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TBR News April 26, 2018

Apr 26 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. April 26, 2018:” Once very small, the Muslim population of the US increased greatly in the twentieth century, with much of the growth driven by rising immigration and conversion. In 2005, more people from Islamic countries became legal permanent United States residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades.

Recent immigrant Muslims make up the majority of the total Muslim population. South Asians Muslims from India and Pakistan and Arabs make up the biggest group of Muslims in America at 60-65% of the population. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison, and in large urban areas  has also contributed to its growth over the years. American Muslims come from various backgrounds, and are one of the most racially diverse religious group in the United States.”

 

Table of Contents

  • Facebook hosted stolen Social Security numbers for years: report
  • Rand Paul, Pompeo, and the Koch Connection
  • Kiev threatens Russia with ‘full-scale conflict’ if gas transit to Europe through Ukraine stops
  • Bravo, Emmanuel Macron!
  • Trump Talks Tough Against Iran, But His Political Options Are Limited
  • Donald Trump and the Next Crash
  • The Lies Behind America’s Interventions
  • Facebook accused of bullying by MPs
  • Michael Cohen: Trump’s lawyer to plead Fifth Amendment in Daniels case
  • White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdraws from VA nomination
  • May dealt new Brexit defeat in upper house of parliament

 

Facebook hosted stolen Social Security numbers for years: report

April 24, 2018

by Ali Breland

The Hill

Facebook hosted data posted by cyber criminals including stolen identities and Social Security numbers for years, according to Motherboard.

The outlet, a subsidiary of Vice Media, was able to find such data through a Google search that revealed a number of public posts on Facebook containing sensitive personal information.

Motherboard successfully verified some of the identities and Social Security numbers posted on Facebook, some of which had been on Facebook since 2014.

“We work hard to keep your account secure and safeguard your personal information. Posts containing information like Social Security numbers or credit card information are not allowed on Facebook, and we remove this material when we become aware of it,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Motherboard.

The discovery comes one week after security journalist Brian Krebs found over 100 cyber crime Facebook groups where members exchanged hacked or stolen data.

The unearthing of such content on Facebook raises further questions about its ability to proactively police destructive use of its platform.

Lawmakers have skewered the site over the past year for becoming a tool by which Russian trolls attempted to manipulate U.S. politics and hammered Facebook’s data privacy practices that resulted in a British research firm hired by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, improperly harvesting the data of 87 million Facebook users.

 

 

Rand Paul, Pompeo, and the Koch Connection

Plus other stuff

April 26, 2018

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

Among the least convincing explanations ever: Sen. Rand Paul’s rationalization for changing his vote on the Pompeo nomination. When pressed, the Senator admits there were no real promises made, just a “general” sense that “we’re going to see less of these wars” after Mike Pompeo takes the helm of State. His fans were not impressed.

Adding annoyance to animadversion, it turned out that Sen. Paul’s vote wasn’t even the decisive one: two Democrats voted for Pompeo, and so his turnabout wasn’t just confusing to his base but also unnecessary.

On the other hand, the Senator made a point of insisting that the man at the head of our Department of State recognized what everyone but a few neocon dead-enders admit: that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a disastrous mistake. This point cannot be made often enough, and it does need to be emphasized – because people forget. Indeed, half the reporters running around Washington hadn’t reached puberty by the time George W. Bush launched what was supposed to be the Cakewalk War.

And while Rand’s libertarian critics and others may take him to task for waffling, his real enemies – and ours – understand the propaganda value of what he did around the Pompeo nomination. The Weekly Standard – I would argue the one publication most responsible for getting us into the Iraq war – ran a piece attacking Sen. Paul for “Randstanding,” a phrase they apparently hope to popularize. These unrepentant neocons argue that Pompeo’s hawkish views fall “within the mainstream of the Republican party,” but they don’t realize that the “mainstream” is flowing in a very different direction these days. Surely Rand’s insistence that the Secretary of State agree with his President’s view of the Iraq war was hardly a bridge too far for Pompeo to cross.

Rank-and-file libertarians may be perturbed by Sen. Paul’s decision to go with Pompeo, but the libertarians’ very own version of George Soros probably has a different reaction. Yes, Pompeo is an inhabitant of KochWorld: not for nothing was he known as “the congressman from Koch.” Which makes one wonder….

Charles Koch, who now calls himself a “classical liberal,” just gave a huge endowment to a foreign policy studies program that includes a comprehensive critique of interventionist policies. While some elements over at the Cato Institute have lately echoed the Russophobic nonsense that is de rigueur in Washington, historically the organizations of KochWorld have been hostile to the War Party. So maybe there’s something to Sen. Paul’s contention that Pompeo’s reign at State will coincide with a more pacific foreign policy. That fits in with rumors that the “America First” faction is back in the President’s good graces – but then again this remains to be seen.

So far, however, the skeptics are right: Rand got next to nothing for his vote, except the satisfaction of hearing himself talk – which may be all the satisfaction he requires.

Rue Britannia!

While I have no intention of taking a position here on the Alfie Evans case, which is roiling Britain and much of the rest of the world, I have to note that when the police start posting tweets like this something is very seriously wrong. I’ve long noted the authoritarian tendencies that have slowly but surely become dominant in Britain, but when they start handing out sentences of eight months in prison for giving a police camera the finger one has to wonder if our cousins on the wrong side of the Atlantic have completely lost it.

Down Mexico Way

Yes, nationalism is on the rise all around the world, including in Mexico, where the anti-Trump sentiment is high and so are Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s poll numbers. Obrador, the Hugo Chavez of Mexico, who openly admires Fidel Castro, is at 45 percent in the polls, far ahead of the other five or six candidates: the country will hold a presidential election on July 1.

Obrador is a veteran of the Mexican left, who ran for the presidency and lost out twice (in cliffhangers where the fragrance of fraud was particularly strong) and is hoping the third attempt will give him the victory. He has vowed to take on President Trump, defy the United States on immigration, put the poor first, and also promised to restore order in a country that often seems on the verge of a meltdown.

As the drug cartels begin to seriously challenge the Mexican state’s monopoly on the use of force, Obrador is advocating an amnesty for those in the drug trade. As he put it in the first of three presidential debates: “You can’t fight violence with violence.” Obrador is a “root causes” kind of guy, but how an increasingly intimidated populace will react to his proposal is not at all clear: the other candidates were quick to jump on the idea as evidence that the frontrunner wants to hand the country over to “criminals.”

Whether he’s making a serious proposal or just engaging in empty talk, this left-wing south of the border populist-nationalist is probably going to win – and will therefore become a prominent voice of international Anti-Trumpism, alongside Bill Kristol, Madonna, and the Democratic National Committee. In which case one wonders how long before we see some action at our southern border on a scale we haven’t witnessed since the days of Pancho Villa.

Korea!

The big news this week is the summit of the two Koreas, a meeting this Friday between South Korean President Moon Jai-in and North Korean El Supremo Kim Jong-un. While the Western pundit class disdains Trump’s peace initiative (partly because they don’t understand that it didn’t originate with Trump), longtime Korea hand Tim Shorrock, who’s been covering the region for thirty-some years, has an analysis worth reading:

“Since the first news emerged of Pompeo’s trip [to Pyongyang] and Kim’s concessions, the reporters who cover North Korea for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other mainstream outlets sought out their regular ‘expert’ sources from think tanks and previous administrations to pour cold water on the idea that North Korea has offered anything substantial to either South Korea or the United States. What emerged was another classic ‘Washington Consensus’ on a key foreign-policy issue, led by people who have often been wrong on Korea.”

 

Kiev threatens Russia with ‘full-scale conflict’ if gas transit to Europe through Ukraine stops

April 26, 2018

RT

Kiev has warned Moscow of ‘geopolitical consequences’ if Gazprom ceases gas transits through the territory of Ukraine.

“If there is no transit through the territory of Ukraine, then the likelihood of a full-scale conflict between Russia and Ukraine is also increasing. European politicians need to understand not only the economic consequences for Ukraine, but also geopolitical consequences for the whole world,” the commercial director at Ukraine’s main gas company Naftogaz Yuri Vitrenko told the 112 Ukraine TV channel.

The gas-transit contract between Kiev and Moscow expires in 2019. Gazprom said on Tuesday that the contract will not be extended under any circumstances. The company added that the gas transit may remain, but only if Ukraine provides the necessary conditions for it.

“Now the ball is on the Ukrainian side. It should justify the economic attractiveness and the possibility of transit through Ukraine,” said Gazprom Deputy Chairman of the Management Committee Aleksandr Medvedev.

Russia wants to significantly cut its gas transit through Ukraine and re-direct it through the extension of the existing Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Moscow says Kiev has proved itself an unreliable partner in gas transits over the years. Some of the gas to Europe could also come through the Turkish Stream pipeline, currently under construction.

When the two pipelines are completed, transit through Ukraine is expected to fall by more than 80 percent, according to Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller. He added that Gazprom does not intend to help neighboring countries restore their economies at its own expense.

 

Bravo, Emmanuel Macron!

In the strange current reality of Washington, Macron’s state visit was a success. His rousing speech in Congress showed that a personal bond won’t keep him from standing up to Trump’s policies

April 25, 2016

by Michael Knigge

DW

Emmanuel Macron’s extended visit to the United States consisted of two parts. The first mostly featured discussions between Macron and Donald Trump, who had invited his French counterpart to come to Washington for the first state visit by a foreign dignitary during his presidency. Macron, while seizing opportunities to explain policy differences, was largely deferential to his host.

Like other leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel before him, Macron was not spared the “Trump treatment.” The president flicked what he said was dandruff off Macron’s suit, saying he wanted to make him “more pretty.” Trump also gave the French president an air kiss and was his usual blustery self.

Trump’s shenanigans

In public remarks before and during a joint press conference, Trump did not appear to budge on any of Macron’s key issues: the continuation of the Iran nuclear deal, a continued US role in Syria beyond the defeat of the Islamic State, the need to address climate change, and a complete end to the threats of US tariffs against European Union countries. Macron took it all in stride, and managed to hide any embarrassment he may have felt at Trump’s slapstick-like shenanigans and the US president’s blunt rebuke of his political goals.

After witnessing the first part of the visit, one could have got the impression that Trump was not treating Macron as an equal. It was also difficult not to feel  some sympathy for Macron, because after showering his younger counterpart with nice-sounding compliments, showing him George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, and staging a pompous state dinner for him at the White House, Trump then publicly bashed all his proposals. The best answer Macron could get out of Trump was his standard “we will know soon” remark.

Rejection of Trump’s GOP in Congress

But then came the second act of Macron’s visit: his address before a joint session of Congress. In that speech, held in English, an anomaly for a French president, Macron offered nothing less than an outright repudiation of the policies Trump stands for, as well as the tactics that brought him to power. Macron delivered an impassioned plea for democracy, freedom, tolerance, human rights and international cooperation, in a strong defense of embattled Western values.

That Macron did so in the heart of America’s democracy — in front of a Republican-controlled Congress that with few GOP exceptions has backed a president who has often shunned or is indifferent to those values — gave his speech additional weight.

But can Macron’s visit still be considered a success, even though it seems unlikely that he will have swayed Trump’s stance on key issues?

Yes, for two reasons

Firstly, because in Trump’s Washington one has to be grateful for the wins one gets. After Trump’s surprising election victory there was only half-joking talk in the US capital that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban could get the nod for the first state dinner. This was not far-fetched speculation. Remember, the first foreign politician to visit President-elect Trump was Brexit mastermind Nigel Farage. And remember that just this week Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “very honorable.”

So in that context, the invitation being extended to Macron, the leader of a traditional US ally but also a key member and defender of the EU, was never a given. Indeed, it is a remarkable success for both him and Brussels.

Secondly, Macron used his trip, particularly his Congressional speech, to outline and defend Western values and EU unity. By doing so emotionally and eloquently, he detailed a vision for the world that can be described as an antidote to Trump’s worldview. Highlighting such an alternative was both highly welcome and very necessary.

 

Trump Talks Tough Against Iran, But His Political Options Are Limited

April 24, 2018

Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

A crisis in relations between the US and Iran – which has the potential to produce a military confrontation in the Middle East – is building rapidly in the expectation that President Donald Trump will withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal in just over two weeks’ time.

Mr Trump is demanding that Iran effectively renegotiate the terms of the agreement which traded the suspension of US economic sanctions for a stop to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The White House sounds as if it has already decided to exit the agreement, which Mr Trump persistently denounced before and after his election as “the worst deal in the world”.

But he has put forward no alternative to what was successfully negotiated by President Barack Obama in 2015 other than a series of demands with which Iran is unlikely to comply, and appear designed to put the blame for the US action on Iran.

US officials admit that Iran has so far abided by the terms of the 2015 accord.

A more openly confrontational posture by the US towards Iran would achieve very little, unless Washington replaces the attempt to achieve its ends by diplomacy with sustained military action. Iran is already on the winning side in the wars that have raged in Iraq since 2003 and in Syria since 2011.

It is closely allied to the Iraqi and Syrian governments and to reverse the balance of power in the region, the US would have revert to sustained military intervention on the scale of the Iraq War, something Mr Trump has always opposed.

Iran may have already decided that the deal cannot be saved. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani warned Mr Trump on Tuesday that the US must stay within its terms which Tehran signed with other great powers or face “severe consequences”.

Mr Rouhani said in a live broadcast on state television that: “I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will firmly react.”

The Iranian leader did not say what this reaction would be, but the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the weekend that it was “highly unlikely” that Iran would remain in the agreement – to which Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain are also signatories – if the US pulled out.

He added that Iran might immediately begin enriching uranium, but it would not develop a nuclear device.

European leaders are trying to save the deal which Mr Trump has denounced as full of “terrible flaws”, but this will prove difficult without radical concessions which Iran has rejected. These include stopping Iran’s ballistic missile programme, extending the terminal date of the agreement, and more intrusive inspections by nuclear inspectors.

No decision in Washington is final until it is announced by Mr Trump himself – and often not even then – but the promotion of officials with a record of hostility to the agreement suggests that it cannot be rescued. Mr Trump has said publicly that he sacked his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, because he wanted to stay with the Iran agreement negotiated by President Obama.

His replacement, Mike Pompeo, is a long-term foe of the accord, once claiming that 2,000 bombing sorties would be enough to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability. “This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces,” he said.

President Emanuel Macron is in Washington on a state visit, trying to save the agreement by making it more palatable to the White House. He will be followed in the US at the end of the week by the German chancellor Angela Merkel, while Theresa May will probably express her views by telephone.

All three leaders will try to reconcile Mr Trump to not leaving the accord and their arguments will revolve around supplementary sanctions and other measures targeting the Iranian ballistic missile programme and Iran’s allies abroad such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The European leaders’ mission may not be entirely hopeless: in confrontations over Syria and North Korea, Mr Trump’s belligerent rhetoric has been followed by more carefully calculated action.

His opening stance is normally bombastic and uncompromising in order to intimidate the other side into making concessions. It does not necessarily have to be taken at face value. But this periodic moderation may not come into play in the case of Iran, towards which he has been uncompromisingly hostile, claiming that it is the hidden power behind “terrorist” activity in the Middle East.

The White House is in a position to hurt Iran economically by re-imposing economic sanctions, not that these were ever really lifted after 2015, but US political options are more limited. It may talk about regime change in Tehran, but is not in a position to do much about it.

There is a further US weakness: the US, often prompted by Israel, and Saudi Arabia, has a track record of underestimating the extent to which Iran, as the largest Shia Muslim power, plays a leading role in a coalition of states – Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – because of the predominant influence of the Shia in these countries. It is very difficult to defeat Iran there – the northern tier of the Middle East – but it is in this region that the US has chosen over the years to try to roll back Iranian influence.

The balance of power between Iran and its enemies is going to be difficult to shift whatever Mr Trump decides about the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

 

Donald Trump and the Next Crash

Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster

April 26, 2018

by Nomi Prins

Tom Dispatch

Warning: What you are about to read is not about Russia, the 2016 election, or the latest person to depart from the White House in a storm of tweets. It’s the Beltway story hiding in plain sight with trillions of dollars in play and an economy to commandeer.

While we’ve been bombarded with a litany of scandals from the Oval Office and the Trump family, there’s a crucial institution in Washington that few in the media seem to be paying attention to, even as President Trump quietly makes it his own. More obscure than the chambers of the Supreme Court, it’s a place where he has already made substantial changes. I’m talking about the Federal Reserve.

As the central bank of the United States, the “Fed” sets the financial tone for the global economy by manipulating interest rate levels. This impacts everyone, yet very few grasp the scope of its influence.

During times of relative economic calm, the Fed is regularly forgotten. But what history shows us is that having leaders who are primed to neglect Wall Street’s misdoings often sets the scene for economic dangers to come. That’s why nominees to the Fed are so crucial.

We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come — even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence.

The president’s latest two nominees to that institution’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.

Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed’s Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams — the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street — as part of the most powerful trio at that institution.

Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort.  Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but.

As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.

History Warns Us

At a time when inequality, economic hardship, and household and personal debt levels are escalating and wages are not, why should any of this matter to the rest of us? The answer is simple enough: because the Fed sets the level of interest rates and so the cost of money. This, in turn, indirectly impacts the value of the dollar, which means everything you buy.

Since the financial crisis, the Fed has kept the cost of borrowing money for banks at near zero percent interest. That allowed those banks to borrow money to buy their own stock (as did many corporations) to inflate their value but not, of course, the value of their service to Main Street.

When money is cheap because interest rates are low or near zero, the beneficiaries are those with the most direct access to it. That means, of course, that the biggest banks, members of the Fed since its inception, get the largest chunks of fabricated money and pay the least amount of interest for it.

Although during the election campaign of 2016 Trump chastised the Fed for its cheap-money policies, he’s since evidently changed his mind (which is, of course, very Trumpian of him). That’s because he knows that the lower the cost of money is, the easier it is for major companies to borrow it. Easy money means easy speculation for Wall Street and its main corporate clients, which sooner or later will be a threat to the rest of us.

The era of trade wars, soaring stock markets, and Trump gaffes may feel like it’s gone on forever. Don’t forget, though, that there was a moment not so long ago when the same banking policies still reigning caused turmoil, ripping through the country and devouring the finances of so many. It’s worth recalling for a moment what happened during the Great Meltdown of 2008, when unrestrained mega-banks ravaged the economy before being bailed out. In the midst of the current market ecstasy, it’s an easy past to ignore. That’s why Trump’s takeover of the Fed and its impact on the financial system matters so much.

Let’s recall that, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers crashed. That bank, like Goldman Sachs a former employer of mine, had been around for more than 150 years. Its collapse was a key catalyst in a spiral of disaster that nearly decimated the world financial system. It wasn’t the bankruptcy that did it, however, but the massive amount of money the surviving banks had already lent Lehman to buy the toxic assets they created.

Around the same time, Merrill Lynch, a competitor of Lehman’s, was sold to Bank of America for $50 billion and American International Group (AIG) received $182 billion in government assistance. JPMorgan Chase had already bought Bear Stearns, which had crashed six months earlier, utilizing a $29 billion government and Federal Reserve security blanket in the process.

In the wake of Lehman’s bankruptcy, $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies from the Federal Reserve and Congress were offered mostly to Wall Street’s biggest banks. That flow of money allowed them to return from the edge of financial disaster. At the same time, it fueled the stock and bond markets, as untethered from economic realities as the hot air balloon in The Wizard of Oz.

After nearly tripling since the post-financial crisis spring of 2009, last year the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose magically again by nearly 24%. Why? Because despite all of his swamp-draining campaign talk, Trump embraced the exact same bank-coddling behavior as President Obama. He advocated the Fed’s cheap-money policy and hired Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and Wall Street’s special friend, as his Treasury secretary. He doubled down on rewarding ongoing malfeasance and fraud by promoting the deregulation of the banks, as if Wall Street’s greed and high appetite for risk had vanished.

Impending Signs of Crisis

A quarter of the way into 2018, shadows of 2008 are already emerging. Only two months ago, the Dow logged its worst single-day point decline in history before bouncing back with vigor. In the meantime, the country whose banks caused the last crisis faces record consumer and corporate debt levels and a vulnerable geopolitical global landscape.

True, the unemployment rate is significantly lower than it was at the height of the financial crisis, but for Main Street, growth hasn’t been quite so apparent. About one in five U.S. jobs still pays a median income below the federal poverty line. Median household income is only up 5.3% since 2008 and remains well below where it was in 1998, if you adjust for inflation. Workforce participation remains nearly as low as it’s ever been. Meanwhile, the top 1% of American earners saw their incomes go up by leaps and bounds since the Fed started manufacturing money — to more than 40 times that of the bottom 90%.

Just as before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, there’s a scary level of confidence among politicians and regulators that neither the economy nor the banking sector could possibly go bust. Even the new Federal Reserve chair views the possible need for bailouts as a relic of a bygone time. As he said at his confirmation hearing, “Generally speaking I think the financial system is quite strong.” When asked if there are any U.S. banks that are still too big to fail, he responded, “I would say no to that.”

That’s a pretty decisive statement, and not strikingly different from one outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen made last year. By extension, it means that Trump’s new chairman supports laxer structures for the big banks and more cheap money, if needed, to help them. So watch out.

When a crisis hits, liquidity dies, and banks close their doors to the public. Ultimately, the same formula for crisis will surely send Wall Street executives crawling back to the government for aid and then Donald Trump will find out what financial negligence truly is.

A Time of Crisis and Financial Collusion

As signs of crisis emerge, few in Washington have delved into how we can ensure that a systemic crash does not happen again. That’s why I’ll never forget the strange message I got one day. It was in the middle of May 2015, about a year after my book, All the Presidents’ Bankers, had been published, when I received an email from the Federal Reserve. Every year, the Fed, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank hold an annual conference where the most elite central bankers from around the globe assemble. To my shock, since I hadn’t exactly written in a kindly fashion about the Fed, I was being invited to speak at the opening session about why Wall Street wasn’t helping Main Street.

Two months later, I found myself sitting in front of a room filled with central bankers from around the world, listening to Fed Chair Janet Yellen proclaim that the worst of the crisis and its causes were behind us. In response, the first thing I asked that distinguished crowd was this: “Do you want to know why big Wall Street banks aren’t helping Main Street as much as they could?” The room was silent. I paused before answering, “Because you never required them to.”

I added, “The biggest six U.S. banks have been rewarded with an endless supply of cheap money in bailouts and loans for their dangerous behavior. They have been given open access to these funds with no major consequences, and no rules on how they should utilize the Fed’s largess to them to help the real economy. Why should you expect their benevolence?”

After I returned home, I became obsessed with uncovering just how the bailouts and loans of that moment were only the tip of an iceberg, the sort of berg that had once taken down the Titanic — how that cheap money fabricated for Wall Street had been no isolated American incident.

What my research for my new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, revealed was how central bankers and massive financial institutions have worked together to manipulate global markets for the past decade. Major central banks gave themselves a blank check with which to resurrect problematic banks; purchase government, mortgage, and corporate bonds; and in some cases — as in Japan and Switzerland — stocks, too. They have not had to explain to the public where those funds were going or why. Instead, their policies have inflated asset bubbles, while coddling private banks and corporations under the guise of helping the real economy.

The zero-interest-rate and bond-buying central bank policies prevailing in the U.S., Europe, and Japan have been part of a coordinated effort that has plastered over potential financial instability in the largest countries and in private banks. It has, in turn, created asset bubbles that could explode into an even greater crisis the next time around.

So, today, we stand near — how near we don’t yet know — the edge of a dangerous financial precipice. The risks posed by the largest of the private banks still exist, only now they’re even bigger than they were in 2007-2008 and operating in an arena of even more debt. In Donald Trump’s America, what this means is that the same dangerous policies are still being promoted today. The difference now is that the president is appointing members to the Fed who will only increase the danger of those risks for years to come.

A crash could prove to be President Trump’s worst legacy. Not only is he — and the Fed he’s helping to create — not paying attention to the alarm bells (ignored by the last iteration of the Fed as well), but he’s ensured that none of his appointees will either. After campaigning hard against the ills of global finance in the 2016 election campaign and promising a modern era Glass-Steagall Act to separate bank deposits from the more speculative activities on Wall Street, Trump’s policy reversals and appointees leave our economy more exposed than ever.

When politicians and regulators are asleep at the wheel, it’s the rest of us who will suffer sooner or later. Because of the collusion that’s gone on and continues to go on among the world’s main central banks, that problem is now an international one.

 

The Lies Behind America’s Interventions

No one wants to be manipulated into war. So why do we keep letting it happen?

April 25, 2018

by Jon Basil Utley

The American Conservative

Official Washington and those associated with it have misrepresented the facts numerous times in the service of military actions that might not otherwise have taken place. In the Middle East, these interventions have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Arab civilians, brought chaos to Iraq and Libya, and led to the expulsion of a million Christians from communities where they have lived since biblical times.

The most famous of these episodes, of course, was the U.S. government’s assurance to the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which formed the basis for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The government also insisted Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda, bolstering the call to war. Of course neither was true.

But even before that there was the first Iraq war in 1991, justified in part by the story of Iraqi soldiers reportedly dumping babies out of incubators to die in a Kuwaiti hospital. The 15-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador cleverly lied to a set-up congressional committee. The Christian Science Monitor detailed this bizarre episode in 2002.

There were also the lies about the Iraqi army being poised to invade Saudi Arabia. That was the ostensible reason for the U.S. sending troops to Kuwait—to defend Saudi Arabia. Writing in the the Los Angeles Times in 2003, Independent Institute fellow Victor Marshall pointed out that neither the CIA nor the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency viewed an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia as probable, and said the administration’s Iraqi troop estimates were “grossly exaggerated.” In fact, the administration’s claim that it had aerial photographs proving its assertions was never verified because, as we later learned, the photos never existed. The Christian Science Monitor also reported on this in 2002 ahead of the second Iraq war.

America attacked Iraq in 1991, bombing and destroying that nation’s irrigation, sanitation, and electricity plants. (See here regarding Washington’s knowledge of and planning for the horrific mass contamination of Iraqi drinking water.) Then we blockaded reconstruction supplies for nine years while some half-million children died of disease and starvation. We blamed it all on Saddam, although we controlled Iraq’s money flows through the UN food-for-oil program. Fortunately, we have a rare admission by Madeleine Albright on 60 Minutes about what was done.

Before that, there was the Kosovo war when America attacked Serbia on the basis of lies that 100,000 Kosovans had been massacred by Serbs in suppressing their civil war. This led to massive American bombing, brutally destroying much of that nation’s civilian infrastructure and factories, including most of the bridges in the country, and all but one of those over the Danube River. The Americans imposed peace, then expelled most Serbs out of their former province. Subsequently there was the mass destruction of hundreds of ancient Christian churches and the creation of a European enclave now filled with Saudi money that sponsors Wahhabi education, with its rote memorization of the Koran and its 13th-century hatred of Christians.

More recently there was the British, French, and American attack on Libya in response to lies that Moammar Gaddafi was planning to massacre civilians in Benghazi. The U.S. destroyed his armed forces and helped to overthrow him. Widespread looting of his weaponry subsequently filled black markets in Asia and Africa and contributed to the ability of Boko Haram terrorists to sow chaos in Nigeria and parts of Northern Africa. Masses of African refugees have been flooding Western Europe ever since, traveling through Libya. Some of those weapons also made their way into the hands of the Islamic State, which overran parts of Iraq and Syria.

Most recently we had cable news inundating us with stories of a new poison gas attack in Syria. The “news” came from rebel sources. The American Conservative has published a detailed analysis by former arms inspector Scott Ritter questioning the evidence, or lack of it, that the Assad regime initiated the attack. The former British ambassador to Syria also cast doubts on the poison gas attack and its sources from rebel organizations.

It doesn’t make sense that Assad would use poison gas just as Trump was saying that he wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. It does make sense for the rebels to have staged a set up to get America to stay and attack Assad. This happened before in the summer of 2014 when President Obama nearly went to war over similar accusations. Only after asking Congress to vote on the matter did he decide against the attack because Congress wasn’t interested. Some congressmen’s mail was running 100-to-one against bombing. It was a welcome reminder of why Washington doesn’t want actual votes on starting wars: because most Americans don’t want more Washington wars.

Investigative journalists Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry expertly poked holes in the veracity of that 2013 attack. Other reports suggested that Syrian bombs unleashed poison gas the rebels had been storing in civilian areas. The New York Times finally published in December 2013 a detailed report that expressed doubts about its earlier conclusion that the 2013 “red line” gassing was carried out definitively by the Syrian military. False flag operations to goad America into war, it seems, can be successful.

After all the hundreds of thousands of innocents abroad killed by America and the human misery caused because of clever U.S. and foreign manipulations, one would think we might pause before attacking Syria and running the risk of killing Russians who are advising the Syrians. That could ignite an entirely new kind of war with a nuclear-armed Russia—all without congressional approval.

Obama, whose policies were predicated on the view that Assad must go, seemed to think Syrians would live happily after in some magically sprouting democracy. To believe this one would have to ignore the prior examples of Iraq and Libya. Nor do these war party advocates seem in the least concerned about the 10 percent of Syria’s population who are Christians, many of whom would surely by massacred after any overthrow of Assad.

Further, the so-called Free Syrian Army is a hodgepodge of rebel groups that include many Islamist radicals. With funding from fundamentalist Saudis and Turkey, they took over from more liberal forces early on. It’s worth noting also that Turkey provided the black market for ISIS to sell Syria’s captured oil.

Going back a hundred years there were the clever British lies that helped coax America into joining the Allies in World War I. England controlled the trans-Atlantic cables and most of our “news” about the war. That intervention resulted in the Treaty of Versailles instead of a compromise peace between Germany and England/France that would have prevented the wreckage of Europe out of which came the rise of communism and Nazism.

For an analysis of the risks of accidental nuclear war, see my 2017 January Publisher’s Report, in which I once wrote about how Osama bin Laden’s ultimate aim was to get Russia and America to destroy each other. It still could happen, triggered by false atrocity stories, cable TV’s 24-hour hyping of any and every threat, and Washington’s propensity to believe lies—and sometimes perpetrate them—to promote wars.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.

 

Facebook accused of bullying by MPs

April 26, 2018

BBC News

MPs have accused Facebook of “bullying” the Guardian newspaper when it informed the company about a major data breach.

Chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer was asked why Facebook had threatened to sue the newspaper over its story about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

He was also asked why it did not immediately inform users that their data had been used without consent.

“It was a mistake that we didn’t inform people at the time,” he said.

On the issue of bullying, he said: “I am sorry that journalists think we are preventing them getting the truth out.”

There were a series of questions put to Mr Schroepfer to which he replied: “I don’t know.”

He admitted that the company had not known until recently that a current Facebook employee had been the business partner of Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge academic who designed the app that harvested user data on behalf of Cambridge Analytica.

He also revealed that no-one at Facebook had read the terms and conditions that Dr Kogan had put on the app he had designed, which went on to harvest information from millions of users.

At one point, MPs voiced their frustration with his replies. “You are the chief technology officer, why don’t you know?” he was asked.

User controls

Mr Schroepfer was also grilled on the wider issue of political advertising.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s chairman Damian Collins accused Facebook of having tools on its platform that “work for the advertiser more than they work for the consumer”.

Mr Schroepfer promised to make political advertising far more transparent in the future but admitted that there was currently no way for people to opt out of it entirely.

“You can mute an ad from a specific advertiser, and there are a set of controls of your basic interests and preferences that you can change or remove.”

“That puts a lot of work on the user,” replied Mr Collins.

His questions to Mr Schroepfer were tough from the outset.

“What is the next car you will buy, what is the square footage of your house?” asked Mr Collins in his opening question.

“I don’t know,” replied Mr Schroepfer.

“But these are things that Facebook knows about us, isn’t it?” pressed Mr Collins.

Mr Schroepfer said he thought it “unlikely” that Facebook had that level of data about his life.

“It knows I like coffee and there are certain things that I am interested in like technology, travel and cats,” he said.

Mr Collins asked whether the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-based troll farm that churned out fake news during the US presidential campaign, had used Facebook’s targeting tools.

“I don’t know specifically,” said Mr Schroepfer.

“It is a terrible idea that a nation state is using our product to interfere in a democratic election by masquerading as citizens of the US. We were slow to understand the impact of this,” he said.

MPs had wanted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before them, but he declined.

 

Michael Cohen: Trump’s lawyer to plead Fifth Amendment in Daniels case

April 26, 2018

BBC News

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has said he will invoke his constitutional right to remain silent in a civil case brought by adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

It is part of an effort to delay the suit brought by Ms Daniels, who says she had sex with Donald Trump in 2006.

She is seeking to end a non-disclosure deal signed over the matter.

Mr Cohen argues any statement he makes in court could affect a criminal inquiry into his business affairs.

Lawyers for Mr Cohen and Mr Trump have asked for the Daniels case to be put on hold in Los Angeles for 90 days.

As part of that investigation, the FBI raided his offices for information, including on the non-disclosure agreement Ms Daniels signed days before the 2016 presidential election.

What does Trump say?

On Thursday, Mr Trump told Fox News his lawyer is “a good guy”, but only one among his “many, many attorneys”.

“He represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” he said.

“I don’t know his business, but this doesn’t have to do with me.

“He’s got a business. He also practises law.

“I would say probably the big thing is his business. And they’re looking at something having to do with his business.

“I have nothing to do with with his business”, he continued.

What is the Fifth Amendment?

The Fifth Amendment to the US constitution states that no individual can be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.

Invoking the amendment means Mr Cohen will not have to reveal sensitive information in the wider investigation into his affairs.

A lawyer for Ms Daniels, Michael Avenatti, described Mr Cohen’s move as a “stunning development”.

Who else has pleaded the Fifth?

It was famously used in the 1950s by many of those forced to appear before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s committee investigating communist activities.

The best-known example was the “Hollywood 10” – a group of screenwriters and directors who, when accused of being members of the Communist Party, used it in protest at what they perceived as Mr McCarthy’s bullying. The committee decided their actions were illegal and jailed them for contempt.

During the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan admitted the US had secretly sold arms to Iran and siphoned off the profits to fund “contra” rebels trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s socialist government.

One figure to emerge was Lt Col Oliver North, who repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about his involvement in the affair.

He was given a three-year suspended sentence, but was later pardoned.

The Fifth also played a role in one of America’s most notorious murder trials, when Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman, a key prosecution witness in the OJ Simpson trial, controversially used it after tapes showing him using racist language were played by the media.

Mr Fuhrman was forced to invoke the amendment three times on whether he had used racist language about ethnic minorities, angering the jury.

Why is Mr Cohen being investigated?

The raid on Mr Cohen followed a tip-off by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Russia denies interfering in the election and Mr Trump has denied any collusion.

Separately, Ms Daniels – real name Stephanie Clifford – alleges she had a sexual relationship with Mr Trump in 2006.

Mr Trump has denied having sex with Ms Daniels or any knowledge of the $130,000 (£92,000) payment to Ms Daniels by Mr Cohen during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Ms Daniels accepted the sum in return for signing the non-disclosure agreement.

During a recent television interview, she said she had been threatened in 2011 in a Las Vegas car park while she was with her infant daughter, and had been told to keep quiet about her alleged relationship with Mr Trump.

Ms Daniels is now suing the president in an attempt to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement, which she alleges is invalid because he did not sign it personally.

Legal analysts have said that Mr Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels could have violated the rules on financing Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

 

White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdraws from VA nomination

April 26, 2018

by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s physician Ronny Jackson withdrew on Thursday from consideration to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after allegations about misconduct mounted and a Senate panel postponed his confirmation hearing.

“While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Jackson said in a statement.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was investigating allegations that Jackson, a U.S. Navy rear admiral who has been physician to three presidents, had overseen a hostile work environment as White House physician, drank on the job and allowed the overprescribing of drugs.

Trump lashed out angrily at Democrats for Jackson’s withdrawal in a phone interview with Fox News, calling them obstructionists who were politicizing his nominees. He singled out Senator Jon Tester, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee, who gave a series of interviews about the allegations against Jackson.

“He would have done a great job,” Trump said of Jackson, who had no experience running a large organization. “These are all false accusations. They’re trying to destroy a man.”

Trump said he has a new candidate with “political capabilities” for the job.

Details about the allegations against Trump’s nominee to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency were compiled in a document by Democratic committee staff that surfaced on Wednesday.

A summary of the document said Jackson prescribed himself medications, got drunk at a Secret Service party, wrecked a government vehicle and once could not be reached on a work trip to provide medical treatment because he was passed out drunk in a hotel room.

“DISTRACTION”

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated … Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing – how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said.

Jackson, 50, has worked as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration and has been the lead doctor for Trump as well as former President Barack Obama. He is well-liked by both Republican and Democratic administration officials.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Jackson was on the job at the White House on Thursday but it was not immediately clear whether he would resume his post as the top White House physician.

The Iraq war veteran took on a higher profile when he gave a long and glowing account of Trump’s health at news conference in January after his first presidential medical exam, saying Trump had “incredibly good genes.”

Jackson’s qualifications to lead the sprawling Veterans Affairs department were questioned from the time Trump nominated him in late March. The agency has 350,000 employees and runs 1,700 facilities that serve more than 9 million veterans a year.

The department has long been under fire for the quality of healthcare it provides veterans, a group that carries considerable political clout in America. During his election campaign, Trump vowed to clean it up.

The Senate committee considering his nomination asked the White House this week for more information after initial allegations about Jackson’s conduct came to light.

Tester called for lawmakers to continue investigating the White House medical unit, despite Jackson’s withdrawal.

Trump on Tuesday said during a news conference that he did not know the details of the allegations against Jackson but said it was up to him whether to continue with a political process he called “too ugly and too disgusting.”

Trump acknowledged that Jackson had an “experience problem” for leading the sprawling department.

Trump fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin in March after concerns about unauthorized travel expenses.

Trump’s administration has marked by a great deal of turbulence as high-profile officials have come and gone, which Democrats say is an indication of chaos.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool and Bill Trott

 

 

May dealt new Brexit defeat in upper house of parliament

April 25, 2018

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May was dealt a new defeat by Britain’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday over her Brexit plans, this time in a challenge to the government’s push to adopt wide-ranging powers to amend laws.

The defeat is the latest in the House of Lords for May and her Conservative government as parliament debates the EU withdrawal bill which will sever ties with the European Union and pave the way for Britain to leave in March next year.

The vote can be overturned by the lower house, the House of Commons, but underscores the deep divisions over Brexit across parliament and could encourage lawmakers hoping to derail May’s plans to forge a new relationship with the EU.

While many of the defeats were expected, it is the rifts over whether to remain in a customs union with the EU that have taken centre stage. A new debate on this is scheduled in the Commons for Thursday, adding to the pressure on May.

After Wednesday’s defeat over plans to adopt the so-called Henry VIII powers, which are named after the 16th century monarch who ruled by proclamation but are seen as a power grab by opposition parties, the government was expected to offer peers some concessions on their more detailed objections.

“This House has a responsibility not to give the executive more power than is necessary,” Lord (Peter) Goldsmith told peers before they voted.

The Lords voted 349-221 in favour of an amendment to change the wording of the bill so that instead of ministers being able to use the Henry VIII powers where they consider it “appropriate”, they would have to prove it was “necessary”.

The government has said it needs the powers to be able to meet a tight deadline to effectively “copy and paste” EU rules and regulations into British law by the time of Brexit.

The defeats, while embarrassing, have so far failed to shake the government, but after being debated in the Lords, the bill will return to the Commons, where lawmakers will decide whether to keep the amendments or overturn them.

Earlier, Brexit minister David Davis told lawmakers he expected parliament to uphold the government’s policy “for good reason”, and again said that Britain would leave the EU’s customs union after Brexit in favour of a new trade agreement.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Mark Heinrich

 

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