TBR News January 26, 2018

Jan 26 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 26, 2018: “Here is an informative excerpt from a CIA manual on interrogation:


Your virtuous interrogator, like the virtuoso in any field, will tell you that formulating the principles of his art would be a presumptuous and sterile procedure. Interrogators are born, not made, he almost says, and good interrogation is the organic product of intuition, experience, and native skill, not reducible to a set of mechanical components. Yet the organic whole can usefully be dissected, and examination will reveal its structural principles.

This article selects from the many different ramifications of the interrogation art that genre which is applicable to suspected agents under arrest, and sets forth some of the principles and procedures which characterize it. The essay is slanted toward relatively unsophisticated cases, and does not cover the subtler techniques which should be used, for example, against a suspected double agent, nor those required when access to the subject or the control of his person is limited. It does, however, treat interrogation as a process designed to yield the highest possible intelligence dividend. Such an interrogation is usually incompatible with one intended to produce legal evidence for a court conviction, since statements by the accused may be barred as court evidence on the ground that they were made under duress, during prolonged detention without charge, or in some other violation of legal procedures.

An interrogation yields the highest intelligence dividend when the interrogee finally becomes an ally, actively cooperating with the interrogator to produce the information desired. It is to a discussion of principles and procedures helpful in transforming a recalcitrant prisoner into something approaching an ally that this article is devoted. This kind of interrogation is essentially a battle of wills in which the turning-point is reached as the subject realizes the futility of his position. It usually develops in three tactical phases: a) breaking the cover story; b) convincing the subject that resistance is pointless and acquiescence the better part of valor; and c) getting active cooperation.

The question of torture should be disposed of at once. Quite apart from moral and legal considerations, physical torture or extreme mental torture is not an expedient device. Maltreating the subject is from a strictly practical point of view as short-sighted as whipping a horse to his knees before a thirty-mile ride. It is true that almost anyone will eventually talk when subjected to enough physical pressures, but the information obtained in this way is likely to be of little intelligence value and the subject himself rendered unfit for further exploitation. Physical pressure will often yield a confession, true or false, but what an intelligence interrogation seeks is a continuing flow of information.

No two interrogations are the same. The character, behavior, and degree of resistance of each new subject must be carefully assessed, and his estimated weaknesses used as the basis of a plan for intensive examination and exploitation. Each interrogation is thus carefully tailored to the measure of the individual subject. The standard lines of procedure, however, may be divided into four parts: a) arrest and detention; b) preliminary interview and questioning; c) intensive examination; and d) exploitation. The first three stages may often be merged; they constitute the softening-up process during which the cover story is broken and the subject may be shown up as a liar, an important step in making him realize the futility of further resistance.

In the matter of proving the subject a liar a word of caution is necessary. Showing some subjects up as liars is the very worst thing to do, because their determination not to lose face will only make them stick harder to the lie. For these it is necessary to provide loopholes by asking questions which let them correct their stories without any direct admission to lying.

When the cover story and the will to resist have been broken, when the subject is ready to answer a series of carefully prepared questions aimed at an intelligence target, the exploitation can begin, often in a veiled spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance. At this stage the interrogation may for example be moved to an office assigned the subject, where he might even be left alone for a few minutes to show that he is being trusted and that there is something constructive for him to do. This feeling of trust and responsibility can be very important to a broken subject, because he may now have suicidal inclinations; he must be given something to occupy his mind and keep him from too much introspection.

We shall examine in detail each stage of the interrogation procedure after a word on the language problem. Without doubt an interrogator using the subject’s language is in a much better position than one who has to work through an interpreter. But the interrogation skill is infinitely more important than the language skill, and a good linguist should not be substituted for a good interrogator. In the absence of an interrogator who speaks the language, an interpreter should be used, preferably one with some training in interrogation techniques. It is very important that the interpreter not only report accurately what both parties say but also reflect as faithfully as he can their inflection, tone, manner, and emphasis. He should try to become part of the furniture in the room rather than a third personality, and the interrogator should act as though he were not there.

Arrest and Detention

The interrogations officer, since his critical objective is breaking the subject’s will to resist, should attempt to control the psychological factors in every aspect of the subject’s life from the earliest possible stage, normally the time of arrest. If possible, he should plan in advance the conditions of arrest and immediate detention. If the subject is already in detention, the principles set down in the following paragraphs may be applied to his removal from ordinary detention to the place of interrogation.

The arrest should take the subject by surprise and should impose on him the greatest possible degree of mental discomfort, in order to catch him off balance and deprive him of the initiative. It should take place at a moment when he least expects it and when his mental and physical resistance is at its lowest. The ideal time which meets these conditions is in the early hours before dawn, when an abrupt transition from sleep to alert mental activity is most difficult.

If the arrest cannot be made during the pre-dawn sleep, the next best time is in the evening, when a person is normally relaxed in his own home. One is most impressionable when relaxing at home, as witness the findings of advertising firms who have studied the impact of television commercials. A less desirable time is in the morning when the day’s routine begins, especially in the case of underground personnel, because they will have thought through the day ahead of them and steeled themselves to its risks.

The police detachment which effects the arrest, or removal from detention to the interrogation center, should impress the prisoner with its cool efficiency and assurance.   This scene is important enough to justify a rehearsal, if necessary. A subject arrested by three or four ill-dressed, clumsy policemen is more likely to regain his composure after the initial shock and draw some confidence from his superiority over his captors. If he is abruptly awakened by an arresting party of particularly tall, smart, well-equipped and business-like officers, he will probably be exceedingly anxious about his future.

The arresting party should also be schooled in observing the prisoner’s reactions and in the techniques for a quick but thorough search of his room and person. In ordinary arrests there are arguments for having the prisoner witness the searching of his room: he cannot then claim theft or willful damage to his property; he can be asked questions about what is found; and his reactions may help the searchers uncover hidden objects. But during the search preceding an intelligence interrogation it is usually better to have the subject out of the room; his ignorance as to what has been found there will foster uncertainty and uneasiness in his mind. One member of the arresting party should be specifically charged with watching the prisoner’s reaction to everything that goes on.

Other aspects of the arrest and the conditions of initial detention should be governed by the interrogator’s preliminary assessment of the subject’s personality and character on the basis of records, reports, and any other sources available. If, for example, the prisoner belongs to a subversive organization which makes a practice of stressing the harsh and summary treatment its members should expect if they let themselves fall into the hands of the security authorities, the arresting party might make a point of treating him correctly and even courteously. This unanticipated finesse might disconcert his antagonism and be a useful factor in winning him over later.

Some of the alternative detention conditions from which the interrogator must choose according to his preliminary assessment of the subject are: a) a long period or brief interval between arrest and initial questioning, b) solitary confinement or quartering with other prisoners, c) comfortable or discomfiting accommodations, and d) subjection to comprehensive personal search or no. Some subject-types would be enabled by any delay between arrest and questioning to firm up a cover story, regain their composure, and fortify themselves against the interrogation. On the other hand, a prisoner left in solitary confinement for a long period with no one, not even his custodian, speaking a word to him may be thoroughly unnerved by the experience. When this course is chosen it is important to deprive the prisoner of all his personal possessions, especially of things like snapshots and keepsakes, symbols of his old life which might be a source of moral strength to him.

Other techniques which may or may not be employed at this stage, according to the subject’s personality, include the use of a stool-pigeon, the double stool-pigeon routine, microphoning the cell and doctoring it in other ways. The double stoolpigeon technique has two stool-pigeons in the cell when the prisoner arrives. One of them befriends him, warns him that the other is a stool-pigeon, and if possible enlists his help in agitating for the removal of this plant. When the third man has been removed the subject may have come to trust his fellow-agitator and confide in him. The cell can be doctored by having messages written on the walls, either with deceptive content recommending for example some attendant as a sympathetic channel to the outside or with discouraging and depressive impact.

The Preliminary Interview

The preliminary interview is not intended to obtain intelligence, but only to enable the interrogators to make a firm assessment of the character and type of subject with whom they will have to deal. It is useful to have the interrogators – preferably two of them – seated behind a table at the far end of a long room, so that the subject after entering will have some distance to walk before taking his chair in front of them. This device will enable them to observe his poise and manner, and may often quite unsettle the subject. The interrogators should sit with their backs to the main source of light in order to obscure their faces, veil their expressions, and place a strain on the prisoner.

The subject can be placed under further strain by providing him an uncomfortable chair, say one with a polished seat and shortened front legs so that he tends to slide off it, or one with wobbly legs. On the other hand, an opposite technique has sometimes been successful: the prisoner is made so comfortable, after a hearty lunch with beer, that he drops his guard in drowsiness.

The interview must of course be recorded, either on tape or in stenographic notes. The interrogators must on no account try to do this job themselves; it would distract them from the critical task of framing questions and steering the course of interrogation according to the implications of the subject’s replies. Whether the stenographer or recorder should be concealed or visible depends on the subject’s sophistication and the state of his alert. If the recording process is not evident some subjects may become careless of what they say when they see that the interrogators are not taking notes, whereas a visible recording would alert them to be more cautious. For others, consciousness of a recording going on in full view may be unnerving, and they may betray the weak links in their stories by showing signs of distress at these points.

At a later stage of the interrogation it may be of value to play back to the subject some part of this recording. The sound of his own voice repeating his earlier statements, particularly any with intonations of anger or distress, may make a psychological breach in his defenses.

The attitude of the interrogators at the preliminary interview should usually be correct, studiously polite, and in some cases even sympathetic. It is imperative that they keep their tempers both now and throughout the interrogation. The prisoner may be given the true reason for his arrest or a false one, or he may be left in doubt, according to the circumstances of the case. The interrogators must try to determine whether his usually vigorous protestations of innocence are genuine or an act, but they should not at this stage give any indication of whether they believe or disbelieve him. A clever prisoner will try to find out how much the interrogators know; they should at all costs remain poker-faced and non-committal.

At this interview the interrogators should do as little as possible of the talking, however many questions they are anxious to have answered. The prisoner should be asked to tell his story in his own words, describe the circumstances of his arrest, give the history of some period of his life, or explain the details of his occupation. The object is to get him to talk without prompting in as much continuous narrative as possible; the more he talks the better the interrogators can assess his personality.

Personalities are individual, but some typing of subjects can be done cutting across factors of race or background. One category displays no emotion whatever and will not speak a word; another betrays his anxiety about what is going to happen to him; a third is confident and slightly contemptuous in his assurance; a fourth maintains an insolent attitude but remains silent; a fifth tries to annoy his interrogators by pretending to be hard of hearing or by some trick like repeating each question before answering it.

After the interview the interrogators should confer, formulate their assessment of the subject’s character, and work out a plan of intensive examination, including the kind of detention conditions to be applied between questionings. The details of this plan will vary widely, but it will be based on two principles, that of maintaining psychological superiority over the prisoner and that of disconcerting his composure by devices to bewilder him.

The Intensive Examination

The intensive examination is the scene of the main battle of wits with the prisoner, having the critical objective of breaking his cover story. The cover story, if it is a good one, will be a simple explanation of the subject’s activities as a straight-forward normal person, plausible even to his close friends, containing a minimum of fabrication and that minimum without detail susceptible to a check or ramifications capable of development. Its weakness may often lie in the subject’s abnormal precision about certain details, especially when two or more subjects are using the same cover story.

The most difficult subject is one who will not talk at all, and prolonging his solitary confinement usually increases the difficulty of getting him to talk. It is best to put him into a labor gang or some such group of prisoners where he may be drawn into conversation. After some days or perhaps weeks he may be communicating normally with these others, and may have concluded that his interrogators have given him up for good. At that time some incident can be created involving the labor gang which requires that they all be questioned. If innocuous questions are put to the silent prisoner rapidly in a routine and indifferent manner, he may answer them. He may then find it hard to revert to complete silence if caught off guard as the questioning is switched without break to matters of real interest. The device of starting with questions easy for the subject to answer is useful with many whose replies to significant questions are hard to elicit.

Everything possible must be done to impress upon the subject the unassailable superiority of those in whose hands he finds himself and therefore the futility of his position. The interrogators must show throughout an attitude of assurance and unhurried determination. Except as part of a trick or plan they should always appear unworried and complete masters of the situation in every respect. In the long and arduous examination of a stubborn subject they must guard against showing the weariness and impatience they may well feel. If a specialist in the subject’s field is used to interrogate him, say scientist to interrogate a prisoner with a scientific specialty, this interrogator must have unquestioned superiority over the subject in his own field.

Many prisoners have reported amazement at their own capacity for resistance to any stable pressures or distresses of an interrogation, such as onerous conditions of confinement or the relentless bullying of a single interrogator. What is demoralizing, they find, is drastic variation of cell conditions and abrupt alternation of different types of interrogators. A sample device in the regulation of cell conditions for unsophisticated prisoners is the manipulation of time: a clock in a windowless cell can be rigged to move rapidly at times and very slowly at others; breakfast can be brought in when it is time for lunch or in the middle of the night’s sleep; the interval between lunch and dinner can be lengthened to twelve or fifteen hours or shortened to one or two.

The questioning itself can be carried out in a friendly, persuasive manner, from a hard, merciless and threatening posture, or with an impersonal and neutral approach. In order to achieve the disconcerting effect of alternation among these attitudes it may be necessary to use as many as four different interrogators playing the following roles, although one interrogator may sometimes double in two of them:

First, the cold, unfeeling individual whose questions are shot out as from a machine-gun, whose voice is hard and monotonous, who neither threatens nor shows compassion.

Second, the bullying interrogator who uses threats, insults and sarcasm to break through the subject’s guard by making him lose his temper or by exhausting him.

Third, the ostensibly naive and credulous questioner, who seems to be taken in by the prisoner’s story, makes him feel smarter than the interrogator, gives him his rope and builds up false confidence which may betray him.

Finally, the kind and friendly man, understanding and persuasive, whose sympathetic approach is of decisive importance at the climactic phase of the interrogation. He is most effectively used after a siege with the first and second types, or after a troubled sleep following such a siege.

The course of the intensive questioning cannot be standardized, but some useful procedures are outlined in the following paragraphs.

When the subject is brought in he is asked to tell again the story he gave at his preliminary interview. Then he is asked to repeat it, and again a third time. He will be annoyed and with luck might even lose his temper. He at least will be worried about possible inconsistencies among the four versions he has given. In some cases it will be better that the interrogator not disclose his awareness of any such inconsistencies; in others it may be advantageous to emphasize them by making a comparison in his presence and perhaps playing back a recording.

If the cover story is still intact, the next step is to probe for detail. One of two interrogators questions rapidly into many details of a particular aspect of some incident. Then the other puts detailed questions on another aspect of the same incident. Then the first takes up a third aspect, and so on alternately for some time. The object is to force the subject to invent detail hastily. Finally, without any break, the interrogators start going back over their detail questions a second time; and the subject, not having had time to fix his improvisations in mind, is most unlikely to remember them.

By deliberately misquoting the subject’s replies the interrogator may often succeed in confusing him, or better yet in irritating him and making him lose his temper. A talkative subject should always be encouraged to give full and lengthy explanations; he is likely of his own accord to get mixed up and introduce inconsistencies into his story. Catching the subject in a lie of relatively little importance sometimes unnerves him and starts his resistance crumbling.

A not too sophisticated subject can be told that his fellow-conspirators have let him down, that an informer among them has betrayed his secret, or that some of them are in custody and have been persuaded to talk. Incriminating testimony from others, true or false, can be read to him, or a hooded man can pretend to recognize and identify him. The subject can be placed in profile at a window while two guards lead a “prisoner” past outside who will send in word that he recognizes his true identity.

Sometimes a very long period of silence while the interrogators are pretending to go over critical evidence will unnerve the subject.

The whole procedure is a probe for an opening – a confession of guilt, an admission to having lied, a state of confusion or even extreme concern on some particular point. Once an opening is found, however small, every effort is concentrated on enlarging it and increasing the subject’s discomposure. At this stage he is allowed no respite until he is fully broken and his resistance at an end.

The Exploitation

When the subject has ceased to resist his interrogators and is ready to talk freely he must be handled with great care, both because this attitude may change and because he may now have suicidal impulses. He should get better treatment and better detention conditions. He should be induced to ally himself with his interrogators, and encouraged to believe that he is doing something useful and constructive in assisting them. It is often important to keep him hard at work regardless of whether the product of his efforts is of any real value; he could be asked to write out a lot of details about his subversive organition, for example, whether or not such information were required. The object is to keep him busy, to keep his mind occupied, to prevent his having time for introspection.

Since interrogators for the exploitation must be well acquainted in the particular field of information involved, it may now be necessary either to introduce new specialist interrogators or to give the earlier ones a thorough briefing in this field. Which course is better will depend on the subject’s character, the way he was broken, and his present attitude toward those who have been handling him. Sometimes only a fresh interrogator can get real cooperation from him. Sometimes, on the other hand, he is so ashamed of having broken that he is unwilling to expose himself further and wants to talk only to his original questioner. And sometimes he has built up a trustful and confiding relationship with his interrogator which should not be destroyed by the introduction of another personality.’”



Table of Contents

  • Korea, the Winter Olympics, and the Spirit of Queen Min
  • Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand Syria border offensive
  • 50 Percent for 5 Percent: A Look at Germany’s Extremely Unequal Wealth Distribution
  • Homeless in Hong Kong: soaring costs fuel housing crisis in Asian financial hub
  • Coming Social Chaos
  • One cigarette a day ‘increases heart disease and stroke risk’
  • Voting with their wallets: Political affiliations increasingly influence American consumer habits
  • Why are we still shedding our soldiers’ blood for pedophiles?
  • Factbox: What is in Trump’s framework for immigration legislation
  • Sweeping Netanyahu corruption cases under the rug puts spotlight on western media bias
  • N.Y., Minnesota sue Trump admin to block healthcare funding cuts
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asks UK court to scrap arrest warrant


Korea, the Winter Olympics, and the Spirit of Queen Min

Nationalism means peace on the Korean peninsula

January 26, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


We are told by practically everyone that nationalism is an archaic, aggressive, and downright evil sentiment, one that causes wars, racism, bigotry, and probably the common cold as well. And we get this from both the right and the left. Nationalism of any kind, we are told, is a dangerous atavism, a throwback to primitive “tribalism” and an insult to sacred “modernity.” While this nonsensical view is pretty widespread throughout the Western world, it is especially dominant – at least among the political class – here in the United States, where it is routinely alleged that America isn’t a place, it isn’t the American people: America, they solemnly intone, is an Idea. What sort of idea, or, rather, whose idea, seems to be a matter of some dispute: but, in any case, we aren’t really an actual country, according to the wise and wondrous elites who let us know what to think, so much as we’re an abstraction, floating in the ether, like a cloud in the sky imprinted with the image of a giant welcome mat.

Things are quite different on the Korean peninsula.

They called it the Hermit Kingdom before its forcible opening by the Western powers, and for a very good reason: unlike Japan and, later, China, the Koreans stubbornly resisted trade – or, indeed, any sort of contact with the West, which was strictly forbidden. While Western writers routinely attribute this to the supposedly tyrannical rule of Yi Ha-ung, the Regent (1864-97), Koreans then and now revere him as the defender of the nation from European encroachment and domination, which was China’s sad fate.

An American crew in service to a British company made the first serious attempt to “open” Korea: in 1866 the General Sherman tried to sail up the Taedong river to reach Pyongyang, but were ordered back by the Korean authorities. The Westerners ignored this edict and continued on their way, but were soon beached when the river waters ran low. They were then set upon by the Koreans, who rescued the Korean officials who had been taken hostage by the crew and killed everyone on board. An inauspicious beginning to a relationship rife with conflict: today there is a monument on the spot where the General Sherman was burned which informs visitors that the leader of the attackers was the great-grandfather of Kim Il-Sung!

Several more attempts were made by the Europeans, and all were repulsed: the French sent Catholic missionaries, who were ruthlessly persecuted along with their few converts. It was the Japanese who, finally, succeeded where the Western barbarians had failed: a Japanese force invaded in 1876 and succeeded in imposing a “treaty” according to which they acquired a complete trade monopoly, locking out the Chinese, their major rivals. This was endorsed by the king, who was considered a weak ruler, but opposed by Queen Min, who resisted the Japanese westernizing influence. As tensions rose, the Japanese demanded that the Koreans pay them tribute: Queen Min mocked the Japanese emissaries for wearing Western clothes and had them summarily deported. Shortly afterward a gang of Japanese thugs murdered her in her palace: she is today considered a symbol of patriotism and is honored in both the North and the South. During the subsequent Sino-Japanese war, the Japanese annexed the Korean peninsula, where they exercised dominion as part of their empire until the end of World War II.

Korea’s history is one of implacable and fairly constant conflict with the violent and aggressive West, as well as resistance to both Japanese and Chinese domination: it is, in short, the history of a fiercely nationalistic people determined to shape their own destiny in the face of avaricious imperialism.

The division of the Korean peninsula as the victorious Allied powers devoured the spoils of war did not erase the spirit of the courageous Queen Min, who sought an independent road for her country, or the Regent who resisted “modernization,” i.e. the integration of Korea into one or another mercantilist arrangement.

While the communist North and the Western-occupied South certainly developed along far different lines, beneath the thin veneer of official ideology the country retained its nationalistic character. Both fragments of the split apart nation set up ministries devoted to “unification,” and, despite efforts by the Bush II administration to stop it, the “Sunshine Policy” of economic cooperation and closer ties nearly succeeded in bringing the two regimes to the point where unity was at least a possibility. However, the Bushites were determined to torpedo that effort and they finally succeeded, naming the North as part of the “axis of evil,” and threatening to invade by regularly conducting military “exercises” that limn a full-scale frontal attack. This is a yearly ritual.

Despite all this, Queen Min is still looking out for her subjects: her unabashedly nationalist spirit pervades the new sense of optimism that is preceding the Winter Olympics, to be held in South Korea, with the full participation of the North. In a move that surprised – and horrified – the warmongers in the West (both inside and outside the Trump administration) North and South Korean athletes will march together under a special “unification flag”: the two countries will unite their hockey teams, and the North’s two champion figure skaters, Ryom Tai-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, described by their South Korean counterparts as “friendly and kind and a little bit shy,” will be the stars of the show. The North Korean state orchestra is scheduled to perform.

What is saving the Korean peninsula from a war so horrific that it is unthinkable is nothing less than nationalism, i.e. love of country and a fierce desire to preserve it against the depredations of foreign powers. As I wrote last year:

“No, China is not the key to ending the impending North Korean crisis: with the installation of an antimissile system in South Korea, which the Chinese think is aimed at them, they aren’t likely to cooperate in any meaningful way. And, in any case, their influence is very limited, since their relations with Pyongyang have never been worse.

“The initiative is going to have to come from Seoul, which has the most to lose if war breaks out. And when this initiative does come, Washington must welcome it, and do everything to foster it. When Trump was campaigning for President, he questioned the US presence in the South and wondered aloud why we had to risk war and bankruptcy providing for Seoul’s defense. His instincts were right: now perhaps we’ll get to see if his policies match his campaign rhetoric.”

The initiative did come from Seoul. Trump’s bellicose rhetoric since taking the White House has caused many of the more hysterical NeverTrumpers to squeal that he’s about to launch a first strike at Pyongyang. Folks, it ain’t happening. His rhetoric no doubt helped motivate South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take the initiative in fulfilling his campaign promise to revive the “Sunshine Policy” and pursue better relations with the North in a serious way.

History isn’t all about us. Sometimes – and, in the future, I believe this will increasingly be the case in a multi-polar world – it’s about people independently determining their own destiny and pursuing the path of peace.


Turkey’s Erdogan threatens to expand Syria border offensive

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to clear his country’s Syrian border of “terrorists” up to Iraq, expanding a current operation. Such a move would further risk alienating Turkey’s allies, the US included.

January 26, 2018


Turkey could expand its offensive against the Afrin region in Syria to other cities in the northwest of the country in a bid to rid the area of a Syrian Kurdish militia Ankara views as a terrorist group, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

The move could aggravate already fraught tensions with some of Turkey’s allies, notably the United States, which has been backing the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in its fight against “Islamic State” extremists.

The current situation

– Turkey is carrying out an air and ground assault against Kurdish forces in Afrin dubbed “Operation Olive Branch.”

– Ankara says the operation is aimed at ridding the Turkish border to Syria of Kurdish militants it considers to be allied with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.

– The offensive has caused diplomatic tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the US, which has been supporting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria.

– If the offensive is expanded eastward to the city of Manbij, as threatened by Erdogan, it could endanger US soldiers positioned there alongside YPG fighters.

‘We will continue our fight’

Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would continue its offensive “until there is no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq.”

He added that after concluding the operation in Afrin, Turkish forces would continue to the east to “clean up” the city of Manbij, which is also held by the YPG.

Jeopardizing Syrian peace efforts: Turkey’s Afrin offensive has raised concerns not only in Washington, but also in Germany and the EU, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini saying this week that the operation could “undermine seriously the resumption of [UN-backed] talks in Geneva, which is what we believe could really bring sustainable peace and security for Syria.”

Why is Turkey carrying out the offensive: Ankara says it is rooting out Kurdish “terrorists” along its border with Syria with the assault, which started on January 20.

Why is it attacking the Kurds? Ankara fears that Kurdish gains in the Syrian civil war could strengthen the Kurdish minority in Turkey in its bid for more autonomy.

How many people have died so far in the offensive:  There are varying death tolls emerging from different sources. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday that 59 civilians and 43 fighters had been killed. Turkey says 343 “terrorists” have been neutralized, which can mean either killed or otherwise removed from combat. Turkish Health Minister Ahmet Demircan said Friday that three Turkish soldiers had been killed along with 11 allied Syrian rebels.  At least three civilians in Turkey have also been killed by rocket fire.


50 Percent for 5 Percent: A Look at Germany’s Extremely Unequal Wealth Distribution

European Central Bank statistics show that wealth distribution in Germany is extremely unequal. But a new analysis by the German Institute for Economic Research shows that the situation is even worse than initially thought.

January 28, 2018

by Florian Diekmann


The gathering of global political and industrial leaders in Davos each year leads many observers to wonder: Who benefits in the long term from economic growth and corporate profits? Society as a whole or just a select few at the very top? One way to approach that question is by looking at how the entire wealth of a given society is distributed among individual members of that society.

The problem, though, is that it isn’t so easy to calculate that distribution. Official data does, of course, exist. In Germany it is compiled by the Federal Statistical Office, and the European Central Bank (ECB) has been doing the same for the eurozone over the last few years. That data shows an extremely unequal wealth distribution.

But in reality, wealth is even more concentrated than the data shows, because the statistics have a blind spot: The superrich and their assets are consistently underestimated. This is because, on the one hand, there are so few of them that they aren’t adequately accounted for in randomized surveys. On the other hand, the statistics are based on voluntary responses – and willingness to participate demonstrably sinks as wealth among respondents increases.

When it comes to the superrich, however, there are relatively reliable estimates in the form of lists of the world’s wealthiest people, with the one compiled by the US business magazine Forbes leading the way. A similar list is compiled in Germany by manager magazin. A team of tax experts led by Stefan Bach of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) has examined the wealth statistics compiled by the ECB and augmented them with lists identifying the ultrarich. And the team did so for three countries: Germany, France and Spain.

The result: The 45 richest households in Germany own as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. Each group possessed a total of 214 billion euros in assets in 2014

In compiling the more precise statistics, the DIW team adopted an approach that the ECB itself proposed as a correction to its own wealth statistics. (You can find a detailed description of the methods used and the results compiled  in this English-language discussion paper released by the DIW.)

By incorporating lists of the wealthiest people in Germany, it becomes clear that wealth inequality is much greater than reflected in the official ECB numbers. According to the DIW study, the wealthiest 5 percent in Germany owned 51.1 percent of the country’s entire wealth in 2014. ECB numbers, meanwhile, held that the richest 5 percent only owned 31.5 percent of the nation’s wealth that year.

Furthermore, the top 1 percent of German households owns a third of the country’s wealth (instead of the 23.6 percent shown by ECB statistics), and the top 0.1 percent owns 17.4 percent (instead of 6.3 percent). The richest 0.001 percent – just 400 households – own 4.7 percent of the country’s wealth, according to the DIW, which is twice as much as the roughly 20 million households that make up the poorer half of German society. In the graphic, you can also see the absolute amount of wealth each category owns.

The analysis makes clear that in comparison with other countries in Europe, the distribution of wealth in Germany is weighted particularly unfairly in favor of the superrich. That becomes obvious when an analysis of Spain and France is included. ECB data leads one to believe that wealth is more concentrated in those two countries than in Germany. But once the statistics are augmented with lists of the wealthiest households from each country, a fundamentally different image emerges. In both France and Spain, those lists show that the share of national wealth owned by the superrich is higher than indicated by ECB statistics alone, but the difference is much more pronounced in Germany.

According to DIW calculations, the poorest half of the population in Spain owns just under 12 percent of the country’s total wealth while in France, that number is slightly above 6 percent. In Germany, meanwhile, it is just 2.3 percent. The richest 10 percent of households in France and Spain own less than half of their country’s wealth, respectively. In Germany, that bracket owns close to two-thirds of the nation’s wealth.

That shows that wealth distribution in Germany is much less equal than statistics would seem to indicate – and much less equal than in other large European countries. DIW researcher Bach, though, does suggest that the consequences of inequality in Germany is likely less deleterious than it is elsewhere. His explanation is that the list of German billionaires compiled by manager magazin is largely made up of families that own successful companies, many of them typical representatives of Germany’s strong medium-sized company sector.”They are considered the backbone of the German economy. They strengthen competition with large corporations, create jobs all over the country and usually take care of their people and their regions,” Bach says. Furthermore, the investments they make often come from their own capital reserves instead of from bank loans. All of that benefits lower income groups. In Germany, in other words, Bach believes it really is the case that the wealth belonging to the superrich also benefits society as a whole.

But Bach also sees the extreme concentration of wealth as a problem. Families that own successful companies have a particularly large influence on politics through direct access to the chancellor or state governors and by way of expensive marketing campaigns. The result is that privileges for the wealthy remain significant when it comes to inheritance tax. And Germany doesn’t have a wealth tax.


Homeless in Hong Kong: soaring costs fuel housing crisis in Asian financial hub

January 25, 2018

by Wyman Ma, Chermaine Lee


HONG KONG (Reuters) – Cheung Muk-gun’s home is an illegal, wooden shack under a highway in one of the poorest areas of Hong Kong, where sky-high property prices and a yawning wealth gap have helped fuel a surge in homelessness.

The 72-year-old earns about HK$10,000 ($1,279) a month working seven days a week at a frozen meat store in the working-class district of Mong Kok, a short trip across Victoria Harbour from the city’s opulent financial center.

With property prices up 200 percent in the past decade, and a bed in a tiny, windowless apartment – often shared with other tenants – going for about HK$2,000 a month, Cheung said he preferred to live in his shack.

An apartment of around 250 square feet (23 square meters) in a new building with windows and a bathroom near Mong Kok would rent for about HK$12,000.

“Why would I want to spend so much on rent, not to mention other related miscellaneous expenses. After paying all that, my salary could hardly cover my daily expenses,” he said.

Since Cheung became a street sleeper more than five years ago, Hong Kong’s homeless population has jumped about 30 percent to 1,800, according to the Society for Community Organisation (SocO), a non-governmental human rights group.

That compares with government data showing 1,075 registered street sleepers as of end-2017 and is double the 908 recorded in 2016. Government figures do not include so-called “McRefugees” who sleep in fast-food chains – whose numbers are significant but not officially counted – indicating homelessness is rapidly worsening in the Chinese territory of 7.3 million people.

While Hong Kong has far fewer homeless residents than, say, the almost 58,000 in Los Angeles County, the pace of their increase has alarmed social workers.

The crisis has piled pressure on the government after scores of protests in recent years over the soaring cost of accommodation. The Social Welfare Department says it is responding by helping street sleepers re-integrate into the community and working with six non-government organizations that operate hostels and emergency shelters.

“During the stay in the hostels, responsible social workers will assist street sleepers to identify long-term accommodation or appropriate residential care,” a department spokeswoman said.

In Singapore, Hong Kong’s traditional rival as a regional financial hub, the government estimates about 300 individuals and families are homeless out of a population of 5.6 million, thanks mainly to an adequate supply of subsidized housing and more affordable housing generally.

But in Hong Kong, severe shortages of affordable accommodation are driving more and more people onto the streets. Homelessness is now affecting sections of the population who previously could afford a place to live, such as those with jobs, according to rights groups.

About one in five people live below the poverty line even as Hong Kong’s wealth gap swells to its widest in more than four decades.


While the government provides shelters and subsidized housing for homeless people, critics say caps on the length of time they can stay only offer short-term relief.

SoCO social worker Ng Wai-tung estimates 25 percent of Hong Kong’s homeless population are McRefugees – people who call fast-food outlets home. He expects to see more in the summer when street sleepers seek air-conditioning to cool down.

Slouched in a corner of a 24-hour McDonald’s in Kowloon district, Wong Shek-hei, 65, said he earned HK$7,000 a month as a cleaner. He left a bed that cost about HK$1,500 a month more than three weeks ago, when bed bugs and disturbances from drug addicts drove him to the fast-food restaurant.

“In summer there are more than 20 people sleeping here,” he said.

Reuters visited four 24-hour McDonald‘s, where it found on average six people bedding down of a night in each of the restaurants. Some lay stretched out with their shoes off, while others slept with their heads on tables.

“Since more than 120 McDonald’s restaurants are operating around the clock among our around 240 restaurants in Hong Kong, there could be chances that some customers stay in our restaurants overnight,” McDonald’s told Reuters.

“McDonald’s Hong Kong is accommodating to people (who) stay long in the restaurant for their own respective reasons.”

As the homeless population grows, rough-sleepers are appearing in areas they were rarely seen previously.

“The situation has definitely worsened in the past two years and we see Tsuen Wan as a new location for the homeless to gather,” said Olivia Chan, a social worker with Christian Concern for the Homeless Association, referring to a district on the mainland north of Mong Kok.

“More and more people are sleeping in fast-food shops now.”

One McRefugee surnamed Yeung, who has been sleeping at a McDonald’s branch for the past eight months, said the outlet was a safe haven for him.

“McDonald’s doesn’t approve of you sleeping here, but they turn a blind eye,” Yeung, who declined to use his full name due to concerns over job security, told Reuters.

“It’s a shelter from the rain, the heat, the cold and the bad.”

($1 = 7.8187 Hong Kong dollars)

Additional Reporting by Carmel Yang and Pak Yiu in HONG KONG and Dewey Wei Chun Sim in SINGAPORE; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Stephen Coates


Coming Social Chaos

January 26, 2018

by Christian Jürs

The most serious current economic problem in America today, stagnant wages, has a decided negative effect on every aspect of our economy and negates the oft-stated social contract which postulates that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth should be distributed widely throughout the entire economic system.

The reasons for this stagnation include, but are not limited to, growing automation, ‘globalization’ or the offshoring of most American production, the increasing cost of domestic housing, a decline of corporate competition caused  by the growth of cartels and monopolies and a complete failure of the American educational system to address current and projected economic and sociological developments.

The current American basic economy is focused on the income from the banking system and not labor earned income.

We see the flow of easy credit to the banking sector because the Federal government has moved their approval to the union of cartels and quasi-monopolies, and to facilitate this union, allows very large tax breaks to corporations while at the same time increasing Federal taxes on wage earners and small businesses.

This government support enables financiers and corporations to acquire the borrowed capital needed to acquire and consolidate various productive assets of the economy, and turn them into financial instruments that can be bought and sold in the global marketplace. These are called tranches. Tranches are pieces, portions or slices of debt or structured financing put into a single package.

These commercialized assets include home and business mortgages and the notorious but very profitable student loans.

The major profits from these tranches are not made in the interest on such loans but instead are made by processing and assembling the various loans into tranches that can be sold to investors globally.

This means that, for example, that a home, or business, mortgage can be packaged into a tranche, along with pieces of other home mortgages and then sold to an investor. It also means that when the home owner wishes to sell his property or when he believes the mortgage has been paid off, in reality he will discover that no one knows, or will ever know, who actually owns the mortgage and he can never get a clear title to his home or business.

He has, in effect, been paying a distant and unknown investor and not a mortgage company or bank.

Many factors combined to create the current housing crisis in the United States. Low interest rates after the 2001 stock market crash spurred the housing boom. Housing prices skyrocketed above historic trendlines. People were duped into thinking prices would rise forever, but it was inevitable that the housing bubble would burst, and houses would suddenly be worth a lot less. With house prices falling, lots of people are now finding they owe more than their house is worth. This problem is exacerbated by predatory loan arrangements that have left millions facing suddenly rising mortgage payments.

There are many in official America to blame for this state of affairs.

Instead of warning consumers about the housing bubble – which would have gone a long way to counter the excessive price run-ups – then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan denied a bubble was occurring.

Wall Street firms created exotic investment instruments that made possible the purchase and trading of large numbers of mortgages. This created conditions so that banks and initial lenders took less care in issuing mortgages – since they wouldn’t be responsible for mortgages gone bad. The Wall Street firms not only sold these instruments to duped investors, they took on major liabilities on their own – even though it was obvious the housing bubble would have to burst.

Rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which evaluated the riskiness of these new mortgage investment instruments, failed utterly. The housing bubble meant mortgage investments were sure to lose money, but the ratings agencies gave them top ratings anyway. Along with the “innovation” of the Wall Street firms, the ratings agencies helped maintain a market that dramatically exacerbated, and to a considerable degree may have created, the housing bubble.

Financial bubbles create an incentive for criminal and shady activity. Just like the stock bubble of the late 1990s created the climate for Enron and dozens of other companies to cook their books, the housing bubble created incentives for predatory lenders to exploit consumers.

The predatory lenders offered low rates, at least at first. Rates would rise later, but the lenders said that – because home prices were rising so fast and would continue to do so – borrowers could always refinance with a new loan.

The biggest of the predatory lenders was Countrywide, a mortgage lender acquired by Bank of America in January 2008. The company and its CEO, Angelo Mozilo, made a bundle, while setting up thousands and thousands of families for financial ruin.

Lawsuits accused Countrywide of preying on borrowers through a variety of unfair and fraudulent tactics that have siphoned equity out of their homes and pushed many into foreclosure,” notes “Unfair and Unsafe.” Borrowers and regulators have accused the company of: steering borrowers with good credit into higher-cost ‘subprime’ loans; gouging minority borrowers with discriminatory rates and fees; working with mortgage brokers who use bait-and-switch tactics to land borrowers into loans they can’t afford; targeting elderly and non-English-speaking borrowers for abusive loans; and packing loans with inflated and unauthorized fees.



One cigarette a day ‘increases heart disease and stroke risk’

January 25, 2018

by Alex Therrien

BBC News

Smokers need to quit cigarettes rather than cut back on them to significantly lower their risk of heart disease and stroke, a large BMJ study suggests.

People who smoked even one cigarette a day were still about 50% more likely to develop heart disease and 30% more likely to have a stroke than people who had never smoked, researchers said.

They said it showed there was no safe level of smoking for such diseases.

But an expert said people who cut down were more likely to stop.

‘Stop completely’

Cardiovascular disease, not cancer, is the greatest mortality risk for smoking, causing about 48% of smoking-related premature deaths.

While the percentage of adults in the UK who smoked had been falling, the proportion of people who smoked one to five cigarettes a day had been rising steadily, researchers said.

Their analysis of 141 studies, published in the BMJ, indicates a 20-a-day habit would cause seven heart attacks or strokes in a group of 100 middle-aged people.

But if they drastically cut back to one a day it would still cause three heart attacks, the research suggests.

The researchers said men who smoked one cigarette a day had about a 48% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and were 25% more likely to have a stroke than those who had never smoked.

For women, it was higher – 57% for heart disease and 31% for stroke.

Prof Allan Hackshaw at the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, who led the study, told the BBC: “There’s been a trend in quite a few countries for heavy smokers to cut down, thinking that’s perfectly fine, which is the case for things like cancer.

“But for these two common disorders, which they’re probably more likely to get than cancer, it’s not the case. They’ve got to stop completely.”

The researchers said it might be expected that smoking fewer cigarettes would reduce harm in a proportionate way as had been shown in some studies with lung cancer.

However, they found that men who smoked one cigarette per day had 46% of the excess risk of heart disease and 41% for stroke compared with those who smoked 20 cigarettes per day.

For women it was 31% of the excess risk of heart disease and 34% for stroke.

Prof Hackshaw said the increased risks of cardiovascular illness were over the course of a lifetime but damage could be done in just a few years of smoking.

But he said the good news was that those who quit smoking could also quickly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cutting down not ‘useless’

Paul Aveyard, professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford, said the “well conducted” study confirmed what epidemiologists had suspected – that light smoking created a “substantial risk for heart disease and stroke”.

But he said it was wrong to conclude cutting down smoking was useless.

“Those who try to cut down with the aid of nicotine, whether from nicotine replacement treatment or an e-cigarette, are more likely to stop eventually and thus really reduce their risks from smoking,” he said.

Martin Dockrell, tobacco lead at Public Health England, said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence which tells us that cutting down to just one cigarette a day still leaves a substantial risk of heart attack and stroke. The best and safest thing you can do is to quit completely for good.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity ASH, said: “It’s addiction to nicotine that keeps people smoking but it’s the tar in cigarette smoke that does the serious damage.

“Vaping is much less harmful, but only if you quit smoking altogether.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said discouraging people from cutting down smoking could be “counter-productive”.



Voting with their wallets: Political affiliations increasingly influence American consumer habits

January 26, 2018

by Robert Bridge


In a new development for the free market economy, many corporate brands have become pegged as either Democratic or Republican favorites. A new survey reveals America’s 30 most polarizing brands.

With the American political landscape marked by an ever-widening gulf between left and right, especially since the populist Donald Trump entered the White House, many corporate brands have been stigmatized as belonging to either the Democratic or Republican camps, according to a poll entitled ‘Most Polarizing Brands.’

In order to determine the top 30 brands in America out of a field of 1,900, respondents were asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of each brand. The study then broke the responses down according to number of factors, including “company evaluations, demographics and political tracking, as well as a battery of political tracking questions.”

A number of other factors also come into play when determining the most polarizing American companies, which occasionally wade into controversial debates on polarizing issues.

A good example is the case of the fast food outlet Chick-fil-A, which took the number 15 spot on the list. It hit the political radar in June 2012, when Chief Operating Executive Dan Cathy declared his opposition to same-sex marriages. This triggered a predictable backlash against the popular franchise by a number of left-leaning groups.

However, Cathy’s stance won also the admiration of opponents to gay marriage, including presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who sponsored a ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’ in August 2012.

Some 600,000 people RSVPed on Facebook for the event.

More obviously polarizing brands that appeared on the list were the major media players, wherein political affiliations are painfully obvious. In fact, out of the top 10 brands, eight hailed from the major media companies. CNN, which Trump has publicly criticized as being “fake news,” grabbed the second spot, with Fox News, a right-leaning TV channel, immediately behind in third place.

It is noteworthy that just three right-leaning media groups – Fox News (3), Fox Business (11) and Breitbart (18) – appeared on the list among a total of 17 media organizations.

Even major sporting organizations appeared on the list, which may not be so surprising considering how athletes are increasingly prone to expressing controversial views. That became evident in the ongoing scandal tormenting the NFL as a number of players and even entire teams have decided to “take a knee” during the opening National Anthem ceremony to protest the spate of black Americans being killed by police officers. The NFL, which was categorized as a Democratic-leaning sport, shared sixth place on the list together with MSNBC.

In some cases, demographics played a major factor in determining whether a particular brand swung left or right. This was the primary factor in the showdown between America’s two major retail outlets, Wal-Mart and Target.

The differences between the two groups of shoppers is predicated on the locations of the stores and the demographics of their headquarters’ locations. So Neil Howe, managing director of demography at the risk management firm Hedgeye and president of Saeculum Research, a trend forecaster, was quoted in the study as saying.

“Walmart has a certain clientele: Their center of gravity compared to Target is a bit lower-income, a bit more rural, a bit more red-zone culturally, and a bit older,” and that demographic has a tendency to vote Republican, Howe said.

Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, Ark. whose county voted 62.9 percent in favor of Trump in last year’s elections, the study noted. As of October 31, there were 4,752 Walmart stores in the United States, with a heavy presence in right-leaning states and rural areas. Target, which currently has 1,834 U.S. stores, is based in Minneapolis, where the majority of precincts are Democrat.

Perhaps the least surprising result of the study was the number-one polarizing brand in America: Trump Hotels, which is visited far more by Republicans, and for very obvious reasons.


Why are we still shedding our soldiers’ blood for pedophiles?

“The full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known.”

January 24, 2018

by Daniel Horowitz

The Conservative Review

After 15 years of failure and undefined missions in Afghanistan, this administration claimed to finally have discovered an innovative idea. Let’s invest even more American lives in propping up the Afghan security forces, they suggested, as if we weren’t doing that for the past 15 years. But who are the Afghan forces, and how are they really distinguishable from the Taliban, or at least enough to justify the human and capital cost of a deeper investment? A new inspector general report paints a grim picture of the recipients of our blood and treasure.

The number of soldiers getting wounded and dying in our aimless mission has been creeping up in recent months, as the U.S. ramps up a mini-surge in the country and plans to double our troop level. Just yesterday, the State Department announced that “multiple American citizens were killed and injured in weekend attack on a Kabul hotel.” But we refuse to learn the lessons of the past – that you must hold ground on behalf of a stable ally in order to make the investment worthwhile. Now, a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the latest in a series of devastating revelations about the Afghan forces and government for which we are bleeding, reveals that there are rampant allegations of sexual abuse committed by members of these very Afghan forces.

While the report recognizes that “the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known,” two-thirds of those interviewed by the IG’s team confirmed “child sexual assault incidents or related exploitation by Afghan security forces.” The New York Times reported on “rampant” sexual assault of children back in 2015. This is a culturally accepted practice in the country, known as “bacha bazi” (boy play). This prompted members of Congress to ask the IG to conduct an investigation into whether the Pentagon is violating federal law by funding the Afghan security forces.

The premise of this investigation is that if indeed these behaviors are rampant, any funding of the Afghan military would violate the Leahy law, which prohibits taxpayer funding for forces involved in “serious” human rights abuses. According to the report, we have spent $71.2 billion on Afghan forces, not including the hundreds of billions spent on the broader rebuilding of the country on behalf of these same forces in power.

Recognizing that we are not going to accomplish anything in the region that hasn’t been accomplished in 1200 years and that, unlike other terror groups and state sponsors of terror, the Taliban really doesn’t pose an existential threat, top military leaders are trying to sell this investment as a mere advisory role to the Afghan forces. They claim that the “notwithstanding clause” of the Leahy law allows them to continue funding the pedophiles because it is in our national security interests. But how can anyone on earth suggest at this point that it is in our national interest to get our special ops forces killed fighting for these corrupt Islamic actors in an effort to put together a country that is ungovernable and doesn’t affect us?

As the New York Times reports, several highly decorated Green Berets were relieved of command for beating up child rapists in Afghanistan in recent years, which was part of a broader policy of remaining silent about the nature of the “allies” we were fighting for.

This report follows other findings from SIGAR that the Afghan military is weaker than ever before, that casualties are mounting, that “insider attacks” (from these same pedophiles) are increasing, that we wasted hundreds of millions on stimulating the Afghan economy, and that numerous Afghan soldiers have gone AWOL on our soil when brought here for training.

At a time when we see widespread corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ in order to protect a political agenda, isn’t it time Congress investigated what our military brass are covering up in order to continue the Afghan racket and endanger the lives of our soldiers for nothing?


Factbox: What is in Trump’s framework for immigration legislation

January 25, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Thursday released a list of requirements for immigration legislation that it said President Donald Trump would support, offering a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million young illegal immigrants, while tightening border security and clamping down on family sponsorship.

“This is kind of a bottom line for the president,” a senior official told reporters, saying it would be up to lawmakers to determine some of the details. “If it’s realistic, then he’ll sign it. If it isn’t realistic, then he won’t sign it.”

The White House made clear that all four elements would need to be included in any bill, rejecting ideas for a narrower approach. Here is what the White House wants to see:


– Expand protections from deportation to 1.8 million immigrants who were brought illegally to the country as children, up from the 700,000 people currently signed up for the program.

– The increase would include people who were eligible for the protections but did not initially sign up. The time frame for eligibility would be adjusted to cover 1.8 million people.

– Allow “Dreamers” to become citizens in 10 to 12 years, with to-be-determined requirements for work and education, as long as they do not commit crimes.


– Establish a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a wall on the southern border with Mexico and security improvements on the northern border with Canada. The trust fund would mean future Congresses could not claw back the money.

– Agree to spend more money to hire border guards, immigration judges and other law enforcement personnel, and overhaul the hiring system and pay grades. Trump estimated that would cost $5 billion, but the White House said it was subject to further discussion.

– Immediately deport illegal immigrants who cross the southern or northern border even if they are not from Mexico or Canada. That would affect Central American migrants who often arrive at the U.S. border after crossing through Mexico.


– Limit immigration sponsorship to spouses and minor children, ending the ability to sponsor parents, older children and siblings.

– That change would cut at least 287,700 green cards a year, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

– The change would apply prospectively, meaning people caught in the backlog would still be processed by the old rules.


– End a lottery for green cards offered to applicants from countries with low immigration rates. The program offers up to 50,000 visas a year.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney



Sweeping Netanyahu corruption cases under the rug puts spotlight on western media bias

January 26, 2018

by Martin Jay


The Israeli PM has a corruption problem. Or does he? Recent allegations of graft seem to have been downplayed by western journalists who appear intent upon supporting him. Is there more to the allegations than is being reported?

One of the quirks of the Middle East is the role of the western media acting almost like a parallel world power, producing critical analysis for an international audience to hold Arab regimes to account. Or at least that’s the theory.

The theory falls flat on its face in the case of Israel, a country often referred to as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East,’ which in reality could teach Arab tyrants a thing or two about how to run a brutal, authoritarian regime. This includes silencing or manipulating the fourth estate.

Street protests have entered their eighth week in Israel over the sheer scale of graft allegedly perpetrated by the prime minister himself. But why does the West not give the subject the attention it is due, given that Israel is America’s strongest ally in the region and, at least, the highest recipient of US military aid in the world? For no sooner does Netanyahu escape one corruption investigation – even creating new laws to guarantee himself immunity – another one pops up.

Where’s the press release?

The despondent western media camp appears to have just one mandate, which is to replicate the government spin and not do what journalists are supposed to do: report the unpalatable truth. This is western media at its worse. Consider the case of how, in recent weeks, US media went overboard on Iran and, bereft of any trace of shame about its colossal ignorance about the country, launched itself into round the clock coverage of the country’s political woes – and created a number of on-the-spot Iran experts in Beirut and other Middle Eastern enclaves. These armchair experts had to rely heavily on clichés often cooked up by their colleagues back in Washington – who in many cases have never visited the Middle East in their entire careers, let alone visited Iran.

In Israel’s case, being a western acolyte in the region, there should be no excuses for sloppy reporting, or omitting to investigate the Netanyahu corruption saga, given that it’s American tax dollars which are being sent there to bolster its military.

The result? Netanyahu will likely weather the storm and buy his way out. The weapon of accountability, which could hold him to account and force him to resign – namely the western media – is failing to do its job, thereby securing his tenure. Contrasted with the West’s Iran coverage, we see a noticeable double standard.

It is also worth noting how Saudi Arabia very quickly announced new laws allowing women into football stadiums at the height of the Iran protests. This may well have been a direct result of the media coverage of the Iran protests which pushed the Saudi elite to quash any such grass roots movements stirring there. Western media bias actually spurred reform in one of the most repressive countries in the world.

Of course, it’s naïve to expect balanced reporting on both Israel and Iran, the former an ally and the latter a foe. This distorts the prism of reporting considerably, not to mention that it is often said the only western journalists allowed to work in Tehran are regime-friendly.

Israel, under Netanyahu, is witnessing rising corruption, police investigations, cover ups, and scandals – the most recent attached to Netanyahu’s son, who said disrespectful things about women on a drunken night out involving strippers and spoke candidly about the billions being made by his friend’s father via Netanyahu.

The media seized on the incident, but failed to put enough emphasis on how confident Netanyahu feels about state prosecutors failing to follow up on police “recommendations” to charge him for corrupt practices involving cash and gifts from powerful people and even trying to silence journalists. He recently dismissed the cases and the likelihood of him being removed from office, telling journalists it “won’t happen.”

Could it be the western media are giving Netanyahu an easy ride? Are they in possession of other details about bigger deals but are keeping quiet, so as to play the role expected of them by their paymasters in New York, DC, London and Paris? Perhaps the free gifts Netanyahu is charged with receiving and allegations that he made a deal with a newspaper publisher to pass a law that would harm a rival paper (in exchange for favorable coverage) are only part of story.

But there are no real benefits for western journalists in Israel to dig deeper, nor any incentive for local journalists, who believe that there is no real alternative to Netanyahu. Or at least, that’s what we’re told by those same journalists.

There is also no precedent for charging him, argues Anshel Pfeffer, a writer for Haaretz, although Ehud Olmert, Israeli PM from 2006 to 2009, did serve 16 months in jail for corruption.

Blame the French

If a new law recently passed in Israel’s parliament sticks, then Olmert will be the last PM in Israel to be charged with corruption as the ‘recommendations’ law (dubbed ‘The French Law’) will prevent police from recommending prosecutions against the PM whilst in office. This is why Netanyahu is looking so smug at the moment. He knows there is no danger of what’s left of an insipid opposition press to expose his murky dealings and certainly no risk of the police filing any more charges against him. The so-called French Law may well dampen the zeal of local journalists who normally investigate graft, but it shouldn’t have any effect on foreign press. In theory.

Yet foreign reporting seems to be tempered. CNN recently sent Jewish producer and wannabe reporter Elise Labott there after Atlanta had disciplined her twice for unethical journalism – once for showing a clear bias against a Republican vote and a second time for a fake news report made in Morocco in 2011. Labott is also known for being exposed helping Hillary Clinton by tweeting messages written by her aides.

It beggars belief that such a CNN employee can be given a job as a journalist. American colleagues say she acts as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, which is certainly how it looks in this gushing piece about the Israeli PM, or this article just a few days ago which focuses on the new US embassy.

Strange behavior from a CNN staffer who while working with me in Morocco in 2011 pleaded for help presenting a peaceful Sunday afternoon demonstration as a violent crowd intent on toppling the king.

Western media are reporting on Netanyahu’s corruption cases, but with a distinct calm and soberness, and certainly not making a big deal about the protests – a key point in the coverage which would put the charges into context.

If we are to look at how the same western media outlets reported on the Iran protests and the hysteria in the style of reporting, there is a blatant difference in their approach. In Israel, no journalists are bothering to dig deeper and none are reporting on the protests as though they could trigger a succession of cataclysmic events, such as Netanyahu or his government falling and the obvious regional implications, with Hezbollah stronger than ever on its northern border, a possible invasion of the Golan Heights, a Gaza insurgency, and even Syrian regime attacks intensifying.

By contrast, western media hysteria in Iran resulted in the UN Security Council actually debating the possibility of a regional crisis. That is the power of fake news – from the same journalists who appear to be playing a role in Israel to keep Netanyahu in office.

But perhaps, with local and international press no longer red in tooth and claw, we have missed something else. Is there a link between Netanyahu’s accusations of receiving lavish gifts as kickbacks and similar acts of impropriety with Jared Kushner? Is this why Netanyahu acts with impunity? Is he being protected by more powerful players who also have more to hide?

Recently, it emerged that the President’s son-in-law, who has been bequeathed the entire Middle East peace process dossier, is not exactly whiter than white himself when it comes to corruption allegations. Kushner is reported to have profited a cool $30 million from an Israeli investor in Kushner’s property firm in NYC just days before Donald Trump visited Israel in May of last year. Is it far fetched to ask whether there was an incentive for the Trumps to move ahead with making Jerusalem the recognized capital of Israel?


N.Y., Minnesota sue Trump admin to block healthcare funding cuts

January 26, 2018

by Brendan Pierson


NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York and Minnesota have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration from cutting off federal funding for state programs that provide healthcare to hundreds of thousands of low-income people.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in Manhattan federal court, seeks to restore more than $1 billion in funding for state health programs created under the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, a statement from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

New York and Minnesota are the only states that operate so-called Basic Health Programs, a type of health insurance plan for low-income residents authorized by the law, according to Schneiderman’s statement.

In December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told both states it would cut off some of the federal funding for the programs because Congress had not appropriated money for them, according to the lawsuit. Schneiderman said the cut amounted to about 25 percent of the funding for New York’s Basic Health Program.

About 800,000 people in both states are covered by the programs, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesman for HHS could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Corrects Basic Health Plan to Basic Health Program in paragraphs 3 and 4.)

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Susan Thomas and Frances Kerry


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asks UK court to scrap arrest warrant

January 26, 2018


Assange’s lawyers argue that the warrant serves no purpose now that he is no longer wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged sexual assault. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday asked a UK court to drop an arrest warrant against him, as he bids to move out of the Ecuadorean embassy after more than five years.

London judge Emma Arbuthnot said she would make her ruling on the arrest warrant on February 6.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London’s wealthy Knightsbridge district since 2012, when he skipped bail to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denied.

Assange argued that Sweden would eventually extradite him to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified military and diplomatic documents.

Assange’s lawyers told the Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Friday that the arrest warrant against their client could no longer apply after Swedish prosecutors’ decision in May last year to drop their probe into allegations of sexual misconduct and withdraw their European Arrest Warrant.

“We say it’s lost its purpose and its function,” said Mark Summers, Assange’s lawyer, of the outstanding warrant.

Arrest for jumping bail?

British prosecutors are opposing the dropping of the arrest warrant. They argue that Assange shouldn’t be immune from the law simply because he has managed to evade justice for years.

Assange still faces arrest for skipping bail if he leaves the embassy.  British Police say the charge of skipping bail is a much less serious offense than rape, but he could still face a one-year prison sentence if convicted. British police spent millions over several years monitoring the Ecuadorean embassy around the clock in the hope of arresting Assange.

Earlier this month, Ecuador said it had granted the Australian-born Assange citizenship. It also asked Britain to grant him diplomatic status, a request which was turned down by the British authorities. Assange, like WikiLeaks, has remained politically active from what he calls his “detention without charge.”







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