Thursday, March 30, 2017

Today's Links

1--The Sleazy Origins of Russia-gate, Robert Parry

An irony of the escalating hysteria about the Trump camp’s contacts with Russians is that one presidential campaign in 2016 did exploit political dirt that supposedly came from the Kremlin and other Russian sources. Friends of that political campaign paid for this anonymous hearsay material, shared it with American journalists and urged them to publish it to gain an electoral advantage. But this campaign was not Donald Trump’s; it was Hillary Clinton’s

And, awareness of this activity doesn’t require you to spin conspiracy theories about what may or may not have been said during some seemingly innocuous conversation. In this case, you have open admissions about how these Russian/Kremlin claims were used.
Indeed, you have the words of Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, in his opening statement at last week’s public hearing on so-called “Russia-gate.” Schiff’s seamless 15-minute narrative of the Trump campaign’s alleged collaboration with Russia followed the script prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele who was hired as an opposition researcher last June to dig up derogatory information on Donald Trump.
Steele, who had worked for Britain’s MI-6 in Russia, said he tapped into ex-colleagues and unnamed sources inside Russia, including leadership figures in the Kremlin, to piece together a series of sensational reports that became the basis of the current congressional and FBI investigations into Trump’s alleged ties to Moscow...

Since he was not able to go to Russia himself, Steele based his reports mostly on multiple hearsay from anonymous Russians who claim to have heard some information from their government contacts before passing it on to Steele’s associates who then gave it to Steele who compiled this mix of rumors and alleged inside dope into “raw” intelligence reports....

That tantalizing tidbit was included in Steele’s opening report to his new clients, dated June 20, 2016. Apparently, it proved irresistible in whetting the appetite of Clinton’s mysterious benefactors who were financing Steele’s dirt digging and who have kept their identities (and the amounts paid) hidden. Also in that first report were the basic outlines of what has become the scandal that is now threatening the survival of Trump’s embattled presidency....

Despite the dubious quality of Steele’s second- and third-hand information, the June report appears to have won the breathless attention of Team Clinton. And once the bait was taken, Steele continued to produce his conspiracy-laden reports, totaling at least 17 through Dec. 13, 2016.

The reports not only captivated the Clinton political operatives but influenced the assessments of Obama’s appointees in the U.S. intelligence community. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, I was told that the outgoing intelligence chiefs had found no evidence to verify Steele’s claims but nevertheless believed them to be true....

Normally, such a ludicrous claim – along with the haziness of the sourcing – would demand greater skepticism about the rest of Steele’s feverish charges, but a curious aspect of the investigations into Russia’s alleged “meddling” in Election 2016 is that neither Steele nor the “oppo research” company, Fusion GPS, that hired him – reportedly with funding from Clinton allies – has been summoned to testify....

Arguably the funders of this “oppo” research should be called to testify as well regarding whether they would have kept ponying up more money if Steele’s reports had concluded that there were no meaningful contacts between Trump’s people and the Russians. Were they seeking the truth or just dirt to help Hillary Clinton win?...

With Steele generating his reports every few days or every few weeks, people close to Clinton’s campaign saw the Russia allegations as a potential game-changer. They reached out to reporters to persuade them to publish Steele’s allegations even if they could not be verified....

These “Russian sources” also tell Steele, according to Schiff, that “the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share.”..

In other words, there are huge holes in both the evidence and the logic of Schiff’s conspiracy theory. But you wouldn’t know that from watching and reading the fawning commentary about Schiff’s presentation in the mainstream U.S. news media, which has been almost universally hostile to Trump ..

if mainstream media commentators truly want a thorough and independent investigation, they should be demanding that it start by summoning the people who first made the allegations.

2--Investors Don’t Have Too Much of a Good Thing -- There are plenty of warning signs in today’s market, but earnings growth isn’t one of them

Stock indexes are near records and valuations are historically elevated. The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, is abnormally calm, sitting at a level lower than all but 3% of daily readings in its history. Several measures of investor and consumer confidence have soared. On top of all that, margin debt just moved back to another record.
In the ninth year of this bull market, it is natural to wonder how much longer it will last even if one isn’t skeptical by nature. ...

With the first quarter coming to a close Friday, S&P 500 companies are expected to report quarterly earnings per share increased 9.1% from the same period a year ago, according to FactSet. That would be the best performance since 2011 and the third consecutive quarter of growth....

The S&P 500 was mired in a so-called earnings recession for five quarters through the middle of last year. Stocks perked up just as earnings have started growing again. The S&P 500 has risen 11% since the presidential election and 18% since the end of June 2016, which is, not coincidentally, when the earnings recession concluded.
Analysts will inevitably get ahead of themselves with their earnings forecasts and add to the long list of warning bells. That may finally be a sign that investors need to curb their enthusiasm

3--Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February --A rise in the amount investors borrow against their brokerage accounts is a bullish indicator but can also be a warning

Margin debt climbed to a record high in February, a fresh sign of bullishness for flummoxed investors trying to navigate the political and economic crosscurrents driving markets.
The amount investors borrowed against their brokerage accounts climbed to $528.2 billion in February, according to the most recent data available from the New York Stock Exchange, released Wednesday. That is up 2.9% from $513.3 billion in January, which had been the first margin debt record in nearly two years...

Rising levels of margin debt are generally considered to be a measure of investor confidence. Investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against.
But experts say a steep rise can indicate that investors are losing sight of market risks and betting that stocks can only go up. Margin debt has a history of peaking right before financial collapses like the ones in 2000 and 2008. When stocks move lower, investors who are buying with borrowed money often must pull out of the market, exacerbating the decline....

Other measures of sentiment and positioning have pulled back recently, raising questions about whether buyers are starting to bolt from the market. Investors pulled $8.9 billion from funds that invest in U.S. equities during the week through March 22, the largest outflow in 38 weeks, having piled more than $32 billion into the space this year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data.

4--Another Record For Top-Rated Companies Selling Bonds

U.S. companies have sold $406.1 billion of high-grade debt so far this year, already a record for any first quarter going back to at least 1995, according to data provider Dealogic.
This is the third consecutive first quarter where investment grade corporate issuance has set a record high, as companies continue to take advantage of low borrowing costs.

5--Trump’s Free Hand on Bank Deregulation   -- The Trump administration has the power to enact substantial bank deregulation on its own without legislation

Who needs Congress? Not bank stocks....

it appears even less likely that this Congress will manage to pass a bill overhauling Dodd-Frank, the landmark postcrisis regulatory law.....But the administration has room to act on its own through its power to interpret and enforce financial regulations, and the results could be highly material for bank investors...

The Federal Reserve could start by removing the “gold plating” of capital requirements for the biggest banks. This would lower the capital surcharges that so-called global systemically important banks in the U.S. must hold, bringing them in line with peers in Europe and elsewhere.
Analysts at Keefe, Bruyette and Woods have estimated this would raise 2018 earnings per share by an average of 4.6% at the eight such mega banks in the U.S. That seems generous as it assumes they would fully redeploy freed-up capital in the first year, but it is a useful guide to how tweaks in capital requirements can juice profitability. Citigroup would be biggest beneficiary, seeing a nearly 10% boost to earnings.

Second, regulators could change the way they calculate banks’ total leverage by not counting ultrasafe assets such as cash, U.S. Treasurys and deposits at the Fed in their leverage ratio. This would be even more powerful, raising 2018 EPS by 13.5% on average for the big eight banks, according to KBW estimates. Bank of New York Mellon and State Street, two trust banks with large securities portfolios, would benefit most.

An outright repeal of the Volcker rule, which bars proprietary trading by depository institutions, would boost 2018 EPS by an average of 4.2% at Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, according to estimates by analysts at Goldman Sachs, which of course would itself benefit. This would require an act of Congress, but something close could be accomplished simply by loosening enforcement of the rule.

Goldman analysts also note that regulators could change the liquidity classification of securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Though these securities are widely traded, they don’t count as much as Treasurys in helping banks reach the required level of highly liquid assets.

Removing this penalty would allow banks to hold more of these higher-yielding securities. That would boost 2018 EPS by an average of 2.5% at the biggest banks and by 1.8% at large regional banks, according to Goldman’s estimates.
Bankers may hate Dodd-Frank but, because it delegates so much rule-making authority to the executive branch, the law’s design might yet win fans on Wall Street.

Today's extra Links

1--Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February -- A rise in the amount investors borrow against their brokerage accounts is a bullish indicator but can also be a warning

Margin debt climbed to a record high in February, a fresh sign of bullishness for flummoxed investors trying to navigate the political and economic crosscurrents driving markets.

The amount investors borrowed against their brokerage accounts climbed to $528.2 billion in February, according to the most recent data available from the New York Stock Exchange, released Wednesday. That is up 2.9% from $513.3 billion in January, which had been the first margin debt record in nearly two years.

With margin debt, investors pledge securities, typically stocks or bonds, to obtain a loan from their brokerage firms. The money doesn’t have to be used to buy more investments, though it often is. The gauge tends to climb—and pull back—along with broader stock market gauges, which have been rising to fresh records in the wake of November’s presidential election

Rising levels of margin debt are generally considered to be a measure of investor confidence. Investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against.

But experts say a steep rise can indicate that investors are losing sight of market risks and betting that stocks can only go up. Margin debt has a history of peaking right before financial collapses like the ones in 2000 and 2008. When stocks move lower, investors who are buying with borrowed money often must pull out of the market, exacerbating the decline.

Before January, the previous record high for margin debt was $505 billion in the spring of 2015. Margin debt then started falling, months ahead of a summer swoon that sent major indexes down more than 10%...

Other measures of sentiment and positioning have pulled back recently, raising questions about whether buyers are starting to bolt from the market. Investors pulled $8.9 billion from funds that invest in U.S. equities during the week through March 22, the largest outflow in 38 weeks, having piled more than $32 billion into the space this year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data.

2--Fed's Williams says bank lending slowdown doesn't worry him yet

Lending data can reveal developments on a lag

In recent months, the growth rate of commercial and industrial loans, as tracked by the Federal Reserve’s weekly H.8 report on assets and liability of U.S. banks, has been on the decline.
This is viewed by many as a negative development in an economy where lending and borrowing activity serve as proxies for the economy’s overall health...

“Despite the strong gain in confidence among small businesses (as suggested by the NFIB small business optimism survey), there has been a slowing in loans over the past several months. The story of post-election small business optimism leading to greater investment is not (yet) playing out in the data.”

We are witnessing the demise of the world’s two largest economic power blocks, the US and EU. Given deteriorating economic conditions on both sides of the Atlantic, which have been playing out for many years but were so far largely kept hidden from view by unprecedented issuance of debt, the demise should come as no surprise.

The debt levels are not just unprecedented, they would until recently have been unimaginable. When the conditions for today’s debt orgasm were first created in the second half of the 20th century, people had yet to wrap their minds around the opportunities and possibilities that were coming on offer. Once they did, they ran with it like so many lemmings.

The reason why economies are now faltering invites an interesting discussion. Energy availability certainly plays a role, or rather the energy cost of energy, but we might want to reserve a relatively larger role for the idea, and the subsequent practice, of trying to run entire societies on debt (instead of labor and resources)....

Record low interest rates have become the only way that private banks can create new money, and stay alive (because at higher rates hardly anybody can afford a mortgage). It’s of course not just the banks that are kept alive, it’s the entire economy. Without the ZIRP rates, the mortgages they lure people into, and the housing bubbles this creates, the amount of money circulating in our economies would shrink so much and so fast the whole shebang would fall to bits.

That’s right: the survival of our economies today depends one on one on the existence of housing bubbles. No bubble means no money creation means no functioning economy...

What we should do in the short term is lower private debt levels (drastically, jubilee style), and temporarily raise public debt to encourage economic activity, aim for more and better jobs. But we’re doing the exact opposite: austerity measures are geared towards lowering public debt, while they cut the consumer spending power that makes up 60-70% of our economies. Meanwhile, housing bubbles raise private debt through the -grossly overpriced- roof.

4--US does a 180 on Assad

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the fate of President Bashar al-Assad is up to the Syrian people to decide. 
"I think the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," Tillerson told a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Thursday.
The remarks are a significant departure from the position of the former US government, which made any resolution of the Syria crisis conditional on President Assad stepping down

Today's Links

1---Interesting factoids from Margaret Kimberley

Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm which specializes in using social media to maximize get-out-the-vote efforts. They claim an ability to use the information freely given on Facebook to target undecided voters, which turned the tide for Brexit and for Trump too. The firm is owned by Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who saved the Trump campaign. Trump strategist Steve Bannon was a Cambridge Analytica board member. Cambridge Analytica not only uses technology but has a history of old-fashioned disruption and fraud in nations as disparate as Latvia and Nigeria...

Another Trump ally is Roger Stone, the champion Republican Party dirty trickster. Stone sent a mob to stop the Florida 2000 vote recount which led to George W. Bush being declared the winner. Stone was involved in the exposure of New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with a prostitution ring. Months before that story broke Stone predicted that Spitzer “wouldn’t serve his full term.” Stone also funded Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign and used it to help bring down one-time Democratic front runner Howard Dean.
Stone bragged about communicating with Assange and knew that a “motherlode” of leaks were on the way from WikiLeaks...

Intelligence agencies are now political pawns and Democratic bloviating about an “act of war” by Vladimir Putin could very well lead to the real thing.
The democrats have said nothing about what is far more likely than Putin choosing sides in an American campaign. Investigating a likely scenario doesn’t suit their purposes at all. If the DNC hack ends the Trump administration it will not be for noble purposes.

2--The State of the Climate in 2017: "Truly Uncharted Territory"

State of the Warming Climate in 2016: 'Truly Uncharted Territory'

World Meteorological Organization reveals extent of global warming's impacts last year, including epic Arctic melting, drought and extreme weather

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its annual State of Global Climate report on Tuesday, noting a year of broken records and extreme weather events—climate change trends that are continuing into 2017.

"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. That temperature rise marks a 0.06 degrees Celsius increase over the record set in 2015. The Paris climate agreement commits the world's nations to holding the atmospheric temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, to try to stave off potentially catastrophic global warming.

Average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit a record high, at 400 parts per million, and projections for 2017 are even higher. The U.K. Met office recently forecast that this year's monthly CO2 level at Mauna Loa could reach nearly 410 parts per million in May, and the 2017 average could be 2-3 parts per million higher than last year.

"The influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident," wrote Taalas in the report's foreword. "This influence is increasingly being demonstrated by attribution studies for some of the most critical weather and climate extremes, in particular extremes related to heat."

3-- Dennis Kucinich: I'm no fan of Trump's but he's got a point about wiretapping

Kucinich was bugged in 2011

4--Russiagate produces no hard evidence of collusion Senate intel committee admits

The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they cannot yet conclude whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia, adding that their teams are "within weeks" of finishing reviewing thousands of documents related to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In a news conference, Republican Chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Democratic Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia aimed to show their probe as a measured, bipartisan effort amid recent turmoil on the House intelligence panel. The senators said they wanted to finish the investigation in a "timely" fashion but stressed they did not want to rush it, steering clear of reaching conclusions about possible ties between Trump associates and Russia.
"We would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation," Burr told reporters

5--Putin says 'no interference in US elections

Speaking at a CNBC-moderated panel, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again said that accusations of Russian interference in the US presidential elections are "lies" used for "domestic American politics."

"We said on numerous occasions and I reiterate that we are confident … And know for sure that opinion polls in the Unites States show that very many people are … friendly towards the Russian Federation and I'd like to tell these people that we perceive and regard the United States as a great power with which we want to establish good partnership relations," Putin said and added "All those things are fictional, illusory and provocations, lies. All these are used for domestic American political agendas. The anti-Russian card is played by different political forces inside the United States to trade on that and consolidate their positions inside."

Putin refuted the findings of a January ODN report which in January found that "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said, adding that intelligence agencies have "high confidence" in that assessment, although have yet to release any of the facts backing the assessment.

FInally, Putin explicitly denied that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections. Putin quoted George Bush when asked if the "Russian government had ever tried to influence the outcome of the US presidential election, and there will be no evidence found?" to which he responded "Watch my lips, no."

6--Majority of Americans Believe Mainstream Media Report Fake News

survey, conducted at the beginning of March and released on Wednesday by Monmouth University, found that 60 percent of Americans believe that traditional mainstream media outlets report fake news and 40 percent of them believe that it is done so to advance a specific agenda.

When questioned about nontraditional online news outlets, 80 percent of Americans believe that they report fake news either regularly or occasionally. Additionally, 54 percent believe that false reports are published deliberately with an agenda.

7--Lavrov Gets Biblical: God Will Judge Obama For What He Did to Syria

In an interview published by the National Interest yesterday, Sergei Lavrov insisted that the U.S.-led "anti-terrorism" coalition in Syria "never touched" Islamic State oil convoys, which helped to finance the spread of terrorism in the region...

What I can attest to is that one year into the creation of this [U.S.-led] coalition, it was very sporadically using the air force to hit some ISIL positions. They never touched the caravans who were smuggling oil from Syria to Turkey and, in general, they were not really very active. This changed after we responded to the request of President Assad, who represents, by the way, a legitimate government member of the United Nations.

8--Majority of GOP think Obama wiretapped Trump

9--Solving the foreclosure crisis created the problems with lack of MLS inventory today

The foreclosure crisis stopped when lenders quit foreclosing and forced homeowners to wait until they had equity to sell the property. Many homeowners are still waiting, so MLS inventory is quite low

(Footdragging by the banks) Daren Blomquist, SVP of ATTOM Data Solutions, recently wrote in Housing News Report, ATTOM’s monthly newsletter of industry news, on the distressed property crisis in areas of the country most affected by foreclosure. Citing the ATTOM Solutions 2016 Year-End Foreclosure Market Report, Blomquist noted that New York properties foreclosed in Q4 2016 have taken an average of 3.5 years to process, and that 31,838 loans actively in foreclosure originated between 2004 and 2008

10--Top US general calls for military action against Iran

11--Conflict over Trump-Russia probe reaches stalemate in Washington

The committee held a nationally televised hearing March 20 at which FBI Director James Comey confirmed for the first time publicly that the agency was investigating both alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
That hearing was to be followed by a second, scheduled for Tuesday, March 28, with public testimony from three top officials of the Obama administration—former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

However, Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, cancelled the hearing March 24 without giving any explanation, saying that he first wanted to hear from Comey and the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, in a closed-door setting where they could answer questions they had declined to discuss in public.

There were indications that Nunes was coordinating his actions with the White House, which sent a letter to Yates’s attorney, warning him that Yates should not testify about her communications with the White House about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose telephone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak were monitored by US intelligence agencies.
Only hours after Yates’s attorney informed the White House that Yates would testify despite attempts to invoke “executive privilege” to gag her, Nunes cancelled the hearing at which she was to appear...

Meanwhile both the rhetoric from the Democratic Party and the media headlines about supposed ties between Trump aides and Russia became more strident. USA Today published a lengthy report Wednesday on alleged ties between the Trump Organization and no fewer than 10 Russian mobsters who the newspaper claimed had invested in Trump properties and businesses.

12--Market turbulence fuels warnings on health of global economy

13--Syrian Army preparing massive offensive inside Deir Ezzor

14--Trump expands and deepens military involvement across the ME, central asia and N Africa

The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.
Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military “fight to win.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, said the new procedures made it easier for commanders in the field to call in airstrikes without waiting for permission from more senior officers

Robert Malley, a former senior official in the Obama administration and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group, said the uptick in military involvement since Mr. Trump took office did not appear to have been accompanied by increased planning for the day after potential military victories.
“The military will be the first to tell you that a military operation is only as good as the diplomatic and political plan that comes with it,” Mr. Malley said.
The lack of diplomacy and planning for the future in places like Yemen and Syria could render victories there by the United States and its allies unsustainable.
“From harsh experience, we know that either U.S. forces will have to be involved for the long term or victory will dissipate soon after they leave,” he said.
Others fear that greater military involvement could drag the United States into murky wars and that increased civilian deaths could feed anti-Americanism and jihadist propaganda...

The shift toward greater military involvement extends into one of Mr. Obama’s central legacies: the prolonged American presence in Afghanistan, where more than 8,400 American soldiers and 5,924 troops from NATO and other allies remain, and where the Taliban have been resurgent.
Plans have been announced to send 300 United States Marines to Helmand Province, their first deployment there since 2014. And the American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., told Congress in February that he would like another “few thousand” American and coalition troops.
But the changes have also been notable in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, all home to overlapping conflicts in failed states where jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have taken advantage of the chaos to step up operations....

Under Mr. Obama, the United States provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition, but halted the sale of precision-guided munitions over concerns that airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies were killing too many civilians.
But since Mr. Trump took office, his administration has advanced some arms deals for coalition countries, while approving the resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, according to an American official familiar with Yemen policy....

Mr. Trump’s more muscular approach has been hailed by Gulf leaders, who felt betrayed by Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran and who hope that they now have an ally in the White House to help them push back against their regional foe....

So far this month, the United States has also launched more than 49 strikes across Yemen, most of them during one five-day period, according to data gathered by the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. That is more strikes than the United States had carried out during any other full year on record....

The United States faces a similarly complex set of overlapping conflicts in Syria, where a brutal civil war opened up opportunities for Al Qaeda to infiltrate the rebels seeking to topple the government while the Islamic State seized an area of territory that extended over the border into Iraq.
While intervening covertly to support the rebels, the United States has ordered airstrikes on the jihadists — alone in the case of Al Qaeda and as part of a coalition against the Islamic State. It has also built ties with the Iraqi security forces, and with Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syria to battle the jihadists on the ground....

This month, American officials also said they would send an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, nearly doubling the total there.

15--Yes, Obama's People Were Spreading Classified Intel on Trump by Publius Tacitus

But the real news is the emerging evidence that Obama Administration did obtain classified intelligence reports that mentioned Donald Trump and members of his campaign and distributed that information.  House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes already has confirmed in writing and in interviews that the Obama Administration conducted the following activities against President-Elect Trump and his team between November 2016 and January 2017
  • On numerous occasions, the Intelligence Community “incidentally” collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.  
  • Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming Trump administration -- details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated throughout the government, and apparently leaked to Obama administration allies in the media.  Those leaks are felonies. 
  • Names of Trump transition team members were “unmasked” – their identities revealed and circulated – again, more felonies.   
  • None of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team. 
The revelations about Farkas, Pinchuk and Alperovitch provide strong circumstantial evidence that the effort to take out Donald Trump is part of a broader anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Today's links

1---U.S. Home Prices Rise at Fastest Pace in 31 Months-- Job growth, demographics and limited supply drove 5.9% increase in 12 months ended in January, Case-Shiller says

Inventory manipulation and cheap money fuel latest housing bubble

U.S. home prices rose in January at their fastest rate since mid-2014, a trend that bodes well for sellers but could start to eat into demand as buyers get priced out of the market.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, which cover the entire nation, rose 5.9% in the 12 months ended in January, the strongest increase in 31 months, up from a 5.7% year-over-year increase in December....

Limited supply is a big driver of the price gains. Inventory in December hit its lowest level since 1999, when the National Association of Realtors started tracking the data. The number of homes for sale was down 7.1% in January compared with a year earlier, the Realtors said. It has since ticked up slightly, but inventory in February remained 6.4% below a year earlier...

Existing-home sales declined 3.7% in February, the National Association of Realtors said....

Even today, price growth in the hottest markets remains comparatively muted. Seattle led the way in January with a 11.3% home-price increase, while Portland reported a 9.7% year-over-year gain and Denver had a 9.2% annual increase.

Nonetheless, Mr. Berson said some markets, such as Denver, Dallas and parts of coastal California, are showing signs of overheating and may experience a correction...

Still, economists said mortgage rates remain near historic lows, which is keeping homes affordable even as prices climb. The rate for a 30-year mortgage averaged 4.23% last week, up from about 3.5% in November but still near the lowest level in decades

2--Are house prices really too high?, OC Housing

3--Solving the foreclosure crisis created the problems with lack of MLS inventory today

4--Trump administration ratchets up pressure on Venezuela

5--The American Opioid Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving force: since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, and deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest (Figure 1), with West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio being top-5 States. CNN has a historical overview of how opioids turned from “wonder drug” to abuse epidemics....

The opioid epidemic is also central to recent political events. Shannon Monnat at Penn State University examines the relationship between county-level rates of mortality from drugs, alcohol and suicide (2006-2014) and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential election. She finds that Trump over-performed the most in counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates, and that much of this relationship is accounted for by economic distress and the proportion of working-class residents. Many of the counties with high mortality rates where Trump did the best have also experienced significant employment losses in manufacturing over the past several decades.

Possible economic drivers of the opioid epidemics

Hollingsworth, Ruhm and Simon have a NBER paper on macroeconomic conditions and opioid abuse. They examine how deaths and emergency department (ED) visits related to use of opioids and other drugs vary with macroeconomic conditions. They find that as the county unemployment rate increases by one percentage point, the opioid death rate per 100,000 rises by 0.19 (3.6%) and the opioid overdose ED visit rate per 100,000 increases by 0.95 (7.0%). Macroeconomic shocks also increase the overall drug death rate, but this increase is driven by rising opioid deaths. The findings are primarily driven by adverse events among whites.

A previous study by Carpenter, McClellan and Rees found strong evidence that economic downturns lead to increases in substance use disorders involving hallucinogens and prescription pain relievers. These effects are robust to a variety of specification choices and are concentrated among prime-age white males with low educational attainment. Based on these findings, they conclude that the returns to spending on the treatment of substance use disorders are particularly high during economic downturns...

Smith refers to a recent paper by economist Alan Krueger, who looks at the decline in the labour force participation rate, and finds that about half of prime-age men who are not in the labour force (NLF) take pain medication on a daily basis, and in nearly two-thirds of cases they take prescription pain medication.

Colleen Rowley


In a report from the scene of the devastation, the Times described “a panorama of destruction in the neighborhood of Jadida so vast one resident compared the destruction to that of Hiroshima, Japan, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in World War II. There was a charred arm, wrapped in a piece of red fabric, poking from the rubble; rescue workers in red jump suits who wore face masks to avoid the stench, some with rifles slung over their shoulders, searched the wreckage for bodies.”

The newspaper reported that “One of the survivors, Omar Adnan, stood near his destroyed home on Sunday and held up a white sheet of paper with 27 names of his extended family members, either dead or missing, written in blue ink.”...

9--Russia to enhance oil and gas industry cooperation with Iran — Putin

10-- Russian Gazprom to Begin Turkish Stream Offshore Pipe-Laying in 2nd Half of 2017

11--Russia Prepares For Split With International Banking System

12--US Has Interfered in More Elections Than Any Other Nation

13--Erdogan wants safe zones in North Syria

14--"The US missile defense system already has the potential to intercept Chinese and Russian ballistic missiles and poses a threat to the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and China, and these capabilities will only grow," Poznikhir said.

He also emphasized that Washington’s actions serve only to stimulate a new arms race and that Moscow has to respond with adequate countermeasures. "But this will not make the world safer," Poznikhir concluded.

Speaking to Radio Sputnik, retired Colonel Andrei Golovatyuk, a military observer and senior member of the Russian Officers Union, said that there is every reason to suppose that the US missile shield deployed to Europe may be directed against Russia.

"If we take a look back, the story began when the Americans imposed their missile defenses in Romania and Poland, citing the Iranian threat. But even after the Iranian nuclear issue had been resolved, the deployment did not stop. A Tomahawk missile launched from Romania can reach Moscow within an hour. Of course, Russia has concerns about the real target of those missiles," Golovatyuk said

15-- Internet privacy rules removed by Congress

16--Bond Buyers Return With a Vengeance

U.S. government bonds rally as traders become skeptical the Trump administration will boost the pace of U.S. growth

Government bonds are back in fashion, as the “Trump trade” on higher growth and inflation begins to unravel.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note tumbled to 2.373% Monday from a two-year high of 2.609% on March 13 and 2.446% at the end of last year. Yields fall as bond prices rise...

Another big factor boosting Treasury holdings by central banks, analysts said, is the U.S. dollar’s break from its multiyear bull run. On Monday, the ICE dollar index, a measure of the dollar’s value against a number of its main rivals, hit the lowest since November. At the start of this year, it had jumped to the highest since 2002.

A weakening dollar has been pushing up the value of many emerging-market currencies including the Chinese yuan, which eases the burden of central banks in these countries to sell Treasurys to curtail local currencies’ weakness and capital outflows. The dollar was down about 2% against the yuan traded outside mainland China.
China’s central bank has been at the forefront in selling Treasurys after a large one-off devaluation of the Chinese yuan in August 2015 raised market expectations of a weakening yuan

17--Former Fed Official Warns Politics Poses Threat to Recovery

18--Rate Increases Should Be Done Gradually And Patiently, Fed’s Kaplan Says

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan said Monday he will likely support more interest rate increases as long as the economy continues to see job market gains and a continued move back toward a 2% inflation rise.
“We would be wise to move gradually and patiently” with increases in short-term interest rates, Mr. Kaplan said, while offering no specifics on the timing of future monetary policy actions.
The central banker said the economy continues to make progress in terms of the Fed’s official mandates of maximum growth and sustainable inflation. He added it is prudent for the central bank to keep policy supportive of growth, while at the same time moving it toward a level that is less stimulative of economic activity...

Mr. Kaplan’s remarks were broad-based and the official warned that the U.S. government budget outlook is bleak with some pain now obscured by low borrowing costs tied to low Fed-determined rates. But that environment won't persist forever and steps need to be taken to deal with debt and massive government spending obligations in an economy that is currently facing challenges to growing more swiftly.

19--Fed’s Evans: Three 2017 Rate Rises Plausible, Four Possible if Inflation Picks Up-- Chicago Fed leader says at the moment he doesn’t have the confidence for four rate increases this year

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the U.S. central bank could raise short-term interest rates four times this year if inflation picks up, but suggested three increases remain more plausible.
“At the moment, I don’t see the data, I don’t have the confidence” for four rate increases in 2017, he said at an event held in Madrid by the Global Interdependence Center. “If I thought that I was inclined to four rate hikes for 2017, I would presumably be seeing a much stronger lift in inflation.”
Mr. Evans said long-term inflation expectations in the U.S. are running below the central bank’s 2% target, even though short-term prices are nearing that objective.

Fed officials have signaled more rate increases are likely as the year progresses given the current vigor of the economy and their expectation that inflation will continue to tick back up toward the official target of 2%, amid more gains in hiring.

Mr. Evans was once on the side of those who are skeptical of the push to raise rates when inflation is under the central bank’s desired level. But lately Mr. Evans has said the Fed’s projected path of rate rises, which holds for about two more increases this year after the recent boost, looks appropriate to him.

A week ago, in a television interview, Mr. Evans said that “if the growth outlook solidifies and I have more confidence inflation is going up, three [rate increases] for the entire year is entirely reasonable. It could be less if there’s more inflation uncertainty or it could be more if things are stronger than that.”

The Chicago central banker is the first official to speak in a busy week for public commentary by Fed officials. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is due to speak Tuesday, and many regional Fed bank leaders also will be weighing in.
Almost all central-bank commentary recently has been in support of rate rises, although the Minneapolis Fed chief Neel Kashkari has served as a voice of opposition, saying economic data suggest no urgency to act now

--1984 is now.

Here is an excerpt from the Passports page of the State Department of January 12, 2016:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Friday that Real ID-compliant identification, such as a passport or a driver’s license from a Real ID-compliant state, will not be required to fly domestically until 2018.

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 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.