TBR News March 18, 2016

Mar 18 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., March 18, 2016: “ Once, America was the world’s largest manufacturing producer and, as a result, the dominant world power. Diplomacy was not her forte and power was. Instead of negotiations, the United States threatened military action. She put compliant dictators in strategic countries regardless of their blighted domestic records, and kept them there by assassinating their putative enemies. Our CIA had its own agenda, often with no connection to rational national policy and instead of soldiers, they used any underhanded method that came to mind. But all empires end and the American empire is sliding, slowly at first and then greatly accelerated, downwards. Manufacturers, annoyed at the high wages forced on them by labor unions, moved their operations overseas to cheaper labor markets. What this did was to create a large army of the unemployed who were then unable to buy the products they once made. And as the labor market for blue collar workers shrank, the much more limited one of computer technicians began to boom. And a government, remembering the growing and dangerous civil disturbances during the Vietnam War, resolved to prevent this ever happening again, hence the burgeoning surveillance of all American (and foreign) citizens possible to prevent civil disturbances before they happened. This almost pathological snooping is having an opposite effect on the public (which in the eyes of the government is only fit to pay taxes and keep them in business) but the more objections grow, the stronger the machinery to control them becomes. Listen, if you can, for the hoofbeats of the Man on the White Horse who most assuredly is coming.”


Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.




Conversation No. 67

Date: Sunday, February 16, 1997

Commenced: 10:45 AM CST

Concluded: 11:15 AM CST


GD: I got your packet today, Robert, and thank you for it. I have a problem with the classification stamps on them. Would I have any problem putting these into a book with the stamps showing?

RTC: I would suggest that you use them for reference, Gregory, and would appreciate it if you did not photo copy them. As you say, there could be serious trouble for both of us if you did. What did you think of them?

GD: Amazing. I had no idea the blessed Republicans were so underhanded and vicious.

RTC: The Democrats, and my father was an active one, are more interested in social issues, but the GOP wants unfettered economic power and to get and keep it, they have no scruples. Clinton may be left of center, but he’s economically pretty sound. The Republicans, and I used to be the man for connections with really big business, don’t forget, have two goals and two only. They want to establish an ideological police state that is anti-black, anti-Mexican, anti-intellectual and in this category, anti-Jew. Once they have this, their next goal would be to allow unfettered capitalism to rage unchecked throughout the land so that they and their friends can get rich quick on crooked businesses like the huge fraud now going on in the electronics stock. It goes up, Gregory, because it’s rigged and I just know it will go higher and higher.

GD: Yes, and what goes up, must come down. And if it goes up too fast, when it crashes, it takes legitimate businesses with it. My grandfather got out of the market in September of ’29 because it was going up too fast and businesses were heavily overcapitalized. This electronic business is not genuine?

RTC: No, it’s rigged. How it works is this way: The stock fraud people grab some engineering student from MIT, set him up in a nice office in San Francisco and then incorporate him with some fancy, arty name. Next step is to get the stock listed on the New York board. After that, a ring of very reputable stock brokers call up their friends with an offering. They tell them they are going to buy a certain stock at ten dollars for them and then sell it when it gets to, let’s say, twenty. The client goes along with this and when this is repeated across the country, the stock shoots up. The original investors get double their money back, minus brokerage fees, and then the brokers do it again, and again. This forces almost all technology stock up into the heavens. Maybe some of the initial investors gripe when they see stock they bought at ten and sold at twenty up at two hundred, but when all of it will come crashing down, they are satisfied that they have a safe return.

GD: Well, gravity works on the market as well as fat women’s tits.

RTC: (Laughter) There you go again, Gregory, illuminating a serious economic lecture with lewd remarks.

GD: A little levity to offset crude capitalism.

RTC: Oh, if the Republicans have their way, all the restrictions on Wall Street would be lifted and everything would shoot up. Some of it rigged and the rest just being copycats.

GD: You’re not a Republican?

RTC: No, a relatively modest Democrat, but not a poor one.

GD: It’s none of my business, Robert, but what do you have your money in?

RTC: Not communications stock, I can tell you that. Very conservative investments. And you?

GD: I’m almost broke, Robert. I don’t make that much money on the books and now that the rodent brigades from the CIA are starting to squeal that I am a really terrible liar, the sales are slowing down some. But I have an idea that might pay off. I told you about the gold Jimmy Atwood and I dug up in ’90. Well, I have some old gasbag down in Florida who wants me to go over with him to Austria in the future and dig up more. Only this one doesn’t want to dig up gold. He wants to put a party together and get the money from them and come back with me later to get the money which we can split up.

RTC: The concentration camp money?

GD: Oh, yes and lots of it. We had to quit in ’90 because one was sick and the other a total asshole. And Atwood, being one of your people, tried all kinds of transparent tricks to cheat me. Didn’t work. But this Florida phony wants to work with me. I could always go back with him, or stay there after his rich friends went home, and dig up more money. Of course, this time he could have a boating accident and fall into the lake. It’s very deep and very cold. What goes down into it Robert, does not come up.

RTC: And how would you get the loot back?

GD: I would keep it in Europe and invest it.

RTC: Probably not a bad idea. How much did you get last time?

GD: About five million and there must be five times that still left. Yes, I think a boating accident. Sort of like Colby’s assisted departure. If he has any family, I can tell them he ran off to Sofia with a Bulgarian whore instead of being refrigerated at the bottom of a deep lake in Austria. Well, we will see. I have a friend in the electronics business. How long before the stock boom busts?

RTC: I have no idea but eventually. Two years, three years…who knows? You don’t have any electronics stock, do you?

GD: God no. If I did have money, I would stay as far away as I can from the trendy stocks that the press loves to shill for. No, if I had a lot of money, I would put it in gold and property.

RTC: Anything left from your late jaunt?

GD: I invested it in long-term property and kept some of the gold. Of course I got the wedding rings and had to melt them all down and put them into bullet molds I bought in Klagenfurt. Poor Aunt Minnie’s ring is gone forever.

RTC: I wouldn’t let the Jews find out about that, Gregory. They would be very angry with you.

GD: Well, who is to prove that this ring or that gold coin came from such and such a person? The people who owned this are long dead and mostly forgotten. So what?

RTC: For God’s sake, Gregory, don’t even hint at this in your books. Hell hath no fury like a Jew deprived of money.

GD: Well, his own or someone else’s? Jimmy and I got all kinds of gold crucifixes, wedding rings, coins and other material and I melted most of it down. Used a portable acetylene torch and bullet molds working in an Italian hotel room. Cheap hotel and no one complained about the smell of melting metal. Took two weeks to melt it all down. Just think, so many precious memories, gone forever and all mine, Robert, all mine.

RTC: Well, just be discreet.

GD: I don’t mind the concept of screeching and imploring Hebrews, so I invest elsewhere because I would mind the screeching and other problems of the IRS.

RTC: Yes, that would be different, wouldn’t it?

GD: Oh, yes. Now Atwood could get away with it because he belongs to your agency, but I have no such cover. Jimmy got bagged for all kinds of thefts but your people got him off the hook…I think it was in ’62. Anyway, we make our own way in life, don’t we? And remember, we have a pool on how long it will be before the Company ices poor Jimmy for his loud mouth.

RTC: Yes, I remember.

GD: Ah, well, I am going to leave you, Robert, and go to church and see what sort of really awful pornography I can slip into the hymnals.

RTC: Now that’s not Christian, is it?

GD: Disagree, Robert. Quintessentially Christian, absolutely


(Concluded at 11:15 CST)



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 25

March 17, 2016


The government’s proposed FY2017 budget would increase spending on benefits for former Presidents by 17.9% (to $3,865,000) over the previous year’s level. “The increase in requested appropriations for FY2017 anticipates President Barack Obama’s transition from incumbent to former President,” according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“This report provides a legislative and cultural history of the Former Presidents Act. It details the benefits provided to former Presidents and their costs.” See Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits, updated March 16, 2016.

President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court “is unique, at least among nominations to the Supreme Court since 1946, in that it is the only nomination made by a Democratic President with a Republican majority in the Senate,” another CRS report noted. “The last time this particular political configuration (a Democratic President and Republican Senate) existed at the time a nomination was made to the Court was in 1895.” See Nominations to the Supreme Court During Years of Divided and Unified Party Government, CRS Insight, March 16, 2016.

See also Nominations to the Supreme Court During Presidential Election Years (1900-Present), CRS Insight, updated March 16, 2016.

“Not long ago, Justice Scalia, who regularly expressed the view that capital punishment is constitutional, speculated that a majority of the Court might soon decide otherwise. Should that occur, it would be ironic if it happened that Justice Scalia had written the last opinion upholding the death penalty before its demise.” See Justice Antonin Scalia’s Last Opinion, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 15, 2016.

“The House may soon consider H. Res. 639, which would authorize the Speaker to appear as amicus curiae on behalf of the House and file a brief in United States v. Texas, supporting the position that the federal government acted in a manner inconsistent with federal law.” See The House May Vote to File an Amicus Brief: Is this Unprecedented?, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 16, 2016.

There are a number of recent law enforcement actions that indicate increased Department of Justice interest in prosecuting violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits corporate bribery of foreign officials. See Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): Congressional Interest and Executive Enforcement, In Brief, updated March 15, 2016.

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

Wartime Detention Provisions in Recent Defense Authorization Legislation, updated March 14, 2016

Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, updated March 15, 2016

Five Years of the Budget Control Act’s Disaster Relief Adjustment, March 15, 2016

U.S. Immigration Policy: Chart Book of Key Trends, updated March 14, 2016

The March 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, CRS Insight, March 14, 2016

Economic War with the PRC

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

Ever since the times of the great Malthus, it has been well recognized that since all species must eat to continue living, the existence of food sources is vital to the survival of any species, be it homosapiens or others.

Food may, in short, be seen as a weapon as effective as a bullet or a bomb in an attack on a perceived enemy.

We therefore now consider the production of food stuffs as a weapon in a war, formal or informal.

Let us address the growing struggle between the PRC (China) and the United States in which the PRC can clearly be seen as a challenger to the United States both in the military and economic spheres.

For example, the PRC has purchased very large financial holdings of the United States such as official U.S. Treasury bills and then also as holders of billions of American dollars worth of other financial holdings and long term investments.

These acquisitions are not intended for financial gain to the PRC but to be used as an economic and political lever when, and as, needed.

The PRC has also purchased from the U.S. Treasury, billions of dollars worth of gold belonging to foreign entities.

German holdings alone totaled 53 billion dollars and other nation’s deposits greatly increased this amount.

The sale generated capital used to pay down an enormous American national debt, mostly stemming from military development and deployment worldwide.

Also, the PRC has been known to be conducting a form of economic warfare against the United States by the production of counterfeit gold items, such as coinage and, most dangerously, as faked copies of American official U.S. Treasury gold bars. This has the dual purpose of enriching the PRC with badly-needed items such as oil and raw material it cannot, by itself, possess.

It is evident that the United States intelligence organs are entirely aware of these dangerous PRC activities and have been assiduously working both to blunt the economic warfare and then to counter with other methods.

The most important of these latter methods deals with the issue of food.

It is not certainly a secret that China has a number of growing, and potentially fatal, problems with her population and the care and feeding of it.

China’s basic supply of fresh water comes from the glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains but these glaciers are not only melting rapidly but renewal of them does not occur due to obvious and growing planetary climate changes. The shrinking of glacial waters also strongly effects the hydroelectric programs of China.

Another of the PRC’s growing problems is the unchecked increase in population; the shrinkage of arable food (i.e. rice) production areas, a domestic and foreign economic “bubble” that is obvious will probably cause a disastrous implosion.

This brief study of the problems of the PRC then moves on to the methodology by which the United States, the PRC’s main global economic rival, can either neutralize or destroy the capacity of the PRC to wage economic warfare and to neutralize her future endeavors.

Let us now consider the basic Achilles Heel of the PRC; food.

The United States is capable of feeding its own people, though with problems of organized production and distribution but the PRC, and most of Asia, is dependent very heavily on a single crop: rice.

Rice is the seed of the monocot plant Oryza sativa. As a cereal grain, it is the most important staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in East and South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and the West Indies. It is the grain with the second-highest worldwide production, after corn.

Today, the majority of all rice produced comes from China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, and Japan. These Asian farmers account for 92-percent of the world’s total rice production

The peoples of the PRC, we then are fully aware, have rice, both domestic and imported, as a basic food staple. Should this staple become seriously interdicted by, let us say, some kind of a disease that would impact not only on the PRC but other Asian areas as well, growing starvation and the attendant civil dissolution can well be postulated.

Major rice diseases include Rice ragged stunt, Sheath Blight and tungro. Rice blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe grisea, is the most significant disease affecting rice cultivation. There is also an ascomycete fungus, Cochliobolus miyabeanus, that causes brown spot disease in rice.

A most serious threat to rice crops would be Rust disease, xanthomonas compesteris pv.oryzae

Xanthomonas oryzae is a species of proteobacteria. The major host of the bacteria is rice

The species contains two pathovars which are non-European: Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae and Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzicola. Host resistance gene, Xa21,from Oryza longistaminata is integrated into the genome of Oryza sativa for the board range resistance of rice blight disease caused by Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae

In the America of today, unpleasant tasks, the revelation of which might redound against the government, are generally made the province of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and other entities of the United States intelligence community, including the National Security Agency and the CIA.

These agencies, in turn, look to the civil, business sector for special development and preparation of weaponry, both conventional and bio-weaponry.

One of the main institutions for this development is SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), which has been headquartered in Tysons Corner in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, near McLean, since September of 2009.

Their Board of Directors has included many well- known ex-government personnel including Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration; William Perry, Secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton; John M. Deutsch, President Clinton’s CIA Director; Admiral Bobby Ray Inman who served in various capacities in the NSA and CIA for the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations

The initial development of the bio-warfare organization designed to develop a so-called super “rust” agent for designed for a specific attack on the Asian rice crops came from a Presidential Directive signed on February 10, 2004 by then-President George Bush.

The power was given to the CIA which then contracted with SAIC.

A special, well-hidden laboratory was established in Vancouver, Canada with the express purpose to hide from possible domestic scrutiny in the United States. The sub-agency was, and is, called NOICOM which is under SAIC International Subsidiaries.

NOICOM is under the nominal direction of one Dr. Binymin I. Zeloc, an Israeli citizen employed by the CIA and many of the staff are also CIA members or associates.

There are also direct and specific connections with SAIC development centers in Noida and Bangalore, India. Scicom Technologies Noida was acquired by SAIC in September 2007.

A particularly strong strain of xanthomonas compesteris pv.oryzae has now been developed that has the ability to spread throughout the rice crops of Asia with, as the report says, ‘lightening speed’ and it is estimated that in the course of one year and interacting with the rice growth pattern, to “fully infect” most, if not all, of the Asian rice crop. Also, the developed strain of xanthomonas compesteris pv.oryzae is such that re-infestation of a following crop is almost certain.

But I must also note that rice is now also grown in all parts of India, Northern and Central Pakistan and that with a certainty, this new disease would certainly spread to these areas.

There was the great Bengal famine of 1942 in which over three millions of Indians perished through starvation

The Bengal Famine may be placed in the context of previous famines in Mughal and British India. The Deccan Famine of 1630-32 killed 2,000,000. One of the foundations of the CIA program is based on a corresponding famine in northwestern China, eventually causing the Ming dynasty to collapse, in 1644.

The official famine inquiry commission reporting on the Bengal Famine of 1943 put its death toll at about 1.5 million Indians. Estimates made by Prof. P.C. Mahalanobis, of the Indian Statistical Institute said, at least 5 million died directly and another 4-5 million died subsequently in famine related diseases.

In 1974, W.R. Aykroyd, who was a member of the Famine inquiry commission and was primarily responsible for the estimation, conceded that the figures were an underestimate.

It has become very evident, in reviewing both the laboratory results and some of the control papers connected with the bio-weapons project (called ‘Evening Storm’), that the disease is planned to be introduced by CIA agents working out of India, into Burmese rice fields. Burma has been chosen as the start point because of extensive, on-going PRC infiltration of that country, the extensive borders with the PRC and the flow of trade between the two countries.

However, the project has not taken into account that this disease will certainly spread to other countries, notably India, with terrible consequences but nowhere can this ‘Collateral Damage’ be found in any paper or study.

It is clearly evident that the CIA and other American agencies, have no interest in ‘Collateral Damage’ nor consider the consequences to innocent and friendly states

Five Big Unanswered Questions About the U.S.’s Worldwide Spying

March 17, 2016

by James McLaughlin

The Intercept

Nearly three years after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave journalists his trove of documents on the intelligence community’s broad and powerful surveillance regime, the public is still missing some crucial, basic facts about how it works.

Surveillance researchers and privacy advocates published a report on Wednesday outlining what we do know, thanks to the period of discovery post-Snowden —and the overwhelming amount of things we don’t.

The NSA’s domestic surveillance was understandably the initial focus of public debate. But that debate never really moved onto examining the NSA’s vastly bigger foreign operations.

“There has been relatively little public or congressional debate within the United States about the NSA’s overseas surveillance operations,” write Faiza Patel and Elizabeth Goitein, co-directors of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, and Amos Toh, legal advisor for David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The central guidelines NSA is supposed to follow while spying abroad are described in Executive Order 12333, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which the authors describe as “a black box.”

Just Security, a national security law blog, and the Brennan Center for Justice are co-hosting a panel on Thursday on Capitol Hill to discuss the policy, where the NSA’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Director, Rebecca Richards, will be present.

And the independent government watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which has authored in-depth reports on other NSA programs, intends to publish a report on 12333 surveillance programs “this year,” according to spokeswoman Jen Burita.

In the meantime, the authors of the report came up with a list of questions they say need to be answered to create an informed public debate.

  1. How Far Does the Law Go?

The authors ask: How does the NSA actually interpret the law—most of which is public— and use it to justify its tactics? Are there any other laws governing overseas surveillance still hidden from public view?

When Congress discovered how the NSA was citing section 215 of the Patriot Act as giving it the authority to vacuum up massive amounts of information about American telephone calls, many were shocked. One of the Patriot Act’s original authors, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., has repeatedly said the NSA abused what was meant to be a narrow law.

“The public deserves to know how the agencies interpret their duties and obligations under the Constitution and international law,” the authors write.

  1. Who’s Watching the Spies?

How can we know there’s proper oversight of the intelligence community, both internally and through Congress? Does Congress even know what it’s funding, especially when intelligence work is contracted out to the private sector?

Lawmakers have complained that they learned more about NSA spying from the media and Snowden than from classified hearings.

  1. How Much Foreign Spying Ends Up in Domestic Courts?

The authors wonder how evidence collected through foreign spying is used in court, and whether or not “targets” of the surveillance are told about the NSA’s search when that search finds data that can be used against them.

Charlie Savage has written in the New York Times that officials told him “in practice…the government already avoids” introducing evidence obtained directly from 12333 intercepts, “so as not to have to divulge the origins of the evidence in court. But the officials contend that defendants have no right to know if 12333 intercepts provided a tip from which investigators derived other evidence.”

  1. How Many Words Don’t Mean What We Think They Mean?

Some of the report’s questions focus on the NSA’s use of language when it describes different programs. Though words like “collection” and “gathering” sound synonymous to us, the NSA could be using them differently, leading to misinterpretation of what the agency is actually doing. “Is the term ‘collection’ interpreted differently from the terms ‘interception,’ ‘gathering,’ and ‘acquisition’?” the authors ask.

  1. Where Does It End?

When the NSA says a search is “targeted”, could the NSA still be sweeping up a lot of information? And not just about foreigners?

Does the agency use vague search terms like “ISIS” or “nuclear” when combing through communications, thereby grabbing up data from millions of innocent people simply discussing the news?

And how much American data is swept up, either on purpose or incidentally, when Americans talk with friends overseas, or their messages are routed through other countries based on the way the Internet works?

“The fact that [12333 programs] are conducted abroad rather than at home makes little difference in an age where data and information flows are unconstrained by geography, and where the constitutional rights of Americans are just as easily compromised by operations in London as those in Los Angeles,” write the authors.

What Donald Trump Gets Pretty Much Right, and Completely Wrong, About China

March 17, 2016

by Neil Irwin

New York Times

If there is one thing Donald Trump seems sure about, it is that the United States is getting a raw deal from China.

To people who spend time studying the United States’ economic relationship with China, Mr. Trump’s accounting of its dysfunctions contains both legitimate, accurate complaints and elements that completely misstate how things work between the world’s largest and second-largest economies.

“They’re killing us,” Mr. Trump has said in many debates, rallies and television appearances. He has threatened to put a 45 percent tax on Chinese imports “if they don’t behave.”

If you take Mr. Trump’s comments at face value, as president he would try to renegotiate a complex set of ties that has pulled hundreds of millions of Chinese out of dire poverty, made a wide range of goods available to American consumers at more affordable prices and contributed to the decline of American manufacturing.

Here is a reality check on Mr. Trump’s arguments. (It’s also a way to understand the economic relationship between the countries.)

The Trade Deficit

“We have very unfair trade with China. We’re going to have a trade deficit of $505 billion this year with China.” — Mr. Trump

America’s trade deficit with China was $338 billion last year, and there’s no reason to think it would swing by as much as Mr. Trump suggests in 2016 — but what’s $167 billion among codependent trading partners? (Mr. Trump seems to be conflating the China number with the $505 billion total American trade deficit in 2014, which was first reported to be that much.)

The central point, that the United States imports a lot more from China than it exports, is correct. To put it a bit differently, from 1999 to 2015 annual imports from China rose by $416 billion. In the same span, American exports to China rose by $145 billion.

That said, many economists would argue that a trade balance shouldn’t be viewed as a simple scorecard in which the country with the trade deficit is the loser and the one with the surplus the winner.

So the question isn’t whether there is a persistent, large trade deficit between the United States and China, but why. And that leads to another arm of Mr. Trump’s argument, and one of the stronger ones.

China Market Access

“I have many friends, great manufacturers, they want to go into China. They can’t. China won’t let them.” — Mr. Trump

It’s not that American multinational companies — heavy industry, technology or finance — can’t do business in China. Rather, their executives complain of Chinese government restrictions that they see as arbitrary, unpredictable and highly favorable to domestic companies — so much so that in practice they are either shut out or can’t make money in China.

Doing business in China typically requires a partnership with a Chinese company, and that often means sharing crucial intellectual property that can enable the partner to become a competitor down the road. The rules of engagement can change capriciously, especially for American and European companies, rendering major investments worthless.

American business interests have a long list of complaints: that the Chinese government uses its enforcement of antimonopoly rules to favor its domestic businesses; that the government subsidizes exports through tax rebates and other practices; that automakers can set up factories within China only as part of joint ventures and face stiff tariffs in trying to sell cars made in the United States.

The United States government has pushed China on these “market access” issues for years. But the situation seems to be growing worse, at least in the opinion of American executives. The American Chamber of Commerce in China regularly surveys its members about business conditions, and this year 57 percent of executives surveyed named “inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear laws” as a top problem, up from 37 percent in 2012.

This may reflect a faltering Chinese economy that is leading the government there to be more concerned than usual about protecting domestic companies.

Currency Manipulation?

“They are the single greatest currency manipulator that’s ever been on this planet.” — Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump’s complaint about China’s devaluation of its currency has a long, bipartisan tradition. It is also out of date.

It is true that China intervenes in currency markets to influence the price of its renminbi against the dollar. And it is true that a decade ago, both the American government and independent economists tended to think that the interventions served to depress the currency, in the Chinese government’s deliberate effort to make its exports more price competitive.

But a lot has changed in the last decade. The renminbi was allowed to rise sharply from roughly 2006 to 2015, and is up 23 percent from a decade ago.

And since last summer, China has let the currency drop some, but that appears to be an example not of manipulation, but of letting the price of the currency fall closer to the rate that reflects China’s fundamentals given the country’s slowing economy. The International Monetary Fund has argued that the renminbi, also known as the yuan, is no longer undervalued.

“At least in 2006, 2007 or 2008, the yuan was undervalued — now it’s probably not,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and chief economist of China Beige Book, an information service.

Indeed, the Chinese government has been trying to restrict capital from flowing out of the country to stop the renminbi from falling any further. It would seem that the Chinese government and Mr. Trump are, for the moment at least, on the same side.

Manufacturing Decline

“What will happen if they don’t behave, we will put on a tax of some amount, and it could be a large amount, and we will start building those factories and those plants. Instead of in China, we’ll build them here.” — Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump’s broader argument is that a generation of unfair economic relations with China (and also Mexico, Japan and others) is a primary cause of the troubles of American workers.

Mainstream economists are more sympathetic to this view now than they were even a few years ago. Traditional trade theory holds that the losers from global trade — factory workers who lose their jobs when that factory moves overseas — are more than compensated by other opportunities created by a more efficient economy.

New scholarship suggests that the pain from globalization in certain geographic locations may be longer-lasting. One study found that Chinese imports from 1999 to 2011 cost up to 2.4 million American jobs.

That said, it’s easy to assign too much of the blame for the collapse of manufacturing employment to China or trade more broadly. Hundreds of millions of workers across the globe — many of whom were in dire poverty a generation ago — have become integrated into the world economy. That’s a lot of competition, all in a short span, for American factory workers.

At the same time, factory technology has advanced so that a company can make more stuff with fewer workers. The number of manufacturing workers in the United States has been declining as a share of all jobs nearly continuously since 1943, and the total number of manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979; China’s trade with the United States didn’t really take off until the 1990s.

In other words, trade has been an important economic force over the last few decades, and the deepening of the United States’ ties with China is one of the most important developments in global economics of the last generation. But to look at China as the sole force affecting the ups and downs of American workers misses the mark.

Russia can make powerful Syria military comeback in hours: Putin

March 17, 2016

by Andrew Osborn and Denis Dyomkin


Moscow-President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia could scale up its military presence in Syria again within hours and would still bomb terrorist groups there despite a partial draw-down of forces ordered after military successes.

Speaking in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls three days after he ordered Russian forces to partially withdraw from Syria, the Russian leader said the smaller strike force he had left behind was big enough to help forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad keep advancing.

“I’m sure that we will see new and serious successes in the near future,” Putin told an audience of more than 700 members of the military at an awards ceremony. In particular, he said he hoped that the ancient city of Palmyra, which is held by Islamic State, would soon fall to Assad’s forces.

“I hope that this pearl of world civilization, or at least what’s left of it after bandits have held sway there, will be returned to the Syrian people and the entire world,” Putin said, referring to the World Heritage Site.

In his first public remarks since ordering the withdrawal, Putin for the first time put an approximate price tag on the Russian operation, saying that the bulk of the expenses – 33 billion rubles ($481.89 million) – had been taken from the defense ministry’s war games budget.

There would be other costs, he said, in order to replace ammunition and weapons as well as to make repairs.

Russian air strikes against Islamic State, Al Nusra and other terrorist groups would press on, he said, as would a wide range of measures to aid Syrian government forces including helping them plan their offensives.

Putin said he did not want to have to escalate Russia’s involvement in the conflict again after the draw-down and was hoping peace talks would be successful. But he made clear Russia could easily scale up its forces again.

“If necessary, literally within a few hours, Russia can build up its contingent in the region to a size proportionate to the situation developing there and use the entire arsenal of capabilities at our disposal,” he said.


In a thinly disguised warning to Turkey and others, he said Russia was leaving behind its most advanced S-400 air defense system and would not hesitate to shoot down “any target” which violated Syrian air space.

Unexpectedly, he also paid tribute to a Russian soldier whose death in the five-month operation had previously been unacknowledged. By doing so, Putin tacitly raised the death toll for Russian servicemen to five and confirmed that special forces had been deployed.

Dampening speculation of a rift between Moscow and Damascus over the draw-down, he said the pullout was agreed with Assad beforehand and that the Syrian leader had backed the decision.

Praising Assad for “his restraint, sincere desire for peace and for his readiness for compromise and dialogue”, Putin said the Russian demarche had sent a positive signal for all sides taking part in peace talks in Geneva.

“You, soldiers of Russia, opened up this pathway to peace,” he told the audience.

Russia took the world by surprise by first launching air strikes on Sept.30 last year. The sudden announcement of a partial withdrawal of forces was also unexpected.

U.S. officials have spoken of Russia having “a few thousand troops” in Syria. A Russian military source has told the Interfax news agency that around 1,000 troops would stay, of whom more than half would be military advisers.

Moscow will finish pulling out most of its strike force “any day now” and no later than by the end of this week, Viktor Bondarev, the head of the Russian air force, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda paper in an interview published on Thursday.

That tallies with an updated Reuters calculation based on state TV and other footage, which shows that as of Thursday 18 over half of Russia’s estimated 36 fixed-wing warplanes had flown out of Syria in the past three days.

Mikhail Barabanov, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said the swift withdrawal was meant to show the world how fleet-footed the Russian air force had become in recent years.

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, Katya Golubkova and Jack Stubbs; Editing by Peter Millership)

Bringing War to International Level Helping to Hold Syria’s Ceasefire

March 15, 2016

by Patrick Cockburn


The withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria strengthens the current ceasefire, de-escalates the violence and brings in view the distant prospect of an end to five years of war. The extent of the Russian pull-out remains uncertain as some of its bombers flew home on 15 March, while others attacked Isis fighters holding the ancient city of Palmyra.

Russia has succeeded in achieving most of its war aims since it started air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad and against his opponents on 30 September last year. At that time the Syrian army was retreating after a series of defeats, while today it is advancing on all fronts, though it is unlikely to win a total victory.

Russian military success means that it has re-established itself as a great power in the core region of the Middle East for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. By pulling out most of Russia’s forces at this stage, President Vladimir Putin avoids overplaying his hand and being sucked into the Syrian quagmire as his critics had predicted.

Russia never sent great forces to Syria and its intervention primarily involved launching air strikes in support of the Syrian army, which were carried out by 35 fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and long-distance missiles. But this was enough to multiply vastly the firepower of the Syrian army and change the balance of power on the ground. At the same time, it has become clear over the past month that Russia does not want to give Mr Assad a blank cheque enabling him to fight on until final victory.

This was the mistake made by the US and its allies, including Britain, in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and again in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. In both cases, a US-led coalition failed to turn military victory into political success because it was propping up a weak local partner seeking to use foreign backing to monopolise power locally. Mr Putin is evidently trying to avoid this trap and maximise political gains without being dragged into a long conflict. He pursued a similar strategy in the 2008 war in Georgia when Russia won a quick victory and brought the conflict to a close.

Russian intervention five months ago undoubtedly changed the military balance of power in favour of Mr Assad, so withdrawal could help the armed opposition. But the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu clearly believes that the tide has turned permanently, telling Mr Putin that “the terrorists have been cleared out of Latakia, communications have been restored with Aleppo …and we have cleared most of the provinces of Hama and Homs.” Supported by 9,000 Russian air missions, the Syrian army has ended Isis’s long siege of Kweires air base east of Aleppo and retaken three large oil and gas fields near Palmyra.

Important though these gains are, they do not entirely reverse the opposition successes last May when fighters captured Idlib City and Palmyra. Overall, Russia has enabled the Syrian government to expand its heartlands in Latakia province, move to try to seal off the Turkish border and defend the main north-south route linking Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo. The Syrian opposition is weaker than it was and Isis suffered heavy casualties because it has been squeezed between the Syrian army and the Syrian Kurds backed by US air power.

Maps showing control by one side or the other in Syria are misleading because half the country is desert or semi-desert. A more meaningful comparison is the size of the populations controlled by different parties in the conflict. Around five million Syrians are refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, leaving about 16 million Syrians inside the country, of whom about 10 million are in government-held areas and two million each in the Kurdish-held, Isis and non-Isis opposition zones. In other words, Mr Assad is in a strong but not overwhelmingly powerful position.

But it is a long time since the balance of power within Syria was determined by local players. This was briefly true in 2011 at the start of the uprising against Mr Assad and his Baathist government, but these purely Syrian forces were soon outweighed by regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. From 2012 to the capture of Mosul by Isis in June 2014, these countries fought an inconclusive proxy war in Syria. But with the rise of Isis, Syria entered a third or international phase in the war in which the US and Russia became the real political and military decision-makers. Even so, it will not be easy for Syria to escape being the chosen battleground for confrontations being fought out between Shia and Sunni, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Arab and Kurd.

A fruit of US and Russian dominance is the unexpected success of the “cessation of hostilities”, declared on 27 February after negotiations between Moscow and Washington, and the delivery of supplies to besieged communities. The secret of the surprise success of the ceasefire so far is the degree to which the fighters on the ground in Syria are the proxies of outside powers and cannot really act without their support. The US and Russia may not be able to give direct instructions to these regional sponsors, but it is difficult for states such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia to oppose US and Russian policy directly when these two powers act together.

Thanks to the “internationalisation” of the Syrian crisis, the ceasefire is holding for the first time since the war began. Relations between Russia and the US involve rivalry as well as co-operation and it is never certain which relationship will determine policy. Moreover, the ceasefire does not apply to all the combatants, above all it does not cover Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the two movements that dominate the Syrian armed opposition. Isis may be battered and unable to hold fixed positions in the face of concentrated air strikes, but its blend of guerrilla tactics and terrorism directed against civilian targets is still murderously effective.

A weakness of Western policy is to pretend that there is a “moderate” armed opposition holding territory, though sponsors of this belief can never explain where this territory is to be found or make any attempt to go there. David Cameron famously claimed that there are 70,000 armed moderates, but they appear to be disparate groups of gunmen fighting for a tribe, clan, a village or for whoever will pay them. They are not capable of fighting a well-organised fanatical movement such as Nusra, shown on 13 March when Nusra overran bases of the largest “moderate” force known as Division 13.

The Russian withdrawal and the ceasefire may both be messy, but these are serious and effective steps towards reducing the killing. But with the armed opposition dominated by Nusra and Isis, neither of which are in the business of compromising with anybody, it will be far more difficult to end the war.

Germany shuts embassy, consulate and schools in Turkey on ‘very concrete’ tip-off

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the threat to German institutions in Turkey was being taken very seriously. The embassy in Ankara has been shut, along with the Istanbul consulate and two German schools.

March 17, 2016


Germany’s foreign ministry issued a statement advising caution in Ankara, Istanbul and other major Turkish cities. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier went into further detail on Thursday morning in Berlin.

“Yesterday evening, some very concrete indications – to be taken very seriously – reached our security services, saying that terror attacks against German institutions within Turkey were being prepared,” Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier also said that he had ordered German institutions in Turkey to close their doors, “because protecting German citizens and the people working and learning in these establishments must now take precedence.”

Steinmeier: Security being bolstered. The German embassy in Ankara, consulate in Istanbul, and two German schools – one in each city – were shut as a result, Steinmeier said, adding that he had reached the decision overnight.

Steinmeier said that security precautions at the institutions were being bolstered, while the foreign ministry would convene on Thursday for a crisis meeting on the security situation in Turkey.

DW’s correspondent Tom Stevenson in Istanbul went to the consulate soon after the warning: “Just arrived. Nothing unusual here: two armed police as always (today they are out of their car though). The security booth round the back is actually empty,” Stevenson reported in an email to DW on arrival.

Shortly thereafter, however, at around 11:50 a.m. local time (0950 UTC/GMT), Stevenson noted that three buses full of Turkish police arrived on the scene.

Residents refuse to be cowed

In Istanbul, local residents are growing used to living with the threat of militant attacks. According to Marik, a shirtmaker whose shop lies 50 meters down the hill from the closed German school in Istanbul, it’s best to carry on like normal.

“You can’t be living your life worrying about these things because no one can guess when an attack like this will happen,” he told DW.

However, the crowds were noticeably thinner than usual on Istanbul’s busiest street, Istiklal Caddesi, where thousands of locals and tourists alike usually mill up and down visiting the street’s many shops.

“It’s worrying of course when you hear that they’re afraid the consulate might be attacked,” said Cevdet, the owner of a small Italian-style coffee shop opposite the German consulate. “But I’m not afraid – you know this has become really normal for us in Turkey.”

Prestigious schools, central consulate

The consulate said in an email to German citizens that both facilities – the consulate and the nearby school, Deutsche Schule Istanbul – would stay shut as a precaution. This followed what it described as a “warning that could not be conclusively verified.” It also urged German citizens to stay away from the area.

The German consulate in Istanbul is located in the vicinity of Taksim Square with the school a mile away in the Istiklal Caddesi pedestrian area. It’s considered one of Turkey’s most prestigious high schools.

In Ankara, the German school (“Alman Okulu” in Turkish) is located barely 200 meters from the embassy itself, just off Atatürk Boulevard.

The move comes days after 37 people were killed in a car bomb blast in the capital, Ankara. The Kurdish terror group TAK claimed responsibility on Thursday.

The German embassy in Ankara had issued a warning on Tuesday of this week.

This January, a suicide bomber in Istanbul killed 12 German tourists – the so-called “Islamic State” later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The closures also coincide with the next installment of key EU talks – being led by Germany and Turkey – seeking to control the numbers of migrants from Middle Eastern warzones like Syria heading for Europe across the Aegean Sea.

New Bill Would Turn GOP’s Xenophobic Rhetoric About Refugees Into Law

March 17, 2016

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would reduce the already small number of refugees allowed into the United States, and effectively codify the bigotry of Donald Trump and other GOP candidates.

The Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act (H.R. 4731) proposed by Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would impose new caps on refugee resettlement limits, discriminate on religious grounds, redefine the word “refugee,” and give local and state governments broad powers to refuse resettlement.

In ordinary circumstances, the question of how many refugees America accepts is made at the executive level. President Obama has set a target for accepting 100,000 refugees into the United States in fiscal year 2017. This bill however would effectively take the decision out of his hands by imposing a hard limit of 60,000 refugees in 2017, even as the world is dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

But other provisions included in H.R. 4731 would make it hard for the government to even reach that reduced target.

According to the text of the bill, state and municipal level government officials could refuse refugees through “any action formally disapproving of resettlement in that locality.” This provision effectively grants veto power over resettlement to local officials. Such a provision could greatly complicate any resettlement program.

The bill also creates a new definition of who is a refugee by stating that protection from violence would not be offered “if that violence is not specifically directed at the person.” For Syrians and others, the violence of the war is not directed at them as “individuals” but rather is occurring as part of a broader conflict.

“If you look at the situation in Syria, Russia is bombing entire townships, not singling people out as individuals but targeting them regardless because they are in a war-zone,” says Jennifer Quigley of Human Rights First. “The language in this bill is a huge change from existing standards and would drastically narrow the definition of who constitutes a refugee.”

During this election cycle a number of Republican presidential nominees have called for incorporating religious discrimination in the refugee process. H.R. 4731 would compel the Department of Homeland Security to “grant priority consideration to such applicants whose claims are based on persecution….by reason of those applicants being practitioners of a minority religion in the country from which they sought refuge.”

During the present conflict in Syria, the vast majority of refugees come from the majority Sunni Muslim population, which has also borne the brunt of the government’s military crackdown. While they are among the most desperately needy refugees in the world today, because they are not “minorities” in their society the bill would make it harder for them to gain refuge in the United States. “What this provision is trying to get at is stopping the resettlement of Syrian Muslim refugees, by basing acceptance criteria on identity rather than need,” says Quigley.

During this election cycle, GOP candidates have seemed to be competing to express the greatest hostility towards refugees. Ted Cruz and others have said that the United States should refuse all refugees except Christians, while Donald Trump recently promised his supporters that he would look Syrian children look in the faces and say, “you can’t come here.’”

The xenophobic rhetoric in response to the current refugee crisis is ironic given the GOP’s history. Ronald Reagan, viewed as an icon by most Republicans, famously granted asylum to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Southeast Asia and Central America, and even invoked America’s generous refugee policy in his 1989 presidential farewell speech. Even George W. Bush, who ignited some of the conflicts that people are today fleeing, chose to restart the Refugee Resettlement Program after 9/11.

“Some of the Republicans advocating against refugees today don’t know that historically GOP presidents have had welcoming asylum policies towards people fleeing conflicts,” says Quigley. “The rhetoric in this presidential campaign is making it easier for legislation like H.R. 4731 to be proposed, but it is also silencing traditional refugee supporters by making them feel uncomfortable about speaking out against it.”

US Marshals spent $10m on equipment for warrantless Stingray surveillance

Documents obtained by the ACLU show federal law enforcement agency bought hardware for possibly airborne surveillance of Americans’ cellphones

March 17, 2016

by Nicky Woolf

The Guardian

The US Marshals Service spent more than $10m on secret, possibly airborne equipment and software for warrantless surveillance of Americans’ cellphones, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have revealed.

The documents are heavily redacted, but they show that the Marshals Service purchased more than $10m in hardware and software from Harris Corporation, the manufacturer of the cellphone snooping device known as a Stingray, between 2009 and 2014.

Stingrays are one of a class of sophisticated devices collectively called “cell-site simulators”. They work by pretending to be a cellphone tower to gather metadata, location information, and in some cases content from phones that connect to them.

Despite the efforts of some lawmakers, including Republican representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Stingray use does not currently require a search warrant; merely an antiquated court order called a “trap-and-trace”, which was designed for obtaining phone records, not content, and represents a low judicial bar when used for devices as powerful as Stingray.

The scope of Stingray use is not fully known, as the devices are cloaked in extreme secrecy. In 2015, a Guardian investigation uncovered a non-disclosure agreement which local police departments were forced to sign with the FBI before using the devices, which went so far as to mandate local prosecutors to throw cases, rather than reveal in open court that a Stingray had been used.

But over the past year, investigations by the Guardian, USA Today and Ars Technica, among other outlets, as well as the ACLU, have brought the number of known police departments and federal agencies to use the devices to 61.

Roughly the size of a suitcase, the devices can be mounted in a car or, as the documents hint at, in planes. An investigation in 2014 by the Wall Street Journal found that the Marshals Service was also using similar technology, known as a Dirtbox, installed in a fleet of Cessna light aircraft.

Documents released earlier in March by the Electronic Frontier Foundation following a similar freedom of information request revealed that the FBI has also been mounting the devices in aircraft, with no overarching policy or guidelines to their use by agents.

It is unclear, according to Nate Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU, how much of the $10m in Harris Corporation equipment the agency purchase is being aircraft mounted. But, Wessler said, the cache of documents released today were obtained following requests to several federal agencies under the freedom of information act which specifically asked about aircraft-mounted surveillance equipment.

Airborne use of cell-site simulators is less frequent than ground-vehicle mounted use, partly because many of the agencies using the devices are local police departments without the resources a federal agency like the Marshals or the FBI can bring to bear.

Despite this, for Wessler, the privacy implications for bystanders of airborne Stingray use is “by definition greater, because when you’re flying around with one of these devices it can cover a pretty wide geographic area.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso division spent $400,000 on cell-site simulator devices, the ACLU documents revealed. The DEA was already known to use Stingrays, but Wessler said that it was clear from their response letter that this particular purchase was specifically intended for airborne use.

Representatives for the US Marshals Service and Harris Corporation declined to comment for this story.

Back to the Future

Five Questions That Weren’t Asked During the 2012 Presidential Debates and Are Unlikely to Be Asked in 2016

by Peter Van Buren

Tom Dispatch

The nuances of foreign policy do not feature heavily in the ongoing presidential campaign. Every candidate intends to “destroy” the Islamic State; each has concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and China; every one of them will defend Israel; and no one wants to talk much about anything else — except, in the case of the Republicans, who rattle their sabers against Iran.

In that light, here’s a little trip down memory lane: in October 2012, I considered five critical foreign policy questions — they form the section headings below — that were not being discussed by then-candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney today is a sideshow act for the current Republican circus, and Obama has started packing up his tent at the White House and producing his own foreign policy obituary.

And sadly, those five questions of 2012 remain as pertinent and unraised today as they were four years ago. Unlike then, however, answers may be at hand, and believe me, that’s not good news. Now, let’s consider them four years later, one by one.

Is there an endgame for the global war on terror?

That was the first question I asked back in 2012. In the ensuing years, no such endgame has either been proposed or found, and these days no one’s even talking about looking for one. Instead, a state of perpetual conflict in the Greater Middle East and Africa has become so much the norm that most of us don’t even notice.

In 2012, I wrote, “The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq… the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).”

Well, candidates of 2016? Guantanamo remains open for business, with 91 men still left. Five others were expeditiously traded away by executive decision to retrieve runaway American soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, but somehow President Obama feels he can’t release most of the others without lots of approvals by… well, someone. The Republicans running for president are howling to expand Gitmo, and the two Democratic candidates are in favor of whatever sort of not-a-plan plan Obama has been pushing around his plate for eight years.

Iraq took a bad bounce when the same president who withdrew U.S. troops in 2011 let loose the planes and drones and started putting those boots back on that same old ground in 2014. It didn’t take long for the U.S. to morph that conflict from a rescue mission to a training mission to bombing to Special Operations forces in ongoing contact with the enemy, and not just in Iraq, but Syria, too. No candidate has said that s/he will pull out.

As for the war in Afghanistan, it now features an indefinite, “generational” American troop commitment. Think of that country as the third rail of campaign 2016 — no candidate dares touch it for fear of instant electrocution, though (since the American public seems to have forgotten the place) by whom exactly is unclear. There’s still plenty of fighting going on in Yemen — albeit now mostly via America’s well-armed proxies the Saudis — and Africa is more militarized than ever.As for the most common “American” someone in what used to be called the third world is likely to encounter, it’s no longer a diplomat, a missionary, a tourist, or even a soldier — it’s a drone. The United States claims the right to fly into any nation’s airspace and kill anyone it wishes. Add it all together and when it comes to that war on terror across significant parts of the globe, the once-reluctant heir to the Bush legacy leaves behind a twenty-first century mechanism for perpetual war and eternal assassination missions. And no candidate in either party is willing to even suggest that such a situation needs to end.

In 2012, I also wrote, “Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of ‘al-Qaeda Number 3’ guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: ‘We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.’”

Four years later, whack-a-mole seems to still be as polite a way as possible of categorizing America’s strategy. In 2013, the top whacker John Brennan got an upgrade to director of the CIA, but strangely — despite so many drones sent off, Special Operations teams sent in, and bombers let loose — the moles keep burrowing and he’s gotten none of the rest he was seeking in 2012. Al-Qaeda is still around, but more significantly, the Islamic State (IS) has replaced that outfit as the signature terrorist organization for the 2016 election.

And speaking of IS, the 2011 war in Libya, midwifed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, led to the elimination of autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, which in turn led to chaos, which in turn led to the spread of IS there big time, which appears on its way to leading to a new American war in Libya seeking the kind of stability that, for all his terrors, Qaddafi had indeed brought to that country during his 34 years in power and the U.S. military will never find.

So an end to the Global War on Terror? Nope.

Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?

In 2012 I wrote, “Starting on September 12, 2001, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland.”

At the time, however, our concerns about unconstitutionality were mostly based on limited information from early whistleblowers like Tom Drake and Bill Binney, and what some then called conspiracy theories. That was before National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden confirmed our worst nightmares in June 2013 by leaking a trove of NSA documents about the overwhelming American surveillance state. Snowden summed it up this way: “You see programs and policies that were publicly justified on the basis of preventing terrorism — which we all want — in fact being used for very different purposes.”

Now, here’s the strange thing: since Rand Paul dropped out of the 2016 presidential race, no candidate seems to find it worth his or her while to discuss protecting the Bill of Rights or the Constitution from the national security state. (Only the Second Amendment, it turns out, is still sacred.) And speaking of rights, things had already grown so extreme by 2013 that Attorney General Eric Holder felt forced to publicly insist that the government did not plan to torture or kill Edward Snowden, should he end up in its hands. Given the tone of this election, someone may want to update that promise.

In 2012, of course, the Obama administration had only managed to put two whistleblowers in jail for violating the Espionage Act. Since then, such prosecutions have grown almost commonplace, with five more convictions (including that of Chelsea Manning) and with whatever penalties short of torture and murder are planned for Edward Snowden still pending. No one then mentioned the use of the draconian World War I-era Espionage Act, but that wasn’t surprising. Its moment was still coming.

Four years later, still not a peep out of any candidate about the uses of that act, once aimed at spying for foreign powers in wartime, or a serious discussion of government surveillance and the loss of privacy in American life. (And we just learned that the Pentagon’s spy drones have been released over “the homeland,” too, but don’t expect to hear anything about that or its implications either.) Of course, Snowden has come up in the debates of both parties. He has been labeled a traitor as part of the blood sport that the Republican debates have devolved into, and denounced as a thief by Hillary Clinton, while Bernie Sanders gave him credit for “educating the American people” but still thought he deserved prison time.

If the question in 2012 was: “Candidates, have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?” In 2016, the answer seems to be: “Yes, we’ve walked away, and accept that or else… you traitor!”

What do we want from the Middle East?

In 2012, considering the wreckage of the post-9/11 policies of two administrations in the Middle East, I wondered what the goal of America’s presence there could possibly be. Washington had just ended its war in Iraq, walked away from the chaos in Libya, and yet continued to launch a seemingly never-ending series of drone strikes in the region. “Is it all about oil?” I asked. “Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? History suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.”

Four years later, Washington is desperately trying to destroy an Islamic State “caliphate” that wasn’t even on its radar in 2012. Of course, that brings up the question of whether IS can be militarily destroyed at all, as we watch its spread to places as far-flung as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. And then there’s the question no one would have thought to ask back then: If we destroy that movement in Iraq and Syria, will another even more brutish group simply take its place, as the Islamic State did with al-Qaeda in Iraq? No candidate this time around even seems to grasp that these groups aren’t just problems in themselves, but symptoms of a broader Sunni-Shi’ite problem.

In the meantime, the one broad policy consensus to emerge is that we shouldn’t hesitate to unleash our air power and Special Operations forces and, with the help of local proxies, wreck as much stuff as possible. America has welcomed all comers to take their best shots in Syria and Iraq in the name of fighting the Islamic State. The ongoing effort to bomb it away has resulted in the destruction of cities that were still in decent shape in 2012, like Ramadi, Kobane, Homs, and evidently at some future moment Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, “in order to save” them. Four American presidents have made war in the region without success, and whoever follows Obama into the Oval Office will be number five. No questions asked.

What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?

Plan? Right-size? Here’s the reality four years after I asked that question: Absolutely no candidate, including the most progressive one, is talking about cutting or in any way seriously curtailing the U.S. military.

Not surprisingly, in response to the ongoing question of the year, “So how will you pay for that?” (in other words, any project being discussed from massive border security and mass deportations to free public college tuition), no candidate has said: “Let’s spend less than 54% of our discretionary budget on defense.”

Call me sentimental, but as I wrote in 2012, I’d still like to know from the candidates, “What will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?”

Such questions would at least provide a little comic relief, as all the candidates except Bernie Sanders lock horns to see who will be the one to increase the defense budget the most.

Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?

In 2012, I laid out the reality of twenty-first-century America this way: “We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most ‘exceptional’ of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them). Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer… America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course. Saber rattling… feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.”

Yet in 2016 most of the candidates are still barking about America the Exceptional despite another four years of rust on the chrome. Donald Trump may be the exceptional exception in that he appears to think America’s exceptional greatness is still to come, though quite soon under his guidance.

The question for the candidates in 2012 was and in 2016 remains “Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual ‘shining city on a hill’ metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world?”

The answer is a resounding no.

See You Again in 2020

The candidates have made it clear that the struggle against terror is a forever war, the U.S. military can never be big enough, bombing and missiling the Greater Middle East is now the American Way of Life, and the Constitution is indeed a pain and should get the hell out of the way.

Above all, no politician dares or cares to tell us anything but what they think we want to hear: America is exceptional, military power can solve problems, the U.S. military isn’t big enough, and it is necessary to give up our freedoms to protect our freedoms. Are we, in the perhaps slightly exaggerated words of one foreign commentator, now just a “nation of idiots, incapable of doing anything except conducting military operations against primitive countries”?


January Mortgage Delinquencies up 6.6%; 98,000 Bad Mortgages Face Statute of Limitations in 3 States

March 14, 2016

The Economic Populist

The Mortgage Monitor for January (pdf) from Black Knight Financial Services (BKFS, formerly LPS) reported that there were 659,237 home mortgages, or 1.30% of all mortgages outstanding, remaining in the foreclosure process at the end of January. This was down from 688,672, or 1.37% of all active loans that were in foreclosure at the end of December, and down from 1.76% of all mortgages that were in foreclosure in January of last year. These are homeowners who had a foreclosure notice served but whose homes had not yet been seized, and the January “foreclosure inventory” is now showing the lowest percentage of homes that were in the foreclosure process since the fall of 2007.   New foreclosure starts, which have been volatile from month to month, fell to 71,900 in January from 78,088 in December and from 93,280 in January a year ago, while they were still higher than the 66,626 foreclosure starts we saw in November, which had been the lowest since the crisis began. Over the past year, new foreclosure starts have remained in a range about one-third higher than number of new foreclosures we we seeing in the precrisis year of 2005.

In addition to homes in foreclosure, BKFS data showed that 2,574,560 mortgages, or 5.09% of all mortgage loans, or were at least one mortgage payment overdue but not in foreclosure in January, up from 4.78% of homeowners with a mortgage who were more than 30 days behind in December, but still down from the mortgage delinquency rate of 5.42% in January a year earlier. Of those who were delinquent in January, 831,284 home owners, or 1.65% of those with a mortgage, were considered seriously delinquent, meaning they were more than 90 days behind on mortgage payments, but still not in foreclosure at the end of the month, which was up from 807,656 seriously delinquent mortgages in December. Combining the totals delinquent mortgages with those in foreclosure, we find that a total of 6.39% of homeowners with a mortgage were either late in paying or in foreclosure at the end of January, and that 2.95% of all homeowners were in serious trouble, ie, either “seriously delinquent” or already in foreclosure at month end.

As those of you who’ve paid attention to the monthly changes in mortgages delinquencies know, there is a seasonal trend in delinquencies, as late house payments usually increase before the Holidays as homeowners defer their mortgage payments in order to do Christmas shopping. Then we normally see a large drop in mortgages delinquencies during January, February and March, as homeowners catch up on their bills. Thus, a 6.62% increase in January mortgage delinquencies is unusual, as January usually sees a decrease of delinquent mortgages ranging from 2.4% to 3.1%. To look at that increase closer, the graph from page 6 of this month’s mortgage monitor we’re including below divides into 4 types of mortgage delinquencies the number of mortgages that were farther behind in their mortgage payments than they were in the prior month for each month since 2005. Those that were current in the prior month but became delinquent in the reporting month are shown in red; those that transitioned from one month late to two months late are shown in green; while those that transitioned from two months late to 3 months late are shown in violet. Finally, of those who were more than 90 days delinquent in the prior month who were foreclosed on in each month is shown in blue. Here we can see in red that over 580,000 home mortgages became newly delinquent in January, a 129,000 mortgage or 28% increase from those that became newly delinquent in December.. In addition, there was an increase of 21,000 mortgages, or 11% higher than in December, that rolled from 1 month late to 2 months behind on their house payments, while 7,500 homeowners, or 7% more than those who had rolled from 2 months to 3 months late in December, have rolled to 3 months late in January. Lastly, we can see in blue that the number of those who were seriously delinquent who were foreclosed on in January fell by about 7.8%, as our earlier coverage noted…

As you know, the Mortgage Monitor (pdf) is a mostly graphics presentation from what was once the Analytics division of Lender Processing Services that covers a variety of mortgage related issues each month. One issue they looked at this month was the potential risk exposure that mortgage holders faced in three states where courts are deliberating how statutes of limitations laws should be applied to foreclosures. As you should recall, tens of thousands of homeowners have been stuck in the foreclosure process for years because of the lengthy foreclosure pipelines and difficulty in establishing clear title and right to foreclose after the evisceration of public land records by MERS and the banks during the housing boom, and now courts in Florida, New Jersey and New York are deciding whether statutes of limitations laws should apply to severely delinquent mortgages in those states. According to BKFS, up to 98,000 seriously delinquent home loans with an unpaid principal balance of approximately $30 billion may be subject to such statutes of limitations (ie, mortgages that are more than five years past due in Florida or more than six years past due in New Jersey and New York). Moreover, roughly $1 out of every $10 of principal in private-label securitizations in these three states is tied to such a mortgage.

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