, real per-capita annual disposable income reportedly dropped -$19 per annum. At the same time the household savings rate was reported to have dropped to 3.4% (down -0.4% from the prior quarter). It is important to keep this line item in perspective: real per-capita annual disposable income is up only +7.10% in aggregate since the second quarter of 2008 — a meager annualized +0.74% growth rate over the past 37 quarters.
  • Household disposable income took another hit. Less money was available, and less money was saved — so that a significant portion of the already softening consumer spending came from savings, not pay checks.
  • 17--Existing home sales

    All regions are either slightly lower to flat year-on-year.
    And overall sales are flat, down 1.5 percent compared to September last year. Yet this report is positive for what is a lukewarm housing sector.

    18--Total Household Debt Increases, Delinquency Rates of Several Debt Types Continue Rising

    19--Is the stock market a bubble?