Monday, December 31, 2018

Today's Links


“I categorically disavow the use of misinformation to sway an election,” said Mr. Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent figure at the intersection of Silicon Valley and Democratic politics. He said he had financed “organizations trying to re-establish civic, truth-focused discourse” and was “embarrassed” to learn his money had been spent on disinformation.

“We cannot permit dishonest campaign tactics to go unchecked in our democracy — no matter which side they purportedly help,” Mr. Hoffman said in his statement.LinkedIn Co-Founder Apologizes for Deception in Alabama Senate Race

1--Koreas complete work on removing some guard posts, land mines in DMZ


2--North Korea, South Korea hold groundbreaking ceremony for railway project

3--A NY Times Reporter Spoke At An Event Organized By Alabama Dirty Tricksters

New York Times reporter Scott Shane spoke at an event organized by the group who ran a disinformation op aimed at helping defeat Roy Moore in Alabam

Last week the New York Times revealed that money from tech billionaire Reid Hoffman was used to run a small disinformation “experiment” aimed at helping Democrat Doug Jones win last year’s Alabama special Senate election. That resulted in Facebook suspending five accounts and Hoffman issuing an apology.

But left unmentioned in the Times story was that one of its authors learned about the Alabama campaign when he spoke at an off-the-record meeting organized by the same group who ran the operation. A copy of a confidential report about the Alabama effort, obtained by BuzzFeed News, raises new questions about whether the project was — as the Times said — an “experiment,” or whether it was a straightforward Democratic attempt to replicate the model of the Russian Internet Research Agency...

During the meeting, Dickerson and Sara Hudson, a former Justice Department employee who now works for a company partly funded by Hoffman, detailed the results of their attempt to use social media and online ads to suppress Republican votes, “enrage” Democratic voters to help with turnout, and execute a “false flag” to hurt the campaign of Republican Roy Moore.

The report provided to Shane and others at the meeting boasts of the campaign’s effectiveness and positions itself as a serious effort to influence 650,000 Alabama voters. It does not use the word “experiment” to describe the effort. 

Morgan subsequently had his Facebook account suspended by Facebook due to his involvement in the campaign. (He did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.)

(NB)  The Birmingham Project report states that between September and December of 2017 the group “ran a digital messaging operation to influence the outcome of the AL senate race.” It claims the effort contributed to high Democratic turnout and a drop in Republican turnout, and says that it “drove write-in votes to a number of candidates.” On one page it says its “sustained targeting” of Republican voters “had enormous effect” on turnout, though it does not back this up with relevant data.

The report also takes credit for what it calls a “false flag” operation that involved drawing attention to the fact that Roy Moore’s Twitter account was followed and amplified by thousands of Russian bots. Project Birmingham “tied that botnet to the Moore campaign digital director, making it appear as if he had purchased the accounts,” according to the report. It’s unclear who bought the Russian bot accounts for Moore's Twitter profile and what role Project Birmingham played.

Shane said he was “shocked” when he watched Dickerson and Hudson detail the operation back in September.

“It was a little breathtaking to hear this was going on in the States, carried out by Americans,” he said.

4--New Studies Show Pundits Are Wrong About Russian Social-Media Involvement in US Politics


Far from being a sophisticated propaganda campaign, it was small, amateurish, and mostly unrelated to the 2016 election.

Rather than ruminating over whether they were duped by Russian clickbait, reporters who have actually spoken to black Midwest voters have found that political disillusionment amid stagnant wages, high inequality, and pervasive police brutality led many to stay home. 


 “How did the Russians know how to target their messages so precisely to undecided voters in Wisconsin, or Michigan, or Pennsylvania?” In fact, the Russians spent a grand total of $3,102 in these three states, with the majority of that paltry sum not even during the general election but during the primaries, and the majority of the ads were not even about candidates but about social issues. The total number of times ads were targeted at Wisconsin (54), Michigan (36), Pennsylvania (25)  


During the campaign, corporate media outlets handed Donald Trump billions of dollars worth of air time because, in the words of the now ousted CBS exec Les Moonves: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS…. The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” Not wanting to interrupt the fun, these outlets have every incentive to breathlessly cover Russiagate and amplify comparisons of stolen Democratic Party e-mails and Russian social-media posts to Pearl Harbor etc


Having lost the presidential election to a reality TV host, the Democratic Party leadership is arguably the most incentivized to capitalize on the Russia panic. They continue to oblige. Like clockwork, former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook seized on the new Senate studies to warn that “Russian operatives will try to divide Democrats again in the 2020 primary, making activists unwitting accomplices.” By “unwitting accomplices,” Mook is presumably referring to the progressive Democrats who have protested the DNC leadership’s collusion with the Clinton campaign and bias against Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. Mook is following a now familiar Democratic playbook: blaming Russia for the consequences of the party elite’s own actions.


 2016 Election Content: The most glaring data point is how minimally Russian social-media activity pertained to the 2016 campaign. The New Knowledge report acknowledges that evaluating IRA content “purely based on whether it definitively swung the election is too narrow a focus,” as the “explicitly political content was a small percentage.” To be exact, just “11% of the total content” attributed to the IRA and 33 percent of user engagement with it “was related to the election.” The IRA’s posts “were minimally about the candidates,” with “roughly 6% of tweets, 18% of Instagram posts, and 7% of Facebook posts” having “mentioned Trump or Clinton by name.”  



• Covert or Clickbait Operation? Far from exposing a sophisticated propaganda campaign, the reports provide more evidence that the Russians were actually engaging in clickbait capitalism: targeting unique demographics like African Americans or evangelicals in a bid to attract large audiences for commercial purposes. Reporters who have profiled the IRA have commonly described it as “a social media marketing campaign.” Mueller’s indictment of the IRA disclosed that it sold “promotions and advertisements” on its pages that generally sold in the $25-$50 range. “This strategy,” Oxford observes, “is not an invention for politics and foreign intrigue, it is consistent with techniques used in digital marketing.” New Knowledge notes that the IRA even sold merchandise that “perhaps provided the IRA with a source of revenue,” hawking goods such as T-shirts, “LGBT-positive sex toys and many variants of triptych and 5-panel artwork featuring traditionally conservative, patriotic themes.” 


Based on all of this data, we can draw this picture of Russian social-media activity: It was mostly unrelated to the 2016 election; microscopic in reach, engagement, and spending; and juvenile or absurd in its content. This leads to the inescapable conclusion, as the New Knowledge study acknowledges, that “the operation’s focus on elections was merely a small subset” of its activity. They qualify that “accurate” narrative by saying it “misses nuance and deserves more contextualization.” Alternatively, perhaps it deserves some minimal reflection that a juvenile social-media operation with such a small focus on elections is being widely portrayed as a seismic threat that may well have decided the 2016 contest.  ..


The Alabama Senate race cost $51 million. If it was impossible for a $100,000 New Knowledge operation to affect a 2017 state election, then how could a comparable—perhaps even less expensive—Russian operation possibly impact a $2.4 billion US presidential election in 2016?


 The utility of Russia-baiting goes far beyond absolving elites of responsibility for their own failures. Hacked documents have recently revealed that a UK-government charity has waged a global propaganda operation in the name of “countering Russian disinformation.” The project, known as the Integrity Initiative, is run by military intelligence officials with funding from the British Foreign Office and other government sources, including the US State Department and NATO. It works closely with “clusters” of sympathetic journalists and academics across the West, and has already been outed for waging a social-media campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The group’s Twitter account promoted articles that painted Corbyn as a “useful idiot” in support of “the Kremlin cause”; criticized his communications director, Seumas Milne, for his alleged “work with the Kremlin agenda”; and said, “It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”


Today's links

“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” —Lord Palmerston. As any student of statecraft would know in their bones.


How the Corporate Debt Bubble Will Crush Stocks.  12 minutes

2--US warhawk senator says Trump is ‘reconsidering’ Syria withdrawal after lunch meeting

Washington announced on 19 December the withdrawal of its troops from Syria within 60 to 100 days. US President Donald Trump justified the pullout by stating that the American troops had achieved their goal of defeating Daesh* in the Arab country.

The decision was not welcomed by some US officials and was followed by two resignations — US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, who announced that his views were no longer aligned with Trump’s, and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the US coalition in Syria.

3--Iran confirms hosting Taliban delegation for peace talks--US occupation has created a hotbed of jihadism


“Since the Taliban are in control of more than 50 percent of Afghanistan, and given the insecurity, instability and other issues that the country is dealing with, they [the Taliban] were interested in talks with Iran,” Qassemi said.
He said Iran has long borders with Afghanistan and always sought a constructive role to maintain peace in the region

Most analysts believe that Iran's effort to get the Taliban to accept peace with the Afghan government is aimed at preventing further growth of Takfiri terrorist groups, especially Daesh, in the war-ravaged country.
Following its defeat in Iraq and Syria, Daesh terrorists have been shifting attention to Afghanistan during past month, making the country a new center of their atrocious acts of terrorism in a bid to sow more insecurity across the whole region.

More than 17 years of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan at the top of a military coalition has brought nothing but chaos and insecurity to the country as a result of which all forms of organized crime, especially production of illicit drugs, have been skyrocketing. The country has also turned into a hotbed of violent acts by major terror outfits, especially Daesh

4--Stocks and the rich

Stock is disproportionately held by the rich, with the richest 1.0 percent of families hold almost 40 percent of stock wealth held by individuals, and the top 0.5 percent of families holding almost a quarter of stock wealth. This means that when the market rises, the rich get richer relative to everyone else.  Conversely, when the market falls wealth inequality is reduced.

For most middle class people their house is their main asset. House prices have been outpacing inflation in recent years, but generally house prices increase roughly in line with the rate of inflation. It is not a good story when house prices rise more rapidly. Rapid rises in house prices mean that homeowners become wealthier, but it places houses further out of the reach of those who don’t already own a home. Furthermore, if the rise in house prices reflects the fundamentals in the housing market it means that rents are also rising. If the rise in house prices doesn’t reflect the fundamentals in the housing market then we have a bubble, as was the case in the last decade. This is also not good news.

5--UK: Cross-party moves escalate to prevent Brexit and secure second referendum

Corbyn’s stated aim is to force a general election and only if that fails to consider other options, including a second referendum. But he has refused to move a vote of no confidence in the government, which is the only means of possibly securing a general election—suggesting that he will do so only after the vote on May’s deal when the chance of success is most likely. In reality there is no reason to believe that pro-Brexit Tories or the Democratic Unionist Party would support such a no confidence motion....

The Observer, the Guardian’s Sunday sister publication, reported that cross-party talks aimed at extending Article 50 “have been under way for several weeks to ensure the 29 March date is put back—probably until July at the latest—if the government does not push for a delay itself. It is also understood that cabinet ministers have discussed the option of a delay with senior backbench MPs in both the main parties and that Downing Street is considering scenarios in which a delay might have to be requested from Brussels.”...

Corbyn is vehemently opposed to any struggle for socialism based on a common offensive by all European workers against the EU and all its constituent governments, which is the only means of opposing the dangers of austerity, repression and militarism. His preaching of party unity, social peace and a “patriotic” commitment to the national interest disarms workers even as the repressive arms of the state are preparing for social unrest as Brexit approaches.

6--Trump orders freeze in federal salaries as shutdown reaches ten days

The executive order demonstrates Trump’s real attitude to the working class, behind the political demagogy and claims that he is waging trade war to defend American jobs and American workers. While the military will receive an across-the-board increase of 2.6 percent, because the defense appropriations bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump, no pay increase for civilian workers has been finalized.

7--One year since Trump’s tax cuts: a balance sheet

Stock buybacks reach $1 trillion

December marked one year since the passage of Trump’s corporate tax windfall legislation, cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent down to just 21 percent. Officially known as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017,” the legislation handed some $1.5 trillion to the major corporations and the super-rich while leaving the working class to shoulder the burden.

As the World Socialist Web Site rightly predicted in its December 21, 2017 perspective, the bill “marks a new stage in the decades-long social counterrevolution in the United States. It will make America, already the most unequal advanced economy in the world, far more unequal, entrenching the rule of an unaccountable financial oligarchy.” One year later, a balance sheet of the legislation’s effects on American society confirms this analysis.

In October, the United States Treasury announced that the federal budget deficit has risen to $779 billion, up 17 percent from the previous fiscal year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in April projecting the national debt will now increase by $1.9 trillion over the next decade. The spike in the deficit will precipitate a new round off assaults on the few remaining social programs in the US—above all, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

After-tax profits rose nearly 20 percent in the third quarter from the previous year as a result of the cuts, while wage growth remained static. After-tax corporate profits are now growing nearly 10 percent faster than pre-tax profits, a phenomenon which usually only occurs around recessions. The first three quarters of this year saw enormous tax savings for some of America’s largest corporations. Walmart saved $1.6 billion, with Bank of America saving $2.4 billion. AT&T and Verizon saved $2.2 billion and $1.75 billion, respectively. Apple alone has collected a whopping $4.5 billion

Corporate spokesmen and media pundits at the time had made promises of raising wages, handing out bonuses and creating new jobs. In reality, the handouts in the form of bonuses and raises for workers amounted to a small fraction of the $200 billion in savings on income tax. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute estimated that bonuses gave workers only 2 cents more per hour over the past year. Wages overall have increased only 3.1 percent over the course of the year, barely keeping up with the rate of inflation. By comparison, dividend payouts to corporate shareholders have set a new annual record of $420 billion. The majority of the payouts went to the wealthiest 10 percent of the US population, which owns 84 percent of all stock holdings.

Capital investment—intended to fund research and development and create jobs—rose at the beginning of the year only to fall sharply in the third quarter. Conversely, stock buybacks—a method by which a corporation repurchases shares in order to artificially inflate their value without creating anything or hiring employees—surged to previously unseen heights.

The total amount of S&P 500 company buybacks alone neared $200 billion in the third quarter, with a total buybacks reaching $579 billion for the first nine months of 2018. The total amount of buybacks is expected to top $1 trillion by the end of the year, according to Goldman Sachs analysts. This is almost double the amount of the previous annual buyback record of $589 billion in 2007—the year that began the financial meltdown that triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression.

It is now clear the vast majority of corporate spending from the tax cut has gone to the further enrichment of a tiny parasitic layer of investors and CEOs. Whatever expenditures made on paltry handouts to workers have been dwarfed by buybacks and dividends, a financial orgy that once again threatens another and even greater financial meltdown. The events of the past year once again underscore the deeply intractable crisis of capitalism, marked by a degree of financialization of the world economy that has long ago surpassed the point of no return. Profit is now primarily made not through the growth of the productive forces, but rather, through their destruction....

While GM is planning to cut $6.5 billion in costs, it has squandered over $10 billion in stock buybacks and dividend payouts for its richest investors since 2017, and $25 billion since 2012.

8--A wolf in sheep's clothing?  French “yellow vest” protests expose anti-worker role of New Anticapitalist Party


The emergence of France’s “yellow vest” protests has unmasked the reactionary role of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Its reaction to the first mass eruption of workers’ opposition to President Emmanuel Macron was unambiguously hostile. The NPA lined up with official propaganda, which began by denouncing the “yellow vest” protesters as anti-environmental racists and fascists for opposing Macron’s fuel tax increase.

Before the first scheduled protest, the NPA published a statement titled “Social justice: we can’t make ourselves heard on November 17.” It declared that “this mobilization is problematic.” It continued: “First of all because even before being the expression of popular discontent, this protest expresses above all an old demand of the trucking companies.”
Pointing to attempts by neo-fascist parties to intervene on “yellow vest” Facebook pages, it swore unyielding hostility to the protests:
We will make no mistake. Like the CGT and Solidarity trade unions, we will not mix our anger on Saturday, November 17, with the bosses’ maneuvers exploited by the far-right, which is not a temporary ally but a mortal enemy. Yes, everything is going up except wages, and the lower classes are right to have had enough with price rises for fuel and in general… But we cannot say it on Saturday, November 17, in actions or supposedly citizens’ gatherings that look like far-right mobs, in which we would line up with the deadliest enemies of the workers’ movement.
What followed was the greatest mobilization of political opposition in the French working class since the May 1968 general strike

9--Der Spiegel’s counterfeit journalism and the campaign against “fake news”

The exposure of journalistic fraud at the German news weekly Der Spiegel has lifted the lid on the manipulation of public opinion by the so-called “authoritative” media. While Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media systematically censor unwelcome posts, the supposedly “reliable” and “objective” reporting by the mainstream media proves to be propaganda produced in cooperation with the state to promote the interests of the ruling class. In the name of combatting “fake news,” freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are being gutted.

Last week, the editors of Der Spiegel, the highest-circulation German news magazine, admitted that they had published 55 articles by the journalist Claas Relotius that were “completely or partially invented, falsified, forged.”

Relotius has also written numerous articles for other German media outlets.

Since the public acknowledgment by Der Spiegel’s editors, the news weekly’s editorial board has endeavoured to portray the Relotius scandal as a unique case in which genius, a desire for prestige, nihilistic energy and psychological instability came together. According to media reports, Spiegel has provided the counterfeiter, who voluntarily resigned following his exposure, with psychological care and a lawyer....

To justify the Western military interventions in the Middle East, a fairy tale by Relotius about two young brothers (“lion boys”) kidnapped, tortured and trained by the Islamic State (ISIS) to become suicide bombers proved much more effective than a carefully researched piece into the real background to the wars. Such an article would have to admit—if it were honest—that ISIS and other Islamist militias are, above all, a product of the intrigues of the US and its allies in NATO and in the Middle East.
Relotius’s fabrications fit seamlessly into a stream of disinformation that has lasted for nearly 16 years—since then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his infamous speech at the UN on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Although the entire speech was based on lies and forgeries, it was largely accepted uncritically by the international media and served as a justification for the bloodiest war of the 21st century, which continues to this day....

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who exposed the Watergate scandal, were still being celebrated and honoured in the 1970s. Today, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, who have uncovered incomparably more serious crimes of US imperialism, are isolated and living in forced exile, and must fear for their lives. Outrageous counterfeiters such as Relotius, on the other hand, are awarded prizes.
The incestuous relationship between the world of politics and the media has taken on a dimension that defies description. Billion-dollar media conglomerates dominate the press. Journalists and leading politicians know each other, mingle at the same bars, and frolic together alongside film stars and other celebrities at annual press galas.

10--US intelligence think tank conducted “false flag” operation impersonating Russian election interference


A series of articles published in the past week have revealed that the New Knowledge think tank conducted a “false flag” operation to influence the 2017 Alabama state election and make it appear that Russia was conducting a Twitter campaign to back its preferred candidate. New Knowledge is closely connected to the US intelligence agencies and has been widely cited as an impartial investigator of “Russian meddling” in US politics.

The story was first reported by the Washington Post on December 18 and the New York Times on December 19. Only a day earlier, both newspapers had carried lead front-page articles based largely on a New Knowledge report that claimed to provide new evidence of Russian social media operations to influence American politics.

As is the now well-established procedure, the report by New Knowledge was presented by the Times and Post as “independent” and scientific. The articles in the Times and Post were then made the basis for countless news articles and television reports breathtakingly reporting the latest nefarious activities of the Kremlin as established fact.

The New Knowledge report, entitled “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency,” cited hundreds of predominantly left-wing social media posts on Facebook, including on police violence and government spying, to argue that Russian activities were sowing political divisions in the United States. It amounted to a brief for mass internet censorship directed against working-class political opposition. (See: “The disinformation campaign behind the allegations of Russian ‘disinformation’”)

In its December 19 article, the Times admits that New Knowledge CEO Johnathon Morgan was involved in an effort to promote the election of Democrat Doug Jones against Republican rival Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama Senate election. The operation, codenamed “Project Birmingham,” included creating fake Facebook pages to attract conservative voters and promote an obscure write-in conservative Republican candidate likely to draw votes away from Moore. The operation also sought to artificially inflate click rates on anti-Moore news stories in order to encourage more such articles. Moore ultimately lost the election.

Most significantly, the Times report includes the admission that the project “involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.”

The Times goes on to quote an internal report by New Knowledge, summarizing Project Birmingham: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.” Moore’s Twitter account was followed by numerous accounts with an obviously fake and Russian appearance, featuring profile pictures of celebrities and Russian cyrillic characters.

Damage Control

In other words, the very body cited as an impartial expert on unsubstantiated allegations of Russian “disinformation” itself carries out actual disinformation fabricating evidence of Russian meddling.
The Times article is itself an exercise in damage control aimed at preserving the credibility of New Knowledge and the intelligence agencies’ anti-Russia campaign, for which the Times and the Post have been leading voices.

As is suggested by the headline, “Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics,” it argues that New Knowledge and Morgan’s actions were a small-scale “experiment” aimed at testing the impact of Russian-style tactics. It further warns that New Knowledge’s actions were a sign that Russian tactics are being copied by other political groups, and that a further intensification of government censorship of social media is required.

It has since been revealed that the project went beyond the Times’ initial report—and that the Times knew of New Knowledge’s role long in advance but did not mention it even as it promoted New Knowledge’s own report. An article by Buzzfeed on December 27 reveals that Scott Shane, the Times national security correspondent who wrote a December 17 article based on New Knowledge’s report on Russian meddling, was one of a handful of speakers at a September meeting in Washington that discussed “Project Birmingham.”

The Project also involved another organization, American Engagement Technologies, which is run by Mikey Dickerson, a former Obama administration official and Google engineer. The organization received $750,000 from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire CEO of LinkedIn, and spent approximately $100,000 on Project Birmingham. The collaboration of New Knowledge in this operation underscores the close nexus between the intelligence agencies, the Democratic Party, and the technology companies that are leading the campaign for censorship.

New Knowledge and its CEO, Johnathon Morgan, epitomize the collection of state propaganda outlets, staffed by former intelligence agents and advisors, who are trotted out in media television panels and featured in news articles as sources for unsubstantiated allegations of Russian interference. New Knowledge’s co-founder, Ryan Fox, was an NSA agent for 15 years, and previously worked as an analyst for the US Joint Special Operation Command in the military.
Morgan himself was an advisor to the US State Department and helped create the Hamilton 68 “dashboard,” a project run by the German Marshall Fund, ostensibly tasked with tracking Russian disinformation activities, that is headed by Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and advocate of internet censorship.

Even if the allegations of a Russian social media operation since 2016, involving approximately $100,000 of paid Facebook ads, are true, they would pale in comparison with the actions of the US intelligence agencies, which are responsible for overthrowing governments, sponsoring coups, destabilizing governments and providing fake intelligence (“weapons of mass destruction”) for illegal US wars.

If the Washington Post and the New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record” of what previously passed for American liberal journalism, were operating with a shred of journalistic integrity, the revelation of such compromising actions by New Knowledge would compel them to issue an immediate retraction of their previous promotion of New Knowledge’s investigations.

Neither will do so, because they do not function as houses of genuine journalism, but rather of government propaganda. The campaign over Russian-backed “fake news” is not based on actual facts but is itself the greatest fake news story of all. Its purpose is to justify mass censorship of the internet. Its target is not Russia, but political opposition among workers and young people inside the US, and their determination to obtain information outside of the control of the corporate media, and to organize struggles against social inequality on social media



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Today's Links

1---Group touted by Democrats for 'bombshell' Russia report was behind Alabama Senate race tricks


A cybersecurity company that participated in a disinformation campaign against a Republican candidate in the Alabama Senate race reportedly penned a Senate report touted as a “bombshell” about Russian social media operations in the 2016 presidential election.
New Knowledge, a leading firm on Russia related cyber issues, was one of the two firms whose report on Russian activities during the presidential election was published by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month.

The report claims that the Russians troll farms used all social media platforms and even mobile games such as Pokemon Go to influence the election and allegedly sway voters to President Trump.

But the credibility of the cybersecurity firm took a hit after revelations in the New York Times that it collaborated with another firm, American Engagement Technologies, to replicate those very same alleged Russian tactics during the Alabama Senate race.
The secret effort, dubbed as the “Birmingham Project,” was facilitated by AET, a firm run by former Obama official Mikey Dickerson and funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman, allocating $100,000 for the project.

Jonathan Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, collaborated with AET in reportedly creating thousands of fake Russian accounts on Twitter in a bid to give an impression that the Russians supported Republican candidate Roy Moore’s candidacy.

The internal report of the Birmingham Project openly states that the group “ran a digital messaging operation to influence the outcome of the AL senate race” between September and December of 2017, according to BuzzFeed.

According to BuzzFeed, Dickerson and Sara Hudson, a former Department of Justice employee who went on to work for another firm funded by Hoffman, spoke at a private meeting in September where they said their secret project managed to suppress Republican votes, energize Democratic voters and plant a “false flag” against the Republican campaign.

“I'd like to see the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department look at this to see if there were any laws being violated and, if there were, prosecute those responsible,” he said. “These authorities need to use this example right now to start setting the course for the future to let people know that this is not acceptable in the United States of America.”

2--US seeking to resurrect Daesh in Iraq: Political leader

Leader of a major political party in Iraq has said that there has been clear intelligence evidence suggesting that the United States is trying to resurrect Daesh-led militancy in the Arab country after the Takfiri terrorist group was defeated in neighboring Syria.

Humam al-Hamoudi, who chairs the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, said on Saturday that Washington’s main strategy in Iraq has been to make the Arab country dependent on American military presence by keeping militancy alive in parts of the Iraqi territory

3--‘Land swap’ between Turkey & Syria – an option to avoid standoff over Manbij?

Moscow is ready to throw its weight to resolve the Manbij standoff, said Marianna Belenkaya, a Middle East expert and commentator at Russia’s Kommersant daily. Russia had previously agreed that Turkey control a small area in the east of Idlib province, “but it’s yet to be seen if Russia would agree to a Turkish zone being extended to the entire north of Syria.”

Moscow and Ankara are to “define certain areas of influence and understand who will control what.” There are residual groupings of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters who are ready to exploit any no power vacuum in northern Syria, she explained.

Turkish ambitions to reinstate full control over the northern Syria may not be an option for Damascus, but “it is also important for Russia to not lose Turkey as an ally.”
“There’s a possibility that some kind of a land swap will be discussed,” Belenkaya offered. “What is happening around Manbij is similar to what Russia has suggested a year ago in Afrin,” she noted. At this time, Moscow was ready to guarantee that the Turks will not invade the Kurdish-populated canton if the Kurds agree to be under Damascus jurisdiction, but they rejected the offer.

4--Syrian Army Deploys to Manbij in New Alliance With Kurds

Turkey, naturally, is objecting to this new deployment, insisting that the Kurdish YPG have “no authority” to invite anyone else into Manbij, and claiming it was destabilizing the region. As Manbij is on the western shore of the Euphrates, Turkey has long ruled out allowing Kurds to remain there, though with most of the upcoming invasion targeting Kurds east of the river, this boundary means increasingly little.

At any rate, it’s unlikely that the Kurdish YPG considered themselves to need any particular authority to request the help of Syria’s military to protect a Syrian city from foreign invasion. It’s also difficult to argue that resisting an invasion amounts to “destabilizing” anything. 

5--Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder


6--Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record

His national security team had been trying to box him in like every other president. But he called their bluff. (Delusional. Trump is not a peacenik)

The mainstream media has attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as impulsive, blindsiding his own national security teamBut detailed, published accounts of the policy process over the course of the year tell a very different story. They show that senior national security officials and self-interested institutions have been playing a complicated political game for months aimed at keeping Trump from wavering on our indefinite presence on the ground in Syria.

7--Firm that warned Americans of Russian bots...was running an army of fake Russian bots


The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves.
Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections....

This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online.

New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate 'false flag' operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”...

The money for the so-called research project came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who contributed $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies (AET), which then spent $100,000 on the New Knowledge experiment. After the scheme was exposed, Hoffman offered a public apology, saying he didn’t know exactly how the money had been used and admitting that the tactics were “highly disturbing.”

You would think that a newspaper like the New York Times would have cottoned on to the fact that guys like Fox and Morgan, with their histories in the US military and intelligence agencies, have clear agendas and are not exactly squeaky clean or the most credible sources of information when it comes to anything to do with Russia. But that kind of insight or circumspection might be too much to ask for in the age of Russiagate...

It’s nearly two years into the Trump presidency and still we have no solid evidence that the Russian “collusion” theory is anything more than a fantasy concocted by Democrats desperate to provide a more palatable reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss than the fact that she simply ran a bad campaign.
In fact, at this point, we actually have more solid and irrefutable evidence of election meddling from the likes of dodgy American and British companies like Cambridge Analytica and New Knowledge than we do of any meddling orchestrated by Russia.

8--Aaron Mate Provides Much-Needed FACTS & SENSE on RussiaGate (1 hour video)



Comments from MOA---

 Trump's surprise policy change came days before the Israeli Christmas attack whose objective may have been to trick Syrian forces to shoot down a passenger plane in much the same way that a Russian military plane IL-20 was downed weeks befor
The rushed nature of the policy change suggests Israeli - US coordination.

And Mattis' resignation burnished Trump's 'peace maker' credentials. There appears to be NO PLAN to give Eastern Syria back to Syria, making Mattis' resignation into little more than a PR stunt.

The media's attack on Trump's "isolationist" peace-making is deliberately misleading. Trump's militarism is clear:
- There is no peace with North Korea; - US continues to support KSA/UAE war in Yemen;
In fact, Mattis was a proponent of ending US involvement in Yemen - now that he's gone, it seems like empty rhetoric
- Trump has made no progress toward peace with Russia;
- Trump has back-tracked on his reason for leaving Syria as well as the time table for the withdrawal (which was reported at first as immediate, then "30 days" then "60-90" days and is not simply described as being "very deliberate, very orderly");
- Trump is militarizing space.
Posted by: Jackrabbit | Dec 29, 2018 2:59:46 PM | 5

Draining the swamp and ending U.S. military involvement throughout the world were two of his major points."And Trump will do little of either.
He's not going to remove US forces from Africa. He's pushing war, or preparations for, in the Pacific.
And far more importantly, domestically, he's made the swamp worse, with his gifts to the rich. Just look at his cabinet, specifically Treasury and Commerce.
Fundamentally, the US economy is still horrid for most workers. There never was a "recovery" after the crash of 2008.

If Trump is playing a double game we will know eventually.

Trump's history with Syria is fraught. He has attacked Syria based on false flags; occupied it's territory for no good reason; and threatened to attack Syria if SAA tried to reclaim Idlib. Trump has already walked back his reason to leave Syria, saying that ISIS could still be a threat that requires US intervention, and he has refrained from any set time table (the withdrawal was to be "immediate", then "within 30 days", then "60-90 days", and now it is just a "very deliberate, very orderly" withdrawal).

A number of Trump's other campaign promises have not been kept: Mexico is NOT paying for the wall; Obamacare was not repealed ("on day one"), the swamp is not being drained, Hillary is not being prosecuted, etc.
Trump is NOT the peaceful isolationist that the media claims him to be (see NK, Yemen, Ukraine). The militarism of his choices for top staff is very clear.
See Don Bacon @9 for more.
Posted by: Jackrabbit |

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Today's links 3

  "Whatever the tactical shift carried out by the Trump administration in relation to US troop deployments in Syria, it is clear that Washington is continuing its strategy of military aggression aimed at asserting US hegemony—and rolling back Iranian and Russian influence—in Syria and the entire oil-rich Middle East. The threat that these efforts will spill over into a regionwide and even world war have in no way been lessened." Bill Van Auken





1--NATO Partisans Started a New Cold War With Russia


U.S. leaders managed to get relations with Russia wrong just a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. One of the few officials to capture the nature of the West’s bungling and how it fomented tensions was Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense during the final years of George W. Bush’s administration and the first years of Barack Obama’s. In his surprisingly candid memoirs, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Gates recalls his report to Bush following the 2007 Munich Security Council, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin vented about Western security transgressions, including the planned deployment of a missile defense system in Central Europe.
“When I reported to the president my take on the Munich conference, I shared my belief that from 1993 onward, the West, and particularly the United States, had badly underestimated the magnitude of the Russian humiliation in losing the Cold War . . . .” Yet even that blunt assessment given to Bush did not fully capture Gates’s views on the issue. “What I didn’t tell the president was that I believed the relationship with Russia had been badly mismanaged after [George H. W.] Bush left office in 1993. Getting Gorbachev to acquiesce to a unified Germany as a member of NATO had been a huge accomplishment. But moving so quickly after the collapse of the Soviet Union to incorporate so many of its formerly subjugated states into NATO was a mistake.”

2--The Syrian army enters Manbij as Trump follows through on withdrawal: Iraq is next

Russia asked Damascus and Tehran to lay down a strategy and coordinate with the Russian military to put forward a plan of action and a road map after US withdrawal, with the first priority of eliminating ISIS and avoiding any clash with Turkey if possible. The situation was very sensitive and complicated between these allies. With the return of Manbij, the situation seems to favour Syrian unity, marking the end of its partition or of any possible buffer zone.

Tehran believes the US won’t permanently leave the Levant and Mesopotamia without leaving unrest behind. This gives its officials an additional motivation to lobby the Iraqi parliament for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

There is no doubt that Iraq is a close ally of Iran and not a fanatic supporter of the US. The Iraqi parliament can exert pressure over the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to ask President Trump to pull out US troops before the end of his mandate in 2020. The US establishment and the “Axis of the Resistance” can both connive and plan, but the last word will belong to the people of Iraq and to those who reject US hegemony in the Middle East, those who can accept losses and nurse their wounds in hopes of a better future.

3--US Strategy in Syria: ‘Create Quagmires Until We Get What We Want’ In seeking to control post-war Syria, US determined to keep war going


In 2013, top Obama Administration officials described their policy in the Syrian War as one of keeping the war going. The administration wanted a big seat at the table for a political settlement, which officials clarified meant ensuring that the war kept going so that there was never a clear victor.


The Trump Administration seems to be slipping into that same destructive set of priorities in Syria. The Washington Post this week quoted an unnamed Administration official as saying that “right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want.”

As ever, hat the US really wants is to have a dominant position in post-war negotiations, so they can dictate the form that post-war Syria takes. This means ensuring that the Syrian government doesn’t win the war outright.

4--CIA in Syria: Train Moderate Rebels, but Not So Many That They Win White House Goal Is to Ensure Protracted Stalemate     2013

Pro-Assad factions have regularly accused the United States of setting their policy around keeping the Syrian Civil War going. It turns out that they were more or less right.

The latest Washington Post report quotes top US officials, who are talking up an escalation of CIA training for rebel factions, as designed around “the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor.”
Just to make that clear, the officials later say that the CIA’s aid to the rebels is designed to ensure that pro-US factions don’t lose the war outright, but that the aid has to remain small enough that they don’t actually win either.

5--CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels 2013


The CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war, U.S. officials said.
The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win...

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the agency has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks in a push to double the number of rebel fighters getting CIA instruction and weapons before being sent back to Syria.

The CIA is “ramping up and expanding its effort,” said a U.S. official familiar with operations in Syria, because “it was clear that the opposition was losing, and not only losing tactically but on a more strategic level.”
The CIA declined to comment.

The descriptions of the CIA training program provide the most detailed account to date of the limited dimensions and daunting objectives of a CIA operation that President Obama secretly authorized in a covert action finding he signed this year.

6--Robert Parry on Russiagate, Putin and our corrupt media

The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda. Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts? … The American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’ Indeed to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a ‘Putin apologist’ or ‘Kremlin stooge.’
Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith. …
The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump ‘Resistance.’ The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.

Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump ‘progressives’ were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers –or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the ‘facts’ to ‘get’ some ‘bad’ political leader or ‘guide’ the public
in some desired direction.”

7--Turkey, Russia agree on coordination in Syria amid US withdrawal


Lavrov, on the other hand, stressed that the two countries agreed on coordination of troops to eliminate terrorist threat in Syria, adding that the agreement also covered the need of intensifying the work to ensure repatriation of refugees.
Before the meeting, Çavuşoğlu said that they came to Russia to hold talks about the latest developments in Syria, and that Turkey, Russia, and Iran have close cooperation about Syria in the format of talks that began in Astana, Kazakhstan.

"Thus we’ve made important progress in many fields on the political process," Çavuşoğlu said.
"With our Russian partners, we will discuss what we can do in Syria. Especially our President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent us as he puts great emphasis on our relations with Russia on regional topics," he added.

"We will have the opportunity to discuss once again the situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone and in the demilitarization zone,” said Shoygu, for his part.
“In addition, we will talk about implementation of the agreements that we reached in Istanbul, the work done after that, as well as everything related to the Eastern Euphrates," he added, referring to an expected Turkish counter-terrorism in Syria targeting the YPG/PKK

8--Trump administration attempts to soothe allies' worries over Syria troop withdrawal

Hours after the statement from the Kurdish militia surfaced, Bolton tweeted that he plans to travel to Israel and Turkey in next month to address the "next phase of the fight against ISIS, as the US begins to bring troops home from Syria," an announcement that was seemingly intended to reassure critics like Graham.
"Looking forward to visiting Israel & Turkey in January. We will discuss our continued work confronting security challenges facing allies & partners in the region, including the next phase of the fight against ISIS, as the US begins to bring troops home from Syria," Bolton wrote.

The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law late last year has already given the American economy a jolt, at least temporarily. It has fattened the paychecks of most American workers, padded the profits of large corporations and sped economic growth. 

Those results weren’t a surprise. Economists across the ideological spectrum predicted the new law would fuel consumer spending, in classic fashion: When the government borrows money and dumps it into the economy, growth tends to accelerate. But Republicans did not sell the law as a sugar-high stimulus. They sold it as a refashioning of the incentives in the American economy — one that would unleash more investment, better efficiency and higher wages, along with enough growth to offset any revenue lost to the government from lower tax rates.....Capital spending did pick up steam earlier this year....

The results of a survey published in late October by the National Association for Business Economics showed that 81 percent of the 116 companies surveyed said they had not changed plans for investment or hiring because of the tax bill.
Cheerleaders for the tax cut argued that the heart of the law — cutting and restructuring taxes for corporations — would give the economy a positive bump, giving companies incentives to invest more, hire more workers and pay higher wages.
Skeptics said that the money companies saved through tax cuts would merely increase corporate profits, rather than trickling down to workers. 

JPMorgan Chase analysts estimate that in the first half of 2018, about $270 billion in corporate profits previously held overseas were repatriated to the United States and spent as a result of changes to the tax code. Some 46 percent of that, JPMorgan Chase analysts said, was spent on $124 billion in stock buybacks....

Corporate tax revenues are down one-third from a year ago. Federal revenues as a whole ran $200 billion behind the Congressional Budget Office’s forecast for the 2018 fiscal year — even though economic growth was faster than the C.B.O. expected. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget reports that nominal federal revenues are down by at least 3.6 percent since the tax cuts took effect....

The growing budget gap means the Treasury must borrow more to keep the government running. The Treasury expects to borrow a total of $1.338 trillion from global investors this calendar year. That would be 145 percent higher than the $546 billion the federal government borrowed last year. That would be the highest level of borrowing since 2010, when the American economy was struggling to recover from the great recession.

10--Narrow majority backs Trump on Syria, Afghanistan troop reduction

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they back the moves in Syria and Afghanistan, which came as a surprise to the president’s own national security advisers when it was announced last week. By contrast, 48 percent said they oppose the troop withdrawals and reductions, the poll found.

11--US troops pullout to shed light on coalition's war crimes in Syria’


“The upcoming withdrawal of US military personnel from Syria will most likely shed light on numerous war crimes committed by the international coalition during the so-called fight against [the] Daesh terrorist group.

“First of all, this concerns, of course, the much hyped liberation of Raqqah in October 2017, which has transformed into a 'ghost city' as a result of carpet bombings by coalition aircraft,” Russia’s Sputnik news agency quoted the unnamed source as saying...
On November 13, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned an airstrike earlier that month by the US-led coalition against the eastern town of al-Shaafah, which left more than 60 people dead and injured, arguing that the massacre clearly pointed to the fact that members of the military alliance had no respect for moral values, international rules and regulations besides the lives of innocent civilians.

The ministry, in two separate letters, addressed to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the former rotating president of the UN Security Council Ma Zhaoxu, called on the Security Council to fulfill its responsibilities and stop US-led aerial assaults.
It also asked the world body to propose an international, independent and impartial mechanism to investigate the crimes being perpetrated by the US-led coalition.

 The letters noted that the coalition was deliberately targeting Syrian civilians and making use of internationally banned weapons, including white phosphorus bombs, in Syria.

The ministry stressed that the US-led coalition airstrikes were meant to kill as many Syrian people as possible, prolong the ongoing Syria conflict, destroy the country’s infrastructure and undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity in flagrant violation of all UN Security Council resolutions on the Arab country.
The letters concluded that the embarrassing silence of the Security Council had encouraged the coalition to kill more Syrian civilians and destroy their property.

12--Trump’s Troop Pullout Not Peace, More Imperialist Reconfiguration

Trump announced he had no intention of pulling the 6,000 or so US troops out of Iraq. In fact, he said the country would henceforth serve as a base from which future attacks could be launched on Syria, and presumably, other Middle Eastern countries, when the need arose. Apparently, the Iraqi government was not even consulted about this new force-projection plan.

Trump is therefore not scaling back US militarism overseas, as some pundits wishfully, or alternatively, fearfully, think. He is merely rationalizing US imperialism as a leaner, meaner force.
The lie to Trump’s supposed peace overtures is given with his bragging that Turkey is being given the job to “finish off” the Islamic State and other terror groups in Syria. Terror groups which Washington has covertly weaponized for the past eight years....

The Turkish move has little to do with the purported eradication of Islamist terror groups and more to do with crushing Kurdish separatists in northeast Syria whom Washington up to now has been sponsoring. The Kurds are being abandoned by Trump in his dollar-driven calculus, which may result in greater conflict between Turkey and Syrian government forces who will hardly stand idly by if Ankara violates Syria’s sovereignty more than it already has....

It is becoming clear that Trump is recalling US troops not for any principled reason to do with peacemaking, and more to do with rationalizing his country’s imperialist power projection in the Middle East. The corollary of this sordid calculation is the way Syria and the region is being further destabilized by the American maneuver. 

13--Russia, Turkey 'reach understanding' on Syria after US pullout move

Russian and Turkish officials have reached an "understanding" on coordination of military activities in Syria following a high-level meeting in Moscow, Russian state news outlets cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying.

"An understanding was reached over how the military representatives of Russia and Turkey on the ground will continue to coordinate their steps under the new conditions with an aim toward the final eradication of the terrorist threat in Syria," Lavrov said, according to state news agency RIA-Novosti.

 14--“Leveraged Loans” Bite: Record-Bad Year-End for Loan Mutual Funds & ETFs 


Part of the $1.3 trillion in “leveraged loans” — loans issued by junk-rated overleveraged companies — end up in loan mutual funds and loan ETFs. These funds saw another record outflow in the week ended December 26: $3.53 billion, according to Lipper. It was the sixth outflow in a row, another record. Over the past nine weeks, $14.8 billion had been yanked out, another record. These outflows are, as LCD, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, put it, “punctuating a staggering turnaround for the asset class” that until October was red-hot...


the big wave of defaults that many expect in an environment where credit is tightening for risky corporate borrowers, hasn’t even started yet. These are still the good time


15--The Fed may also be underestimating the impact the drawdown of the Fed’s balance sheet and continuation of enhanced forward guidance are having on global liquidity.


A leveraged loan is a loan that is made to a company with relatively high leverage (i.e., companies with high debt-to-cash flow ratios). Usually, these companies are rated as less than- investment grade. Years ago, banks would hold these loans on their balance sheets, but in the  past few decades an active market has developed in which these loans are bought and sold. Often, an investment bank will buy leveraged loans from commercial banks to bundle them into structured financial instruments that are known as collateralized loan obligations (CLOs). CLOs trade like bonds, and they improve the liquidity in the leveraged loan market.

Leveraged loans are floating-rate financial instruments, so investors piled into the market over the past two years when the Fed was in rate-hiking mode. However, some investors have started to sell their holdings of leveraged loans recently as doubts have risen about how much higher short-term interest rates actually will rise. Moreover, the evident deceleration occurring in the economy could negatively affect the ability of some highly levered companies to adequately service their debt obligations, which has also contributed to some nervousness in the leveraged loan market. Could the recent weakness in the leveraged loan market have implications for the U.S. economy?...

In our view, the weakness in the leveraged loan market at present reflects a broader economic reality about which we have been writing in recent months. That is, the overall financial health of the non-financial corporate sector has deteriorated over the past few years. The phenomenal growth in the leveraged loan market since 2016 reflects both demand-side and supply-side factors. In terms of demand, investors have been attracted to the relatively high returns that leveraged loans and CLOs offer. On the supply side, the marked increased in leveraged loan issuance over the past few years speaks to the steady rise in non-financial corporate debt, especially among non-investment grade businesses, that has occurred.
Taken in isolation, the leveraged loan market is not likely to bring the economy to its knees anytime soon. But recent weakness in the leveraged loan market may be symptomatic of rising concerns that investors may be having about the outlook for the financial health of the business sector. Spreads on speculative-grade corporate bonds have widened in recent weeks, and investment grade spreads have also pushed out. As we have written previously, we do not view the overall financial health of the American business sector as “poor” at present. But investors apparently are starting to react to its modest deterioration. If the Fed continues to push up interest rates and if corporate debt continues to rise, which would put upward pressure on spreads, then financial conditions would tighten further, which could eventually lead to a sharper slowdown, if not an outright downturn, in economic growth." - source Wells Fargo

 economic slowdown now apparent--

Economic growth may not be as ‘strong’ as the Fed believes. The strength in the U.S. economy has been narrowly focused, with the energy and technology booms accounting for a disproportionate share of economic growth. Both sectors now appear to be slowing, with the former struggling under the weight of sluggish global economic growth and lower oil prices, while the latter is facing an onslaught of government oversight concerning privacy concerns and anti-trust matters. Growth in the more cyclical parts of the economy is also slowing, with demand for home sales and capital goods flagging for the past few months...


The Fed may also be underestimating the impact the drawdown of the Fed’s balance sheet and continuation of enhanced forward guidance are having on global liquidity. Both policies were projected to have strong positive effects when they were implemented. Why wouldn’t they have an equally strong impact now that they are headed in the other direction? Moreover, the high degree of certainty the Fed has displayed that these policies will continue, effectively on auto-pilot at a time that growth is decelerating, has sent a foggy message to the financial markets, which has likely increased uncertainty— hence the rush out of stocks and into bonds and the dollar." - source Wells Fargo


16--Turkey plans to invade Syria?


Turkey, naturally, is objecting to this new deployment, insisting that the Kurdish YPG have “no authority” to invite anyone else into Manbij, and claiming it was destabilizing the region. As Manbij is on the western shore of the Euphrates, Turkey has long ruled out allowing Kurds to remain there, though with most of the upcoming invasion targeting Kurds east of the river, this boundary means increasingly little.

At any rate, it’s unlikely that the Kurdish YPG considered themselves to need any particular authority to request the help of Syria’s military to protect a Syrian city from foreign invasion. It’s also difficult to argue that resisting an invasion amounts to “destabilizing” anything.....


after Russia warning Turkey against the invasion, may well be able to call in Russian support as well.

The hope, at least for now, is that the presence of these troops will deter a Turkish invasion, as the presence of US troops in Manbij previously had. Turkish officials have been very public on their intention to invade, however, making it unlikely that they’ll not launch some sort of offensive against the area.  

17--Taliban Seeks Image Makeover as Peace Talks Progress Spokesman: Taliban are not as harsh as they were in 1996


Normally, banks can profit on the spread between the yields on longer-term assets and the interest they pay on deposits and other short-term liabilities. However, bank profits get squeezed when short-term interest rates rise relative to the yields on long-term assets. This can lead banks to cut back on their lending, which, in turn, can put the brakes on economic activity.

19--Stock Markets--How crazy was it?

The week’s sharp moves were attributed mostly to light holiday trading volume and computer-driven trading. But the ups and downs during a usually calm period are no doubt stoking investor anxiety about what’s to come... On Monday, the Dow finished down 653 points, or 2.9%, representing its worst decline during a session prior to Christmas in the 122-year-old blue-chip gauge’s history, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Best day-after-Christmas trading day on record
Then Wednesday it was as if Christmas Eve had never happened, with stocks more than offsetting their staggering losses from the previous session:
• The Dow logged its first-ever 1,000-point single-session gain.
Biggest one-day turnaround in years
• The Dow swung from a 2.67% decline at its Thursday session low to a positive finish, up 1.1% — its biggest such intraday swing since Oct. 4, 2011, when it recovered from a fall of 2.75% at its low.
• The Thursday turnabout was the most dramatic such swing for the S&P 500 since May 25, 2010, and the biggest for the Nasdaq since Nov. 18, 2008
All three indexes are sharply down in December, with the S&P and Dow having lost more than 9% and the Nasdaq more than 10%.

• The Nasdaq entered a bear market this month, defined as a 20% pullback from a recent peak, while the S&P 500 and Dow remain solidly in correction territory.
• The indexes are all poised for annual losses for the first time since 2008, with the Dow and S&P 500 on pace for their worst December since 1931.

20--Creating quagmires is our strategy

The Trump Administration seems to be slipping into that same destructive set of priorities in Syria. The Washington Post this week quoted an unnamed Administration official as saying that “right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want.”As ever, hat the US really wants is to have a dominant position in post-war negotiations, so they can dictate the form that post-war Syria takes. This means ensuring that the Syrian government doesn’t win the war outright.

That’s not as realistic as it once was, with the Assad government, backed by Russia, having retaken virtually all of the rebel-held territory except for a far north bastion in Idlib, dominated by al-Qaeda. This means the US now has to save al-Qaeda to keep the war going, which if we’re being honest has been a recurring undercurrent in US policy in Syria for years.

22--The Redirection, Hersh

23--2020: Year of the Democrats? Maybe Not


24--Uh oh--Dems worry: Top three candidates in polls are all white men

Democrats are worried that they have a problem: The three people leading polls in the very early stages of their presidential race are all white men.
The party traditionally battles over identity politics and wants to be seen as promoting diversity.
Its last three nominees have been Barack Obama, who became the nation’s first African-American president, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman to win the popular vote.

Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) are this year’s top-tier candidates, according to a recent and very early Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll.
It showed that 32 percent of those polled in Iowa favored Biden, while 19 percent preferred Sanders and 11 percent liked O’Rourke.

While some Democrats believe the early polls are merely a metric on name recognition, they say it defies the party’s mission to be more diverse and more inclusive that the top three candidates are all white men.
“It’s almost like we’re moving backwards,” said one Democratic strategist. “We elected a black president in 2008 and 2012, we nominated a woman in 2016, so why are we now back with three white men at the top of the polls?”
Democratic strategist Seth Bringman added that it “definitely sends the wrong message about who our party is.” 
In an interview last week, CNN host Van Jones asked Gillibrand, who has been a vocal supporter of the “Me Too” movement, if she found the latest poll concerning: “In a party as diverse as ours, does it worry you to see the top three being white guys?”
“Yes,” Gillibrand replied.
“I aspire for our country to recognize the beauty of our diversity at some point in the future and I hope someday we have a woman president,” she continued after Jones pushed her on the point. …

“A white male candidate will have challenges because our voters are predominantly women and people of color,” Bringman said. “Women candidates dominated Democratic primaries in 2018. The last two competitive Democratic primaries were won by the candidate who was the overwhelming favorite among black voters.”
Bringman said that all three men will have problems going forward. 

25--Syrian government troops deployed to flashpoint city of Manbij

The Turkish military has massed troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers on the border near Manbij in recent days, while Reuters quoted the main Turkish-backed Syrian “rebel” group, the “Free Syrian Army,” as stating on Friday that it had sent convoys, together with Turkish forces, toward the frontlines with Manbij, in “full readiness … to start military operations to liberate” the city. An FSA commander said that the group had 15,000 fighters prepared to attack the city.

Turkey carried out a similar operation in March of this year against the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin, west of the Euphrates River, forcing over 200,000 people to flee their homes. Since then, Ankara has given free rein to the so-called “rebels” to carry out looting, arbitrary detentions, torture and killings, according to human rights groups....

Erdogan responded to the report of the movement of Syrian government forces to Manbij by calling it a “psychological” operation, amounting to “waving their own flag there.” He said that Damascus carried out a similar action in Afrin before the Turkish invasion.
He added that “It’s not just about Manbij, we are aiming to wipe out all terrorist organizations in the region. Our main target is that the YPG takes the necessary lessons here.”
The Trump White House appears prepared to sacrifice its erstwhile Kurdish proxy force in the interests of repairing ties with Ankara. Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained since an abortive July 2016 military coup against Erdogan that enjoyed US backing and had further deteriorated over the Pentagon’s alliance with the YPG.

Among Washington’s objectives is undoubtedly driving a wedge between Turkey and Russia, which have established closer ties as relations between Washington and Ankara soured. Turkey has collaborated with Russia and Iran in the so-called Astana peace process for Syria, which has eclipsed the Geneva talks backed by the US.

A delegation from Turkey consisting of its foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and defense minister, Hulusi Akar, along with other officials, is due to arrive in Moscow today to discuss with their Russian counterparts the implications of the US troop withdrawal.
The precise timetable and conditions for the US troop withdrawal remain far from clear. On December 23, Trump tweeted that he had discussed with Erdogan a “slow and highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area” of northeastern Syria...

Whatever the tactical shift carried out by the Trump administration in relation to US troop deployments in Syria, it is clear that Washington is continuing its strategy of military aggression aimed at asserting US hegemony—and rolling back Iranian and Russian influence—in Syria and the entire oil-rich Middle East. The threat that these efforts will spill over into a regionwide and even world war have in no way been lessened.

26--Facebook: The global censor


In a front-page article published Friday, titled “How Facebook Controls What World Can Say,” the New York Times writes that Facebook’s actions “make the company a far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.”

Facebook has “quietly become, with a speed that makes even employees uncomfortable, what is arguably one of the world’s most powerful political regulators,” the article states. “Increasingly,” the Times concludes, “the decisions on what posts should be barred amount to regulating political speech—and not just on the fringes.”

The transformation of Facebook into an instrument for political censorship was driven home in an end-of-year statement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published just hours after the appearance of the Times report.

“We’re a very different company today than we were in 2016, or even a year ago,” writes Zuckerberg. “We’ve fundamentally altered our DNA to focus more on preventing harm in all our services, and we’ve systematically shifted a large portion of our company to work on preventing harm. We now have more than 30,000 people working on safety and invest billions of dollars in security yearly.”

Lurking behind the billionaire CEO’s sickly-sweet euphemisms about “harm prevention” is a much darker reality. The 30,000 employees Zuckerberg cites—a majority of Facebook’s workers—are engaged not in “harm prevention,” but “speech prevention.” They read the communications of Facebook users, determine what political views are and are not acceptable, and remove, ban or block users and posts.

Zuckerberg boasts that Facebook is “removing millions of fake accounts every day,” and working “to identify misinformation and reduce its distribution.” Facebook has “built AI systems to automatically identify and remove content related to terrorism, hate speech and more before anyone even sees it.”

In other words, every single Facebook post, comment and message is read and analyzed by humans, machines or both to determine whether or not it falls afoul of the company’s entirely arbitrary, undefined, amorphous and opaque (“and more”) standards....

Despite the explosive character of the article’s revelations, the report is a controlled release of information intended to push Facebook to systematize its censorship regime in coordination with the US government...

Facebook’s censorship drive has taken place at the direct instigation of the American state. In over a half dozen hearings this year by Senate and House committees, leading figures in the US Congress as well as officials from the intelligence agencies have demanded that the company create exactly the sort of Orwellian censorship regime that is now being described.
All of this is one great, unconstitutional, illegal conspiracy to destroy the freedom of expression.
The reasons behind the censorship drive are not hard to find.

The year 2018 has been one of mounting social struggle, ending in an international upsurge of the working class expressed most clearly in France’s “yellow vest” movement. With a looming global recession, mounting international antagonisms and deepening political crisis in the United States and other countries, the capitalist state faces what its representatives themselves call a “crisis of legitimacy.” It is desperately seeking to resolve this crisis by preventing the masses from accessing left-wing views and coordinating their struggles via social media.

But just as the coming year will see a further intensification of the class struggle, it will also see an upswing in the struggle against internet censorship

27--Turkey is lying about fighting ISIS

On the long list of issues that have divided the United States and Turkey, the biggest problem has been the American military relationship with the YPG. For the U.S. soldiers working with the group, the YPG is America’s reliable ground force against the Islamic State. Turks see things differently, arguing that the YPG is actually the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by another name. The PKK, designated as a terrorist group by both the Washington and Ankara, has been waging a violent campaign against Turkey since the 1980s. The understandably outraged Turks feared that the United States was midwifing a terrorist state on its border. That is all over now, which is why Trump will be feted in Turkey in 2019....Turkey’s overriding concern has always been and will continue to be the destruction of a Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone that the YPG and its political affiliate, the Democratic Union Party, dominate. For Erdogan, a U.S. withdrawal from Syria clears the primary obstacle for destroying the YPG. There is no reason to believe that the Turks will turn their attention to the Islamic State when they have been so focused on the Kurdish threat to their security.