Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Today's Links

"The CBO’s scoring on the massive numbers of people who would become uninsured as a result of the House Republicans’ health care bill is further evidence that Obamacare—despite claims by the Democrats that it would provide “near universal,” quality health care—has paved the way for an even more brutal attack on the health and lives of the working class by Trump and the Republicans."  Kate Randall



1--Five things to know about Trump's infrastructure plan


The proposal would offer $137 billion in federal tax credits to private investors who want to back transportation projects, which the blueprint says would unleash up to $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment over 10 years...

But the sketch of Trump’s proposal claims that construction costs tend to be higher and take longer when the government builds projects instead of the private sector.
“The Trump infrastructure plan features a major private sector, revenue neutral option to help finance a significant share of the nation’s infrastructure needs,” the outline says. “This innovative financing option would serve as a critical supplement to existing financing programs, public-private partnerships, Build America Bonds, and other prudent funding opportunities.”

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) “only work on projects that create revenues,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “The vast majority of the national highway system, and our bridge problems and all our transit problems, do not generate revenues. It will not help them.”

2--While You Weren’t Looking, Donald Trump Released a Plan to Privatize America’s Roads and Bridges


"Under Trump's plan...the federal government would offer tax credits to private investors interested in funding large infrastructure projects, who would put down some of their own money up front, then borrow the rest on the private bond markets. They would eventually earn their profits on the back end from usage fees, such as highway and bridge tolls (if they built a highway or bridge) or higher water rates (if they fixed up some water mains). So instead of paying for their new roads at tax time, Americans would pay for them during their daily commute. And of course, all these private developers would earn a nice return at the end of the day."

3--Trump’s Infrastructure ‘Plan’ Is Really Just A Privatization Scam


4--US Deploying Thousands More Ground Troops to Kuwait to Fight in Iraq, Syria         

Deployment Growing Quickly and Significantly


Instead of directly deploying thousands of additional ground troops into Iraq or Syria, the sort of precipitous escalation that might get Congress voting on the war, the Trump Administration appears to have decided that the solution is to send thousands of  US ground troops to Kuwait, and let the commanders in Iraq and Syria just take what they want.

5--Berlin Trying to Sneak Ukraine Gas Transit Guarantees into Nord Stream II Deal


In 2015, Kiev stopped buying gas from Russia altogether, factually ending its price disputes with Gazprom. Instead, it has decided to import gas from European countries, at a cost of over 20% more than it would have paid for the Russian gas. The absurdity of that situation is highlighted by the fact that the 'European' gas Kiev buys consists mostly of Russian supplies pumped into Europe and then sold back to Ukraine at marked up prices.

Nevertheless, Kiev remains interested in preserving the estimated $2 billion it receives via transit fees. Ukrainian officials and lawmakers have warned that the loss of the country's transit status would turn it into a "logistical backwater." Ukraine's current transit contract with Gazprom ends in 2019. 

6--Small Victories, Grand Expectations: What's Behind Erdogan's Trip to Moscow


Thanks to the very diligent preparatory work of the diplomats, economists and the military, there has been mutual understanding reached on almost all of the issues on the agenda. This completely satisfied President Erdogan, who came to Moscow to win as many victories as possible," the geopolitical analyst says.

Moscow and Ankara have already reached a high level of understanding and respect each other's interests in the Syrian conflict, and can even "understand and forgive each other's errors" such as the accidental Russia's air strike on February 9, which resulted in the death of several Turkish servicemen or the reluctance to use the crash of the Syrian jet on the Turkish territory for its own PR purposes, Mirzayan says.

Regarding the latter, he adds, the sides agreed on the most neutral explanation that it crashed due to a technical malfunction.
However, he adds, both sides still have sharp disagreements over the future of Syria.

"For Turkey, the Kurds remain the most painful issue in the Syrian agenda. Ankara is against any kind of autonomy for them and keeps labelling all the Kurdish structures, even those which are fighting against Daesh, as terrorist," says Avatkov.

Moscow's position is different, he says. The Kremlin is ready to cooperate with the Kurds in the region and is advocating their inclusion into the Geneva peace negotiations and does not mind their autonomy in the future Syria.
However, he further noted, Moscow and Ankara will find an agreement in the above issues only when they agree on the rest items of the Syrian agenda, namely the future fate of Bashar Assad.

"Turkey keeps denying the legitimacy of the Syrian president even without openly voicing it," the expert says.
"Ankara still hopes that Assad will be replaced by some moderate Sunni Islamists who will cooperate with Turkey on a number of issues," he adds.

It is no secret that the US and Israel want to setup some regional block on counteraction to Iran, Mirzayan says. A day before Erdogan, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a visit to Moscow, who came to convince Putin to take part in the game "kick Iran out of Syria."

7--FBI Director James Comey's 'October Surprise' Doomed Hillary Clinton's Candidacy


Many American would like to see a credible, fact-based explanation for why the polls seemed to indicate a Clinton victory, but the election instead produced President Trump,”.....

Comey’s “October surprise” was the tipping point that turned voter sentiment away from Clinton—because people inclined to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt lost their enthusiasm, just as Comey’s announcement buoyed Trump voters.

“We are using a survey to measure behavior rather than opinion data,”

after Election Day last year did we go back to see what the data showed, and it was startling. The first thing to know is that people were talking very negatively about both Trump and Clinton, in contrast to the mostly positive conversations we see for products and brands.”

“While both candidates were always firmly in negative territory, Clinton nevertheless enjoyed a persistent lead over Trump that opened up after the first debate,” he said. “Both candidates experienced significant drops in the immediate aftermath of the infamous audio recording of Billy Bush and Donald Trump [boasting of sexual assaults], although Clinton still had the advantage.”
But then came Comey’s unprecedented interference in the election, which registered on a much deeper level than the political polls were probing, Fay said.

Immediately afterward, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump,” he said. “At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth ‘standings.’ The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.”

“Based on this finding, it is our conclusion that the Comey letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss, despite the letter being effectively retracted less than a week later,.... the sudden change in the political conversation after the Comey letter suggests it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result...

Fay’s takeaway is not just that the FBI director’s interference single-handedly tipped the election away from Clinton and to Trump, but also that if you experienced that announcement as a gut-punch moment, you weren’t alone—and your political instincts were correct.


8--Truman admits CIA was a terrible mistake. Duh


Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?

Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it.

Truman: the President needed at that time a central organization that would bring all the various intelligence reports we were getting in those days, and there must have been a dozen of them, maybe more, bring them all into one organization so that the President would get one report on what was going on in various parts of the world. Now that made sense, and that's why I went ahead and set up what they called the Central Intelligence Agency.

Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that Truman came to see the "Iron Law of Oligarchy" at work, which posits that all organizations-- particularly government bureaucracies-- eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:
Truman: But it got out of hand. The fella ... the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they've got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I've told you, one Pentagon is one too many.

Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.

That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.

And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.

9--The ‘American Health Care Act’ Is a Wealth Grab, Not A Health Plan


It’s not a “health” plan. It’s a wealth grab, on behalf of the already-wealthy. It’s targeted, first and foremost, toward billionaires who make money from investments rather than by earning an income. The 400 highest-earning households in the country would get an average tax break of $7 million per year under the Republican plan.
Who will benefit the least? Teachers, nurses, firefighters … pretty much anybody who works for a living...

“For families with a head of household age 55 to 64, the bill would increase costs by $7,604. For families with income below 250 percent of poverty, the bill would increase costs by $6,228.”...

Older Americans who don’t yet qualify for Medicare will certainly suffer. The Republican bill allows insurers to charge up to five times as much in premiums for people who are approaching age 65. The AARP found thatpremiums would rise by as much as $3,600 for a 55-year old earning $25,000 per year, $7,000 for a 64-year old earning the same amount, and up to $8,400 for a 64-year old earning $15,000 a year. Out-of-pocket costs would probably rise “significantly,” too.


10--Turkish Stream gas pipeline: Moscow & Ankara sign agreement in Istanbul

Since the analysis above was made the Russians and Turks have agreed on a gas pipeline through Turkey 'Turkstream'

"Russia and Turkey have put tensions over Syria behind them to agree a gas pipeline deal which would open a new route for Russian energy to western Europe".This from FT [paywall] Here also


11--The Race to Raqqa


"What is important to understand about this sudden escalation of US involvement is that if this “race to Raqqa” is won by the US military rather than by Syrian government forces, the chance that the US will hand the territory back to the Assad government is virtually nil. In other words, this is an operation far less about wiping ISIS out from eastern Syria and much more about the United States carving out eastern Syria as a permanent outpost from where it can, for example, continue the original neocon/Israeli/Saudi plan for “regime change” in Syria".

12--Explosive WikiLeaks Release Exposes Massive, Aggressive CIA Cyber Spying, Hacking Capability


WikiLeaks just dropped a huge cache of documents (the first of several promised releases), leaked from a person or people associated with the CIA in one or more capacities (examples, employee, contractor), which shows an agency out-of-control in its spying and hacking overreach. Read through to the end. If you're like me, you'll be stunned, not just about what they can do, but that they would want to do it, in some cases in direct violation of President Obama's orders. This story is bigger than anything you can imagine. ...

Adding to the "Russia did it" story, note this:
Another profound revelation is that the CIA can engage in "false flag" cyberattacks which portray Russia as the assailant. Discussing the CIA's Remote Devices Branch's UMBRAGE group, Wikileaks' source notes that it "collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques 'stolen' from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.["]
As Kim Dotcom summarizes this finding, "CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state...."

The CIA had created, in effect, its "own NSA" with even less accountability and without publicly answering the question as to whether such a massive budgetary spend on duplicating the capacities of a rival agency could be justified...

As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks.
  • The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations

13--Is Turkey Lost to the West?


The upshot of all this:
Turkey, a powerful and reliable ally of the U.S. through the Cold War, appears to be coming unmoored from Europe and the West, and is becoming increasingly sectarian, autocratic and nationalistic.

14--US government agency projects 24 million to lose health coverage under Republican plan


The winners would be corporations and the wealthy, who would reap hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Despite these tax cuts, the CBO estimates the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017-2026 period, largely due to the cuts to Medicaid and to the tax credits to purchase insurance under the ACA, which would be replaced with much smaller credits...

The AHCA seeks to further strengthen the grip of the for-profit health care delivery system, while leaving wide sections of the population with substandard insurance and health care, or no coverage at all. That millions of people stand to lose coverage under the Republicans’ plan is a natural outgrowth of the core regressive components of Obamacare.
The AHCA would reduce federal outlays for Medicaid by $880 billion over the 2017-2026 period, primarily through a reduction in enrollees. This reduction would culminate in 14 million fewer Medicaid enrollees by 2026, a decrease of about 17 percent relative to the number under current law...

The Republican plan is a boondoggle for the rich, repealing or delaying many of the changes the ACA made to the Internal Revenue Code. The single biggest tax cut is the repeal of the 3.8 percent tax the ACA applied to capital gains, dividend and interest income for families with $250,000 or more in income.
The Tax Policy Center finds that for the top 0.1 percent of income earners—those making more than $3.75 million annually—repealing this investment tax would amount to an average tax cut of $165,090.
The AHCA’s repeal of the 0.9 percent Medicare surtax, a tax on households with income in excess of $250,000 a year, would provide this same 0.1 percent of income earners an average annual tax cut of $30,520. Those households in the bottom 90 percent of earners would see virtually no benefit from these two tax cuts.

15--Zakharova ‘Disappointed’ by US General’s Decision to Open His Mouth


16--Sounds like a plan


James Mattis, in his generalissimo mode of action has, IMO, been given the imperial wave of dismissal and sent forth to destroy IS. 

The signs abound:
1.  Much greater coordination and "de-confliction" between the US and Russia in air operations against IS
...
2.  The insertion of a USMC artillery battery and support troops to provide fire support for operations in the Raqqa area.  ...

3.  Several hundred soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have been positioned in and around Manbij to referee among the Turks, ...
.
4.  The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division has been deployed to Kuwait from which General Votel the Centcom commander says it will be deployed to the north....

I estimate these signs to be indicate that Trump and his generalissimo have decided to roll the iron dice and commit whatever force is necessary to destroy IS in both Syria and Iraq.
Bravo! But I wonder how well Trump's psyche will hold up  when paratroopers from the 82nd start arriving at Dover AFB in significant numbers.  War kills

17--Why Robert Shiller Is Worried About the Trump Rally

The last time Robert Shiller heard stock-market investors talk like this in 2000, it didn’t end well for the bulls.

Back then, the Nobel Prize-winning economist says, traders were captivated by a “new era story” of technological transformation: The Internet had re-defined American business and made traditional gauges of equity-market value obsolete. Today, the game changer everyone’s buzzing about is political: Donald Trump and his bold plans to slash regulations, cut taxes and turbocharge economic growth with a trillion-dollar infrastructure boom.

“They’re both revolutionary eras,” says Shiller, who’s famous for his warnings about the dot-com mania and housing-market excesses that led to the global financial crisis. “This time a ‘Great Leader’ has appeared. The idea is, everything is different.”...

The VIX index, a popular gauge of anxiety in the U.S. stock market, has dropped more than 30 percent since Trump’s election.

don’t generally call the entire market wrong -- investors are very smart, highly motivated individuals -- but I find it hard to say why stock markets are so un-volatile right now,’’ says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist who co-designed the uncertainty gauge with colleagues from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
The simplest explanation may be that share prices have less to do with Trump than with tangible improvements in the economy and corporate earnings. With the U.S. unemployment rate well below 5 percent and S&P 500 Index profits projected to reach all-time highs this year, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that equities are doing so well....

What Shiller will say now is that he’s refrained from adding to his own U.S. stock positions, emphasizing overseas markets instead. One factor that makes him cautious on American shares is the S&P 500’s cyclically-adjusted price-earnings ratio: While the metric is still about 30 percent below its high in 2000, it shows stocks are almost as expensive now as they were on the eve of the 1929 crash.
“The market is way over-priced,’’ he says. “It’s not as intellectual as people would think, or as economists would have you believe.’’

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