Thursday, March 14, 2019

Today's Links

 “It’s a very cozy relationship. The manufacturer essentially becomes both the manufacturer and the regulator, because of the lack of the ability of government to do the job.”  Jim Hall,  former head of the National Transportation Safety Board.


Pilots are used to pulling the nose up and pushing it down, to adding power and to easing back on it, and when a system takes over some of those decisions, they need to know about it."


"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities." Winston Churchill 




1--US grounds Boeing 737s involved in Indonesian, Ethiopian crashes


 On Wednesday, three days after a Boeing 737 Max 8 commercial jet crashed in Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on board, and governments all over the world had banned the Boeing 737 Max fleet, the United States ended its isolation and announced that it was grounding the planes indefinitely.

President Trump made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, hours after the last holdout besides the US, Canada, announced that it was joining Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America in banning the planes. Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau issued his statement after reports surfaced of at least 11 complaints about the recently deployed 737 Max planes having been logged by US professional aviators with the federal Aviation Safety Reporting System between April and December of 2018....

Aviation experts believe the Lion Air jet plunged into the Java Sea after the aircraft gyrated between descents and ascents because an automated flight control system newly installed on the updated 737 model repeatedly pitched the nose of the plane downward and the pilots were unable to override it. After that crash, both Indonesian and US pilots said they had not been told about the new system and had not been trained in its use....

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued his own statement making similar assertions and ignoring the fact that as of Tuesday evening—when the whole world with the exception of Canada and New Zealand had banned the jets—he was insisting that the planes were perfectly safe and would continue in operation. On Wednesday, he reversed course and said the company had taken the “proactive step” of grounding the 737 Max planes “out of an abundance of caution.”...

The reported complaints about the flight performance of the 737 Max logged onto the federal database by US pilots are highly revealing and troubling. In one, a captain reported an autopilot glitch that caused a nose-down situation, similar to what seems to have occurred in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
In another complaint, a first officer reported that the aircraft pitched nose down after the autopilot was engaged during departure. The plane was stabilized when the autopilot was disconnected.

A pilot on a November 2018 flight said it was “unconscionable” that Boeing, the FAA and the unnamed airline allowed pilots to fly without adequate training or documentation. He called the flight manual “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient,” and added that part of the plane’s flight system was “not described in our Flight Manual.”...

Boeing, which under CEO Muilenburg has been engaged in a ruthless cost-cutting and job-cutting operation and a desperate war for markets and profits against European-based Airbus, introduced the 737 Max series in 2017 to counter Airbus’s more cost-efficient entry to the lucrative mid-range flight market, the A320neo. Boeing claimed that the 737 Max required virtually no new training for pilots who had flown earlier 737 models, making it cheaper for airlines to bring online.

The 737 Max has become the best-selling plane in the company’s 100-year history, accounting for up to 40 percent of the firm’s soaring profits. There are already some 370 of the planes in operation around the world, including over 70 in the US, and 5,000 more on order. Boeing stock, whose price has tripled since the election of Trump in November of 2016, accounts for 30 percent of the 7,000-point rise in the Dow since then....

The biggest US exporter, Boeing exerts immense influence on the US political system. Its political action committee donates large sums to both parties, including among its beneficiaries Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Last year the company spent $15 million in lobbying and employed more than a dozen lobbying firms. The acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, is a former Boeing executive.

Government regulation of Boeing and the airline industry as a whole has become little more than a sham after decades of deregulation. The gutting of government controls over the airlines and manufacturers was initiated by the Democratic Carter administration, with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, a measure promoted by liberal icon Edward Kennedy. Since then, the lifting of controls, carried out in the name of encouraging competition and benefiting the consumer, has resulted in the monopolization of air travel to the point where four major carriers control 80 percent of US air traffi

In 2005, the FAA introduced a new program whereby aircraft manufacturers like Boeing were allowed to choose their own employees to serve as FAA “designees” charged with certifying the safety of their commercial planes.
“It’s a very cozy relationship,” said Jim Hall, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The manufacturer essentially becomes both the manufacturer and the regulator, because of the lack of the ability of government to do the job.”

2--Robert Mueller has yet to allege collusion, and Democrats who accuse Trump of being a Kremlin conspirator are silent when his policies escalate tensions with Russia.

A significant hurdle in the hunt for collusion is that every close associate to “flip” on President Donald Trump has stated that they did not witness it. In his recent congressional testimony, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen said that he has seen no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and knocked down several pillars of the conjecture surrounding it...

As Virginia Judge T.S. Ellis noted at Manafort’s first sentencing last week, Manafort “is not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government.” Manafort was instead accused and convicted of financial crimes stemming from his lobbying work in Ukraine....

Warner’s House Intelligence counterpart, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), does not fare better. Asked by CBS News if he has “direct evidence” of Trump-Russia collusion, Schiff cited the infamous e-mail sent by music publicist Rob Goldstone offering Donald Trump Jr. compromising information about Hillary Clinton on the Russian government’s behalf. But by Goldstone’s own account, his overture to Trump Jr. was “publicist puff,” and his claims of Russian government support for Trump were invented out of thin air: “I had no idea what I was talking about,” he told NPR last year. To date, Mueller has given us no reason to challenge that assessment. Goldstone and every other participant in the Trump Tower meeting has been questioned by Congress or Mueller; none have faced any charges related to it. In short, if Goldstone’s letter is “direct evidence” of a crime, Mueller has yet to allege it.

If this is the most damning evidence that the Democrats’ top Russia investigators can adduce, it is no wonder that the bipartisan Senate Intelligence probe has “uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” as NBC News reported last month

3--VIPS: Mueller’s Forensics-Free Findings


There is an overabundance of “assessments” but a lack of hard evidence to support that prevailing narrative....


We have scrutinized publicly available physical data — the “trail” that every cyber operation leaves behind. And we have had support from highly experienced independent forensic investigators who, like us, have no axes to grind. We can prove that the conventional-wisdom story about Russian-hacking-DNC-emails-for-WikiLeaks is false ...


If the Mueller team remains reluctant to review our work — or even to interview willing witnesses with direct knowledge, like WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, we fear that many of those yearning earnestly for the truth on Russia-gate will come to the corrosive conclusion that the Mueller investigation was a sham.
In sum, we are concerned that, at this point, an incomplete Mueller report will fall far short of the commitment made by then Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “to ensure a full and thorough investigation,” when he appointed Mueller in May 2017. Again, we are at your disposal....

January 6, 2017 in an evidence-light, rump report misleadingly labeled “Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA).” Prepared by “handpicked analysts” from only three of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies (CIA, FBI, and NSA), the assessment expressed “high confidence” in the Russia-hacking-to-WikiLeaks story, but lacked so much as a hint that the authors had sought access to independent forensics to support their “assessment.”
The media immediately awarded the ICA the status of Holy Writ, choosing to overlook an assortment of banal, full-disclosure-type caveats included in the assessment itself — such as:
When Intelligence Community analysts use words such as ‘we assess’ or ‘we judge,’ they are conveying an analytic assessment or judgment. …Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. … Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary … High confidence in a judgment does not imply that the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong...

In June 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr asked Comey whether he ever had “access to the actual hardware that was hacked.” Comey answered, “In the case of the DNC … we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work. …” Sen. Burr followed up: “But no content? Isn’t content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?” Comey: “It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks … is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.”

The “private party/high-class entity” to which Comey refers is CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm of checkered reputation and multiple conflicts of interest, including very close ties to a number of key anti-Russian organizations. Comey indicated that the DNC hired CrowdStrike in the spring of 2016...

it is difficult to understand why Comey did not move quickly to seize the computer hardware so the FBI could perform an independent examination of what quickly became the major predicate for investigating election interference by Russia. Fortunately, enough data remain on the forensic “trail” to arrive at evidence-anchored conclusions. The work we have done shows the prevailing narrative to be false. We have been suggesting this for over two years. Recent forensic work significantly strengthens that conclusion.
We Do Forensics

Recent forensic examination of the Wikileaks DNC files shows they were created on 23, 25 and 26 May 2016. (On June 12, Julian Assange announced he had them; WikiLeaks published them on July 22.) We recently discovered that the files reveal a FAT (File Allocation Table) system property. This shows that the data had been transferred to an external storage device, such as a thumb drive, before WikiLeaks posted them....

Well before the telling evidence drawn from the use of FAT, other technical evidence led us to conclude that the DNC emails were not hacked over the network, but rather physically moved over, say, the Atlantic Ocean.
Is it possible that NSA has not yet been asked to produce the collected packets of DNC email data claimed to have been hacked by Russia? Surely, this should be done before Mueller competes his investigation. NSA has taps on all the transoceanic cables leaving the U.S. and would almost certainly have such packets if they exist. (The detailed slides released by Edward Snowden actually show the routes that trace the packets.)

The forensics we examined shed no direct light on who may have been behind the leak. The only thing we know for sure is that the person had to have direct access to the DNC computers or servers in order to copy the emails.

4-- Russia Suspects Venezuela Coup by Military Means Becoming US Priority

The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned of an increasing number of signs that a military coup in Venezuela is becoming the "West's priority".
The ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that the United States has chosen a highly confrontational scenario in Venezuela and is openly encouraging Venezuela's armed forces to mutiny.

 "In general, all suggests that the White House has chosen a scenario of acute confrontation with the use of force in Venezuela. I believe that [Washington] even does not try to hide that. All means of information and psychological pressure are being used: from manipulation and provocative media speculations to direct blackmailing and incitement to hatred. The main target is the armed forces of the Bolivarian Republic", she said.

"Venezuelan servicemen are openly being incited to a rebellion. High-ranking officials in Washington are calling on the armed forces of a sovereign state to side with new political leadership. What right does the United States have to talk about democracy and legal framework both within a separate state and on the global stage after that?" Zakharova added.

Lavrov Warned Pompeo Against Any Military Meddling in Venezuela

In a phone conversation with his American counterpart Mike Pompeo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned Washington against any military interference in Venezuela, Zakharova said.

"I would like to remind you that the day before yesterday, on the initiative of the American side, there was a telephone conversation between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, during which the Russian minister warned against any external interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela".
The ministry spokeswoman elaborated that Russia was sticking to norms of international law and sovereignty in accordance with the UN Charter, and was ready for a dialogue based on those principles, including with the United States.

Provocations from Colombia Under Guise of Humanitarian Convoy

According to her, a provocation was being prepared from Colombia's Cucuta under the guise of a humanitarian convoy to Venezuela, and emphasised that it could nor rule out casualties.
“Let us not be deceived, or deceive others — a provocation, including with casualties, is being prepared under the guise of a humanitarian convoy. And it is needed as a pretext for a forceful action from outside. And everyone should clearly understand this. We consider it urgently necessary to refrain from steps and statements that could provoke an escalation of tension in Venezuela, in particular, any appeals to the Venezuelan armed forces fraught with their involvement in an internal civil confrontation", she said.

Reported US Contacts With Venezuelan Army

Last week, Reuters cited a senior White House official as saying that the Trump administration expected more servicemen to pledge allegiance to Juan Guaido, Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president:
"We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill. We're still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited", the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
The report came shortly after US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted that Washington might consider lifting sanction on senior Venezuelan military officers if they abandon incumbent President Nicolas Maduro:

Venezuela has been embroiled in an ongoing political crisis since Guaido declared himself the country's interim president, thus challenging the legitimately elected Maduro. The move was swiftly recognised by the United States, which has also been encouraging the international community to follow suit.

Washington has also said that a military intervention in Venezuela was "an option".

5--Reports finds that Yongbyon nuclear complex still in operation


6--The "Power outage" option in Venezuela to prompt "social unrest"


In the 2010 memo, CANVAS’s Popovic declared, “A key to Chavez’s current weakness is the decline in the electricity sector.” Popovic explicitly identified the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant as a friction point, emphasizing that “water levels at the Guri dam are dropping, and Chavez has been unable to reduce consumption sufficiently to compensate for the deteriorating industry.” 

Speculating on a “grave possibility that some 70 percent of the country’s electricity grid could go dark as soon as April 2010,” the CANVAS leader stated that “an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”

7--The Intercept Shuts Down Access to Snowden Trove

First Look Media, the company that owns the Intercept, also announced that it was laying off several of the researchers who had been charged with maintaining the documents

“This decision and the way it was handled would be a disservice to our source, the risks we’ve all taken, and most importantly, to the public for whom Edward Snowden blew the whistle,” she wrote.
In a separate memo to Bloom that was sent to many of the company’s staffers, Poitras wrote that she was “sickened” by the decision to eliminate the research team and “shut down” the Snowden archive.


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