Friday, April 12, 2019

Today's links

Images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the UK's secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of--like it or not--award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom." Edward Snowden

 The arrest of is meant to send a message to all Americans and journalists: be quiet, behave, toe the line. Or you will pay the price." Tulsi Gabbard

If a nation hostile to Trump - such as, say, Venezuela or Iran or Palestine - has its hackers break into Trump's accountant's files & get his financial documents showing massive corruption by Trump, with the intent of ensuring Trump loses in 2020, should US journalists report it? glenn greenwald

says the Julian Assange prosecution sets a precedent where the US government can designate a journalist or publisher as a hostile foreign intelligence operation “simply because they don’t like what they publish or the things they’re saying.” max blumenthal


 1-- Post-Mueller Report, Trump Approval Back at 45% High


- President Donald Trump's job approval rating increased relatively sharply over the past month to 45% in an April 1-9 Gallup poll, up from 39% in March. This marks the third time the 45th president has reached a 45% job approval rating in Gallup trends -- his highest in the series....


The president's improved rating is the result of small increases among independents and Democrats, whose ratings of the president have increased by six and four percentage points respectively. Republicans' approval of the president remains unchanged, with about nine in 10 Republicans approving of Trump's job performance.


2--Measuring the Fault Lines in Current U.S. Foreign Policy


Bottom Line

There is no longer a single, coherent, national strategic vision (if there ever was one) for how the U.S. should face the rest of the world. The traditional view that American leadership must see itself as the world leader for global stability is now challenged by some new isolationist tendencies, intense political party polarization and modifications of support for NATO and the United Nations, the two great pillars of institutional world order since World War II. The question of whether the U.S. should continue to maintain a physical military presence in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq could factor into the 2020 presidential election. All told, it's clear that reaching public consensus on how the U.S. should operate in the world is a tall order and one that will have to navigate at least five existing fault lines.

3--Americans' Perceptions of Declining U.S. Power

Toward the end of 2018, Gallup updated a relatively long trend asking Americans whether they thought the upcoming year (2019) would be "a year when America will increase its power in the world, or a year when American power will decline." Americans were divided, with 49% choosing each option....

Friedman believes the U.S. is in its fifth wave of decline due partly to the dysfunctionalism of long-term party polarization and political gridlock.

Bottom Line

Discussion of the eventual decline of the United States as a world superpower has become a recurrent impulse among political elites, and may explain the decline since the 1960s in Americans' optimism that the nation's power would increase in the coming year.
Since then, attitudes have varied in response to the prevailing economic winds and other factors, but always with no more than a slim majority feeling optimistic about the country's position. However, attitudes have also become increasingly partisan in the past two decades, so that perceptions of national strength mainly seem to reflect people's feelings about the party controlling the Oval Office, and not as much careful consideration of whether America is in fact caught up in historical cycles that result in inevitable decline.

4--No, Democrats Don’t Want ‘Open Borders’

President Trump has falsely claimed at least two dozen times since taking office that Democrats want to open American borders. But legislation shows that Democrats support border security measures, though not the border wall he wants to build....

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, repeated the assertion on Monday and argued that Democrats have “made it very clear that they don’t want to work with the president, that they don’t want to fix our immigration system” — referring to the political impasse over immigration reform.
The vast majority of Senate Democrats, and 14 Republicans, voted down a White House-backed Senate proposal that would enable the Department of Homeland Security to make more arrests and deportations, limit family-based immigration, and eliminate the diversity visa lottery. House Democrats have also suggested opposition to a new measure that will also limit legal immigration.

In 2013, every single Democrat in the Senate voted for the so-called Gang of Eight immigration overhaul bill that would have provided about $40 billion for border enforcement, including deploying thousands more agents and building 700 miles of fencing. (The House never voted on the bill.) 

And in 2006, 26 Senate Democrats voted to build 700 miles of walls and fences on the southwestern border. Mr. Schumer was among the Democrats who supported that proposal — a fact that even Mr. Trump has repeatedly acknowledged, as recently as last week.

5--Tulsi Gabbard defends assange

“This is a threat to journalists,” she told Matthews, “but it’s also something that threatens every American, because the message that we are getting, that the American people are getting is: Be quiet, toe the line, otherwise there will be consequences.”

6--Trey Gowdy: What was the factual predicate for surveilling the Trump campaign

 "We're going to look at the origins of this investigation and see if the law was followed" 

7--Tucker Carlson defends Assange


What do you call a man who publishes news for a living?

A journalist

assange humiliated Hillary and the Dems by exposing corruption win the democratic party 

Assange's crime: He helped prevent Hillary from becoming president

The enemies of speech are now the guardians of speech 

8--Defying US threats, Turkey vows to deploy Russian air-defence system

Matters came to a head during the Syria war. Erdogan eagerly supported the US drive to overthrow Bashar-al Assad’s Baathist regime and helped arm the Islamist militias Washington used as its shock troops in the first years of the war. But Ankara recoiled when the US, in response to the defeat and collapse of its Islamist allies, made the Kurdish YPG—an offshoot of the PKK against which Ankara has been fighting a bloody counter-insurgency war in south-east Turkey for the past 35 years—its main proxy army in its regime-change war in Syria.

While maintaining its support for Assad’s Sunni Arab opponents, Ankara struck a shaky alliance with Assad’s chief allies, Moscow and Tehran, on the basis of their common interest in limiting and rolling back US power in Syria.

As Turkey’s S-400 purchase attests, the subsequent attempts of the US to bully and coerce Turkey into pulling back from closer ties with Russia and Iran have only served to antagonize Ankara and strengthen its determination to lessen its dependence on Washington....

Washington, as the senators’ New York Times op-ed highlighted, is confident that it can seriously damage the Turkish economy. In August, Trump’s decision to double US tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel imports precipitated a collapse in the value of the Turkish lira, and helped tip Turkey into its first recession since 2009.
Eight months later, with its economy being battered by both high-inflation and recession, Turkey is even more vulnerable.

9--Discredited Democrats call AG Barr’s ‘spying’ claim conspiracy theory

The very same congressional Democrats who maintain ‘Russiagate’ was real are denouncing Attorney General William Barr’s claim there was improper surveillance of the Trump campaign as a conspiracy theory.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) demanded of Barr to retract his statement, made earlier on Wednesday, that “spying did occur” during the 2016 presidential campaign. Barr “must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up. Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Schumer tweeted.

“I don't trust Barr, I trust Mueller,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) told AP.
“He is acting as an employee of the president,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland). “I believe the Attorney General believes he needs to protect the president of the United States.”

10--Shadow banking is now a $52 trillion industry, posing a big risk to the financial system


11--What The Latest Immigration Polls Do (And Don't) Say


Americans support letting DACA recipients stay.

That latest poll from the Washington Post found that 87 percent of Americans support "a program that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States if they arrived here as a child, completed high school or military service and have not been convicted of a serious crime." An NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday likewise found that 66 percent of Americans support "the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy, which protects those who were brought into the United States as undocumented children from being deported."

Americans aren't that wild about a "wall." (A different kind of fence, however ...)
January polls from Quinnipiac, Pew, ABC News/Washington Post, CNN and CBS all find that around 6 in 10 Americans oppose building or expanding a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

That said, all of those polls asked about building a "wall" specifically. But the definition of "wall" is fluid. While Trump has long advocated for a border wall, he has also said that in some places on the border, "natural barriers" would take the place of that kind of barrier. And Republican senators recently said that the "wall" would be more of a "fence."

But that Harvard Harris poll didn't find such strong opposition to a border barrier. It found that 54 percent of Americans support "building a combination of physical and electronic barriers across the U.S.-Mexico border."
It could be that some Americans oppose a "wall" but believe in using a mix of resources as border barriers. It could also simply be that the word "wall" is at this point so politicized that some Americans instinctively oppose it while still wanting more of a barrier at the border.

Americans are divided on legal immigration levels, but are more in favor of decreasing than increasing them.

Once again, there's no majority here, but more people wanted to cut legal immigration than grow it.
The Harvard Harris poll tried the question yet another way: "In your opinion, about how many legal immigrants should be admitted to the U.S. each year?" It then provided a series of choices: zero to fewer than 250,000, 250,000 to 499,999 and so on up to 2.5 million or more.

    It's hard to know how to interpret the results of that question without the context of current immigration levels. As of 2016, the U.S. accepted nearly 1.2 million new legal permanent residents, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of those, just over half were new arrivals. The rest of people received changes in status — for example, some might have been refugees who became legal permanent residents.
    The poll found that 72 percent of people chose some number under 1 million, which might suggest that those people want to reduce legal immigration. But then, the question didn't provide them with current immigration levels. There was no way for many of them to know what direction they were arguing for immigration to move in. As a result, this is one way that this poll's results may have been misleading.

12--Spygate: Did American intelligence agencies spy on Donald Trump? Barr says we'll find out


What’s in a word? When the word is spying, it could mean defending American democracy, or trying to undermine it.

On Wednesday Attorney General Bill Barr startled Senators when he said during a budget hearing that he believed that “spying did occur” during the 2016 presidential race, and that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal." He tempered his statement by adding “the question is whether it was adequately predicated” and was not ready to say that “improper surveillance occurred;” but he is “concerned about it and looking into it.”

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, took issue with Barr’s word choice, saying “the word ‘spying’ could cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out.” And of course they did. NBC News’ Chuck Todd said this was a “conspiracy theory” for which there was “zero factual basis.” Furious Democrats denounced Barr for even raising the issue. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted that Barr should “retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up.” 

Did partisan agencies spy on Trump?

We’ve been down this rhetorical road before. In May 2018 when reports surfaced about the FBI using an informant to target Papadopoulos and Page, President Trump made repeated references to a “spy” being planted in his campaign. The New York Times countered that this was not so much spying as an “investigation.” James Clapper referred to it as “observing.” Former FBI agent Asha Rangappa called it using an “intelligence source.” And in this context none of those terms are materially different from what most people understand as spying.

Spygate is more than a semantic debate. The issue is whether high ranking officials in various government agencies abused their power to conduct intelligence gathering on a major party presidential campaign for a political purpose. The attorney general calls that spying. President Trump calls it treason. And when all the evidence is laid bare the American people can call it as they see it.

13--The U.S. Government’s Indictment of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedoms


14--S. Korean president heads home after summit with Trump (intractable US position makes negotiation impossible)

 15--Comey Defends Trump Campaign Surveillance: ‘I Have Never Thought of That as Spying’


Mr. Trump said again on Thursday that he believed “there was absolutely spying into my campaign.”
“I’ll go a step further: In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think his answer was actually a very accurate one.”

“If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow,” Mr. Comey said at a cybersecurity conference outside San Francisco. “That’s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice. But I don’t know what he meant.”
Mr. Comey said that regardless of what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, found during his investigation into Mr. Trump and his campaign, Mr. Barr already revealed, in his letter to Congress last month, that the investigation had uncovered important facts about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
“It tells us even without even reading the Mueller report that the Russia thing was not a hoax,” Mr. Comey said. “That it was real and that it is backed — that assessment is backed by hard evidence. It is true that the Russians came after us. They are going to come again because they exceeded their wildest hopes.”

Despite Mr. Barr’s claims about spying, Mr. Comey said he would give Mr. Barr the benefit of the doubt that he would put following the facts and law above protecting the president.
“Maybe the only thing I can say generally is I think his career has earned him a presumption that he will be one of the rare Trump cabinet members who will stand up for things like truth and facts and institutional values. So I still think he’s entitled to that presumption,” Mr. Comey said. “Language like this makes it harder, but I still think he’s entitled to that presumption and because I don’t understand what the heck he’s talking about, that’s all I can say.”

16--The Tale of a ‘Deep State Target’


Turkish observers have commented that the geopolitics of the Middle East are now being reshaped as the emergence of a “Greater Kurdistan” is no longer a remote possibility, posing enormous challenges for all the states hosting large Kurdish populations: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.4 Kurdistan is a potential land bridge for many of the conflicts erupting in this part of the region. It provides a ground route for Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Syrian Kurds as they seek greater autonomy from Damascus. But its use will depend on which power dominates the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. This area could equally provide Iran with a corridor for moving supplies to its Syrian surrogates and even to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Perhaps this is why some commentators see Kurdistan as the new regional flashpoint in the Middle East.

The establishment of a viable, independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq could be a geopolitically positive development for Israel. Historical justice would dictate that, with 22 Arab states in the Middle East, the 35 million Kurds deserve at least one sovereign state of their own. Beyond Iraq, the emergence of more Kurdish independent areas is unlikely. The state system in the Middle East has been surprisingly robust since the advent of the Arab Spring; Syria might become a federated state, but is not expected to completely disintegrate.

Israelis 'using Kurds to build power base

"Israel has always supported the Kurds in a Machiavellian way - a balance against Saddam," a former Israeli intelligence officer told Hersh. "It's Realpolitik. By aligning with the Kurds, Israel gains eyes and ears in Iran, Iraq and Syria. The critical question is 'What will the behaviour of Iran be if there is an independent Kurdistan with close ties to Israel? Iran does not want an Israeli land-based aircraft carrier on its border."
By supporting Kurdish separatists, Israel also risks alienating its Turkish ally and undermining attempts to create a stable Iraq. "If you end up with a divided Iraq, it will bring more blood, tears and pain to the Middle East and you will be blamed," a senior Turkish official told Hersh.
Intel Brief, an intelligence newsletter produced by former CIA chiefs, noted early this month that the Israeli actions are placing increasing stress on their relationship with Turkey, which was already strained over the war. "The Turks are increasingly concerned by the expanding Israeli presence in Kurdistan and alleged encouragement of Kurdish ambitions to create an independent state."

the U.S. has yet to reduce its military presence in Syria.
On the contrary, 300 trucks were sent to areas occupied by YPG militants in Syria from the Iraqi side at the beginning and the end of February.
On Feb. 4, the U.S. delivered nearly 150 truckloads of armored vehicles and equipment to depots belonging to the YPG in Harab Isk and Sarrin.
The Pentagon announced March 12 that $300 million would be allocated to the YPG from its fiscal year 2020 budget.
Turkey has long criticized the U.S. working with and supplying arms and ammunition to the YPG to defeat ISIL.
Turkey deems the YPG as a terrorist group due to its links to the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by Ankara, the U.S., and the EU.

The U.S.-led coalition against ISIL has delivered vehicles to depots belonging to the YPG in Deir-Ez Zor province in Syria, according to local sources who spoke anonymously because of safety concerns.
The engineering vehicles will be used to construct positions, fronts and tunnels in areas occupied by YPG in Syria, according to the sources.
A convoy of 100 U.S. trucks were also seen carrying closed chests, tankers and SUVs from Iraq to a YPG occupied area in Syria on April 2.
Washington maintains nearly 2,000 troops in Syria following its announcement that only a few hundred would remain after withdrawal efforts.

n June 2017, the Kabul Process regional initiative called on armed groups to cease violence and start peace talks with the government by saying, among other things, "We strongly support the Afghan Government's commitment to forging a practical plan for reconciliation" and recognizing as its prime goal the respect for equal rights of all Afghans, including women.
Further on, in 2018, an extension of the Kabul Process, the Tashkent Peace Summit on Afghanistan called for a "guaranteed integration of the armed opposition into the political life of Afghanistan and the recognition of it as a legitimate political force" of society. This became a new and practical element added to the peace settlement scenario to have received further detailed elaboration by the U.S. and Russia.
Today, both the U.S. and Russia recognize that an integration of the Taliban into Afghanistan's political system is the only way for conflict resolution. The U.S. stance toward Moscow has experienced a twist, while its reaction to Russia's policy in the region had been openly negative until now.
This February in Moscow, when attending a conference on Afghanistan, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad made a surprising statement to welcome a "positive role of Russia contributing to reconciliation, peaceful resolution of conflict and the inter-Afghan dialogue." The Moscow conference came two weeks after the Taliban-U.S. meeting in Doha, Qatar where significant progress had been announced.

At the Doha meeting, the sides claimed to have agreed, in principle, on the two most fundamental issues, that the Taliban would not allow terror groups such as al-Qaida to use Afghan soil for attacks, and that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. drive to leave Afghanistan fosters its effort to approximate positions with Russia, which generates the latter's positive reaction.

The Taliban declared last month that the Afghan armed forces, built at enormous cost and more than 300,000 strong today, would have to be disbanded if a peace deal is reached.

Rather than helping Turkey deal with security threats emanating from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. further threatened Turkey by continuing to arm, equip and politically support terrorist organizations that threaten Turkey's fundamental national security. The U.S. continues to support the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, despite Washington's pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. American officials also try to prevent any efforts from the Turkish side to reduce unilateral dependency on the U.S. in the military and economic fields. 

Washington has offered nothing to Ankara other than sanctions and threats in the last couple of years. For Turkey, nothing is worse than being dependent on an actor that consistently threatens its fundamental national security interests. The right approach for the U.S. is to build some trust and credibility rather than threaten its key NATO ally. American offers for economic, military and political issues would be more attractive if trust is re-established between the two crucial NATO allies.

Since the coup up until this point, the U.S. regularly and orderly provided military training and provided equipment to the terror organization that attacked Turkey. From travel bans to economic sanctions and through threats as well as pressure from the U.S. Congress all options were pursued on their part. They tried all methods and means to indirectly. And this only worsened the situation. This only pushed Turkey closer to Russia. What is even worse is the fact that there is a U.S. administration that does not know how to communicate with the Turks. I am sure this trend in relations will ultimately backfire since the U.S. has not been able to appoint an ambassador to Turkey in over two years

Barr's comments underscore that we're in a new phase of Russiagate. With Mueller rejecting it, the conspiracy theory aka "collusion" phase is done. Now we're in the phase where Trump & allies seize on the conspiracy theory's failure to target those who used it to target him.aaron mate

Spying occurred. The fact that Page was no longer on campaign is irrelevant given FBI's FISA request said -- citing Steele! -- that it "believes that the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page & perhaps other individuals associated with [Trump’s] campaign.

The F.B.I. also used a confidential informant to collect information on Trump campaign associates, which prompted more accusations of spying by the president.
Mr. Trump or people close to him have leveled charges that have not borne out, including that President Barack Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower in Manhattan. NYT
After the F.B.I. opened the Russia investigation in late July 2016, agents asked Mr. Halper to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another former Trump campaign adviser NYT

Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, asked Mr. Barr if he had intended to use the term spying — a term the senator said might “cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out” — Mr. Barr rephrased his statement.
“I’m not sure of all of the connotations of that word that you’re referring to,” the attorney general said, then he added, “I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.”
Mr. Barr, who began his career at the C.I.A., did not intend to imply that spying was inherently wrong, according to a person who has discussed the matter with him but was not authorized to share their conversation. Mr. Barr sees no technical difference between that term and surveillance. He indicated that at issue was not the act of surveilling but whether officials followed proper procedures when they decided to gather intelligence on Trump’s associates in 2016.






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