The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. February 9, 2017: “There has been considerable comment about alleged ‘fake news’, mostly on the part of heart-broken liberals who watched in horror as Hillary went gurgling down the drain in company with yesterday’s dinner
But the American media and their allies in the blog world do indeed cram the public full of deliberately false news.
Some of these frauds are designed to support various asocial political movements and others are the product of diseased, egotistic bloggers who have no connection with any official agency or, indeed, with reality.
Much of the disinformation, or ‘false news’ is controlled by one man and his claque of professional liars but more is mere self-aggrandizing bombast.
The Internet does not separate the wheat from the chaff but an increasingly aware readership is beginning to do so.
When we see reams of stories sobbing to the public about the poor immigrant grandmothers being beaten by cruel Immigration people or other stories about how badly America needs uni-sex lavatories for poor crippled lesbian dwarves, we are beginning to reject the nonsense and the lies and search further for accuracy and truth.
Both of these subjects are difficult to locate, hidden in the rank growth of secular propaganda and deliberate lies as they are, but in the end, the Puppet Masters will fail of their object in attempting to force their negative views on the American public.”
Table of Contents
- Hunting for fake news
- Netanyahu’s Hysterical Rhetoric on Iran Is Just Diversion from West Bank
- Senate suppression: McConnell cuts off Warren over character assault of AG nominee
- Exclusive: Alleged mastermind tells Obama 9/11 was America’s fault
- America Has Too Many Military Bases
- Trump adds nuance to pro-Israel approach ahead of Netanyahu visit
- Attorney General Sessions vows to end migrant ‘lawlessness’
- Submarine Case Is Haunting Netanyahu at a Critical Time
- Who Controls the American Media?
- Judge blocks $54 billion Anthem-Cigna health insurance merger
Hunting for fake news
Fearing Russian influence and hacking, Dutch authorities plan to count election ballots by hand this year. Angela Merkel is being attacked in fake news spread by right-wing extremists. How can Europe protect itself?
February 9, 2017
by Barbara Wesel
It was the largest movement of US troops in decades. On January 12, 2017, four years after the last American tank had been withdrawn from Europe, the US Army’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team was transferred to Poland. Over 3,000 soldiers, 87 tanks and hundreds of motor vehicles left the northern German port city of Bremerhaven to join local forces on the eastern Polish border. Photographers and camera teams were documenting the move and the public was allowed to watch as the political message to Moscow was intentional.
Miraculous multiplication of tanks
An obscure website in separatist eastern Ukraine reported a miraculous multiplication of tanks. The “Donbass News agency” wrote that the United States had transferred 3,600 tanks to the Russian border. The report claimed that the massive military march was directed against Russia.
Ben Nimmo from the Atlantic Council is one of approximately 400 experts who help a small team of 11 people at the EU Foreign Service identify fake news. He uses the tank story to show how news stories are passed around from one website to the next and then politically instrumentalized. The Donbass News Agency did actually get the figure of 3,600 tanks from a real source. If you count all the vehicles, including the ones in reserve in the Netherlands, they add up to 3,600; however, the figure includes jeeps, trailers and Humvees. All the vehicles were suddenly seen as tanks.
It was obvious that this false report was published intentionally. “This is typical of fake news,” said Nimmo. “There is a kernel of truth in them and it is then embellished by a lot of rubbish.”
Journey through the web
The tank story later appeared on a Canadian website known for spreading conspiracy theories. It reacted to the tank story with the headline: “Political insanity.” The story was blown up yet again, shared with other pro-Russian websites and then finally picked up by the Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency.
This is actually the key to the problem, explains Ben Nimmo. The news agency gives the fake article credibility. He pursued the story’s path further to the former Soviet Union, to Latvia, and the website of a Norwegian communist who later deleted it after it was obvious that the story was unfounded.
“That is exactly where the danger lies,” Nimmo said. “Fake news stories are as credible as their distributor and not the original source. And Ria Novosti obviously made the story look true.”
How do you fight fake news?
In addition to the propaganda originating from Russian sources, countless fake news stories are going around because money can be earned from advertising on the websites that publish the false stories. In order to identify the fake news, one has to search for evidence and follow a story step by step from its source. “Spreading fake news is a serious allegation. You have to prove it,” said Nimmo. Several European governments, like those of France and Germany, have set up special task forces to deal with the problem.
Nimmo says that anyone who knows their way around the Internet can search for fake news. “You do not need to have a master of technology. You just need time and you need to be familiar with social media outlets and how they work together – everyone knows how to do that.”
However, experts are still needed to solve difficult and unusual cases, Nimmo said, but they must also teach interested citizens the art of uncovering fake news. If more people got involved, the detection rate would improve and then the political effect of fake news would wane.
Nimmo had one more piece of advice to offer: “The key is emotion. If a story appeals to your feelings, be they anger or rejection, and not your thoughts, then you have to check it.”
“The dangerous thing is that the governments of several countries want to undermine the EU. Russia is the most important example but Turkey is also involved,” said Marc Pierini from Carnegie Europe, adding now that the US government is publishing its own confusing reports, the situation will not improve.
“Russia employs a great deal of people and spends a lot of money to spread fake news; the EU and its members states cannot keep up,” said Pierini. That is why everyone must help – the media and civil society – and be particularly cautious before elections, he added, because this modern form of propaganda has become a political instrument for several governments.
Pierini does not see any danger in the present flow of fake news from Russia. “What I fear is reports from the National Front in France, [Prime Minister Viktor] Orban in Hungary and others who are close to Russia or funded by Russia,” he said. “They tell people, for example, that they would be better off outside the EU and without the euro. And because the traditional left-wing or conservative parties have lost their value, there is a real danger.”
Netanyahu’s Hysterical Rhetoric on Iran Is Just Diversion from West Bank
February 7, 2017
by Patrick Cockburn
The Unz Review
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Theresa May a frightening account during their meeting of the threat posed by Iranian aggression to Israel and everybody else. In Mr Netanyahu’s eyes, Iran is a much more dangerous enemy than Isis or al-Qaeda, seeking “to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world.”
Even by Mr Netanyahu’s standards the rhetoric sounds excessive and is probably motivated by a wish to divert attention from Israeli settlement building on the West Bank. Within a few days of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President, Israel announced the construction of a further 2,500 housing units on the West Bank. Though the Trump administration expressed mild discontent, Israel will probably be spared more vigorous protests by Washington.
Mr Netanyahu knows that senior members of the new administration have themselves been denouncing Iran in similarly apocalyptic terms as himself. On Saturday, the US Defence Secretary James Mattis called Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”, though he added that it was not necessary for the US to deploy more military forces to counter Iran. On the previous day, the US had imposed new though limited sanctions over an Iranian ballistic missile test.
Fresh Israeli settlement building on the West Bank usually provokes cries internationally that the prospect of a “two-state solution” to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians is being eroded or destroyed. But in reality such a solution has long been dead and buried because of the disparity in political, diplomatic and military strength between the two sides. Israel has no reason to compromise and the Palestinian Authority leadership, decrepit and authoritarian, has virtually no leverage or alternative options because of its long-standing dependence on Israeli security backing.
Israel and the Sunni Arab states of the Gulf led by Saudi Arabia are relieved to have a more sympathetic president in the White House and glad that Mr Obama has gone. The administration has adopted a much more belligerent anti-Iranian tone, but is evidently not going to tear up the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme agreed by President Obama. US policy in Iraq and Syria is directed primarily towards eliminating Isis and al-Qaeda-type groups using US and allied air power in support of local allies on the ground, notably the Iraqi armed forces in Iraq and the Syrian Kurds in Syria.
Iranian influence in the region is increasing simply because it leads what is essentially a Shia coalition of states and movements – Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon – that is winning the war in Syria in alliance with Russia. In Iraq, the US and Iran have long had a strange relationship which is a mixture of cooperation and rivalry. The assent of Washington and Tehran is in practice required before there is a new Iraqi prime minister.
Both Mr Netanyahu and Ms May are somewhat isolated internationally and want to take advantage of a more fluid situation in Washington under Mr Trump, but they do not know quite what direction it will take. The most important US policy decisions in Iraq and Syria are unlikely to be unstitched because they are working well and Isis is under strong pressure.
More Israeli settlement building around Jerusalem and on the West Bank undermines the idea that a “two-state solution” is feasible, but it has long been nothing more than a convenient fig leaf. A more sympathetic administration in Washington will increase pressure from the far-right inside Israel to move towards annexation of all or part of the West Bank, but real change is unlikely.
Senate suppression: McConnell cuts off Warren over character assault of AG nominee
February 8, 2017
A stunning interruption on the Senate floor led to the ban on Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren from ever speaking in the chamber on the nomination of Republican Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’ to the US Office of the Attorney General.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) quashed the progressive champion as she read from a 31-year-old letter written by Coretta Scott King, the late widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in opposition to Sessions when he was a nominee for a federal judgeship, which he lost.
McConnell called upon the rarely used, yet dynamic, Senate Rule 19: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Warren, a prominent liberal voice, had quoted Corrett Scott King, who wrote: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” and by repeating those words, Warren had violated Senate Rule 19.
Standing accused, Warren fired back: “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King were not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”
The presiding chair during the chamber proceedings, freshman Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana), ordered Warren to take her seat, and a floor vote of 49-43 along party lines convicted her of the violation, consequently stripping her privilege of speaking on the topic of Sessions’ nomination.
Daines had reprimanded Warren earlier in her speech, when she quoted another 1986 statement against Sessions, this one from the late US Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), who called Sessions “a disgrace to the Justice Department,” while demanding he “withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”
Exclusive: Alleged mastermind tells Obama 9/11 was America’s fault
February 8, 2017
by Carol Rosenberg
The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks wrote former President Barack Obama in a long suppressed letter that America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself for years of foreign policy that killed innocent people across the world.
“It was not we who started the war against you in 9/11. It was you and your dictators in our land,” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 51, writes in the 18-page letter to Obama, who he addressed as “the head of the snake” and president of “the country of oppression and tyranny.” It is dated January 2015 but didn’t reach the White House until a military judge ordered Guantánamo prison to deliver it days before Obama left office.
In it, the man on trial for his life at Guantánamo as the alleged architect of the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field adds that he neither fears a death sentence nor life in a prison cell. He also appends a 50-page manuscript he wrote, “The Truth About Death,” illustrated with a picture of a noose.
“I will be happy to be alone in my cell to worship Allah the rest of my life and repent to Him all my sins and misdeeds,” he says in the letter that he wrote at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“And if your court sentences me to death, I will be even happier to meet Allah and the prophets and see my best friends whom you killed unjustly all around the world and to see sheik Osama bin Laden.”
The Kuwait-born Pakistani citizen of Baluch ethnic background, lists a long litany of U.S. overseas interventions — from Iraq and Iran to Vietnam and Hiroshima — to justify the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.
But he is particularly focused on the cause of the Palestinians, highlights civilian suffering and accuses Obama of being beholden to special interests, notably Israel and “the occupier Jews.” Israel gets 39 mentions while Osama bin Laden gets a dozen, including once to excoriate Obama for the mission that hunted down and killed the founder of the al-Qaida movement for the 9/11 attacks.
Mohammed ridicules Obama — “a smart attorney, well acquainted with human rights” — who “can kill his enemy without trial and throw his dead body into the sea instead of giving him to his family or respecting him enough as a human being to bury him.”
The former al-Qaida operations chief wrote the letter “in the context of violence in Gaza and the occupied territories,” said Mohammed’s death-penalty defense attorney, David Nevin. He called it “the primary motive for the drafting of the letter” and declined to say whether the client or his legal staff typed it up.
Mohammed began drafting the letter during 2014 when Israel had an offensive in the Gaza Strip that claimed civilian lives, according to his military attorney, Marine Maj. Derek Poteet.
“He’s upset at U.S. foreign policy and he plainly perceives that the United States has signed a blank check to Israel,” Poteet said. In the opening paragraph Mohammed tells Obama: “Your hands are still wet with the blood of our brothers and sisters and children who were killed in Gaza.”
Mohammed is one of five men in pretrial hearings at the Guantánamo war court that accuses them of engineering the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings, and seeks their execution if convicted. The man was hidden for 3 1/2 years in the CIA’s secret prison network, where he was waterboarded 183 times and subjected to other brutal interrogation techniques.
“I will never ask you, or your court for mercy,” he writes. “Do what you wish to do, my freedom, my captivity and my death is a curse on all evil doers and tyrants.”
Mohammed spent about three years in North Carolina in the 1980s. He attended Chowan College in Murfreesboro for one semester and then transferred to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, where he earned an engineering degree in 1986.
Prison officials refused to deliver the letter, a position backed by prosecutors who said it should be suppressed as propaganda.
His Pentagon-paid defense attorneys asked the judge to intervene in September 2015, arguing Mohammed’s First Amendment right to petition the president. The Army judge in charge of the trial, Col James L. Pohl, eventually ruled that the commander in chief could receive it, virtually as the Obamas were packing out of the White House — and the public could see it a month later, once President Donald JJ. Trump moved in.
“What’s so troubling to me is it took so long to get approval, even to get this litigated,” Nevin said, reminding that the defense team started out asking the military, “How do we provide this to the president of the United States?”
In the letter Mohammed also:
▪ Endorses Al-Jazeera. “Don’t let Fox, CNN, BBC, or American and pro-Israeli channels cover your eyes … Their main task is brainwashing. They are experts at lying and distorting the facts to achieve their masters’ ends.”
▪ Invokes “the blood of the innocents your drone attacks killed in Waziristan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere around the globe.”
▪ Singles out “the CIA, the FBI, the Jewish community of Brooklyn, the merchants of AIPAC, the war profiteers, to pro-Israeli militias and the Christian-Zionist Lords” for condemnation, as well as “the Christian right
wing and the followers of Jerry Falwall, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson and John Hague.”
▪ Says “Allah aided us in conducting 9/11, destroying the Capitalist economy, catching you with your pants down, and exposing all the hypocrisy of your long-held claim to democracy and freedom.”
The theme is not new. In October 2012, when he was first allowed to wear a hunting vest to the war court he scolded the judge with this: “Your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings.”
The Herald obtained the document from Mohammed’s lawyers after a judicially ordered 30-day review period expired. Pohl ruled on Jan. 6 that there was no “legal basis for continued sealing of the letter’s contents” but gave the prison an extra month to scrub it of sensitive information before releasing it on the Pentagon war court website whose motto is “Fairness * Transparency * Justice.”
A spokesman at the Pentagon could not explain Wednesday why the document was not yet posted on the website. The Herald asked Obama’s office on Tuesday whether the former president had read the letter. It has yet to respond.
America Has Too Many Military Bases
February 6, 2017
by Christopher A. Preble and William D. Hartung
Members of Congress have a hard time agreeing on virtually anything, and they’re already butting heads with the new president. But one issue should unite them: a new initiative to shrink the Pentagon’s massive overhead.
President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have pledged to cut waste. And key leaders in Congress have renewed their calls for rationalizing the Pentagon’s base structure. Now is the time for Congress to come together, put the national interest over parochial interests and finally support a new round of base closings.
As Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. John McCain recently said to reporters, “Right now we do have excess properties and facilities, and I think we need to look at it.” On the House side, Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, is pushing legislation that would initiate a new round of base closings in 2019, because, as he notes, “We should not be wasting hard-earned taxpayer money to maintain excess infrastructure that DoD has determined it does not need.”
If properly structured, any new set of base closings could result in billions in savings. This item is high on the military’s agenda. The brass have been asking Congress for permission to eliminate unneeded facilities for years, and for good reason. The last round of closures occurred eleven years ago, at a time when the military was busy fighting two wars.
The Defense Department now estimates that nearly one-quarter of its current bases serve no military need. This is true even if the Army and Marine Corps remain at their current size. The billions of dollars wasted on overhead could be put to far better use, especially at a time when the services claim that they lack the resources to pay for essential functions such as training and equipment maintenance.
So why isn’t there an overwhelming push to close unneeded bases? The resistance is grounded in pork-barrel politics, not a careful assessment of the nation’s defense needs. Too many members of Congress believe that they were elected to put the interests of their state or district over that of the country. They believe that they are doing their duty by blocking any base closures.
In fact, these representatives are actually doing harm to the nation and their constituents. Their stubborn refusal to allow the military to use its resources efficiently also prevents defense communities from taking advantage of land and property currently trapped behind chain-link fences and razor wire.
In that sense, the closure of military bases actually opens them up. Just ask the people of Philadelphia, who can now follow South Broad Street all the way to the Delaware River, through the gates of what used to be the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Austin, Texas, welcomes millions of people every year through the gleaming Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, formerly Bergstrom Air Force Base. The former naval air station in Brunswick, Maine, is now Brunswick Landing, a thriving business campus. Cal State Monterey Bay was carved out of the sprawling Army training base at Fort Ord. Thousands of acres have been set aside in the Fort Ord National Monument, which includes eighty-six miles of mountain bike and hiking trails.A 2005 study by the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment looked at seventy-three communities impacted by a base closure, and determined that nearly all civilian defense jobs lost were replaced within fifteen years. In addition, the new jobs are in a variety of industries and fields, allowing communities to diversify their economies away from their excessive reliance on the federal government.
To be sure, base closures are initially disruptive to local economies and patterns of life, but most places do recover. In some cases, recovery has been quite rapid. The best way to ensure a successful transition is by encouraging local elected officials and civic leaders to plan for the future. Congressional leaders wishing to facilitate a new round of base closures should familiarize themselves with successful defense conversion cases, and be willing to help apply lessons learned.
Before Congress signs off on sharp increases in Pentagon spending, it should make sure the department is using its current resources as efficiently as possible. Closing unneeded bases is a good place to start.
Trump adds nuance to pro-Israel approach ahead of Netanyahu visit
February 9, 2017
by Matt Spetalnick and Luke Baker
WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM-During his election campaign, Donald Trump signaled his presidency would be a boon for Israel and tough on Palestinians. The U.S. Embassy would move to Jerusalem, he would name an ambassador who backs Israeli settlements on land Palestinians seek for a state and there would be no pressure for peace talks.
But as Trump prepares for his first White House meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his administration has toned down elements of its pro-Israel bravado, suggesting that a president perceived to have acted hastily on many early policy initiatives will be more cautious with Middle East diplomacy.
After nearly three weeks in office, there is growing consensus in the White House that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require extensive deliberations and consultations with key lawmakers and U.S. allies before a decision on how to proceed, according to people familiar with the administration’s thinking.
“This is a case where campaign promises run head-on into geopolitical reality and they have to be adjusted accordingly,” said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
As a result, relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a step world leaders including Jordan’s King Abdullah warned against and which would probably inflame the Muslim world – has been put on hold for now.
At the same time, the White House has adopted a more measured stance on Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory than Trump’s campaign rhetoric indicated.
Even so, there is little doubt that when Netanyahu meets Trump on Feb. 15 he will find a Republican president determined to show more warmth to Israel than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, with whom he had an acrimonious relationship.
Social media exchanges have suggested a budding “bromance” between Netanyahu and Trump, who has pledged to be the “best friend” Israel has ever had in the White House.
As a result, Palestinians fear their leaders will be frozen out and their statehood aspirations pushed aside.
Netanyahu, though, may prefer to keep the focus on forging a common front against Iran, Israel’s regional enemy and a target of Trump’s ire, while shunting the Israeli-Palestinian dispute further down the agenda, aides say.
Still, it will be an issue that can’t be ignored, especially after Israel’s parliament on Monday approved a law retroactively legalizing 4,000 settler homes build on privately-owned Palestinian land. The move drew international condemnation.
Barring a curveball from the sometimes unpredictable U.S. president, Trump
is unlikely to use the talks to press Netanyahu for concessions toward the Palestinians – such as a temporary freeze on settlement-building – in the way Obama did.
But neither can Trump afford to be seen to abandon the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, the bedrock of Washington’s Middle East policy since the 1993 interim peace accords and a principle embraced internationally.
CAREFUL STATEMENT ON SETTLEMENTS
A White House statement on Feb. 2 set forth a more nuanced position than Trump expressed during the campaign, backing away from a long-standing U.S. view of settlement activity as an “impediment” to peace. Instead, it said new settlements or expanding existing ones beyond their current boundaries “may not be helpful” toward that goal.
That shift transpired just hours after Trump met briefly with King Abdullah on the sidelines of an event in Washington.
Nevertheless, the emerging shape of Trump policy remains decidedly pro-Israel and more accommodating than at any time since Republican George W. Bush occupied the White House.
For the Palestinians, that is troubling.
“It seems we are headed for a new policy with this administration that is different from its predecessor in how it deals with the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian cause,” said Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
There has been no contact between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump administration so far, Palestinian officials said.
Moderate, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was among the first world leaders Obama called on his first full day in office in 2009. A White House official insisted, however, that the Trump administration intends to develop a relationship with the Palestinian Authority. The official did not elaborate.
All the same, many Israeli officials do not read the White House’s settlements statement as a warning to Israel or a reining-in of Netanyahu, rather they see it as largely positive.
Not only does it conclude that settlements do not block peace prospects, it says construction within established settlements, whether major blocs close to Israel or others scattered across the West Bank, is acceptable to Washington.
“Bibi will be happy,” said an Israeli diplomat, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “He can put new settlements on hold and hold off the right wing by pointing to Trump. At the same time, he can build as much as he wants within existing settlements.”
In that regard, the lines drawn by the White House help Netanyahu fend off demands from the far right in his coalition for sweeping steps, like annexing portions of the West Bank.
“There are many decisions that are hostile to the Palestinians,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian legislator and scholar. “Trump made some promises during the election that cannot be applied on the ground because it would create uncertainty, violence and instability which will be beyond anyone’s ability to control.”
Palestinians would be alarmed if Trump decided to proceed with moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, essentially recognizing the city as Israel’s capital despite international objections that its status must be decided in negotiations.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as the capital of their future state.
Trump and his aides have played down the prospects for a quick embassy move since he took office on Jan. 20. But he could come under pressure to address the issue during Netanyahu’s visit. No one can be sure what the president might say.
Some experts see a moderating influence as Trump fills out his national security team. It has members such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil chief executive with extensive contacts among Gulf Arab governments, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general.
They will have to deal with other, sometimes ideologically driven advisers with close personal ties to Trump. David Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer and now nominee as ambassador to Israel, has raised funds for a West Bank settlement and voiced doubt about Palestinian statehood. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the same settlement, has been assigned a senior role in Israeli-Arab diplomacy.
Aides may be moving circumspectly also in hope of keeping the door open if Trump – who has touted his skills as a master dealmaker – decides to seek what he has called the “ultimate deal”: Israeli-Palestinian peace.
To pursue such an initiative, the United States needs to be seen as an even-handed mediator, while also overcoming the rigid disputes that have scuppered so many peace efforts over the years: settlements, borders, the status of Jerusalem, what to do with Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian political divisions.
The last, U.S.-brokered round of peace talks collapsed in 2014. It is questionable whether the Trump administration will be inclined to devote much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue at a time when it is distracted by other big domestic and international priorities. In the Middle East alone, the fight against Islamic State and countering Iran are higher on the Trump agenda.
However, if Trump at some point does opt to wade in where so many of his predecessors have failed, for Netanyahu – who is looking for a reset of U.S.-Israeli relations – it might be a case of “be careful what you wish for”.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Attorney General Sessions vows to end migrant ‘lawlessness’
February 9, 2017
America’s new top prosecutor, Jeff Sessions, has said the US must bring an end to illegal immigration, as he was sworn in at the White House.
The US attorney general said: “We need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down the wages of working Americans.”
President Donald Trump said the former Alabama senator would be “a great protector of the people”.
The Senate confirmed him in the post on Wednesday by a vote of 52 to 47.
Mr Sessions, who is widely seen as an inspiration for Mr Trump’s anti-immigration policies, was appointed after a series of divisive congressional hearings over his record on civil rights.
“We need a lawful system of immigration,” Mr Sessions said after he was sworn in.
“One that services the interest of the people of the United States. That’s not wrong, that’s not immoral, that’s not indecent.”
Mr Sessions also pledged to address the country’s crime problem, which he called a “dangerous and permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk”.
The Alabama lawmaker, whose nomination was among Mr Trump’s most controversial, resigned his Senate seat shortly after his colleagues confirmed him.
At 70, Mr Sessions is the same age as Mr Trump and was one of the earliest supporters of the president.
He will now take charge of the justice department and its 113,000 employees, including 93 US attorneys.
Allegations of racism have dogged Mr Sessions since he was rejected by the Senate in his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986.
That nomination was rejected by a US Senate panel amid concerns over allegedly racist comments made by Mr Sessions.
Senate Democrats highlighted these allegations in debates ahead of the vote.
Elizabeth Warren was silenced ahead of his confirmation vote after she recalled criticism of Mr Sessions by Martin Luther King’s widow, who alleged he had intimidated black voters.
Ms Warren, who was temporarily banned from the chamber, wrote: “If Jeff Sessions makes even the tiniest attempt to bring his racism, sexism & bigotry into the Justice Department, he’ll hear from all of us.”
Submarine Case Is Haunting Netanyahu at a Critical Time
February 8, 2017
by Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
JERUSALEM — Amid a swirl of police investigations and ethics probes enveloping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his inner circle, a budding scandal over contracts for new submarines and other warships appears to be gaining momentum as another potential threat to his political future.
For weeks, the police have been carrying out an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Israeli contracts with a German shipbuilding company for the purchase of submarines and new missile ships that Mr. Netanyahu championed. His personal lawyer, David Shimron, also represents the Israeli agent for the company, which has led to accusations of a conflict of interest in contracts that involve billions of dollars of business and the shape of Israel’s defense strategy.
Moshe Yaalon, whom Mr. Netanyahu ousted as defense minister last year and who was against adding the new submarines, is reported to have recently given testimony.
Adding gravity to the case, Israel’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition calling for the shipping affair to be the subject of a full criminal investigation. On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu filed a 45-page response to the court ahead of a hearing scheduled for March 8. In it, he argued, through a different lawyer, that the petition should be dismissed on grounds it had been brought by “publicity hungry” politicians with ulterior motives who based their claims on questionable press reports and were trying to usurp the attorney general’s authority.
Even as a weakened Mr. Netanyahu has been making concession after concession to far-right politicians on the issue of West Bank settlement in recent weeks in a bid to retain his conservative constituency, some within his coalition see the pileup of cases involving him and his close associates as a political liability. A criminal indictment against him in any of them would most likely force him to resign and prompt early elections.
Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud Party, who is in his third consecutive term in office, has vehemently denied wrongdoing in all of those cases and has accused the news media and political opponents of a conspiracy to topple his government.
The so-called submarines affair first surfaced more than two months ago, but was quickly overshadowed by two more conspicuous graft investigations. One involved accusations of improper gifts of cigars and pink champagne to the Netanyahu family by a Hollywood producer. The other revolves around taped conversations in which Mr. Netanyahu and a long-hostile Israeli newspaper baron negotiated a deal to benefit the newspaper in return for better coverage for the prime minister. It never came to fruition.
Initially, Israel’s Channel 10 television reported a potential link between the German shipbuilding company, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and Mr. Netanyahu through his personal lawyer, Mr. Shimron.
Soon came more reports of the seemingly strange circumstances surrounding Israeli procurements of other warships. There was the sudden cancellation in 2014 of an international bidding process for the construction of four missile corvettes in favor of the same German shipyard. The ships are meant to protect Israel’s natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean against threats, particularly from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization.
In another twist, the firm subcontracted by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems to build the four missile boats for Israel is controlled by Privinvest, a holding company registered in Beirut, Lebanon — technically an enemy state of Israel’s. The subcontractor, German Naval Yards Kiel, is listed on Privinvest’s website as a member of its major international shipbuilding group, which has a presence in 40 countries.
Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Shimron, who is also the prime minister’s second cousin, have denied any impropriety or collusion over the shipping deals.
It is unclear whether Mr. Netanyahu is suspected of any personal misconduct in the case. But his critics say that the deals were made on his watch, and that if he did not know about his lawyer’s involvement, he should have.
One central question is whether Mr. Netanyahu worked to cancel the bidding process for the missile ships. Asked about it in January, his office replied: “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision on this matter was based solely on the security of Israel and was recommended by Israel’s defense experts. It was also completely consistent with the law.”
Days later, the office issued a statement that appeared to distance Mr. Netanyahu from the cancellation. Describing the decision-making process in a detailed timeline, the office attributed the decision to the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the navy after the German government offered a 27.5 percent discount.
Mr. Shimron confirmed that he represented Michael Ganor, the Israeli agent of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and has represented Mr. Ganor “in certain aspects of an agreement” related to Mr. Ganor’s consultancy for the German company.
Declining to provide details of his role in specific deals, Mr. Shimron added: “Our relationship is governed by a client/attorney relationship. Therefore, all information regarding my relationship with Mr. Ganor is privileged under law.”
Mr. Shimron said that as Mr. Ganor’s lawyer he had “no business in looking into the subcontract” for the corvettes, and both he and the prime minister’s office said inquiries about any Lebanese connection to the contract should be directed to the Israeli Defense Ministry.
The Defense Ministry refused to comment. But in a statement to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in December, it said the contract had been signed “with a German company, with the direct involvement of the German government — which even funds a third of the deal.”
The ministry added: “Ahead of the deal signing, the director of security of the defense establishment checked with German government officials to ensure no classified information from the project is given to unauthorized bodies. It is important to note that the German shipyard only builds the hull of the warships, with the rest of the systems being installed in Israel.”
German Naval Shipyards Kiel said that it was contributing to the engineering and construction of the warships, and that it was in contact with the Israeli side only through ThyssenKrupp.
Privinvest declined to comment.
The petition that is now before the Supreme Court was filed by Erel Margalit, an opposition member of the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, who is running for leadership of the center-left Labor Party, and by Eldad Yaniv, a left-leaning political and social activist. By now, about 26,000 Israeli citizens have signed the petition online at a site founded by Mr. Margalit and Mr. Yaniv called bbwanted.co.il.
Mr. Margalit, a member of the parliamentary committee that approves budgets for military acquisitions, was a technology entrepreneur before he entered politics.
“I am used to hearing about big deals,” he said in a recent interview in his office at the Knesset. “I developed an ear for listening for when things add up and when they don’t.”
He said the shipping deals sounded “very fishy,” so he traveled to Germany in December to do what he called some “due diligence.” On his return, he sent a letter to the attorney general. In it, he detailed the Lebanese connection to the contract. And he asserted that another Privinvest group member, Abu Dhabi Mar, had changed its name to German Naval Yards Kiel in 2015, while the deal with Israel was being formulated, under pressure from three prominent Israelis who wanted to obscure the company’s Arab ownership.
Days after the letter was sent, he said, the Israeli police raided the Defense Ministry, possibly in search of material about the canceled bidding process.
“I would rather beat Netanyahu in democratic elections,” Mr. Margalit said. “But this is not about ice cream,” he added, referring to a 2013 uproar about the Netanyahus’ substantial ice cream budget paid from state coffers. “This is about the security of the country.”
Who Controls the American Media?
February 9, 2017
by Germar Rudolf
There is no greater power in the world today than that wielded by the manipulators of public opinion in America. No king or pope of old, no conquering general or high priest ever disposed of a power even remotely approaching that of the few dozen men who control America’s mass media of news and entertainment.
Their power is not distant and impersonal; it reaches into every home in America, and it works its will during nearly every waking hour. It is the power that shapes and molds the mind of virtually every citizen, young or old, rich or poor, simple or sophisticated.
The mass media form for us our image of the world and then tell us what to think about that image. Essentially everything we know — or think we know — about events outside our own neighborhood or circle of acquaintances comes to us via our daily newspaper, our weekly news magazine, our radio, or our television.
It is not just the heavy-handed suppression of certain news stories from our newspapers or the blatant propagandizing of history-distorting TV “docudramas” that characterizes the opinion-manipulating techniques of the media masters. They exercise both subtlety and thoroughness in their management of the news and the entertainment that they present to us.
For example, the way in which the news is covered: which items are emphasized and which are played down; the reporter’s choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions; the wording of headlines; the choice of illustrations — all of these things subliminally and yet profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear.
On top of this, of course, the columnists and editors remove any remaining doubt from our minds as to just what we are to think about it all. Employing carefully developed psychological techniques, they guide our thought and opinion so that we can be in tune with the “in” crowd, the “beautiful people,” the “smart money.” They let us know exactly what our attitudes should be toward various types of people and behavior by placing those people or that behavior in the context of a TV drama or situation comedy and having the other TV characters react in the Politically Correct way.
Molding American Minds
For example, a racially mixed couple will be respected, liked, and socially sought after by other characters, as will a “take charge” Black scholar or businessman, or a sensitive and talented homosexual, or a poor but honest and hardworking illegal alien from Mexico. On the other hand, a White racist — that is, any racially conscious White person who looks askance at miscegenation or at the rapidly darkening racial situation in America — is portrayed, at best, as a despicable bigot who is reviled by the other characters, or, at worst, as a dangerous psychopath who is fascinated by firearms and is a menace to all law-abiding citizens. The White racist “gun nut,” in fact, has become a familiar stereotype on TV shows.
The average American, of whose daily life TV-watching takes such an unhealthy portion, distinguishes between these fictional situations and reality only with difficulty, if at all. He responds to the televised actions, statements, and attitudes of TV actors much as he does to his own peers in real life. For all too many Americans the real world has been replaced by the false reality of the TV environment, and it is to this false reality that his urge to conform responds. Thus, when a TV scriptwriter expresses approval of some ideas and actions through the TV characters for whom he is writing, and disapproval of others, he exerts a powerful pressure on millions of viewers toward conformity with his own views.
And as it is with TV entertainment, so it is also with the news, whether televised or printed. The insidious thing about this form of thought control is that even when we realize that entertainment or news is biased, the media masters still are able to manipulate most of us. This is because they not only slant what they present, but they establish tacit boundaries and ground rules for the permissible spectrum of opinion.
As an example, consider the media treatment of Middle East news. Some editors or commentators are slavishly pro-Israel in their every utterance, while others seem nearly neutral. No one, however, dares suggest that the U.S. government is backing the wrong side in the Arab-Jewish conflict and that it served Jewish interests, rather than American interests, to send U.S. forces to cripple Iraq, Israel’s principal rival in the Middle East. Thus, a spectrum of permissible opinion, from pro-Israel to nearly neutral, is established.
Another example is the media treatment of racial issues in the United States. Some commentators seem almost dispassionate in reporting news of racial strife, while others are emotionally partisan — with the partisanship always on the non-White side. All of the media spokesmen without exception, however, take the position that “multiculturalism” and racial mixing are here to stay, and that they are good things.
Because there are differences in degree, however, most Americans fail to realize that they are being manipulated. Even the citizen who complains about “managed news” falls into the trap of thinking that because he is presented with an apparent spectrum of opinion he can escape the thought controllers’ influence by believing the editor or commentator of his choice. It’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. Every point on the permissible spectrum of public opinion is acceptable to the media masters — and no impermissible fact or viewpoint is allowed any exposure at all, if they can prevent it.
The control of the opinion-molding media is nearly monolithic. All of the controlled media — television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures — speak with a single voice, each reinforcing the other. Despite the appearance of variety, there is no real dissent, no alternative source of facts or ideas accessible to the great mass of people that might allow them to form opinions at odds with those of the media masters. They are presented with a single view of the world — a world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish “Holocaust” tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders, the danger of permitting citizens to keep and bear arms, the moral equivalence of all sexual orientations, and the desirability of a “pluralistic,” cosmopolitan society rather than a homogeneous, White one. It is a view of the world designed by the media masters to suit their own ends — and the pressure to conform to that view is overwhelming. People adapt their opinions to it, vote in accord with it, and shape their lives to fit it.
And who are these all-powerful masters of the media? As we shall see, to a very large extent they are Jews. It isn’t simply a matter of the media being controlled by profit-hungry capitalists, some of whom happen to be Jews. If that were the case, the ethnicity of the media masters would reflect, at least approximately, the ratio of rich gentiles to rich Jews. Despite a few prominent exceptions, the preponderance of Jews in the media is so overwhelming that we are obliged to assume that it is due to more than mere happenstance.
Electronic News & Entertainment Media
Continuing government deregulation of the telecommunications industry has resulted, not in the touted increased competition, but rather in an accelerating wave of corporate mergers and acquisitions that have produced a handful of multi-billion-dollar media conglomerates. The largest of these conglomerates are rapidly growing even bigger by consuming their competition, almost tripling in size during the 1990s. Whenever you watch television, whether from a local broadcasting station or via cable or a satellite dish; whenever you see a feature film in a theater or at home; whenever you listen to the radio or to recorded music; whenever you read a newspaper, book, or magazine — it is very likely that the information or entertainment you receive was produced and/or distributed by one of these megamedia companies.
Judge blocks $54 billion Anthem-Cigna health insurance merger
February 9, 2017
by Carolyn Y. Johnson
The Washington Post
A federal judge blocked the $54 billion merger between health insurance giants Anthem and Cigna on Wednesday, saying the deal would increase prices and reduce competition. It is the second recent court decision to uphold the Justice Department’s opposition to deals that would have radically reshaped the health insurance landscape, consolidating the five largest insurers in the United States into three companies.
“The evidence has also shown that the merger is likely to result in higher prices, and that it will have other anticompetitive effects: it will eliminate the two firms’ vigorous competition against each other for national accounts, reduce the number of national carriers available to respond to solicitations in the future, and diminish the prospects for innovation in the market,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote in a 12-page order.
The ruling follows a similar decision by a different judge to block the proposed $37 billion merger between Aetna and Humana last month. The Justice Department sued last summer to stop both mergers, and the judge’s rulings in both cases are a clear affirmation of antitrust officials’ argument that the deals would harm competition.
Acting assistant attorney general Brent Snyder of the Justice Department’s antitrust division called the decision a victory for consumers.
“This merger would have stifled competition, harming consumers by increasing health insurance prices and slowing innovation aimed at lowering the costs of healthcare,” Snyder said in a statement.
Anthem’s chief executive, Joseph R. Swedish, said in a statement that the company would “continue to work aggressively to complete the transaction” and would file an appeal.
“Anthem is significantly disappointed by the decision, as combining Anthem and Cigna would positively impact the health and well-being of millions of Americans — saving them more than $2 billion in medical costs annually,” Swedish said.
Cigna’s response, however, was less clear. Cigna is owed a $1.85 billion termination fee from Anthem if the deal falls apart because of regulatory scrutiny, according to the merger agreement.
“Cigna intends to carefully review the opinion and evaluate its options in accordance with the merger agreement,” Cigna’s statement said.
At issue in the judge’s decision was the effect the merger would have had on competition for national accounts — employers buying health coverage for more than 5,000 employees. The judge said that with only four companies competing for that business, the merger would reduce competition for national accounts in 14 states. It would also harm competition in the market for commercial insurance for large groups — companies with more than 100 employees — in Richmond. The judge also questioned the proposed savings that would come from the deal, pointing out that companies who wished to access Anthem’s lower provider rates could simply sign up for an Anthem plan, instead of waiting for the companies to merge.
Ana Gupte, an analyst at Leerink Partners, said that the judge’s decision is not a surprise. She said it’s possible that Anthem’s decision to appeal is a stalling tactic.
“They are on the hook to pay $1.85 billion to Cigna; this gives them time to push that out and rethink that strategy,” Gupte said.
More broadly, she said there could be more deals coming, big and small. The possibility of a looser regulatory regime at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Trump administration and Republican Congress is expected to benefit the Medicare Advantage market, the business of selling private Medicare plans. She thinks that could make Humana, which is strong in the Medicare Advantage market, an attractive takeover target for Cigna.
Meanwhile, health-care providers — including hospitals and doctors — praised the decision.
“Today’s ruling by the D.C. District Court confirms that the Department of Justice made the right decision in challenging the Anthem-Cigna mega-merger. As a result, millions of Americans have been protected from higher insurance costs, fewer choices of providers and less innovation in health care delivery,” said Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, in a statement.
Andrew W. Gurman, president of the American Medical Association, said that the “significant absence of health insurer competition in most markets is detrimental to patients” and said his organization would continue to be focused on this issue.