TBR News January 22, 2018

Jan 22 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 22, 2018:” Because of the growing, and serious, public discontent that had been manifested during the course of the Vietnamese War from 1950 through 1973, the American governmental establishment resolved to take steps to recognize, infiltrate and neutralize any significant future national anti-government actions.

Once the most powerful nation, the United States is rapidly losing its premier position in the international sphere while at the same time facing a potential serious anti-government political movement developing in that country. The number of unemployed in the United States today is approximately 97,000,000. Official American sources claim that employment is always improving but in fact it is not. Most official governmental releases reflect wishful thinking or are designed to placate the public

This situation is caused by the movement, by management, of manufacturing businesses to foreign labor markets. While these removals can indeed save the companies a great deal of expenditure on domestic labor, by sharply reducing their former worker bodies to a small number, the companies have reduced the number of prospective purchasers of expensive items like automobiles.

The U.S. government’s total revenue is estimated to be $3.654 trillion for fiscal year 2018.

  • Personal income taxes contribute $1.836 trillion, half of the total.
  • Another third ($1.224 trillion) comes from payroll taxes.

This includes $892 billion for Social Security, $270 billion for Medicare and $50 billion for unemployment insurance.

  • Corporate taxes add $355 billion, only 10 percent.
  • Customs excise taxes and tariffs on imports contribute $146 billion, just 4 percent
  • The Federal Reserve’s net income adds $70 billion.
  • The remaining $23 billion of federal income comes from estate taxes and miscellaneous receipts.
  • The use of secret offshore accounts by US citizens to evade U.S. federal taxes costs the U.S. Department of the Treasury well over $100 billion annually.

By moving from a producing to an importing entity, the United States has developed, and is developing, serious sociological and economic problems in a significant number of its citizens, and many suffer from serious health problems that are not treated.

It is estimated that over 500,000 American citizens are without any form of housing. Many of these people either are living on the streets, in public parks, living in cars or in charity shelters. There are at present over 200,000 family groups in America with over 300,000 individuals involved and 25% of the total are minor children.

Over 80,000 individuals are permanently without any residence. Many of these have physical disabilities such as chronic alcoholism or drug addiction. Many are classified as having severe mental disorders.

About 50,000 of these homeless individuals are military veterans, many of whom have serious physical or mental problems. One of the most common mental disorders is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Governmental treatment for these individuals is virtually non-existent.  Approximately half of this number are either black or Latin American (“Hispanics” in official designation.)

Of the total number of the homeless individuals, approximately 10% are female.

Official but private, estimates are that there over 500,000 youths below the age of 24 in current American society that find themselves homeless for periods lasting from one week to a permanent status.

Over 100,000 of this class are young people who are defined as being homosexual. Those in this class find themselves persecuted to a considerable degree by society in general and their peer groups in specific.

Approximately 50% of this homeless population are over the age of 50, many of whom suffer from chronic, debilitating physical illnesses that are not treated.

Drug deaths in the U.S. in 2017 exceeded 60,000.  Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involved prescriptions. Opioids are a class of strong painkillers drugs and include Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin which are synthetic drugs designed to resemble opiates such as opium derived morphine and heroin. The most dangerous opioid is Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. The increasing demand for these drugs is causing them to be manufactured outside the United States.

Suicide is the primary cause of “injury death” in the United States and more U.S. military personnel on active duty have killed themselves than were killed in combat last year.

The growing instability of American families is manifested by the fact that:

  • One out of every three children in America lives in a home without a father.
  • More than half of all babies are being born out of wedlock for women under the age of 30 living in the United States
  • The United States has the highest child abuse death rate in the developed world.
  • The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world although the numbers have declined in recent years due to the use of contraceptives.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the largest total prison population in the entire world. The criminal justice system in the United States holds more than 4,166,000 people in 1,719 state prisons, 102,000 in federal prisons, 901,000 in juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,163,000 in local jails. Additionally, 5,203,400 adults are on probation or on parole.

The number of people on probation or parole has increased the population of the American corrections system to more than 9,369,400 in 2017. Corrections costs the American taxpayer $69 billion a year.”



Table of Contents

  • Senate moves to end government shutdown
  • Russsia-Gate Implodes
  • FBI ‘Failed To Preserve’ Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump FBI Agents
  • It’s Time We Saw Sanctions for What They Really Are – War Crimes
  • Blowback: How U.S. Drones, Coups, and Invasions Just Create More Violence
  • San Francisco or Mumbai? UN envoy encounters homeless life in California
  • An Insurgent Campaign Is Targeting the Very Heart of the Chicago Democratic Machine — and Just Might Win
  • ‘Legalized loan sharking’: payday loan customers recount their experiences
  • World’s richest 1% bagged 82% of global wealth in 2017, while poorest half got nothing – Oxfam
  • Merkel’s Got Some Explaining To Do
  • Catalan crisis rekindled as parliament proposes Puigdemont as leader


Senate moves to end government shutdown

January 22, 2018

by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators voted to move forward on legislation that would reopen the federal government until Feb. 8, ending a three-day standoff between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s Republicans over immigration and border security.

Funding legislation cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate and was expected to pass a full Senate vote promptly, allowing government to re-open.

Democrats had insisted that any short-term spending legislation to keep the government running include protections for young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans in turn said they would not negotiate on immigration until Democrats gave them the votes needed to reopen the government.

The shutdown, which began on the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, threatened to undercut the president’s self-crafted image as a dealmaker who would repair the broken culture in Washington.

The failure to reach a deal had forced Trump to cancel a planned weekend trip to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and created uncertainty around his scheduled trip this week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Tens of thousands of federal workers had begun closing down operations on Monday, the first weekday since the shutdown, but essential services such as security and defense operations continued.

Funding for government operations expired at midnight on Friday and lawmakers worked through the weekend to solve the crisis. The outlines of a deal began emerging as a bipartisan group of senators held talks on Sunday and Monday morning.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he had come to an arrangement with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to keep the government open for the next three weeks and a plan to address the issue of the Dreamers, more than 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

House of Representatives Republicans have been told by their leaders to plan on voting on a measure to re-open the government immediately.

Additional reporting David Morgan, Ginger Gibson, Amanda Becker, Blake Brittain, Susan Heavey, Diane Bartz, Megan Davies, Lucia Mutikani, Yasmeen Abdutaleb, Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell


Russsia-Gate Implodes

The real “collusion” is the alliance of foreign actors and the Democrats

January 22, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


The finale is upon us: the Russia-gate fraud is about to be exploded, at long last. Although the vaunted memo – and the underlying intelligence – compiled by the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee under chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has yet to be released, there has been enough chatter by those House members who have read it to give us the basic elements of what it contains. Although prepare to be shocked by what I consider to be the most outrageous aspect of this affair.

To begin with, it’s clear that the “dossier” paid for by the neocons over at the Free Beacon and then taken up later by Hillary Clinton was submitted to the FISA court by the FBI as the factual basis for allowing secret surveillance of the Trump campaign, possibly including Donald Trump himself. The FISA judge was reportedly not told who paid for the dossier.

In an interview with the Daily Caller, veteran law enforcement professional Joseph DiGenova cites as evidence of a pattern of deception the details of a FISA court opinion (April 27, 2017) that charged the Obama administration with lying to the court and illegal use of material obtained through their spying campaign. The court said the government’s actions were “abusive” because the purloined material was handed out to “contractors.”  We aren’t told who these contractors are. My guess – and DiGenova’s: Fusion GPS, the firm hired to smear Trump, and CrowdStrike, the  cyber-security firm in charge of the DNC’s email system – which the FBI never was allowed to look at.

The anti-Trump coup plotters constructed an elaborate fiction for the benefit of the FISA court, presented it to the court as factual, and used it as the basis for obtaining a warrant for the Obama administration – and, in effect, the Clinton campaign – to not only spy on the Trump campaign but to actively disrupt it.

Secondly – and this, I think, is why the memo and the underlying intelligence is so highly classified – the FBI/CIA factor in this operation is just a part of the whole. The involvement of “former” MI6 agent Christopher Steele argues in favor of British involvement. And of course it could be a mere coincidence that GCHQ – the British spy outfit – resigned shortly after the Steele story broke. And then again maybe not.

And it’s not just the British, who have been conducting their own cold war against Russia since long before Russia-gate broke in this country. A number of other foreign intelligence agencies reportedly had a hand in all this, including the Ukrainians and the Estonians, whose virulent hatred of Russia and fear of Trump’s peaceful intentions toward Moscow were motivation enough.

That’s the reason for the intra-Republican dispute about releasing the memo: the “internationalist” types (who aren’t especially friendly to Trump) fear roiling relations with our “allies.” Those who want to release it realize that with “allies” like these we don’t need enemies.

Nunes, Rep. Trey Gowdy, and Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte are now trying to figure out how to initiate a “never before used procedure” to release the really juicy stuff – the underlying intelligence that nails these felons for abusing the FISA system, spying on Americans,  subverting the electoral process, and, yes, colluding with foreign powers to subvert and destroy Trump’s presidency.

If our system works the way it ought to be working, a lot of these people are going to jail. These are felonies we’re talking about. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, recently renewed and given even more sweeping powers to spy on us, makes it a crime to present false evidence to the FISA court: under section 1809, FISA makes it a crime for anyone to either “engage in” electronic surveillance under “color of law” by presenting false evidence. Penalty: five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine

Now the coup plotters are destroying evidence as fast as they can: the FBI just informed Congress that text messages sent by Robert Mueller’s investigators, Peter Strzok and his FBI lawyer paramour Lisa Page, filled with anti-Trump material – and possibly detailing the “insurance policy” Strzok talked about to prevent Trump from either taking office or functioning as President – were “mistakenly” destroyed.

My usual subject is the many ways in which US government agencies seek to dominate, coerce, and otherwise seek to forcibly and/or illegally change governments abroad. These days, however, in the latter days of the American Empire, I’m forced to write about a regime-change operation to end all regime-change operations – the one being carried out by high-ranking US government officials right here at home.

But why? How? Who?

The “how” is now coming out, but I’m convinced people like James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and John Brennan are just part of the story. The other part is the foreign nationals who I believe are deeply involved in the genesis and implementation of this wrecking operation. Trump’s talk of getting out of NATO, cutting down on US military intervention abroad, as well as his opposition to a new cold war with Russia – this last especially angered the Brits and the East Europeans – threatened their precious “international order,” not to mention the political agenda of the Davos crowd.

Americans will be shocked by the nature and extent of the FBI/CIA’s interference in our domestic politics, but they’ll also be surprised at the way our spooks dominate – not just influence, but dominate – what passes for American journalism today. I’d bet the farm that there isn’t a single “mainstream” media outlet that isn’t beholden to them. The reason I say this with such alacrity is that “Operation Get Trump” couldn’t have happened without the kind of fulsome partisanship we’re seen since before Trump took office. We’ve seen this kind of thing before – only not in this country. We saw it in Ukraine, where the CIA and their Euro-weenie allies overthrew an elected President Yanukovich. We saw it in Chile,when they overthrew Salvador Allende, we saw it in Guatemala when they got rid of President Jacobo Arbenz – heck, I could spend  the rest of the week just listing their crimes.

It was inevitable that they’d try to pull the same thing off in America. Oh, the irony! We thought of our allies as if they were our satellites – but who is revolving around whom? The mere threat that American largesse might be withdrawn, that our “allies” will have to start paying their own way, and that we want to rip up the many tripwires that could plunge us into war halfway around the earth for no good reason – this is what mobilized the War Party to declare war against … their own country. We have become a prisoner of our own empire.

When all this is over – if it ever is – Congress must gather its courage and examine exactly what went on here. We need a new Church Committee to rein in the FBI and the CIA — and the other 16 intelligence agencies we inexplicably operate.

That, of course, is after the culprits are thrown in jail.

And for the absolute last time: this isn’t about Trump. It’s about preserving the American republic against rogue intelligence agencies and the FBI – a national police force which we don’t need, which the Founders never envisioned, and which has proven itself to be a deadly danger to the American system.


FBI ‘Failed To Preserve’ Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump FBI Agents

January 21, 2018

by Chuck Ross

The Daily Caller

The FBI “failed to preserve” five months worth of text messages exchanged between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the two FBI employees who made pro-Clinton and anti-Trump comments while working on the Clinton email and the Russia collusion investigations.

The disclosure was made Friday in a letter sent by the Justice Department to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC).

“The Department wants to bring to your attention that the FBI’s technical system for retaining text messages sent and received on FBI mobile devices failed to preserve text messages for Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page,” Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs at the Justice Department, wrote to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of HSGAC.

Boyd attributed the failure to “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities.”

“The result was that data that should have been automatically collected and retained for long-term storage and retrieval was not collected,” Boyd wrote.

Strzok and Page were significant players in the Clinton and Trump investigations. As deputy chief of counterintelligence, Strzok oversaw the Trump investigation when it was opened in July 2016. Weeks earlier, he had wrapped up his work as one of the top investigators on the Clinton email probe.

Both worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation until July 2017.

But Strzok was removed after the Justice Department’s inspector general discovered text messages he exchanged with Page, with whom he was having an affair, in which both expressed strong criticism of Trump.

In one text, Strzok called Trump and “idiot.” In another, he said “F Trump.”

In another more cryptic exchange, Strzok spoke of an “insurance policy” that the FBI sought to take out in case Trump defeated Clinton in the election.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok wrote to Page on Aug. 15, 2016.

“Andy” was a reference to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” Strzok added. Republicans have questioned what Strzok meant by “insurance policy.”

Page left the Mueller team prior to the discovery of the texts.

Johnson expressed concern over the missing text messages, which were sent during a key period of the Russia investigation. During that time frame is when the Steele dossier was published by BuzzFeed News, when Strzok participated in a Jan. 24 interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, and when James Comey was fired as FBI director.

The end date of the missing Strzok-Page texts is also significant. That’s because May 17 is the day when Mueller was appointed to take over the FBI’s probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

“The loss of records from this period is concerning,” Johnson wrote in a letter sent Saturday to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Along with its disclosure of the missing text messages, DOJ’s Boyd handed over 384 pages of additional text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page.

The FBI and Justice Department’s inspector general declined comment for this article.



It’s Time We Saw Sanctions for What They Really Are – War Crimes

January 19, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

The first pathetic pieces of wreckage of North Korean fishing boats known as “ghost ships” to be found this year are washing up on the coast of northern Japan. These are the storm-battered remains of fragile wooden boats with unreliable engines in which North Korean fishermen go far out to sea in the middle of winter in a desperate search for fish.

Often all that survives is the shattered wooden hull of the boat cast up on the shore, but in some cases the Japanese find the bodies of fishermen who died of hunger and thirst as they drifted across the Sea of Japan. Occasionally, a few famished survivors are alive and explain that their engine failed or they ran out of fuel or they were victims of some other fatal mishap.

The number of “ghost ships” is rising with no less than 104 found in 2017, which is more than in any previous year, though the real figure must be higher because many boats will have sunk without trace in the 600 miles of rough sea between North Korea and Japan.

The reason so many fishermen risk and lose their lives is hunger in North Korea where fish is the cheapest form of protein. The government imposes quotas for fishermen that force them to go far out to sea. Part of their catch is then sold on to China for cash, making fish one of the biggest of North Korea’s few export items.

The fact that North Korean fishermen took greater risks and died in greater numbers last year is evidence that international sanctions imposed on North Korea are, in a certain sense, a success: North Korea is clearly under severe economic pressure. But, as with sanctions elsewhere in the world past and present, the pressure is not on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who looks particularly plump and well-fed, but on the poor and the powerless.

The record of economic sanctions in forcing political change is dismal, but as a way of reducing a country to poverty and misery it is difficult to beat. UN sanctions were imposed against Iraq from 1990 until 2003. Supposedly, it was directed against Saddam Hussein and his regime, though it did nothing to dislodge or weaken them: on the contrary, the Baathist political elite took advantage of the scarcity of various items to enrich themselves by becoming the sole suppliers. Saddam’s odious elder son Uday made vast profits by controlling the import of cigarettes into Iraq.

The bureaucrats in charge of UN sanctions in Iraq always pretended that they prevented Saddam rebuilding his military strength. This was always a hypocritical lie: the Iraqi army did not fight for him in 1991 at the beginning of sanctions any more than it did when they ended. It was absurd to imagine that dictators like Kim Jong-un or Saddam Hussein would be influenced by the sufferings of their people.

These are very real: I used to visit Iraqi hospitals in the 1990s where the oxygen had run and there were no tyres for the ambulances. Once, I was pursued across a field in Diyala province north of Baghdad by local farmers holding up dusty X-rays of their children because they thought I might be a visiting foreign doctor.

Saddam Hussein and his senior lieutenants were rightly executed for their crimes, but the foreign politicians and officials who were responsible for the sanctions regime that killed so many deserved to stand beside them in the dock. It is time that the imposition of economic sanctions should be seen as the war crime, since it involves the collective punishment of millions of innocent civilians who die, sicken or are reduced to living off scraps from the garbage dumps.

There is nothing very new in this. Economic sanctions are like a medieval siege but with a modern PR apparatus attached to justify what is being done. A difference is that such sieges used to be directed at starving out a single town or city while now they are aimed at squeezing whole countries into submission.

An attraction for politicians is that sanctions can be sold to the public, though of course not to people at the receiving end, as more humane than military action. There is usually a pretence that foodstuffs and medical equipment are being allowed through freely and no mention is made of the financial and other regulatory obstacles making it impossible to deliver them.

An example of this is the draconian sanctions imposed on Syria by the US and EU which were meant to target President Bashar al-Assad and help remove him from power. They have wholly failed to do this, but a UN internal report leaked in 2016 shows all too convincingly the effect of the embargo in stopping the delivery of aid by international aid agencies. They cannot import the aid despite waivers because banks and commercial companies dare not risk being penalised for having anything to do with Syria. The report quotes a European doctor working in Syria as saying that “the indirect effect of sanctions…makes the import of the medical instruments and other medical supplies immensely difficult, near impossible.”

People should be just as outraged by the impact of this sort of thing as they are by the destruction of hospitals by bombing and artillery fire. But the picture of X-ray or kidney dialysis machines lacking essential spare parts is never going to compete for impact with film of dead and wounded on the front line. And those who die because medical equipment has been disabled by sanctions are likely to do so un-dramatically and out of sight.

Embargos are dull and war is exciting. A few failed rocket strikes against Riyadh by the Houthi forces in Yemen was heavily publicised, though no Saudis were killed. Compare this to the scant coverage of the Saudi embargo on Houthi-held Yemen which has helped cause the largest man-made famine in recent history. In addition, there are over one million cholera cases suspected and 2,000 Yemenis have died from the illness according to World Health Organisation.

PR gambits justifying sanctions are often the same regardless of circumstances. One is to claim that the economic damage caused prevents those who are targeted spending money on guns and terror. President Trump denounces the nuclear deal with Iran on the grounds that it frees up money to finance Iranian foreign ventures, though the cost of these is small and, in Iraq, Iranian activities probably make a profit.

Sanctions are just as much a collective punishment as area bombing in East Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul. They may even kill more people than the bombs and shells because they go on for years and their effect is cumulative. The death of so many North Korean fishermen in their un-seaworthy wooden craft is one side effect of sanctions but not atypical of their toxic impact. As usual, they are hitting the wrong target and they are not succeeding against Kim Jong-un any more than they did against Saddam Hussein.


Blowback: How U.S. Drones, Coups, and Invasions Just Create More Violence

January 22 2018

by Mehdi Hasan

The Intercept

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Sir Isaac Newton called it his Third Law of Motion.

The CIA calls it “blowback.”

As the late historian of empire and one-time consultant to the CIA, Chalmers Johnson, explained in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, blowback is “a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s international activities that have been kept secret from the American people.”

Time and again, the United States and its allies have intervened in a faraway conflict, typically in the Muslim-majority Middle East; they’ve dropped some bombs, killed some “bad guys,” and then declared “mission accomplished.” Time and again, these interventions have ended up resulting in bloodshed and conflict later down the line — often on U.S. or Western soil. “Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States,” the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board observed back in 1997.

Yet U.S. and Western politicians avert their eyes from this data and this correlation; acts of terror are explained away as “random,” “mindless,” and, perhaps most disingenuously of all, “unprovoked.” The public, either unfamiliar with secret operations carried out by the U.S. military or intelligence services, or uninformed about the brutal nature of the foreign wars fought in their name, tend to buy into this fantasy of an “innocent” America hated and attacked by hordes of “mad” Muslims.

In a series of short films for The Intercept, launching today, I set out to examine key examples of blowback in greater detail — beginning with the issue of CIA drone strikes — and explore how foreign policy decisions by the U.S. and its allies often produce terrorist blowback and so-called unintended consequences.

Take the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the explosion of Iranian anti-Americanism in the late 1970s. As Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people, noted in a Democratic presidential debate in 2016, few Americans are aware that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 against the dictatorship of the Shah was blowback from the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup that removed the elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, from office. In fact, the term “blowback” was first coined by the CIA in the wake of, and in reference to, the secret plot against Mossadegh.

“Possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers involved in this type of operation. Few, if any, operations are as explosive as this type.” This quote appeared in an internal CIA lessons-learned report on the 1953 coup. However, few lessons were actually learned by the agency or its political masters. The short-term success of the coup — carried out by the CIA just six years after it was founded under President Harry Truman — prompted politicians and spooks alike to embark on a series of covert and not-so-covert actions, many of which would end up backfiring on the U.S. in the long run.

Remember, for instance, how the CIA poured millions of dollars and thousands of Stinger missiles into Afghanistan in the 1980s to support the “jihad” against the Soviet Union? Many of those U.S.-armed and U.S.-funded fighters would later join Mullah Omar’s Taliban or Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and turn their “jihad” against the West. How’s that for blowback?

And there are plenty of other examples aside from the case of Afghanistan and bin Laden. Take drone strikes. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed drones to Pakistan as part of their counterterror strategy, without taking into account how much “drone strikes are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one,” to quote top U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Terrorists such as Faisal Shahzad, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev all cited the civilian casualties from drone strikes among their litany of anti-American complaints. How’s that for blowback?

In 2003, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands in the process; disbanded the Iraqi army overnight while opening fire on peaceful protesters; tortured and radicalized Iraqis in prisons and detention centers built by Saddam Hussein …  and then expressed surprise when the Islamic State appeared on the scene. How’s that for blowback?

U.S. allies have been equally short-sighted and self-destructive. The Egyptians and the Jordanians tortured men such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to try and break them. It didn’t work — and, in fact, helped to do the opposite. Zawahiri went on to join bin Laden in creating Al Qaeda while Zarqawi founded the precursor organization to ISIS. How’s that for blowback?

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Israelis backed and funded the Palestinian Islamists who would later become Hamas, as a way of dividing and ruling over the Palestinians and, especially, undermining Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah movement. Since the 1990s, however, Hamas has killed far more Israeli civilians than Arafat or Fatah ever did. How’s that for blowback?

In 2011, the British government led the charge to topple Col. Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya, backing jihadi rebel groups and turning a blind eye to angry young men from the U.K. going out to fight against the regime in Tripoli. One of them, a British 23-year-old of Libyan descent named Salman Abedi, who allegedly made contact with ISIS fighters in the chaos of post-war Libya, returned to the U.K. and blew himself up at a Manchester concert, killing 22 people. How’s that for blowback?

The inescapable truth for my six blowback films is that you cannot bomb, kill, invade, occupy, and torture, and then expect no pushback, no retaliation, no blowback. Nor can you cynically arm or fund extremist groups to fight your “official enemy” and then assume those extremist groups won’t one day turn on you or your allies. Actions have consequences; actions, to quote Newton, have equal and opposite reactions.

These days, the need to address and acknowledge the contentious issue of blowback has taken on an even greater urgency as the Trump administration escalates and expands every single conflict that it inherited from the Obama administration. Ramp up drone strikes? Tick. Drop bigger bombs in Afghanistan? Tick. Kill more Iraqi and Syrian civilians via airstrikes? Tick.

Whether or not Trump is clinically insane, his foreign policy, like that of his Democratic and Republican predecessors, is the very definition of madness — doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

Will they ever learn? Or will they continue to endanger us all?


San Francisco or Mumbai? UN envoy encounters homeless life in California

Leilani Farha, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, says ‘unacceptable’ squalor amid US wealth violates rights law

January 22, 2018

by Alastair Gee in San Francisco and Oakland, California

The Guardian

Leilani Farha was being given a walking tour in central San Francisco. Near a thronged artisanal grocery store and a food-truck park, she saw something under a freeway that gave her pause.

A young homeless man sat on the ground. He wore two pairs of jeans and had a hood pulled over his long brown hair. Before him was a crockpot filled with burning paper, over which he was heating tortillas in a dirty skillet. As cars, cyclists and tech commuter buses rushed past, white smoke poured into the darkening air.

“The last time I saw cooking on a sidewalk,” Farha said, “was in Mumbai.”

Farha, 49, is a Canadian lawyer. She is also the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, charged with probing deplorable living conditions and assessing compliance with international human rights law. Her latest project is a report on “informal settlements” – shanties, favelas, tent cities – which will be presented at the UN general assembly.

In Mexico City, she spent time in a slum by a railway line. In Manila and Jakarta, she visited decrepit and makeshift houses. San Francisco has a median home value of $1.3m and would seem an incongruous next stop. Farha had come on an unofficial visit, at the invitation of academics and advocates.

“The situation is unacceptable in light of the wealth of the country,” she said, adding that she was “deeply, deeply concerned” by the homelessness she saw.

Poverty in the US is an established UN focus; last month, another rapporteur was dismayed by visits to Skid Row in Los Angeles and hookworm-afflicted deep south communities.

In 2011, a UN representative visited Sacramento. After discovering that homeless people were defecating into plastic bags, the official wrote to the city’s mayor. Such circumstances, she said, could amount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

‘It’s structural’

Farha squatted by the man with the cooking fire. His name was Eric Hoch, and he was 30.

A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America

The Minnesotan told her he had been homeless in San Francisco for two or three years. He complained of an old gunshot wound and said he did not understand the welfare system. He does not have a tent – he sleeps bundled in a blanket on the street.

“I’m going to ask kind of personal questions,” Farha said. “What do you do if you have to go the bathroom?”

Hoch described how he timed his bowel movements to the opening hours of restrooms in surrounding businesses.


An Insurgent Campaign Is Targeting the Very Heart of the Chicago Democratic Machine — and Just Might Win

January 22 2018

by Justin Miller

The Intercept

For the better part of the past four decades, the office in charge of assessing and collecting property taxes in Chicago has been firmly in the grip of the city’s Democratic machine. The process the party has set up is a boon for tax lawyers, who then give heavily to the party. The result is a system that goes light on big businesses and the wealthy while putting a disproportionate share of the burden on the city’s black and brown residents.

This year, the machine is under assault.

A primary race for control of the Cook County Assessor’s Office — between a political novice, Fritz Kaegi, and one of the most powerful figures in Chicago politics, Joseph Berrios — is turning into a genuine slugfest, pitting the city’s ascendant progressive bloc against the old guard of the Democratic machine. The primary will be held on Tuesday, March 20.

Berrios’s challenger, Kaegi, decided to quit his comfortable career as a mutual fund manager last spring and run for county assessor. Kaegi’s bid against Berrios, who also heads the Cook County Democratic Party, is emblematic of a broader fight for the party’s future in the city — and across the country. Progressive, Bernie Sanders-inspired politicians have had resounding success in elections nationwide over the last year — perhaps most notably in Virginia, where left-wing, grassroots candidates made massive electoral gains in November. Now, this race is a major test for the burgeoning political revolution in Chicago, where Sanders exceeded expectations in the 2016 Democratic primary despite having no party support.

Can the progressive movement succeed in building power from down the ballot on up in a city that’s famous for sleazy top-down machine politics?

“Our property tax system is not fair today. It is corrupted,” Kaegi told The Intercept. “Berrios represents machine politics in Cook County and all the things that people really detest about the system.”

Kaegi seems to have cobbled together an impressive insurgency, positioning himself as a reformer who wants to overhaul the office and bring much-needed updates and transparency to the county’s property tax assessment process. Kaegi has pledged not to take any money from property tax appeals lawyers, often a significant source of funding for Chicago Democrats, and he may not need it anyway — he’s already pumped more than $800,000 of his own money into his campaign.

Despite his time in the financial industry and his lack of political experience, Kaegi said he’s a committed progressive. He supported Sanders in 2016, he said, and ultimately voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election. A review of state and federal campaign finance records show that he has been a generous donor to a number of Illinois Democratic candidates and groups going back as far as 2004. Soon after he quit his job, Kaegi headed to Iowa for a candidate training program held by Wellstone Action, a group dedicated to building a pipeline of progressive candidates in the mold of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone.

When Clem Balanoff, chair of Our Revolution Illinois — a group built from the remnants of the 2016 Sanders campaign — and a longtime progressive activist in Chicago, first met Kaegi last spring, he was skeptical of his background as an investment manager. “They ain’t my kind of guys usually,” Balanoff told The Intercept. But as Balanoff got to know him better, he became convinced Kaegi’s campaign vision was aligned with Our Revolution’s, and that he could take on Berrios.

It helps that he is the most visible and well-funded challenger in a small field. (Andrea Raila, a property tax expert, is also running, but her campaign has not gained much traction.) There aren’t a whole lot of established Democrats willing to risk their future political careers on a long-shot bid against a powerful party leader. Indeed, Berrios, who was first elected in 2010, didn’t face a single challenger — in either the primary or general — to his 2014 re-election bid.

So while a wealthy self-funding former investment manager with an MBA from Stanford may not seem like a natural standard bearer for a progressive movement, Our Revolution Illinois has rallied behind him. After polling its membership, the group endorsed Kaegi in November, and political support for him has only continued to grow. Chuy García, who challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 and is now the leading candidate to replace Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., (who is backing Berrios) has endorsed him. Three Chicago-area members of Congress, the longtime county clerk, and a growing group of progressive legislators and aldermen have all endorsed him, too.

In recent months, Our Revolution has bird-dogged the assessor’s office, calling for public hearings, investigations, and oversight into what it is calling a secret “Berrios tax” on minority and low-income communities. “We’ve made a conscious decision to make this a top priority,” Balanoff said. “If you look at the [most loyal] voters of the Democratic Party, they’re the ones who are getting screwed the most.”

The issue of unequal property tax burdens has become a political firestorm in Cook County — and Berrios sits at the center of it all. An ongoing series of investigations by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found that Berrios has facilitated a system, in which wealthy homeowners and downtown commercial property owners pay less in taxes as a percentage of property value compared with black and Latino homeowners in Chicago’s lower-income neighborhoods. In an interview with The Intercept, Berrios’s campaign spokesperson Monica Trevino and campaign manager Mario Lopez claimed that the Tribune and ProPublica stories are willfully inaccurate and that when he first took office in 2010, Berrios “inherited a broken system.”

Berrios’s office boasted in a 2015 press release that it had implemented a new modeling technique that improves residential property assessment fairness by 25 percent. But as the Tribune uncovered, the assessor continued to use an inaccurate and opaque system that openly encourages homeowners and businesses to appeal their often-erroneous initial assessments. Wealthier homeowners and business owners who can afford property tax appeal lawyers get generous breaks on their property tax bills. Berrios’s office will often not adjust an assessment on a property from one year to another, even if it had granted a reduced valuation previously, creating a feedback loop for future appeals. As the Tribune reported, “In 2015 alone, residential property owners filed assessment appeals involving 370,000 parcels, winning reductions 80 percent of the time.”

The appeals process is a lucrative scheme for the Democratic Party, which fills its campaign coffers with money from tax lawyers. Those property tax appeals lawyers have made a killing, bringing in more than $130 million between 2009 and 2015. The kickback for Berrios has been generous. Since 2009, he’s raised more than $5 million — more than any county assessor in history. About half of those funds have come from property lawyers and others involved in cottage industry that has cropped up around the appeals process.

“That, to me, is pay-to-play politics on steroids,” Balanoff said.

One of Berrios’s closest political allies is Mike Madigan, the state Democratic Party boss, House speaker, and a founding partner of Illinois’s most powerful commercial tax law firm, which secured its clients $1.7 billion in assessment reductions between 2011 and 2016. Madigan is a toxic political figure in Illinois, who many blame for the state’s massive debt and ongoing pension crisis. Many Democrats, especially in the gubernatorial primary, are scrambling to distance themselves from him and his public perception as a crooked politician.

Tax attorney Ed Burke, also one of Chicago’s most powerful alderman, is another Berrios ally. Burke is currently working to secure what’s estimated to be as much as $3 million in property tax reductions for President Donald Trump’s downtown Chicago hotel and retail space. His law firm began representing Trump in 2006 and has filed half a dozen lawsuits on behalf of the president seeking refunds of property taxes paid as far back as 2009, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

The heightened scrutiny of Berrios and Cook County’s lopsided property taxes has galvanized the issue for Democrats — it’s a particularly important matter in the heated gubernatorial primary. Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy has gone so far as to call on Berrios to resign and wants to prohibit property tax appeals lawyers from making campaign contributions to local assessors or their affiliated political organizations or serving in public office. (His opponents point out that a company headed by Kennedy hired Madigan’s law firm to secure a property tax break).

Another candidate for governor, state Sen. Daniel Biss, has called Berrios’s assessment process a “self-dealing racket” while touting his own legislative plan to fix the system. Democratic frontrunner J.B. Pritzker also supports reforming property taxation but has avoided criticizing Berrios. The Cook County Democratic Party got behind Pritzker early. Property tax policy isn’t something Pritzker wants to be loud about on the campaign trail: The billionaire received a $230,000 property tax reduction on the Gold Coast mansion that he bought next door to his own, claiming it was “uninhabitable.”

Berrios’s campaign manager defended campaign contributions from property tax appeals lawyers. “He accepts [contributions] from property tax attorneys” because he is not rich, said Trevino, and “cannot self-fund his campaign like Fritz Kaegi.” Berrios has more than $1.2 million on hand, according to the latest campaign filings.

For his part, Kaegi wants to implement a new assessment model that will dramatically reduce regressiveness by more accurately valuing properties in the first place, scale back the reliance on appeals, and make the whole process more transparent. “We’re committed to showing our work for every property that we value — and not just for the people who appeal,” Kaegi said. “We’re going to open up our data and algorithm to outside parties so they can scrutinize how the office works and work to eliminate bias.”

Meanwhile, Berrios becomes more embattled by the day. Within just the past month, representatives of Latino and black neighborhoods sued him for alleged racial discrimination in the assessment process, reports found that he’s flouting anti-political patronage and nepotism reforms in his office, and he was slapped with a $41,000 fine for failing to return excessive campaign contributions from property tax attorneys.

On the ropes, Berrios is aggressively countering Kaegi. He tried, and ultimately failed, to keep Kaegi and another candidate off the ballot. His campaign has zeroed in on Kaegi’s career as an investment manager at Columbia Wanger Asset Management. They’ve run attack ads, including a radio spot, featuring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, claiming Kaegi managed a fund that invested $30 million in CoreCivic, the private prison giant.

Kaegi, who has filed a defamation lawsuit against Berrios, vehemently denies those charges, saying that he was no longer overseeing the fund when the investment was made and that he actively blocked the company from investing in private prisons while he was there. Politifact and the Better Government Association have whacked Berrios’s charge as “mostly false,” but the county assessor is not backing down. Kaegi has not provided “any definitive evidence that when the investment was made he wasn’t there,” Trevino told The Intercept in an email.

“They can’t defend their record so they want to lie about somebody else,” said Balanoff of Our Revolution. “They think if they can spend enough money to muddy the waters, somehow, someway, [Berrios is] going to get re-elected. The electorate is far too smart for that stuff.”

Berrios’s campaign aides also question Kaegi’s progressive credentials, and accuse him of being a “Wall Street Republican” because, the campaign says, five of Kaegi’s campaign donors have also given money to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Asked about Kaegi’s campaign donors, DeRondal Bevly, the candidate’s communications director, said, “Kaegi is a lifelong Democrat and, given that his voting history is public record, any suggestion to the contrary is an intentional attempt to deceive reporters/voters.”

“Almost every campaign has some donors to it who have donated to candidates or issues that are not aligned with them. Berrios has even more of them,” Bevly added. The Kaegi campaign provided The Intercept with a list of more than 50 individuals, law firms, and other companies that have contributed to Berrios’s campaign or his affiliated political organizations and also given to GOP candidates.

While it might be a political long-shot, Kaegi and Our Revolution are confident that they can build enough momentum to secure an insurgent victory in the upcoming primary on March 20. Kaegi said his campaign has internal polling that shows while 80 percent of voters recognize Berrios’s name, only 19 percent support him. “We don’t consider it an uphill battle. We consider it a battle that is energizing people and they are opening their eyes to the mandate for change that there is,” Kaegi says. “If we get our message out, we will win.”

Having prioritized the issue of property taxes, Our Revolution is in the process of formally asking where Democratic candidates for other political offices stand on the assessor’s race. “We’re going to make it very public,” Balanoff said, “because people have to understand who will continue to stand with the Democratic machine and its big donors and who is really interested in reform and change.”



‘Legalized loan sharking’: payday loan customers recount their experiences

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has ordered a review of rules on short-term loans. Three customers say companies lured them into a trap

January 22, 2018

by Joanna Walters in New York

The Guardian

Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director and interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, recently announced a review of rules on payday loans.

Payday loan companies focus on the needy, often operating out of strip malls or corner stores. Interest can be 300%, plus fees. Borrowers often hand over post-dated checks which are cashed if they do not repay on time.

The controversial industry has been a source of campaign contributions for Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman. He denies any undue influence.

Mulvaney also called the CFPB a “sick, sad joke”. But he is now in charge of the bureau as it considers delaying or scrapping tough payday loans rules introduced last year.

Under the regulations, lenders must determine if a borrower can afford to repay a high-interest, short-term loan in full within 30 days. The rules also cap the number of loans one person can take out.

The Guardian spoke to three people who say payday loan companies lured them into a trap.

Becky Hensley

When she was 23 and studying as a church minister, Becky Hensley, who is now 39 and lives in Dallas, took a $600 loan to cover unexpected lawyer’s fees in a child custody case involving her now-ex-husband.

“The loan place encouraged us that taking out the loan was very easy,” she said.

But when living expenses piled up unexpectedly, Hensley wasn’t able to pay the loan back in full on the first due date. Rather than roll the debt over and incur higher fees, she took out another loan.

“I wasn’t aware that it was going to become so difficult so quickly,” she said. “A normal loan doesn’t go through the roof like that.”

She quickly became dependent on payday loans and soon owed close to 700% of the principal, in a mix of interest and fees. Eventually, Hensley’s church gave her $1,000 from its benevolent fund.

“I’ll never forget that moment of sheer relief,” she said.

Gordon Martinez

Hensley now works for the church group Faith In Texas. Gordon Martinez, its board president, also has a story to tell.

Moving from his native New Mexico to Texas in 2009 to take a sales job, he wanted to provide for his wife and three stepdaughters. He admits that his aspirations exceeded his earning power.

Martinez is a musician: one month, to make ends meet, he pawned his precious $8,000 tuba, in order to raise a short-term $500 loan. He planned to buy the tuba back but ended up making weekly payments for two years – until he had paid back $3,800. He still couldn’t afford his tuba.

He never got it back but he carried on taking out payday loans from a store and online, $350 each time and without any restrictions, paying interest up to 450%.

“It’s an unfortunate hamster wheel,” he said. “The whole industry is legalized loan sharking.”

By the time Martinez owed $5,000, in 2010, his marriage had collapsed and he was sleeping on a rented couch. For four years, he ran ahead of threatening letters from lenders, until the statute of limitations expired on his outstanding unsecured loans.

“I would not recommend doing that,” he said. “It’s not the proudest time of my life.”

Bonnie Jacobson

Now 70, Jacobson has retired to Washington state, where payday loans have some restrictions: after five months of lending, the lender has to give the borrower a break of a month. But she got in hot water three years ago in Nevada, a state with no restrictions on the industry, after borrowing just $350.

“I was a secretary on low pay and I needed to get my car fixed,” she said. “The first month was great.”

At the end of that month, she had to pay back about $440. She couldn’t do it. For 18 months, she kept making higher payments.

“It was very painful,” she said, adding that when she got “an itty bitty pay rise”, the loan company offered to lend her more. She refused … and finally paid off the debt.

“You get hooked on it when you are desperate,” she said. “It’s so convenient at the time, but you’re at the bottom of the economic grid.”



World’s richest 1% bagged 82% of global wealth in 2017, while poorest half got nothing – Oxfam

January 22, 2018


The inequality crisis is worsening, according to a new study by global charity Oxfam, which found that the world’s richest 42 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50 percent worldwide.

The annual report showed that 2017 saw the biggest increase in the number of billionaires in history, with new ones created at a rate of one every two days. Their wealth has increased by 13 percent a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015.

The fortunes of the super-rich increased by $762 billion in just 12 months to March 2017 which is enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. Nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 billionaires were men.

“Eighty two percent of the new wealth created has gone to [the] top 1 percent, while 0 percent has gone to the world’s poorest 50 percent,” said the report.

According to Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, the statistics signal that “something is very wrong with the global economy.”

“The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food,” he said.

Oxfam‘s executive director Winnie Byanyima blamed “tax dodging” as a major cause of global inequality and urged leaders to crack down on tax havens and inject money into education, healthcare and jobs for young people.

“[It] reveals how our economies are rewarding wealth rather than the hard work of millions of people,” Byanyima told Reuters, adding “The few at the top get richer and richer and the millions at the bottom are trapped in poverty wages.”


China: Oil slick from Iranian tanker triples in size

The spill from a sunken Iranian oil tanker off the Chinese coast is now about the size of Malta. But much of the environmental danger may be lurking underneath the water.

January 22, 2018


The oil spill around a sunken Iranian tanker in the East China Sea has tripled in size in recent days, China’s State Oceanic Administration said Monday.

Three slicks with a total surface area of 332 square kilometers (128 square miles) have been observed, compared to 101 square kilometers last Wednesday.

That means the oil slick is now about the size of Malta.

The tanker Sanchi was carrying 111,000 tons of condensate when it collided with a Hong Kong-registered grain freighter on January 6. After burning for days it sank on January 14.

All 32 sailors on board perished.

Condensate does not form a traditional oil slick, but can be highly toxic to marine life.

When at the surface it can burn off or evaporate in the air.

However, some scientists have warned that the condensate will remain invisibly toxic underneath the water.

The extent of the environmental damage depends on how much of the condensate burned off or evaporated at the surface before the ship sank, as well as how much is leaking underneath the water.

It was the largest condensate spill on record.

Merkel’s Got Some Explaining To Do

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has completely reversed her refugee policies without bothering to tell German voters why she has done so. Such imperiousness is a common problem for those who have been in office for too long.

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Dirk Kurbjuweit

January 22, 2018

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection. Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach.

Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed.

In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.” In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low.

The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

It is, of course, impossible for the country to take in 750,000 asylum-seekers year after year without overburdening German society. But why was the CSU allowed to determine the upper limit? Why has the German chancellor opted for silence on this issue? There was once a time when she was considered the climate chancellor, before quietly turning away from climate policies that had already been agreed upon. Because they were no longer politically convenient.

Merkel’s Fear of Losing Power

That’s her style — and it has been an impertinence for quite some time. Liberal democracy, after all, is primarily characterized by the fact that people talk to each other. And this time around, it’s not just an impertinence. It shows serious contempt for many German citizens.

It wasn’t just politicians who sustained the refugee policies pursued by the country in 2015. Many, many German citizens rolled up their sleeves as well. They helped the state, which wasn’t well prepared at all, they welcomed the arriving refugees, supporting them and sometimes even bringing them into their own homes. They contributed actively, and many continue doing so today by helping refugees integrate into this society. They are the the friendly face of Germany.

These citizens must now stand by and watch as Merkel, out of fear of losing power, is pushing the policies of the others. The policies of those who are less welcoming, those who are potential supporters of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, those who want as few asylum-seekers coming to Germany as possible.

Merkel is currently building the country they would like to see and is pursuing policies consistent with their view of the situation. Of course, there were and still are enormous problems with the refugees. But there is also a hysterical view of the situation that has little to do with reality. The sexual assaults that took place in Cologne on new year’s eve 2015 were horrifying, but the years since have shown that it is possible to get such problems under control. Every rape is one too many, but reporting by DER SPIEGEL has shown that there is a significant amount of inaccurate information on the issue being disseminated in an attempt to defame refugees.

Liberal elements of society expect an open debate. Merkel should long ago have held a speech explaining at length why she so dramatically changed course. Had she done so, some might have understood her arguments and opted to support her new policy. Others would at least have been able to say: The chancellor is taking us seriously. And perhaps the debate following the speech would have produced a different number. For the moment, though, it’s hard not to feel insulted by this ludicrous tiptoeing around the term “upper limit.” It’s like kindergarten.

The refusal to engage in an important discussion is characteristic of monarchies, not democracies. Simply ignoring previous promises reveals a rather imperious bearing — the arrogance of power. It is something that is almost unavoidable to those who have been in office for too long.


Catalan crisis rekindled as parliament proposes Puigdemont as leader

January 22, 2018

by Rodrigo De Miguel and Teis Jensen


MADRID/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Catalonia’s parliament nominated former leader Carles Puigdemont, sacked by Spain for unilaterally declaring independence, as candidate to rule the region again in a sign of defiance to Madrid and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government.

Puigdemont and his supporters say he can rule from self-imposed exile in Belgium, where he fled to in October to avoid arrest for his part in organizing a banned referendum on a split from Spain and the consequent declaration of independence.

Madrid has rejected this possibility and said it will challenge any attempt by him to rule remotely in the courts.

Puigdemont said on Monday the independence movement would not bow to Spanish authority in comments during a debate held in the University of Copenhagen.

“We will not surrender to authoritarianism,” Puigdemont said at the event, which marked his first trip away from Belgium in three months.

Puigdemont became the top candidate to lead the wealthy northeastern region again after elections in Catalonia last month gave secessionists a slim majority.

The 55-year old former journalist potentially faces decades of jail in Spain if he is convicted of the charges leveled against him, including rebellion and sedition, for organizing the referendum and declaring Catalonia’s independence.

Rajoy and his ministers have said they would appeal to the courts and maintain Madrid’s direct rule of Catalonia if Puigdemont was elected while abroad.

However, the Catalan parliament’s speaker said Puigdemont was the only candidate chosen by parliament to rule the region.

“I am conscious of the warnings that weigh upon him, but I am also conscious of his absolute legitimacy to be candidate,” Roger Torrent said.

Catalonia’s parliament must hold its first vote of confidence on the new leader by Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Supreme Court rejected on Monday a request from the state prosecutor to reactivate a European arrest warrant to detain Puigdemont while he is in Copenhagen.

The court said it was too early to do so while Catalonia’s newly-elected parliament was not back to normal yet.

While at first glance a blow to Madrid’s efforts to have Puigdemont arrested, the court’s decision could also make it more difficult for the former Catalan leader to be allowed to vote.

Spanish laws make it easier for someone in detention than for someone who is abroad to be granted a parliamentary proxy.



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