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TBR News January 9, 2020

Jan 09 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. January 9, 2020:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.
Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose
Commentary for January 9: “There is a growing belief here that Trump is in the hands of Russian intelligence people and all his apparent eccentric actions are dictated by them. If one takes all of Trump’s belligerent actions, examines them and then lists them, the sole beneficiary of this is Russia. He has weakened the US in Europe, insulted the Chinese, caused havoc in the the oil-rich Middle East and infuriated minority groups in America. Proving this thesis is not an easy job but if one lists his actions and then asked who would best benefit by them, the answer is very clear. Here we are dealing with theory and practice.”

The Table of Contents
• U.S., Iran draw back from brink but new threats show crisis not over
• Trump Administration Failed to Convince Members of Congress Its Assassination of Suleimani Was Justified
• Donald Trump’s rant against Iran is the howl of a dying empire
• Iran Will Make Huge Political Gains Out of This Crisis
• The Donald’s Assassination of General Soleimani – As Stupid as It Gets
• Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis
• This is rapidly becoming a decade of official deceit and public disillusion
• The Season of Evil

U.S., Iran draw back from brink but new threats show crisis not over
January 9, 2020
by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Parisa Hafezi and Ahmed Aboulenein
Reuters
DUBAI/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iran spurned the U.S. president’s call for a new nuclear pact and its commanders threatened more attacks, after both sides backed off from intensified conflict following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and Tehran’s retaliatory missile strikes.
Concern the Middle East was primed for a wider war eased after U.S President Donald Trump refrained from ordering more military action on Wednesday and Iran’s foreign minister diplomat said missile strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response.
But each side’s next move in their protracted shadow war was uncertain, although Iranian generals resumed their habitual barrage of warnings to Washington.
Trump’s Democratic critics have accused him of reckleness in his handling of Iran.
But analysts say that in an election year, he wants to avoid getting into a drawn-out conflict. In turn, Iran will try to avert direct confrontation with superior U.S. forces but can call on proxy militias across the region as U.S. sanctions bite.
Iran fired missiles on Wednesday at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed in retaliation for the killing in a U.S. drone attack of powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
The actions followed months of tension that has increased steadily since Trump pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that have driven down Tehran’s oil exports and hammered its economy.
Trump told Americans in an address on Wednesday: “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it”.
The Iranian missiles fired on military bases in Iraq had not harmed any U.S. troops, he said. Iran “appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned,” he said.
‘ECONOMIC TERRORISM’
Trump also said it was time for world powers to replace the 2015 nuclear accord with a new deal that would allow Iran to “thrive and prosper”.
But Trump, who was impeached last month, also said he would impose more stringent sanctions on Iran, without giving details.
Iran’s U.N. ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said in response that Tehran could not trust any idea of dialogue when Trump was threatening to intensify the “economic terrorism” of sanctions, the official news agency IRNA reported.
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards also issued new threats to Washington, with one senior commander warning of “harsher revenge soon” and another saying Wednesday’s missile strikes were only the start of a series of attacks across the region.
The new head of the Quds Force, which handles Iran’s foreign military operations, said he would follow the course pursued by his slain predecessor Soleimani.
“We will continue in this luminous path with power,” Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani said.
Soleimani carved out a sphere of Iranian influence running through Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, challenging regional rival Saudi Arabia as well the United States and Israel.
Soleimani was a national hero whose funeral drew vast crowds of mourners. The West saw him as a dangerous and ruthless enemy.
The military comments contrasted with Wednesday’s remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said Tehran did not want an escalation.
Despite tough talk, analysts said Iran would not seek a conventional war with Washington although it might turn to allied forces in the area.
“I’m not expecting further direct attacks from Iran. We are likely to see more indirect responses through proxies,” said Ali Alfoneh, senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
He said there might be a chance for a negotiated solution to the latest standoff as “the Trump administration does not appear to actively pursue a war and Iran needs sanctions relief”.
Trump has often criticized his predecessors for involving the United States in long and costly foreign wars.
PATIENCE
Washington said it had indications Tehran was telling its allies to refrain from new action against U.S. troops.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on Fox News, said: “We continue to receive word that Iran is standing down, but at the president’s direction we’re going to remain vigilant.”
In neighboring Iraq, Muslim Shi’ite groups opposed to the U.S. presence there also sought to cool emotions that have been running high for weeks.
Moqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shi’ite cleric opposed to U.S. and Iranian interference in Iraq, said the crisis was over and called on “Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions”.
Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia the United States blamed for an attack in Iraq in December that killed a U.S. contractor, said “passions must be avoided to achieve the desired results” of expelling U.S. forces.
Washington said Iran launched 16 short-range ballistic missiles in Wednesday’s strikes, with at least 11 hitting Iraq’s al-Asad air base and one striking a facility in Erbil.
Satellite pictures of al-Asad base before and after the strikes showed damage, including to aircraft hangers.
The images offered limited insight into Iran’s strategy but gave some indication of missile accuracy, an analyst said.
“The impacts are not scattershot across empty fields or airstrips on the southern side of the base,” Dara Massicot, policy researcher at RANDCorporation, said, adding that they did not appear to be purely symbolic strikes.
“Early warning, maybe tip-offs, missile failures, and on-base readiness saved lives,” Massicot said.
U.S. and European government sources said they believed Iran had deliberately sought to avoid U.S. military casualties in its missile strikes to prevent an escalation.
Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Parisa Hafezi and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Trump Administration Failed to Convince Members of Congress Its Assassination of Suleimani Was Justified
January 8, 2020
by Alex Emmons
The Intercept
Following classified briefings in the House and Senate, members of Congress said the Trump administration had failed to present evidence that the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani had averted an “imminent threat” to Americans in the Middle East.
“We did not get information inside that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were halting through the operation conducted last Thursday night,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters. “And I can say I was surprised and saddened to not have that information before us, I think it is likely because it doesn’t exist.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that 97 senators attended the briefing, and 15 got to ask questions. “There were so many important questions that they did not answer,” said Schumer of Wednesday’s briefers, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA director Gina Haspel, and Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“As the questions began to get tough, they walked out,” Schumer said. “I’ve asked for a commitment that they all come back within a week; we have not gotten that commitment.”
This was the Trump administration’s first briefing to all members of Congress on the operation, which was carried out last Thursday. It comes after Iran retaliated Tuesday night by firing ballistic missiles at an Iraqi military base, which houses some U.S. military personnel. President Donald Trump announced in remarks Wednesday morning that no Americans or Iraqis had been killed in the Iranian strike. The Pentagon suspects that the Iranians intentionally avoided killing people, according to news reports.
The claim that the assassination was in response to a forthcoming “imminent threat” to American troops or diplomats in the region has been central to forming the Trump administration’s legal justification for the operation.
After the operation last week, Pompeo told CNN that Suleimani was plotting an action that would put “dozens if not hundreds of America lives at risk.” Esper told reporters this week that it was “more fair to say” that the threat was “days,” as opposed to weeks, away. But when asked for details this week about what the imminent threat was, Pompeo sidestepped the question by referring to a previous December 27 rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq that killed an American contractor.
Reactions from Democrats in the House were similarly critical of the lack of evidence Trump apparently had before ordering the assassination.
“Every time we were told, ‘Absolutely, there was an imminent threat you should just see the information, it’s really imminent.’ And nothing was shown to us,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., at a news conference following the House briefing. “Over and over and over the question was asked. And nothing more was given to us about this.”
Following the House briefing, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Trump “had no evidence of an imminent threat or attack, and we say that coming from a classified briefing. Where again, there was no raw evidence presented that there was an imminent threat.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Wednesday that the House will vote on a war powers resolution that would direct Trump to terminate any hostilities by U.S. armed forces against Iran, unless Congress authorizes them.
Even some Republican senators, most prominently Utah Republican Mike Lee, said they were open to a war powers resolution after the briefing, which Lee found infuriating in its lack of specifics. “I walked into the briefing undecided; I walked out decided,” said Lee. “Specifically because of what happened in that briefing.”
Fox News cut away from Lee as he told reporters that the briefing was “probably the worst [briefing] I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the U.S. Senate.”
“What we were told over and over and over again was, ‘Look, this action was necessary, this was a bad guy, we had to do it, and we can’t have division, we can’t have dissension within our ranks, within our government, or it sends the wrong signal to the Iranians,’ and I think that’s completely wrong,” Lee told reporters.
Hawkish members of the Republican Party stood by the reasoning presented by the Trump administration. Speaking to reporters afterward, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., cited a “string of intelligence that shows there was ‘near-term planning’ at a different level than what we have seen in the past.”
“Combined with recent in events, just in the last couple months, an increase not just in the volume of attacks but in the lethality of the weapons they chose to use, combined with that string of intelligence, combined with the fact that he was traveling across the region, all of it put together combined with the fact they had just tried to storm our embassy, you put all of that together and you reach the reasonable conclusion that something really bad could happen in the near term, and if we don’t act now, dozens if not hundreds of Americans could die,” Rubio said.
Members of Congress also said that the briefers invoked the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Resolution as the legal basis for the strike. The resolution, originally passed 17 years ago, was meant to sanction military force against Saddam Hussein’s government, and the text of it only authorizes force to defend “against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told reporters following the briefing that it was unacceptable for the 2002 AUMF to serve as the legal basis for the strike against Suleimani. “First of all, probably less than 25 percent of members of Congress here today were here in 2002,” Lee said. “Which means they have not had the opportunity to voice their opinion or cast their vote for any authorizations to use military force for their constituents.”

Donald Trump’s rant against Iran is the howl of a dying empire
As the president slurred ritualised abuse of Iran and pleas to Nato, we saw the US’s days as world hegemon dribbling away
January 9, 2020
by Simon Jenkins
The Guardian
Donald Trump does not strut the world stage as Augustus triumphant. On Wednesday he might have commanded that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon … we will never let that happen”. But as he slurred at his autocue, he conveyed only ritualised abuse of Iran and pleas to Nato for help, a Nato he once majestically derided. I sensed we were seeing the US’s days as world hegemon dribbling away. Even Trump’s Republican ally Mike Lee called the Iran briefing “the worst briefing I’ve seen – at least on a military issue – in my nine years” in the Senate.
All empires outstay their declared purpose, let alone their welcome. All end messily – the operative word is all – be they Roman, Napoleonic, British or Soviet. All are vanquished not by superior power, but by self-delusion and geography. The British empire had neither the right nor the need to invade far-flung parts of Asia and Africa. It was defeated by them. The US has claimed the right to intervene in theatres as diverse as South America, the far east, east Africa and a portfolio of Muslim states. Justification varies from retaliation and deterrence to “self-defence” and the instilling of democracy.
The US’s intentions have often been noble, but good intentions camouflage power projection. When your drones can kill anyone anywhere, the temptation is insuperable. If you think you can police the world from a bunker in Nevada, why not try?
Trump’s instinct was once that of a classic American isolationist. As he reiterated to Congress last February, “Great nations do not fight endless wars … the hour has come to at least try for peace.” He was announcing withdrawal from Syria and more tentatively from Afghanistan. Yet he is still there. The US is fighting six wars – also in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. None has any conceivable relevance to its own security.
Imperialism sticks to politics like glue. Even as common-sense screams withdrawal, staying offers the populist an opportunity for glory. It was thus that British ministers in the 1950s and 60s fought to hold on to Aden, Kenya and Cyprus. Today Boris Johnson craves the machismo of a totally pointless carrier force in the far east. Some imperial ghost seems to sneak down from the India Office attic to stalk Downing Street at night.
Twenty years of western interventions in the Muslim world have rested on two falsehoods. One is that terrorism poses an existential threat to western democracies, grotesquely underrating their inherent stability. The other is that intervention can remedy such a threat, can enforce obedience and even democracy on victim states. I remember watching rightwing US thinktankers trying to administer Iraq from Baghdad’s Green Zone in the months after the 2003 invasion. By what right?
Alien intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states is immoral, specifically banned under chapter one of the UN charter. That ban was supposedly overridden by Tony Blair’s much-cited “responsibility to protect” civilian populations. But as the casualties mounted, protection became mere cover for ceaseless wars of western aggression. That is why the UN is all but absent from these interventions. As George Bush said, “I leave the UN to lawyers.”
The issue now is not whether we can any longer plant the flowers of democracy in fields we have drenched in blood. It is how to get the hell out. The sight of Trump ranting against Iran and inflicting on it yet further sanctions was like the final scene of a tragic opera. He seemed a man trapped.
Two American presidents played a significant role in the demise of British imperialism. Franklin D Roosevelt told Winston Churchill that the US’s involvement in the second world war was strictly on condition that Britain dissolved its empire. The US would not defend it. John Foster Dulles, who was later US secretary of state, said in 1945 that his was “the first colony to have won independence” from Britain, and it expected others to follow. This advice was fiercely echoed in 1956 by Dwight D Eisenhower, appalled at Britain’s invasion of Suez.
Iraqi politicians this week joined the anti-imperial cause by demanding that American forces be withdrawn from their soil. All Trump could do was refuse, despite having previously pledged to do just that. Even in its hour of insecurity, 17 years of American occupation had left Iraq just desperate for it to end. It knows it must live at peace with its powerful neighbour, Iran, and this requires it to be no longer to be a tool of American presidential machismo. Likewise, Afghanistan must find its own accommodation with the Taliban and with its neighbour, Pakistan.
As for Britain, its 20-year creep under Washington’s coat-tails, by Blair, David Cameron and now Boris Johnson, is humiliating and expensive. It should be offering the advice of an old and honest friend, whose history has so paralleled the US’s predicament. Instead, it offers only the cringe of a lackey awaiting a reward, in this case an implausible post-Brexit trade deal.
As empires crumble, stuff happens. It could yet be that Trump’s killing of Qassem Suleimani jolts every participant in this game to realise that it is just not working. The US president is a man of emotional and unpredictable responses. He could indeed pull out of Iraq, leaving it to separate from Kurdistan and do a deal with Tehran. He could leave Syria to its fate, and leave Afghanistan to the tender mercies of Islamabad. As for Britain, at last it could have nothing whatsoever to do with this mess.

Iran Will Make Huge Political Gains Out of This Crisis
January 8, 2020
by Patrick Cockburn
The Independent
The Iranian missile attack on two US bases in Iraq is symbolic retaliation for the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January.
Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said there would be direct action against the US by the Iranian armed forces, and this has now happened. The message is that the Iranian leadership wants to de-escalate the crisis; the initial tweet from the US president Donald Trump after the attack indicates that he wants the same thing.
This does not mean that Iran will not respond later, using proxies to retain deniability and possibly against a US ally, as it did when making a devastating drone attack on Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais on 14 September. But even this type of low level guerrilla warfare is not inevitable, since Iran has shown in the past that it wants to avoid a full-scale war with a militarily superior US.
The assassination of Soleimani clearly came as a shock to Tehran, and will have shaken confidence that Trump will not risk a war under any circumstances. After all, Soleimani paid with his life for miscalculating the degree of American anger over pin-prick Iranian attacks last year.
Iran is more likely to seek to exploit the assassination for political gain, notably by increasing its influence in Iraq and acting through third parties. It will look to the Iraqi government, parliament and political parties to demand that the 5,200 US troops leave the country. They have been there since 2014 for the purpose of helping the Iraqi armed forces fight Isis but, from the moment General Soleimani was killed, have been looking to their own defence.
Isis, seeking to revive itself after its destruction as a de facto state, is one clear beneficiary of the Soleimani assassination.
Even if US troops stay for the moment, they will have a status near to that of hostages since many are in indefensible compounds in the middle of Iraqi military bases. The willingness of Iraqi security to defend American personnel is dubious, as was demonstrated when Iraqi troops in the Green Zone in Baghdad stood aside last week to let pro-Iranian paramilitary marchers enter the US embassy.
Iran will already have made significant political gains from this crisis as long it does not now overplay its hand and seek to humiliate the US. Street protests in Iran sparked by a rise in fuel prices last November led to the security forces killing at least 304 protesters, according to Amnesty International. Who would have expected that the next big street event in Iranian cities would be millions of people gathering for the funeral of the second most important figure in the government that had been doing the killing?
These were mourners, moreover, calling for vengeance against the US; protesters had previously blamed their leadership for wasting resources on foreign adventures such as those carried out by Soleimani. It is impossible to judge how far Isis has been re-legitimised by the recent rising of tensions, but it is in a stronger position domestically to withstand the tough times resulting from US sanctions without the fear of a popular revolt.
In Iraq, there will be many who will be pleased to see the end of Soleimani, who ordered the violent repression of protests over jobs and government corruption since last October; since then, no fewer than 500 protesters have been killed and as many as 20,000 injured.
But Iraqi protesters, too, have had the ground cut from under their feet because US interference in Iraq has just outpaced Iranian interference. Protesters will be accused of attacking a government that is seeking to defend Iraqi sovereignty. No Iraqi leader will want to be portrayed as pro-American. The pro-Iranian paramilitaries can present themselves as staunch patriots and not as Iranian proxies.
Soleimani has done more for his country by his death than he ever achieved during two decades years as head of the Quds Force, the foreign operation arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. From the US point of view, his assassination is proving counter-productive, leaving the government in Iran and its regional allies stronger than before.

The Donald’s Assassination of General Soleimani – As Stupid as It Gets
January 9, 2020
by David Stockman
AntiWar

During more than a half-century of Washington watching we have seen stupidityrise from one height to yet another. But nothing – just plain nothing – compares to the the blithering stupidity of the Donald’s Iran “policy”, culminating in the mindless assassination of its top military leader and hero of the so-called Islamic Revolution, Major General Qassem Soleimani.
To be sure, we don’t give a flying f*ck about the dead man himself. Like most generals of whatever army (including the US army), he was a cold-blooded, professional killer.
And in this day and age of urban and irregular warfare and drone-based annihilation delivered by remote joystick, generals tend to kill more civilians than combatants. The dead civilian victims in their millions of U.S. generals reaching back to the 1960s surely attest to that.
Then again, even the outright belligerents Soleimani did battle with over the decades were not exactly alms-bearing devotees of Mother Theresa, either. In sequential order, they were the lethally armed combatants mustered by Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, the Sunni jihadists of ISIS and the Israeli and Saudiair forces, which at this very moment are raining high tech bombs and missiles on Iranian allies and proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The only reason these years of combat are described in the mainstream media as evidence of Iranian terrorism propagated by its Quds forces is that the neocons have declared it so. That is, by Washington’s lights Iran is not allowed to have a foreign policy and its alliances with mainly Shiite co-religionists in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are alleged per se to be schemes of aggression and terror, warranting any and all retaliations including assassination of its highest officials.
But that’s just colossal nonsense and imperialistic arrogance. The Assad government in Syria, the largest political party in Lebanon (Hezbollah), the dominant population of northern Yemen (Houthis) and a significant portion ofthe Iraqi armed forces represented by the Shiite militias (the PMF or Popular Mobilization Forces) are no less civilized and no more prone to sectarian violence than anybody else in this woebegone region. And the real head-choppers of ISIS and its imitators and rivals have all been Sunni jihadist insurrectionists, not Shiite-based governments and political parties.
The truth is, America has no dog in the Shiite versus Sunni hunt, which has been going on for 1300 years in the region. And when it comes to spill over of those benighted forces into Europe or America, recent history is absolutely clear: 100% of all Islamic terrorist incidents in the US since they began in the 1990s were perpetrated or inspired by Sunni jihadists, not Iran or its Shiite allies and proxies in the region.
So we needs be direct. The aggression in the Persian Gulf region during the last three decades has originated in the Washington DC nest of neocon vipers and among Bibi Netanyahu’s proxies, collaborators and assigns who rule the roost in the Imperial City and among both political parties. And the motivating force has all along been the malicious quest for regime change – first in Iraq and then in Syria and Iran.
Needless to say, Washington instigated “regime change” tends to provoke a determined self-defense and a usually violent counter-reaction among the changees.So the truth is, the so-called Shiite crescent is not an alliance of terrorists inflicting wanton violence on the region; it’s a league of regime-change resisters and armed combatants who have elected to say “no” to Washington’s imperial schemes for remaking the middle eastern maps.
So in taking out Soleimani, the usually befuddled and increasingly belligerent occupant of the Oval Office was not striking a blow against “terrorism”. He was just dramatically escalating Washington’s long-standing regime-change aggression in the region, thereby risking an outbreak of even greater violence and possibly a catastrophic conflagration in the Persian Gulf where one-fifth of the world’s oil traverses daily.
And most certainly, the Donald has now crushed his own oft-repeated intent to withdraw American forces from the middle east and get out of the regime change business – the very platform upon which he campaigned in 2016. There are now upwards of 50,000 US military personnel in the immediate Persian Gulf regionand tens of thousands of more contractors, proxies and mercenaries. After Friday’sreckless maneuver, that number can now only go up – and possibly dramatically.
In joy-sticking Soleimani while lounging in his plush digs at Mar-a-Lago, the Donald was also not avenging the innocent casualties of Iranian aggression – Americans or otherwise. He was just jamming another regime-change stick in the hornet’s nest of anti-Americanism in the region that Washington’s bloody interventions have spawned over the decades, and which will now intensify by orders of magnitude.
Sometimes a picture does tell a thousand words, and one from the funeral procession in Tehran yesterday surely makes a mockery of Secretary Pompeo’s idiotic claim that the middle east is now safer than before. If there was ever a case that this neocon knucklehead should be immediately dispatched to his hog and corn farm back in Kansas, this is surely it.
The larger point here is that Imperial Washington and its mainstream media megaphones have so egregiously and relentlessly vilified Iran and falsified the middle east narrative that the Iranian side of the story has been completely lost – literally airbrushed right off the pages of contemporary history in Stalineseque fashion.
Not that the benighted, mullah-controlled Iranian regime is comprised of anything which resembles white hats. One of the great misfortunes of the last four decadesis that the long-suffering people of Iran have not been able to throw-off the cultural and religious shackles imposed by this theocratic regime or escape the economic backwardness and incompetence of what is essentially rule by authoritarian clerics.
But that’s exactly the crime of Washington’s neocon-inspired hostility and threats to the Iranian regime. It merely rekindles Iranian nationalism andcauses the public to rally to the support of the regime, as is so evident at the current moment.
Worse still, the underlying patriotic foundation of this pro-regime sentiment is completely lost on Imperial Washington owing to its false narrative about post-1979 history. Yet the fact is, in the eyes of the Iranian people the Quds forces and Soleimani have plausible claims to having been valiant defenders of the nation.
In the original instance, of course, Soleimani earned his chops on the battlefield contending with the chemical weapons-dropping air force of Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. And Saddam was the invader whose chemical bombs achieved especially deadly accuracy against often barely armed teenage Iranian soldiers owing to spotting and targeting assistance rendered by the U.S. air force – a Washington assisted depredation that a whole generation of Iranians know all about, even if present day Washington feins ignorance.
Then after Bush the Younger visited uninvited and unrequested Shock & Awe upon Baghdad and much of the Iraqi countryside, it transpired that the nation’s majority Shiite population didn’t cotton much to being “liberated” by Washington. Indeed, the more radical elements of the Iraqi Shiite community in Sadr City and other towns of central and south Iraq took up arms during 2003-2011 against what they perceived to be the American “occupiers” because, well, it was their country.
Needless to say, their Shiite kinsman in Iran were more than ready to give aid and comfort to the Iraqi Shiite in their struggle against what by then was perceived as Iran’s own mortal enemy. After all, a full year before Bush the Younger launched the utterly folly of the second gulf war in March 2003, his demented neocon advisors and speechwriters, led by the insufferable David Frum, had concocted a bogeyman called the Axis of Evil, which included Iran and marked it as next in line for Shock & Awe.
But the idea that the Iraqi people and especially its majority Shiite population would have been dancing in the streets to welcome the US military save for the insidious interference of Iran is just baseless War Party propaganda.
Stated differently, Washington sent 158,000 lethally armed fighters into a country that had never threatened America’s homeland security or harbored its enemies, and had no capacity to do so in any event. But contrary to the glib assurances of Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest of the neocon jackals around Bush, these US fighters soon came to be widely viewed as “invaders”, not liberators, and met resistance from a wide variety of Iraqi elements including remnants of Saddam’s government and military, radicalized Sunni jihadists and a motley array of Shiite politicians, clerics and militias.
Foremost among these was the Sadr clan which emerged as the tribune of the dispossessed Shiite communities in the south and Baghdad. They rose to prominence after Bush the Elder urged the Shiite to rise up against Saddam after the 1991 Gulf War, and then left them dangling in the wind.
No US support materialized as the regime’s indiscriminate crackdownon the population systematically arrested and killed tens of thousands of Shiites and destroyed Shiite shrines, centers of learning, towns and villages. According to eyewitness accounts, Baathist tanks were painted with messages like “NoShiites after today,” people were hanged from electric poles, and tanksr an over women and children and towed bodies through the streets.
From this horror and brutality emerged Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the founder of the Sadrist movement that today, under the leadership of his son Muqtada, constitutes Iraq’s most powerful political movement. After the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003, the Sadrist movement formally established its own militia, known as the Jaysh al-Mahdi, or the Mahdi Army.
The vast Shiite underclass needed protection, social services and leadership, and the Sadrist movement stepped into these gaps by reactivating Sadeq al-Sadr’s network. In the course of US occupation, the Mahdi Army’s ranks of supporters, members and fighters swelled, particularly as sectarian conflict intensified and discontent towards the occupation grew out of frustration with the lack of security and basis services. At one point the Mahdi Army numbered more than60,000 fighters, and especially as Iraq degenerated into total sectarian chaos after 2005, it became a deadly thorn in the side of US forces occupying a countrywhere they were distinctly unwelcome.
But the Mahdi Army was homegrown; it was Arab, not Persian, and it was fighting for its own homes and communities, not the Iranians, the Quds or Soleimani.In fact, the Sadrists strongly opposed the Iranian influence among other Shiite dissident groups including the brutal Badr Brigade and the Iran-aligned SupremeCouncil for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI). As the above study further noted,
Iraqis today refer to the Sadrist Movement’s Peace Brigades as the “rebellious” militias, because of their refusal to submit not only to Iran, but also to the federal government and religious establishment. Muqtada al-Sadr has oriented his organization around Iraqi nationalistic sentiments and derided the Iran-aligned militias. In line with the true politicaloutlook of his father and his followers, Muqtada’s supporters chanted anti-Iranian slogans and stormed the offices of the Dawa Party, ISCI andthe Badr Brigade when they protested against the government in May 2016.
As it happened, the overwhelming share of the 603 US servicemen the Pentagon claims to have been killed by Iranian proxies were actually victims of the Mahdi Army uprisings during 2003-2007. These attacks were led by the above-mentioned Iraqi nationalist firebrand and son of the movements founder, Muqtada al-Sadr.
In fact, however, the surge in U.S. deaths at that time was the direct result of subsequently disgraced General David Petraeus’ infamous “surge” campaign. Among others, it targeted al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in the hope of weakening it. Beginning in late April 2007, the US launched dozens of military operations aimed solely at capturing or killing Mahdi Army officers, causing the Mahdi Army to strongly resist those raids and impose mounting casualties on US troops.
So amidst the fog of two decades of DOD and neocon propaganda, how did Iran and Soleimani get tagged over and over with the “killing Americans” charge, as if they were attacking innocent bystanders in lower Manhattan on 9/11?
It’s just the hoary old canard that Iran was the source of the powerful roadside bombs called Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) that were being used by many of the Shiite militias, as well as the Sunni jihadists in Anbarprovince and the west. Yet that claim was debunked more than a decade ago by evidence that the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias were getting their weapons not just from the Iranians but from wherever they could, as well as manufacturing their own.
As the estimable Iran expert, Gareth Porter, recently noted:
The command’s effort to push its line about Iran and EFPs encountered one embarrassing revelation after another. In February 2007 a US command briefing asserted that the EFPs had “characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran.” However, after NBC correspondent Jane Arraf confronted the deputy commander of coalition troops, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, with the fact that a senior military official had acknowledged to her that US troops had been discovering many sites manufacturing EFPs in Iraq, Odierno was forced to admit that it was true.
Then in late February 2007, US troops found another cache of parts and explosives for EFPs near Baghdad, which included shipments of PVC tubes forthe canisters that contradicted its claims. They had come not from factories in Iran, but from factories in the UAE and other Arab countries, including Iraq itself. That evidence clearly suggested that the Shiites were procuring EFP parts on the commercial market rather than getting them from Iran.
Although the military briefing by the command in February 2007 pointed to cross-border weapons smuggling, it actually confirmedin one of its slides that it was being handled by “Iraqi extremist group members” rather than by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps(IRGC). And as Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the US commander for southern Iraq, admitted in a July6 press briefing, his troops had not “captured anybody that we can directly tie back to Iran.”
On the other hand, what the Iranian Quds forces have actually accomplished in Iraq and Syria has been virtually expunged from the mainstream narrative. To wit, they have been the veritable tip of the spear in the eradication of the Islamic State.
Indeed, in Iraq it was the wobbly Iraqi national army that Washington stood up at a cost of billions, which turned tail and ran when ISIS emerged in Anbar province in 2014. So doing, they left behind thousands of US armored vehicles, mobile artillery and even tanks, as well as massive troves of guns and ammo, which enabled the Islamic State to briefly thrive and subjugate several million people across the Euphrates Valley.
It was also Washington that trained, equipped, armed and funded the so-called anti-Assad rebels in Syria, which so weakened and distracted Damascus that that the Islamic State was briefly able to fill the power vacuum and impose its barbaric rule on the citizens of Raqqa and its environs. And again, it did so in large part with weaponry captured from or sold to ISIS by the so-called moderate rebels.
To the contrary, the panic and unraveling in Iraq during 2014-2015 was stopped and reversed when the Iranians at the invitation of Baghdad’s Shiite government helped organize and mobilize the Iraqi Shiite militias, which eventually chased ISIS out of Mosul and Anbar.
Likewise, outside of the northern border areas liberated by the Syrian Kurds, it was the Shiite alliance of Assad, Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds forces that rid Syria of the ISIS plague.
Yes, the US air force literally incinerated two great cities temporarily occupiedby the Islamic State – Mosul and Raqqa. But it was the Shiite fighters who were literally fighting for their lives, homes and hearth who cleared that land of a barbaric infestation that had been spawned and enabled by the very Washington neocons who are now dripping red in tooth and claw.
So we revert to the Donald’s act of utter stupidity. On the one hand, it is now evident that the reason Soleimani was in Baghdad was to deliver an official response from Tehran to a recent Saudi de-escalation offer. And that’s by the word of the very prime minister that Washington has stood up in the rumpstate of Iraq and who has now joined a majority of the Iraqi parliament in demanding that Iraq’s putative liberators – after expending trillions in treasure and blood – leave the country forthwith:
Before the vote Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told the parliament that he was scheduled to meet with Soleimani a day after his arrival to receive a letter from Iran to Iraq in response to a de-escalation offer Saudi Arabia had made. The US assassinated Soleimani before the letter could be delivered by him. Abdul-Mahdi also said that Trump had asked him to mediate between the US and Iran. Did he do that to trap Soleimani? It is no wonder then that Abdul-Mahdi is fuming.
At the same time, the positive trends that were in motion in the region just days ago – ISIS gone, Syria closing in on the remaining jihadists, Saudi Arabia and Iran tentatively exploring a more peaceful modus vivendi, the Yemen genocide winding to a close – may now literally go up in smoke. As the always sagacious Pat Buchanan observed today,
What a difference a presidential decision can make.
Two months ago, crowds were in the streets of Iraq protesting Iran’s dominance of their politics. Crowds were in the streets of Iran cursing that regime for squandering the nation’s resources on imperial adventures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen. Things were going America’s way.
Now it is the Americans who are the targets of protests.
Over three days, crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands and even millions have packed Iraqi and Iranian streets and squares to pay tribute to Soleimani and to curse the Americans who killed him.
We have long believed that there is nothing stupider in Washington than the neocon policy mafia that has wreaked such unspeakable havoc on the middle eastas well as upon American servicemen and taxpayers who have been marched time and again into the jaws of their folly.
But, now, the Donald has single-handedly given even neocon stupidity a run for the money.

Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis
As the city experiences a new wave of gentrification, businesses are shuttering – and nothing is replacing them
January 9, 2020
by Adrian Daub
The Guardian
At the beginning of this decade, one beloved block in San Francisco had a taqueria, a flower shop and a bookstore. Sparky’s diner, a favorite final hangout for night owls, queer teens and the blackout drunk, was open round the clock.
Today, this block of Church Street just south of Market has the kind of abandoned storefronts that are usually a shorthand for declining mill towns, not centers of the tech future. But all those closed shops are emblematic of today’s San Francisco, where even in upscale areas, the city’s economic boom can look surprisingly like an economic crisis.
What this represents is a strange, second-wave gentrification, in which an influx of well-heeled residents means not Blue Bottle coffee shops and Kinfolk-inspired interior design stores, but emptiness.
The intersection of Church and Market streets is where many San Francisco neighborhoods come together – from the historic Castro to the nouveau gentry in Hayes Valley and the hipster vortex that is the Mission District. It’s not necessarily picturesque, but it’s long been quirky, lively, easily reached by public transit and popular with young creative types. In the last decade, splashy apartment complexes have shot up all over the area. The neighborhood must have gained hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents. But the businesses in the area have been dying off.
In 2017, about one in every eight storefronts here was empty, and more businesses seem to have vacated since then. The diner was first to go: in 2015 rent suddenly went up, the diner’s owner refused to pay, and Sparky’s was no more. Our usual ideas about gentrification suggest neighborhood standbys get replaced by fancy boutiques and brunch-centric eateries. Instead, after Sparky’s came … nothing. Elsewhere, too, long-term leases timed out, rents increased, and the old neighborhood hangouts disappeared. Aardvark Books, which stood on Church Street for nearly 40 years, until 2018, is now a hollow storefront.
The fancy new developments along the upper stretch of Market Street have had a paradoxical effect, filling the area with people while depopulating it. The reasons have a lot to do with the tech economy that’s made San Francisco one of the most expensive cities in the world. Developers make their money with luxury apartments aimed at high-salaried tech workers, while ground floor retail is an architectural and economic afterthought: giant spaces that any business would have trouble filling with life and justifying financially.
As a result, a kind of noncommittal capitalism has moved in. Unlike restaurants that become long-term icons of gentrification, such as Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn, the fancy coffee shops and cocktail bars that pop up in these airy enclosures seem like tourists living out of their suitcases. People make dinner reservations on a Wednesday, only to have the restaurant abruptly close on Thursday.
Meanwhile, most of the residents in the lofty towers above are probably ordering their necessaries from Amazon Prime and their food from the delivery service Caviar. (Or no one is living in the condos at all: a recent report found there are roughly 38,000 empty homes in San Francisco – three to five times the city’s number of homeless people.)
Some might say this is all simply market Darwinism, just with more cold-pressed beet juice. But it’s interesting that the free market exists only on one side of the equation. Since California passed Proposition 13 in 1978, property tax rates for those San Franciscans who owned property back then have been severely capped. Owners may pay Nixon-era property tax rates, while renting out those spaces at rates that have exploded in the last 40 years. They, too, can afford to let buildings sit empty.
What has successfully moved in are brick-and-mortar businesses surrounded by a vague tech halo. The building at the intersection of Church and Market was rented by a startup called Sonder, which subleases individual apartments on a short-term basis. Across from it sits Compass Realty, which bills itself as “a tech company reinventing the space” but is pretty much just a traditional brokerage – albeit one funded by Silicon Valley VCs. Then there is One Medical, an HMO that has a tech-adjacent pedigree, though it is opaque how much that pedigree actually matters. It is backed by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, but its tech credentials seem to otherwise consist of its self-presentation and – get this – an app.
These are businesses trying to feed off the buzz that surrounds all things tech, but ultimately living off federally mandated insurance programs or venture capital funds willing to set money on fire. One developer who moved in and promised to open several restaurants along the corridor turned out to be a scam artist from Los Angeles. The ultima ratio of the untrammeled market, it would seem, is other people’s money. And while Sonder, One Medical and Compass may be solid businesses by comparison, it’s hard not to look at their showy offices and suspect that they protest too much: who knows how long they’ll stay in the neighborhood, or how long they are for the world.
Our standard narratives of gentrification, whether they fetishize or hate the glitzy sameness it produces, treat that glitz as a sign of capitalism’s relentless working. But the area around Church and Market suggests just how tenuous that capitalism has become. Whether you associate tech with utopian visions of generalized social uplift, or with a dystopian, union-busting hellscape, both views are premised on the efficacy of the transformations wrought by VC dollars and technological ingenuity. But walk through parts of San Francisco today, and you get a different sense altogether: not an uncanny effectiveness, but a panicked swirl of homeless capital.

This is rapidly becoming a decade of official deceit and public disillusion.
The issue under discussion here is MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System).
MERS, set up by the government in 1995, now claims to be a privately-held company and their official function is stated to be ‘keeping track of a confidential electronic registry of mortgages and the modifications to servicing rights and ownership of the loans.’ MERS is actually a U.S. government initiated organization like Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and its current shareholders include AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, WaMu, CitiMortgage, Countrywide, GMAC, Guaranty Bank, and Merrill Lynch. All of these entities have been intimately, and disastrously, involved with the so-called “housing bubble,” and were subsequently quickly bailed out by the supportive Bush administration
In addition to its publicly stated purpose of simplifying mortgage registration MERS was also set up to assist in the creation of so-called Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and Structured investment Vehicles (SIV). The CDOs is a type of structured asset-backed security (ABS) whose value and payments are derived from a portfolio of fixed-income underlying assets. CDOs securities are split into different risk classes, or tranches, which permits these entities to be minced into tiny tranches and sold off by the big investment banks to pensions, foreign investors and retail investors. who in turn have discounted and resold them over and over.
It is well-known inside the American banking institutions that these highly questionable, potentially unsafe investment packages were deliberately marketed to countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, that are not in favor with elements of the American government and banking industry and were, and are, marketed with full knowledge of their fragility.
The basic problem with this MERS system that while it does organize the mortgage market, it also knowingly permits fiscal sausage-making whereby a huge number of American domestic and business mortgages, (59 million by conservative estimate) are sliced up, put into the aforesaid “investment packages” and sold to customers both domestic and foreign.
This results in the frightening fact that the holders of mortgages, so chopped and packed, are not possible to identify by MERS or anyone else, at any time and by any agency. This means that any property holder, be they a domestic home owner or a business owner, is paying their monthly fees for property they can never own. Because of the diversity of the packaging, it is totally and completely impossible to ascertain what person or organization owns a specific mortgage and as a result, a clear title to MERS-controlled property is impossible to get at any time, even if a mortgage is fully paid. No person or entity, has been, or never can be, identified who can come forward and legally release the lien on the property once the loan is paid.
In short, MERS conceals this fact from the public with the not-unreasonable assumption that by the time the owner of the home or business discovers that they have only been paying rent on property they can never get clear title to, all the primary parties; the banks, the government agencies, the mortgage companies, or the title companies, will be dead and gone. MERS is set up to guarantee this fact but, gradually, little by little, mostly by word of mouth, the public is beginning to realize that their American dream of owning a house is nothing but a sham and a delusion.
The solution to this is quite simple. If a home or business American mortgage payer , goes to the property offices in their county and looks at their registered property, they can clearly see if MERS is the purported holder of the mortgage. This is fraudulent – MERS has never advanced any funds in the transaction and owns nothing. It is merely a registry. If MERS is the listed holder, the mortgage payers will never, ever, get clear title to their property. \In this case, the property occupier has two choices: They can either turn the matter over to a real estate attorney or simply continue pouring good money after bad. And is there relief? Indeed there is. In case after case (95% by record) if the matter is brought to the attention of a court of law, Federal or state, the courts rule that if the actual owner of the mortgage cannot be located after a reasonable period of time, the owner receives a clear title from the court and does not need to make any further payments to an unidentified creditor! It will stop any MERS based foreclosure mid process and further, any person who was fraudulently foreclosed by MERS, which never held their mortgage, and forced from their home can sue MERS and, through the courts, regain their lost homes.

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

Preface
This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 52

Now that it was agreed that both the police official and the uncle had to be killed, the next step, or series of steps, was to work out the logistics.
Collins was the first chosen target because it was his killers that were the immediate danger. Claude knew the building where Collins lived. He had stolen some engravings from another apartment in the exclusive unit. There was heavy security but he had not found it difficult to get in. Collins, no doubt, would have extra security because of his criminal activities outside his daily work. The boat was an interesting idea and Chuck knew a great deal about boats having sailed both on Lake Michigan and San Francisco Bay as a youth. The way to kill Collins was his idea.
“Claude, what kind of cruiser are we talking about? How big? What kind of engines? Where is it berthed? What kind of security, if any?”
“Well, Charlie my boy, the boat is about seventy five feel long, has twin engines…”
“Diesel or gas?”
“Oh…I’m trying to remember what Ron told me…oh yes, gasoline. Costs an arm and a leg when Collins goes out on the lake for a trip. My friend was a crew member once and he told me it takes several hundred gallons of gas to fill the tanks up.”
Chuck snapped his fingers and grinned.
“Got him!”
And he explained.
On boats with gasoline engines, it was very important that the bilge area was properly ventilated to prevent the buildup of dangerous, highly explosive fumes. A bilge fan was used in cabin cruisers to air out the bilge area and dissipate any fumes that might have leaked out down into the boat’s hull. The standard practice employed by owners and operators of such craft was to turn on the bilge fan and let it run for five or ten minutes prior to starting the engines. If, Chuck commented, something went wrong with the fan and it didn’t actually work when it was turned on, starting the engines could cause a serious fire. If the fan was deactivated but the light showing it in operation wasn’t, the skipper would think the bilges had been cleared when in fact they had not. And, he went on, if someone poured ten gallons of gasoline into the bilges first, it was practically guaranteed that the buildup of fumes would be absolutely fatal when the motors were activated and the sparks generated ignited the explosive gasoline fumes.
This was an idea that had not occurred to Claude but he immediately saw the thrust of it and agreed, in high good humor, that it was the best way to blow up Collins.
The trick, of course, was to get Collins on the boat after it had been primed.
It was Gwen’s suggestion that offered the best solution.
“Chuck, I’ve heard you mimic people before. You do a perfect Lars. Could you imitate LeBec?”
“Why shit yes,” Chuck said, seeing the sense of the matter, “Hell yes! I can call Collins on his private phone, tell him I’m LeBec and give him a ration of crap. And then…” he jumped up, laughing, “tell him I have something for him but that’s it’s so important that we have to meet on his boat! Oh yes, dear, that’s the way to go!”
And having made the decision, he was immensely relieved. Collins, to be sure, was still alive and still very dangerous but the fact that a sensible plan for destroying him had been birthed greatly reduced the mounting tension. They were all discovering what Chuck already knew. An aggressive offense is always better than a passive defense. One did not merely wait to be struck like a terrified, cowering rabbit but moved like the hunting fox and the movement itself generated action and action-generated confidence.

(Continued)

This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

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