Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Today's Links

"It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities."  Candidate Donald Trump (before he loaded his cabinet with G-SAX bankers)

1--Consumer confidence soars in March to highest level since December 2000

Consumers' attitudes to current conditions in the U.S. jumped in March, according to a monthly survey out on Tuesday.

The Consumer Confidence Index hit 125.6 in March according to data from The Conference Board, its highest level since December 2000.

Economists expected the Conference Board's consumer confidence index to hit 114 in March, according to a consensus estimate from Reuters.

"Consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved considerably," Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Consumers' also expressed much greater optimism regarding the short-term outlook for business, jobs and personal income prospects. Thus, consumers feel current economic conditions have improved over the recent period, and their renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months," Franco said.

The survey also found that those saying business conditions are "good" rose to 32.2 percent from 28.2 percent. Those saying business conditions are "bad" fell to 12.9 percent from 13.4 percent.

2--Trump's Approval Rating Drops to New Low of 36%

President Donald Trump's job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders' failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump's three-day reading prior to Friday's events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date

3---Cheney: Russia's efforts to sway US election could be 'act of war'

There's no question there was a very serious effort made by Mr. Putin and his government, his organization, to interfere in major ways with our basic fundamental democratic processes," he said during his remarks. "In some quarters, that would be considered an act of war."

"I think it's a kind of conduct and activity we'll see going forward. We know he's attempted it previously in other states in the Baltics," he added. "I would not underestimate the weight that we as Americans assign to the Russian attempts to interfere with our internal political processes."

4--Will Donald Trump Escalate the Devastating War and Hunger in Yemen

A UNICEF report shows over 400,000 Yemeni children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and a child dying every 10 minutes from malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory-tract infections.

Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen put the tragedy in human terms. “Fisherman can’t fish, farmers can’t farm, civil servants don’t get paid…people having to make life and death decisions: Do you feed your children or do you pay for medical treatment for your child? And that’s a daily call for many families.”

President Obama supported the Saudis with massive weapons sales during his eight years in office. But just before leaving office in December 2016, when faced with increased pressure from human rights groups and lawmakers after a Saudi strike on a Yemeni funeral killed at least 140 people, President Obama put a halt of the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis.

Trump’s State Department already gave notice to Congress that they have approved a resumption of these sales. If there is no objection from Congress and President Trump signs off on the deal, the deal will go through. Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales, saying that new US arms could be used to devastate civilian lives in Yemen and could “implicate your administration in war crimes.”

5--The Ryancare Route -- Winning by Losing?

First and foremost, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans who, having voted 50 times over seven years to repeal Obamacare, we learned, had no consensus plan ready to replace it.

Moreover, they put a bill on the floor many had not read, and for which they did not have the votes.

More than a defeat, this was a humiliation. For the foreseeable future, a Republican Congress and president will coexist with a health care regime that both loathe but cannot together repeal and replace.

Moreover, this defeat suggests that, given the ideological divide in the GOP, and the unanimous opposition of congressional Democrats, the most impressive GOP majorities since the 1920s may be impotent to enact any major complicated or complex legislation.

6--Lavrov Responds to US Decision to Block Advance of Syrian Army

Any attempt by Washington to prevent Syrian forces from liberating their own country from Islamic State should be seen as extremely worrying. 

According to a trusted Syria expert, preventing the SAA from taking Raqqa signals that Washington is quietly preparing to "Balkanize" Syria — an analysis that we agree with.

7--Consumer confidence highest since dot.com bubble

8--London attack perpetrator was monitored by British intelligence six years ago

9--Saudi Arabia pivots to China

10--As Yemen war enters third year, Pentagon moves to escalate slaughter

The immediate impetus for the call for increased US aid to the Saudi-led war is reportedly a proposed Emirati operation to seize control of the key Red Sea port of Hodeida. The effect of such an offensive would be to cut off the large portion of the country and its population under Houthi control from any lifeline to the outside world. Fully 70 percent of the country’s imports now come through the port. Even before the war, Yemen was dependent upon imports for 90 percent of its food. Aid agencies have warned that a military offensive on the port could tip the country into mass starvation.

The proposed US escalation in Yemen coincides with the second anniversary of the Saudi war on the country, launched on March 26, 2015 in the form of an unending bombing campaign directed largely against civilian targets, along with a halting offensive on the ground.

The anniversary was marked in the capital of Sanaa and other Yemeni cities by demonstrations of hundreds of thousands denouncing the murderous Saudi military campaign. The Houthis have won support that extends far beyond their base in the country’s Zaidi-Shia minority because of popular hatred for the Saudi monarchy and its crimes.

As the war enters its third year, Yemen is teetering on the brink of mass starvation, confronting one of the worst humanitarian crises anywhere on the planet. This war, waged by the obscenely wealthy royal families of the gulf oil sheikdoms against what was already the poorest nation in the Arab world, has killed some 12,000 Yemenis, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, and wounded at least 40,000 more.

11--Raqqa to Join Kurdish-Run Region – Syrian Kurdish Leader

Syrian Kurdish officials decided to add Arab-dominated regions, which were taken by the Kurdish forces, to their semi-autonomous “federalized” region, whose creation has never been negotiated with the Syrian government, the AntiWar information portal reported, citing a statement of co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Saleh Muslim.

On Monday, Muslim said that the continued expansion of the Kurdish region in Syria would include the Syrian capital of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group of Raqqa, which is currently surrounded by the Kurdish forces with an eye toward a full-scale offensive.

He also noted that the efforts on expanding of the federalized region is important for the entire Syrian Arab Republic, as well as stressed that Kurds want Raqqa to stay in friendly hands” in the future.
The website noted that it is still unclear what exactly Raqqa’s residents think about these plans of Syrian Kurds.

At the same time, as AntiWar noted, many of the Raqqa’s local resistance forces, which previously concluded an alliance with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in order to expel the IS from the city, have cut their ties with Kurds, saying that the YPG was trying to dictate terms to them. That might put a crimp into their plans to adjoin Raqqa to the autonomous region

12--Russiagate’s Unasked Questions

Call me confused. Last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing on possible Trump associates’ collusion with the Russian government, which featured FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, provided very little new information even as it confirmed troubling revelations that had already appeared in the media.

If the FBI began its investigation of team Trump in late July—after the nomination process but before the election—and the Trump campaign office was located in Trump Tower, doesn’t that confirm that Donald Trump is right when he insists that his office was “wiretapped” during the summer even if his word choice was not apt? And given that former Central Intelligence Agency head John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) chief James Clapper have been most frequently cited as the Obama administration’s possible bag men in arranging for the generation, collection, dissemination, and leaking of information disparaging to Trump, why weren’t they also being questioned?...

But as a qualifier for those observations, which really don’t tell us much, one might be better served by paying attention to the comment of Committee Chair Devin Nunes, who observed in his opening remarks: “Let me be clear, I’ve been saying this for several weeks. We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”
Two days later Nunes elaborated: “I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.”...

Even former CIA acting director Michael Morell, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter who once described Donald Trump as an “unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” has now recanted and conceded that, “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.”
Regarding the FBI investigation itself, someone in the White House had to authorize such a highly sensitive initiative as it is difficult to conceive that the Bureau would undertake such a task on its own without any political cover. Comey, for his part, failed to provide a roadmap and refused to either confirm or deny whether the White House knew or authorized the investigation of the Trump associates—just as he would neither confirm nor deny whether President Obama had received a copy of the transcript of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations. Indeed, the FBI Director spent most of his time refusing to confirm or deny anything.

Comey’s words are significant. One should recall that he is both a lawyer and the head of a federal police agency that has been under fire. He said, regarding Trump tweets claiming that former President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower, that “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” adding that “no individual”—not even a president—can unilaterally order a wiretap. ...

Take away the CrowdStrike report and there is no publicly available evidence whatsoever that the Russians were behind the hacking. This is not to say they didn’t do it, but it is yet another indication that verification of claims is lacking...

I personally believe, based on what I have observed and read, that no Trumpster did anything indictable; that the Russians were indeed behind the DNC hack but were not trying to destroy our democracy; that Brennan arranged with the Brits to obtain the surveillance information, which he then leaked; and that Obama knew all about the investigation of Trump and probably worked with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to have the Justice Department initiate it. But what do I know?
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

Monday, March 27, 2017

1--Syria--Not a revolution (14 min excellent summary)

2--Surveillance State Goes After Trump

FBI special agent Coleen Rowley: I think the Chairman Nunes said [Wednesday] that Trump was monitored instead of wiretapped. ....” Wiretapping itself is almost obsolete. It means tapping into a wire, that’s the old way, when the way communications used to go over wires and now they’re digital and they… Snowden, if you remember, all of the disclosures from Edward Snowden, and other NSA whistleblowers, there’s something going on now called collect it all, massive surveillance. And that is done, there are some targets, but then lots and lots of Americans are incidentally monitored… they aren’t monitored but their conversations, and their phone numbers that they’re dialing and their e-mails that they’re e-mailing are collected....And, of course, when Trump was under investigation it would be natural that they would have some… not his… not necessarily him personally, but his campaign staff obviously, that’s going to mean surveillance of those people.
DB: Now, monitoring, does that mean that Obama was in fact, surveilling? Is that a good word? Was Trump being surveilled? Were his claims essentially correct?...

CR: I think Trump is vindicated, again he didn’t understand the terms that he was using. And he did misuse the term, so when Comey said “No”… that that tweet about being wiretapped, we have found no evidence of that.” Comey was able to be honest because a wiretap has a specific meaning. But, you notice, in five hours Comey never said that there’s been no surveillance of anyone connected to the Trump campaign. In fact, he implied the opposite. He implied that the Trump campaign, some persons, he didn’t mention names, but some of them have been investigated since this summer.

a lot of the communications from the Trump people, in Washington, also, at Trump Tower,  even though it wasn’t wiretapped, it was monitored.

CR: It (communications) was collected. And, again, this isn’t necessarily about Trump personally, just cause it’s not about Obama, personally ordering. What this is about is if there are even members of Trump’s campaign staff, or even associates, that could even be a little bit distant from the actual campaign, but just associates. It may be that they were the actual targets. And, still, might be the targets. But, then incidentally Trump could have ended up being, himself, intercepted.

These are leakers who seem to be high level, as opposed to somebody like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, at a lower level, who is motivated for the public good. I think that the leaks that you’ve seen in the past couple of months, or three months, have actually come from high levels, top appointees, and political partisanship are the motivations. They’re not saying this is for the public good

DB--In terms of what we know. Do they got Donald Trump? Is he owned by the Russians? What have you been able to confirm?
CR: Well, I don’t think there has… and it’s not just myself, it’s really most of our veteran intelligence professionals, retired CIA, retired NSA, we’ve all been conferring for a while on this. And we have asked, we actually put out a…memo asking for evidence. Because it’s just been assertions and innuendoes, and demonization…
We see a lot of demonization of the Russian T.V. channel. But we have not seen any actual evidence of Russians… and there’s a lot of reasons to think that this would be illogical...

our mainstream media is owned by what?…half a dozen big conglomerates, all connected to the military industrial complex, they continue with the scenario of that old movie… the Russians are coming!…the Russians are coming! And unfortunately the Democrat Party has become the war party, very clearly.   ... Our mainstream news is saying that, what you said at the beginning, the Russians own Trump, and basically that this has undermined our democracy and our electoral process. That part of it we have seen no evidence of. And, Trump is partially vindicated, because obviously whether he was personally targeted, his campaign at least seems to have been monitored, at least in part....

to Comey’s credit he did say this a couple of times that these media accounts are not accurate. And, I think that, again, we… there’s been a lot of “sources” anonymous sources which I do not think are whistleblowers. But these anonymous sources seem to have come from political operatives, and even higher level people. I’m guessing some of this came from the Obama administration appointees, not Obama, of course, personally.

3--Exposing Shabby Intelligence (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity speak out)

More recently, VIPS has raised serious questions about the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered “Russian hacking” designed to destabilize American politics and, if possible, put Donald Trump in the presidency. The group called on President Obama to release solid evidence of this, even if it creates difficulty for ongoing intelligence operations. The former security officials suggested the evidence released by the government thus far “does not pass the smell test,” and they noted particularly the lack of any public evidence linking the Russians to WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question.
“We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstantiated, ‘we-assess’ judgments by the intelligence agencies,” said the VIPS statement, addressed to Obama. “Otherwise, we … will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those—like Mr. Trump—who wish to deal constructively with them.”

4--Turkey worried US will create Kurdish state in e Syria

As preparations for the liberation of Daesh's Syrian capital of Raqqa continue, many observers are becoming increasingly anxious as to what the next stage of Kurdish-US cooperation will be, and whether Washington may attempt to use the Kurds as a tool to dismember Syria...

"The US have been trying to divide Syria from the very beginning," Mustafa suggested. "This is an American project. We, Syrian Turkmen, are against this. Syria's territorial integrity must be preserved. In addition, it must be the Syrians themselves, not external forces, who decide the form of government in the country. The Syrian people must decide whether there will be a federal form of government, or some other form."

5--Partition of Syria

U.S. Special Forces and Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters have just captured a "strategic air base" from Islamic State in northern Syria; in doing so, they have also "blocked" the advance of the Syrian Army as it approaches Raqqa from the west:
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Sunday that they captured the Tabqa air base, 45km west of Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group's de facto capital in Syria.
Earlier this week, US forces airlifted SDF fighters

behind ISIL lines to allow them to launch the Tabqa assault, and on Friday the alliance reached one of the dam's entrances.
SDF forces were within 10km of Raqqa from the north, and aimed to effectively surround the city before launching an assault. 

6--Washington state of Greater Kurdistan to be created in Syria and Iraq  (important map)

According to the documents at our disposal, the U.S. authorities and the Syrian Kurds reached an agreement past week on the boundaries of the Kurdish autonomy in the territory of Syria, which had been guaranteed to Kurds in case of capturing Raqqa and Al-Tabqah (34 miles to the West of Raqqa). This confirms the reports about the U.S. plans to divide Syria.

In addition, Washington has already defined the boundaries of the new state of the Great Kurdistan on the territory of Syria and Iraq. It is to be created after ISIS defeat and the final collapse of Syrian Arab Republic. According to the U.S. military, Kurds remain the only force capable of defeating ISIS....The U.S. government intends to capture Raqqa by April and to eliminate ISIS in Syria and Iraq this summer. The implementation of these plans requires making concessions to Kurds. This is why the U.S. promises them an independent state in case of victory.

7--A Correction Now Might Not Be So Bad, Some Investors Say

After the postelection rally, many say a 10% retreat is overdue and would be healthy for the market

Analysts see earnings for S&P 500 companies growing 9.1% in the first quarter of 2017 from the year-earlier period, according to FactSet, down from their Dec. 31 estimate for the quarter of 12.5%.

Companies in the S&P 500 traded last week at an average of 21.5 times their past 12 months of earnings, ahead of the 10-year average of 16.5 times, according to FactSet. A March survey of portfolio managers by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found 34% said stocks were overvalued, the most who said so since the survey began in 2000.

Some analysts play down those concerns, wagering that Trump administration priorities like tax cuts, deregulation and increased infrastructure spending will over time boost profits at businesses ranging from lenders to barge firms.
But the administration’s ability to push through such business-friendly policies was called into question last week, a shift that in part led to Tuesday’s 1.2% decline in the S&P 500, the largest percentage drop since October. ...

Other investors have seen signs of weakness beneath the surface of improving economic data. Real average weekly earnings decreased 0.3% in February from the prior year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oil prices have fallen around 11% in March, echoing a drop that helped spur the early 2016 selloff.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow tracker is forecasting economic growth for the first quarter at a 1% pace. Prior to its increase this month, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates five times since 1987 in quarters where GDP growth was 1.2% or below, according to research from UBS. After all five times, stocks fell between 3% and 12% over the following three months...( a 12% dip on the Dow would be 2,460 points putting the Dow at 18,040)

The investor euphoria that accompanied Mr. Trump’s election has shown signs of waning. Investors are taking money out of stocks and moving into safe haven assets. Bond funds posted $7.8 billion in inflows in the week through Wednesday, while gold funds notched their largest inflows in five weeks, according to data from EPFR Global. U.S. equity funds posted their largest outflows in 38 weeks, with investors withdrawing $8.9 billion in the week through Wednesday.

Today's Links

“Nation state as a fundamental unit of man’s organized life has ceased to be the principal creative force: International banks and multinational corporations are acting and planning in terms that are far in advance of the political concepts of the nation-state.” — Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Between Two Ages: The Technetronic Era”, 1971

1--China’s Great Leap Forward

Historical amnesia infects these most deep diving frogs. Forgotten is how the post WW2 US invaded and destroyed Korea and Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) killing over nine million inhabitants, both civilian and defenders. The US invaded, colonized and neo-colonized the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, killing up to one million inhabitants. It continues to build and expands its network of military bases encircling China, It recently moved powerful, nuclear armed THADD missiles to the North Korean border, capable of attacking Chinese and even Russian cities. The US is the worlds’ largest arms exporter, surpassing the collective production and sale of the next five leading merchants of death.

In contrast, China has not unilaterally attacked, invaded or occupied anyone in hundreds of years. It does not place nuclear missiles on the US coast or borders. In fact, it does not have a single overseas military base. Its own military bases, in the South China Sea, are established to protect its vital maritime routes from pirates and the increasingly provocative US naval armada. China’s military budget, scheduled to increase by 7% in 2017, is still less than one-fourth of the US budget....

Unlike China, the US is wallowing at less than 2% annual growth. Wages stagnate for decades; real wages and living standards decline. The costs of education and health care skyrocket, while the quality of these vital services decline dramatically. Costs are growing, un-employment is growing and worker suicide and mortality is growing. It is absolutely vital that the West acknowledge China’s impressive advances in order to learn, borrow and foster a similar pattern of positive growth and equity. Co-operation between China and the US is essential for promoting peace and justice in Asia

2--Brookings Plan Materializes in E Syria--Kurdish leader expects Raqqa to join federal system in Syria Breaking apart Syria as per US strategic plan

The northern Syrian city of Raqqa is expected to join a decentralized system of government being set up by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies once it is captured from ISIS, a leading Kurdish politician told Reuters on Monday.

The U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are closing in on the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa.

Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, claimed it would be up to the people of Raqqa to decide their future once the city is purged of ISIS, but he thinks the city will join the “democratic federal” system, Reuters reported.

“We expect (this) because our project is for all of Syria … and Raqqa can be part of it,” Muslim said in a telephone interview. “Our only concern is that the people of Raqqa are the ones who take the decision on everything.”

The “democratic federal” system aims to build on three autonomous areas set up by the main Kurdish groups in the north and decentralise Syria. This illegal move undermines the efforts of the Syrian government to preserve the state

Muslim added that Raqqa needed to be in “friendly hands” otherwise it would form a “danger to all Syria, particularly northern Syria, the federal system of northern Syria, the areas of self administration”.

3--Fading Trump rally threatened by rare contraction of US credit

4--Is Trump Giving the Pentagon Free Rein to Wage War as It Likes?

5--Paper Wealth In US Stocks Reaches $32 Trillion (Fed)

6--(archive Feb 27) Trump says U.S. ‘never wins wars’ anymore

President Trump said Monday the U.S. has squandered trillions of dollars on military operations in the Middle East over the past two decades without winning any of the wars.
“We never win, and we don’t fight to win,” the new commander-in-chief told the nation’s governors at a White House meeting. “We’ve either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.”

In previewing his first budget proposal, the president said he’ll call for a big increase in military spending to send “a message to the world” about America’s strength and resolve. Mr. Trump said he wants to provide soldiers with the tools to deter war and, when called upon, “to start winning wars again.”
“When I was young, in high school and in college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost,” Mr. Trump said. “Now, we never win a war.”

He cited the example of the Middle East, where the U.S. has waged wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan since 2001.
“Here we are, almost 17 years of fighting in the Middle East,” Mr. Trump said. “I saw a chart, as of a month ago, $6 trillion we’ve spent in the Middle East. That’s just unacceptable.”

7--The massacre in Mosul

27 March 2017
The US-led “coalition” has admitted that its forces carried out the March 17 air strike in Mosul—ostensibly against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters—that slaughtered as many as 200 civilians, including numerous children. The admission was only made in the face of evidence provided by survivors to Iraqi journalists, whose accounts were reported by sections of the Western press.
The massacre is being described as possibly the largest single death toll inflicted by a coalition air strike since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The grim reality, however, is that very little is known about the impact of the assault on Mosul, which the Iraqi government began last October under pressure from the Obama administration. Coverage of the offensive has been heavily censored and marked by a propaganda-like character. Almost universally, the fighting has been portrayed as a “heroic” battle by Iraqi forces against the “barbaric” ISIS. Little attention has been given to the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside the besieged city....

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights reported last weekend it has eyewitness accounts of 3,846 civilian deaths since the assault into western Mosul began in February. It has reports of 10,000 residential homes being destroyed. Every day, thousands of terrified and starving civilians risk their lives to flee through the battle lines to escape the city. The number of refugees has soared to well over 200,000, with more than 10,000 new displaced persons arriving most days. Aid agencies are overwhelmed and warn they will not be able to care for the estimated 400,000 people still hiding out in the city’s ISIS-held areas.
Every effort is being made to conceal from the American and world population the savage consequences of US-led military operations in the Middle East...

Above all, the political and media establishment attempt to conceal the fact that the very emergence of ISIS is the direct outcome of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, followed by the destruction of Libya and the proxy war the US and its allies sponsored in Syria.

8--Growing divisions, war threats loom over EU summit in Rome

The preamble to the 1957 Treaty of Rome signed by Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg reflects this long-abandoned strategy. Calling for “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” it pledges to ensure the “economic and social progress ... by common action to eliminate the barriers which divide Europe” and “the constant improvement of the living and working conditions” of European people.

Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and the EU’s establishment in 1992 in the Maastricht Treaty, the EU has repudiated these conceptions. The NATO wars in the Balkans in the 1990s and above all the latest war drive against Russia, after the announcement of German re-militarization in 2014, went hand with accelerating austerity measures targeting basic social rights won by the working class in previous decades of struggle.

These took the sharpest form in Western Europe with EU austerity measures imposed after the 2008 Wall Street crash that devastated Greece and led to threats to expel Greece from the euro zone.
Deep political shocks are exposing the underlying bankruptcy of the EU and the unviability of attempts to unify Europe on a capitalist basis. With Brexit and the coming to power in Washington of the Trump administration, which has denounced the EU as a tool of German domination, the crisis of the EU has reached a new level of intensity. Even those sections of the European still defending the EU now aim to divide Europe in order to sideline, or even expel from the EU, those European countries that they see as an obstacle to their plans for war and austerity.

9--Somalia Flashback: Killing Nomads, Nimmo

Somalia is falling back into an all-out civil war fueled by the decades old unwillingness of the U.S. to condone an independent local unity government. The Islamic Court Union, a unity government created by the Somalis in 2006, was the last working instance of a real Somali state. It had no Jihadist agenda and held down local warlords. It was destroyed by the Bush administration.
The US does not want a political settlement in Somalia. It wants chaos. It needs al-Qaeda and Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen in order to justify its intervention and occupation of East Africa.

10--Senate votes to repeal FCC internet privacy regulations

By Bryan Dyne
27 March 2017
With virtually no public discussion, the US Senate voted Thursday to repeal a set of internet privacy regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last October.
If passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the legislation will allow internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon to sell private communications information to the advertising industry and any other buyers, unimpeded by any sort of regulatory oversight.
The repeal was passed by the Senate using powers outlined in the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress the authority to eliminate rules and guidelines passed by federal agencies before they go into effect. The use of the CRA will also prevent the FCC from passing “substantially similar” regulations in the future, essentially giving these companies free reign in regards to the data they collect from their users

11--Trump’s Wars

12--US Airstrikes Killed Nearly 300 Civilians in Mosul         

Pentagon Confirms Hitting Site, Says Iraq Asked Them To

13--Where the Anti-Russian Moral Panic is Leading Us

Yet they come very close to saying it. Here’s an approving article on the Oxford University web site that hardly masks Howard’s agenda:
“A form of mass propaganda more insidious than anything used in the 20th century is being used to manipulate global politics, according to the latest research. The culprit is social media and the lax regulation that allows voters to be bombarded with politically slanted misinformation – fake news.”
Insidious! Manipulative! “The culprit”! And what’s the solution? Regulation. The piece goes on to cite Howard:

“Ruling elites have often used propaganda to sustain their power, but this latest wave is different,’ says Professor Philip Howard, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute and a Fellow of Balliol College. ‘Targeted messaging over social media is deeply personalized compared to the messaging that ‘all communists are evil’ that used to be distributed by mass films. It’s much more difficult to source who’s generating the content. Users think the messaging may be coming from their family and friends; it’s about particular issues the programmer knows you care about. And it appears to be pretty effective.’”

So it’s okay for “ruling elites” to use propaganda, “but this latest wave is different.” Well, yes, its goal is apparently to oppose the current ruling elites, which is what Howard objects to....

McCarthyism started out as a partisan campaign to tar the Democrats as the Kremlin’s party. But at least there was some evidence that the reds had indeed infiltrated the highest reaches of FDR’s administration. In the case of the neo-McCarthyites, their “evidence” consists of sheer assertions by anonymous spooks, cries of “it’s classified, we can’t give you the evidence,” and a case made by profit-making cyber-“security” companies like CrowdStrike that is fast coming unglued.




Saturday, March 25, 2017

Today's links

Forgotten promises?  
“We will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past…We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments…. Our goal is stability not chaos, because we want to rebuild our country [the United States]… We will partner with any nation that is willing to join us in the effort to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism …In our dealings with other countries, we will seek shared interests wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding, and good will.” Donald Trump campaign speech dec 1--Cincinnati

1--US military buildup continues, Nation  Mounting anti-Russia hysteria and military buildup, Hmmmm?

On March 9, The New York Times reported that the United States is sending 400 troops to Syria to bolster the small number of American troops that are already on the ground there. A week later, March 15, The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon has drawn up plans to send a 1,000 more troops within the coming weeks. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the coming (and perhaps final) stages of the operation against the Islamic State, the administration has decided to send “an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

2--Le Pen goes to Moscow

Intelligence sharing?

3--Thus Spake Sergei (Lavrov, that is)

"The formation of a polycentric international order"...

(must read)  The redistribution of the global balance of power continues. We are witnessing new centres of economic power and associated political influence come into being in the world. The Asia-Pacific Region has established itself as the driver of the world economy. Latin American and African nations, which have considerable human and resource potential, are taking a more active role. These developments bring into stark relief the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world. The need to democratise relations between states is becoming a more pressing issue

Russia remains the economic centre of gravity for the post-Soviet countries. This objective factor, not Moscow’s mythical urge to “revive the empire”, underlies the movement toward Eurasian integration. We and our partners in the Eurasian Economic Union are linked in today’s globalised world by centuries-long economic and cultural contacts and the intertwined destinies of our nations. We also advance the EAEU’s foreign contacts to implement President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to form a multilevel integration model in Eurasia. Interest in this initiative is growing steadily

4--Daesh, Creature of the West

"In the end, Shea frankly admitted to the source that Gen David Petraeus, conductor of the much-lauded 2007 surge, had trained these Sunnis now part of Daesh in Anbar province in Iraq.
"Saudi intelligence still maintains that these Iraqi Sunnis were not US-trained – as Shea confirmed – because the Shiites in power in Baghdad didn’t allow it. Not true. The fact is the Daesh core – most of them former commanders and soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s army — is indeed a US-trained militia."
Now I doubt very much more than previously that Dr. Frankenstein will destroy his creation, which explains the sudden surge to wall off Raqqa from all other regional forces and capture Taqba airbase

5--Putin speaks

Russia opposes attempts to destabilize and weaken international relations, as this could lead to a chaotic and ever less controllable slide towards greater tension in the world.

We support joint action to ensure a democratic and fair world order based on strict respect for the norms of international law, the United Nations Charter, recognition of the unquestionable value of cultural and civilizational diversity, national sovereignty, and the right of all countries to decide their futures freely, without external pressure.

The international situation does indeed require improvement. This calls for restraint, wisdom and responsibility. I would like to reiterate that Russia supports joint efforts to resolve the real problems facing the entire international community today. 

6--U.S. ​Stocks’ Weekly Drop Is Biggest in Months-- Political uncertainty, stretched valuations drive declines amid struggle on health-care bill

7--SEC Chairman Nominee Jay Clayton Calls for Scaling Back Regulations to Encourage IPOs -- President Donald Trump’s pick for top regulatory post says past work as a Wall Street lawyer is a strength

Another Trump fox arrives at the henhouse

8--What Comes After the Trump Trade for Markets? -- Markets can be driven by stories about fundamental factors or by pure supply and demand

Markets love a good story. The narrative this week has been about fear for the “Trump trade” of rising equities and higher Treasury yields, as the congressional battle over health care raised doubts about the prospects for the president’s promised tax cuts.
A more nuanced tale involves a fragile rally increasingly reliant on share buying by private investors, even as Donald Trump’s approval ratings fell and sophisticated investors grew more concerned about how much hope was priced in to stocks.

A deeper analysis goes to the next level, trying to detect when the story itself is changing. It is often obvious with hindsight: Last summer, U.S. stocks flipped from moving the opposite way to the dollar to moving in the same direction, as deflation fears faded. The S&P 500 switched from being driven up by a hunt for yield to instead gaining from a hunt for growth, and economically sensitive cyclical stocks took the lead. Mr. Trump’s election turbocharged the rally because a growth narrative took firm hold, shown by investors who started to like higher inflation-adjusted yields....

The story is changing again. U.S. stocks have become less and less sensitive to economic factors as the year has gone on, and the explanatory power of macroeconomic influences fell close to zero at the start of this week, according to Quant Insight. QI aims to model how the macroeconomic drivers of asset prices shift as market narratives change, using a variation on a statistical tool known as principal component analysis. It found previously tight links between U.S. stocks, inflation-linked bond yields and the dollar weakened recently....

Whichever story eventually dominates, expect choppy markets until the next narrative emerges

9--Prominent U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union: “The Whole Brou-Ha-Ha Over Contacts with Russian Diplomats Has Taken On All The Earmarks of a Witch Hunt … That is the Attitude of a Police State”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Today's links

"The fact that Hillary Clinton can even show her face in public without being booed is proof of the Democratic Party death spiral. " Margaret Kimberley

1--Adam Schiff: Grifter, Racketeer, Warmonger

The cynical, absurd campaign to tar the Trump administration as a Russian plot to take over America is based on noting but lies, innuendo, political opportunism, and naked greed. Trump famously pledged to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C., and it was inevitable that Schiff, one of the nastiest of the swamp creatures, would arise from the muck screeching in protest.

Let him. He and his party are consigning themselves to the margins of American politics. Their loony conspiracy theories are so far removed from the concerns of ordinary Americans that the distance can only be measured in light years. Polls show that even the majority of Democrats don’t think Trump’s relations with the Russians involved illegality: independents and Republicans disbelieve Schiff’s tales of Russian plots by an overwhelming majority. No normal person cares about Russia: but the Democratic activist base is very far from normal. ...

At the dawn of the cold war, as McCarthyism was rising, the formerly “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist and anti-NATO) Republican party became the party of warmongers: the alleged threat of a domestic “communist conspiracy” logically translated into an international crusade to “roll back” communism by military means. What we are witnessing today is a similar transformation of the Democrats. Which is, as Trump would put it, sad!

2--Hillary Returns

The Democrats want to remain the corporatist party that carries out errands for the ruling class and wages imperialist war. They want those things more than they want to win. They are now fomenting an anti-Russian circus of a congressional investigation instead of making meaningful change in policy and platform that would bring them to victory. This strategy seems surprising until one acknowledges that change is the last thing they want. They prefer to live off of Republican unpopularity and slide back into office while doing the same things which have consigned them to also-ran status at every level of government around the country.

The Democratic Party exists on an outdated perception that it stands for justice and a fair and inclusive system. It has done nothing of the sort for decades but still lives off of long dead imagery.

This party is in free fall yet it keeps a hold on progressives who cannot imagine a political world without them. It is clear that supporting the Democratic Party is a path to more defeat. Even if they were committed to reforming their way to victory they would do nothing but repeat their history of ignoring and even attacking the millions of people who vote for them.

3--US Airdrops Marines Behind ISIS Lines in Syria

Forces Positioned Near Town of Tabqa

US forces in Syria have begun airdropping troops behind ISIS lines near the town of al-Tabqa, and near the important Tabqa Dam. The exact details of the airdrop are still emerging but they are said to include some US Marines as well as a number of Kurdish forces.

The area around Tabqa is just the latest in a series of targets for the Kurdish YPG as they attempt to surround the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Tabqa is about 25 miles west of the capital, and Kurdish YPG forces mostly control the area north of the city, though they’ve also made some efforts to take the northeast

The airdrops, which began on Tuesday, were the first US airdrops of Kurdish forces so far in Syria, and the deployment of US Marines with them points to the continued escalation of direct US military involvement on the ground by the Trump Administration.

In recent weeks, the US has also deployed hundreds of other US Marines with howitzers into the area north of Raqqa, aiming to provide support for advances toward the city. While the Pentagon officially labeled the howitzer Marines “advisers,” there appears to be little doubt that they, along with the new airdropped troops, will be involved in combat in the course of this deployment

4--Could the President Spy on His Political Opponents?-- Under the government’s current interpretation of the law, unfortunately, the answer is yes.

5--Davos For Democrats: DNC Mega Donors Meet At Mandarin Oriental Hotel To Plot "The Resistance"

6--BOMBSHELL: CIA Whistleblower Leaked Proof Trump Under "Systematic Illegal" Surveillance Over Two Years Ago: FBI Sat On It

As a result, Montgomery went to attorney and FreedomWatch founder Larry Klayman - who then approached the FBI:
Under grants of immunity, which I obtained through Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Curtis, Montgomery produced the hard drives and later was interviewed under oath in a secure room at the FBI Field Office in the District of Columbia. There he laid out how persons like then-businessman Donald Trump were illegally spied upon by Clapper, Brennan, and the spy agencies of the Obama administration

Montgomery left the NSA and CIA with 47 hard drives and over 600 million pages of information, much of which is classified, and sought to come forward legally as a whistleblower to appropriate government entities, including congressional intelligence committees, to expose that the spy agencies were engaged for years in systematic illegal surveillance on prominent Americans, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, other justices, 156 judges, prominent businessmen such as Donald Trump, and even yours truly. Working side by side with Obama's former Director of National Intelligence (DIA), James Clapper, and Obama's former Director of the CIA, John Brennan, Montgomery witnessed “up close and personal” this “Orwellian Big Brother” intrusion on privacy, likely for potential coercion, blackmail or other nefarious purposes. 

He even claimed that these spy agencies had manipulated voting in Florida during the 2008 presidential election, which illegal tampering resulted in helping Obama to win the White House

7--NOW Can We Admit the War On Terror Has Failed?

8--Theresa May tells Parliament terrorist attacker was UK national known to MI5

9--London Attacker Was British-Born and Known to MI5 for 'Violent Extremism'

10--Will Trump Sacrifice US-Turkish Relations for Raqqa Liberation?

The Pentagon risks alienating Turkey if it continues to team up with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces during its Raqqa operation. For its part, Damascus warned foreign powers that any military operation in the country without the approval of the legitimate Syrian government will be seen as an invasion.

The Pentagon's Raqqa operation may result in the deterioration of relations between Ankara and Washington.
The crux of the matter is that the US still largely relies on the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), viewed by Ankara as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey....

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned Washington that "if [the United States] insists on carrying on this operation with terror organizations, our relations will be harmed — that is clear."

However, speaking to Sputnik Turkey Tuesday, a representative of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confirmed that the Pentagon is going to deploy an additional 1,000 US troops to Syria to assist the SDF during the upcoming advance on Daesh's stronghold in Raqqa.
He also disclosed that the US continues to deliver heavy armaments to the region.

"Every two days the US deploys a large amount of weapons, primarily heavy armaments, to the region. They have sent tanks, armored vehicles, missiles, sniper rifles, mortar launchers and other types of weaponry," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sputnik.
"In addition, the United States has told us that a decision was made to send an additional 1,000 US troops to take part in the Raqqa operation," he said, specifying that US troops will serve as military advisers during the operation and will not take part in the combat, at least initially....

For its part, Damascus has recently signaled that it will consider any military operation in Syria without the approval of the Syrian government to be an invasion, be it Raqqa or any other city.
"Any military operation in Syria without the approval of the Syrian government is illegal, and I said if there's any troops on the Syrian soil, this is an invasion, whether to liberate Raqqa or any other place. This is first. Second, we all know that the [US-led] coalition has never been serious about fighting ISIS [Daesh] or the terrorists, so we have to think about the real intention of the whole plan, if there's a plan to liberate al-Raqqa," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Russian journalists.

11--Democratic Party floats proposal for a palace coup

Friedman reveals the completely reactionary character of the opposition of the Democratic Party to the Trump administration. Trump and his band of fascists, generals and billionaires have provoked the hatred of tens of millions in the US who oppose the administration’s attacks on democratic rights, its police state persecution of immigrants, and its appeals to chauvinism, racism and militarism. But the opposition of Friedman and the Democratic Party on whose behalf he speaks has nothing to do with these democratic sentiments.

Friedman gives voice to tendencies in and around the Democratic Party that are prepared, in pursuit of their McCarthyite-style demonization of Russia, to welcome a palace coup that would impose a military/intelligence/corporate junta on the American people. The wealthy and corrupt social layers for whom the millionaire columnist speaks are motivated by two primary concerns...

He cites US imperialist strategist Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who warns that without an urgent course correction, the US could find itself “not with America first, but with America alone.”

12--Tillerson pledges long-term US military role in Iraq and Syria

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Washington’s intention to keep troops deployed more or less indefinitely in the territories now occupied by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in remarks delivered at the beginning of a two-day meeting of the US-organized anti-ISIS coalition in Washington.

“The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS,” he told an audience that included Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He gave no indication of when, if ever, US troops could be withdrawn from a war zone extending across Iraq and Syria, where there has been fighting of greater or lesser intensity throughout the 14 years since the US first invaded Iraq.

Tillerson also called for the establishment of “interim zones of stability” in Syria to which refugees from the US-instigated civil war that has raged throughout that country for the past six years could be forcibly returned. Areas will be deemed “safe” if they have been initially cleared of ISIS, an absurdly low standard given the deadly conflicts which continue to rage between different factions in the Syrian civil war.

He also stressed that these areas would come under the control of local governments installed by Washington, presumably drawn from the Kurds and Sunni Islamist opposition forces sponsored by the Pentagon and CIA as part of the US war for regime change against the Assad government in Damascus.

Trump’s secretary of state also demanded a greater commitment both militarily and financially from the 68 countries represented at the meeting. A State Department release prior to the meeting said a key goal would be to “accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS.”

Tillerson emphasized that US troops would effectively be engaged in a permanent occupation of neighboring Iraq. Even after ISIS is defeated in Mosul, where hundreds of civilians have been killed by the US-backed offensive on the Iraq’s second-largest city, the US military would remain there, Tillerson insisted.

“Local leaders and local governments will take on the process of restoring their communities in the wake of ISIS with our support,” he said. “The development of a rejuvenated civil society in these places will lead to a disenfranchisement of ISIS and the emergence of stability and peace where there was once chaos and suffering. But none of this will happen automatically. We all need to support this effort.”.....

In a remark that amounts to a blank check to the US to wage war wherever it sees fit, Tillerson ominously warned that ISIS could emerge anywhere after it is defeated in the current fighting. “As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said. “We must ensure ISIS cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world.”
Even as the secretary of state delivered his comments, a major operation has been launched in Syria by US special forces to provide support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in an assault behind ISIS lines. US troops and SDF militia were flown into a location close to a dam on the Euphrates River which they aim to take from ISIS so as to open up a new route into Raqqa, the Jihadi group’s de facto capital.
While reports sought to maintain the fiction that the US military personnel were there as “advisers,” they are to all intents and purposes engaged in a combat mission. Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the US military intervention in Syria and Iraq, admitted as much when he noted that the mission behind enemy lines could take “weeks” to complete.....

Russia, which intervened in 2015 to prop up the Assad regime, is also strengthening its presence in the contested northwest of Syria, where its military personnel will carry out training of the Kurdish YPG militia, which is also receiving support from the US. This will further antagonize Turkey as Ankara is not prepared to tolerate the consolidation of a Kurdish-controlled autonomous region on its border. Ankara also views Iran with mounting hostility, accusing it of seeking to expand its influence in Syria

13--Political warfare flares over surveillance of Trump transition team

The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a second hearing on March 28 in which three former Obama administration officials will be the principal witnesses: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government; former CIA Director John Brennan, who several Republicans have claimed is a major source of the intelligence leaks to the New York Times and Washington Post on the issue; and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who played a key role in the ouster of Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, informing the White House of an intercepted conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador about US sanctions at a time when Flynn was denying he had discussed the matter with the envoy.

Nunes told the press that he expected the NSA, FBI and CIA to supply by Friday a full list of Trump transition officials whose communications were intercepted.

14--Poll: Trump’s Base Support Is Eroding

15--James Comey--The most ridiculous FBI Director of all time

There are times when I near the point of total despair. This week’s Congressional hearings into alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election are such a moment.
Answering questions about Russia, FBI Director James Comey said the following:
He [Putin] hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was that he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.
They engaged in a multifaceted campaign to undermine our democracy.
They were unusually loud in their intervention. It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew, that they wanted us to see what they were doing.
Their number one mission is to undermine the credibility of our entire democracy enterprise of this nation.
They’ll be back. They’ll be back, in 2020. They may be back in 2018.
Also, in response to the question ‘Would they like to see more Brexits?’, Comey said ‘Yes.’

These statements were described by the BBC as ‘things the FBI knows about Russia’. Note the use of the word ‘knows’. In a previous post, I pointed out the need to differentiate between fact and opinion. In his evidence to Congress, Comey didn’t say that these things were his opinion. He stated them as facts, as things he ‘knows’. Putin ‘hated’ Clinton; Russians’ mission ‘is’ to undermine American democracy; ‘Yes’, they do want more Brexits, etc.
But what evidence did Comey produce to support what he was saying? None. These were opinions, masquerading as facts, not actual facts. So the question which then arises is whether Comey’s opinions on Russia are ones we should trust.

16--US Confirms Airdrop Of Shock Troops West Of Tabqa In Syrian Province Of Raqqah

On Wednesday, the SDF, the US Special Forces and the US Marines airdropped behind ISIS defense lines west of the town of Tabqa and launched an operation to capture the town of Tabqa, the Tabqa military airbase and the Tabqa dam.
“The Coalition supported this offensive with air movement and logistical support, precision airstrikes, Apache helicopters in close air support, Marine artillery, and special operations advice and assistance to SDF leadership,” the US-led coalition said in a statement at its website.
Thus, the US leadership officially confirmed the participation of its troops on the ground in the area which is likely a key part of the new US strategy against ISIS adopted by the Trump administration.

17--Concerns over Trump crisis roil financial markets

As the Financial Times put it, the “deepening political tussle in Washington over an overhaul of the health care industry prompted fears over whether Donald Trump will be able to drive through the economic stimulus he has promised...

Whatever the short-term trend on the financial markets, Tuesday’s downturn reflected the underlying unsustainability of the massively inflated stock valuations—a defining feature of the so-called “recovery” from the Wall Street crash of 2008. The Obama administration systematically fed the record rise on the stock market with trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and trillions more in super-cheap credit and cash pumped into the financial system by the Federal Reserve, combined with austerity and wage-cutting imposed on the working class.

The post-election surge to new record highs was entirely based on the anticipation of an unprecedented profit windfall from Trump’s policies of corporate deregulation, corporate tax cuts and corporate-friendly infrastructure spending, alongside an historic attack on social programs, from health care, to education, to housing.
The underlying economy, however, remains stagnant, and Trump’s policies of economic nationalism and trade war threaten to intensify the tendencies toward a new financial crash and full-scale depression...

Without the massive stimulus to corporate profits from Trump’s promised program of social reaction, there is no basis for sustaining the record bull market. Hopes of a boost to economic growth are dwindling. A running projection for first-quarter economic growth from the Atlanta Federal Reserve has fallen to 0.9 percent.
The stagnant pace of economic growth and world trade has been reflected in declining prices for basic commodities such as oil, copper and iron ore. Oil prices fell to almost four-month lows on Wednesday after data showed US crude inventories rising faster than expected, adding to already bulging global stockpiles.

The dollar has continued to fall, raising fears of a new eruption of inflation, despite the Fed’s decision last week to raise its benchmark interest rate another 0.25 percent. The markets interpreted the Fed’s move as “dovish” because the central bank indicated it had no plans to raise rates this year more than the two additional times it had previously signaled.

The starkest measure of growing nervousness in financial markets is the continuing rise in gold, the most basic of all investment safe havens. Gold rose 1 percent to $1,247 a troy ounce on Wednesday, its highest level in almost three weeks. It is up nearly 7 percent since the start of the year, and Bank of America is predicting it will jump $200 by the end of the year to surpass $1,400 per troy ounce.
At the same time, the short-term prospects for US corporate profits are weakening. As the Financial Times reported Monday: “The US corporate profit outlook has dimmed in recent weeks, with analysts paring back their forecasts in a fresh sign of the risks facing the Wall Street rally that has powered equities to peaks.”

The newspaper noted recent data showing earnings of companies in the S&P 500 index rising by 9 percent in the first quarter of this year, significantly lower than the 12.3 percent increase predicted at the start of the year. The smaller-than-expected rise in profits will intensify concerns over the extraordinarily high price-to-earnings ratio that already prevails on US financial markets. According to a measure developed by Yale economist Robert Shiller, the cyclically adjusted PE ratio hit its highest point in 15 years this month.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey showed more investors saying stocks are overvalued than undervalued than at any point since 2001. The New York Times on Wednesday noted that US stock prices relative to earnings have been higher than today only in 1929 and 1999, on the eve of major stock market crises followed by economic slumps.

18--The Bubble in commercial real estate and its effect on financial stability

Rosengren finds that “the root cause of the financial crisis was a significant decline in collateral values of residential and commercial real estate” and “exposures across the banking system that are correlated and sizeable.”
Real estate becomes a trigger for a financial crisis because of its high leverage. For banks, these properties are collateral. When property values tank, the collateral is impaired. Defaults rise. Then broader problems spread into the economy. Property owners experience a reduction in income. Homeowners see their paper wealth evaporate and financial stress rises. At some point, banks begin to fail....

Rosengren finds that “the root cause of the financial crisis was a significant decline in collateral values of residential and commercial real estate” and “exposures across the banking system that are correlated and sizeable.”
Real estate becomes a trigger for a financial crisis because of its high leverage. For banks, these properties are collateral. When property values tank, the collateral is impaired. Defaults rise. Then broader problems spread into the economy. Property owners experience a reduction in income. Homeowners see their paper wealth evaporate and financial stress rises. At some point, banks begin to fail....

Reading between the lines, it appears the real-estate bubble is once again putting financial stability at risk, but the Fed, which caused this bubble via low rates and QE, is now nudging up interest rates too slowly and too late to an “equilibrium rate” that it knows is too low. And as this bubble runs its course toward a crisis, the Fed will once again pretend it isn’t happening.

19--Chinese infrastructure: The big picture

Infrastructure development remains a top priority for China’s government, which has long recognized that a modern economy runs on reliable roads and rails, electricity, and telecommunications. From the late 1990s to 2005, 100 million Chinese benefited from power and telecommunications upgrades. Between 2001 and 2004, investment in rural roads grew by a massive 51 percent annually. And in recent years, the government has used substantial infrastructure spending to hedge against flagging economic growth.
China’s leadership has charted equally ambitious plans for the future. Its goal is to bring the entire nation’s urban infrastructure up to the level of infrastructure in a middle-income country, while using increasingly efficient transport logistics to tie the country together. What follows is a by-the-numbers portrait of this dynamic sector.

20--Wikimaps  Syria

21--Why Trump’s Tax Cut May Be Later and Smaller Than Investors Think -- With Republicans’ health-care overhaul threatening to chew up the legislative calendar, their tax-reform plans risk getting pushed back

...includes a drop in the corporate tax rate to 20% from 35% that Goldman Sachs estimates would lift S&P earnings by 10%. Other shareholder-friendly aspects of the plan, such as lowering the penalty for repatriating overseas profits, also would get delayed.Indeed, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last month told The Wall Street Journal that the administration was working with House and Senate Republicans to pass tax reform before Congress leaves for its August recess, it is looking as if the legislation might not land on President Donald Trump’s desk until early next year.

If so, any boost to earnings that a tax cut brings also won’t come until next year. Investors who are assuming a more aggressive timetable also are assuming companies will have stronger cash flows over the next 12 months than they are going to get.

The longer the health-care debate drags out, the harder it will be to craft a tax-cut package. There are time constraints, too, points out Kim Wallace, a policy analyst at Renaissance Macro Research. A year from now, when the midterm elections are looming, it will be hard for Congress to accomplish much of anything.
In the end, Republicans may have to settle for tax-reform lite. The contentious idea of taxing imports to help pay for tax reform might have to be dropped in an effort to speed passage. Republicans might have to settle for a shallower tax cut. If it is something closer to 30%, for example, Goldman estimates it would raise S&P earnings by just 4%

22-- Putin, Munich 2007--The seminal speech