TBR News October 2, 2017

Oct 02 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 2, 2017: “We will be out of office until October 4.”


Table of Contents

  • At least 50 dead, more than 400 hurt in Las Vegas concert attack
  • Stephen Paddock: Vegas suspect a gambler and ex-accountant
  • Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter
  • Catalonia: What’s Next?
  • Spain and Catalonia — ‘Out with them all!’
  • Puigdemont urges Spain to withdraw police from Catalonia
  • Spain would lose a fifth of economy if Catalonia breaks away
  • US spies in Cuba were among first victims of mysterious sonic ‘attacks’
  • Nord Stream 2 will increase Russia’s influence over its neighbours and divide the European Union.
  • Death of gas and diesel begins as GM announces plans for ‘all-electric future’
  • Key employment dispute leaves Supreme Court divided
  • The German war with Russia: Some background
  • Erdogan: Turkey no longer needs EU membership but will not abandon talks




From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 70

October 2, 2017


The U.S. Constitution does not mention immigration. But the Supreme Court has held that Congress has essentially complete (“plenary”) power to regulate immigration and that the executive branch has broad authority to enforce laws concerning alien entry to the US. In fact, as a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains, Congress can make laws concerning aliens that would be unconstitutional if applied to citizens.

Against this background, the Court’s temporary restriction of the Trump Administration’s power to exclude nonresident aliens abroad is “remarkable when compared with the Court’s earlier [consistently permissive] immigration jurisprudence,” CRS said.

The legal landscape upon which current immigration controversies are unfolding was described last week in Overview of the Federal Government’s Power to Exclude Aliens, September 27, 2017.

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

Privatization and the Constitution: Selected Legal Issues, September 25, 2017

Congress’s Power Over Courts: Jurisdiction Stripping and the Rule of Klein, September 26, 2017

Corporate Tax Reform: Issues for Congress, updated September 22, 2017

Potential Impacts of Uncertainty Regarding Affordable Care Act (ACA) Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments, CRS Insight, September 25, 2017

Federal Financing for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), updated September 29, 2017

Hurricanes Irma and Maria: Impact on Caribbean Countries and Foreign Territories, CRS Insight, September 28, 2017

National Flood Insurance Program Borrowing Authority, CRS Insight, September 22, 2017

The National Health Service Corps, September 27, 2017

Amtrak: Overview, September 28, 2017

Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) Mobility, Reconnaissance, and Firepower Programs, September 26, 2017

Navy Frigate (FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, September 28, 2017

Recent Developments in U.S. Aid to Egypt, CRS Insight, September 29, 2017


At least 50 dead, more than 400 hurt in Las Vegas concert attack

October 2, 2017

by Devika Krishna Kumar


LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – At least 50 people were killed and more than 400 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, raining down bullets from the 32nd floor of a hotel for several minutes before shooting himself dead, according to police.

The death toll, which police emphasized was preliminary, would make the attack the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, eclipsing last year’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando night club.

Some 22,000 people were in the crowd when the man opened fire, sending panicked people fleeing the scene, in some cases trampling one another, as law enforcement officers scrambled to locate and kill the gunman. Shocked concert goers, some with blood on their clothes, wandered the streets after the attack.

At least 406 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police said.

Police identified the gunman as area resident Stephen Paddock, 64, and said they had no information yet about his motive. Paddock shot himself before police entered the hotel room he was firing from, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

Earlier reports indicated that Paddock, who had more than 10 rifles in his hotel room, had been shot by police.

Paddock was not believed to be connected to any militant group, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

“We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said. “We’ve located numerous firearms within the room that he occupied.”

Authorities had earlier regarded Paddock’s roommate as a person of interest, but later on Monday said they no longer regarded her as related to the case, CNN and Fox News reported, citing police sources.

The dead included one off-duty police officer, Lombardo said. Two on-duty officers were injured, including one who was in stable condition after surgery and one who sustained minor injuries, Lombardo said. Police warned the death toll may rise.


Stephen Paddock: Vegas suspect a gambler and ex-accountant

October 2, 2017

BBC News

Alleged Las Vegas concert gunman Stephen Paddock was a former accountant who appeared to be living a quiet retirement in a desert community.

The 64-year-old, of Mesquite, Nevada, had a pilot’s and hunting licence and no criminal record, said authorities.

One former neighbour said the suspect was a professional gambler and “weird”.

There was reason to believe Paddock had a history of psychological problems, a US official told Reuters news agency.

It is the deadliest shooting in modern US history, with the toll surpassing the 49 killed at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.Paddock opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino on Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and wounding more than 500 others, before turning the gun on himself as police closed in, said officials.

Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said investigators found “in excess of 10 rifles” in the 32nd-floor hotel room that Paddock checked into on 28 September.

The FBI said its agents had established no connection between Paddock and any overseas terrorist group, despite a claim from so-called Islamic State.

The suspect’s brother, Eric Paddock, told reporters their father was a bank robber who used to be on the FBI’s most wanted list and once escaped from prison

According to a 1969 poster issued by law enforcement for the fugitive, Patrick Benjamin Paddock was “diagnosed as psychopathic”.

Eric Paddock told reporters outside his Orlando home that the family were stunned by his brother’s alleged involvement in the Las Vegas massacre.

“There’s absolutely no sense, no reason he did this,” he said.

“He’s just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Taco Bell.”

He told reporters his brother was “not an avid gun guy at all” and had no military background. He assumed he must have just “snapped”.

According to NBC News, Stephen Paddock recently made several gambling transactions in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The network, citing law enforcement officials, said it was unclear whether those bets were wins or losses.

The suspect’s other brother, Bruce Paddock, told NBC his brother had made money through apartment buildings, which he owned and managed with his mother, who lives in Florida.

Defence contractor Lockheed Martin said Paddock once worked for one of its predecessor companies three decades ago

Las Vegas police said Paddock’s only previous known brush with the law was a routine traffic violation.

Investigators have searched the suspected gunman’s two-storey house, which is part of a retirement community about an hour from Las Vegas.

A Mesquite police spokesman said it was a “nice, clean home, nothing out of the ordinary”.

He said he believed some weapons and ammunition were found inside.

Paddock moved there in June 2016 from Reno, Nevada, property records indicate.

He lived in the property in Babbling Brook Court with his girlfriend Marilou Danley, 62, records show.

Authorities had earlier appealed for help in finding Ms Danley, but she was traced outside of the US.

Investigators later said she had been interviewed, and was “no longer being sought out as a person of interest”.

She was not with Paddock when he checked into the Mandalay, police said.

They said the gunman had been “utilising some of her identification”.

According to US media, the suspect had a licence to fly small planes and owned two aircraft.

Paddock’s former neighbour, Diane McKay, 79, told the Washington Post the suspect and his girlfriend always kept the blinds closed at home.

He was weird,” she said. “Kept to himself. It was like living next to nothing.

“You can at least be grumpy, something. He was just nothing, quiet.”

In 2012, Paddock filed a negligence lawsuit against The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas, after a fall caused by an “obstruction” on the floor, according to his brother.

The legal action was dropped by both parties in 2014.


Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter

The spread of rightwing blogs, claiming the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal, on to mainstream platforms is the latest example of hyper-partisan trolling after a tragedy

October 2, 2017

by Sam Levin in San Francisco

The Guardian

Facebook and Google promoted false news stories claiming that the shooter who killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas was a Democrat who opposed Donald Trump. The misidentification spread rapidly from dark corners of the internet to mainstream platforms just hours after hundreds were injured at a festival near the Mandalay Bay casino, the latest example of fake news polluting social media amid a breaking news story.

The flow of misinformation on Monday illustrated a particularly grim trend that has increasingly dominated viral online propaganda during US mass shootings – hyper-partisan trolls battling to blame the tragedy on opposing political ideologies.

Police have identified Stephen Paddock as the suspect who opened fire from a high-rise hotel room, killing at least 58 and injuring more than 500 people. But before authorities named the 64-year-old Nevada man, some on the far right falsely identified the man behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history as Geary Danley. It’s unclear where exactly the hoax originated, but rightwing users aggressively promoted his name, seizing on evidence that he was a liberal.

On 4chan, the anonymous message board and a favorite platform of the “alt-right”, some noted that Danley was a registered Democrat. Soon after, Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-laden blog that earned White House credentials under Trump, published an evidence-free story headlined, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army”. The piece was based on a review of Facebook “likes”.

Despite the fact that the claims were unproven and coming from non-credible sources, Facebook’s “Safety Check” page, which is supposed to help people connect with loved ones during the crisis, ended up briefly promoting a story that said the shooter had “Trump-hating” views, along with links to a number of other hoaxes and scams, according to screenshots. At the same time, Google users who searched Geary Danley’s name were at one point directed to the 4chan thread filled with false claims.

The rightwing users’ successful manipulation of social media algorithms to politicize a tragedy speaks to a relatively new pattern of online abuse. While users of Twitter and Reddit memorably misidentified the suspect behind the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, fake news during global tragedies and terrorist attacks over the last year has increasingly gone beyond careless reporting and retweeting to overt exploitation and targeted disinformation campaigns.

“It’s getting more polarized. There’s this mad scramble to paint the guy as a Democrat or a Republican, so they can cheer,” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of fact-checking website Snopes.com, said in an interview. “A lot of this is pushed by trolls deliberately to muddy the conversation.”

False content can quickly move from social media to legitimate news sources, she added: “People are putting out crap information on purpose … It’s really easy to get shit into the news cycle by being on Twitter.”

While authorities have struggled to identify the possible motives of Paddock, the suspect who police believe killed himself, some far-right users and conspiracy theorists have, without any proof, attempted to link him to anti-fascist groups and the leftist Antifa movement. Infowars, the hyper-partisan site known for propaganda, claimed on Monday that Paddock was found with “antifa literature”. At the same time, a sham Facebook page pretending to be Antifa claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the goal of the shooter was to murder “Trump supporting fascist dogs”.

A YouTube user also pushed an unsubstantiated rumor that the suspect was a Hillary Clinton supporter.

On the flipside, some conservatives on Twitter have theorized that leftwing social media users have attempted to falsely paint Paddock as a rightwing individual. Some have speculated that liberals are posing as white nationalists and Trump supporters and following a Twitter account that has the same name as the suspect, in hopes of proving he is a conservative.

In reality, the suspect had no known “affiliations” that could explain the massacre, according to one of his brothers, who spoke out on Monday.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have faced repeated accusations that they allow propaganda to spread on their sites and reach large audiences, and in the wake of embarrassing stories of promoting fake news and offensive content, the tech corporations have typically blamed their algorithms and offered vague pledges of improvement.

The Mandalay Bay shooting was no exception. Google said in a statement: “Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Facebook attempted to downplay its role in promoting false stories, saying in a statement: “Our Global Security Operations Center spotted these posts this morning and we have removed them. However, their removal was delayed, allowing them to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”

Binkowski noted that the online debates about possible political affiliations of the suspect distract from meaningful policy discussions about gun control.

“People would rather debate whether the mass shooter is a Republican or Democrat … than address structural issues,” she said.

Beyond the politically charged fake news, a wide range of hoaxes and irresponsible reporting clouded social media on Monday. A number of viral tweets posted fake accounts of missing victims, according to BuzzFeed.

Some celebrities were also quick to spread unverified claims before police had offered any official confirmation of the basic facts of the shooting. Sia, a pop singer and songwriter with 3.2 million followers on Twitter, posted that 20 people were dead before police had released details on the number of casualties, adding, “take cover there are multiple shooters on the loose”.

Police have said there were no other suspects.


Catalonia: What’s Next?

Spain’s repression has failed

October 1, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


As the Spanish government reveals the true nature of its “democratic” pretensions, injuring hundreds in an effort to stop Catalans from voting, one thing is clear: Catalonia is no longer Spanish. In the very effort to prevent the referendum Madrid has handed the victory to the separatists: this is what the sight of Spanish police clubbing people at the polls means. While previous polls showed that the advocates of Catalan independence were neck-and-neck with those opposed, there is every reason to believe that now the overwhelming majority are for secession. The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has lost whatever legitimacy it once had.

Indeed, if I was looking for a way to ensure that the independence movement would triumph, then this kind of crackdown fits the bill. The world has come a long way since 1933 – and that’s why calling in the Guardia Civil is having the exact opposite of its intended result.

As I write the number of injured is rising by the minute: it’s almost to 800 now, and will doubtless climb. Using rubber bullets, the Guardia Civil, Spain’s police force, has fired on its own people, injuring scores: yet more injuries were inflicted by beatings, with police using truncheons indiscriminately on young and old alike, attacking firefighters, old ladies, journalists, and anyone who got in their way.

And yet the ostensible goal of their actions – stopping the referendum – was not achieved. Seventy-three percent of the polling stations remained open and functioning, despite the efforts of the Guardia Civil – underscoring the blind arrogance of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he stupidly claims that “no referendum was held in Catalonia.” Spain’s actions, he said, are “an example to the world.”

What is that guy smoking?

Outside of the fantasy world of Señor Rajoy, the Catalan referendum has indeed been held, and the results are not in doubt: the question is, what will the Catalan government do now? And what will be Madrid’s response?

The spectacle of violent repression unleashed against peaceful protesters has provoked widespread outrage throughout Europe. Despite the coolness with which the EU bureaucracy views the Catalan government, it is doubtful that the European Parliament will stand idly by while this goes on, and there is probably considerable pressure being brought to bear on the Spanish authorities by the EU bloc to hold back. Yet it looks to me like Madrid, after going this far, is going to double down and go much further – with catastrophic results.

While the United States and Britain can be counted on to back Madrid unconditionally, the rest of the civilized world is not such an easy mark. If and when the Catalans declare their independence, it will only take one or two countries in Europe recognizing them to embarrass Madrid and imperil Rajoy’s minority government.

In the Catalonian events there is a lesson to be learned and it is this: government is brute force. It isn’t “the rule of law,” it isn’t the People’s Will, it isn’t “democracy” or some such floating abstraction: government is coercion, pure and simple. And when the will of a government is defied, what happens is what we saw today [Sunday] in Catalonia. The only question now is: will the Spanish state use enough force to keep the Catalans under their thumb? Madrid could unleash the army: Rajoy could send tanks into the streets of Barcelonia. The Guardia Civil could use real bullets instead of rubber bullets.

If not, then they will discover that there are no halfway measures in the struggle for power. If not, then they will ultimately lose – and this is what the Catalans are counting on, the unwillingness of the Spanish central authorities to isolate themselves from the rest of the civilized world. It is, in my view, a fairly safe assumption – although, you never know.

At a time when supra-national bureaucracies and globalist initiatives are being foisted on ordinary people, the Catalan people are rising up and taking their destiny into their own hands. While the elites are pushing an agenda of centralization, and concentrated power, the worldwide trend is actually going in the opposite direction, toward decentralization and self-determination. Repression won’t stop it: bullets won’t end it. Indeed, as the Spanish authorities are discovering to their dismay, sending in the troops is far more likely to backfire than to quell the rebellion.

Yet Madrid is locked in to its untenable strategy. Since neither side can afford to back down, from here on out the Catalan crisis can only escalate. I fully expect the Catalans to declare their independence, in which case Madrid will respond just as it responded to the referendum: with force. There are thousands of Spanish police on ships in Barcelona’s harbor who have yet to be deployed: they’re being held back for some reason. What this means is that an attempt will be made to arrest Catalan government officials, including President Carles Puigdemont. The violence we saw on the streets of Catalonia on Sunday may be only the beginning.



Spain and Catalonia — ‘Out with them all!’

The images of violence from Catalonia’s referendum are shocking. If politicians in Madrid and Barcelona keep stubbornly catering to their clientele, the next catastrophe will soon follow

October 2, 2017

by Gemma Casadevall


Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has the pictures he needs to strengthen the independence movement: Senior citizens being dragged out of polling stations by the authorities, overpowering police forces taking action against unarmed, unmasked citizens, and ballot boxes torn out of the hands of people who want to take advantage of their “right to decide.”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had repeatedly insisted that the Supreme Court had declared the referendum invalid, and so it could not take place. He got the backing of his most important European allies for his pledge to “defend the rule of law.” It could be that the dire images from Catalonia, which are hardly consistent with a European democracy, transform this support into horror and rejection.

Mutual blame

As expected, the two sides are blaming each other for the violence. According to the Spanish judiciary, this referendum was illegal. The supporters of Catalonian independence decided nevertheless to hold the referendum, although it clearly wasn’t going to uphold international standards, such as the existence of a recognized election authority and a verifiable electoral register. A deeply divided society was called on to cast a vote in a manner never imagined possible in Spain

Puigdemont’s team reacted to the police confiscating millions of ballot papers with creativity, a marked presence in social media and by speedily mirroring websites blocked by Madrid. Catalonia reacted to the deployment of tens of thousands of members of the Guardia Civil and national police, who were sent to stop the vote, with the night-time occupation of schools — even by parents and children — to ensure that the polling places could open their doors on Sunday.

Indescribable images from Barcelona

That’s how October 1 began. The vote started with a WhatsApp message from Catalans wishing each other well on the “festival of democracy.” The first images of the police operations destroyed the illusion.

And they also destroyed the belief held by some that they belonged to a silent majority that could keep itself out of the conflict. Many Spaniards and many Catalans view the occurrences as a confrontation between two nationalisms, the Spanish and the Catalan, which they want nothing to do with. Many others had wished for an amicable and binding referendum with a clear message and a clear result. Then these people watched on television as teenagers, who could have been their sons or nephews, were kicked to the ground by police, as older women, who could be their mothers, were dragged out of poling stations. These people weren’t rioters in hoodies, but rather people who wanted to express their opinions in a referendum, even if it was illegal, unsystematic and non-binding.

Pointless to ignore anymore

How could this situation have come about? That’s the question many are asking in view of scenes no one could have imagined from a democracy — which Spain undoubtedly is. There will be no reliable outcome to this referendum. We don’t know how the people would have voted, had the referendum been legal and amicable. One thing alone seems apparent: To ignore the force of Catalonian aspirations for independence would be like wanting to cover up the sun with one’s finger.

The art of successful politics is to find a path where things appear to be hopelessly blocked. Puigdemont and Rajoy have both satisfied their respective supporters. If either of them see Sunday as providing legitimation for their previous policies, the next political catastrophe will soon follow. A mobilization of the masses — not only in Catalonia — could borrow its slogan from the 2001 Argentine protest marches against the entire political class: “Out with them all!”


Puigdemont urges Spain to withdraw police from Catalonia

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont says his cabinet will create a commission to investigate claims of police violence during Sunday’s independence referendum. He has ordered Spanish police out of the semiautonomous region.

October 2, 2017


A day after federal police attacked voters during Catalonia’s independence referendum, regional leader Carles Puigdemont called for international mediation. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had ordered thousands of police to the region to prevent Sunday’s referendum on secession, and the world watched as armored officers attacked voters with batons, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

“It’s the biggest day of gratuitous violence that we’ve experienced in the past 40 years,” Puigdemont told reporters after meeting with his cabinet, referring to Spain’s democratic era, which followed the four-decade dictatorship of Generalisimo Francisco Franco, who harshly repressed Catalans. “Not only can it not happen again, but it can’t remain unpunished.”

Catalonia’s government reports that 90 percent of voters backed independence in the referendum, in which 42 percent of those eligible cast ballots despite efforts to stop them. For the most part, those opposing independence did not see the ballot as legal and did not vote. Rajoy threatened to have Puigdemont arrested for allowing the referendum to proceed.

Puigdemont said he’d had no contact with Spain’s central government and called on Rajoy to accept his proposal for EU-mediated talks about Catalonia’s future. “There must be the presence of a third party, which must be international to be efficient,” he said.

‘Very disturbed’

Backed by Spain’s Constitutional Court, the government maintains that Sunday’s ballot was invalid, which provided the grounds for Rajoy’s ordering police to stop the referendum. Officers faced millions of defiant voters.

The cabinet will “demand the withdrawal of all police units deployed in Catalonia,” Puigdemont said. He announced a committee of inquiry on police brutality, saying that officers had injured 893 people.

Several EU leaders expressed concern about the violence on Monday, and the UN’s human rights chief called on Spain’s government to ensure “thorough, independent and impartial investigations” into acts of police brutality during the referendum. Zeid Raad al-Hussein said images of Sunday’s assaults had left him “very disturbed.” He added that police efforts must “at all times be proportionate and necessary.”

Puigdemont also confirmed a pro-independence strike for Tuesday and said Rajoy had “no other option” but to apply the result of the referendum. As he spoke to reporters, Catalans took to the streets of central Barcelona in droves to protest the police violence, shutting down traffic and shouting: “The streets will always be ours,” a phrase that has become the slogan of the self-determination movement.


Spain would lose a fifth of economy if Catalonia breaks away

October 2, 2017


On Sunday Catalonia voted to secede from Spain and become independent. If this happens, it will have considerable economic impact on the country and region. Which is why Madrid will do everything in its power, including the use of force, to maintain control.

Catalonia is Spain’s most productive region and generates about 20 percent of the country’s GDP and roughly a third of its exports. The region contributes 21 percent of the country’s total taxes, which is reportedly more than it gets back from Madrid.

Catalans, who support independence, believe the region could turn its budget into a surplus after stopping transfers to the federal government.

Moreover, Catalonia attracts a record amount of investment, as nearly a third of all foreign corporations and production facilities represented in Spain are based in Barcelona or its outskirts.

However, it’s not all good news for Catalonia.

Brussels has warned the Catalonian government that if the region becomes independent, it won’t be granted EU membership. That’s because all the current members of the bloc, including Spain, would have to support the move.

“We currently see no practical way for Catalonia to become an independent country within the EU, as most supporters of independence want,” economists at Berenberg Bank wrote in a research note, seen by CNN Money.

That means that the region may enjoy the privileges of free trade inside the EU only if it is part of the bloc, or as part of Spain.

Otherwise, the cost of exporting goods from Catalonia, mainly fruit, and vegetables, to EU members and other countries would significantly rise.

It would join the small list of countries that are not World Trade Organization members, meaning it would face significant trade barriers,” said Stephen Brown, an analyst at Capital Economics, as quoted by the media.

Unprofitable exports may lead to shutdowns and rising unemployment with the GDP of a new state shrinking by up to 30 percent. Moreover, the region will have to pay off a fifth of Spain’s sovereign debt, which reportedly amounts nearly €200 billion.

“As with Brexit, we believe that any Catalexit would plunge the region into a long period of uncertainty and would most probably be negative for the private sector,” said ING economist Geoffrey Minne.



US spies in Cuba were among first victims of mysterious sonic ‘attacks’

The incidents, which have caused hearing loss and brain injury, began within days of Donald Trump’s election but the motives and culprits remain obscure

October 2, 2017


US intelligence operatives in Cuba were among the first and most severely affected victims of a string of baffling sonic attacks which has prompted Washington to pull out more than half of its diplomatic staff from Havana, the Associated Press has learned.

It was not until US spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.

The attacks started within days of President Donald Trump’s surprise election win in November, but the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The US has called the situation “ongoing”.

To date, the Trump administration has largely described the 21 victims as US embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community”. That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting US-Cuban relations.

Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the US embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.

The state department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.

The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the US government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half century.

But the US soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.

Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several US officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.

Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.

In many of the more recent cases, victims did not hear noises and were not aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.

Though the state department has called all the cases “medically confirmed”, several US officials said it was unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it is possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.

Almost nothing about what has transpired in Havana is perfectly clear. But this is Cuba.

For decades, Washington and Havana pushed their rivalry to unprecedented levels of covert action. The former enemies tracked each other’s personnel, turned each other’s agents and, in the case of the CIA, even mounted a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion.

There were hopes, though, that the two countries were starting to put that bitter history behind them after renewing diplomatic relations in 2015. When the attacks first occurred, the US and Cuban governments were hard at work on clinching new commercial and immigration agreements. No new spat among intelligence services was publicly known.

Eleven months on, the US cannot guarantee the threat is over. Last week, the state department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The US had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.

For those staying and new arrivals, the US has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. They’re also learning steps to take if an attack occurs that could mitigate the risk, officials said.

But the US has not identified whatever device is responsible for the harm. FBI sweeps have turned up nothing.

To better identify patterns, investigators have created a map detailing specific areas of Cuba’s capital where attacks have occurred, several individuals familiar with the matter said. Three “zones”, or geographic clusters of attacks, cover the homes where US diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.

Since first disclosing the situation in August, the United States had generally avoided the word “attacks”. It called them “incidents” instead until last Friday. Now, the state department deems them “specific attacks” targeting Americans posted in Havana, without saying what new information, if any, prompted the newfound confidence they were indeed deliberate.

The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the US and Cuba. If that is the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.

Last week’s embassy drawdown added to the growing friction between the countries. And an accompanying new travel warning deemed Havana’s hotels unsafe for visitors, threatening to drive down tourism, a backbone of Cuba’s economy.

Cuba has vehemently denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. Some in the US government believe the Cubans may be telling the truth, officials said.

Comment: In all probability, what is called an “audio-oscillator” is the culprit here. This consists of sound projected silently and is a device easily and relatively cheaply to construct. The right sound wave can cause audio assaults, acute depression, involuntary bowel movements and other problems. This was used against the Swiss embassy in Washington a number of years ago.  


Nord Stream 2 will increase Russia’s influence over its neighbours and divide the European Union.

But US sanctions against the pipeline will do more harm than good.

by Rem Korteweg

Clingendael Institute

On Tuesday (25 July), the US House of Representatives passed a sanctions bill which will tighten existing sanctions against Russian companies and individuals, make it more difficult for the White House to lift them, and give US president Donald Trump the authority to enact new sanctions, including on Russian energy projects. Later this week, the bill is expected to pass the Senate and await Trump’s ratification.

The bill states that Russia is using energy exports to coerce its neighbours. It takes specific aim at Nord Stream 2, a planned pipeline that would cross the Baltic Sea and deliver natural gas from Russia directly to Germany. According to the bill’s authors the Gazprom-led project has “detrimental impacts on the EU’s energy security”.

Nord Stream 2 is a highly questionable project. Russian gas reaches Europe through a number of transit routes, primarily through Ukraine, Belarus and Germany. Gazprom says that Europe needs more pipeline imports because domestic European production is declining. But Nord Stream 2 would hardly unlock new Russian gas resources; instead it offers an alternative route for existing gas. Gazprom seems to see this as its primary benefit. The company has said it wants to stop gas supplies through Ukraine by 2019, as it questions Ukraine’s reliability as a transit country.

But the subsequent loss of transit fees would weaken Ukraine’s economy, decrease the beleaguered country’s energy security, and so undermine the EU’s policy towards Kiev. It also raises questions about EU energy security as nearly 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe would flow directly to Germany through a single set of pipelines. The pipeline would also increase Russia’s sway over Central European gas supplies. Even the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, has written a letter criticising the project.

Germany, Austria and others remain adamant that the pipeline is a commercial, not a geopolitical, project. Complicating Europe’s stance on Nord Stream 2 is that a number of large Western European energy companies stand to benefit from the pipeline, while several Central European countries that collect transit fees from existing routes through Ukraine would lose out.

While the EU dithers, the United States is charging ahead, calling a spade a spade. But the European Commission has reacted furiously to the US bill, blaming the United States, amongst other things, for interfering in its internal energy market.

The Commission is right to complain. While Russia does not shy away from extracting political benefits from its energy exports, the Commission challenges Gazprom on legal and regulatory grounds, not political ones. By enforcing its ‘Third Energy Package’, the Commission has had some success in conditioning Gazprom to behave like a normal market player, though more could be done. So far, the Commission’s energy security policy has been based on market regulation, liberalisation and diversification, not on politicising supplies. But US sanctions would do precisely that. It would drag Nord Stream 2 into the geopolitical bear pit, an arena where the legally-minded Commission has a lot less clout.

There are also concerns about a hidden agenda in Washington. Donald Trump wants to adjust America’s large trade deficit with the EU. Rather than raise trade barriers, Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, and others in the administration, have suggested that Europe could correct the transatlantic trade balance by buying more US liquid natural gas (LNG). According to the International Energy Agency , within the next five years the United States will be among the three largest exporters of liquid natural gas.

So far, US LNG exports to the EU have struggled to build market share due to cheaper Russian gas and infrastructure bottlenecks in Europe. Since February 2016, roughly 1 bcm (billion cubic metres) of US natural gas has reached Europe, roughly equivalent to a measly 2% of Nord Stream 2’s planned capacity.  By slapping sanctions on Russian gas projects, or threatening to do so, US LNG could become more attractive. US gas supplies would surely be a welcome source to help Europe diversify away from Russian imports and reduce Gazprom’s bargaining power. But the Commission should insist this happens based on the principles of supply and demand, not energy mercantilism.

In a recent prospectus, Gazprom stated that US sanctions could delay or stop the construction of Nord Stream 2. The pipeline should perhaps never be built, but the fact that Washington would be making Europe’s energy choices for it, rightly sparks ire in Brussels. The Commission, not Washington, is the chief regulator of the European energy market and Brussels will ferociously protect its turf.

Should Trump ratify the bill and use his new authority to put sanctions on Nord Stream 2, it would raise tensions with the Commission, Germany and others. It would also create yet another source of transatlantic friction, this time, tragically, in an area where Europe and the US have ample incentive to co-operate. That outcome would serve Vladimir Putin’s purposes just fine.



Death of gas and diesel begins as GM announces plans for ‘all-electric future’

October 2, 2017

by Peter Holley

The Washington Post

After nearly a century of building vehicles powered by fossil fuels, General Motors — one of the world’s largest automakers — announced Monday that the end of GM producing internal combustion engines is fast approaching.

The acceleration to an all-electric future will begin almost immediately, with GM releasing two new electric models next year and an additional 18 by 2023.

At a media event at GM’s technical campus in Warren, Mich., on Monday, Mark Reuss, the company’s chief of global product development, said the transition will take time, but the course has been set.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” Reuss said. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles.”

Reuss avoided naming the year when the auto giant will cease producing gas and diesel vehicles, noting that the company is too large to make such an estimate, according to USA Today.

GM finished 2016 as the world’s third-largest auto-seller, breaking previous company records with 10 million vehicles sold, the company said in a news release.

The automaker said that arriving at a “zero emissions future” will require a two-pronged approach: battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.

At Monday’s event, Fast Company reported, officials unveiled three concepts for reporters: “a sporty crossover, a larger wagon or SUV and a tall, boxy pod car that looked like a people-mover for cities.”

GM also introduced a fuel-cell-powered heavy-duty truck with two electric motors known as Surus, or “silent utility rover universal superstructure.”

GM’s foray into the electric marketplace has already resulted in resounding success, with the Chevrolet Bolt being named Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year and the 2017 North American Car of the Year. The Bolt boasts a 240-mile battery range on a single charge and costs $37,500 before tax incentives. That range places the vehicle well above the Nissan Leaf (up to 107 miles on a single charge) and slightly above Tesla’s Model 3 (up to 220 miles on a single charge for a standard battery).

As GM commits to electric innovation, the company will compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace. In recent months, Tesla unveiled the company’s first mass market electric vehicle, joining companies such as Ford, Volvo, Nissan, Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover, all of whom are vying for market space.

On Monday, Ford announced plans to create a group known as “Team Edison” that is to be tasked with developing fully electric cars. Sherif Marakby, Ford’s head of electrification and autonomous vehicles, told Automotive News that the company is on pace to produce 13 electrified vehicles over the next five years.

“We see an inflection point in the major markets toward battery electric vehicles,” Marakby said. “We feel it’s important to have a cross-functional team all the way from defining the strategy plans and implementation to advanced marketing.”


Key employment dispute leaves Supreme Court divided

October 2 ,2017

by Lawrence Hurley and Robert Iafolla


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday defended the right of workers to bring class-action claims against companies but their conservative counterparts who are in the majority sounded skeptical in the biggest business case of the court’s new term.

A win for employers would give the green-light to an already growing trend in which companies require workers to sign arbitration agreements waiving their right to bring class-action claims either in court or before private arbitrators.

About 25 million workers are already bound by such agreements, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute think tank.

The nine justices heard roughly an hour of arguments in the case on the first day of their new nine-month term. They also heard arguments in an immigration dispute, and have a series of major cases lined up in the coming months regarding voting rights, religious liberty, union funding and other issues. [L2N1M81Y3]

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said he was worried that a ruling against the workers would imperil “the entire heart of the New Deal,” laws and programs enacted in the 1930s under President Franklin Roosevelt to help workers during the Great Depression.

“I haven’t seen a way that you can, in fact, win the case, which you certainly want to do, without undermining and changing radically what has gone back to the New Deal,” Breyer told Paul Clement, a lawyer representing the employers.

Employers have increasingly required employees to sign waivers to guard against a rising tide of worker lawsuits seeking unpaid wages. Class-action litigation can result in large damages awards by juries and is harder for businesses to fight than cases brought by individual plaintiffs.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ability of workers to join together to bring claims against an employer was the “driving force” behind a key federal law enacted to regulate labor disputes.

Many cases involve claims that, if brought on their own, would represent such a minor dollar amount that they may not be worth pursuing because of legal bills alone, Ginsburg added.

“That’s why this is truly a situation where there is strength in numbers,” Ginsburg said.

The court has a 5-4 conservative majority but two of the five conservative justices were silent: Republican President Donald Trump’s appointee to the court, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas, who typically does not speak during oral arguments.


Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote in major cases, asked questions that signaled sympathy to employers, as did two fellow conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Kennedy indicated that a loss for workers would not prevent them from acting in concert because they would still be able to join together to hire the same lawyer to bring claims, even though the claims would be arbitrated individually. That would provide “many of the advantages” of collective action, Kennedy said.

If the workers win, “it seems to me quite rational for many employers to say, ‘Forget it, we don’t want arbitration at all,’” Kennedy said.

The three consolidated cases that came before the justices involved professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP[ERNY.UL], gas station operator Murphy Oil USA Inc[MOUI.UL] and healthcare software company Epic Systems Corporation.

The Trump administration sided with companies, contending that the agreements are valid. In a rare occurrence, the administration faced off against an independent agency of the federal government, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The Justice Department in June reversed the government’s previous position taken in the case under Democratic former President Barack Obama, deciding not to defend the NLRB’s stance that these employment agreements were invalid.

None of the justices addressed the flip-flop on Monday.

Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Wall said the NLRB made a “pretty radical move” five years ago when it claimed a worker’s legally protected right to act together to improve the workplace included the right to class-action lawsuits.

Federal labor law does not stretch so far that it prevents a court from enforcing an agreement to bring claims against employers in individual arbitration, Wall added.

“You can be protected from dismissal for retaliation when you seek class treatment up to the courthouse doors or the doors of an arbitral forum, but once you’re inside, you don’t have an entitlement to proceed as a class,” Wall said.

The NLRB argues that the waivers violate federal labor law and let companies evade their responsibilities under workplace statutes. Workers have fought back against the waivers, arguing that the cost of pursuing their cases individually in arbitration is prohibitively expensive.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Robert Iafolla; Editing by Will Dunham


The German war with Russia: Some background

October 2, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Stripped of prolix discussions of troop strengths and various German military plans for operations against Soviet Russia , Operation “Barbarossa” comes down to whether or not it was a manifestation of growing megalomania on Hitler’s part or a legitimate preventive attack on a nation preparing to invade him. The initial military planning was considered to be a study of the nature of a war with the Soviet Union should such an event prove necessary. The first studies were instituted in July 1940 after the defeat of France and the expulsion of the British military from continental Europe. Parallel with the purely military studies was Hitler’s own political analysis of the relationship between Germany and Russia. There is no question that Stalin was exerting pressure along his western borders and increasing the number of military units in these areas. In August of 1940, Stalin had a total of 151 infantry divisions, 32 cavalry divisions and 38 mechanized brigades available to him. Of these, 96 infantry divisions, 23 cavalry divisions and 28 mechanized brigades were available for use against Germany. By June 1941, as a result of an extensive mobilization of his military, Stalin had 118 infantry divisions, 20 cavalry divisions and 40 mechanized brigades in position on the Russo-German border with an additional 27 infantry divisions, 5 1/2 cavalry divisions and 1 mechanized brigade in reserve in European Russia. The bulk of these units was in place to the north of the Pripyat marshes and the remainder to the south of this large natural barrier of swampy forest. Although German military intelligence had difficulties in obtaining exact figures of the Soviet buildup, there could be no question that such a massive increase in military forces was in progress. German Luftwaffe reconnaissance overflights, foreign diplomatic reports and increased Soviet military radio traffic all pointed to the heavy concentration of Russian forces.

The question is whether the Soviet troop concentrations were defensive or offensive in nature. Historians have argued that no proof of Soviet intentions to invade Germany have ever surfaced and a balanced view of the troop movements could well indicate that either purpose could be valid. There is the question of the placement of Soviet artillery units along the border. The Soviets used their artillery en masse as a preliminary to a major attack and the positioning of this artillery close to the German lines would tend to support the thesis that it was to be used to open an attack, not defend against one. The positioning of armored and mechanized infantry units behind the artillery would be reasonable if these forces were intended to spearhead an attack. A defensive posture would have the artillery towards the rear areas of the Soviet forward units to bombard an advancing enemy. A defensive posture would also prohibit the massing of armored units so close to the front lines.They would be held much further back to strike at an enemy penetration with more freedom of movement. These are merely comments, not meant to be taken as proof of anything but a more important opinion is one given by General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of the German Army at the inception of “Barbarossa.” Halder was a bitter enemy of Hitler, who eventually fired him, and in his postwar writings disparaged the Führer as a military commander.

In his book, Hitler as Military Leader published as Hitler als Feldherr in Munich, 1949 and subsequently translated as Hitler as War Lord  and published in England in 1950, Halder devotes considerable space to the “Barbarossa” operation and deserves to be quoted at some length.

“…the horizon in the East grew steadily darker. Russia was moving with ever-growing strength into the Baltic States, which had been conceded as her sphere of interest; on the Russo-German demarcation line there stood over a million Russian soldiers in full battle order with tanks and aircraft opposite a few German security formations sparsely stretched over wide sectors of the line; in the South-East, Russia had occupied Rumanian territory in Bessarabia and Bukovina. Moreover, she was showing herself unresponsive to Hitler’s political maneuvers. The last attempt to gain her as a partner in the division of the world according to Hitler’s plans had foundered at a two-day meeting with Molotov in the middle of November 1940. Hitler the Politician has come to the end of his devices.

In December 1940, he issued his order to the three services – the “Barbarossa” Order – to make military preparations for an attack on Russia against the possibility of Russo-German relations undergoing a fundamental change. It was a prepatory measure, no decision had then been taken. One must admit the politician’s right to delay taking the final decision until the last moment. Precisely when Hitler did take it, can probably no longer be established. Statements, speeches and orders with which he prepared the machine, both materially and psychologically, in case it should be required, cannot be regarded as meaning anything with this master of duplicity. It can be assumed, however, that it was not taken until after the quick successes of the Balkan campaign, in the course of which Russia’s hostility towards Hitler had been unmistakably revealed.

The decision for the attack on Russia came anything but easily to Hitler. His mind was occupied with the warnings of his military advisers; the shadow of Napoleon, with whom he liked to hear himself compared, lay across the mysterious spaces of that country. On the other hand, he had a firm and not unfounded conviction that Russia was arming for an attack on Germany. Today we know from good sources that he was right. Russia would naturally choose a moment for the attack when Germany was in a position least favorable to herself…in other words when the West was once again ready for action. The war on two fronts, which the army general staff memorandum had forecast as long ago as 1938, would then be a fact.”

Halder certainly was in a position to know the facts, many of which were found by German units after the invasion and the rout of Soviet forces, but as a severe critic of Hitler, Halder’s comments which reflect on the necessity for military action on Hitler’s part are far more valid than some apology written by one of Hitler’s supporters.

The partisan warfare that raged behind German lines during the campaign, was savage in the extreme.

Neither side showed any quarter and the Soviets specialized in invading a peaceful area, committing acts against the German rear area and leaving their fellow countrymen to bear the brunt of reprisals.


Erdogan: Turkey no longer needs EU membership but will not abandon talks

In his first speech to parliament after the summer break, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan targeted the European Union. It had failed to help Turkey in the fight against terrorism, he said.

October 2, 2017


Speaking to parliament on Sunday, President Tayyip Erdogan had some strong words for the European Union and Turkey’s 12-year accession talks, which have ground to a halt.

“We will not be the side which gives up. To tell the truth, we don’t need EU membership any more,” Erdogan said.

Relations between the EU and Turkey have deteriorated in the year since the failed coup of July 2016 and the subsequent government crackdown on opponents and the media.

Over the year since the coup attempt, some 50,000 people, including teachers and journalists, have been remanded in custody, and 170,000 suspects investigated for alleged links to US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen. Erdogan’s government accuses Gulen of having masterminded the coup.

Coup repercussions

“The EU failed us in a fight against terrorism,” Erdogan said on Sunday. “Today, Europe has become a place where terrorists can move around freely and carry out all kinds of activity against Turkey’s legitimate administration.”

“We are extremely uncomfortable with those who openly hinder Turkey’s EU membership but adopt a tolerant attitude towards terrorist organizations,” he said, referring to supporters of Fetullah Gulen and to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He said EU states had failed to respond to requests to extradite individuals accused of involvement in the failed coup.

But he also suggested the EU still needed Turkey.

“If the EU is going to leap forward, there is only one way to do so. And it is to grant Turkey membership and start an action of cultural and economic growth,” Erdogan said.

However, during the election campaign, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would suggest suspending or ending accession talks with Turkey at an upcoming October meeting of EU leaders.

Last November, in a symbolic vote in response to the crackdown following the coup, the EU Parliament urged governments to freeze EU membership talks with Turkey.

But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Monday edition of Germany’s Bild newspaper that it would be a mistake for the EU to abandon accession talks completely – in light of “a significant portion of Turkey’s civil society that is open to Europe.”

German-Turkish relations

Several German citizens have been detained in Turkey on political charges in recent months. Authorities in Berlin have insisted they are innocent and are being held unjustly.

Relations between the two countries have been further strained after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit military personnel at the Incirlik Air Base.

Berlin blocked speeches by Turkish officials in Germany amid campaigning for Turkey’s April referendum on constitutional reform, and Erdogan urged the sizable Turkish population in Germany to vote against Merkel in Germany’s federal elections last month.




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