TBR News May 9, 2018

May 09 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. May 9, 2018:” In the history of Israeli espionage in and against the United States, the case of Jonathan Pollard was certainly the most heinous. Stanford graduate Pollard, a civilian U.S. naval intelligence analyst, provided Israeli intelligence with an estimated 800,000 pages of highly classified U.S. intelligence information. An FBI report indicates that Pollard stole more secret documents than any other American traitor. Among other things, Pollard stole a 10 volume guide to the means by which the NSA intercepted foreign intelligence messages, a thick computer file of U.S. agent reports from foreign countries that easily pin-pointed the agent and their locale. Pollard also supplied his handlers many highly classified U.S. codes.  The Israelis in turn immediately passed this stolen information to the Soviets, thereby compromising American intelligence (CIA and military) agents in the field – a significant number of whom were captured and killed as a result.

Israel at first denied, and then, faced with overwhelming evidence, admitted, (after he was arrested in 1985, convicted and sentenced to life in prison,) that they were well aware of Pollard’s connections to the Mossad and an Israeli Air Force intelligence unit working out of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

The case created severe strains in American-Israeli relations, and is a source of ongoing rage for many American Jews, who believe that since Pollard was spying for Israel, he had an imperative obligation to do this and that his life sentence was unduly harsh.

Many Jewish groups in the United States, acting in concert with high level Israeli officials have constantly importuned American Presidents to pardon Pollard and permit him to emigrate to Israel where he has been promised a large sum of cash and a seat in the Israeli Knesset.

Pollard also offered top secret U.S. government documents to other countries besides Israel (New York Times, January 16, 1999.)

Any attempt to understand the official U.S. response to any accusations of Israeli espionage in the United States as well as to comprehend the media response must take into account both the smoke screen that states blow over incidents that could jeopardize their strategic alliances, and America’s unique and complex relationship with Israel. The Jewish state is a close if problematic ally with whom the United States enjoys a “special relationship” unlike that maintained with any other nation in the world.

But U.S. and Israeli interests do not always coincide, and spying has always been deemed to cross a line, to represent a fundamental violation of trust. According to intelligence sources, the United States might perhaps secretly tolerate some Israeli spying on U.S. soil if the American government decided that it was in our interest, such as observation and infiltration of pro-Palestine Arab groups legally resident in the United States (although it could never be acknowledged), but certain types of spying will simply not be accepted by the United States, whether the spying is carried out by Israel or anyone else.

If England spied on the United States, as she aggressively did for years, and this was discovered, American officials would, and did, conceal it. In the case of Israel, there are far stronger reasons to hide any unseemly violations of the “special” relationship.

The powerful pro-Israel political constituencies in Congress; pro-Israel lobbies; the Bush administration’s strong support for Israel, and its strategic and political interest in maintaining close ties with the Jewish state as a partner in the “war against terror”; the devastating consequences for U.S.-Israeli relations if it was suspected that Israeli agents might have known about the Sept. 11 attack — all these factors explain why the U.S. government might publicly downplay any public accusation of Israeli espionage against the United States and forcefully conceal any investigation that might be expected to produce results unacceptable to the Israel lobby and the American Jewish community that firmly supports it.”

The pro-Israel lobby is an enormous and very powerful force in American politics; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, is the No. 1 foreign-policy lobby in Washington and the fourth most powerful lobby in Washington, according to Fortune Magazine. Other powerful and influential pro-Israel groups include the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).”


Table of Contents

  • Trump just manufactured a national security crisis for no reason
  • Trump’s Iran nuclear deal exit dangerous for the world
  • Firm tied to Russian oligarch gave Michael Cohen $500,000, says Stormy Daniels’ lawyer
  • Breakingviews – U.S. fires trio of bullets at own foot over Iran
  • This New Tool Helps You Turn Off Facebook’s Surveillance and Reclaim Some Privacy
  • Fresh U.S. Sanctions Not Likely to Strangle Iran’s Oil Market
  • Donald Trump withdraws US from Iran nuclear deal: How the world reacted
  • Hezbollah makes strong showing in Lebanon elections
  • Hezbollah missile arsenal
  • Global warming is melting Antarctic ice from below
  • ‘Fate worse than death’: What are the fears surrounding human re-animation?


Trump just manufactured a national security crisis for no reason

His decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal could place the lives of Americans – and people around the world – in danger. And all for nothing

May 9, 2018

by Michael H Fuchs

The Guardian

Imagine the president of the United States of America sitting in the White House Situation Room with his top national security advisers and deciding that there are not enough threats to US national security. There are not enough wars and humanitarian crises around the world. The United States is bored. Imagine the president deciding to manufacture a new national security crisis that will directly threaten America, its allies and the world.

Sounds like the work of fiction, right? Unfortunately, not. President Trump announced his decision for the United States to violate the diplomatic agreement that is currently preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – and with that decision Trump produced a new, unnecessary crisis.

Let’s quickly go over how we got here. Just a few years ago, Iran was working to get a nuclear weapon, and making progress. After years of a sustained, highly coordinated campaign of sanctions backed by most of the world, the economic pressure forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia got Iran to agree to stop its nuclear weapons program and to never attempt to get a nuclear weapon.

In the almost three years since the deal was signed, not only has the IAEA confirmed that Iran is complying with the deal, but the Trump administration – the very administration now violating the deal – has repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance. The US secretary of defense, James Mattis, said the verification mechanisms in the deal are “robust”, and the head of the IAEA called them the “world’s most robust”.

But forget the facts and the details. Trump wants out. So now what?

The most consequential result could be an eventual war with Iran that engulfs the Middle East. Iran could kick out inspectors and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran could ramp up its support for terrorism and proxy wars. Arab states like Saudi Arabia could try to get their own nuclear weapons and respond to Iranian escalation with more escalation in Syria and Yemen. And all of that could lead to more conflict in the Middle East, including potential wars with Israel and the United States.

That should be worrying enough. But there’s more.

At a time when Trump has already created a rift with allies in Europe over climate change, trade and more, Trump’s violation of the Iran deal doesn’t just put the screws to Iran – it puts the screws to Europe as it faces new potential US sanctions. These are the very allies that the United States needs not only for all manner of global challenges, but also for the new deal with Iran that Trump supposedly wants to pursue. Treating one’s allies as adversaries is not a recipe for success. And sure enough, very quickly after Trump’s announcement, the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France jointly announced their “continuing commitment” to the deal.

Likewise, the numerous other countries that were essential in pressuring Iran into talks for the nuclear deal – China, Russia, India, Japan, among others – seem even less likely to help. Many of them need oil from the region to fuel their economies, and it took years of painstaking diplomacy to get these countries to reduce their economic ties with Iran in the years leading up to the 2015 nuclear agreement. It seems highly unlikely that they would do so again when there is no evidence of Iran violating the agreement.

And if the US goal is now to force Iran to make a “new and lasting deal” – as Trump put it – why would Iran agree to negotiate when it believes the word of the United States is good for nothing?

So where does that leave the United States? Alone, with a self-inflicted wound that will injure others as collateral damage.

The best-case scenario is that Iran remains in the agreement for now (which Rouhani immediately indicated Iran would) as the other parties continue to comply in the face of potential US sanctions, which tanks US relations with allies and partners around the world.

The worst-case scenario is war.

There was – and still remains – a much better path. The United States could continue to ramp up its activities to push back against Iran around the region. It could start working with allies and partners now to develop plans for continuing to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons when parts of the deal expire years from now.

The nuclear deal is not perfect, but it reduces the chances for conflict, and achieves a key goal that the United States, Israel and allies had long sought: stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And yet, in dumping the deal, Trump has offered no alternative to achieve this goal.

It’s not clear that Trump is looking for more violent conflict. But his decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal very well could place the lives of more Americans – and people around the Middle East and beyond – in danger. And all for nothing.


Trump’s Iran nuclear deal exit dangerous for the world

Donald Trump’s Iran nuclear deal withdrawal is his most pernicious foreign policy decision yet and a huge blow for trans-Atlantic ties. It also raises the stakes for another looming nuclear showdown

May 8, 2018

by Michael Knigge


The long-standing, almost visceral hatred many in the Trump White House felt towards the Iran nuclear agreement was probably best summed up on Monday night by former presidential national security aide Sebastian Gorka.

“The Iran deal has to be shot in the head. It is bad for America, it is bad for the world, it is bad for our friends,” Gorka told broadcaster Fox News.

In Tuesday’s bellicose remarks about his decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal, President Donald Trump stopped short of making any comparable reference to physical violence. But he reiterated his long-held conviction that the Iran deal is bad for the US and the world, and that Washington’s allies agree with that assessment.

Iran deal made world safer

The Iran nuclear agreement was certainly not perfect — no compromise ever is. But what was hammered out after more than a decade of tedious international negotiations severely and verifiably constrained Tehran’s nuclear program for the short and medium term.

Iran has so far complied with the terms of the accord, a fact that has repeatedly been confirmed by independent international monitors and US intelligence officials, and is generally accepted worldwide — notwithstanding recent claims to the contrary by Israel’s prime minister, which were referenced by Trump on Tuesday.

Ensuring that Iran can not get a nuclear weapon for more than a decade, as the accord did, is a significant achievement. It has made the region, the world and the US safer.

The deal was reached through often difficult but very close cooperation between the US and Europe, led by the so-called E3 — Germany, France and Britain. It is also important to note that China, Russia and the broader international community backed it as well. What’s more, the nuclear agreement also provided a framework for how to successfully and peacefully curb perceived nuclear weapons ambitions of problematic international actors.

European allies not in agreement

The erroneous assertion that Washington’s allies share the president’s view on the Iran deal is a particularly brash claim to make after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron just recently visited the White House in a last-ditch effort to convince Trump to remain in the agreement. In fact, it is a slap in the face for the Europeans who had advocated honestly and earnestly for this deal. Even in Israel, military leaders have repeatedly expressed their preference for the US remaining in the accord rather than nixing it.

Domestic politics determines foreign policy

Make no mistake, Trump’s move to pull the US out of the Iran deal has little to do with a coherent global strategy that would make the world safer or advance Washington’s and its allies’ interests. It has much to do with raw sentiment and domestic politics.

Trump and many of his followers and aides despise everything his predecessor, Barack Obama, did and have made it their goal to eradicate his legacy. That the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, is on the chopping block should therefore come as little surprise. Especially since Trump replaced former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who favored staying in the deal, with John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who vehemently oppose it.

Trump ran his campaign on the promise to nix what he repeatedly called the worst deal ever. Doing so now will assure he can use it as fodder in his next rallies for the upcoming midterm elections.

New deal — somehow, sometime

What comes next after Trump’s announced exit from the Iran deal remains unclear, since no prepared and credible alternative has been made public, other than the president’s general promise that he will negotiate a better accord — somehow, sometime.

If and until that happens — and that’s a big question because there is little appetite for new negotiations in Europe, Iran or in the international community — Tehran will be de-facto unrestrained from its nuclear shackles, which in turn will only increase volatility in the region.

Raised stakes for North Korea talks

But at least as worrying as Trump’s Iran gamble is the fact that nixing the deal will only increase the already huge pressure for the president’s upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


Firm tied to Russian oligarch gave Michael Cohen $500,000, says Stormy Daniels’ lawyer

Michael Avenatti makes extraordinary allegation that Cohen received cash from company affiliated with billionaire linked to Vladimir Putin

May 8, 2018

by Jon Swaine in New York

The Guardian

Donald Trump’s attorney and legal fixer, Michael Cohen, was paid half a million dollars by a company affiliated with a Russian oligarch closely linked to Vladimir Putin, according to extraordinary allegations published on Tuesday.

The claim was made in a research document drafted and posted online by Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actor known as Stormy Daniels, who alleged she was paid in 2016 in return for agreeing not to disclose that she had sex with Trump.

Cohen was said by Avenatti to have received $500,000 through a US affiliate of the Renova investment group owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire closely associated with Putin who was placed under sanction by the US government last month. The payments were allegedly made between January and August 2017.

An attorney for the Renova affiliate, Columbus Nova, said it hired Cohen as a business consultant and that Vekselberg had no involvement in the payments. Cohen, his attorney, and the Republican National Committee – for which Cohen is a deputy finance chairman – did not respond to requests for comment.

Avenatti’s document said the money was paid to Essential Consultants, the same company Cohen used to pay a $130,000 settlement to buy Clifford’s silence in October 2016. The document said Essential also received funds from other major companies, some of which had business before the federal government.

AT&T, the telecoms corporation, confirmed it had made payments to Cohen’s firm during 2017 for “insights into understanding the new administration”. Novartis, a Swiss-based pharmaceuticals firm, did not dispute that it paid Cohen.

Vekselberg has reportedly been interviewed by investigators working for Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s team during the 2016 election campaign. Vekselberg has not been accused of any wrongdoing. CNN subsequently reported on Tuesday that he was specifically asked by Mueller’s investigators about the alleged payments to Cohen.

The 61-year-old Vekselberg amassed a fortune through his Renova conglomerate, which spans energy, heavy industry and finance, probably making him Russia’s ninth-richest person. He has remained in the Kremlin’s favour and was last year given a state honour by Putin.

Vekselberg was also a guest at a now notorious December 2015 dinner in Moscow celebrating the RT television channel, which was attended by Putin and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Columbus Nova is described on its website as “the US investment vehicle for the Renova Group”. The company’s chief executive, Andrew Intrater, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s presidential inauguration fund in January last year and a further $35,000 to Trump’s re-election fund in June last year.

It was not clear from Avenatti’s document whether these contributions were connected to the new allegations. Intrater did not respond to an email asking whether the allegations were accurate.

An attorney for Columbus Nova, Richard Owens, said in an email that the company was owned by Americans and that Vekselberg had no involvement in the payments to Cohen.

“After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures,” said Owens.

Avenatti asserted that Cohen also collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from corporate clients. AT&T was said to have paid Cohen’s firm $200,000 in four monthly installments from October 2017. Trump’s administration was at the time considering whether to allow an $85bn merger of AT&T and Time Warner, which it has since rejected.

In an emailed statement, AT&T said: “Essential Consultants was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration. They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”

Avenatti said that a subsidiary of Novartis paid Cohen’s company almost $400,000 “in late 2017 and early 2018”. Novartis’s incoming chief executive, Vas Narasimhan, was one of several businesspeople invited to dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 25 January.

A spokesman for Novartis said in an email: “Any agreements with Essential Consultants were entered before our current CEO taking office in February of this year and have expired.”

Avenatti has become one of the most publicly visible foes of Trump and Cohen since being recruited to represent Clifford in the fallout of the payoff and secrecy agreement arranged by Cohen being publicly revealed. Clifford has filed civil lawsuits against Trump and Cohen.

Avenatti told the Guardian last weekend, without offering any new evidence, that he believed Trump would have to resign from the presidency: “I firmly believe there is going to be too much evidence of wrongdoing by him and those around him for him to be able to survive the balance of his term.”


Breakingviews – U.S. fires trio of bullets at own foot over Iran

May 8, 2018

by George Hay


LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) – Donald Trump just unloaded multiple bullets targeted at America’s foot. The U.S. president said on May 8 he was rescinding support for the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and re-imposing tough sanctions on Iran lifted as part of the 2015 deal with France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. It’s a heavy and self-defeating price to pay for sticking to an election pledge.

The premise of the Iran deal – medium-term restrictions on Iran’s capabilities to develop nuclear weaponry in return for the easing of punitive economic sanctions – was generally sound. Lifting so-called secondary sanctions, whereby the U.S. effectively proscribed third parties transacting with Tehran as well as itself, have helped Iranian oil exports to more than double from around 1 million barrels per day and enabled GDP to rise 4 percent in 2017, compared to a contraction in 2015. Detractors claimed it still allowed Iran more leeway to finance unrest in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

It’s not clear yet quite how much of Trump’s rhetoric will be translated into policy. But after the implementation of similarly tough sanctions in 2011, oil production dropped by a third, dragging down foreign investment and GDP too. A severe scenario in which Trump’s tactics forced the EU, China and Russia to stop trading with Tehran could turn GDP growth in 2018 of 4 percent into a 1.2 percent contraction, Oxford Economics estimates – and cost 500,000 Iranian jobs. Moderate president Hassan Rouhani could lose influence to hardliners seeking a tougher nuclear policy.

The European and Asian states that import most Iranian crude could act as a buffer, if they defy Trump and keep buying. Yet Germany, Britain and France, whose Total oil group had already come back to Iran after 2015, would still be peeved with their American allies. Their companies won’t know whether to continue to invest in a country with 80 million people or hold back for fear of getting sanctioned themselves.

Finally, it throws another spanner into the works of a global oil market in which steady demand and reduced spare capacity had already left prices at $75 a barrel. Iranian disruption could push the price higher, though with U.S. oil producers pumping strong, it may not have as much influence as in the past. Saudi Arabia, as a major producer wants pricier oil – but Trump has implied he wants the opposite, and consumers of the fuel around the world will be inclined to agree. For one day’s work, it’s an impressively large mess.


This New Tool Helps You Turn Off Facebook’s Surveillance and Reclaim Some Privacy

May 9, 2018

by David Dayen

The Intercept

Typically, ad campaigns have the goal of getting people to do something. But the one launched today by the activist group Citizens Against Monopoly is instead intended to show how hard something is to do.

The campaign, called I’m Not Your Product, gives Facebook users a step-by-step guide to opting out of as much ad targeting and surveillance as possible. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress that users have “complete control” over advertising data, during two days of testimony related to the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which illicitly obtained information on 87 million Facebook users.

But Citizens Against Monopoly discovered that Facebook makes it difficult to exert that sort of control. The steps for opting out of ad targeting are almost endless: visiting 11 different areas of Facebook’s user preferences section, clearing out three different caches of personal interests, disallowing four different types of ads, and limiting seven different actions on the site to friends only. And even all of that doesn’t completely turn off ads.

“We wanted to create a how-to guide to be helpful, and then as we were working through it, we thought, ‘This is so frustrating,’” said Sarah Miller, director of advocacy for the Open Markets Institute, the umbrella organization for Citizens Against Monopoly. “We think people will have the same experience seeing how intentionally hard this is.”

The likely reason for the friction around opting out is obvious: Facebook thrives off mass data collection, essentially renting people’s private information out to advertisers. The more users that opt out, the less profitable Facebook Inc. becomes — a financial incentive that is at odds with the social network’s self-presentation as a safe, private, customizable space.

Facebook acknowledged after the Cambridge Analytica scandal that its privacy settings were too hard to locate on the site. A spokesperson referred The Intercept to several features which are being updated on a rolling basis. In March, Facebook redesigned privacy settings for mobile, consolidating 20 different pages into one screen, and built a shortcuts menu that is “clearer, more visual, and easy to find.” Last week, Facebook announced a “Clear History” initiative to let users remove activities performed on other websites and apps from their account. That initiative is in the concept stage and has yet to be rolled out.

But Citizens Against Monopoly believes that these steps were more half-measures. In addition to their how-to guide, which will be promoted through display ads across the web, including on Facebook, the website ImNotYourProduct.com includes a petition to Zuckerberg asking him to distill Facebook’s various opt-out steps down to a single click. Since making it easy for users to opt out of ad targeting would be at odds with Facebook’s business model, there’s little expectation that Facebook will comply with this request. The real goal is to display the futility of self-regulation for Facebook’s surveillance machine.

“We want to show that these platforms are operating in bad faith, so we can reform and restructure them to make them safe for democracy,” said Matt Stoller, a fellow with the Open Markets Institute.

Facebook has numerous targeting methods, not only within the site, but across the web, through mobile phones, and from outside data sets pulled from third parties. By building meticulous profiles of users, Facebook can deliver any subset of any group to an advertiser, whether the advertiser is a corporation, a drug pusher, a political movement, or a con artist. The ubiquity and precision of this surveillance operation creates vulnerabilities for anyone who uses Facebook, or even those that don’t but have their data captured elsewhere on the Web.

Non-users are out of luck for opting out of targeting. But even a Facebook user has trouble preventing the site from tracking their every move, because it makes the privacy controls deliberately burdensome to modify.

Citizens Against Monopoly’s how-to guide begins by recommending the installation of the FB Purity browser extension, which gives users additional options to filter and customize Facebook. Then it directs users to Facebook’s ad preferences page. FB Purity allows users to more easily prevent advertisers from targeting based on several types of data: interests, relationship status, employer, job title, and education level. Users can also remove advertisers they interact with, disallow ads based on data from partners and based on social actions (such as liking a page), and prevent ads from being shown elsewhere on the Web based on Facebook activity. Just changing these ad preferences requires nine separate steps, none of which are particularly obvious.

Next, users must navigate to Facebook’s privacy settings, manually restricting who can view past or future posts, who can send friend requests, who can see friends lists, who can see pages followed, and who can search under user-provided email addresses or phone numbers. At this page, users can also restrict outside search engines from linking to their Facebook profile. Finally, there’s a reminder to not use Facebook to log in to other websites, as data gleaned there will be scraped and made available to Facebook.

None of these changes definitively turn off targeted ads; Facebook can still make available to advertisers some data not covered here. And all of the settings rely on Facebook actually honoring the requests to opt out. But the fact that it’s such a time-consuming pain to set up Facebook for minimal surveillance is in many ways the point.

The burden is at odds with the TV advertising campaign Facebook rolled out recently, in reaction to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “That’s going to change. From now on, Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy so we can all get back to what made Facebook good in the first place,” says the narrator in the ad. But the site creates intentional hurdles for users to take the initiative and protect their own data.

“Facebook claims to be really sorry about these bad actors manipulating their platform,” said Sarah Miller. “But Facebook isn’t going to want to make it easier to opt out. That would fundamentally affect their business model.”

The Open Markets Institute has a series of ideas for restructuring Facebook, including unwinding their mergers with Instagram and WhatsApp, spinning off the company’s ad network, and requiring interoperability standards that allow competing social media networks to access their friend networks. The I’m Not Your Product campaign essentially acts as a proof of concept for how Facebook cannot, by definition, reform itself.

Facebook is reportedly test-marketing an ad-free, $1/month subscription-based model. They’ve made no announcement on whether they’ll follow through with that option. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has previously said that fully opting out of targeted ads “would be a paid product.”

But government could also play the role of safeguarding user privacy and forcing Facebook to contemplate models other than mass surveillance. “Facebook is operating in the legal context we’ve given them,” said the Open Markets Institute’s Matt Stoller. “The only way to fix it is to regain democracy.”


Fresh U.S. Sanctions Not Likely to Strangle Iran’s Oil Market

Trump walks away from the nuclear deal, but big Asian buyers are likely to keep snapping up Iranian crude.

May 8, 2018

by  Keith Johnson

Foreign Policy

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and promised fresh U.S. sanctions on Iran’s economy, especially on its oil industry. But it’s unlikely the new measures will lead to a replay of the stranglehold that choked off more than half of Iran’s oil exports after 2012 and forced Tehran to the negotiating table.

The decision, coming after months of failed efforts among the United States and its European allies to find a way to toughen the existing agreement, is the starting gun for U.S. withdrawal from a pact Trump has long described as the “worst deal ever.”

“The Iran deal is defective at its core,” Trump said from the White House, vowing to reinstate the “highest level of economic sanctions” on Iran. The president claimed that Iran was continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, in direct contradiction to international inspectors and the U.S. intelligence community, which has concluded that Tehran is complying with the restrictions in the 2015 accord.

The first type of sanctions liable to be put back in place are limits on Iranian oil exports, first instituted in 2012. If the United States seeks the same kind of restrictions on Iranian oil exports as those under the Obama administration — the main cudgel used to batter the Iranian economy and regime into submission — that could mean a reduction of about 20 percent, or as much as 400,000 to 500,000 barrels a day. That would be worth about $1 billion a month at current prices. (Iran recently ramped up oil exports to 2.7 million barrels a day, but it can reliably export about 2.2 million barrels.)

While oil-related sanctions won’t kick in for six months, the oil market has been nervous about losing part of the output of one of OPEC’s biggest oil exporters. Iran deal jitters pushed up global oil prices above $75 a barrel at the start of the week, the highest since late 2014. After Trump’s announcement, crude oil prices in New York and London fell slightly.

But there are some key differences from 2012 that make it less likely that the United States will be able to repeat the success it had last time it targeted Iran’s oil exports, when it knocked more than 1 million barrels a day out of the market. Most importantly, European and Asian countries that buy Iran’s oil aren’t enthusiastic about joining Washington in putting the squeeze on Tehran, because they see Iran as continuing to comply with the deal.

“If the United States puts sanctions on Iranian oil exports, it won’t be as effective as back in 2012, simply because there is not an agreement between the major powers — the U.S. and the EU — over implementing sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program,” says Sara Vakhshouri, an expert formerly of the Iranian national oil company and now head of SVB Energy International, a consultancy.

At the same time, oil supplies are restricted by OPEC’s decision to cut back output and by Venezuela’s meltdown, while demand for crude is booming. That raises the risk that any constraints on Iran’s exports could further drive up prices and create headwinds for the economy, especially in big oil consumers such as the United States and China, while potentially offering a windfall to big exporters such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

By law, the United States must determine that the global oil market is well supplied before slapping sanctions on Iran’s oil exports — and that might be a tough argument to make with crude prices approaching four-year highs.

“The United States has to certify the availability and affordability of crude oil,” says Kevin Book, head of ClearView Energy Partners, an energy consultancy. “If everything is not fine, it may be harder to proceed with sanctions.”

The most important difference from 2012, when U.S. sanctions more than halved Iran’s exports and cost Tehran billions of dollars in lost revenue, is the lack of international unity. At the time, Asian and European countries that bought Iranian oil were willing to cut back their purchases because they shared U.S. concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. European buy-in was particularly important, with countries like Italy reducing their own purchases and Brussels supporting additional sanctions that drove a stake through Iran’s oil exports to Asia.

“In 2012, we saw a dip in Iranian exports, then a rebound, then we saw a huge drop-off after people came to realize the global effort,” says Jason Bordoff, a former energy advisor in the Obama White House and now the director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “That took months of diplomacy to persuade the Indians and Chinese and others to reduce purchases, and it may be hard to get the same amount of pressure this time.”

Now, Europe — led by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — is scrambling to preserve the deal; British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was urging Trump as recently as Monday to stay in the pact, and French President Emmanuel Macron gave it a try Tuesday.

The European Union foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini, said Tuesday that the EU will continue to abide by the nuclear deal as long as Iran does, and expressed particular concern about fresh economic measures aimed at Iran. “I am particularly worried by the announcement of new sanctions,” she said in a statement. “The European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and to protect its economic investments.”

That reluctance to join with the United States makes additional sanctions, like restrictions on maritime insurance that paralyzed Iran’s tanker fleet, less likely. And the European Union has already talked about using “blocking legislation” to shield European firms from U.S. sanctions on Iran. With that, European companies that buy Iranian crude are reportedly starting to look for alternate suppliers ahead of Trump’s sanctions announcement.

Yet Europe only buys about one-third of Iran’s oil exports; most of the rest goes to Asia. And it’s far from clear that the largest Asian buyers of Iranian oil are prepared to significantly cut back. China and India together buy more than a million barrels of Iranian oil every day, and both are posting record levels of crude oil imports, which means they need as many suppliers as possible.

“India has made it very clear they will keep buying, and China too,” says Book, of ClearView. He says that the most likely result of a return to oil sanctions is a shift in flows of Iranian oil, but not overall volumes, from countries that are risk averse to countries that are more willing to do business with Tehran. “Both could ramp up purchases, which would compensate for any reductions in Europe.”

The other main Asian buyers, South Korea and Japan, have started throttling back their purchases of Iranian oil this year, anticipating a possible return of U.S. sanctions.

Iran, for its part, sounded a defiant note ahead of Trump’s announcement. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country might face a few months of difficulty but would soldier through. Iranian oil officials vowed to keep pumping and exporting oil despite any U.S. sanctions, and they expressed hope that billions in promised foreign investment in the energy sector will materialize this year.

But much of that promised investment never materialized after the end of sanctions, making it even harder politically for defenders of the deal inside Iran to keep supporting the agreement and its restrictions on the country’s nuclear program. With dwindling economic incentives to cooperate, Tehran may just go back to its old nuclear playbook, Bordoff suggests. Rouhani suggested after Trump spoke Tuesday that Iran could start enriching more uranium than before.

“There is a real risk that they drop the deal and go back to pursuing nuclear activities,” unless Europeans are willing and able to moderate that impulse, he says.


Donald Trump withdraws US from Iran nuclear deal: How the world reacted

Germany, France, the UK and the EU called on Iran to stay committed to the accord after Donald Trump said the US would withdraw, while Trump’s Middle Eastern allies praised his decision. DW rounds up the key reactions.

May 9, 2018


US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he intends to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal drew opposing reactions from world leaders.

While some praised the president for turning his back on a “flawed” deal, others argued that Trump’s decision itself undermines the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), concluded in 2015 after years of negotiation, and raises uncertainty not only between the US and Iran but also between transatlantic allies.


Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany, France and the UK would speak with one voice on the Iran accord: “We remain committed to the nuclear deal,” he said in Berlin on Wednesday. “The deal is working. We want to keep the controls and transparency rules in place,” he added.

Maas also called on Iran to act calmly and fulfill the obligations laid out in the deal.

The German minister said that Trump’s decision was “incomprehensible” and had dealt a blow to stability in the Middle East. He also addressed the fears of a fallout for German businesses, promising that the potential effects on companies would be analyzed.

In the aftermath of Trump’s announcement, German business leaders had expressed concern over potential US-imposed sanctions on German companies that have relations with Iran: “The reintroduction of US sanctions would cause enormous insecurity in the German economy,” said Volker Treier, the head of foreign economics at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


French President Emmanuel Macron, who had tried to persuade Trump to remain in the deal, told DW in an interview that Trump’s decision was a “mistake.”

“I regret the decision of the American president,” Macron told DW. “I think it’s a mistake and that’s why we Europeans have decided to remain in the nuclear agreement of 2015.”

The French Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that representatives from France, Germany, and the UK — all signatory nations of the nuclear deal — would meet with Iranian representatives next Monday.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who helps supervise the way Iran and the six world powers implement the deal and settle any disputes, said in a press statement on Tuesday that the deal “is not in the hands of a single country.”

“The European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and to protect its economic investments,” she said. In a message directed at Iran, Mogherini said: “Do not let anyone dismantle this agreement. It is one of the biggest achievements diplomacy has ever delivered, and we have built this together.”

‘Show restraint’

In a joint statement provided by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office, Germany, France and the UK requested the US not obstruct other nations as they attempt to implement the deal and urged Iran to “show restraint” and continue fulfilling its own obligations.

UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday that Britain had done its best to prevent Trump from leaving the deal. He added that the UK would stick to the deal as long as Iran continues to fulfill its terms. The minister added that Britain would never accept a nuclear-armed Iran.


On his official website, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is Iran’s highest religious and state authority, derided Trump’s announcement as “silly and superficial.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron that European signatories have a “limited opportunity” to save the deal’s future.

“Under the current conditions, Europe has a very limited opportunity to preserve the nuclear deal, and must, as quickly as possible, clarify its position and specify and announce its intentions with regard to its obligations,” Rouhani said, according to Iran’s semi-official ISNA.

But Rouhani has threatened to restart Iran’s nuclear program, saying “whenever it is needed, [Iran] will start enriching uranium more than before.”

Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump’s “historic move,” calling the deal a “recipe for disaster, a disaster for our region, a disaster for the peace of the world.”

Israel is a close ally of the United States and Netanyahu has been in favor of scrapping the deal. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two other US allies, also praised Trump’s announcement.

“Iran used economic gains from the lifting of sanctions to continue its activities to destabilise the region, particularly by developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist groups in the region,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the accord “would have led to a regional nuclear race with little trust in Iran’s intentions.”

US politicians divided

In a rare move, former US President Barack Obama, whose administration negotiated the current deal, called Trump’s decision “misguided” in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

“The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working — that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current US Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest — it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said.

“In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”

American congressional leaders were split over Trump’s decision to take the US out of the deal.

Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, said the Iran deal was a “deeply flawed agreement” and that he shared Trump’s commitment that “Iran should never be able to acquire or develop a nuclear weapon.”

Conversely, Senate minority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer, said it appeared the Trump administration had no plan going forward.


Hezbollah makes strong showing in Lebanon elections

Iran consolidates influence as Shia party wins small majority at expense of Sunni prime minister

May 7, 2018

by Martin Chulov in Beirut

The Guardian

Hezbollah has gained political ground in Lebanon and consolidated Iran’s influence on the fragile state’s affairs after winning, along with its allies, a small majority in national elections.

The Shia militia-cum-political bloc’s gains came at the expense of the Sunni prime minister, Saad Hariri, whose authority was weakened by a relatively poor showing in stronghold areas.

Many of Hariri’s traditional supporters appear to have stayed at home on Sunday for the first parliamentary vote in nine years. His patron, Saudi Arabia, cut Hariri adrift in November and remained disengaged in the lead-up to the vote. It offered no immediate reaction to the result.

Hariri’s bloc, the Future Movement, lost one-third of its seats, and he blamed a “scheme” to “eliminate” it from the political process when speaking on Monday.

The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the party’s goals had been achieved by the ballot, which has put it in a strong position for post-election negotiations that apportion ministries and control over state institutions.

Despite pre-poll hopes that a civil society movement could break through into Lebanese politics, only one candidate was thought to have been elected.

A feminist candidate, Joumana Haddad, was contesting the result that saw her narrowly lose out on becoming a second voice in a grassroots movement that had planned to challenge a political class dominated by former civil war figures and their scions.

Hezbollah had been a dominant player in Lebanon before the election and its improved showing now comes at a time of heightened regional tensions between its patron, Iran, and arch foe, Israel, which in reaction to the result claimed there was no distinction between the party and state.

Iran’s influence in Lebanon, through the powerful party, had been a point of growing tension for Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which view Beirut as a pivotal cog of Tehran’s regional projection.

Under a system put in place when the civil war ended in 1990, the country’s three most powerful positions are allocated along sectarian lines: a Maronite Christian holds the presidency, a Shia Muslim is the speaker of the parliament and a Sunni gets the prime ministership.

None of the three positions are expected to change. However, Hariri, and to a lesser extent, the president, Michel Aoun, are likely to emerge weaker from the post-election carve-up of roles. Hezbollah, meanwhile, can afford to be lenient with both rivals while asserting its will on certain issues.

Hezbollah’s gains come as Donald Trump approaches a decision on whether to stay in the nuclear deal struck between his predecessor, Barack Obama, and Iran. He has set a 12 May deadline and the decision, whichever way it goes, is likely to reverberate in Lebanon as well as Syria and Iraq.

Hezbollah is proscribed as a terrorist group by the United States and its hold on Lebanese affairs has been problematic for a succession of US and European leaders.

Lebanon remains deeply indebted to international donors. It has one of the lowest rankings on the global transparency index and one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world.

Its leaders, including those in Hezbollah, have been anxious to avoid the perception that the state is subservient to the party. However, the election results coupled with hardening external views about the economic and political state of Lebanon could pose new variables in a country that can ill afford them.


Hezbollah missile arsenal


Who is Hezbollah:

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim political party and militant group that the United States and European Union consider a terrorist organization. Hezbollah’s objective is to destroy Israel and to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon. Hezbollah has also played a key role in the Syrian conflict by supporting the Assad regime. Hezbollah receives significant support from Iran, and has a growing arsenal that may be unmatched by any non-state actor.

How Hezbollah affects the Region:

Multiple reports have estimated that Hezbollah had more than 100,000 rockets and missiles in 2006, and intelligence suggest that the group has more than 150,000 rockets as of July 2016. The group’s missile arsenal allows it to target any of Israel’s civilian centers, and several have the ability to reach Tel Aviv and deep into the West Bank. This gives Hezbollah the ability to further destabilize an already volatile region.


                                            Hezbollah’s Arsenal


Rocket             Range       Country of Origin

Katyusa series 12-40 KM The Soviet Union

Shahin-1 13 KM Iran

Shahin-2 20 KM Iran

Noor 122 MLRS 18 KM Iran

Fajar-3 45 KM Iran

Fajar-5 75 KM Iran

107 MM Haseb MLRS 8.5 KM China by way of Iran

Nazeat 6-H 100 KM Iran

Nazeat 10-H 140 KM Iran

Missile Range Country of Origin

*M220 TOW 3.8 KM U.S. by way of Iran

AT-14 Kornet 5.5 KM Russia

Fajre-Darya (anti-Ship) 25 KM Iran

Fajre-Darya (anti-Ship) 40 KM Iran

Raad (Anti-ship Cruise Missile) 95 KM Iran’s version of the Soviet 9k11

Noor (Anti-ship cruise Missile) 120 KM Iran’s version of YJ8 (China)

Zelzal-1 125 KM Iran

Zelzal-2 210 KM Iran

Zelzal-3 200 KM Iran

Zelzal-3B 260 KM Iran

*SS-N-26 Yakhont 300 KM Russia

*Scud (Variant uncertain) 180-700 KM Syria by way of North Korea


Global warming is melting Antarctic ice from below

Warming oceans melting Antarctic ice shelves could accelerate sea level rise

May 9, 2018

by John Abraham

The Guardian

We all know intuitively that in a warmer world there will be less ice. And, since the North and South Pole regions contain lots of ice, anyone who wants to see evidence of climate change can look there.

But beyond this simplistic view, things can get pretty complex. First, it’s important to recognize that the Arctic and the Antarctic are very different places. In the Arctic, almost all the ice is floating on water – there is very little land. So, we talk about ‘sea ice’ in the north, formed from frozen sea water. On the other hand, Antarctica is a massive land mass that is covered by ice formed from snowfall (called an ‘ice sheet’). There is some floating ice around the perimeter of the land, but the vast majority of Antarctic ice is on land.

This difference not only affects how these regions response to climate change, but it also impacts their importance. We know that when floating ice melts, the ocean levels will not rise, because the ice was already floating in the water. But, when land ice melts, the liquid water flows into the ocean and causes the water levels to rise. So, at least from a sea-level perspective, land ice is more important than floating ice.

There are other differences between the north and south. One feature of the south is that there is a strong current that travels around Antarctica and partially shields it from waters elsewhere in the ocean. The Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides a good summary of some of the differences between the poles.

With global warming, both of the poles are warming quite quickly, and this warming is causing ice to melt in both regions. When we think of ice melting, we may think of it melting from above, as the ice is heated from the air, from sunlight, or from infrared energy from the atmosphere. But in truth, a lot of the melting comes from below. For instance, in the Antarctic, the ice shelves extend from the land out over the water. The bottom of the ice shelf is exposed to the ocean. If the ocean warms up, it can melt the underside of the shelf and cause it to thin or break off into the ocean.

A new study, recently published in Science Advances, looked at these issues. One of the goals of this study was to better understand whether and how the waters underneath the shelf are changing. They had to deal with the buoyancy of the waters. We know that the saltier and colder water is, the denser it is.

Around Antarctica, water at the ocean surface cools down and becomes saltier. These combined effects make the surface waters sink down to the sea floor. But as ice melt increases, fresh water flows into the ocean and interrupts this buoyancy effect. This “freshening” of the water can slow down or shut down the vertical mixing of the ocean. When this happens, the cold waters at the surface cannot sink. The deeper waters retain their heat and melt the ice from below.

The study incorporated measurements of both temperature and salinity (saltiness) at three locations near the Dalton Iceberg Tongue on the Sabrina Coast in East Antarctica. The measurements covered approximately an entire year and gave direct evidence of seasonal variations to the buoyancy of the waters. The researchers showed that a really important component to water-flow patterns were ‘polynyas.’ These are regions of open water that are surrounded by ice, typically by land ice on one side and sea ice on the other side.

When waters from the polynya are cold and salty, the waters sink downwards and form a cold curtain around the ice shelf. However, when the waters are not salty (because fresh water is flowing into the polynya), this protective curtain is disrupted and warm waters can intrude from outside, leading to more ice melt.

Based on this study, we may see increased ice loss in the future – sort of a feedback loop. That concerns us because it will mean more sea level rise (which is already accelerating), and more damage to coastal communities. I asked the lead author, Alesandro Silvano about this work:

“We found that freshwater from melting ice shelves is already enough to stop formation of cold and salty waters in some locations around Antarctica. This process causes warming and freshening of Antarctic waters. Ocean warming increases melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, causing sea level to rise. Freshening of Antarctic waters weakens the currents that trap heat and carbon dioxide in the ocean, affecting the global climate. In this way local changes in Antarctica can have global implications. Multiple sources of evidence exist now to show that these changes are happening. However, what will happen in Antarctica in the next decades and centuries remains unclear and needs to be understood

This is just another reason to take scientists seriously and act to slow down climate change before it is too late.


‘Fate worse than death’: What are the fears surrounding human re-animation?

May 9, 2018


A Yale experiment which reanimated the brains of slaughtered pigs has prompted speculation that human trials could be next, renewing ethical concerns over the pursuit of immortality.

As the quest for everlasting life appears to be stepping up a notch, and in alarming fashion, what are the key concerns raised by the pursuit?

Disembodied brains

Nottingham Trent University ethics researcher Benjamin Curtis says ending up as a disembodied brain might just be a “living hell.” Writing in The Conversation he suggested that living without any actual contact with reality could be a fate worse than death.

“Some have argued that even with a fully functional body, immortality would be tedious. With absolutely no contact with external reality, it might just be a living hell,” Curtis wrote.

In the Yale University experiments, led by neuroscientist Nenad Sestan, the pigs did not regain consciousness but Sestan acknowledged that restoring awareness is a possibility and that the technique could work on humans, keeping the brain alive indefinitely.

Speaking to RT.com Curtis explained that the brain is highly integrated with the rest of the body in both humans and animals. It is constantly receiving and sending signals from and to it. “We have no idea what experiences would occur within a disembodied brain. But those experiences may well be deeply disturbing,” he said.

But what is a brain without a body to host it? Renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says without a constant “feedback loop” between brain and body, ordinary experiences and thought are simply not possible.

That view was echoed by Dr. Evan Thompson, professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia. Thompson told RT.com that consciousness and mental function require that the brain be functionally integrated with the rest of the body.

In other words, it’s not possible for a disembodied brain to house a normal mind. “The brain and body are in constant electrochemical communication with each other with multiple and dense feedback loops. Take that away, and mental function isn’t likely to be possible,” he said.

Curtis says that even the promise of eternal life is not worth the risk of subjecting a disembodied conscious human brain to “an existence of hellish tedium, or to the mental torture of inescapable madness.”

He said that even if disembodied brains did function more or less as they do now they will still be receiving no input from the outside world whatsoever. “There would be no sights, smells, sounds, or tactile feelings at all. Just an enduring inescapable emptiness,” he said to RT.com.

“I suppose this might be OK for a short while, but for any length of time I doubt any ordinary person would be able to cope.”

“One could perhaps tell oneself stories, or write poems in one’s mind, but with no-one to communicate them to, I imagine this would be cold comfort. In eternity, one would most likely end up repeating the same kinds of thoughts over and over to oneself, a body-less Sisyphus with no way to bring an end to the futility and meaningless of your situation.”

Mind uploading

The quest for immortality doesn’t end with a ‘brain in a jar,’ however, and for some the ultimate goal of preserving their brain would be a shot at eternal life.

In March, new startup Nectome revealed it is trying to develop technology that would preserve the brain while keeping all memories in tact and then upload these to a server so a person can experience eternal digital life. The team has already managed to fully preserve a rabbit and pig brain.

Head transplants

Meanwhile, Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero is still determined to carry out the world’s first human head transplant. At the end of last year he claimed he completed the world’s first such operation between two corpses.

A 30-year-old Russian man who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease put himself forward as a volunteer for the transplant in 2015, prompting ethical concerns from the wider scientific community.

“I would not wish this on anyone,”said Dr. Hunt Batjer, former president of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”

In their paper‘Operation Frankenstein: Ethical reflections of human head transplantation,’ Joshua Cuoco and John R. Davy from the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine argued the procedure could cause substantial psychological difficulty and result in a dramatic alteration of a person’s personality and memories.

“The procedure of human head transplantation dangerously presupposes that transplanting an individual’s head will also transplant an individual’s mind including consciousness, personality, and memories.”

“On the contrary, cognitive sciences have suggested that human cognition does not solely originate within the brain parenchyma; rather, humans exhibit an embodied cognition where our body participates in the formation of self,” the scientists warned.

Let’s talk ethics

Neuroscientists at the fore of this experimental research are calling for discussion around the ethics of their work but argued that these difficult questions should not halt their progress.

In an essay published in Nature, a group of researchers, including Sestan, noted advancements in the field mean tough conversations need to take place: “As brain surrogates become larger and more sophisticated, the possibility of them having capabilities akin to human sentience might become less remote.”

For many on social media the prospect of this Black Mirror-esque concept becoming a reality has left them more than a little unsettled.




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