Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Today's Links


Trump is .... dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war.


1--Trump morphs in War President


U.S. Marines are, for the first time, deploying to Syria (with more to come). There’s talk of an “enduring” U.S. military presence in Iraq, while additional U.S. troops are being dispatched to neighboring Kuwait with an eye to the wars in both Iraq and Syria. Yemen has been battered by a veritable blitz of drone strikes and other air attacks. Afghanistan seems to be in line for an increase in American forces. The new president has just restored to the CIA the power to use drones to strike more or less anywhere on the “world battlefield,” recently a Pentagon prerogative, and is evidently easing restrictions on the Pentagon’s use of drones as well. U.S. military commanders are slated to get more leeway to make decisions locally and the very definition of what qualifies as a “battlefield” looks like it’s about to change (which will mean even less attention to “collateral damage” or civilian casualties). President Trump may soon designate various areas outside more or less official American war zones -- since the U.S. Congress no longer declares war, they can’t truly be official -- as “temporary areas of active hostility.” That will grant U.S. commanders greater leeway in launching attacks on terror groups in places like Somalia. In fact, this already seems to have happened in Yemen, according to the New York Times, opening the way for a disastrous Special Operations Forces raid there that caused the death of a Navy SEAL and possibly nine Yemeni children (the youngest three months old), while evidently accomplishing next to nothing....

“Fifteen years after launching a worldwide effort to defeat and destroy terrorist organizations, the United States finds itself locked in a pathologically recursive loop; we fight to prevent attacks and defend our values, only to incite further violence against ourselves and allies while destabilizing already chaotic regions..."
Major John Q. Bolton, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan Wars.

2--Stocks fall on tax cut delay


"The markets were reminded yesterday the 'Trump trade' is not a one-way trade and there's room for disappointment as actions on tax cuts and infrastructure spending might not materializes as quickly as we want," said Anastasia Amoroso, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Houston.


"The pronounced fall in yields across the world is not helping market sentiment at the moment either."
U.S. 10-year Treasury yields fell to three-week lows on Tuesday and the gap between U.S. and German 10-year government borrowing costs hit its narrowest since November.

The S&P 500 has run up about 10 percent since the election in November, spurred mainly by Trump's agenda of tax cuts and infrastructure spending, but valuations have emerged as a concern.
The benchmark index is trading at about 18 times forward earnings estimates against the long-term average of 15, according to Thomson Reuters data

3--Don’t buy into the hype: There will be no tax relief under Trump


4--A Breach in the Anti-Putin Groupthink


“For 25 years, Republicans and Democrats have acted in ways that look much the same to Moscow. Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests. It is no wonder that Russia pushes back. The wonder is that the U.S. policy elite doesn’t get this, even as foreign-affairs neophyte Trump apparently does.”...

English explains how the U.S. meddled in Russian domestic politics in the mid-1990s to falsify election results and ensure Yeltsin’s continuation in office despite his unpopularity for bringing on an economic Depression that average Russians remember bitterly to this day. That was a time when the vast majority of Russians equated democracy with “shitocracy.”


English describes how the Russian economic and political collapse in the 1990s was exploited by the Clinton administration. He tells why currently fashionable U.S. critics of Putin are dead wrong when they fail to acknowledge Putin’s achievements in restructuring the economy, tax collection, governance, improvements in public health and more which account for his spectacular popularity ratings today.

English details all the errors and stupidities of the Obama administration in its handling of Russia and Putin, faulting President Obama and Secretary of State (and later presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for all of their provocative and insensitive words and deeds. What we see in U.S. policy, as described by English, is the application of double standards, a prosecutorial stance towards Russia, and outrageous lies about the country and its leadership foisted on the American public.


5--Credit Check


Credit has been decelerating since the collapse in oil capex, and most recently the deceleration has intensified:

This is the absolute level of loans outstanding, which seems to only go negative like this in recessions


6--Existing home sales weaken


7--UK shelters Russian terrorists


The British government is also still sheltering Akhmed Zakayev, the former head of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI), who is wanted on terrorist charges in Russia.

The ChRI is a terrorist organization that was linked to the kidnapping and beheading of four British telecommunications engineers in 1998.

Speaking to RIA News, Loisa Petschi, a widow of one of the victims, said: “The UK allows Chechen terrorists to enter the country and claim political asylum.

I do not understand – do they intend to continue their militant activities here, in the West?” Petschi told the reporters.

Embattled Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently facing charges by Russian investigators of two counts of murder, recently announced that he might seek refuge in Britain.

"Definitely I'm considering asking for asylum in the UK," Khodorkovsky told the BBC.

It is unlikely that he will face any hurdles by the authorities in having his claim satisfied, given the British government’s apparently flexible stance on alleged Russian criminals.


8--Left Behind-- BRICS Plus: 'the Bloc That Will Dominate the World'


The proposed enlargement of BRICS (BRICS Plus) with the inclusion of powerful emerging economies would help fill the void created by US trade protectionism, international analyst Adrian Zelaia told Sputnik

Having analyzed Beijing’s idea to bring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam into the BRICS group, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Zelaia, the president of Ekai Center consulting company, concluded that this could come as a response to Washington’s decision to pull out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.


“The dissolution of the TPP, established to maintain US domination in Asia, created a void BRICS can now move in to fill and play a bigger role among the emerging economies,” Zelaia said in an interview with Sputnik Mundo...


He added that BRICS, which until now served as “a symbolical counterbalance to the West,” could now become “a leader of the global economic order” and could eventually dominate the global economy.

“The BRICS countries use a development model that, apart from trade, also prioritizes strategic investments into future progress. Most of the new inclusions are part of the New Silk Road project of Eurasian investments in infrastructure and communications,” Adrian Zelaia noted.

“This infrastructure would kick-start a Chinese model of development where money lost by one country does not necessarily make the other country richer. Instead, it encourages everyone to come up with new ideas and generate projects that benefit all,” he added.


9--China’s Maritime Silk Road to Potentially Encompass Australia and New Zealand


10--Fighting flares in Damascus as US escalates air war in Syria


The brutal US-instigated war for regime change in Syria, which entered its seventh year last week, has already claimed the lives of upwards of half a million people and driven a further 11 million from their homes.


Airwars, a group monitoring US and coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, recently noted that since Trump took office, civilian casualties in both countries had undergone an “unprecedented” increase. Local sources in the Iraqi city of Mosul, currently the target of a US-backed assault to retake control of it from ISIS, reported to Airwars that in the first week of March alone, between 250 and 370 non-combatants were killed by US-led airstrikes.


Over the past three years, Airwars calculates that airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition have claimed the lives of some 2,590 civilians in Syria.


The latest atrocity reportedly occurred Tuesday in the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, when an alleged airstrike struck a school building housing hundreds of civilians. If confirmed, the strike will be the second over the past week to claim a large number of civilian lives, following the partial destruction of a mosque in Idlib province which the US claimed was being used by al-Qaida as a base. At least 42 people were killed in that attack, although reports spoke of many more still trapped in the rubble....


Israeli politicians have gone on the offensive, vowing to expand similar strikes in the future. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israeli Public Radio on Sunday, “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our airplanes, we will destroy all of them without thinking twice.”

Israel has also sought to justify its intervention with allegations that Iran is attempting to strengthen its influence over Damascus by establishing a permanent military presence in the country. Tel Aviv’s hardline stance towards Teheran enjoys the full backing of the Trump administration.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a trip to China, dismissed any talk of tensions with Russia, but insisted that strikes would go on. “If there is a feasibility from an intelligence and military standpoint—we attack and so it will continue,” he said.

Assad, in response to the Israeli airstrike, called on Russia to prevent future attacks. “Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria,” Assad stated to Russian journalists. “I think Russia can play an important role in this regard.”....


The increase in US troops on the ground in this contested region, and the broader escalation of the conflict being pursued by the Trump administration throughout Syria and Iraq, is adding fuel to the fire of a conflict that could rapidly spiral out of control. Even an unintended clash between any combination of the myriad competing military forces operating in Syria would be sufficient to draw in regional and global powers, with catastrophic consequences for the long-suffering population of the Middle East.


11--Wealth of world’s billionaires soars amid stock market surge


12--The Trump vs Germany fiasco


The German ruling class has reacted to the escalating conflict with a mixture of concern and aggression. On Monday, the daily Handelsblatt published a commentary headlined “Transatlantic confrontation” which declared, “Anyone who hoped that Angela Merkel’s visit to US President Donald Trump would lay the basis for a normalisation of transatlantic relations must learn to know better. The American president is sticking to his firm positions and is even intensifying the conflict with international partners. The tweet against the Chancellor is an affront, the incident at the G20 meeting an historic break with the past.”

Even representatives of the German ruling elite who have been vehemently pro-American in the past and supported US-led wars are no longer taking Germany’s partnership with the United States for granted. “Enough of making fun. There is no longer a generous patron, now someone is governing who recognises no allies, but only alleged debtors who take advantage of America. Yes, a new era is beginning in the White House,” wrote Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

A comment in the Rheinische Post summed up the response of German imperialism to Trump’s aggressive assertion of US interests. Now it was necessary “to find even clearer statements against the new US protectionism and mobilise the majority of the remaining states against Trump.” Germany and the European Union have to “assert themselves and counterpose their own, different-sounding goals” to Trump, “instead of permitting themselves to be intimidated by Washington.” The prospects for this are good, wrote the newspaper, because at the G20 summit it became clear “that in trade policy, Germany not only has the rest of the EU, but almost the rest of the entire world, above all China, Brazil and Japan, on its side.”
Nobody should underestimate the historical and political significance of these developments. Twenty five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the conflicts between the imperialist powers, which led twice in the 20th century to horrific world wars, are once again erupting in trade war and preparations for military conflict.

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