Thursday, March 23, 2017

Today's links

"The fact that Hillary Clinton can even show her face in public without being booed is proof of the Democratic Party death spiral. " Margaret Kimberley



1--Adam Schiff: Grifter, Racketeer, Warmonger


The cynical, absurd campaign to tar the Trump administration as a Russian plot to take over America is based on noting but lies, innuendo, political opportunism, and naked greed. Trump famously pledged to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C., and it was inevitable that Schiff, one of the nastiest of the swamp creatures, would arise from the muck screeching in protest.

Let him. He and his party are consigning themselves to the margins of American politics. Their loony conspiracy theories are so far removed from the concerns of ordinary Americans that the distance can only be measured in light years. Polls show that even the majority of Democrats don’t think Trump’s relations with the Russians involved illegality: independents and Republicans disbelieve Schiff’s tales of Russian plots by an overwhelming majority. No normal person cares about Russia: but the Democratic activist base is very far from normal. ...

At the dawn of the cold war, as McCarthyism was rising, the formerly “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist and anti-NATO) Republican party became the party of warmongers: the alleged threat of a domestic “communist conspiracy” logically translated into an international crusade to “roll back” communism by military means. What we are witnessing today is a similar transformation of the Democrats. Which is, as Trump would put it, sad!

2--Hillary Returns


The Democrats want to remain the corporatist party that carries out errands for the ruling class and wages imperialist war. They want those things more than they want to win. They are now fomenting an anti-Russian circus of a congressional investigation instead of making meaningful change in policy and platform that would bring them to victory. This strategy seems surprising until one acknowledges that change is the last thing they want. They prefer to live off of Republican unpopularity and slide back into office while doing the same things which have consigned them to also-ran status at every level of government around the country.

The Democratic Party exists on an outdated perception that it stands for justice and a fair and inclusive system. It has done nothing of the sort for decades but still lives off of long dead imagery.

This party is in free fall yet it keeps a hold on progressives who cannot imagine a political world without them. It is clear that supporting the Democratic Party is a path to more defeat. Even if they were committed to reforming their way to victory they would do nothing but repeat their history of ignoring and even attacking the millions of people who vote for them.

3--US Airdrops Marines Behind ISIS Lines in Syria


Forces Positioned Near Town of Tabqa

US forces in Syria have begun airdropping troops behind ISIS lines near the town of al-Tabqa, and near the important Tabqa Dam. The exact details of the airdrop are still emerging but they are said to include some US Marines as well as a number of Kurdish forces.

The area around Tabqa is just the latest in a series of targets for the Kurdish YPG as they attempt to surround the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Tabqa is about 25 miles west of the capital, and Kurdish YPG forces mostly control the area north of the city, though they’ve also made some efforts to take the northeast

The airdrops, which began on Tuesday, were the first US airdrops of Kurdish forces so far in Syria, and the deployment of US Marines with them points to the continued escalation of direct US military involvement on the ground by the Trump Administration.

In recent weeks, the US has also deployed hundreds of other US Marines with howitzers into the area north of Raqqa, aiming to provide support for advances toward the city. While the Pentagon officially labeled the howitzer Marines “advisers,” there appears to be little doubt that they, along with the new airdropped troops, will be involved in combat in the course of this deployment


4--Could the President Spy on His Political Opponents?-- Under the government’s current interpretation of the law, unfortunately, the answer is yes.


5--Davos For Democrats: DNC Mega Donors Meet At Mandarin Oriental Hotel To Plot "The Resistance"


6--BOMBSHELL: CIA Whistleblower Leaked Proof Trump Under "Systematic Illegal" Surveillance Over Two Years Ago: FBI Sat On It



As a result, Montgomery went to attorney and FreedomWatch founder Larry Klayman - who then approached the FBI:
Under grants of immunity, which I obtained through Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Curtis, Montgomery produced the hard drives and later was interviewed under oath in a secure room at the FBI Field Office in the District of Columbia. There he laid out how persons like then-businessman Donald Trump were illegally spied upon by Clapper, Brennan, and the spy agencies of the Obama administration

Montgomery left the NSA and CIA with 47 hard drives and over 600 million pages of information, much of which is classified, and sought to come forward legally as a whistleblower to appropriate government entities, including congressional intelligence committees, to expose that the spy agencies were engaged for years in systematic illegal surveillance on prominent Americans, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, other justices, 156 judges, prominent businessmen such as Donald Trump, and even yours truly. Working side by side with Obama's former Director of National Intelligence (DIA), James Clapper, and Obama's former Director of the CIA, John Brennan, Montgomery witnessed “up close and personal” this “Orwellian Big Brother” intrusion on privacy, likely for potential coercion, blackmail or other nefarious purposes. 

He even claimed that these spy agencies had manipulated voting in Florida during the 2008 presidential election, which illegal tampering resulted in helping Obama to win the White House

7--NOW Can We Admit the War On Terror Has Failed?


8--Theresa May tells Parliament terrorist attacker was UK national known to MI5


9--London Attacker Was British-Born and Known to MI5 for 'Violent Extremism'


10--Will Trump Sacrifice US-Turkish Relations for Raqqa Liberation?


The Pentagon risks alienating Turkey if it continues to team up with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces during its Raqqa operation. For its part, Damascus warned foreign powers that any military operation in the country without the approval of the legitimate Syrian government will be seen as an invasion.

The Pentagon's Raqqa operation may result in the deterioration of relations between Ankara and Washington.
The crux of the matter is that the US still largely relies on the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), viewed by Ankara as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey....

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned Washington that "if [the United States] insists on carrying on this operation with terror organizations, our relations will be harmed — that is clear."

However, speaking to Sputnik Turkey Tuesday, a representative of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) confirmed that the Pentagon is going to deploy an additional 1,000 US troops to Syria to assist the SDF during the upcoming advance on Daesh's stronghold in Raqqa.
He also disclosed that the US continues to deliver heavy armaments to the region.

"Every two days the US deploys a large amount of weapons, primarily heavy armaments, to the region. They have sent tanks, armored vehicles, missiles, sniper rifles, mortar launchers and other types of weaponry," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sputnik.
"In addition, the United States has told us that a decision was made to send an additional 1,000 US troops to take part in the Raqqa operation," he said, specifying that US troops will serve as military advisers during the operation and will not take part in the combat, at least initially....

For its part, Damascus has recently signaled that it will consider any military operation in Syria without the approval of the Syrian government to be an invasion, be it Raqqa or any other city.
"Any military operation in Syria without the approval of the Syrian government is illegal, and I said if there's any troops on the Syrian soil, this is an invasion, whether to liberate Raqqa or any other place. This is first. Second, we all know that the [US-led] coalition has never been serious about fighting ISIS [Daesh] or the terrorists, so we have to think about the real intention of the whole plan, if there's a plan to liberate al-Raqqa," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Russian journalists.


11--Democratic Party floats proposal for a palace coup


Friedman reveals the completely reactionary character of the opposition of the Democratic Party to the Trump administration. Trump and his band of fascists, generals and billionaires have provoked the hatred of tens of millions in the US who oppose the administration’s attacks on democratic rights, its police state persecution of immigrants, and its appeals to chauvinism, racism and militarism. But the opposition of Friedman and the Democratic Party on whose behalf he speaks has nothing to do with these democratic sentiments.

Friedman gives voice to tendencies in and around the Democratic Party that are prepared, in pursuit of their McCarthyite-style demonization of Russia, to welcome a palace coup that would impose a military/intelligence/corporate junta on the American people. The wealthy and corrupt social layers for whom the millionaire columnist speaks are motivated by two primary concerns...

He cites US imperialist strategist Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who warns that without an urgent course correction, the US could find itself “not with America first, but with America alone.”


12--Tillerson pledges long-term US military role in Iraq and Syria

      
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Washington’s intention to keep troops deployed more or less indefinitely in the territories now occupied by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in remarks delivered at the beginning of a two-day meeting of the US-organized anti-ISIS coalition in Washington.

“The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS,” he told an audience that included Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He gave no indication of when, if ever, US troops could be withdrawn from a war zone extending across Iraq and Syria, where there has been fighting of greater or lesser intensity throughout the 14 years since the US first invaded Iraq.

Tillerson also called for the establishment of “interim zones of stability” in Syria to which refugees from the US-instigated civil war that has raged throughout that country for the past six years could be forcibly returned. Areas will be deemed “safe” if they have been initially cleared of ISIS, an absurdly low standard given the deadly conflicts which continue to rage between different factions in the Syrian civil war.

He also stressed that these areas would come under the control of local governments installed by Washington, presumably drawn from the Kurds and Sunni Islamist opposition forces sponsored by the Pentagon and CIA as part of the US war for regime change against the Assad government in Damascus.

Trump’s secretary of state also demanded a greater commitment both militarily and financially from the 68 countries represented at the meeting. A State Department release prior to the meeting said a key goal would be to “accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS.”

Tillerson emphasized that US troops would effectively be engaged in a permanent occupation of neighboring Iraq. Even after ISIS is defeated in Mosul, where hundreds of civilians have been killed by the US-backed offensive on the Iraq’s second-largest city, the US military would remain there, Tillerson insisted.

“Local leaders and local governments will take on the process of restoring their communities in the wake of ISIS with our support,” he said. “The development of a rejuvenated civil society in these places will lead to a disenfranchisement of ISIS and the emergence of stability and peace where there was once chaos and suffering. But none of this will happen automatically. We all need to support this effort.”.....

In a remark that amounts to a blank check to the US to wage war wherever it sees fit, Tillerson ominously warned that ISIS could emerge anywhere after it is defeated in the current fighting. “As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said. “We must ensure ISIS cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world.”
Even as the secretary of state delivered his comments, a major operation has been launched in Syria by US special forces to provide support to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in an assault behind ISIS lines. US troops and SDF militia were flown into a location close to a dam on the Euphrates River which they aim to take from ISIS so as to open up a new route into Raqqa, the Jihadi group’s de facto capital.
While reports sought to maintain the fiction that the US military personnel were there as “advisers,” they are to all intents and purposes engaged in a combat mission. Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for the US military intervention in Syria and Iraq, admitted as much when he noted that the mission behind enemy lines could take “weeks” to complete.....

Russia, which intervened in 2015 to prop up the Assad regime, is also strengthening its presence in the contested northwest of Syria, where its military personnel will carry out training of the Kurdish YPG militia, which is also receiving support from the US. This will further antagonize Turkey as Ankara is not prepared to tolerate the consolidation of a Kurdish-controlled autonomous region on its border. Ankara also views Iran with mounting hostility, accusing it of seeking to expand its influence in Syria


13--Political warfare flares over surveillance of Trump transition team


The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a second hearing on March 28 in which three former Obama administration officials will be the principal witnesses: former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government; former CIA Director John Brennan, who several Republicans have claimed is a major source of the intelligence leaks to the New York Times and Washington Post on the issue; and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who played a key role in the ouster of Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, informing the White House of an intercepted conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador about US sanctions at a time when Flynn was denying he had discussed the matter with the envoy.

Nunes told the press that he expected the NSA, FBI and CIA to supply by Friday a full list of Trump transition officials whose communications were intercepted.

14--Poll: Trump’s Base Support Is Eroding


15--James Comey--The most ridiculous FBI Director of all time


There are times when I near the point of total despair. This week’s Congressional hearings into alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election are such a moment.
Answering questions about Russia, FBI Director James Comey said the following:
He [Putin] hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was that he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.
They engaged in a multifaceted campaign to undermine our democracy.
They were unusually loud in their intervention. It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew, that they wanted us to see what they were doing.
Their number one mission is to undermine the credibility of our entire democracy enterprise of this nation.
They’ll be back. They’ll be back, in 2020. They may be back in 2018.
Also, in response to the question ‘Would they like to see more Brexits?’, Comey said ‘Yes.’

These statements were described by the BBC as ‘things the FBI knows about Russia’. Note the use of the word ‘knows’. In a previous post, I pointed out the need to differentiate between fact and opinion. In his evidence to Congress, Comey didn’t say that these things were his opinion. He stated them as facts, as things he ‘knows’. Putin ‘hated’ Clinton; Russians’ mission ‘is’ to undermine American democracy; ‘Yes’, they do want more Brexits, etc.
But what evidence did Comey produce to support what he was saying? None. These were opinions, masquerading as facts, not actual facts. So the question which then arises is whether Comey’s opinions on Russia are ones we should trust.

16--US Confirms Airdrop Of Shock Troops West Of Tabqa In Syrian Province Of Raqqah


On Wednesday, the SDF, the US Special Forces and the US Marines airdropped behind ISIS defense lines west of the town of Tabqa and launched an operation to capture the town of Tabqa, the Tabqa military airbase and the Tabqa dam.
“The Coalition supported this offensive with air movement and logistical support, precision airstrikes, Apache helicopters in close air support, Marine artillery, and special operations advice and assistance to SDF leadership,” the US-led coalition said in a statement at its website.
Thus, the US leadership officially confirmed the participation of its troops on the ground in the area which is likely a key part of the new US strategy against ISIS adopted by the Trump administration.

17--Concerns over Trump crisis roil financial markets


As the Financial Times put it, the “deepening political tussle in Washington over an overhaul of the health care industry prompted fears over whether Donald Trump will be able to drive through the economic stimulus he has promised...


Whatever the short-term trend on the financial markets, Tuesday’s downturn reflected the underlying unsustainability of the massively inflated stock valuations—a defining feature of the so-called “recovery” from the Wall Street crash of 2008. The Obama administration systematically fed the record rise on the stock market with trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and trillions more in super-cheap credit and cash pumped into the financial system by the Federal Reserve, combined with austerity and wage-cutting imposed on the working class.

The post-election surge to new record highs was entirely based on the anticipation of an unprecedented profit windfall from Trump’s policies of corporate deregulation, corporate tax cuts and corporate-friendly infrastructure spending, alongside an historic attack on social programs, from health care, to education, to housing.
The underlying economy, however, remains stagnant, and Trump’s policies of economic nationalism and trade war threaten to intensify the tendencies toward a new financial crash and full-scale depression...

Without the massive stimulus to corporate profits from Trump’s promised program of social reaction, there is no basis for sustaining the record bull market. Hopes of a boost to economic growth are dwindling. A running projection for first-quarter economic growth from the Atlanta Federal Reserve has fallen to 0.9 percent.
The stagnant pace of economic growth and world trade has been reflected in declining prices for basic commodities such as oil, copper and iron ore. Oil prices fell to almost four-month lows on Wednesday after data showed US crude inventories rising faster than expected, adding to already bulging global stockpiles.

The dollar has continued to fall, raising fears of a new eruption of inflation, despite the Fed’s decision last week to raise its benchmark interest rate another 0.25 percent. The markets interpreted the Fed’s move as “dovish” because the central bank indicated it had no plans to raise rates this year more than the two additional times it had previously signaled.

The starkest measure of growing nervousness in financial markets is the continuing rise in gold, the most basic of all investment safe havens. Gold rose 1 percent to $1,247 a troy ounce on Wednesday, its highest level in almost three weeks. It is up nearly 7 percent since the start of the year, and Bank of America is predicting it will jump $200 by the end of the year to surpass $1,400 per troy ounce.
At the same time, the short-term prospects for US corporate profits are weakening. As the Financial Times reported Monday: “The US corporate profit outlook has dimmed in recent weeks, with analysts paring back their forecasts in a fresh sign of the risks facing the Wall Street rally that has powered equities to peaks.”

The newspaper noted recent data showing earnings of companies in the S&P 500 index rising by 9 percent in the first quarter of this year, significantly lower than the 12.3 percent increase predicted at the start of the year. The smaller-than-expected rise in profits will intensify concerns over the extraordinarily high price-to-earnings ratio that already prevails on US financial markets. According to a measure developed by Yale economist Robert Shiller, the cyclically adjusted PE ratio hit its highest point in 15 years this month.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey showed more investors saying stocks are overvalued than undervalued than at any point since 2001. The New York Times on Wednesday noted that US stock prices relative to earnings have been higher than today only in 1929 and 1999, on the eve of major stock market crises followed by economic slumps.

18--The Bubble in commercial real estate and its effect on financial stability


Rosengren finds that “the root cause of the financial crisis was a significant decline in collateral values of residential and commercial real estate” and “exposures across the banking system that are correlated and sizeable.”
Real estate becomes a trigger for a financial crisis because of its high leverage. For banks, these properties are collateral. When property values tank, the collateral is impaired. Defaults rise. Then broader problems spread into the economy. Property owners experience a reduction in income. Homeowners see their paper wealth evaporate and financial stress rises. At some point, banks begin to fail....

Rosengren finds that “the root cause of the financial crisis was a significant decline in collateral values of residential and commercial real estate” and “exposures across the banking system that are correlated and sizeable.”
Real estate becomes a trigger for a financial crisis because of its high leverage. For banks, these properties are collateral. When property values tank, the collateral is impaired. Defaults rise. Then broader problems spread into the economy. Property owners experience a reduction in income. Homeowners see their paper wealth evaporate and financial stress rises. At some point, banks begin to fail....

Reading between the lines, it appears the real-estate bubble is once again putting financial stability at risk, but the Fed, which caused this bubble via low rates and QE, is now nudging up interest rates too slowly and too late to an “equilibrium rate” that it knows is too low. And as this bubble runs its course toward a crisis, the Fed will once again pretend it isn’t happening.

19--Chinese infrastructure: The big picture


Infrastructure development remains a top priority for China’s government, which has long recognized that a modern economy runs on reliable roads and rails, electricity, and telecommunications. From the late 1990s to 2005, 100 million Chinese benefited from power and telecommunications upgrades. Between 2001 and 2004, investment in rural roads grew by a massive 51 percent annually. And in recent years, the government has used substantial infrastructure spending to hedge against flagging economic growth.
China’s leadership has charted equally ambitious plans for the future. Its goal is to bring the entire nation’s urban infrastructure up to the level of infrastructure in a middle-income country, while using increasingly efficient transport logistics to tie the country together. What follows is a by-the-numbers portrait of this dynamic sector.

20--Wikimaps  Syria


21--Why Trump’s Tax Cut May Be Later and Smaller Than Investors Think -- With Republicans’ health-care overhaul threatening to chew up the legislative calendar, their tax-reform plans risk getting pushed back


...includes a drop in the corporate tax rate to 20% from 35% that Goldman Sachs estimates would lift S&P earnings by 10%. Other shareholder-friendly aspects of the plan, such as lowering the penalty for repatriating overseas profits, also would get delayed.Indeed, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last month told The Wall Street Journal that the administration was working with House and Senate Republicans to pass tax reform before Congress leaves for its August recess, it is looking as if the legislation might not land on President Donald Trump’s desk until early next year.

If so, any boost to earnings that a tax cut brings also won’t come until next year. Investors who are assuming a more aggressive timetable also are assuming companies will have stronger cash flows over the next 12 months than they are going to get.

The longer the health-care debate drags out, the harder it will be to craft a tax-cut package. There are time constraints, too, points out Kim Wallace, a policy analyst at Renaissance Macro Research. A year from now, when the midterm elections are looming, it will be hard for Congress to accomplish much of anything.
In the end, Republicans may have to settle for tax-reform lite. The contentious idea of taxing imports to help pay for tax reform might have to be dropped in an effort to speed passage. Republicans might have to settle for a shallower tax cut. If it is something closer to 30%, for example, Goldman estimates it would raise S&P earnings by just 4%

22-- Putin, Munich 2007--The seminal speech

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