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TBR News January 10, 2018

Jan 10 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 10, 2018:”The behavior of President Trump is causing serious lesions in the American political fabric and this is becoming more and more evident daily. Trump loves to pontificate, to point, to stir up controversy…and then totally reverse himself later. The olicarchis that run this country find him to be unreliable and there is talk inside, and outside, of the Beltway, about removing him before his term is up. At present, the talk is about supporting Democrats seeking Congressional office and when, not if, the Democrats get a majority in both houses, to impeach the President. There is more than enough concrete evidence to accomplish this and impeachment is much more preferable than another Dallas.”

Table of Contents

  • Stung by Wolff book, Trump calls for stronger U.S. libel laws
  • Surrounded by Neocons
  • Secrecy News
  • Republicans retiring in record numbers fuel fears of losing House at midterms
  • Trump blasts courts after Daca Dreamers ruling
  • Trump’s mental health issues — and fitness for office — can no longer be avoided
  • Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies will ‘come to bad ending’ – Warren Buffett
  • California mudslides: Rescuers say dozens still missing in rubble
  • Exclusive: Justice Department blindsided banking agency on pot policy flip – sources
  • Behind the 911 attacks
  • NSA Surveillance Bill Would Legalize Loophole That Lets FBI Spy on Americans Without a Warrant
  • It Is Time for Progressives to Support the Trump-Putin Efforts at Rapprochement


Stung by Wolff book, Trump calls for stronger U.S. libel laws

January 10, 2018

by Steve Holland


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his administration will examine whether U.S. libel laws can be strengthened after a new book questioned his mental fitness to serve as president.

Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness so we’re going to take a strong look at that,” he told reporters as he met members of his Cabinet.

In “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” author Michael Wolff has questioned Trump’s mental fitness, portraying him as child-like with a short attention span. Trump had often complained about U.S. libel laws on the 2016 campaign trail.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Trump said.

To prove libel, a public figure must show a writer or publisher acted with actual malice in publishing a false statement. Malice is either reckless or purposeful disregard for the truth.

In what was seen as an attempt to show Trump is mentally fit and in command, the president had kept a pool of reporters, including a TV camera, inside of a meeting he had on Tuesday with U.S. lawmakers on immigration.

Reporters would have typically been escorted out after a few opening remarks, but they were kept in the meeting for 55 minutes as Trump and his Republicans debated immigration policy and ideas with Democratic members.

On Wednesday in the same room when Trump met members of his Cabinet, the president was ecstatic that TV networks had focused heavy attention on the immigration meeting.

“Some of them called it a performance. I consider it work,” Trump said.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Marguerita Choy


Surrounded by Neocons

They are all the news that fits

January 9, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

Award winning journalist James Risen has recently described in some detail his sometimes painful relationship with The New York Times. His lengthy account is well worth reading as it demonstrates how successive editors of the paper frequently cooperated with the government to suppress stories on torture and illegal activity while also self-censoring to make sure that nothing outside the framework provided by the “war on terror” should be seriously discussed. It became a faithful lap dog for an American role as global hegemon, promoting government half-truths and suppressing information that it knew to be true but which would embarrass the administration in power, be they Democrats or Republicans.

If one were to obtain a similar insider account of goings-on at the other national “newspaper of record” The Washington Post it is quite likely that comparable trimming of the narrative also took place. To be sure, the Post is worse than the Times, characterized by heavily editorializing in its news coverage without necessarily tipping off the reader when “facts” end and speculation begins. In both publications, stories about Iran or Russia routinely begin with an assertion that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and that Iran is the aggressor in the Middle East, contentions that have not been demonstrated and can easily be challenged. Both publications also have endorsed every American war since 2001, including Iraq, Libya and the current mess in Syria, one indication of the quality of their reporting and analysis.

A recent op-ed in the Times by Bret Stephens is a perfect example of warmongering mischief wrapped in faux expert testimony to make it palatable. Stephens is the resident neocon at the Times. He was brought over from the Wall Street Journal when it was determined that his neocon colleague David Brooks had become overly squishy, while the resident “conservative” Russ Douthat had proven to be a bit too cautious and even rational to please the increasingly hawkish senior editors.

Stephens’ article, entitled Finding the Way Forward on Iran sparkles with throwaway gems like “Tehran’s hyperaggressive foreign policy in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal” and “Real democracies don’t live in fear of their own people” and even “it’s not too soon to start rethinking the way we think about Iran.” Or try “A better way of describing Iran’s dictatorship is as a kleptotheocracy, driven by impulses that are by turns doctrinal and venal.”

Bret has been a hardliner on Iran for years. Early on in this op-ed he makes very clear that he wants it to be dealt with forcibly because it has “centrifuges, ballistic missiles, enriched uranium [and] fund[s] Hezbollah, assist Bashar al-Assad, arm[s] the Houthis, [and] imprison[s] the occasional British or American citizen.” He describes how Iran is a very corrupt place run by religious leaders and Revolutionary Guards and proposes that their corruption be exposed so that the Iranian people can take note and rise up in anger. And if exposure doesn’t work, they should be hammered with sanctions. He does not explain why sanctions, which disproportionately hurt the people he expects to rise up, will bring about any real change.

Stephens cites two of his buddies Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), who are apparently experts on how to squeeze Iran. Weinstein prefers exposing the misdeeds of the Mullahs to anger the Iranian people while Dubowitz prefers punitive sanctions “for corruption.”

The article does not reveal that Weinstein and Dubowitz are long time critics of Iran, are part of the Israel Lobby and just happen to be Jewish, as is Stephens. The Hudson Institute and the FDD are leading neocon and pro-Israel fronts. So my question becomes, “Why Iran?” The often-heard Israeli complaint about its being unfairly picked on could reasonably be turned on its head in asking the same about Iran. In fact, Iran compares favorably with Israel. It has no nuclear weapons, it does not support any of the Sunni terrorist groups that are chopping heads, and it has not disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people that it rules over. The fact is that Iran is being targeted because Israel sees it as its prime enemy in the region and has corrupted many “opinion makers” in the U.S., to include Stephens, to hammer home that point. To be sure, Iran is a very corrupt place run by people who should not be running a hot dog stand, but the same applies to the United States and Israel. And there are lots of places that are not being targeted like Iran that are far worse, including good friend and ally of both Jerusalem and Washington, Saudi Arabia.

Oddly enough Stephens, Weinstein and Dubowitz do not get into any of that back story, presumably because it would be unseemly. And, of course and unfortunately, the New York Times opinion page is not unique. An interesting recent podcast interview by Politico‘s Chief International Affairs correspondent Susan Glasser with leading neoconservatives Eliot Cohen and Max Boot, is typical of how the media selectively shapes a narrative to suit its own biases. Glasser, Cohen and Boot are all part of the establishment foreign policy consensus in the U.S. and therefore both hate and fail to understand the Trump phenomenon. Both Cohen and Booth were vociferous founding members of the #NeverTrump foreign policy resistance movement.

Boot describes the new regime’s foreign policy as “kowtow[ing] to dictators and undermin[ing] American support for freedom and democracy around the world,” typical neocon leitmotifs. Glasser appears to be in love with her interviewees and hurls softball after softball. She describes Boot as “fantastic” and Cohen receives the epithet “The Great.” The interview itself is remarkably devoid of any serious discussion of foreign policy and is essentially a sustained assault on Trump while also implicitly supporting hardline national security positions. Cohen fulminates about “a very serious Russian attack on the core of our political system. I mean, I don’t know how you get more reckless and dangerous than that,” while Boot asks what “has to be done” about Iran.

Pompous ass Cohen, who interjected in the interview that “and you know, Max and I are both intellectuals,” notably very publicly refused to have any part in a Trump foreign policy team during the campaign but later when The Donald was actually elected suggested that the new regime might approach him with humility to offer a senior position and he just might condescend to join them. They did not do so, and he wrote an angry commentary on their refusal.

Hating Trump is one thing, but I would bet that if the question of a hardline policy vis-à-vis Russia or the Jerusalem Embassy move had come up Cohen and Boot would have expressed delight. The irony is that Trump is in fact pursuing a basically neocon foreign policy which the two men would normally support, but they appear to be making room for Trump haters in the policy formulation process to push the national security consensus even farther to the right. Indeed, in another article by Boot at Foreign Policy he writes “I applaud Trump’s decisions to provide Ukraine with arms to defend itself from Russian aggression, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and to accelerate former President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State.” Cohen meanwhile applauds the embassy move, though he warns that Trump’s success in so doing might embolden him to do something reckless over North Korea.

Perhaps one should not be astonished that leading neocons appearing in the mainstream media will continue to have their eyes on the ball and seek for more aggressive engagement in places like Iran and Russia. The media should be faulted because it rarely publishes any contrary viewpoint and it also consistently fails to give any space to the considerable downside to the agitprop. It must be reassuring for many Americans to know that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is preparing itself to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the United States and it will be sharing information on the appropriate preparations with the American people. There will be a public session on how to prepare for a nuclear explosion on January 16th.

CDC experts will consider “planning and preparation efforts” for such a strike. “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps,” the Center elaborated in its press release on the event.

That the United States should be preparing for a possible nuclear future can in part be attributed to recent commentary by the “like, really smart” and “very stable genius” who is the nation’s chief executive, but the fuel being poured on the fire for war is the very same neocons who are featured in the mainstream media as all-purpose experts and have succeeded in selling the snake oil about America’s proper role as aggressor-in-chief for the entire world. It would be an unparalleled delight to be able to open a newspaper and not see Bret Stephens, Eliot Cohen, Max Boot or even the redoubtable Bill Kristol grinning back from the editorial page, but I suppose I am only dreaming.



Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 3

January 9, 2018


Has the U.S. adopted a policy of regime change towards Iran? Government officials have sent different signals at different times.

In 2006, President George W. Bush called for a “free and democratic” Iran, which appeared to be an endorsement of regime change.

In 2013, President Obama explicitly disavowed a policy of regime change and referred to the country as the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” its post-revolutionary name, which was understood to convey recognition of the current Iranian leadership.

Most recently, the signals are mixed. “The Trump Administration has not adopted a policy of regime change, but there have been several Administration statements that indicate support for that outcome,” according to a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service, which also takes note of the recent political protests in Iran. See Iran: Politics, Human Rights, and U.S. Policy, updated January 8, 2018.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated January 8, 2018

The U.S. Export Control System and the Export Control Reform Initiative, updated January 8, 2018

A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options, updated January 8, 2018

Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions, updated January 9, 2018

Budget Enforcement Procedures: The Senate Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Rule, updated January 9, 2018

Smart Toys and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 8, 2018

Protecting Consumers and Businesses from Fraudulent Robocalls, January 5, 2018

Drug Compounding: FDA Authority and Possible Issues for Congress, January 5, 2018

Defense Primer: Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence), CRS In Focus, updated January 3, 2018


Republicans retiring in record numbers fuel fears of losing House at midterms

The Democrats need to win 25 seats to take control of the House of Representatives in 2018 and there are now 31 open seats held by Republicans

January 10, 2018

by Ben Jacobs in Washington

The Guardian

The announcement by Congressman Darrell Issa on Wednesday that he is retiring brings to 31 the number of open seats held by Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats need to win 25 seats to take control of the House of Representatives.

The unprecedented number of Republican retirements, which includes the sitting chairmen of eight different congressional committees, is a bad omen for the speaker, Paul Ryan, as he seeks to keep control of the lower chamber.

So far, five Republicans representing districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 are not seeking re-election this year. Four of them, including Issa, are retiring. The fifth, Martha McSally of Arizona, is seeking the state’s open Senate seat in a competitive primary against Tea Partier Kelli Ward and controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Issa had the closest race of any member of Congress in 2016. He beat his Democratic opponent Doug Applegate by 1,600 votes in a district that swung heavily against Republicans in the presidential race. Clinton won by seven points in a district that Republican Mitt Romney won by a similar margin in 2012.

Issa’s retirement is a major blow to House Republicans in a district that analysts had considered a toss-up. Not only was Issa a nine-term incumbent but as one of the richest members of Congress, he was able to self-fund his campaign.

His decision not to seek another term makes him the second swing-district California Republican to retire in the past week. On Monday, Ed Royce, the chairman of the House foreign relations committee, announced he too would retire. Royce, a 13-term incumbent, represents a district where Clinton won by nearly 10 points in 2016.

Both California Republicans are victims of the changing political demographics of the state. They both represent parts of Orange County, the once deep-red bastion of suburban conservatism that has undergone a transformation in recent years. In 2016, Clinton became the first Democrat to win there since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.

However, Republicans see a silver lining in the sheer number of Democratic challengers in some of these races. As the Washington Post reported earlier in January, there are more Republican-held districts with eight Democratic hopefuls than with only one. Republicans hope to take advantage of Democratic infighting to win.

In a statement following Issa’s retirement, Steve Stivers, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: “In the 49th district, Democrats are locked in what is fast becoming one of the bloodiest primaries in America. While Democrats fight with each other, Republicans will focus on fighting Democrats – and that’s how we plan to win. We look forward to facing whoever limps out of the Democrats’ battle royale: black and blue, and broke.”

In contrast, Democrats saw opportunity in the Golden State’s changing politics. “California Republicans clearly see the writing on the wall and realize that their party and its priorities are toxic to their re-election chances in 2018,” said Drew Godinich, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a statement.


Trump blasts courts after Daca Dreamers ruling

January 10, 2018

BBC News

President Donald Trump has criticised the US courts after a judge blocked him from ending protection for migrants who entered the US illegally as children.

Mr Trump said the court system was “broken and unfair”.

In September, he rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), but San Francisco Judge William Alsup said it had to stay while litigation against Mr Trump’s move continued.

The Obama-era scheme protects some 800,000 people.

It also provides temporary permits for work and study.

Mr Trump attacked the ruling on Twitter: “The opposing side in a case (such as Daca) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts.”

Judge Alsup’s court is the District Court for the Northern District of California. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals commonly examines appeals of rulings made in Judge Alsup’s court and others.

Earlier, White House press spokeswoman Sarah Sanders described the ruling as “outrageous”.

What did the San Francisco judge order?

In his ruling, Judge Alsup stated that “the government is hereby ordered and enjoined, pending final judgment herein or other order, to maintain the Daca programme on a nationwide basis on the same terms and conditions as were in effect before the rescission”.

He said the Justice Department’s argument that the scheme was illegal was based on a “flawed legal premise”.

The District Judge ordered the government to process renewal applications from people who had previously been covered.

However, this would not be the case for those who had never before received protection under the programme.

When did Mr Trump want to end Daca?

Despite scrapping the programme in September, President Trump delayed enforcement to give Congress until March to enact a replacement plan for Daca recipients, who are known as “Dreamers”.

“We want to see something happen with Daca,” Mr Trump said in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, “It’s been spoken of for years. Children are now adults in many cases.”

On Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans announced that they would work together on a new immigration bill to protect border security, chain migration, the visa lottery system and the Daca.

Democrats have repeatedly said that they will block any legislation that contains funding for the border wall with Mexico – a key campaign pledge of Mr Trump’s.

What is Daca?

In order to qualify for the 2012 scheme, applicants under the age of 30 were required to submit personal information to the Department of Homeland Security, including addresses and phone numbers.

They had to pass an FBI background check, have a clean criminal background, and either be in school, recently graduated or have been honourably discharged from the military.

In exchange, the US government agreed to “defer” any action on their immigration status for a period of two years.

The majority of dreamers are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

The justice department has said no current Daca recipients will be affected by the decision to scrap the scheme before 5 March 2018, but no new applications will be taken.


Trump’s mental health issues — and fitness for office — can no longer be avoided

January 10, 2018

by Chauncy Devega


Should the 25th Amendment to the Constitution be invoked to remove President Donald Trump from office because his obvious mental health issues are imperiling the safety of the United States and the world?

Political disagreements aside, the public evidence in support of such an action is overwhelming. Trump’s speech and other behavior indicate a man who is detached from reality and living in a universe of his own delusions.To wit, Trump appears to be a serial liar who has convinced himself that his untruths can bend empirical reality to his will. Donald Trump is either indifferent to the suffering and harm that his actions cause others or is incapable of feeling empathy toward people outside what he understands as his “base.” He talks of violence with evident delight, and has also bragged about sexually assaulting women.

A recent column at Politico has also raised concerns about Donald Trump’s mental health.

Michael Wolff’s much discussed new book “Fire and Fury” references multiple sources, both inside and outside the White House, who express concern that Trump is mentally deranged and perhaps should be removed from office.

Over the last two years of my writing here at Salon, and also for my podcast, I have spoken with dozens of the world’s leading experts in fields as varied as political science, law, sociology, national security studies, history, philosophy and psychology about the ascendance of Donald Trump and what this moment means for American democracy.

Their concerns about Trump and his movement can be distilled into several points.

1.Donald Trump is at the very least an autocrat who aspires to be a despot, and at the worst is a fascist.

2.Trump has no regard for America’s democratic traditions or institutions.

3.Trump’s election and administration have already done fundamental damage to the country, which may be impossible to undo.

4.Trump is a symptom of a larger crisis of faith among the American people regarding the country’s democratic institutions and overall leadership.

5.Trump won the White House by mobilizing racist and nativist sentiments among white voters.

6.Trump’s victory was the logical and almost inevitable result of extreme political polarization and a fundamental disregard for good government and democracy by the Republican Party and movement conservatives.

7.Trump embodies a very dangerous departure from reality, made possible by a right-wing media propaganda machine.

8.Trump would not be president if not for the tens of millions of Americans who possess fascist and other extreme right-wing attitudes and beliefs.

9.Trump’s behavior indicates that he is mentally unstable.

10.Trump is dangerous.

It would be a horrible error to conclude that these concerns are separate from one another. Most importantly, Trump’s disregard for democracy and his abuse of presidential power to advance his own (and the Republican Party’s) goals are enabled by his malignant narcissism and apparent sociopathy. In short, Donald Trump can be described as a would-be despot, a petit-fascist and a person suffering from significant mental impairment. None of these conclusions is mutually exclusive.

Trump’s behavior throughout his presidency — but especially toward the end of 2017 and during the first days of 2018 — offer many examples of this overall dynamic.

Trump has used Twitter and other means to explain that he is a “very stable genius,” threatened his political rivals with imprisonment without trial, and proclaimed that he and his followers are “victims” of a great conspiracy by their “enemies” in the media. Trump’s malignant narcissism and delusional fantasy world is then used to legitimate urging the Department of Justice and FBI to engage in a witch hunt against Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and potentially anyone else who opposes him. Because he does the bidding of right-wing Republicans, their party has done everything in their power to protect him from the consequences of possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, and evident obstruction of justice thereafter.

In total, these examples validate the concerns of the many experts I have spoken with about Donald Trump. An independent judiciary and legal system are the foundations of a healthy democracy; once a leader uses the law to attack his enemies and advance his personal goals a democracy is lost.

Last year was but a prelude for 2018.

2017 was a gradual process of normalization to political madness and the near-triumph of American fascism. Moreover, the American people have been even more compliant and passive than even the most cynical political and social critics (such as myself) would have expected. It is likely 2018 will be even worse. The political rot of Donald Trump, the Republican Party, their media and public has metastasized. The American people are in pain but have grown increasingly accustomed to it. The abnormal has become normal and the bizarre is matter of fact.

During the 2016 primaries, philosopher Danielle Allen offered a chilling meditation on the potential for fascism in Donald Trump’s America. Writing at the Washington Post she reflected on how:

Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.

To understand the rise of Hitler and the spread of Nazism, I have generally relied on the German-Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt and her arguments about the banality of evil. Somehow people can understand themselves as “just doing their job,” yet act as cogs in the wheel of a murderous machine. Arendt also offered a second answer in a small but powerful book called “Men in Dark Times.” In this book, she described all those who thought that Hitler’s rise was a terrible thing but chose “internal exile,” or staying invisible and out of the way as their strategy for coping with the situation. They knew evil was evil, but they too facilitated it, by departing from the battlefield out of a sense of hopelessness.

One can see both of these phenomena unfolding now.

Allen presciently concluded that no democracy can survive “without an expectation that the people require reasonable arguments that bring the truth to light,” but Trump “has nothing but contempt” for the intelligence of the American people. Could we, she wondered, “find somewhere, buried in the recesses of our fading memories, the capacity to make common cause against this formidable threat to our equally shared liberties”?

The American people did not rise up to save their democracy in November of 2016. The “Resistance” was stillborn, and remains so.

The American people are not the first to experience a democracy succumbing to authoritarianism and fascism, nor will they will be the last. Many Americans believed themselves special, and America is and was the “greatest country on earth.” In reality, Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s assault on democracy represent an all-too-common scenario in much of the world.

Under Trump’s rule the American people have shown themselves to be all too mediocre. Our democratic institutions and political culture look less grand now. Alas, American exceptionalism is a joke. Trump and the Republicans wrote the punch line and tens of millions of Americans laughed along, to their own detriment and what could be their ultimate demise.


Bitcoin & other cryptocurrencies will ‘come to bad ending’ – Warren Buffett

January 10, 2018


Warren Buffett said he doesn’t own a single bitcoin and has no plans of investing in it, with the billionaire predicting a “bad ending” for cryptocurrencies.

“In terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say with almost certainty that they will come to a bad ending,” Buffett told CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ program on Wednesday. “When it happens or how or anything else, I don’t know.”

According to the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, he will not take a short position on bitcoin futures. “We don’t own any, we’re not short any, we’ll never have a position in them,” he said.

“I get into enough trouble with things I think I know something about. Why in the world should I take a long or short position in something I don’t know anything about,” the billionaire investor explained.

Buffett’s stance was fully backed by his right-hand man, billionaire Charlie Munger, who also appeared on the program and called bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies “bubbles.” Investors “are excited because things are going up at the moment and it sounds vaguely modern… But I’m not excited,” he said.

Buffett has joined a chorus of other prominent investors who have publically doubted the bright future of cryptocurrencies. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said: “Bitcoin just shows you how much demand for money laundering there is in the world.” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon saaid: “It (bitcoin) is just not a real thing, eventually it will be closed.” Shortly before being arrested in the Saudi anti-corruption crackdown in October, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, nicknamed the ‘Arabian Warren Buffet,’ also warned that bitcoin was “going to implode” like Enron.

The bitcoin price stopped at $13,907 on Wednesday after dropping 3.69 percent, according to website CoinDesk. The digital currency has gone up 1,500 percent over the last 12 months, reaching a record price of over $17,500 in mid-December.


California mudslides: Rescuers say dozens still missing in rubble

January 10, 2018

BBC News

Hundreds of rescuers are desperately combing wreckage in Southern California for nearly two dozen people still missing after deadly mudslides.

More than 100 homes were destroyed, and another 500 have been damaged following the deluge that overwhelmed an area scorched by wildfires last month.

At least 15 people have died and 28 injuries have been reported.

On Tuesday, a rescue worker tearfully described pulling a toddler from under several feet of debris.

Berkeley Johnson said the two-year-old girl, whom he described as a “muddy doll”, was taken to hospital and suffered an injury to her hip.

“I don’t know how the baby survived,” Mr Berkeley told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

He said of his own home in the community of Montecito: “This was an hour of rain, and the house was gone.”

Mr Johnson said he and his wife, Karen, heard a baby crying after the flooding had subsided and they managed to climb down from the roof of their swamped home.

The pair joined a fireman to dig the toddler out, scooping mud from her mouth before she was taken to hospital.

“Had we not gone over there, I don’t think that kid would have [survived],” he added.

More than 50 people have been rescued already but many places are still inaccessible. Several roads are closed, including the major Highway 101 which authorities say will not be reopened until Monday.

“We are still very much in active search-and-rescue mode,” Chris Elms, a spokesman for Cal Fire, told Reuters new agency, cautioning that the death toll may still rise.

That’s a fear. We are still very hopeful that we will locate people alive,” he added.

Santa Barbara County spokesman Amber Anderson said: “We have no idea where they’re at. We think somewhere in the debris field.”

The upmarket neighbourhood of Montecito is home to celebrities such as actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

On Instagram, Ms Winfrey said her property had escaped the worst as she toured the scene, but described the house next door as “devastated”.

The first rain in months caused mudslides when it hit ground that had been burned by December’s huge wildfires.

After a wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil create a water repellent layer which blocks water absorption. Together with the loss of vegetation, this leads to an increased risk of mudslides and floods.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says the risk of flooding stays “significantly higher” for up to five years after a wildfire.

“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” said the National Weather Service in a statement.

In some places mud was waist-deep, officials said.

Thousands had to leave their homes, many for the second time in two months. The emergency services declared an exclusion zone, saying anyone moving around the area would be in the way of rescuers and would be subject to arrest.

Those who have stayed in the area have been warned to boil their tap water before drinking it.

Heavy rain run-off caused a mudflow in the community of Montecito, where some homes were knocked off their foundations, said Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason.

County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni said five people were found dead on Tuesday in Montecito, possibly as a result of the storm.

The US Coast Guard has sent “multiple airships to support rescue operations” and warned the public not to fly drones, otherwise the flights would be grounded.

This comes after a record-setting year of $306bn (£226bn) of weather and climate-related disaster costs in the United States, with 2017 the third warmest year on record, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California has suffered severe drought in five out of six of the past years.

In December, California Governor Jerry Brown said the state was “facing a new reality” as climate change meant wildfires could erupt “every year or every few years”.


Exclusive: Justice Department blindsided banking agency on pot policy flip – sources

January 10, 2018

by Sarah N. Lynch


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When the U.S. Justice Department said last week it was reversing policy on the $7 billion marijuana business, it failed to first notify federal officials who advise banks in states where the drug is legal, sources in Congress said.

The announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime critic of legalizing marijuana, caused confusion among banks about how to do business with marijuana growers, processors and distributors without running afoul of federal money laundering laws.

The uncertainty unleashed a flood of phone calls to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an office within the U.S. Treasury Department, from congressional offices with questions from lawmakers and constituents.

But FinCEN had no ready answers because it received no advance warning of Sessions’ Jan. 4 announcement rescinding an Obama-era policy that had eased up on federal enforcement of marijuana laws, said congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment about whether it had coordinated with FinCEN in advance.

The abrupt announcement by Sessions was the latest example of sudden actions by the Trump administration that have blind-sided its own government agencies on major policy shifts. In 2017 the administration blindsided the Defense Department with a decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military. It also took many by surprise at the Department of Homeland Security by barring people from some predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Marijuana is banned by federal law but it has become legal in one form or another in a number of states.

About 400 banks and credit unions do business with the U.S. marijuana industry. Most are small institutions with operations limited to states where marijuana has been legalized.

Critics said the Justice Department’s decision, which gives prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges, could drive banks out of the cannabis industry.

Sessions issued his one-page announcement three days after California formally launched the world’s largest regulated commercial market for recreational marijuana. Five other states have legalized recreational use, while dozens permit medicinal use.

“I imagine that Sessions did not even contemplate that his action could trigger potentially billions of dollars of cash from being unbanked,” said Saphira Galoob, whose firm The Liaison Group lobbies on behalf of cannabis clients.

Reversing the Obama administration, Sessions said the Justice Department was withdrawing legal guidelines known as the Cole and Ogden memos, widely seen as giving safe harbor against prosecution to cannabis businesses in states where pot is legal.

The memos said that, while marijuana was still illegal, prosecutors would not prioritize pursuing criminal charges in states that had set up their own regulatory regimes.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in September that the marijuana policy was under review for possible changes.

In last week’s announcement, the Justice Department made no mention of parallel marijuana guidance that FinCEN issued in February 2014 in coordination with Justice officials.

The guidance provided a pathway for banks to serve marijuana businesses in states such as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and California. It relied heavily on the Cole memo.

FinCEN requires banks to file suspicious activity reports with the government on legally questionable transactions. The FinCEN guidance says banks must continue to file those reports, but lets them say if they are confident that their cannabis customers are complying with relevant state laws.

Democratic Representatives Dennis Heck of Washington state and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado are expected this week to send a letter, seen by Reuters, to FinCEN urging it not to rescind the guidance amid concerns that doing so could “inject uncertainty in the financial markets.”

Stephen Hudak, a FinCEN spokesman, said in a statement that the agency’s guidance “remains in place,” despite the Justice Department’s actions. \

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool


Behind the 911 attacks

January 10, 2017

by Christian Jürs


The deadly attacks by a team of Saudi terrorists against American targets on September 11, 2001, was in no way a secret venture. Almost from its inception, its progress was known to, and closely followed by, the intelligence agencies of Britain, Russia, Germany and Israel. All of these countries, without exception, duly notified the American authorities about a pending attack, by aircraft, against American targets. The Israeli Foreign Intelligence agency, the Mossad, had actually penetrated the leadership of the group centered in Hollywood, Florida, and made regular reports on the pending attack to their government. The Israeli government, in turn, made full disclosure to the highest level of authority in Washington.

Interestingly enough, the man who formulated the attack, Osama bin Ladin, was a personal friend of the American president, George Bush, and his very wealthy Saudi family had been investors in Bush’s Arbusto Energy Oil Company, founded in 1978.Another big investor was BCCI (Bank of Credit & Commerce) that later was shut down in July of 1991, charged with multibillion-dollar fraud and which had been heavily involved in drug money laundering, arms brokering, covert intelligence work, bribery of government officials and aid to terrorists.

Several members of the Bush family were heavy investors in the Carlyle Group, a defense contractor and investment fund with numerous interests in the Middle East, run by former Reagan administration Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci. Former President George H. W. Bush attended an investment meeting at the Washington, D.C. Ritz-Carlton hotel on September 10, 2001 and also a meeting with Shafiq bin Laden, representing joint interests of the Saudi Binladin Group and Carlyle.

In addition to the question of American control of oil and natural gas deliveries, there was also an internal political issue. It should be noted that during the previous administration of William Clinton, the American right wing, personified by the Republicans, fought a long, loud and effective public relations battle against what they saw was Clinton’s left wing policies. There was a steady drumfire of attacks, mostly from the far right Evangelicals, about Clinton’s various affairs and also about alleged financial peculations when he was governor of Arkansas.

Always extremely manipulative and often very vicious, the Republican leadership, coupled with outside business interests, manoevered George Bush into the Oval Office by a mixture of bribery, political presssure and deliberate vote fraud in Florida.

It is well known that the far right wing of the Republican Party was determined to get control of the White House just as they then had control of Congress. They were well on their way to stacking the third branch of our government, the judicial. The main architect of this ambitious plan was Karl Rove. Very intelligent but totally amoral and personally vicious, Rove was a powerful influence over George Bush, converting him to a form of aggressive Evangelical Christianity and getting him elected to the Governorship of Texas. Rove was instrumental in convincing the power elite of the time to support Bush as the Republican candidate for President in 2000 and the manipulations to put the colorless Bush into the Oval Office have been covered extensively in the media and on the Internet. There were deliberate voter frauds including fixed voting machines, machines made and controlled by a strong Bush supporter. There was obvious and deliberate voter fraud in Florida, a state run by Bush’s brother and Rove had seen to it that there was a bare majority of the Supreme Court to, in effect, job Bush straight into the White House.

Now, the plotters reasoned, they had control of the executive, the legislative and the judicial. There was only one more factor to take into account in the final securing of absolute power and that was the American public.

Not even the most accomplished of the watchers can say with certainty when the final chapter was first broached but enough has been pieced together to make a thoroughly believable scenario. In all probability it was Rove, a man with a good understanding of history, who realized that a so-called wartime President could gather unto himself, and his supporters, almost unlimited powers and among these was the power to frighten the public into obeying his dictates and the excuse for establish these dictates in the first place.

During the First World Ear, Woodrow Wilson set up a virtual dictatorship in the United States during his war with Germany and, of course, there was the seizure of power by Hitler in 1933 after he had been appointed a Chancellor with limited powers. Coupled with this burning desire for long-term, if not permanent, political control in the United States, there was also the issue of economic control but with a cowed public and control over all three branches of government, economic control would be a very easy matter to accomplish.

It was well known that the United States was in growing need of natural gas and, most especially oil. It was also less well known that the once-enormous Saudi fields were running dry and that Iraq had more oil than Saudi Arabia. Also, the Iraqi dictator, Hussein, had physically bombarded Israel during the Gulf War and he was viewed by that country as a great menace. The strong, overly strong many asserted, influence Israel and its organs in the United States had was another factor in the plan.

It was the gradual inclusion of top Israeli political and military leaders in the plan that allowed the Russian GRU to discover it. Rove saw a brief, Bismarckian campaign against Iraq that would gain the United States access to that country’s oil and to establish even stronger ties with Israel and its domestic support of Republican policies.

What was lacking was a casus belli, a cause for war. It was in this area that Bush and Cheney had excellent prospects. Osama bin Ladin was the son of a very powerful Saudi businessman who had the highest-level connections in his country and whose family activities were well known to Cheney because of his tenure as head of Halliburton.

The bin Ladins also had very good connections with George Bush and had invested heavily in his company, Arbusto. Certain favors could then certainly be asked and, if everyone could see profit in them, granted. It is known that the great bulk of the actual 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens (1 Egyptian, two UAE, 1 Lebanese and 15 Saudis) and they were ordered to attack the United States, again (there had been one unsuccessful attack on the WTC on February 26, 1993, when a car bomb was detonated in the parking garage below the North Tower of the WTC. The 1,500 lb explosive device was intended to knock the North Tower into the South Tower , bringing both towers down and killing thousands of people.)

The bomb was badly situated and it killed six people and injured over a thousand. Herein lay the seed for the Rovian casus belli, only this time, a more spectacular attacks needed to be launched to achieve any hoped for results in both supplying a Pearl Harbor-type excuse for war but also a power tool to be used to frighten the mass of the public into terribled obedience to the wishes of a protecting government.

There were so many contacts with the Saudi elements that no one could possibly keep track of them but it was obvious to most foreign agencies after the attack that its origins were never in doubt. And to further assist the plot, the Israelis were brought into the fold. Their competent foreign intelligence, the Mossad, was already at work undercover in the United States, spying on anti-Israel Moslim activists so it surprised no one when the Mossad, using Yemini Jews, infiltrated the Atta group in Hollywood, Florida. The incident would be executed by people controlled by bin Ladin but supervised by the Mossad.

But it was all very well and good for a trio of highly-placed plotters to scheme inside a relatively secure White House but as the plans were developed and others brought into the execution of it, the chnce for serious leaks became greater.

Although the government quickly enlisted the aid of a legion of conspiracy people to cloak their actions with absurd rumors and distracting fictions, there were still many who questioned the attacks but as the years have passed, the subject has grown stale and so grown over by a huge jungle of lies, fictions and confusion that like the earlier Kennedy assassination, it will pass into the oblivion of history.

The attacks went off as planned, Bush played the role of savior and in the wake of the attack, fear became the order of the day and fear was constatly being cultivated by the Bush people and harvested at the polls.

But the Rove people failed in two areas and it was a failure that eventualy brought down their plans. The Saudi attack that was aborted in the fields of Pennsylvania was intended to crash into the Capitol building when Congress was in session, causing huge casualties and giving Bush the excuse to govern by decree until some vague future time when new elections to replace the dead or crippled members of that body could be held.

The second area of failure was the refusal of the senior commanders of the Army to become involved in neo-Fascistic roundups of any dissident citizenry or to run any barbed wire detention centers.

By constantly crying about the wolves, the Bush conspirators exceeded their brief and eventually, the public ignored the color coding and the exhortations to use duct tape on windows to prevent radioactive matrial from entering their homes.

In short, the plotters could only go so far without eventually enforcing their wishes and the plot, which killed a huge number of people and bankrupted the country, fell apart.

But fortunately, so also did the far right Republicans and God willing, we shall not see their like again.


NSA Surveillance Bill Would Legalize Loophole That Lets FBI Spy on Americans Without a Warrant

January 9, 2018

by Alex Emmons

The Intercept

With major NSA surveillance authorities set to expire later this month, House Republicans are rushing to pass a bill that would not only reauthorize existing powers, but also codify into law some practices that critics have called unconstitutional.

The bill takes aim at reforming how federal law enforcement can use data collected by the National Security Agency, putting a modest constraint on when the FBI can conduct so-called backdoor searches of Americans’ communications. But because such searches make use of a legal loophole, critics say the current bill may do more harm than good by explicitly writing the practice into law.

The bill would reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which serves as the basis for some of the NSA’s largest surveillance programs, and keep it on the books through 2023. The law was first passed in 2008 after the George W. Bush administration’s secret warrantless wiretapping was made public, effectively to legalize what the administration was doing.

The law allows the intelligence community to spy on Americans’ transnational communications without a warrant so long as the “targets” are not Americans. In 2013, documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA vacuums up a tremendous amount of wholly domestic communications through the program as well.

Republicans tried to ram through a different incarnation of the bill last month, based on a more draconian version passed by the House Intelligence Committee. During a daylong push to drum up support, Republicans on the committee circulated fliers depicting enlarged photos of Islamic State fighters, trying to give the impression that failing to pass that bill would be a gift to foreign terrorists. But leadership backed off after determining they didn’t have enough votes to pass it, according to multiple congressional sources. Domestic surveillance is the rare issue on which hard-right Republicans and left-leaning privacy advocates often find common ground.

The new version of the bill, posted on the Rules Committee website late Friday, is designed to get the buy-in of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. It includes compromise language taken from a separate bill passed out of that committee in November, which included some modest limitations on existing authorities, including the reform to backdoor searches.

The bill takes aim at one of the key problems with the original law: that Section 702 doesn’t limit how data can be used by federal law enforcement. That has given rise to the backdoor search loophole, in which the NSA shares certain kinds of information with the FBI, which the FBI then uses to search for Americans’ communications without a warrant.

Privacy advocates have called backdoor searches unconstitutional and urged Congress to close the loophole by requiring the FBI to get a court order to query Americans’ communications. The current bill takes a crack at doing so, requiring the FBI to get a warrant before searching the data in relation to an open criminal investigation.

But the bill carves out large exceptions. The FBI doesn’t have to apply for a warrant when national security is involved, or when it determines that there is a “threat to life or serious bodily harm.” And the bill would continue to allow the FBI to sift through the data even when those searches don’t involve a specific criminal investigation, which the FBI already does so often that they have compared it to searching Google.

“The Intelligence Committee’s bill disregards the Constitution and common sense by granting the government the authority to search Americans’ communications without first obtaining a warrant,” Schuman told The Intercept. “Not only does this turn the purpose of the foreign surveillance law on its head, transforming it into a domestic surveillance tool, but it places activists, minorities, and everyone else at the mercy of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, who have made clear their disregard for legal constraints and democratic norms.”

The bill also addresses a second area of advocates’ concerns: “about” collection, in which the NSA scans communications, including those involving Americans, to find those that merely mention a target’s selector — like an email address — somewhere in the message. After arguing for years that it was necessary to detect terror plots, the NSA discontinued the practice in April after it was found to violate rules imposed by the FISA court.

The bill codifies the end of “about” collection into law, but instead of a permanent prohibition, it provides a pathway for the practice to legally continue in an ad hoc way. It allows the Director of National Intelligence to notify Congress of the intent to restart “about” collection on an emergency basis, provided that the DNI tells Congress and the FISA court. Barring objections from either, the NSA can keep doing it.

It is unclear how much support the bill will have from Republicans. Several Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus, like Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., have already come out against it, saying it’s unconstitutional for the U.S. to amass data on Americans without a warrant. The American Civil Liberties Union also released a statement of opposition Friday, saying the bill “risks being read as a codification and expansion of certain illegal government practices,” such as “about” collection.

The bill is scheduled to be considered by the Rules Committee on Tuesday and could come up for a vote as early as Thursday, according to multiple congressional sources familiar with the process.


It Is Time for Progressives to Support the Trump-Putin Efforts at Rapprochement

January 10, 2018

by John V. Walsh


Should progressives support the efforts of Trump and Putin to bring about rapprochement between Russia and the U.S.? Or to use Trump’s terminology, should progressives support the effort to “get along with Russia”?

This might seem like a no-brainer. After all Russia and the US are the world’s major nuclear powers. A war or a mistake resulting in a nuclear exchange would reduce much of the planet to radioactive rubble, ending civilization as we know it, and perhaps even putting the continued existence of the human race at risk. And yet there are virtually no voices in the progressive community calling for support of Trump’s call to “get along with Russia.” Almost no voices speaking in favor of his contacts with Putin, for example after their meeting in Hamburg last July with its considerable achievements. What is going on? Have the progressives gone mad?

Let us be very clear. Support for the Trumpian rapprochement with Russia does not mean support for all Trump’s policies or even one other policy of his. The election of 2016 is long behind us now. In that election as in all elections, it was necessary to weigh the policies of the opposing candidates and then to make a choice. One cannot vote for only one policy of a given candidate and against other policies. It is an all or nothing matter.

But the situation post-election is another story. Trump is now President, and it is possible and quite normal to oppose some policies and support others. In the case of Obama, many progressives opposed his continuation and expansion of Bush’s wars but supported ObamaCare. (As a Single Payer advocate and antiwar campaigner, this author supported neither.) Similarly, in the case of Trump, one may oppose his tax legislation and his health care policies – I certainly do – and yet support the policy of rapprochement with Russia. Is this not the grown-up thing to do? Should one not seize on an opportunity to get something worthwhile out of a situation that did not go one’s way – if that is the way one views the election of 2016? In point of fact, given the danger of nuclear holocaust, it is not only infantile but potentially suicidal to do otherwise.

The crumbling narrative of “collusion” between Putin and Trump in the 2016 election is the major obstacle to the US-Russia rapprochement. Indeed some progressives have done yeoman’s work in exposing the lies of the media, the Intel agencies and the Democratic Establishment in concocting the Collusion Myth. Two standouts are Robert Parry and his colleagues at Consortium News and Stephen F. Cohen of The Nation and his colleagues at American Committee for East West Accord. Parry, for example, meticulously examines and exposes the web of lies, deceit, unsourced stories and downright gossip coming out of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN on a daily basis. Cohen, Professor emeritus of Russian history at Princeton, in his weekly 45 minute discussions with John Batchelor on WABC radio out of NYC has given an insightful look at developments, especially in the light of Russo-American relations and Russian history.

And there are many other progressive bloggers and writers who do the same. That is very much to their credit. But debunking the Collusion Myth, sometimes called Russiagate, is as far as it seems to go. If the Collusion Narrative is in reality a Big Lie, then one purpose of exposing it should be to correct the path it has put us on. That path is confrontation with Russia. The next logical step would be to back Trump’s attempts at rapprochement with Russia in the face of daily vicious assaults from the imperial press. But none of that is done.

When one queries progressives about this strange behavior, the first response is to change the subject to tax policy or immigration policy or health care policy. But except in some pretty woolly “theories of everything,” such policies are readily separable in non-electoral circumstances as discussed above.

The next response is to deny the danger of war that such tensions create. But everyone familiar the history of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis knows that the risk of miscalculation is greatest when tensions are highest. The story of Stanislav Petrov and his role in preventing an accidental nuclear exchange should be known by every school child in the US.

One must conclude either that most progressives are blinded by their hatred of Trump or that they are sympathetic to treatment of Russia as an enemy. The latter is an abandonment of the progressive commitment to non-interventionism and peace, but neither is a very good sign. And the deeply devious part of the Elite’s Russiagate strategy is that it presents a giant roadblock to rapprochement since any moves to decrease tensions with Russia will be used as “proof” of Trump’s “collusion” with Russia. If one presses the question further with progressives who know that Russiagate is a fraud, the response is that to support Trump’s policy is to risk one’s credibility. Some progressives are quite frank about this and will express fear of being shunned by friends. Some will even tell you that they have lost friends for so much as hinting that they might support rapprochement – simply because Trump has advocated it. (If you have your doubts about that, read Win Bigly, a book by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. Learn what happened to Adams, not for supporting Trump, but merely for predicting a Trump win in 2016!)

It seems that it is time for progressives, even while disagreeing with some things Trumpian or even all other things Trumpian, to stand up and back his moves toward rapprochement with Russia. Many are already inching in that direction much to their credit. But the Democratic Party Elite, their neocon partners, the GOP Elite and the servile media will do everything they can to prevent it. It is time to defy them.

We are rolling the nuclear dice daily. And time may be running out.



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