Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today's links

Today's quote:  "In the aftermath of the July coup, many were hopeful Turkey would realign itself geopolitically and play a more constructive and stabilising role in the region.  Instead, while citing the threat of the Islamic State and Kurdish forces along its border, a threat that its own collusion with US and Persian Gulf States since 2011 helped create, Turkey has decisively helped move forward a crucial part of US plans to dismember Syria and move its campaign of North African and Middle Eastern destabilisation onward and outward." Land Destroyer Report

1--The widening inequality chasm

The Great Recession and the subsequent recovery from it have deepened the wedge between the very wealthy and everyone else in America, plunging the poor deeper into debt and wiping out two-fifths of the wealth held by families in the heart of the middle class. The wealthiest Americans, meanwhile, appear close to regaining all their losses over the same period, according to a new analysis released Thursday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The analysis shows the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans now hold three-quarters of the nation's wealth, up from two-thirds in 1989, and a three percentage-point increase from the start of the recession. Most Americans found themselves with less wealth in 2013 than Americans of a similar age had in 1989; the only age group doing better than its counterparts from a quarter-century ago was senior citizens

2--(Today's "must read") Central bankers eye public spending to plug $1 trillion investment gap : Yellen to speak at Jackson Hole viper's den

In the past few weeks, Yellen and three of the Fed's other four Washington-based governors have called in speeches and Congressional hearings for government infrastructure spending and other efforts to counter weak growth, sagging productivity improvements, and lagging business investment.
The fifth member has supported the idea in the past.

The Fed has no direct influence over fiscal policy and its officials traditionally refrain from discussing it in detail. Having its top officials - from Yellen to former investment banker and Bush administration official Jerome Powell - speak in one voice sends a strong signal to the next president and Congress about the limits they face in setting monetary policy and what is needed to improve the economy's prospects.
The Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Yellen speaks on Friday, is due to focus on how to improve central banks' "toolkit," but the unanimous message from the Fed's top policymakers is that those tools are not enough.
"Monetary policy is not well equipped to address long-term issues like the slowdown in productivity growth," Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer said on Sunday. He said it was up to the administration to invest more in infrastructure and education.

Behind Fischer's statement lies a troubling feature of the recovery - business investment has fallen below levels in prior years and companies seem to have stopped responding to low borrowing costs.
As a share of gross domestic product, U.S. annual business investment since 2008 has averaged nearly a full percentage point below the previous decade's average, government data shows. Reuters calculations indicate the investment shortfall has blown a hole in annual GDP that has grown to as much as one trillion dollars a year compared with what it would have been if the previous trend continued. (Graphic:

Little suggests a rebound any time soon. Fixed business investment has fallen in three successive quarters as a share of GDP. Researchers and analysts blame the slide on everything from doubts about future economic growth to distortions caused by Fed policy itself in helping boost the value of financial assets.

Companies have run up share buybacks to record levels of around half a trillion dollars a year, and held onto record amounts of cash, despite cheap financing that should in theory spur long-term investment. Research by Fed board economists Steven A. Sharpe and Gustavo Suarez suggest a reason: executives are putting little stock in interest rates when making investment decisions, and are not adjusting expected rates of return to fit the emerging low-growth world.

Based on data collected from chief financial officers, their study found the internal rate of return needed to justify capital projects has "hovered near 15 percent for decades," and barely budged even as global interest rates have fallen. Such targets made sense during spells of strong growth, but may be inconsistent with the current low-growth, low-interest rate environment, and hold back corporate spending, the Fed economists argue.

That challenges the core monetary policy notion that low short-term rates spur investment by making long-term returns more attractive (Investment based on returns, not rates!!!)

The Jackson Hole conference will likely take stock of several unconventional solutions proposed as a way of breaking out of the cycle of subdued demand, weak investment and low growth that has followed the 2007-2009 recession.
U.S. and global central bankers have brought into the mainstream such ideas as GDP targeting or "helicopter" cash injections to generate demand and inflation, and have been testing negative interest rates in Europe and Japan.

Fiscal policy is not on this year's agenda, which is dedicated to the details of monetary policy operations. But the idea that governments need to pick up the slack with infrastructure spending or other initiatives has been gaining traction among central bankers.
Well-targeted public investment, the argument goes, could in effect pay for itself through higher productivity and growth, and in doing so make any additional public debt comparatively less onerous. (very misleading. The goal of monetary policy is earning which have dropped for 5 quarters straight)

In the United States, the need for investing in the nation's aging infrastructure is a rare point where both presidential candidates seem to agree. Democrat Hillary Clinton is proposing a $275 billion package; Republican Donald Trump is calling for about twice that.
Not everyone agrees though, that more public spending is the best cure, or that an infrastructure program would pinpoint projects with a positive return.

“Economic policy should bolster private investment. Yet, it is striking that most academics and policymakers are pushing another big government spending stimulus package," said former Fed governor and Hoover Institution fellow Kevin Warsh

3--"Prolonged stagnation" could last forever, monthly review, archive

4--Russia’s Nord Stream-2 pipeline is a 'bad deal' for Europe - Biden: A buffoon on a mission

According to the report, the US regards Nord Stream-2 as a Russian political tool designed to drive a wedge between European countries with different Russian gas supply needs. In addition, it is seen by Washington as a way to cut off Ukraine from transit revenue for Russian gas.
In May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US of trying to thwart the gas pipeline. He called America’s attempts to block the project entirely political. Lavrov said Nord Stream-2 will increase Europe's energy supplies and improve the continent's energy security....

Initially, Gazprom intended to hold a 50 percent stake in the project with the other shares divided equally between Royal Dutch Shell, Germany’s E.ON and BASF, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie. On August 12 the companies left the joint venture under pressure from the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection. A statement on the Nord Stream-2 website said all the participants will “individually contemplate alternative ways to contribute.”

Nord Stream-2 is not the first Russian pipeline to face harsh opposition from the US. In 2014, Bulgaria stopped the South Stream pipeline project on the recommendation of the EU, but the decision was announced after the country was visited by US senators John McCain, Chris Murphy and Ron Johnson. This August, Bulgaria changed its position on the pipeline, indicating it is willing to resume talks with Moscow 

5--China in Syria?

"The Chinese Armed Forces lack serious combat experience. It cannot be ruled out that Chinese military trainers and even special forces would be deployed to Syria. The Chinese military is closely watching Russia’s actions in Syria. For China, Syria would be a perfect place to gain combat experience and test its weapons," he pointed out

6--Hillary's no-fly zones in Syria

"Moscow is seriously concerned by the developments on the Syrian-Turkish border, and is especially alarmed by the prospect that the situation in the conflict zone will continue to deteriorate, resulting in greater civilian losses and heightened ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds," Russia's Foreign Ministry statement says.

7--Pivot to the North: NATO Trying to Move Closer to Russia's Borders

8--New flashpoint in escalating war: Turkey shells ISIS and Kurdish forces in Syria

On Tuesday, Syrian state media and the Kurdish Hawar News Agency both announced the implementation of a cease-fire in Hasakeh, evidently brokered by Russia. However, while the Kurdish statement said government forces had agreed, as part of the cease-fire terms, to withdraw from the town and leave it under the control of the local Kurdish police force, the Syrian statement made no mention of a withdrawal.

There were other indications of a moderation of the animus between the Assad regime and Turkey. On Friday, the Syrian military’s General Command, in an evident concession to Turkey, released a statement referring to the Kurdish Asayesh internal police in Hasakeh as the “military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party.” Turkey has long pressed Damascus to declare the Syrian Kurdish forces to be an extension of the PKK.

From the other side, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking to foreign media Saturday in Istanbul, spelled out a shift in Turkey’s posture toward Assad, saying for the first time that while Assad could not be part of a long-term solution to the crisis in Syria, Ankara was willing to accept a role for him in a transitional government. At the same time, Yildirim stressed that Turkey would intervene more actively in the Syrian crisis and would not permit the country to be divided along ethnic and sectarian lines—an implicit criticism of US policy toward the Syrian Kurds.

Within this explosive mix of great power brigandage and conflicting geo-political interests, which in general is becoming increasingly unfavorable to the realization of Washington’s imperialist aims, the US is preparing to escalate its military violence.

On Monday, the new US commander, General Townsend, said Washington would step up its operations in support of its proxy forces as they prepared offensives to retake Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria from ISIS. He said the escalation would include intensified air and artillery strikes and increased efforts to equip and train local forces. He left open the possibility of an enlargement of the US troop presence in the two countries.

9--The great unravelling;  - Hilsenrath Slams The Fed: "Years Of Fed Missteps" Foster US Populism, Disillusion

10--Top Turkish, Russian soldiers to meet in Ankara: 2 days after Biden visit?

The chiefs of general staff of Turkey and Russia will meet in Ankara on Aug. 26, two days after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched a cross-border operation into northern Syria along with Syrian moderate groups, the Anadolu Agency reported on Aug 25.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar will host his Russian counterpart Gen. Valery Gerasimov at the country’s military headquarters, the agency said, without giving details.

The meeting between the two top soldiers comes as part of the normalization in ties between Ankara and Moscow, which also agreed recently to increase cooperation in Syria. A mechanism composed of diplomats, soldiers and intelligence to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as the political transition process in Syria has been set by the two countries.

Gerasimov’s visit comes shortly after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) seized control of Jarablus from ISIL with the support of the Turkish army. The operation was believed to continue until the Turkish-Syrian border is fully cleared of ISIL elements. Russia did not oppose the operation but expressed its concern over growing tension on the border.

“Syria demands the end of this aggression. Any party conducting a battle against terrorism on Syrian soil must do so in coordination with the Syrian government and the Syrian army, who have been fighting this war for five years,” the foreign ministry said.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the snap exercises are holding in accordance with decision of the Supreme Commander, Russian President Vladimir Putin, from 25 to 31 August.

During regrouping of troops, “the readiness of the Southern Military District to deploy in short time self-contained groups of forces for containment of crisis situations will be assessed,” the Interfax news agency reported, citing Shoigu. The Western and the Central Military Districts will be checked for possibility “to increase efforts in the south-western strategic direction.”

13--Comment by the Information and Press Department on the escalation of tensions on the Syrian-Turkish border

In the morning of August 24, Turkey announced the start of a military operation in neighbouring Syria. Media outlets have reported that Turkish tanks and troops, including special forces, entered Syria in a joint operation with the allied Syrian opposition groups. According to Ankara, the operation has been launched to combat ISIS and Kurdish rebels.
Moscow is seriously concerned by the developments on the Syrian-Turkish border, and is especially alarmed by the prospect that the situation in the conflict zone will continue to deteriorate, resulting in greater civilian losses and heightened ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds.
We firmly believe that the Syrian crisis can be settled exclusively on the solid foundation of international law through an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue involving all ethnic and religious groups, including the Kurds, and based on the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique, as well as UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2254, initiated by the International Syria Support Group.

Aug 24 Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday Moscow was deeply worried by the escalation of tension on the Turkish-Syria border after Ankara sent military forces into Syrian territory.
Turkish special forces, tanks and jets backed by planes from the U.S.-led coalition launched their first co-ordinated offensive into Syria on Wednesday to try to drive Islamic State from the border and prevent further gains by Kurdish militia fighters

There was no resistance to the move. The Islamic State, which had been informed of the attack, had evacuated all fighters and their families out of Jarablus.... No shots were fired. As one commentator remarked: They even left mints on the pillows. The toleration of ISIS by Turkey, which includes some not so secret support, will likely continue.

The claimed aim of the Turkish move is to close the Turkish border to ISIS. That claim is obviously nonsense. The border can be closed on the Turkish side. To move the crossing point a few kilometers south does not change anything. The second, more plausible claimed aim, is to prevent the movement of the Kurdish YPG forces, under the U.S. assigned label SDF, towards west-Syria. Such a move would create a Kurdish statelet all along the Turkish border and endanger Turkey itself while it is fighting a Kurdish insurgency on its own ground.
The Kurds had announced the move west and recently taken the city of Manbij away from the Islamic State. This with the help of heavy U.S. bombardment...

There has been little protest by the Syrian government against the Turkish move on Jarablus. It lamented a lack of coordination in fighting terrorism. Not that it could have done much else. After five years of war there is no capacity left to oppose its big northern neighbor. No protest at all came from Syria's allies Russia and Iran. Blunt words were reserved for U.S. behavior on the Syria issue and its support for al-Qaeda. There clearly is some kind of agreement between Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey to accommodate the Turkish invasion

16-- Following US Orders, Kurdish Forces Withdraw from Manbij, Other Areas East of Euphrates River

The Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) or the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have withdrawn from Manbij and other east of the Euphrates river in order to “prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa.”
This move is de-facto transfers Manbij and nearby areas to the control of the Turkish-backed militants. Yesterday, the YPG officially claimed that the group will never withraw from the area. However, it was not able to ingore the US order to do so

17---Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria

Veterans for Peace, one of the most influential and respected peace organizations, has recently sharpened its understanding and position. Following a recent visit to Syria, the Vice President of Veterans for Peace, Jerry Condon, has said, “Everything we read about Syria in the US media is wrong. The reality is that the U.S. government is supporting armed extremist groups who are terrorizing the Syrian people and trying to destroy Syria’s secular state. In order to hide that ugly reality and push violent regime change the U.S. is conducting a psychological warfare campaign to demonize Syria’s president, Bashar al Assad. This is a classic tactic that veterans have seen over and over. It is shocking, however, to realize how willingly the media repeat this propaganda, and how many people believe it to be true.”...

There is a clear solution to the Syrian tragedy: the countries who have been supplying tons of weapons and paying tens of thousands of mercenary terrorists should stop. The conflict would soon end. The foreigners would depart with much less fanaticism than what they came with. Many Syrian rebel terrorists would accept reconciliation.
There needs to be a global campaign but there is much responsibility in the US since our government is the greatest threat to peace....

DemocracyNow and other leading alternative media need to start including different analyses. To a sad extent, their coverage of Syria has echoed NPR and CNN. If DemocracyNow is truly an “Exception to the Rulers”, it needs to start including more critical examinations. DN producers should be studying publications such as Consortiumnews, Global Research, AntiWar, MoonOfAlabama, Al Masdar News, Al Mayadeen, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, American Herald Tribune, 21stCenturyWire, Black Agenda Report, the Canary, RT, PressTV and TruePublica (not corporate ProPublica). They should be bringing the observations and analysis of journalists such as Sharmine Narwani, Edward Dark, Eva Bartlett, Brad Hoff, Vanessa Beeley, Stephen Sahiounie to name just a few. Syrian academics such as Issa Chaer (UK) and Nour al Kadri (Canada) could be interviewed. Followers of DN have heard Hillary Clinton as Secy of State and other US officials speaking about Syria countless times. Why have Amy and Juan not interviewed the Syrian Ambassador to the UN

18---Turkey Invades Northern Syria — Truth of Turkish "Coup" Revealed?

In the aftermath of the July coup, many were hopeful Turkey would realign itself geopolitically and play a more constructive and stabilising role in the region.

Instead, while citing the threat of the Islamic State and Kurdish forces along its border, a threat that its own collusion with US and Persian Gulf States since 2011 helped create, Turkey has decisively helped move forward a crucial part of US plans to dismember Syria and move its campaign of North African and Middle Eastern destabilisation onward and outward.

The response by Syria and its allies in the wake of Turkey's cross-border foray has so far been muted. What, if any actions could be taken to prevent the US and its allies from achieving their plans remain to be seen.

While the toppling of the government in Damascus looks unlikely at the moment, the Balkanisation of Syria was a secondary objective always only ever considered by US policymakers as a mere stop gap until eventually toppling Damascus as well. Conceding eastern and parts of northern Syria to US-led aggression will only buy time.

 Syria's conflict has escalated into dangerous new territory as Turkish military forces cross the Turkish-Syrian border in an attempt to annex the Syrian city of Jarabulus. The operation includes not only Turkish military forces, but also throngs of Western-backed militants who will likely be handed control of the city before expanding operations deeper into Syria against Syrian government forces.

Regarding US joint operations with Turkey specifically, the BBC in its article, "Syria Jarablus: Turkish tanks roll into northern Syria," would report:
An unnamed senior US official in Washington told BBC News before the start of the Turkish operation that it was "partly to create a buffer against the possibility of the Kurds moving forward".

"We are working with them on that potential operation: our advisers are communicating with them on the Jarablus plan.

"We'll give close air support if there's an operation."
It would be likewise difficult to believe that Turkey truly suspected the US of an attempted decapitation of the nation's senior leadership in a violent, abortive coup just last month, only to be conducting joint operations with the US inside Syria with US military forces still based within Turkish territory.

What is much more likely is that the coup was staged to feign a US-Turkish fallout, draw in Russia and allow Turkey to make sweeping purges of any elements within the Turkish armed forces that might oppose a cross-border foray into Syria, a foray that is now unfolding...

With Turkey now moving into northern Syria, backing militant forces that will go on to fight Syrian forces and prolong the conflict from a new forward base of operations inside Syria and with NATO protection, this is precisely what has now happened.

Building Long-Desired Militant Safe-Havens 

The crossing of Syria's border constitutes the fulfilment of longstanding plans predating both the Kurdish offensive and the rise of the Islamic State.

The plans laid by Washington and its regional allies seek to establish a buffer zone or "safe-haven" within Syrian territory unassailable by Syrian forces from which Western-backed militants can launch operations deeper into Syrian territory. Currently, these operations are launched from Turkish territory itself.

With militants being incrementally pushed out of Aleppo and Syrian forces making advances everywhere west of the Euphrates River, it appears that the US is attempting to use Kurdish forces to annex eastern Syria while Turkey's latest move is aimed at finally creating a long-desired northern safe-haven in order to prevent a full collapse of fighting within the country.....

British special forces, meanwhile, are reportedly in southern Syrian attempting to carve out a similar haven for militants along Jordan and Iraq's borders with Syria....

Plans for such safe-havens were disclosed as early as 2012, with US policymakers in a Brookings Institution paper titled, "Assessing Options for Regime Change," stating (our emphasis):
An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under [Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's] leadership. This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power. This would, of course, fall short of U.S. goals for Syria and could preserve Asad in power. From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.
This is now precisely what is being created, starting in Jarabulus, and likely to extend westward toward Azaz, directly north of the contested Syrian city of Aleppo. Since 2012, various pretexts have been invented, abandoned and then revisited in order to justify a cross-border operation like the one now unfolding.

Creating a Pretext — Staged Terror Attack Was an Option 

This included Ankara itself plotting attacks on its own territory to look like cross-border terrorism that could be used as impetus for the creation of a Turkish-controlled Jarabulus-Azaz corridor

19--Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the goals of the campaign had been completed (in March)

Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with government forces fighting numerous opposition factions and radical Islamist groups, including Daesh.Russia conducted its anti-Daesh air campaign in Syria for six months, between September 2015 and March 2016 at the request of Damascus. Moscow started withdrawing aircraft and personnel from bases in Syria after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the goals of the campaign had been completed

20---17--Hillary's war whoop

the Oval Office?  Well, more war, of course. Check it out:
The United States and our international coalition has been conducting this fight for more than a year. It’s time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allies’ planes, more strikes, and a broader target set…..And we should be honest about the fact that to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS.
Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000  American troops in combat in the Middle East. (“A Conversation With Hillary Clinton“, Council on Foreign Relations)

---(Archive) Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria

They don’t hate ‘our freedoms.’ They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries — for oil....

we must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mideast for 65 years. And only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible. It’s the only paradigm that explains why the GOP on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration are still fixated on regime change rather than regional stability, why the Obama administration can find no Syrian moderates to fight the war, why ISIL blew up a Russian passenger plane, why the Saudis just executed a powerful Shiite cleric only to have their embassy burned in Tehran, why Russia is bombing non-ISIL fighters and why Turkey went out of its way to shoot down a Russian jet. The million refugees now flooding into Europe are refugees of a pipeline war and CIA blundering....

Let’s face it; what we call the “war on terror” is really just another oil war. We’ve squandered $6 trillion on three wars abroad and on constructing a national security warfare state at home since oilman Dick Cheney declared the “Long War” in 2001. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies that have pocketed historic profits, the intelligence agencies that have grown exponentially in power and influence to the detriment of our freedoms and the jihadists who invariably used our interventions as their most effective recruiting tool. We have compromised our values, butchered our own youth, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, subverted our idealism and squandered our national treasures in fruitless and costly adventures abroad. In the process, we have helped our worst enemies and turned America, once the world’s beacon of freedom, into a national security surveillance state and an international moral pariah

However inconvenient’ it may be for the most gung-ho (usually foreign-based) supporters of Syria to admit, Damascus and Ankara have been engaged in secret talks for months now in the Algerian capital of Algiers, as has been repeatedly confirmed by many multiple media sources ever since this spring. Moreover, Turkey just dispatched one of its deputy intelligence chiefs to Damascus a few days ago to meet with his high-level Syrian counterparts, so this might explain the reason why Russia and Iran aren’t condemning Turkey’s incursion into Syria, nor why the Syrian officials aren’t loudly protesting against it either. More and more, the evidence is pointing to Turkey’s operation being part of a larger move that was coordinated in advance with Syria, Russia, and Iran. Nevertheless, for domestic political reasons within both Syria and Turkey, neither side is expected to admit to having coordinated any of this, and it’s likely that bellicose rhetoric might be belched from Ankara just as much as it’s predictable that Damascus will rightfully speak about the protection of its sovereignty

What’s most important, though, isn’t to listen so much to Turkey and Syria, but to watch and observe what Russia and Iran say and do, since these are the two countries most capable of defending Syria from any legitimate aggression against its territory and which have been firmly standing behind it for years now, albeit to differing qualitative extents though with complementary synergy ...

In closing, the author would like to refer the reader to his article from over a month ago about how “Regional War Looms As “Kurdistan” Crosses The Euphrates”, in which it was forecast that Russia would assemble a multipolar “Lead From Behind” coalition in pushing back against the US’ attempts to carve the second ‘geopolitical Israel’ of “Kurdistan” out of northern Syria, with it specifically being written that “it can be reasonably assumed that there’s an invisible Russian hand gently coordinating their broad regional activities” in stopping this. With Turkey crossing into Syria to preempt the YPG from unifying all of its occupied territory in northern Syria and breathing sustainable geopolitical life into the US’ latest divide-and-rule project in the Mideast, and keeping in mind the fast-paced diplomacy between Russia, Iran, and Turkey and the months-long ongoing secret negotiations between Ankara and Damascus, all empirical evidence suggests that this latest development in the War on Syria is less a unipolar conspiracy and more a multipolar coordinated plan to bring an end to this conflict and preempt the internal partitioning of Syria

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