Monday, December 12, 2016

Today's links

1--CIA produces no hard evidence that Russia intervened in US elections, Greenwald

The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.

2--Historical & Structural Reasons for Skepticism of CIA Claims: Remaining Agnostic on Claims of Russian Hackers

It strains credulity for the CIA to complain about a foreign intelligence operation undermining fair democratic elections; this has been their business around the world, from its early days helping throw elections in post-war Europe to Cold War campaigns in Central and South America. The CIA’s own history of electoral shenanigans makes them an untrustworthy character in this drama.

3--Why trust the CIA?

But why would anyone trust the CIA or the White House on anything? We’re talking about an agency and a Executive Branch that between them are known to have lied (during the GW Bush years) about anthrax labs in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, lied about what were aluminum tubes imported to make irrigation equipment being evidence of missile-building, lied about Ira’s links to Al Qaeda, and (during the Obama years) lied about Syria’s government using Sarin gas on its own people in Damascus, lied about the details of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, lied about the role of a murderous CIA agent captured by Pakistani police while posing as a US consular employee, lied about the extent of National Security Agency Spying both at home and abroad, and lied about Russia invading Ukraine and shooting down a civilian Malaysian jumbo jet.

4--Trump's china pick-- Smoothing relations

"Mr. Branstad is an old friend of the Chinese people, and we welcome his greater contribution to the development of China-US relations. The US ambassador to China serves as an important bridge linking the governments of the US and China. We are willing to work with whomever that takes this position to strive for the continued, sound and steady development of bilateral ties," the ministry's spokesperson Lu Kang told a press conference Thursday.

5--A Real Basket of Deplorables: Donald Trump’s Cabinet Nominees

6--Is that a bad thing? Sec of State Tillerson is friend of Putin's

In his role at Exxon, Tillerson maintained close ties with Putin and opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia for its incursion into Crimea....

Tillerson would be one of the few people selected for major roles in the Trump administration to believe that human activity causes climate change. After Trump's election, Exxon came out in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. It has also advocated for a carbon tax and internally factors in a theoretical price on carbon as it weighs manufacturing and exploration costs of projects...

"It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin and obviously they've done enormous deals together. That would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat," Republican Senator John McCain told CBS.

McCain added that Tillerson would, nonetheless, get a fair confirmation hearing.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a former Republican presidential rival to Trump, was even more forthright.
"Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState," Rubio said on his Twitter account.

7--Donald Trump’s fiscal stimulus probably won’t work

"Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump," Donald Trump told Time magazine, explaining blithely how he plans to brush aside years of conservative anti-Keynesian rhetoric. ...

Fed officials are signaling clearly that more stimulus will mean more rate increases. This is a little bit disguised by the fact that Fed officials are saying they welcome the idea of stimulus. But they aren't saying stimulus will increase growth. They're saying it will increase interest rates....

the Fed's eagerness to raise interest rates is a mistake.
It's true that the unemployment rate is now pretty low. But the share of people between the ages of 25 and 54 who have a full-time job is lower than it was in 2005 and way lower than it was in 1999. It's certainly very possible that some of those labor force leavers are irredeemably unemployable or totally uninterested in a job, but it's very likely that many of them would find their way back into employment if the Fed let the economy run hot for a year.

The only way to find out would be to try, and personally I think they ought to try. If we try and it doesn't work, the cost — a year of 3 or even 4 percent inflation — would be fairly minor. But if it works, the benefit — millions of people pulled back into mainstream employment — would be tremendous.

8--State Department frontrunner is Exxon Mobil exec honored with Russian state award by Putin

Trump has said that he wants to remedy the Obama administration’s adversarial relationship with Russia, and Tillerson’s appointment as America’s top diplomat would be a step in this direction. Though he isn’t expected to announce his secretary of state pick until mid-week, the president-elect has pitched the oil executive’s Russian connections as a strong point.

“To me a great advantage is that he knows many of the players in the world and he knows them well,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. “He does massive deals in Russia not for himself, but for the company.”

9--Aleppo Endgame

Within the past 24 hours, 13,346 civilians have been evacuated from the Aleppo districts that remain under the control of militants with the assistance of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of warring parties, including 5,831 children. 728 militants have laid down their arms and crossed into the Western part of the city,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Monday morning.

10--Peace in Syria - it's the last thing the US wants

As a foreign policy, it’s hard to think of a more devilish one than starting fires and then doing everything to stop those fires being put out. But of course, while it is bad news for the ordinary people on the ground, it is good news for the arms manufacturers and those who want certain strategically important countries kept permanently weakened.

11--Goldman President Gary Cohn Accepts NEC Director Role

12--ISIS fully retakes Palmyra in stunning blitz offensive – Map update Plan B??


The decay of the post-cold war globalization order means more countries falling into state failure and falling prey to radical non state actors using terror and other forms of unconventional warfare against which conventional forces are a less than ideal tool of coercion.

14--"Today's must read"--The CIA’s Absence of Conviction, Craig Murray

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.

A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.

As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened. ...

I had a call from a Guardian journalist this afternoon. The astonishing result was that for three hours, an article was accessible through the Guardian front page which actually included the truth among the CIA hype:
The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations, while the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has previously said the DNC leaks were not linked to Russia. A second senior official cited by the Washington Post conceded that intelligence agencies did not have specific proof that the Kremlin was “directing” the hackers, who were said to be one step removed from the Russian government.
Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”
“I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.
“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.
“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”
But only three hours. While the article was not taken down, the home page links to it vanished and it was replaced by a ludicrous one repeating the mad CIA allegations against Russia and now claiming – incredibly – that the CIA believe the FBI is deliberately blocking the information on Russian collusion. Presumably this totally nutty theory, that Putin is somehow now controlling the FBI, is meant to answer my obvious objection that, if the CIA know who it is, why haven’t they arrested somebody. That bit of course would be the job of the FBI, who those desperate to annul the election now wish us to believe are the KGB...

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.

15--The Trump Surge

Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman released last week. It showed that in the period from 1980 to 2014, the latest year for which complete data were available, the share of income received by the bottom half of the population, a total of 117 million adults, fell from 20 percent of the total to just 12.5 percent...

Since November 8, Wall Street’s Dow Jones index has risen by 7.8 percent, closing on Friday at a record high of 19,765—the 14th record close since the election of Trump. It is heading toward 20,000 just weeks after it broke through 19,000 for the first time. The euphoric surge in the Dow is even more remarkable considering that on election night the futures index at one pointed indicated a possible 500-point decline.

The broader-based S&P 500 index has also enjoyed a surge. It has risen by 5.6 percent in the last month and also set a new record on Friday—the seventh time it has done so since the election.
The chief component in the rise of the Dow has been the leap in the share price of the investment and banking giant Goldman Sachs. Its shares have risen by 33 percent, making it responsible for 29 percent of the overall rise in the Dow, or 400 points out of the total 1,422-point increase in the index since the election...

Another factor fuelling the enthusiasm on Wall Street is the prospect that a Trump administration will cut the corporate tax rate to as low as 15 percent from its present level of 35 percent, while introducing personal tax cuts for the very wealthy.
The so-called infrastructure program of the new regime is also viewed as providing a boost to the bottom line. The basis of the Trump plan, at least so far as it has been revealed, is not a program of government works, but rather the provision of massive tax write-offs—possibly as high as 80 per cent—for corporations that undertake infrastructure projects. These will involve public-private partnerships under which the corporations will enjoy a permanent revenue stream from their operation

16--The struggle between elites-- Behind hacking allegations: Explosive conflict over US policy toward Russia

The immediate purpose of the Russian hacking claims, launched by Clinton and the Democratic Party on the eve of the Democratic convention in July, was to distract attention from the content of the leaked emails, which documented a conspiracy between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to undermine the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders.

It is now clear, however, that underlying the public conflict over the hacking allegations is a ferocious struggle over foreign policy. Trump speaks for a faction within the ruling class that wants to focus US policy on a more aggressive military, economic and diplomatic offensive against China. The Democrats and leading media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post speak for a faction of the intelligence establishment and the military that is opposed to any shift away from the aggressive and confrontational posture toward Russia....

While the campaign on Trump and Russia escalates, neither the Times nor the Democrats devote a fraction of that energy to condemning the cabinet of billionaire reactionaries and generals Trump is assembling or his plans to dismantle Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and public education and eliminate all restrictions on corporate pollution of the environment and all regulations on the banks and big business.

They are entirely focused on preventing any shift under Trump away from the offensive against Russia. The hysterical and neo-McCarthyite character of their campaign was summed up in a commentary published on the Daily Beast web site by Clinton supporter Michael Tomasky, headlined “World War III: Democrats and America vs. Trump and Russia.” Tomasky characterized the Washington Post report on Trump and Russia and the New York Times follow-up as “Hiroshima” and “Nagasaki” for Trump, while suggesting that congressional Republicans who backed Trump, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were guilty of treason...

These rapid-fire events, in which intelligence agencies feed the media and the media seeks to stampede public opinion, only underscore the manipulative character of the election process as a whole. The real issues being fought out within the ruling elite—over what tactics and methods to employ against its global rivals—were concealed from the population while a barrage of slanders and scandals was unleashed to provide political cover for a further shift to the right

17--The death of the American Dream--Study on pay for young adults highlights plunge in US living standards

The economists concluded that even rapid economic growth would do little to reverse the downward trend because of the immense and ongoing growth of social inequality.

The authors of the study described their findings as a harsh verdict on the strength of what they called “the American dream.” In fact, their own findings add to a mass of social indices demonstrating that the much-vaunted but largely mythical “American dream” has turned into a nightmare. To the extent that this term, promoted to encourage illusions in American capitalism, ever corresponded to social reality, it was largely in connection with the belief that each young generation would enjoy a better standard of living than the one that preceded it.

18--MSM tries to regain its monopoly on information--The New York Times' hypocritical rant against social media

Broad sections of the population are seeking alternative sources of news because they increasingly realize that it is establishment outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, as well as the major network news outlets that are the propagators of “fake news

--  real median household incomes in the U.S. were basically the same in 1989 as in 2014. But we are also seeing similar challenges in the U.K. in the stagnation of real wages. Recent analysis from the U.K. Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that wages will still be below 2008 levels in 2021. People work hard and companies make big profits, but employees don’t see that they share in the wealth they help to create....

my specific concerns with Trump’s plans are that they are likely to investments in infrastructure where the private returns are highest (for example toll roads and bridges) rather than where the public gains are greatest.

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