TBR News April 18, 2016

Apr 18 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 18, 2016: “The rapid shrinking of the American print media was countered, by publisher, by setting up online news sites. Now, the the advent of mindless social networks and a burgeoning electronic appinance flood, the public no longer looks for news but eccentric personal opinons, guesses and fault logic. Illiteracy is growing and soon, all the public will want to see are images, not words. Soon, the average email will read like the things we see screawled on public lavatory ways.”

Note: Readers with interesting information, questions or comments can contact us at: tbrnews@hotmail.com


Media Websites Battle Faltering Ad Revenue and Traffic

April 17, 2016

by John Harrmann

New York Times

The business of online news has never been forgiving. But in recent weeks, what had been a simmering worry among publishers has turned into borderline panic.

This month, Mashable, a site that had just raised $15 million, laid off 30 people. Salon, a web publishing pioneer, announced a new round of budget cuts and layoffs. And BuzzFeed, which has been held up as a success story, was forced to bat back questions about its revenue — but not before founders at other start-up media companies received calls from anxious investors.

“It is a very dangerous time,” said Om Malik, an investor at True Ventures whose tech news site, Gigaom, collapsed suddenly in 2015, portending the flurry of contractions.

The trouble, the publishers say, is twofold. The web advertising business, always unpredictable, became more treacherous. And website traffic plateaued at many large sites, in some cases falling — a new and troubling experience after a decade of exuberant growth.

Online publishers have faced numerous financial challenges in recent years, including automated advertising and ad-blocking tools. But now, there is a realization that something more profound has happened: The transition from an Internet of websites to an Internet of mobile apps and social platforms, and Facebook in particular, is no longer coming — it is here.

It is a systemic change that is leaving many publishers unsure of how they will make money.

“With each turn of the screw, people began to realize, viscerally, that this is what it feels like to not be in control of your destiny,” said Scott Rosenberg, a co-founder of Salon who left the company in 2007.

Audiences drove the change, preferring to refresh their social feeds and apps instead of visiting website home pages. As social networks grew, visits to websites in some ways became unnecessary detours, leading to the weakened traffic numbers for news sites. Sales staffs at media companies struggled to explain to clients why they should buy ads for a fragmented audience rather than go to robust social networks instead.

Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.

The power shift was made clear last week as the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg took the stage for the company’s annual developer conference. He stood in front of a diagram outlining an audacious 10-year expansion plan, which included several features to help keep people inside Facebook’s world instead of following links out.

Mr. Zuckerberg also spoke about his company’s ambitions to host TV-style live video, an initiative that some media companies, including The New York Times, are investing in seriously, despite uncertainty about the rates at which videos will be monetized.

Facebook also announced that it would open up Instant Articles — which encourage publishers to post their content directly to Facebook — to “any publisher.” The company demonstrated chat bots, through which users can interact directly with media companies, including publishers, through Facebook’s Messenger app.

“Messenger is going to be the next big platform for sharing privately, and for helping you connect with services in all kinds of new ways,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, after demonstrating a CNN chat bot on stage.

At the same time, publishers pored over a report from the analytics firm Parse.ly, detailing how important Facebook had become to their business: Among sites tracked by the firm, more than 40 percent of web traffic came from the social network.

Facebook’s users seem to be following Mr. Zuckerberg’s lead. NewsWhip, which tracks how publishers are performing across major Internet platforms, says the rate at which links to outside websites are shared on Facebook, compared with videos and Instant Articles, has declined.

Liam Corcoran, NewsWhip’s communications director, says that in recent months a wide range of publishers have called him to ask whether sudden drops in Facebook reach are widespread, and asking how they might be remedied — as if they were asking how to cure a disease.

“It’s a doctor’s office,” he said.

So far, publishers are responding in a variety of ways. With the help of venture capital funding, companies like BuzzFeed and Vox are investing heavily in video production with a focus on TV and film. Others, like Mashable, are diverting resources to increasing their audience on Facebook, hoping that enough money — through revenue-sharing arrangements with the company — will follow.

“We invest in a number of strategies, then figure out which strategies are most effective,” Pete Cashmore, Mashable’s founder, said in an interview.

Others are planning to do less with less. “We talk about our business as though we’re in a shrinking market, and plan accordingly,” said Alex Magnin, chief revenue officer at Thought Catalog, an essay site.

Online news sites have watched the rise of social platforms closely. Publishers have started in recent years to obsessively monitor the ways in which their readers arrived at their sites. The sheer speed with which Facebook, Twitter, Google and Snapchat have come to dominate the landscape has taken publishers by surprise.

In 2014, Gawker Media’s founder, Nick Denton, wrote a memo to his staff that admonished them for giving in too fully to the influence of platforms, which drove many of his company’s most popular stories. “We — the freest journalists on the planet — were slaves to the Facebook algorithm,” he wrote.

Looking back at 2015, however, Mr. Denton, once known for harsh assessments of the media business, struck a conciliatory tone.

“The Instant Articles deal seems great,” he said in an interview last week. “Users get relevant stories and relevant ads. It’s the realization of that particular Internet dream.”

Mr. Denton said he was hopeful, like many publishers, that deep “niche” brands have something to offer advertisers. E-commerce partnerships, in which publishers are paid commissions by retailers for products recommended, or mentioned, on their sites, now cover the company’s editorial spending. The arrangement largely sidesteps social networks, but relies on agreements with another huge partner: Amazon.

Other companies are looking to focus more on branded content like videos, sponsored stories and full-fledged campaigns. But publishers have quickly learned that those efforts are labor-intensive and put them in direct competition with advertising agencies.

A broad slowdown in venture capital funding leaves even newer media companies with hard choices to make; even those built with social media in mind have been forced to fundamentally reconsider their plans.

Mr. Malik of Gigaom, whose site employed 85 people at its peak, said if he were to start the business today, it would probably be a Facebook page. There is an opportunity, clearly, to reach people there.

Money? That’s another matter.

“How do I monetize?” he asked. “Still not clear.”

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.


Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.


Conversation No. 80

Date: Thursday, April 17, 1997

Commenced: 2:21 PM CST

Concluded:  2:52 PM CST

RTC: Good afternoon Gregory. Did you get your car back from the shop in one piece?

GD: Yes, and it actually runs better now that they got the stroller out from under the engine compartment.

RTC: Now, now, Gregory, somehow I can’t believe that. How could a stroller get under your car?

GD: I like to run red lights, Robert, how else. And last night, I got a ticket for going twenty miles an hour.

RTC: Normally, that’s not so fast.

GD: Ah, but it was in the local mall.

RTC: Gregory, you must have been at the coffee again.

GD: What else? Glue is just too expensive. And when I used it in the past, my face kept sticking to the sheets. Oh, well, enough ribaldry so late in the day. And getting stuck to the sheets is a forbidden topic, I guess. Last week I dreamed I was eating an angel food cake and when I woke up, my pillow was gone. Enough, enough. How is life treating you?

RTC: Good days and bad days, Gregory.

GD: How is Emily?

RTC: Very good. Thank you for asking.

GD: Not at all. I had a privileged childhood. We were taught to be polite. I have no idea what good that does but I have been conditioned.

RTC: Bill Corson is thinking of running for Congress, by the way. Did he mention this to you?

GD: No. Is he serious?

RTC: Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell what is serious about Bill.

GD: Kimmel should run. The ladies would flock to his standard.

RTC: I think he’d spend most of his time on the platform discussing his grandfather and Pearl Harbor.

GD: Yes. He is a little limited in his scope. I was involved with politics one time and it was a hysterical romp in the sheep pen.

RTC: You ran for something?

GD: A speeding bus. No, I ran for nothing but I helped out a friend of mine who wanted to unseat a local judge. Interesting sort of thing. Do you want to hear about it?

RTC: Does this involve drag racing in the mall?

GD: No, actually it doesn’t but it had its roots in my friend, Marvin, and his Ferrari. He was going too fast in it and had a few drinks under his belt so the local cops grabbed him. The judge in his case, a local power, was nasty with him and Marvin loathed the man. Also, I note, Marvin had a lot of money. We knew each other, and he was aware that I could get things done in let’s say unorthodox ways. We had the same lawyer. Anyway, the judge, who was part of our local power elite, had been on the bench for centuries and was a permanent fixture. He was up for the standard reelection and Marvin wanted him booted off the bench. We made a deal, did Marvin and I. I would get rid of the judge and Marvin would pay my out of pocket expenses plus whatever he thought proper if I was successful. Now, we had some young attorney running for the job. He had no money and the sitting judge had all the local money behind him. How to unseat him.

RTC: You had one of your nasty friends shoot him?

GD: Now, you’re trying to use CIA tactics here, Robert. No, I was not going to shoot him or even run over him with someone else’s car on a rainy night. First, I went to see the young candidate. I asked him, in private, that if I got him elected at no expense to himself, would he throw out Marvin’s conviction for drunk driving and he laughed and agreed.

RTC: Did he?

GD: We’ll get to that in good time. Well, the first thing I did was to design a bumper sticker telling voters to vote for the judge. All perfectly straightforward. Took it to Frisco to a professional printer along with a phony purchase order I had drawn up using a letterhead from the judge’s reelection campaign. They printed 20,000 stickers and billed it to the judge. Next, I went to some of my Teamster friends for whom I had done a recent and significant favor and in return, we took all of these stickers and had the boys put them on the back of every car they could find in parking lots and other public places. Now note, I did not say on the rear bumper. They put them on the back trunk lids of the cars. Ever try to get a bumper sticker off, Robert? They stick like shit to a blanket. Many very angry citizens, Robert, many. Now, that was the first thing I did. The second was to write up a letter to every citizen in the town, telling them the reasons to vote for the judge. I ran off thousands at a girl friend’s church mimeograph service. For free, of course. Then we stuffed many thousand envelopes, sealed them and stuck labels on the front. I had the judge’s campaign office stamped with a rubber stamp on the front top and I had bought gummed labels for every registered voter in town. That I also billed to the judge. The stamps I had to buy. Now the overall theme of this mailing sounded as if it were written by a participant in the Special Olympics and the terrible sketches accompanying it were equally awful. We marked them as third class postage but sealed the envelopes, Robert, making them first class mailings. We, Marvin and I, dropped thousands of these into the main post office late at night and then a day later, we had so much fun. You see, the letters had postage due because they were not third class and notices were left for residents absent at work. The day after this, we drove past the local post office and I would have sworn that it had been snowing. There were vast snowbanks of ripped up letters all over the front lawn and sidewalk in front of the building as thousands of citizens flocked down there to pay their two cents only to discover really awful campaign trash.

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: Marvin did enjoy it too. And the next thing we did was to hire a sound truck to drive all over town early Sunday morning with a loud appeal for anyone hearing to vote for judge so and so the next week. My, my, so many irate late sleepers, wrenched from the arms of Morpheus, or their idiot sister, and having to listen to the message. Oh yes, we charged that to the judge as well. Let’s see now…yes, and then we got a couple of ladies I know to do a number. See, they would stand at bus stops in town around four in the afternoon, a block apart. One would get on the crowded commute bus and at the next stop, the other would. My, they would recognize each other and start a nice dialog that could be heard from one end of the bus to the other. They discussed the coming election and one said she would never vote for the incumbent judge because her cousin in the sheriff’s office had told her that the distinguished jurist had a fifteen year old black girl out in La Honda for weekends of endless fun. And they would then get off the bus, one stop at a time, and repeat the act again.

RTC: Now that’s really evil, Gregory.

GD: Oh, I thought so at the time. But creative and very, very deadly. See, when people hear something like that, they repeat it, Robert, but they don’t want to say it was gossip heard on a bus to they tell their co-workers or family members that an unnamed high level police official told them. And so the good work prospers. And I rather like what I did on the day before the election. You see, in that town, you could get a permit from the city and bag the parking meters, paying for the daily take in return for free advertising….

RTC: Jesus

GD: So I bought some bread bags in Frisco and had another printer up there indicate that there was free parking that day, courtesy of the reelection campaign for the judge. Naturally, people parked and felt they could stay there all day, thanks to the judge and his friends. I got m y Teamster friends and we bagged every meter in town. Along came the parking cops who looked at the bags and then called in to check. When they found the bags were fake, they tore them off and ticketed the cars.

RTC: Oh lovely, Gregory. I always said we should have put you on the payroll.

GD: I don’t take blood money. Interesting election results. The challenger spent about $200 on silly ads but a whopping 90% of the electorate turned out and about the same amount voted him into office in a stunning landslide. They voted their annoyance. I understand the judge’s people had some terrible bills they challenged. Anyway, Marvin got his conviction overturned.

RTC: Did he make it good to you?

GD: Well, I gave him my out of pocket expenses, mostly stamps, and told him as for anything additional, I would leave it up to his generosity. He gave me a check for the stamps and another sealed envelope. Of course I didn’t open it because that would be in bad taste and after he took me out to a wonderful, and very, very expensive  French dinner, I went home and opened the second envelope. Five hefty figures, Robert, five figures. I call that sowing seeds of kindness.

RTC: You missed your calling, Gregory.

GD: A wardheeler or a parson, Robert?

RTC: Not much difference in the end.

GD: Yes, and that’s where the judge got it.


(Concluded at 2:52 PM CST)





It is near; it is at hand. Maybe tomorrow but probably never

by Harry Brunser

What are the End Days? A study in deception

‘Armageddon’ is actually purported to be a battle. According to Pentecostal interpretations, the Bible states that Armageddon will be a battle where God finally comes in and takes over the world and rules it the way it should have been ruled all along. After this vaguely-defined battle of Armageddon, Pentecostals firmly believe that there will follow 1000 years of peace and plenty which, according to their lore and legend, will be the sole lot of their sect and no other religion.

The actual scene of the fictional battle is referred to by Pentecostals as being clearly set forth in Revelation 16:14-16. It is not. The specific citation reads, in full:

“14. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

“15. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

“16. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.”

This sparse mention of Armageddon has given rise to the elaborate but entirely fictional legend of the Final Battle between the forces of good and evil. There is no mention in Revelations 16: 14-15 whatsoever of Parusia or the second coming of Jesus, the apocryphal Anti-Christ, the Rapture or the many other delightful inventions designed to bolster the Pentecostal elect and daunt their adversaries. These adversaries consist of all other branches of the Christian religion with especial emphasis placed on Jews and Catholics. The Pentecostals also loathe Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, and an endless list of anyone and everyone whose views clash with theirs such as scientists and any academic who views the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel as anything but tissues of lies.

The Antichrist

The Antichrist is described by Pentecostals as the “son of perdition” and the “beast”!

They claim that this interesting creature will have great charisma & speaking ability, “a mouth speaking great things”.

The Antichrist, they allege, will rise to power on a wave of world euphoria, as he temporarily saves the world from its desperate economic, military & political problems with a brilliant seven year plan for world peace, economic stability and religious freedom.

The prophet Ezekiel names him as the ruler of “Magog”, a name that Biblical scholars agree denotes a country or region of peoples to the north of Israel. Many have interpreted this to mean modern day Russia. It could also be Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, perhaps one of the Baltic States or even the lewd and dissolute Socialist Sweden.

His power base will include the leading nations of Europe, whose leaders, the Bible says, will “give their power & strength unto the beast.”

The Bible even gives some clues about his personal characteristics. The prophet Daniel wrote that the Antichrist “does not regard the desire of women.” This could imply that he is either celibate or a homosexual. Daniel also tells us that he will have a “fierce countenance” or stern look, and will be “more stout than his fellows”–more proud and boastful.

Unfortunately, the so-called Book of Daniel was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, not many decades earlier as its proponents claim, and has been extensively modified by early Christian writers to predict the arrival of their personal Messiah, or Christ, on the Judean scene. The so-called “wonderful” prophetic statements put into the mouth of Daniel are absolutely and wondrously accurate…up to the reign of Nero and then fall as flat as a shaken soufflé afterwards

It is well known that Pentecostals loathe homosexuals, among many other groups not pleasing to them, and would like nothing better than to shove them into a bottomless pit filled with Catholics, rock and roll fans, teenaged mothers, Communists, gun control advocates, Tarot card readers, Christian Scientists, abortionists, Wayne Newton fans, Asians, Jews, African-Americans and Latino Surnamed Hispanics.

The seven year peace-pact (or covenant) that is engineered by the Antichrist is spoken of a number of times in the Bible, and may even have already been signed in secret. The historic peace agreement signed between Israel and the PLO at the White House on September 13, 1993, vividly illustrates how dramatically events in the Middle East are presently moving in this direction eager Pentecostals, awaiting their Celestial Omnibus, will inform anyone who is interested and a greater legion of those who are not.

Under the final terms of the fictional Covenant, Jerusalem will likely be declared an international city to which Judaism, Islam and Christianity will have equal rights. Scripture indicates that the Jews will be permitted to rebuild their Temple on Mt. Moriah, where they revive their ancient rituals of animal sacrifice.

According to modern prophecy the Antichrist will not only be a master of political intrigue, but also a military genius. Daniel describes several major wars that he fights during his 7-year reign, apparently against the U.S. and Israel, who will oppose him during the second half of his reign.

For awhile, most of the world is going to think the Antichrist is wonderful, as he will seem to have solved so many of the world’s problems. But, three-and-a-half years into his seven year reign he will break the covenant and invade Israel from the North.

At this time he will make Jerusalem his world capitol and outlaw all religions, except the worship of himself and his image. The Bible, according to the Pentecostals, says that the Antichrist will sit in the Jewish Temple exalting himself as God and demanding to be worshipped. If this passage, and many others of its kind, actually appears in the King James Version of the Bible, no one has ever been able to find it

It is at this time that the Antichrist imposes his infamous “666” one-world credit system.

It must be said that the Antichrist does, in point of fact exist. He can be seen on a daily basis on the walls of the Cathedral at Orvieto, Italy in the marvelous frescos of Lucca Signorelli. He looks somewhat like a Byzantine depiction of Christ with either a vicious wife or inflamed hemorrhoids .

Pentecostals strongly believe that U.S. public schools “departed from the faith” when in 1963 the Bible and prayer were officially banned. Now, Pentecostals believe with horror, thousands of these same schools are teaching credited courses in “the doctrines of devils”–the occult and Satanism.

Even a cursory check of curriculum of a number of American public school districts does not support this claim but then the Pentecostals have stated repeatedly that they represent 45% of all Protestants in America. The actual number, excluding the Baptists, is more like 4%.

What they lack in actual numbers they more than compensate for by their loud and irrational views so that at times it sounds like the roar of a great multitude when in truth, it is only a small dwarf wearing stained underwear and armed with a bullhorn, trumpeting in the underbrush

Frantic Pentecostals estimated that according to their private Census for Christ there are over 200,000 practicing witches in the United States and allege there are literally millions of Americans who dabble in some form of the occult, psychic phenomena, spiritualism, demonology and black magic. Their statistics claim that occult book sales have doubled in the last four years.

What is seen by terrified Pentecostals as The Occult today is no longer the stuff of small underground cults. They believe that many rock videos are an open worship of Satan and hell that comes complete with the symbols, liturgies, and rituals of Satanism, and the Pentecostals firmly and loudly proclaim to anyone interested in listening, that “millions of young people” have been caught in their evil sway.

Popular music is termed “sounds of horror and torment” that Pentecostals firmly believe is literally “driving young people insane and seducing them into a life of drugs, suicide, perversion and hell.” It is forgotten now but the same thing was once said about ragtime and later, jazz. If this had been true, perhaps the real reason behind the First World War, the 1929 market crash, the rise of Franklin Roosevelt and the lewd hula hoop can be attributed to Scott Joplin and Ella Fitzgerald.

It is also to be noted that the immensely popular Harry Potter series of children’s books are loudly proclaimed as Satanic books designed to lure unsuspecting children into the clutches of the Evil One. Any sane person who has read these delightful fantasy books will certainly not agree with these hysterical strictures. In point of fact, it would be exceedingly difficult to locate any person possessing even a modicum of sanity who would believe any of the weird fulminations of the Pentecostals.

Outraged Pentecostals now firmly state that in the beginning years of the Twenty First Century, “even the most shameless acts of blasphemy and desecration are socially acceptable.”

“Acts of blasphemy and desecration” sound like human sacrifices carried out on nuns at bus stops during the noontime rush hour or lewd acts with crucifixes performed by drug-maddened transvestites on commercial airlines.

In his weird Book of Revelation the lunatic John of Patmos claimed he foresaw that in the last days the world would turn away from God in order to worship and follow Satan.

Such a prophecy would have seemed believable to previous generations, but not so in our more enlightened and secular humanist day. Hard-core Satanism has been called by rabid Pentecostals noise-makers as: “the fastest-growing subculture among America’s teens”, and the revival of witchcraft and the occult is “one of the World’s fastest growing religions!”

It is near; it is at hand. Maybe tomorrow but probably never


The Big Ones: Scientist warns up to 4 quakes over 8.0 possible under ‘current conditions’

April 18, 2016


Sunday’s devastating earthquake in Ecuador might just be the beginning, according to a seismologist who says that current conditions in the Pacific Rim could trigger at least four quakes with magnitudes greater than 8.0.

Roger Bilham, a University of Colorado seismologist, told the Express, “If (the quakes) delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes.”

A total of 38 volcanoes are currently erupting around the world, making conditions ripe for seismic activity in the Pacific area.

More than 270 people are now confirmed dead after Sunday’s quake in Ecuador, with the number expected to rise.

In Japan, at least 42 people have been killed after tremors measuring 6.5 and 7.3 struck the southwest part of the country in the past week. A quarter of a million people were ordered to leave their homes amid fears of aftershocks.

Five years on from Japan’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the country fears a repeat of the disaster which left more than 15,000 people dead.

Scientists at Tokyo University estimate there is a 98 percent chance that, in the next 30 years, Japan will be hit by an earthquake equivalent to the “Great Kanto” of 1923, which measured 8.9 and killed an estimated 142,800 people.

Seismologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency, however, put the odds of this happening at 70 percent.

Japan has some of the world’s strictest building codes due to the amount of seismic activity in the area, with Tokyo getting rocked at least once a month.

Buildings may be able to withstand an earthquake, but as the 2011 quake proved, the ensuing tsunami can cause more damage including the nuclear fallout at Fukushima.

In the Himalayan region where 8,000 people were killed a year ago when a quake measuring 8.0 hit Nepal, India’s disaster management experts from the Ministry of Home Affairs warned in January that another quake of that size was long overdue in the region.

Tectonic plates west of the Nepal epicenter remain locked together with scientists fearing the accumulation of stress will soon reach its elastic limit.


Here’s a Way to Shut Down Panama Papers-Style Tax Havens — If We Wanted To

April 17, 2016

by Jon Schwarz

The Intercept

It would have been infuriating at any time of the year to learn about the massive tax evasion by the global 0.01 percent revealed by the Panama Papers leak. But it’s especially maddening for regular American schlubs to hear about it in April, just as we’re doing our own taxes.

According to estimates by Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman in his book The Hidden Wealth of Nations, rich individuals and big corporations use various machinations to pay at least a third of a trillion dollars less than they owe every year. For everyone else, this translates directly into higher taxes, more national debt, and less government spending.

Conservatives like to argue that it’s impossible to shut down the dizzyingly complex world of shell corporations and tax havens — a position that supports their argument that there’s no point in raising taxes on the wealthy. As George W. Bush proclaimed in 2004, “Real rich people figure out how to dodge taxes.”

However, Zucman makes a persuasive case that it wouldn’t be technically difficult to crush the tax haven industry. The enormous challenge would be mustering the political will — and not just in one country, but on a global level.

Tax havens serve two functions: tax evasion, which involves hiding assets and is illegal, and tax avoidance, which is done by multinational corporations in the open and is legal (since the same corporations have conveniently made sure the laws work that way). Eliminating them requires different strategies.

Tax Evasion

Let’s consider one example: Say you’re an American business owner and you want to hide $10 million from the Internal Revenue Service. As Zucman explains it, there are three steps.

First, you set up a shell corporation — say, Definitely Not an Illegal Tax Shelter LLC — in a location like the Cayman Islands with strict privacy laws about disclosure of company owners, so no one knows that DNAITS belongs to you.

Second, you create a bank account for DNAITS in Switzerland.

Third, you have your real, U.S. company buy $10 million in fictitious services — maybe “consulting” — from DNAITS, sending that $10 million to your Swiss bank account.

Now you can take that $10 million and invest it in whatever you want: real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds. In theory, you’re legally obligated to declare your interest, dividends, and capital gains each year and pay taxes on them. In reality, the IRS may never find out that the money belongs to an American, especially since your Swiss bank may itself not know who owns DNAITS.

Let’s say you’ve invested it all in a Vanguard mutual fund that provides a return this year of 5 percent, or $500,000, in taxable dividends. If you were to follow U.S. law and declare it, you’d have to pay taxes on that $500,000 dividend income at a rate of 20 percent, costing you $100,000. So you don’t, and your money continues compounding each year tax-free.

For Americans who aren’t super-rich, there’s no way to hide your income from the government. Employers and banks automatically report your wages, interest from savings accounts, and any meager dividends and capital gains to the IRS. (In fact, the government knows so much that there’s no need for most people to do their own taxes — the IRS could just send you a tax return already filled out for your approval, as is done in Sweden, Denmark, and Spain.)

The main service provided by tax havens is simply that — since they’re not bound by other countries’ laws — they don’t report the income of foreigners to the relevant tax authorities.

Based on the history of previous attempts to crack down on tax evasion, successful and not, Zucman argues that the U.S. and European Union could stop most of it with a two-pronged attack: concrete consequences for tax havens, and an international financial register.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, passed by Congress in 2010, imposed our national rules on all financial institutions worldwide. That is, under FATCA, banks in Switzerland, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and everywhere else must search their records for accounts held by U.S. citizens, and automatically report their income to the IRS.

While FATCA has flaws, it’s been successful in making it more difficult for Americans to evade taxes. What’s needed, says Zucman, is even stronger measures to force tax havens to automatically report the income of all foreigners, not just Americans, to the tax authorities in their countries.

The U.S. can force tax havens to comply because we’re so big and powerful. But smaller countries could also bring tax havens to heel if they act in coalition, especially since tax havens themselves are generally tiny and dependent on exports. Zucman calculates that if Germany, France, and Italy slapped a tariff of 30 percent on Swiss goods, this would cost Switzerland more than it makes as a tax haven — and such a tariff would be legal under World Trade Organization rules, since it would enable the three countries to recover approximately the amount in tax revenues that Switzerland is costing them.

Of course, as with the hypothetical Definitely Not an Illegal Tax Shelter LLC, bankers may be able to honestly say they don’t know who owns many assets. That’s where an international financial registry comes in.

Zucman contends that a global registry of who owns which assets is “in no way utopian.” Countries have long had national registries of who owns all their land and property. More recently, corporations have set up private, large-scale registries: the Depository Trust Company (which keeps track of the ownership of all stock issued by U.S. companies), Euroclear Belgium and Clearstream (bonds issued by U.S. companies but denominated in European currencies), Euroclear France (French corporate stock), and other national repositories.

Thus it’s not hard to imagine the databases being merged under the supervision of a public, international institution with financial expertise — and fortunately we already have one of those, the International Monetary Fund.

Of course, the registry would in many cases record that assets are owned by corporations or trusts whose owners are unknown. Tracing the financial chain through many layers of obfuscation back to the actual human beings who hold the assets would require an enormous, costly, and possibly ineffective IMF bureaucracy.

Zucman proposes a fiendishly clever solution: the global registry should impose a small, refundable wealth tax to make it in the financial interest of anyone with hidden wealth to disclose it.

Here’s how it would work:

Imagine that the IMF registry imposed a wealth tax of 3 percent on everything in its records: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, land, property, etc.

Now think again of your $10 million held by Definitely Not an Illegal Tax Shelter LLC, and the $500,000 it’s earned this year in dividends from your Vanguard mutual fund. Your Swiss bank records that DNAITS has received this $500,000 in income, but doesn’t know you own DNAITS, and so can’t report it to the IRS as your income.

However, the global financial registry records that $10.5 million in the Vanguard mutual fund is held by DNAITS — and taxes it at a rate of 3 percent, or $315,000.

You now have two choices. First, you can keep silent about your ownership of DNAITS and let the IMF keep the wealth tax, leaving you with $10,185,000.

Or second, you can prove to the IRS that DNAITS belongs to you. And since there’s no wealth tax in the U.S., you’d get all of the $315,000 back. All you’d have to pay is the $100,000 in income taxes you owe on your $500,000 income, leaving you with $10,400,000.

Of course, with such a system in place there would be no point in trying to hide your $10 million in the first place. Instead, you and almost everyone else would simply pay what you lawfully owe — so you don’t have to pay more.

None of this is to say that setting up such a system would be politically simple. In particular, conservatives in all countries would suspect that such a global financial registry would make it easier for countries to impose taxes on wealth in addition to taxes on income — and they’d be right. On the other hand, this also makes a global registry an attractive goal for all political parties concerned about wealth inequality. A global financial registry would also be politically difficult to openly oppose, since it would not just hamper tax evasion but would also be a key tool in fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

Tax Avoidance

The U.S. has, by world standards, a peculiar corporate tax system. Multinational companies headquartered in the U.S. must pay an ultimate tax rate of 35 percent on all their profits earned anywhere on earth.

That is, if a corporation makes money in a foreign country with a corporate tax rate of 10 percent, it must pay the IRS an additional 25 percent on its profits booked in that country. But to make things even more complicated, it only has to pay that additional tax when it brings the profits back to the U.S. If it keeps the profits overseas, it can postpone paying the tax bill indefinitely — which is why U.S. corporations are now holding over $2 trillion in profits in other countries.

This creates two obvious incentives for U.S.-based multinationals.

First, they’re continually tempted to engage in corporate “inversions,” in which they move their formal headquarters to a country with lower tax rates — even as their factories, workers, and customers stay in the same places. This is why Medtronic, founded in Minneapolis in 1949, is now formally Irish, even as its “operational headquarters” remain in Minnesota.

Second, they tend to engage in accounting chicanery to make it appear as if their profits were “earned” by foreign subsidiaries in countries with low corporate rates. This is a particularly attractive strategy for internet companies, whose value is largely non-material. For instance, Google licensed its highly profitable search and advertising technology to a subsidiary in Bermuda, where the corporate tax rate is zero percent. Google “pays” that highly profitable subsidiary billions in royalties each year.Corporations keep these profits overseas in hopes of striking a deal with the U.S. government allowing them to bring the money home at a reduced tax rate. This already happened once before in 2004, when Congress let corporations pay just 5 percent on repatriated profits. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is currently working with Republicans on a similar plan.

All of this is done in the open, and is totally legal. Regular Americans despise it, but the tax system is so complex that it seems impossible that the IRS could ever keep up with armies of highly paid corporate lawyers.

However, there’s a feasible solution suggested by Zucman (and many others): Completely throw out our current corporate tax system and begin using something far simpler called “formulary apportionment.”

Formulary apportionment starts by discarding the weird fiction that a multinational corporation’s subsidiaries are separate companies. Instead, it treats the corporation as what it is, one unitary company, with one unitary amount of profit. Next, a formula based on the location of three concrete factors — the corporation’s payroll, physical capital like factories, and sales — is used to apportion percentages of the multinational’s profits to the different countries in which it operates. The IRS would get 35 percent of the U.S. apportionment.

This isn’t a untested daydream. Individual American states have long used formulary apportionment to determine tax rates for multi-state corporations. The principle would be exactly the same for multinational companies.

There’s no “right” formula, though for decades most U.S. states placed an equal weight on each factor. For example, a manufacturing multinational might have 66.6 percent of its payroll, 33.3 percent of its physical capital, and 50 percent of its customers in the U.S. Added together and divided by three, that means that half of its profits should be apportioned to the U.S. and can be taxed here.

Thus a formulary apportionment system would make corporate inversions and the fictitious booking of profits in low-tax countries pointless — neither would change a corporation’s U.S. tax liability.

It’s true that moving to such a system would be, if anything, more politically difficult than creating a global wealth registry. It would be ferociously opposed by many big U.S. corporations. On the other hand, explained clearly it would be extremely popular with regular Americans. There might also be some unexpected corporate support from CEOs who are tired of terrible PR and spending huge amounts of money on those otherwise-useless armies of tax lawyers.

Moreover, the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union) is pushing for individual EU countries to use a formulary apportionment system. This means that both U.S. states and European countries may soon have analogous approaches to corporate taxes. And as Zucman points out, the proposed Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area would create one free trade zone covering the U.S. and European Union. Groups fighting tax avoidance could push to make a fusion of the two corporate tax bases part of any TAFTA treaty, which would make it far easier to set up formulary apportionment at the level of the U.S. and EU.

So, as Zucman writes at the end of The Hidden Wealth of Nations, this is “above all a battle of citizens against the false inevitability of tax evasion and the impotence of nations.” Money launderers, crooked politicians, and huge corporations want the system to be so complicated that only their shady bankers and lawyers can comprehend it. But if regular people worldwide can educate ourselves about the costs the current system imposes on all of us, and mobilize to agitate for possible solutions, there’s a path in front of us to a tax system for everyone that’s far simpler, fairer, and more transparent.


Turkey detains dozens linked to US-based Muslim cleric Gulen

Police have detained over 100 suspects for their alleged links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The raids were the latest in a series targeting Gulen’s “terror group” accused of trying to overthrow the president.

April 18, 2016


Turkish police said on Monday they had detained dozens of people suspected of having connections with the US-based cleric. According to the state-run Anatolu news agency, prosecutors issued warrants for 140 people, with 101 being arrested for allegedly being members of a “terror group” and providing funds for the Gulen movement.

Those detained included 41 executives and employees of Bank Asya, founded by followers of Gulen. The bank was seized by the government last year under a probe centered on monetary support of about 50 million lira ($17 million) for Gulen’s group, which includes media companies, businesses and schools.

Over 2,260 people were rounded up in the operations which took place in 48 Turkish provinces over the weekend, pro-government newspaper Milliyet said.

Gulen and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were allies until state lawyers and police officers considered close to the US-based cleric launched an anti-corruption probe against the Turkish president in 2013.

Subsequently, thousands of police officers, prosecutors and judges were sacked or reassigned for alleged links with the US-based cleric, whom Erdogan accused of setting up a “parallel state.” Gulen was also suspected of unseating the government with his links in the police, judiciary and media. His moderate Islamic movement was also branded a “terrorist organization” and all newspapers, television stations and business associated with him were closed down. He denies all charges.

In December 2014, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant against Gulen, who has been living in the US since 1999.


Obama Appeases Saudi Head-Choppers

They threaten us – we cower

April 18, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


Do we have a more unattractive “ally” than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? In order to find one, we have to go all the way back to World War II, when the US was allied with the Soviet Union while “Uncle” Joe Stalin was murdering millions in the gulag.

The big difference, however, is that the national security propaganda machine isn’t trying to glorify the head-chopping barbarians of Riyadh as they prettified the Soviets: Hollywood isn’t cranking out pro-Saudi movies as they did with the “workers’ paradise” in Song of Russia. Imagine a screenwriter scratching his head over Song of the Saudis! Op ed writers employed by the Saudi lobby aren’t excusing the execution of “heretics” as Popular Front propagandists once praised the Moscow Trials. Not even the Washington “experts” would fall for it. Saudi lobbying is more subtle, with pressure exerted on lawmakers and lots of cash being handed out – e.g. the Saudi “donations” to the Clinton Foundation.

This stealth strategy has been largely successful. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz and cemented the US-Saudi relationship as the linchpin of our Middle Eastern policy, our government’s collusion with one of the worst tyrannies on earth has gone largely unexamined – until now.

The New York Times reports that the Kingdom is telling the Obama administration that they would be “forced” to sell some $750 billion in US assets if Congress passes a bill that would give a green light to lawsuits alleging that the Saudis played a key role in facilitating the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The families of the 9/11 victims have been pursuing the Kingdom in the courts for years, with judges routinely dismissing financial claims by the families on the grounds of “sovereign immunity,” i.e. the “legal” doctrine that governments cannot be held accountable for their actions. However, a little noticed Supreme Court decision reinstated the Saudis as defendants. The bill, sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), has broad support: if passed, it would pave the way for a close examination of the evidence that the Saudi government had a hand in 9/11.

The Obama administration has responded to this blackmail threat by capitulating – and threatening Congress with dire consequences if the Cornyn-Schumer bill passes. Trotting out State Department and Pentagon officials to warn of the “diplomatic and economic fallout,” they claim that US companies and citizens abroad would be endangered. The issue has led to “intense discussions” inside the Beltway, reports the Times, where the Saudi lobby is working overtime to head off the possibility that their role in the worst terrorist attack on US soil will finally come to light,.That role is coming under increasing scrutiny ever since the campaign to release the censored 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 – dealing with the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in the events of 9/11 – took off. A “Sixty Minutes” segment has spotlighted the issue, and the Saudi threat has done the same: after all, if they have nothing to hide, then why are they throwing such a hissy fit at the prospect of the 9/11 families having their day in court?

Obama’s promise during his election campaign – and subsequently – to release the 28 pages has so far gone unfulfilled. The administration says they are presently “reviewing” the material but have yet to reach a decision.

Don’t hold your breath.

The President will travel to Riyadh on Wednesday, no doubt in answer to a summons by the Saudi monarch, who is miffed at this affront to his majesty. The Saudis are also displeased by the Iran deal, which they – along with Israel – claim represents an existential threat to their security. Arms deals and logistical support for the Saudis’ murderous attack on Yemen haven’t mollified them, and King Salman, along with a gaggle of Gulf sultans and emirs, refused to attend a “summit” called by Washington: the meeting was meant to reassure them that the Iran deal didn’t mean we were abandoning them. And so since Mohammed refused to come to the mountain, Obama, hat in hand, is going to pay court to the barbarian king.

I’ve usually been skeptical of the attempt – mostly by Republican hawks – to depict Obama as a master appeaser, but in this case the shoe fits all too well.

Mindy Kleinberg’s husband was in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, where he died, and she is outraged and baffled by the administration’s defense of the Saudis: “It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” she told the Times.

Stunning – yes. Surprising? Not at all.

We are the prisoners of our “allies,” who extort us and lobby in Washington to extract yet more goodies from our bought-and-paid-for legislators. Our NATO “allies” spend billions on their welfare states while luxuriating under the US-supplied defense umbrella, just as our Middle Eastern allies – Israel included – defy and denounce us while we pay their bills and risk war for their sakes.

It is in the very nature of empires to put the interests of their foreign clients and protectorates over and above the welfare of their own citizens. The politicians and lobbyists who profit from the client relationship naturally act to protect their own material interests: does anyone really think that the multi-millions that poured into the coffers of the Clinton Foundation from the Saudis, the Qataris, etc. had no effect on Hillary’s policies while Secretary of State? Are the Saudis handing out cash in Washington hand over fist for nothing?

Economists have long accepted the idea of “regulatory capture” in the domestic economy: the idea is that the very government agencies charged with regulating industries are co-opted by the biggest and most powerful of the companies they oversee, which leads to government mandates favoring those economic actors. The same rule applies to our overseas protectorates: one of the biggest illusions of empire is that the imperialists have effective control of their overseas minions. The reality is that the minions are in charge: while we foot the bill for their defense, risking war if one of the many tripwires we’ve planted across the globe is set off, they employ armies of lobbyists to wring every last penny out of us – and woe unto Washington if one of them feels disrespected! An envoy is immediately dispatched to assuage their hurt feelings, and in this case it’s the President, who will doubtful promise to veto the Cornyn-Schumer bill.

This is the price we pay for empire – not only in terms of dollars and cents, but also the perpetual humiliation we face at the hands of our “friends” and “allies.” Oh, for a President that will put America and American citizens first, instead of kowtowing to the head-choppers of Saudi Arabia! Yet this will never happen until we effect a fundamental change in American foreign policy – cutting off the entangling alliances that bind us to the pleasure of foreign despots, ridding ourselves of parasitical “allies,” and dumping the albatross of empire that weighs us down into the abyss of bankruptcy and perpetual war.


How US covered up Saudi role in 9/11

April 17, 2016

by Paul Sperry

New York Post

In its report on the still-censored “28 pages” implicating the Saudi government in 9/11, “60 Minutes” last weekend said the Saudi role in the attacks has been “soft-pedaled” to protect America’s delicate alliance with the oil-rich kingdom.

That’s quite an understatement.

Actually, the kingdom’s involvement was deliberately covered up at the highest levels of our government. And the coverup goes beyond locking up 28 pages of the Saudi report in a vault in the US Capitol basement. Investigations were throttled. Co-conspirators were let off the hook.

Case agents I’ve interviewed at the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Washington and San Diego, the forward operating base for some of the Saudi hijackers, as well as detectives at the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department who also investigated several 9/11 leads, say virtually every road led back to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles.

Yet time and time again, they were called off from pursuing leads. A common excuse was “diplomatic immunity.”

Those sources say the pages missing from the 9/11 congressional inquiry report — which comprise the entire final chapter dealing with “foreign support for the September 11 hijackers” — details “incontrovertible evidence” gathered from both CIA and FBI case files of official Saudi assistance for at least two of the Saudi hijackers who settled in San Diego.

Some information has leaked from the redacted section, including a flurry of pre-9/11 phone calls between one of the hijackers’ Saudi handlers in San Diego and the Saudi Embassy, and the transfer of some $130,000 from then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar’s family checking account to yet another of the hijackers’ Saudi handlers in San Diego.

An investigator who worked with the JTTF in Washington complained that instead of investigating Bandar, the US government protected him — literally. He said the State Department assigned a security detail to help guard Bandar not only at the embassy, but also at his McLean, Va., mansion.

The source added that the task force wanted to jail a number of embassy employees, “but the embassy complained to the US attorney” and their diplomatic visas were revoked as a compromise.

Former FBI agent John Guandolo, who worked 9/11 and related al Qaeda cases out of the bureau’s Washington field office, says Bandar should have been a key suspect in the 9/11 probe.

“The Saudi ambassador funded two of the 9/11 hijackers through a third party,” Guandolo said. “He should be treated as a terrorist suspect, as should other members of the Saudi elite class who the US government knows are currently funding the global jihad.”

But Bandar held sway over the FBI.

After he met on Sept. 13, 2001, with President Bush in the White House, where the two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony, the FBI evacuated dozens of Saudi officials from multiple cities, including at least one Osama bin Laden family member on the terror watch list. Instead of interrogating the Saudis, FBI agents acted as security escorts for them, even though it was known at the time that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

“The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”

What’s more, Rossini said the bureau was told no subpoenas could be served to produce evidence tying departing Saudi suspects to 9/11. The FBI, in turn, iced local investigations that led back to the Saudis.

“The FBI covered their ears every time we mentioned the Saudis,” said former Fairfax County Police Lt. Roger Kelly. “It was too political to touch.”

Added Kelly, who headed the National Capital Regional Intelligence Center: “You could investigate the Saudis alone, but the Saudis were ‘hands-off.’ ”

Even Anwar al-Awlaki, the hijackers’ spiritual adviser, escaped our grasp. In 2002, the Saudi-sponsored cleric was detained at JFK on passport fraud charges only to be released into the custody of a “Saudi representative.”

It wasn’t until 2011 that Awlaki was brought to justice — by way of a CIA drone strike.

Strangely, “The 9/11 Commission Report,” which followed the congressional inquiry, never cites the catch-and-release of Awlaki, and it mentions Bandar only in passing, his named buried in footnotes.

Two commission lawyers investigating the Saudi support network for the hijackers complained their boss, executive director Philip Zelikow, blocked them from issuing subpoenas and conducting interviews of Saudi suspects.

9/11 Commission member John Lehman was interested in the hijackers’ connections to Bandar, his wife and the Islamic affairs office at the embassy. But every time he tried to get information on that front, he was stonewalled by the White House.

“They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia,” Lehman was quoted as saying in the book, “The Commission.”

Did the US scuttle the investigation into foreign sponsorship of 9/11 to protect Bandar and other Saudi elite?

“Things that should have been done at the time were not done,” said Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who’s introduced a bill demanding President Obama release the 28 pages. “I’m trying to give you an answer without being too explicit.”

A Saudi reformer with direct knowledge of embassy involvement is more forthcoming.

“We made an ally of a regime that helped sponsor the attacks,” said Ali al-Ahmed of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs. “I mean, let’s face it.”


Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum

April 15, 2016


Jan Böhmermann has disappeared. He’s not giving interviews; he’s not answering his phone. Since Monday, he has also gone silent on Twitter, where he is normally extremely active. He has hardly left his home in Cologne in the last few days and he is also now under police protection.

He had his Thursday show on the German public broadcaster ZDF cancelled and his Sunday radio show on RBB will likewise not be broadcast this week. It was cancelled last Sunday as well. Böhmermann was already in his home studio ready to record when he realized that he was in no mood to be funny. So he called it off.

Friends and acquaintances who have had contact with him in the last few days are worried that he won’t be able to withstand the pressure. The ZDF satirist is a sensitive person, even if that hasn’t always been part of his public persona. The scandal surrounding the disparaging poem he wrote about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has affected him more deeply than many have realized. Perhaps one has to be vulnerable to emotional pain in order to know how to inflict such pain on others.

Two weeks ago, when he was still active on social media, he tweeted out the Beatles hit “The Fool on the Hill.” The song is about a simpleton sitting alone on a hill with a silly grin on his face — and everyone can see that he is a half-wit. It is essentially how people see Böhmermann, and it is how he wanted to be seen: The misunderstood fool. The tweet went out two days after his insulting Erdogan poem was broadcast on his ZDF show “Neo Magazin Royale” and one day after the broadcaster deleted the show from its video hub and distanced itself from Böhmermann’s verses. And that was just the beginning.

Prior to the scandal, Böhmermann had led a niche existence in Germany’s media landscape, but now everybody in the country knows who he is. The 35-year-old has triggered an affair of state, one which has served to demonstrate just how limited Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power really is. And how absurd German law can be. If Böhmermann intended to show just how powerful satire can be, he has been incredibly successful.

The Böhmermann scandal is now entering its third week, and only now is it becoming clear just what the five-minute clip has set in motion. It didn’t just shine the spotlight on the Turkish president’s sensitivity and the limits of chancellor’s steadfastness, it has also unsettled all of Germany — a country which normally doesn’t spend much time thinking about satire and art and the freedoms associated with them.

On Friday, the need for doing so became even more apparent. Chancellor Merkel announced that the federal government had granted permission for criminal proceedings to go ahead against Jan Böhmermann under the controversial Paragraph 103 of the German Criminal Code. The law makes it illegal to insult the representatives of foreign countries. The federal government must approve the initiation of Paragraph 103 proceedings.

By granting permission, Merkel has gone against the advice of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Justice Minister Heiko Maas, both of whom are members of the Social Democratic Party, Merkel’s junior coalition partner. The chancellor confirmed that the coalition partners had expressed “differing views.”

Yet even as she announced that legal proceedings would go ahead, the chancellor also signaled her intention to abolish the law before the end of the current legislative session, saying it was “unnecessary.” The chancellor also shared her concerns about the situation of the press in Turkey and the plights of individual journalists in the country. She added that the German government would ensure freedom of expression at home and she emphasized that the independence of the judicial system applied as much in Turkey as it does in Germany and “other countries in the democratic world.”

‘Kicking Kurds, Beating Christians’

Merkel, in short, was doing her best to walk a political tightrope — trying to satisfy Erdogan while at the same time seeking to assuage those voices which have accused her of sacrificing European values in the interest of securing a political deal with Turkey aimed at reducing the number of refugees coming to Europe.

Ironically, it was a tightrope not unlike the one Böhmermann was trying to walk. His Erdogan poem was cleverly constructed. In the televised skit, he is talking with his sidekick Ralf Kabelka about the limits of what is allowed in Germany. Abusive criticism is not allowed, Kabelka says, whereupon Böhmermann — to make it clear exactly what isn’t allowed — recites his poem about Erdogan. When the audience started applauding, Böhmermann prevented them from doing so.

The poem includes references to “goat fucking” and “oppressing minorities.” It calls Erdogan “dumb as a post, cowardly and uptight” and “perverse, lice-ridden and a zoophile.” “Kicking Kurds, beating Christians all while watching child porno films.” It goes on in that vein.

The satirical verses drove a wedge through the country. Böhmermann managed to demolish a nationwide consensus that hadn’t really been up for debate for years: What are the limits of humor? For Böhmermann, though, consensus generally isn’t the solution; it is the problem. He views consensus as poison.

His lines — and Merkel’s decision to allow legal proceedings to ensue — have now divided Germany into two camps. One camp views Böhmermann as an uncompromising political artist. Those in the second camp are unable to get beyond the insulting nature of the poem — the “pig fart” and the “shriveled testicles.” They wonder if it is really worth it to defend Böhmermann’s freedom to distill art out of insults.

The real provocateur, of course, is Erdogan himself, the man who is Böhmermann’s target and the man who is making life extremely difficult for Chancellor Merkel. And his provocations have nothing funny about them. It is a context that cannot be forgotten when discussing the insulting poem that Böhmermann composed.

Those who criticize Erdogan are, depending on the circumstances, accused of being “terrorists,” “traitors,” “provocateurs” or “agents” of a foreign power. In a country where the majority is politically illiterate and gets its information from pro-government television, most people believe the dominant narrative of an evil world trying to keep Turkey in its place. In such an atmosphere, it is even possible for a schoolchild to be prosecuted over an ill-considered Facebook post.

No longer is the discussion focused on whether the satirical poem successfully made its point or not. The work of art has become much broader than that. ZDF, the chancellor, Erdogan and the German public: All have become part of Böhmermann’s work.

Kowtowing to Erdogan

The chancellor’s role in the drama, put on full display on Friday, has been that of a politician who is trying her best to stay above the fray without getting her precious hands dirty. On the one hand, she sought to soothe the irascible prince of the Bosporus, on the other, she didn’t want to seem as though she were kowtowing to Erdogan. She has failed on both counts.

Germans are no longer certain if the chancellor still knows where the limits of her power lie. And in Turkey, the desire to take legal action against Böhmermann has only become greater.

Böhmermann is both provocative and exasperating — which helps explain why this scandal has not generated the reactions one has come to expect when an artist is being threatened with prosecution. The country has neither joined together to laugh at Böhmermann’s poem nor has German society unanimously rejected the stereotypes used in the insulting work.

Indeed, the effect of Böhmermann’s sketch is akin to that of a real work of art: It is a puzzle that has inspired people to think hard about our crazy world and the mad times in which we live. Instead of holding up a mirror to the country, which is allegedly the function of cabaret, Böhmermann has sent the country into a hall of mirrors and has provoked all kinds of strange reactions. It is, in fact, these reactions which have transformed the mini-sketch into a bona fide work of art.

Mathias Döpfner, head of Springer Verlag, the publishing house that puts out Germany’s mass-circulation tabloid Bild, wrote an open letter in which he expressed “full and complete” support for all of the insults in the poem. Bild publisher Kai Diekmann tried his own hand at satire by inventing and printing an “interview” with Böhmermann — one which wasn’t funny at all. The German government has elevated beating around the diplomatic bush to a new art form. Government spokespersons have been reduced to stammering. The culture pages of German newspapers have dubbed Böhmermann’s transgression as the only kind of real satire that is possible anymore. And other artists have expressed solidarity with Böhmermann.

But a surprising number of people, many of whom are usually among the first to jump on the freedom-of-expression bandwagon, have declined to sign on this time around.

Germany, it would seem, is unsure how to respond. Böhmermann has triggered a debate over a question that, it was thought, had long since been answered. When, after all, was the last time that Germany has seriously discussed where the limits of freedom lie?

Even ZDF head Thomas Bellut, who approved the satire’s broadcast, considers the poem to be borderline. “You can see it both ways,” he says. The ZDF editor responsible, who talked about the controversial scene with Böhmermann before ultimately giving it the green light, “will not face any kind of disciplinary measures,” Bellut says.

The Least Bad Decision

He made the decision to remove the scene from ZDF’s online video hub based on “my personal system of moral values,” Bellut says. “It was not an easy decision. But I still think it was the least bad decision that I could make.”

The decision taken by the ZDF head and its program director is not uncontroversial among the broadcaster’s employees. On Thursday, the station’s committee of editors sent employees a letter that wasn’t shy about praising Böhmermann’s poem. The letter noted that the ZDF program had a direct effect on heads of government and launched a debate. “Program mission fulfilled.”

But Bellut rejected the demand by the editorial representatives to put the satirical poem back on line as a “historical document.”

Still, Bellut says, Böhmermann can count on the full support of ZDF. The broadcaster has ensured him comprehensive legal support in his legal dispute with Erdogan. “We will accompany him through all levels of jurisdiction,” he says.

Bellut was on vacation when the episode of “Neo Magazin Royale” was aired. He was watching the program live, but switched it off before the controversial scene with the poem came on. It was only the next morning that he and his program director Norbert Himmler were alerted. Together, they decided to block access to the piece of satire and take it off of the station’s video hub.

Because the piece was removed on April 1, there was initially some confusion surrounding the move. Was ZDF’s decision to take down the piece just a gag? Was it Böhmermann’s next satirical coup, carried out with the approval of ZDF?

The comedian had already been involved in a similar caper. Last March, after German public broadcaster ARD aired a video of then-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis showing his middle finger, Böhmermann claimed that it was a fake and that he had been involved in producing it. ZDF management had been previously informed of the stunt and the station only came clean after several hours. It was a precedent that led many to believe that ZDF was merely pulling a prank when it pulled down Böhmermann’s Erdogan poem.

Böhmermann himself was in his Cologne studio on April 1 recording his next show when news arrived that his video was being taken off line. In the corner stood the leftovers of a cake that Twitter’s German office had sent him two days before due to his heavy use of the social media site.

Wearing a hoodie and with his smartphone pressed to his ear, Böhmermann paced up and down the halls. He seemed distraught, say colleagues, like he couldn’t believe the news. And he seemed unsure of himself.

He had been censored before. During the presentation of the 2012 German Television Prize, similar to the Emmys, Böhmermann attacked TV host Oliver Geissen, an important figure at private broadcaster RTL. When the show was later broadcast by RTL, the controversial parts had been removed, but the episode had no effect on Böhmermann’s career.

The removal of the Erdogan poem from the ZDF media hub, though, has really shaken him. It was his program, after all. Was he not able to do as he liked?

Those who have spoken to him in recent days say that he doesn’t seem to know exactly what exactly has happened to him. Much of what he has done since the scandal broke has seemed despondent. Böhmermann has written and called a number of public personalities, including journalists and intellectual leaders — even those who he doesn’t know personally. It is unclear what he was expecting to hear from them. Advice? Encouragement?

In his search for allies, he wasn’t particularly picky. He chose Christian Schertz as his attorney, a prominent lawyer in Berlin who Böhmermann has frequently lampooned on his show in the past. He also sent a direct message via Twitter to Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, asking him for help. He addressed Altmaier simply because they both follow each other, but after an initial reply, Altmaier didn’t write back.

Seeking Shelter at the Slaughterhouse

Böhmermann also tweeted directly to Kai Diekmann, the publisher of Bild. He sent a joke wondering how someone named Himmler (like the ZDF program director) could be in a position to make decisions regarding humor in Germany. He also sent a photo of himself in his bathroom wearing only boxer shorts with a smiley on the back. He wrote: “Kai, stand by me.” In a further message, he requested that Diekmann respect his privacy, which is a bit like a pig seeking shelter at the slaughterhouse.

Diekmann behaved as one would have expected: He tweeted out some of the personal messages he had received along with the message that he was “seriously concerned” about Böhmermann’s wellbeing.

It is difficult to say whether Böhmermann has realized that he has written a work of satire that will go down in history. He isn’t talking, after all. Perhaps he is simply overwhelmed by the perfect cultural, medial and political storm he has created and has been unable to withstand the buffeting.

The situation is such that Cologne police undertook an analysis of the possible safety issues facing Böhmermann and drew the conclusion that an attack is not out of the question. There haven’t been any concrete threats, they said. However, it is “very likely that Erdogan himself wasn’t the only one who felt insulted, but perhaps one or two of the Turks living in Cologne,” said one high-ranking officer.

What, though, was Böhmermann trying to achieve? Was he trying to create a scandal, or was it just an accident? The skit itself seems rather hurriedly produced, not at all comparable to the professional video productions that Böhmermann normally assembles. But perhaps it is this rather naive approach that ultimately led to the skit having such an explosive impact. It begins with a cumbersome, pedagogical explanation of what makes for insulting criticism, recited in a humorless tone. Böhmermann then interrupts the lesson to give an example: the Erdogan poem. It is almost reminiscent of a Monty Python skit. There is that scene in “Life of Brian” where a character is to be stoned for saying Jehovah, and yet the protagonists keep saying Jehovah by accident. Jehovah. Jehovah. Jehovah.

Whether Böhmermann really wanted to insult Erdogan isn’t the point. It seems likely that he just wanted to reach a higher plain of humorous debate, one that is neither commentary nor protest. And as with all artists, it is not up to him to interpret his own work or to ask before it is presented whether it is permissible, whether it is a constructive contribution to the public debate or what people might say about it.

Something of an Oddball

Böhmermann is part of a new generation of television personalities in Germany, but he is also the best of the bunch. He is the cleverest and most ambitious of them and also the best at marketing himself. He is political and takes positions on the issues. And there is another difference: For Böhmermann, television is only one of several mediums he uses to distribute his content. He also approaches his audience elsewhere, such as in social media.

When Böhmermann last year claimed to have faked the middle finger of the Greek finance minister, he initially made the announcement in the Internet, and not on television, a move that stirred up the German media world. But for online city dwellers in their thirties, Böhmermann has become something of an idol. Those who like him can take comfort in knowing that they are on the correct side of the political spectrum.

Like many comedians, Böhmermann was something of an oddball as a student. He had friends, to be sure, but even as graduation was approaching, he was more interested in Legos than in girls. As a teenager, he built a website for small, local businesses. And even today, he doesn’t take part in activities that most people consider normal. He doesn’t drink alcohol and he doesn’t like going to parties.

His father was a police officer, and was occasionally tasked with providing security during neo-Nazi marches. Böhmermann learned early that even extremists are protected by the state and he has a deep appreciation for the police. His father, though, died of leukemia when he was 17 and Böhmermann began writing for the local newspaper to earn a bit of money. He has never spoken much publicly about his father, nor does he talk about his wife and children.

Early on in his radio career, Böhmermann frequently found himself at odds with the system, partly because he regularly provoked his bosses. He was deeply troubled by the constraints and rituals that characterized conformist, bland public broadcasters. At the station Bremen 4, he says he was suspended from presenting on air for a month because he refused to say “This is Bremen 4” four times an hour, instead having a 60-year-old show assistant do it — or he would change the words around. Another station took him off the air after just six months. Then, Böhmermann submitted his own resignation from state broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk because he felt he wasn’t getting the respect he deserved.He has remained pugnacious throughout his career. He believes in public broadcasting, but he modifies it according to his needs. Television is his prisoner and he does with it as he pleases — knowing full well that there are senior managers at the broadcasters who believe that people like Böhmermann are out to ruin television.

Along the way, he has undergone an astounding transformation. Just four years ago, he was still insisting that he had no interest in politics. That may have been, of course, simply part of his image, but at the time he seemed much more intent on producing complete nonsense. Back then, he said that he sees himself as a comedian and not as a maker of cabaret. Or perhaps performance artist would be more apt.

Racist Clichés

Even Böhmermann’s music videos are political today. A few weeks ago, he filmed one in which he paraded out all the clichés about Germany. It was intended as proof that the recycling-obsessed, outdoor jacket-wearing, nice Germans are in the majority and not those who vote for the right-wing populist, anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany or those who join Islamophobic Pegida protests. It ran under the slogan: “Make Germany great again.” At the point in the video where he calls out to the mob, “You’re not the people, you’re the past,” it’s no longer the character speaking, but Jan Böhmermann himself.

The fact is that he does have a problem with the rise of AfD and Pegida. That becomes apparent when you speak with him privately. He’s very much troubled by German history. That’s why the fact that some consider him to be racist following the Erdogan episode is so deeply upsetting to him.

Yet while Jan Böhmermann’s personal drama is happening quietly behind the scenes, the political game is being played out very publicly. As it unfolds, the Böhmermann affair of state is slowly detaching itself from its protagonist. The satirist is merely the trigger for unfolding events. It is others who are causing it to escalate.

Within days, what began as resentment between two countries has become an outright political disaster. It is one partly triggered by Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, ironically a former ZDF journalist himself.

Following a complaint by the Turkish government, Merkel held a telephone conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The next day, Seibert reported in a press conference that Merkel was of the opinion that Böhmermann’s satire text had been “deliberately hurtful” and that she had described it as such to Davutoglu. It was an unusual thing to say given that Seibert normally blocks questions from journalists about Merkel’s phone calls — and the move was intended to prevent Erdogan from taking legal measures on his own. Four days later, it became clear that this had been a miscalculation.

That’s the day a fax containing an official diplomatic note verbale from the Turkish Foreign Ministry arrived in the legal department of Germany’s Foreign Ministry. In it, the Turkish government announced that it would submit a criminal complaint in Germany against Böhmermann for insulting a foreign head of state under Paragraph 103 of Germany’s Criminal Code, a relic dating back to the era of the Kaiser.

A Lack of Unity

Because such legal proceedings may only be carried out if authorized by the federal government, the ball was now in Merkel’s court and the maneuvering got underway in earnest. In formal terms, a letter from Germany’s Foreign Ministry to the responsible public prosecutor would suffice to get things rolling. But Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) didn’t want to personally take on that level of responsibility. He informed Merkel that he felt this was a matter for the entire German government. The debate went on for days but no consensus developed.

On Monday afternoon, officials from the Chancellery, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry met to brief each other on the latest developments. The meeting — led by Merkel’s foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heusgen, and Stephan Steinlein, Steinmeier’s state secretary — failed to produce any results. In the Chancellery, officials tended to favor allowing the criminal proceedings under Paragraph 103 to go ahead as a way of deferring ultimate judgment to the justice system.

Berlin government officials made the case that a precedent had been set in the case of former Swiss Federal President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was the last person to successfully place a criminal complaint under the law in Germany in 2007. After a Swiss national had posted insults about her on the Internet in Regensburg, Germany, a German court prosecuted the man. Besides, government officials argued, Seibert had already said what the chancellor thought of Böhmermann’s poem. How could they now refuse Erdogan’s demand?

Fear of Turkey?

There is also a feeling in the Chancellery that Germany has shown Turkey the “cold shoulder” in recent years and that there is an opportunity right now to draw the country closer to Europe again. And of course there is also a nightmare scenario: The chancellor fears that Erdogan may scrap the refugee deal with the EU if she doesn’t yield to the Turkish demand.

The treaty is more than just a piece of paper to Merkel — it’s proof that the refugee crisis can be solved with means other than barbed wire. If Erdogan were to scrap the treaty, which was so painstakingly hashed out, it would be a significant defeat for the chancellor.

The Böhmermann scandal also became the source this week of a serious row within the government coalition. The SPD and the conservatives are in no way united on the issue. In contrast to Merkel, Foreign Minister Steinmeier does not want to yield to Erdogan on the issue. Officials in the Foreign Ministry fear that giving in might encourage other foreign government leaders who somehow feel offended to take similar action. “We are skeptical about whether criminal law is the right path here,” one source close to Steinmeier says.

When leaders of the government coalition met up on Wednesday night in the Chancellery, they actually had more important issues to talk about than the Böhmermann affair. Germany’s new integration law was on the agenda as was a reform of the country’s inheritance tax and the Energiewende plan to eliminate nuclear power. But that night, at 12:30 a.m., Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to the CDU, asked Merkel and SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel to private meetings.

Merkel told Seehofer that she wanted to grant Erdogan’s request. Seehofer answered that the German people viewed the deal with Turkey very critically. “Under no circumstances can we allow ourselves to become dependent on Turkey,” he said. But he also said he would not stand in the way of Merkel’s decision as long as she also noted when making it that freedom of the press must also apply in Turkey.

But Merkel proved unable to sway Gabriel during a meeting with him. This led the chancellor to consider once again cancelling the usual Thursday noon press conference in which the results of the coalition committee meeting are presented. Merkel had been concerned that the Böhmermann affair would overshadow everything else. But then she changed her mind. At the press conference, she addressed the Böhmermann scandal only by saying that the government was still reviewing the matter. She didn’t mention a word about the political dispute behind the scenes that had led to the delay.

For Merkel, the Böhmermann scandal is a debacle because it lays bare the shortcomings of her own refugee policies. It was right to negotiate a treaty with Turkey in order to reduce the flow of refugees, and of course this must also entail making some concessions to the Turkish autocrat in Ankara. Global politics, after all, is not an ethics seminar. The problem is that Merkel made it sound as if there were no other way for getting the refugee crisis under control than entrusting herself to a man who has no qualms about exercising any power he has at his disposal.

A Bow to Erdogan

Merkel’s political approach is based on finding consensus to solve problems and breaking even the most difficult aspects of politics down into manageable portions. This also served as her approach in the Böhmermann scandal. She emphasized, of course, that the values of Germany’s constitution are “non-negotiable.” She said: “Journalistic freedom applies to us, but we will also demand it in Turkey.” At the same time, she snubbed Böhmermann’s disparaging poem. It was a bow to Erdogan’s belief that heads of state always know best when it comes to how far satirists should be allowed to go.

On this issue, it will be hard for Merkel to win with anybody. In Germany, she will now be viewed as a chancellor who has a wavering stance on artistic freedom. With a bit of good will, one might be able to accept the decision as having been a necessity in terms of realpolitik. But realpolitik must also be measured against the results it produces. In this case, Merkel’s efforts at rapprochement with a man who seems to view his country as more of a sultanate than a democracy did little to prevent Erdogan from taking action against Böhmermann. To the contrary: It appears that her actions encouraged him to tap all the avenues available to the Turkish leader in the German Penal Code to launch a legal challenge against Böhmermann for insulting him, including personally filing a criminal complaint, which he has also done. The move ensured that the public prosecutor would have to investigate the case even if the federal government made the decision not to pursue it.

The provocation actually serves Erdogan because it will enable him to close his ranks even further. The more effort his critics make in poking fun of him, it seems, the more solid support among his backers grows. His efforts to snub his opponents are a targeted political instrument that Erdogan frequently deploys in a way that fits well with his quick-tempered character.

Still, Turkey has a tradition of satire and it still exists in the country. There isn’t just one Böhmermann-like case in Turkey, there are hundreds. The situation there for satirists is so dire that most Turkish humorists don’t want to talk publicly about the conditions under which they are currently forced to work.

“Today I talk and tomorrow I’ll be buried,” says one, who prefers to remain anonymous. “It’s enough that we risk our lives with our texts and drawings. We don’t have to talk to the media as well.”

For Merkel, the Böhmermann affair comes at a bad time, just as the refugee deal with Turkey — a deal which she is almost entirely responsible for putting together — is beginning to gain traction. On Wednesday of this week, European Council President Donald Tusk spoke before European Parliament in Strasbourg, noting that the numbers of migrants coming to Greece from Turkey across the Aegean Sea has dropped significantly. In January, he said, it was 70,000 people, in March it was just 30,000 and in April, just 1,000 people have arrived thus far. “How many would have come in April if we had not taken action?” he asked.the European Parliament in Strasbourg, noting that the numbers of migrants coming to Greece from Turkey across the Aegean Sea has dropped significantly. In January, he said, it was 70,000 people, in March it was just 30,000 and in April, just 1,000 people have arrived thus far. “How many would have come in April if we had not taken action?” he asked.

Top Commission officials who are critical of the deal also admit that Turkey has at least partially upheld its end of the bargain and that the number of refugees heading for Greece is dropping.

But there are problems. According to Amnesty International reports, Turkey has sent up to 100 Syrians back into Syria every day this year. “Is this true? And if this is true, can we continue with a deal that is against international law and against our obligations?” asked Guy Verhofstadt, floor leader for the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, in Strasbourg. His party believes Erdogan is using the deal to force Europe to back away from its values.

“We have already given him the keys to the gates of Europe and now we risk handing over the keys to our newsrooms to him so that he decides and controls our media,” Verhofstadt said. Böhmermann’s skit, he said, is “not my taste in humor, but in a free society such satirical poems must be possible. That is the price we pay for our freedom, and we pay happily for our freedom.”

With his skit, the artist Jan Böhmermann has created a monument to himself. And even if hardly anyone has been able to see the Erdogan number in its entirety, it already belongs in the German Historical Museum.

By Markus Brauck, Jörg Diehl, Dietmar Hipp, Isabell Hülsen, Hasnain Kazim, Alexander Kühn, Nils Minkmar, Martin U. Müller, Peter Müller, Ann-Katrin Nezik, René Pfister, Fidelius Schmid and Christoph Schult.



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