TBR News March 5, 2018

Mar 05 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. March 5, 2018:” Here is a copy of an email sent to a reporter at the Wall Street Journal by a dedicated Trump supporter. It is printed here to indicate the basic attitudes of those who support our president in all his innocent endeavors:

‘From: ghweh4@Safe-mail.net

The Mainstream Fake-News Media, Enemy of the People

You ARE Fake-News and you ARE the enemy of the people. You are traitors and treason is punishable by hanging or Prison. We the people will see everyone of you hanging from a tree, or lamp post or whatever before this is finished. Seeing you filthy, lying scum sitting in a prison cell is definitely a second choice. Your agenda is clear to the people, help the One World Government come to power by destroying America and it’s values by your lying, slanted bias satanic world view and so-called reporting. You’re the ones who are mentally unstable because you are nothing but stupid, mindless puppets for the New World Order. So let me spell it out for you asshole liberals; we WON, you LOST, we kicked your asses from one end of this country to the other – get used to it, it’s the ‘New Norm’. We completely rejected the Democrats message because they are criminals, Commie/Marxist Globalists, especially Clinton and pawns of the One World Government. Elections have consequences, don’t they? Sound familiar? What occurred was a non-violent uprising of the American people, a ‘Populist’ movement with the election of Trump which all of you are too stupid to figure out and we’ve taken our country back. You try to take it back again, it will be at the end of the barrels of our 400 million guns. And we love shooting. The ‘Next Uprising’ will not be non-violent.

You mindless puppets in the press are utterly despised, detested and there is not a shred of respect for any of you; CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Yahoo, UPI, AP, Reuters, NPR, The Washington Compost, The New York Slimes, The Public School system all of you scum; you’re demeaned constantly, ridiculed, demonized – hell, we make fun of you and call you names ALL the time! Oh, by the way you brain dead morons, your so-called ‘polls’ are a total lie and absolute bullshit, so save your idiot selves some aggravation and stop releasing them. They are NEVER correct, they ALWAYS lie, like you, after all they ALL predicted bitch Clinton was winning the election when the rest of America knew she/it wasn’t, remember that one dumb asses? We certainly do. NO ONE pays any attention to them, you ARE stinking LIARS that we hate and don’t believe a word of anything you have to say! We don’t give a DAMN what you think, we don’t give a DAMN what you have to say and we can’t wait to see you in a court room, unlike you we believe in the Constitution, being tried for treason then hanging from the nearest tree! Or just sticking a gun barrel up your ass and watching you rotate on the end of it. That would be fun! You cowards and traitors are truly the lowest dung in the human race. Ahh, well, gee, there ARE the Obamas’ and the Clintons’ and George Soros and (Obamas’) little fag buddy from San Francisco Tom Steyer so it’s hard for us to decide which of you is the biggest piece of shit! Fits doesn’t it, very descriptive, ‘piece of shit’. Describes all of you lying puppets. If you Fake-News hacks actually DO have a degree, I have three, working on my 4th, then you got it from the Sears and Roebuck catalog because you certainly don’t practice journalism, in fact you haven’t practiced journalism for at least 30 years; your so called reporting is so slanted and biased it causes one to puke, it’s not even remotely journalism; it’s obviously designed to destroy our form of Government and the principles of liberty, replacing the Constitution with a Marxist form of Government accountable to only your New World Order masters; it’s just flat out lying! Enjoy Hell, you’ll be there soon, your Master is waiting!

So pawns and puppets, get used to it – we are going to shove it down your throats for the next 8 years, then the next 8 years, then the…….get the idea? But don’t worry about it, you’ll be long gone by then!’”


Table of Contents

  • Using Fake Facts to Make Us Afraid
  • Will 2018 be the year of the neo-luddite?
  • Hollywood hoopla ignores media’s history of servility
  • DNA sheds light on settlement of Pacific
  • Bank Earnings Are Soaring, but Congress Wants to Gut Post-Crisis Safeguards
  • Israel Plans a New War in Syria – but Not for the Reasons It Claims
  • Trump’s tariff bombshell could ignite full-blown trade war & Russia could be the winner
  • Netanyahu’s White House visit shrouded in scandal


Using Fake Facts to Make Us Afraid

On Immigration and Terrorism, the Trump Administration Misleads About Its Own Misleading Data

March 4, 2018

by Arnold R. Isaacs


When you see an immigrant or a foreign visitor, especially from a Muslim country, should your first thought be that you might be looking at a possible terrorist?

Clearly, that’s how the Trump administration wants Americans to react.  It was the message in the president’s first address to Congress a year ago last week when he declared that “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” At that time, he urged that the U.S. immigration system be reshaped because “we cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”

There’s a misleading omission in Trump’s formulation, though: homegrown fanatics have killed many more Americans on U.S. soil than foreign-born terrorists have. The disparity grows much wider if you include mass killings carried out not for any religious or ideological cause but (as we have recently been tragically reminded) by mentally troubled individuals. Indeed, in just two such shootings in the last five months in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Parkland, Florida, deranged shooters with assault rifles killed more than three times as many people as all foreign-born jihadists have killed in this country in the last 16 years.Another key fact is missing, too: only a fairly small number of those “terror-related” convictions were for acts committed or planned in the United States. Many more involved support, in various forms, for terrorist activity in other countries.

Still, Trump and his associates have repeatedly declared that terrorists sneaking into the country through a too-lax immigration system are a pressing threat to public safety in the United States. That was, for instance, the administration’s principal headline earlier this year when it released a report from the Justice and Homeland Security departments, which claimed that nearly three out of every four individuals convicted in international terror cases in U.S. federal courts from 9/11 through 2016 were foreign born — a total of 402, by their count. Announcing that report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed that it highlighted the ways in which “our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety.” In the same press release, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that the United States “cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists.”

Those and a long list of similar statements range from simply misleading to completely false. The deceptions occur in two stages. As a start, the data compiled within government agencies significantly overstate the incidence of Islamist terrorism in this country. Then the president and his associates regularly misrepresent what that already flawed data actually tells us, leaving the truth even farther behind.

“Terror-Related Cases” That Have No Relation to Terrorism

The basic database on which Trump and his associates rely is the “Chart of Public/Unsealed International Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions.” It’s compiled and updated every year by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and lists defendants convicted on federal charges in cases since September 11, 2001. Despite its title, the list includes a significant number of cases that are verifiably not terrorism-related and a good many more in which a terrorism connection was not only not proved but remains highly unlikely.

Take Ansar Mahmood’s case.  It’s far from the only example, but what makes it unusual is that the public record includes an explicit official acknowledgement that terrorism turned out not to be involved.

Mahmood, a 24-year-old legal immigrant from Pakistan, came under suspicion a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks when he was noticed taking photographs at a scenic spot along New York’s Hudson River. A nervous security guard called the police to report that a Muslim-looking man might be taking pictures of a nearby reservoir and water treatment facility.

He was soon picked up, but investigators quickly concluded that he had no connection whatsoever to terrorism.  They did, however, turn up evidence that he had registered a car and cosigned an apartment lease for a Pakistani couple who had overstayed their non-immigrant visas and were in the United States illegally. He was quickly charged with “harboring aliens,” a deportable offense, and convicted. After a drawn-out appeal process, Mahmood was deported in 2005.

In a letter notifying him that his final appeal to set aside the deportation order had been rejected, William Cleary, a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, wrote: “It was determined that you were not engaged in any terrorist activity and were quickly cleared of any suspicion of terrorist activity.” A few lines later, Cleary added a second time, “I am confident you did not engage in terrorist activity, you have never been charged as a terrorist or accused as being a terrorist.”

There could hardly be more conclusive evidence that Mahmood’s case had nothing to do with terrorism. Yet, years later, his name still appears on that Justice Department list of “Terrorism and Terrorism-Related Convictions.”  His two friends, also deported after being found guilty of visa violations and obtaining false IDs, are on the list, too, although there was absolutely no suggestion of any terror connection in their cases, either.

Nor are these isolated examples. Others on the conviction list who clearly were not terrorists include three Arab Americans, at least two of them naturalized U.S. citizens, convicted for buying a truckload of stolen breakfast cereal, and a group of 20 defendants, predominantly Iraqis, found guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain commercial driver’s licenses and permits to transport hazardous material. There are also cases involving defendants convicted for false marriage claims, foreign students who illegally got jobs in violation of student visa rules, a young man from Saudi Arabia who stored child pornography on his computer, and various others where the record shows no mention of any terrorist link.

Even the most dangerous sounding of these, the one involving hazardous-material permits, may sound ominous, but the scam itself occurred in the 1990s, well before the 9/11 attacks, and prosecutors made it clear that there was no link with terrorism. So did the trial judge, who said he could not “characterize this as a successful prosecution of a terrorism case, because it was not.”

None of the 20 defendants who illegally obtained those licenses received any prison time. All were given probation; some paid modest fines. Those sentences would certainly have been far harsher if there had been any genuine suspicion that the defendants might be dangerous. (The driver’s license examiner they paid off at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, an American, remains on the “terror-related convictions” list, too.)

Why Are They on the List?

Given the clear evidence that they were never terrorists, why are Mahmood and his friends, as well as those Iraqi truckers and others in similar cases, still officially identified as having been “convicted of terrorism,” as the Trump White House has inaccurately characterized everyone named on the Justice Department chart? Or, in the only marginally more careful wording used in the list itself, why are they still guilty of “international terrorism-related offenses”?

The immediate reason is that, like Mahmood, they originally came to the attention of investigators looking for possible terrorist ties.  In other words, their cases started out as possible terrorism ones and, under Justice Department procedures, simply remained in that category even when no such ties were found. The broader reason: counting them and others like them that way plays right into the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim agenda.  It magnifies, falsely, the supposed threat of “foreign nationals” connected with “terrorism-related activity” in the United States.

Setting aside the cases that were clearly not in any way linked to terrorism, there are many more on the chart in which individuals were suspected of ties of some kind to terrorism but were never charged. In those cases, the question is simply left unanswered, but there can be no doubt that some of those suspects, too, were neither terrorists nor supporters of terror movements.  In other words, that group similarly inflates the claimed total.

There is another strong hint that many on the Justice Department list are unlikely to have been either terrorists or to have had serious ties to such organizations and it requires no additional research. It’s right there on the chart itself in a column listing the sentences that defendants received for their crimes.  More than 130 of the offenders on the list (both foreign and U.S.-born), when convicted, were given probation but no prison time at all or were sentenced only to time served before trial. Another 45 were sentenced to one year or less, including several token sentences of one day or, in a single case, a week.

Those light sentences — for more than a quarter of all the cases on the chart — certainly seem to indicate that no authority thought the defendants represented a terror threat.

Another Distortion…

Counting cases that have nothing to do with terrorism as “terror-related” isn’t the only way the administration has distorted the facts about immigration and the threat of terrorism. It also counts cases that have nothing to do with immigration.

For example, a White House fact sheet, summarizing the main findings of the January 16th Justice/Homeland Security report, says that 402 foreign-born defendants — the total given in the report — all “entered the United States through our immigration system.”

That is false. The report doesn’t say that at all. You have to look carefully to find it, but the document explicitly says the opposite, stating that along with those defendants who had at one time or another passed through immigration controls, the 402 foreign-born offenders also include individuals “who were transported to the United States for prosecution.” Presumably, some of them were captured overseas by U.S. military or security agencies and some were turned over to the U.S. by a foreign government.

The Justice Department has not disclosed how many such individuals are on the list. The number, however, is apparently substantial. Researchers for the Lawfare Blog, working from an earlier version of the chart, determined that an even 100 defendants (later reduced to 99) “were extradited, or brought, to the United States for prosecution” without going through any immigration procedure. Including those cases as evidence of a lax immigration system is plainly deceptive.

They undercut the Trump administration’s anti-immigration narrative in another way, too. Obviously, defendants who were extradited or otherwise brought into the United States for prosecution were more likely than those on the list as a whole to be charged with serious offenses and to receive much stiffer sentences. So adding them to the overall “foreign-born” figure not only gives a false impression of failures in immigration screening, but also inflates the threat that actual immigrants represent.

… And One More

The Trump administration’s message about “foreign-born terrorists” and the U.S. immigration system is clear enough: dangerous people are coming into this country to do bad things to Americans. Though you wouldn’t guess it from listening to the president or his attorney general and homeland security secretary, a much larger number of cases involved exactly the opposite problem: people leaving the United States, or trying to leave, to do bad things elsewhere.

Only a small minority of the guilty verdicts on the Justice Department’s conviction list were for committing or planning violent acts on U.S. soil. Significantly more defendants were tried for supporting terrorism abroad.

The comparison is dramatically clear in an analysis by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh. Examining an earlier version of the Justice Department’s chart of convictions, he discovered that only 40 foreign-born defendants had been found guilty of “planning, attempting, or carrying out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.” More than 200 were, however, convicted for “material support for foreign terrorists, attempting to join foreign terrorist organizations, planning a terrorist attack abroad, or a similar offense taking place abroad.”

The same pattern is evident even in the recent Justice/Homeland Security report, despite all the accompanying dire rhetoric about threats to public safety in America.

The report summarizes eight terror-related cases as “illustrative examples” of crimes by foreign-born offenders. Not one of those crimes caused harm to a person or damage to property in the United States itself. Three of the eight defendants came to the United States as young children. No immigration process, no matter how rigorous, could have screened them out. The same is true of a significant number of others on the Justice Department’s list. Just one of the eight defendants — the only offenders actually identified in the report — had anything resembling a concrete plan for a terror attack in this country. Of the other seven, one made vague threats about carrying out “an act of martyrdom” in the United States, but only if he wasn’t able to go to Syria to join jihadist forces there. The other six cases involved individuals accused of supporting terror groups in other countries, with no mention of any possible acts inside the United States. The case summaries give no indication that any of the eight killedor injured an American anywhere.

A Chilling Footnote

There is one other revealing thread in the administration’s campaign to link immigration to terrorism. In the Justice/Homeland Security report’s statistical breakdown of terror-related convictions, a footnote to the last line, which shows that 147 defendants were “U.S. citizens by birth,” says: “Information pertaining to the citizenship status of the parents of these 147 individuals was not available at the time of this report’s issuance.”

The White House fact sheet repeated that point in its summary of the report, noting that it “does not contain information regarding the number of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses committed by individuals who are the children of foreign-born individuals.” It then added: “Terrorist attacks carried out by children of foreign-born individuals include the attack in Orlando by Omar Mateen, which killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others, and the attack in San Bernardino, California, by Syed Rizwan Farook, which killed 14 people and injured 22 others.” (For the record, and it’s odd the White House didn’t mention it, Syed Farook’s wife, who accompanied him in the San Bernardino shootings, was an immigrant.)

Neither the report nor the White House statement explained what crimes committed by U.S.-born shooters have to do with its declared subject: terror-related acts by “foreign nationals in the United States.” Nor, obviously, does a mass shooting by a killer born in Chicago (Farook) or Long Island, New York, (Mateen) tell us anything about the effectiveness of immigration screening procedures or any other aspect of the U.S. immigration system, though it does fit a Trumpian vision of a world under threat from dangerous Muslims.

Perhaps those references to the “children of foreign-born individuals” were not meant to cast suspicion on the entire Muslim-American community. Possibly the White House and the Justice Department were not intentionally stoking public hostility and fear by implying that all Muslims, whether immigrants or born in the United States, should be regarded as potentially disloyal or dangerous. But if there was a less chilling motive, it’s hard to imagine what it might be.


Will 2018 be the year of the neo-luddite?

The downsides of technology’s inexorable march are now becoming clear and automation will only increase the anxiety. We should expect the growing interest in off-grid lifestyles to be accompanied by direct action and even anti-tech riots

March 4, 2018

by Jamie Bartlett

The Guardian

One of the great paradoxes of digital life – understood and exploited by the tech giants – is that we never do what we say. Poll after poll in the past few years has found that people are worried about online privacy and do not trust big tech firms with their data. But they carry on clicking and sharing and posting, preferring speed and convenience above all else. Last year was Silicon Valley’s annus horribilis: a year of bots, Russian meddling, sexism, monopolistic practice and tax-minimising. But I think 2018 might be worse still: the year of the neo-luddite, when anti-tech words turn into deeds.

The caricature of machine-wrecking mobs doesn’t capture our new approach to tech. A better phrase is what the writer Blake Snow has called “reformed luddism”: a society that views tech with a sceptical eye, noting the benefits while recognising that it causes problems, too. And more importantly, thinks that something can be done about it.

One expression of reformed luddism is already causing a headache for the tech titans. Facebook and Google are essentially huge advertising firms. Ad-blocking software is their kryptonite. Yet millions of people downloaded these plug-ins to stop ads chasing them across the web last year, and their use has been growing (on desktops at least) close to 20% each year, indiscriminately hitting smaller publishers, too.

More significantly, the whole of society seems to have woken up to the fact there is a psychological cost to constant checking, swiping and staring. A growing number of my friends now have “no phone” times, don’t instantly sign into the cafe wifi, or have weekends away without their computers. This behaviour is no longer confined to intellectuals and academics, part of some clever critique of modernity. Every single parent I know frets about “screen time”, and most are engaged in a struggle with a toddler over how much iPad is allowed. The alternative is “slow living” or “slow tech”. “Want to become a slow-tech family?” writes Janell Burley Hoffmann, one of its proponents. “Wait! Just wait – in line, at the doctor’s, for the bus, at the school pickup – just sit and wait.” Turning what used to be ordinary behaviour into a “movement” is a very modern way to go about it. But it’s probably necessary.

I would add to this the ever-growing craze for yoga, meditation, reiki and all those other things that promise inner peace and meaning – except for the fact all the techies do it, too. Maybe that’s why they do it. Either way, there is a palpable demand for anything that involves less tech, a fetish for back-to-basics. Innocent Drinks have held two “Unplugged Festivals”, offering the chance of “switching off for the weekend … No wifi, no 3G, no traditional electricity”. Others take off-grid living much further. There has been an uptick in “back to the land” movements: communes and self-sustaining communities that prefer the low-tech life. According to the Intentional Community Directory, which measures the spread of alternative lifestyles, 300 eco-villages were founded in the first 10 months of 2016, the most since the 1970s. I spent some time in 2016 living in an off-grid community where no one seemed to suffer mobile phone separation anxiety. No one was frantically checking if their last tweet went viral aand we all felt better for it.

Even insiders are starting to wonder what monsters they’ve unleashed. Former Google “design ethicist” Tristan Harris recently founded the nonprofit organisation Time Well Spent in order to push back against what he calls a “digital attention crisis” of our hijacked minds. Most of the tech conferences I’m invited to these days include this sort of introspection: is it all going too far? Are we really the good guys?

That tech firms are responding is proof they see this is a serious threat: many more are building in extra parental controls, and Facebook admitted last year that too much time on their site was bad for your health, and promised to do something. Apple investors recently wrote to the company, suggesting the company do more to “ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner” – a bleak word combination to describe phone-addled children, but still.

It’s worth reflecting what a radical change all this is. That economic growth isn’t everything, that tech means harm as well as good – this is not the escape velocity, you-can’t-stop-progress thinking that has colonised our minds in the past decade. Serious writers now say things that would have been unthinkable until last year: even the FT calls for more regulation and the Economist asks if social media is bad for democracy.

This reformed luddism does not however mean the end of good, old-fashioned machine-smashing. The original luddites did not dislike machines per se, rather what they were doing to their livelihoods and way of life. It’s hard not to see the anti-Uber protests in a similar light. Over the past couple of years, there have been something approaching anti-Uber riots in Paris; in Hyderabad, India, drivers took to the streets to vent their rage against unmet promises of lucrative salaries; angry taxi drivers blocked roads last year across Croatia, Hungary and Poland. In Colombia, there were clashes with police, while two Uber vehicles were torched in Johannesburg and 30 metered taxi drivers arrested.

Imagine what might happen when driverless cars turn up. The chancellor has recently bet on them, promising investment and encouraging real road testing; he wants autonomous vehicles on our streets by 2021. The industry will create lots of new and very well-paid jobs, especially in robotics, machine learning and engineering. For people with the right qualifications, that’s great. And for the existing lorry and taxi drivers? There will still be some jobs, since even Google tech won’t be able to handle Swindon’s magic roundabout for a while. But we will need far fewer of them. A handful might retrain, and claw their way up to the winner’s table. I am told repeatedly in the tech startup bubble that unemployed truckers in their 50s should retrain as web developers and machine-learning specialists, which is a convenient self-delusion. Far more likely is that, as the tech-savvy do better than ever, many truckers or taxi drivers without the necessary skills will drift off to more precarious, piecemeal, low-paid work.

Does anyone seriously think that drivers will passively let this happen, consoled that their great-grandchildren may be richer and less likely to die in a car crash? And what about when Donald Trump’s promised jobs don’t rematerialise, because of automation rather than offshoring and immigration? Given the endless articles outlining how “robots are coming for your jobs”, it would be extremely odd if people didn’t blame the robots, and take it out on them, too.

Once people start believing that machines are a force of oppression rather than liberation, there will be no stopping it. Between 1978 and 1995, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, sent 16 bombs to targets including universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23. Kaczynski, a Harvard maths prodigy who began to live off-grid in his 20s, was motivated by a belief that technological change was destroying human civilisation, ushering in a period of dehumanised tyranny and control. Once you get past Kaczynski’s casual racism and calls for violent revolution, his writings on digital technology now seem uncomfortably prescient. He predicted super-intelligent machines dictating society, the psychological ill-effects of tech-reliance and the prospect of obscene inequality as an elite of techno-savvies run the world.

The American philosopher John Zerzan is considered the intellectual heavyweight for the anarcho-primitivist movement, whose adherents believe that technology enslaves us. They aren’t violent, but boy do they do hate tech. During the Unabomber’s trial, Zerzan became a confidant to Kaczynski, offering support for his ideas while condemning his actions. Zerzan is finding himself invited to speak at many more events, and the magazine he edits has seen a boost in sales. “Something’s going on,” he tells me – by phone, ironically. “The negative of technology is now taken as a given.” I ask if he could forsee the emergence of another Unabomber. “I think it’s inevitable,” he says. “As things get worse, you’re not going to stop it any other way,” although he adds that he hopes it doesn’t involve violence against people.

There are signs that full-blown neo-luddism is already here. In November last year, La Casemate, a tech “fab lab” based in Grenoble, France, was vandalised and burned. The attackers called it “a notoriously harmful institution by its diffusion of digital culture”. The previous year, a similar place in Nantes was targeted. Aside from an isolated incident in Mexico in 2011, this is, as far as I can tell, the first case since the Unabomber of an act of violence targeting technology explicitly as technology, rather than just a proxy for some other problem. The French attackers’ communique was published by the environmentalist/anarchist journal Earth First! and explained how the internet’s promise of liberation for anticapitalists has evaporated amid more surveillance, more control, more capitalism. “Tonight, we burned the Casemate,” it concludes. “Tomorrow, it will be something else, and our lives will be too short, in prison or in free air, because everything we hate can burn.”

If the recent speculation about jobs and AI is even close to being correct, then fairly soon “luddite” will join far-right and Islamist on the list of government-defined extremisms. Perhaps anti-tech movements will even qualify for the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme.

No one wants machines smashed or letter bombs. The wreckers failed 200 years ago and will fail again now. But a little luddism in our lives won’t hurt. The realisation that technological change isn’t always beneficial nor inevitable is long overdue, and that doesn’t mean jettisoning all the joys associated with modern technology. You’re not a fogey for thinking there are times where being disconnected is good for you. You’re just not a machine.


Hollywood hoopla ignores media’s history of servility

March 2, 2018

by James Bovard

The Hill

Much of the media nowadays is portraying itself as heroes of the #Resist Trump movement. To exploit that meme, Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg rushed out “The Post,” a movie depicting an epic press battle with the Nixon administration. But regardless of whether Spielberg’s latest wins the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday night, Americans should never forget the media’s long history of pandering to presidents and the Pentagon.

“The Post” is built around the Pentagon Papers, a secret study begun in 1967 analyzing where the Vietnam war had gone awry. The 7000-page tome showed that presidents and military leaders had been profoundly deceiving the American people ever since the Truman administration and that the same mistakes were endlessly repeated. Like many policy autopsies, the report was classified and completely ignored by the White House and federal agencies that most needed to heed its lessons.

Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official, heroically risked life in prison to smuggle the report to the media after members of Congress were too cowardly to touch it. The New York Times shattered the political sound barrier when it began courageously publishing the report despite a profusion of threats from the Nixon administration Justice Department. After a federal court slapped the Times with an injunction, the Washington Post and other newspapers published additional classified excerpts from the report. Likely because the Washington Post had a female publisher, Spielberg made it, rather than the Times, the star of the show.

Spielberg’s movie portrays Post editor Ben Bradlee denouncing dishonest government officials to publisher Katharine Graham: “The way they lied — those days have to be over.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who deluged the media with falsehoods about battlefront progress, did more than anyone else (except perhaps President Lyndon Johnson) to vastly increase the bloodbath for Americans and Vietnamese. McNamara’s disastrous deceits did not deter the Washington Post from appointing him to its Board of Directors. As author Norman Solomon recently observed, “The Washington Post was instrumental in avidly promoting the lies that made the Vietnam War possible in the first place.”

The Pentagon Papers proved that politicians and their tools will brazenly con the American public to drag the nation into unnecessary wars. But that lesson vanished into the D.C. memory hole — conveniently for obsequious journalists like Post superstar Bob Woodward.

On March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush justified invading Iraq by invoking UN resolutions purportedly authorizing the U.S. “to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.” A year later, Bush performed a skit at the Radio and Television Correspondents annual dinner featuring slides showing him crawling around the Oval Office peeking behind curtains as he quipped to the poohbah attendees (Donald Trump among them, incidentally): “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere… Nope, no weapons over there… Maybe under here?” The crowd loved it and the Post headlined its report on the evening: “George Bush, Entertainer in Chief.” Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor and Publisher, labeled the performance and the press’s reaction that night as “one of the most shameful episodes in the recent history of the American media, and presidency.”

Most of the media had embedded themselves for the Iraq war long before that diner. The Post buried pre-war articles questioning the Bush team’s shams on Iraq; their award-winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks complained, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’” Instead, before the war started, the Post ran 27 editorials in favor of invasion and 140 front-page articles supporting the Bush administration’s case for attacking Saddam.

It wasn’t just the Post. Former NBC news anchor Katie Couric revealed in 2008 that there was pressure from “the corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of” the Iraq war.

Despite the Iraq fiasco, the media happily resumed cheerleading when the Obama administration launched assaults in Libya and Syria. Even in the Trump era — when the press is openly clashing with a president — bombing still provides push button presidential redemption. Trump’s finest hour, according to much of the media, occurred last April when he attacked the Assad regime with 59 cruise missiles, raising hopes that the U.S. military would topple the Syrian government.

When Trump announced he was sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the Washington Post editorial page hailed what Trump calls his “principled realism” — regardless of the futility of perpetuating that quagmire. At a time when Trump is saber-rattling against Iran and North Korea, the media should be vigorously challenging official claims before U.S. bombs begin falling. Instead, much of the coverage of rising tensions with foreign regimes could have been written by Pentagon flacks.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, in his 1971 opinion on the New York Times’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers, declared: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” Unfortunately, the media often chooses to trumpet official lies instead of fighting them. Permitting glorious tales from eight presidencies ago to absolve subsequent media kowtowing would be as foolish as forgetting the lessons of the original Pentagon Papers. Worshipping the media is as foolish as worshiping politicians.



DNA sheds light on settlement of Pacific

March 2, 2018

BBC News

A study of ancient DNA has shed light on the epic journeys that led to the settlement of the Pacific by humans.

The region was one of the last on Earth to be permanently settled by humans who used canoes to traverse hundreds of miles of open ocean.

Two different studies tracked changes over time in the genetic make-up of people inhabiting Vanuatu – regarded as a gateway to the rest of the Pacific.

The work appears in Nature Ecology & Evolution and Current Biology.

Prof David Reich, from Harvard Medical School, said the region had a “tremendous” range of human diversity, adding that Vanuatu itself had an “extraordinary diversity of languages” in a relatively small area. The number of languages spoken in the tiny island state is thought to number more than 130, though several are endangered with just a small number of speakers.

Prof Reich, who is lead author of the study in Current Biology, added that Vanuatu was a “gateway to the remote Pacific islands… through that region of Vanuatu and neighbouring islands, people spread all over the Pacific”.

The first people to arrive in the islands belonged to the Lapita culture, who expanded out of Taiwan between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, reaching Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago. “They were really talented seafaring people,” said Dr Cosimo Posth, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. Dr Posth was co-author of the study in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Their secret was the specialised outrigger canoe, which is characterised by the addition of lateral support floats which stabilise the main hull. This innovation, says Dr Posth, “allowed them to cover immense distances of the ocean”.

The Lapita voyages represent the most extensive dispersal of agricultural people in history. They carried farming technology and languages belonging to the Austronesian family as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

But modern people in the wider region have varying amounts of ancestry from “Papuan” populations like those that live today on New Guinea, and other islands in the Bismarck Archipelago such as the Solomons, New Britain and New Ireland.

However, when exactly this ancestry spread across the region has been hotly debated. One idea was that the Lapita mixed with people speaking Papuan languages early in their voyages, spreading both types of ancestry throughout the region. Alternatively, it could be explained by more recent seafaring expansions by people from the Bismarck Archipelago.

DNA from burials on Vanuatu dating from between 2,900 and 150 years ago show that the first Lapita people were genetically similar to present-day populations such as the Ami who live in Taiwan.

“The first people of these remote pacific islands had none of the Papuan ancestry from the New Guinea region that is ubiquitous today and everyone has about 25% of it,” said Prof Reich.

That means that ancestry from the south must have arrived in the region more recently. Indeed, by studying the DNA of the Vanuatu population through time, the researchers found that people bearing Papuan-like ancestry arrived in the islands around 2,600 years ago. An influx of – mostly male – newcomers steadily transformed the genetic make-up of the island.

Intriguingly, all of this happened without a replacement in the language. The people of Vanuatu today speak Austronesian languages like those presumably spoken by the Lapita. This may be because a “lingua franca” developed in the region among seafaring, mobile people voyaging and trading across long distances.

Other peoples of the Pacific, such as people living in Polynesia, derive their Papuan ancestry from a different source to the one that populated Vanuatu.

“What we’re detecting is not one, but at least two movements of Papuan ancestry out into the Pacific,” said Prof Reich. These other movements remain a focus for future studies.

Dr Posth commented: “All the islands in eastern Polynesia – from the Cook Islands to Hawaii, New Zealand, French Polynesia – were settled much later, about 1500 years after the Lapita expansion. So there must have been further technological advancements [to the initial outrigger canoe design] that allowed people to spread even further east.”


Bank Earnings Are Soaring, but Congress Wants to Gut Post-Crisis Safeguards

March 5 2018

by Gary Rivlin and Susan Antilla

The Intercept

Dick Bove, a high-profile banking analyst, was feeling contrite. For years, Bove, a regular on CNBC, has been arguing for the rollback of regulations imposed after the 2008 financial collapse.

“But lately I’ve been trying to figure how regulation has hurt the banking industry,” Bove confessed in an interview last spring. “And I’m having a lot of trouble coming up with an answer.”

This week, the Senate considers the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, a bill that represents the greatest threat to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law since its passage in 2010. The bill would relieve all but the country’s largest dozen banks of increased scrutiny and ease mortgage rules imposed after the financial crisis. It would undermine fair lending rules designed to counteract race discrimination and weaken the Volcker rule, which limits a bank’s ability to make speculative trades with federally insured deposits. The arguments that Bove has been making publicly for years are the same specious ones being offered by the bill’s co-sponsors, and the trade groups calling for a rollback of banking regulations: Banks are suffering and so, by extension, are consumers, businesses, and the economy at large.

“When you take a close look,” Bove says now, “it’s really hard to argue that regulation harmed the banking industry.” Bank earnings have gone up every year since 2010, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and soared more recently. “In 2014, and again in 2015 and 2016, bank earnings hit all-time records,” Bove said. “Loan volume, which was obviously lousy at the beginning of this period, picked up substantially in 2014, 2015, and 2016.”

Not that many inside the Beltway seem to care. To the extent pundits are talking about the bill, it’s to hail a rare show of bipartisanship. A dozen moderate Democrats are listed among the co-sponsors of what insiders refer to simply as the Crapo bill, after its main sponsor, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, chair of the Senate Banking Committee.

“I don’t think that if you’re really thinking about the vast majority of Americans, you decide that your very first bipartisan bill is one that deregulates some of the biggest banks in the country,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, which pushes for tighter regulation of financial institutions. “But let’s take a step back and ask why there’s a bill at all. They’re saying, ‘We need ‘regulatory relief.’ How could you need regulatory relief if lending profits and every other metric you can look are at or approaching historic highs?”

The Community Bank Shuffle

The hardships purportedly faced by community banks come up a lot in the push for deregulation. “Since Dodd-Frank was signed into law in 2010, community banks in Tennessee and across our country have faced an overwhelming and disproportionate regulatory burden,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said when endorsing the Crapo bill in November. The “long overdue” unwinding of Dodd-Frank, Corker declared, “will help our community banks better serve hardworking Americans.” Mark Warner, D-Va., hailed the bill for making “targeted, commonsense fixes that will provide tangible relief to the community banks that are lifelines for smaller and rural communities.” Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. — identified by the Washington Post as one of the top Senate recipients of donations from commercial banks so far in the 2018 campaign cycle — said it offered “needed relief to community banks and credit unions,” and was vital in “helping farmers get loans to support their farms, and allowing families to buy homes in rural communities across our state.”

Few in Congress oppose helping community banks. The country’s smaller banks played almost no role in the subprime disaster, and most agree that they shouldn’t be subjected to extra scrutiny because of the misdeeds of their larger brethren. “In the past, there’ve been 90 votes in the Senate for regulatory relief targeted at community banks with $10 billion or less in assets,” said Kelleher, who spent eight years as a Senate staffer. But that’s not the narrow target of the Crapo bill, he points out, which grants regulatory relief to banks with up to $250 billion in assets. Only 12 banks fall above the Crapo’s massive $250 billion threshold — under the bill, no other bank  would be considered “systemically important” and thus, would be freed of additional oversight by federal regulators, such as fewer stress tests and lower capital requirements. Currently, only banks with under $50 billion in assets (the vast majority of the country’s 5,000-plus banks) are granted an exception from increased government scrutiny.

A $250 billion asset threshold gives a pass to Deutsche Bank, for example, which is at the center of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and also to Barclays, Credit Suisse, and Santander — all large global banks with a significant footprint in the United States. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has pointed out that Countrywide Financial played an outsized role in the 2008 subprime meltdown while sitting on less than $250 billion in assets. Likewise below the cutoff is the publicly traded Ally Financial which, as GMAC Financial, was also a central culprit in triggering the 2008 crash.

Jon Tester, D-Mont., another of the Crapo bill’s dozen Democratic co-sponsors, invoked Main Street when talking up the bill during a November Senate Banking Committee meeting. “These folks are not wearing slick suits in downtown New York or Boston,” Tester said of the bill’s beneficiaries. Perhaps not, but as the bill would lift regulations for a long list of what are called “super regionals,” they’re likely wearing slick suits in Atlanta, where SunTrust has its headquarters, or Chicago, where Northern Trust is based.

The average community bank employs 133 workers, according to the website of its trade group, the Independent Community Bankers of America. SunTrust, a publicly traded company, has more than 24,000 employees and operates thousands of branches across 11 states in the southeast. In 2014, the bank paid just under $1 billion in fines for its misdeeds related to the subprime crisis. (“SunTrust’s conduct is a prime example of the widespread underwriting failures that helped bring about the financial crisis,” then-Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time.) More recently, the bank was fined in 2017 for improperly steering customers to high-fee mutual funds.

“Community banks are the most exhausted Trojan horse ever to be used,” Kelleher said. “The Wall Street PR machine has elevated community banks to the levels of motherhood, apple pie, and the American flag.” So, too, has Steven Mnuchin, a lifelong denizen of Wall Street, who claimed during his confirmation hearings that “regulation is killing community banks” — a sentiment as commonly expressed as it is false. A 2017 FDIC report shows that deposits in community banks have grown in each of the past six years.  Another report showed that 96 percent of the country’s 5,294 community banks were profitable, as of the third quarter of 2017.

Alternative Facts

Earlier in his presidency, Donald Trump made clear his views on any bill that rolls back financial regulation. “Frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money,” he said a few weeks into his new presidency. “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.” Five days later, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, added his voice to those claiming that Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau it created were strangling banks – and, by extension, the economy – even as lenders were posting record profits year after year.

“The number of banks offering free checking has drastically declined,” Hensarling wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed less than a month into the Trump presidency, “while many bank fees have increased. Mortgage originations and auto loans have become more expensive for many Americans.” Troubling developments — except none of them true, according to Adam Levitin, a professor at Georgetown Law. Writing on an academic blog called Credit Slips, Levitin responded to Hensarling’s op-ed with a point-by-point refutation of these and other “verifiably false” claims.

“Free checking has become more common, bank fees have plateaued after decades of steep increases, and both mortgage rates and auto loan rates have fallen,” Levitin wrote by way of introduction to a long post littered with equations and graphs. Levitin quotes the American Bankers Association’s own numbers to show that free checking has increased from 53 percent to 61 percent of accounts since Dodd-Frank passed and cites government data showing that mortgages are cheaper post-Dodd-Frank than they have been in decades.” The numbers don’t lie,” he concluded. “Jeb Hensarling is pushing a huge regulatory reform based on, um, ‘alternative facts.’”

The American Bankers Association claims the financial reforms “are keeping creditworthy customers from getting loans they need.” The numbers, however, tell a different story. Business loans are at an all-time high, according to data collected by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, and, for better or worse, Americans are borrowing to buy cars like never before. When Americans collectively owed $12.7 trillion in mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit cards in the credit bubble of the fall of 2008, just before the crash, we owed the same $12.7 trillion in 2017.

Financial Sector Giveaways

Hensarling has also blamed Dodd-Frank for putting banks out of business, as have a banking trade groups. “We’ve lost 159 banks in TX since 2010 — these banks simply couldn’t keep up with the regulatory tsunami coming from DC,” the Texas Bankers Association — based in Hensarling’s home state — tweeted in support of the Crapo bill, along with the hashtag #regreform.

There indeed are fewer banks today than in 2010, but that trend predates Dodd-Frank by several decades. Data from the FDIC shows the shrinkage starting around 1983. “Yes, the number of banks has declined,” Levitin wrote last year. “But it’s done so at the exact same steady rate of 316 banks per year that it has done for the last twenty-six years.”

“You listen to what’s being said to justify the Crapo bill and you have to shake your head,” Kelleher said. “They repeatedly make the same claims even when objectively they have been proven false.” Critics like Kelleher are even dubious of the few consumer protections included in the Crapo bill, such as a post-Equifax rule that lets people freeze their credit. These are “tokens,” said Americans for Financial Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group pushing for greater financial reform, tacked on to provide cover to a bill that is mainly about financial sector “giveaways.”

The rare claim made by proponents of the Crapo bill that is backed by the data is a decline in small business loans – down 41 percent since 2008, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yet, again, that trend seems entirely unrelated to Dodd-Frank. Venture capital investment in startups spiked during that same period, doubling from less than $50 billion in the United States in 2010 to more than $125 billion over the past few years. A 2016 survey of small business owners by the New York Fed found that most were optimistic about what they saw as a relatively healthy economy featuring an official unemployment rate at relatively low 4.1 percent. Those struggling to raise money, the Fed found, tended to be small companies with weak credit scores and insufficient credit histories.

“It’s a lack of credit-worthy borrowers that’s the problem,” Kelleher said.

“Is the world going to end if the Crapo bill passes? No,” Kelleher says. “Is it going to very significantly reduce the financial protection rules? Yes. Is it going to increase the likelihood of future crashes and bailouts? Yes. There’s no way around that.”



Israel Plans a New War in Syria – but Not for the Reasons It Claims

March 5, 2018

by Gareth Porter


Israel is beating the drums of war again, this time over Syria. On February 10 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out the most aggressive Israeli use of force in Syria thus far. After having bombed a drone base in retaliation for an alleged incursion by an Iranian drone, Israel retaliated for the shooting down of one of its fighter planes by hitting the main Syrian command-and-control bunker and five Iranian communications facilities.

Israel has been laying the political groundwork for a military escalation in Syria since mid-2017. That’s when Israeli officials began to repeat two interlinked political themes: that Iran must be prevented from establishing permanent bases and implanting its proxy forces in the Syrian Golan Heights, and that Iran is secretly building factories in Syria and Lebanon to provide Hezbollah with missiles capable of precise targeting.

But the evidence suggests that the reasons publicly avowed by Israeli officials are not the real motive behind the escalation of Israel’s air attacks and ground combat presence in Syria.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer has vowed that Israel would not permit Iran or Hezbollah to establish permanent bases anywhere in Syria, but no convincing evidence of any such permanent base has come to light – only an aerial photo of a site that was admitted to be a Syrian army facility with several vehicle storage sheds. However, the Syrian army is definitely planning such bases in Golan. In January, Syrian army forces backed by Hezbollah troops captured a key military post at Beit Jinn near both the Lebanese and Syrian borders in the Northern Golan.

A portion of Golan is currently occupied by Israel, which took it from Syria in 1967. It was annexed by Israel in 1981 and populated with Israeli settlers roughly equal in numbers to its original Syrian population. Israel has expressed the fear that Syria’s recent moves could threaten Israel’s occupation in Golan. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot declared in January that Israel “can’t ignore the fact that Hezbollah, the Shiite militias and Iran perceive themselves on the winning side in Syria, together with Bashar Assad, and share his desire to return to the Golan Heights.”

Israeli officials have expressed a determination to establish de facto Israeli control in what they have called a “buffer zone” or “safe zone” covering much of the Syrian Golan. Israel had already begun laying the groundwork two years ago by arming anti-Assad opposition groups only to see much of their progress reversed by more recent Syrian military advances. The buffer zone objective will certainly require a growing number of Israeli military operations to push back against Syrian and Shiite militias in that area.

Israeli ambitions are not limited to the Syrian Golan. The IDF is determined to penetrate more deeply into Syria in order to limit Iranian and Hezbollah freedom of action there. The long-term military aim, as IDF Chief Eizenkot declared in his January speech, is to “push the Iranians back to Iran.” More concretely, Israeli officials are committed to preventing Iran from establishing a land corridor connecting Tehran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria.

That aim has already led to at least 100 Israeli air strikes against hundreds of targets in Syria since January 2013, including convoys carrying arms to Lebanon, weapons storage sites and Hezbollah targets. Netanyahu told NATO ambassadors in January that Israel would continue to use military action to prevent “the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah from Syrian territory.”

Israeli insists that the IDF must halt the flow of more precise weapons into Hezbollah hands. Israel’s chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, charged last year that Iran has built secret workshops in Lebanon to construct advanced missiles for Hezbollah. Israel now claims, however that Iran has shifted its strategy from building such workshops in Lebanon to building them in Syria, and that the IDF struck two such workshops in Syria in 2018.

But there is no evidence to support the Israeli claim of Iranian weapons factories in Lebanon or Syria. The first report of such factories in Lebanon – allegedly buried 160 feet underground – was supposedly based on an acknowledgment by an unidentified deputy to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. But it was published in a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Jarida, which is known to have frequently carried stories leaked by the Israeli government. An Israeli Defense official claimed to the International Crisis Group last November that Iran was still pursuing such factories in Syria but offered no specifics to substantiate this allegation.

In fact, there was no need for Iran to set up new underground facilities for the manufacture of advanced weapons in Lebanon or Syria, because the Syrian government had been making such weapons for Hezbollah for many years. As Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, former head of Israel Military Intelligence’s research division, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in mid-2010, Hezbollah had already received several hundred Syrian-made M600 missiles at that time. These are clones of the Iranian Fateh-110 missiles with a range of 250 km, a 500-kg warhead and highly accurate guidance system.

In 2014 the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said Hezbollah’s missile capabilities had already improved so much that it could “attack any target in any part of the occupied territories with a high precision and with a very low margin of error.”

Israel is thus planning a long-term war in Syria several years too late to prevent those “game-changing” weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah. It is as if Israel were organizing a big, expensive – and lethal – operation to shut the barn door years after the cows are known to have left the barn.

Furthermore, Israeli officials are refusing to acknowledge that Iran’s objective in building up and improving Hezbollah’s missile force has always been the deterrence of Israeli or US military attack on Iran or an Israeli attack on Hezbollah. Iranian officials began providing thousands of rockets to Hezbollah to bolster its own deterrent capacity when its own missile deterrent force was still in its infancy. At that time, Israel’s antimissile system might well have intercepted any missiles it might fire at Israel, as Ephraim Kam, a specialist on Iran at Israel’s Jaffe Centre for Strategic Studies, observed in December 2004.

Israeli officials have long boasted that they have effectively deterred Hezbollah from a missile attack on Israel. But what is never discussed is the need to deter Israel’s use of military force. The IDF began planning its attack on Hezbollah in detail more than a year before the 2006 campaign. One of Israel’s aims in launching the attack, according to strategic analyst Edward Luttwak, who has deep ties with Israel, was to destroy enough of Hezbollah’s missile force in a lightning offensive to persuade the George W. Bush administration to drop its opposition to an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

Although Israeli officials would never admit it officially, by thwarting Israel and building an increasingly powerful arsenal of missiles, Hezbollah has established a relatively stable peace with Israel for more than a decade. As Seth Cropsey of the pro-Israel Hudson Institute has reluctantly acknowledged, “Hezbollah is the only force that Israel has faced that has extracted an operational and strategic stalemate from the IDF.”

The war that Israel is planning in Syria is at least in part a response to its inability to use force against Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it is not going to alter the fundamental power equation either in Syria or between Israel and Hezbollah.


Trump’s tariff bombshell could ignite full-blown trade war & Russia could be the winner

March 5, 2018


The decision by US President Donald Trump to slap steep import taxes on major trade partners has sparked outcry and vows of retaliation. RT talked to economist Alexandre Kateb to understand how damaging this policy could be.

“It is very unusual to announce unilateral measures like these ones, which do not target a particular country like China, but all trade partners,” said Kateb, who lectures in international economics and finance at Paris Institute for Political Sciences (Sciences Po Paris).

“It comes as no surprise that these important economic partners of the United States voice their concerns and talk of countervailing measures to the measures announced by Donald Trump,” the economist told RT.

Last week, Trump announced that the US will impose a 25-percent tariff on steel imports and a 10-percent tariff on aluminum imports. Canada and the European Union warned immediately that the tariffs would be met with swift countermeasures. China similarly said that it won’t “sit idly” and will take “necessary measures.”

Kateb, who is a strategic adviser for governments, financial institutions and non-financial corporations, said the implementation of these countermeasures will depend on what is unveiled by the Trump administration.

It is hard for Canada and Mexico, which are close partners and allies of the US, to find out that they are targeted by these measures. It goes against the NAFTA agreement and will make it very difficult for the United States going forward to deal with these countries.”

He added that this is also the case for the EU and Brazil, which export important quantities of steel to the US.

According to Kateb, the growing conflict over US-EU trade tariffs could also affect the West’s policy toward Russia. “When there is a growing rift between the United States and the EU regarding sanctions imposed on Russia, this will reinforce the forces inside the EU that push for waiving the sanctions on Russia.”

“France and Germany are at the forefront of a lobbying movement to ease those sanctions, and Trump’s announcement will give them ammunition,” said the economist.

Kateb explained that Trump’s policy “goes against the national interest of the United States and this is the most striking feature. We have an American president who is capable of sacrificing the national interests of his country in favor of some domestic political gains. This is completely insane.”



Netanyahu’s White House visit shrouded in scandal

March 5, 2018

by Kevin Liptak


Washington (CNN) — When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the White House on Monday, it will be under clouds of controversy — both his own and those of his hosts.

Netanyahu and his inner circle are entangled in a series of corruption scandals back home that has put his political future in jeopardy. President Donald Trump and his campaign associates are themselves weathering an investigation into possible collusion with Russia.

Legally and politically, Netanyahu finds himself in a far more precarious position than Trump. But in at least one big way, the uncertainty and strife at the White House could intersect with Netanyahu’s visit: a central US interlocutor on Middle East peace, senior adviser Jared Kushner, has had his access to top-secret information yanked amid a crackdown on interim security clearances.

That decision came at the behest of chief of staff John Kelly, who wants to bring order to the system of accessing classified information at the White House. Multiple aides and people close to Kushner have insisted the downgrade to a “secret” clearance won’t affect his ability to work on Middle East issues. The visit from Netanyahu will be the first high-profile engagement for Kushner since he lost his “top secret” access.

It was already evident he would play a role in the talks with Netanyahu scheduled for Monday. A day before the Israeli leader arrived at the White House, Kushner paid him a visit at Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue, along with other top administration officials.

Kushner has been leading efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. The administration has hinted they are close to revealing a plan. But any accord will be colored by recent actions taken by Trump to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Palestinian negotiators have refused to meet with the US following those pronouncements but that hasn’t stopped the US from moving forward with the plan. The State Department announced recently that the embassy move would formally take effect on May 14, a far speedier timeline than originally expected. Before leaving Israel, Netanyahu left open the possibility of Trump traveling to Jerusalem for the ribbon-cutting.

The logistics and political fallout from the decision was likely to arise during Trump’s midday talks with Netanyahu at the White House. Trump has said previously that Israel would need to make its own concessions in talks with Palestinians if any peace agreement can be reached.

Officials said Iran would also be a major subject of discussion between the two leaders. Trump has worked to alter the Obama-era nuclear agreement, which both he and Netanyahu have derided. European allies, which helped negotiate the accord, have resisted any efforts to alter its terms.Tensions between Israel and Iran have increased in recent months, with the downing of an Israeli warplane by Syria and following the interception of an Iranian drone over Israel. Netanyahu was likely to ask for US assistance in preventing Iran from gaining a stronger foothold in Syria as the civil war there deteriorates.

In coming to Washington, Netanyahu is hoping to escape political turmoil back home. A warm welcome at the White House, and a speech to a receptive audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — AIPAC — conference, could distract momentarily from the graft allegations back home. Netanyahu was questioned “under caution” by police at his home on Friday, making him a suspect in three separate corruption investigations. His wife, Sara, who was simultaneously questioned at a different location, is also a suspect in one of the investigations.

Israeli police say they have enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases, and the attorney general there is deciding whether to file charges, a process that could take months. White House officials have said its unlikely these issues arise during talks with Trump.

In a Facebook video posted shortly after the interrogations concluded on Friday, Netanyahu, speaking for himself and his wife, proclaimed their innocence, saying: “(I am) more certain than even there will be nothing.”

So far, Netanyahu has the support of his coalition partners who have said they will wait for the attorney general’s decision.



























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