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TBR News September 1, 2016

Sep 01 2016

The Voice of the White House    

Washington, D.C.  September 1, 2016: “The old-fashiioned circus with elephants, acrobats and prancing clowns is gone but it has been replaced by the singing and dancing of the American, and American-friendly foreign media. Like a ragged chorus of small dogs, the media is yapping in shrill tones about the Evils of Putin’s Russia, the Amereican-led Peace and Freedom Coalitions and, loudest of all, How Evil Trump is and how the Devine Hillary will beat him. All of this is unpaid and mindless propaganda whose relationship to truth is very distant. Fakeed polls, bombastic statements from alleged experts, official warnings generally go unheeded because with the advent of the Internet, the public no longer views the New York Times or the Presidential Press Conference with either trust or belief. No wonder that Obama and Cass Sunstein were trying to find some way to shut the Internet down so their propaganda messages would reach more people without fear of exposure.”

Trump doubles down on controversial immigration plan

Republican presidential candidate delivers speech promising no path to citizenship for irregular migrants. His proposals included an “ideological certification” exam for migrants and having Mexico pay for a border wall.

September 1, 2016


US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday delivered a speech describing his vision on illegal immigration in which he dismissed current policies as “weak and foolish.”

“There is only one core issue in the immigration debate, and that issue is the well-being of the American people,” he said to rapturous applause. “Nothing even comes in close second.”

The real estate mogul laid out what he called a ten-point plan to put an end to irregular migration, including bolstering US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) border personnel and deporting thousands of so-called illegal migrants.

“Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be indefinitely detained until they are returned to where they came,” Trump told supporters in Phoenix, Arizona.

The American billionaire committed to blocking all paths for illegal migrants to obtain legal status in the US.

“Our message to the world will be this: you cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country,” he said. “There will be no amnesty.”

Trump also criticized Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s call to boost the number of Syrian refugees hosted in the US, saying he would freeze all visas for people originating in countries where “adequate screening cannot occur.

An “ideological certification” exam would also be provided to potential legal migrants to ensure “they share our values and love our people.”

The speech comes on the heels of a closed-doors meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier on Wednesday.

Sizing up the wall

The Republican presidential candidate claimed that both politicians discussed his proposed border wall to curb migration, but did not talk about who will pay for it. Trump had previously claimed that Mexico would foot the bill for the controversial measure.

Nieto later said in a tweet that he explicitly told Trump that Mexico would not pay for the construction of a wall on its border with the US, contradicting Trump’s statement that neither of them discussed how it would be financed.

Trump’s Democrat challenger, Hillary Clinton, tweeted that her opponent “failed” in his first diplomatic foray.

Something dangerous is happening in the American media.

August 31, 2016

The National Interest

Something dangerous is happening in the American media.

Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist for The New York Times, recently argued that journalists have no choice but to abandon “normal” journalistic standards in covering Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump because “Mr. Trump is conducting his campaign in ways we’ve not normally seen.” It’s hard to think of a more alarming statement.

Rutenberg’s approach—which many others seem to share—is especially evident in the media when not only Trump, but also Russian President Vladimir Putin is involved. In combination, the two seem specially formulated to prompt journalists to cast aside not only their objectivity, but necessary standards of evidence. One particularly vivid example is a recent article by Newsweek’s former Moscow Bureau Chief Owen Matthews, entitled “How Vladimir Putin is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia’s Goals.” But we will return to that later.

Notwithstanding Trump’s flaws as a presidential candidate (or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton’s), and without accepting Putin’s troublesome conduct, how can individual journalists simultaneously assert that their work has special value, and deserves social respect, even as they decide when “normal” standards apply and when they don’t? More dangerously, what are the consequences when many journalists simultaneously choose not to apply rigorous standards to their reporting?

If journalists essentially set their own standards, they erase the distinction between reporting and advocacy. Taking that approach to its logical conclusion turns journalism into a collection of one-person campaigns against real and imagined evils, often with little factual basis. Conversely, if a large number of American journalists suspend their standards in reporting on a particular issue, they can warp the country’s public debates and damage both our policy and our society.

None of these observations are new. They are—or should be—self-evident. In his famous account Liberty and the News, which appeared after World War I, Walter Lippmann warned, “the most destructive form of untruth is sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news. The news columns are common carriers. When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable.”

Yet the very perils that Lippmann pointed to keep sabotaging American journalism, perhaps most recently in the period before the 2003 war in Iraq. Afterward, The New York Times itself acknowledged that its reporters relied too heavily on information from “a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change.’” As a result, journalists at the Times and other publications who saw a unique danger from a despicable dictator with fictitious nuclear weapons gave far too little scrutiny to the objectives, potential costs, and possible consequences of a major U.S. war. They failed either to adequately inform the U.S. public or to check government power.

Here we go again.

Russia today presents formidable national security challenges to the United States that often require tough responses. Yet precisely because Russia’s challenges are formidable, U.S. responses should be serious, informed, and effective—something virtually impossible in a climate when attempting to analyze and describe the sources of Russia’s conduct is loudly decried as “pro-Russian.”

None of this prevented Newsweek’s Owen Matthews from attempting to do so in an article attacking Trump and (apparently) individuals or entities whom he found to be connected to the Republican candidate somewhere on the internet. Instead, Matthews commits journalistic sins that defy credulity and, if repeated regularly by others, threaten the foundations of a free society—just as Walter Lippmann warned.

To start, Matthews assailed the Center for the National Interest, this magazine, and the magazine’s Advisory Council Chairman Richard Burt without contacting any of us to confirm what he asserts. The first obligation of any reputable journalist is to give the subjects he is writing about a chance to provide their version of events. Amazingly, Matthews never bothered to do so. Are his editors indifferent to his blithe disregard for fundamental journalistic obligations? Or do they agree with Rutenberg that where Trump, Putin or others they don’t like are concerned, “normal” standards don’t apply?

Next, Matthews draws very heavily on a single source, an article in Politico by James Kirchick. Indeed, he leans on Kirchick to such an extent that he repeats one of his sentences nearly verbatim, stating that “In May 2014, the two institutions held a joint press conference defending Russia’s position in Ukraine.“ Kirchick had written that “In May 2014, the two think tanks held a press conference defending Russia’s position in Ukraine.” But Kirchick, a neoconservative polemicist who has no problem thumping his chest about democracy abroad while simultaneously justifying a military coup at home should Trump be elected president, may not exactly be the most careful or disinterested source.

In fact, there was no “joint press conference” of the Center for the National Interest and the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, the Russian organization to which Matthews and (earlier) Kirchick refer. While the Institute’s director did speak during a Center event in May 2014, it was neither “joint,” nor a “press conference,” nor “defending Russia’s position in Ukraine.” The event—a media call—was solely sponsored by the Center and featured Center Executive Director Paul Saunders, a former George W. Bush administration political appointee who worked on human rights and other issues at the State Department and was critical of Russia’s conduct, and the director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, who was clearly identified as an advisor to Russia’s presidential administration and was advertised as providing “a Russian perspective.” In view of the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine at the time, this Russian perspective was precisely why the Center considered the event to be of possible interest to a U.S.-based audience.

Had Matthews tried to contact the Center for the National Interest to verify any of what he wrote, the Center staff could easily and gladly have told him this. If he had investigated the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, or merely tried to call the group, he would have discovered that its New York office has been closed for some time—something he did not report and apparently did not realize.

Matthews’ attempt to imply some nefarious hidden meaning underlying the fact that Russia’s Ambassador to the United States attended Trump’s speech at the Center for the National Interest in April 2016 is particularly revealing. Had he made even a minimal effort, Matthews could easily have learned that three other foreign ambassadors attended the event, representing close U.S. allies and partners—Italy, the Philippines and Singapore. But perhaps Matthews would not have cared about this once he was able to cherry-pick something he seems to find somehow incriminating.

But what is so controversial about Russia’s ambassador attending a televised speech by a major presidential candidate as one of approximately 130 guests? Russia is a nuclear superpower and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials regularly speak with their Russian counterparts. One wonders whether Matthews met with any Russian officials while serving as Newsweek’s Moscow Bureau Chief—a role featured in his official biography. If so, is he not tainted too? Or does Matthews think that he alone has the strength and courage to resist the siren call of Russian propaganda?

This makes clear just how preposterous Matthews’ guilt-by-association tactics really are. The reality is that no serious reporter could do his or her job effectively in Moscow without interacting with Russian officials and other sources connected to the Russian government. Americans should want their journalists to be well-connected and well-informed.

And Americans should want the same from their think tanks, whose mandate is to provide independent research and perspectives to the public and to U.S. policymakers. U.S. officials certainly want that, and have sought to encourage unofficial dialogue between U.S. and Russian think tanks and universities. Even some considered quite hawkish toward Moscow, such as former NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove, have called for this.

Nevertheless, the likes of Matthews seem to envision a country where journalists have no obligation to objectivity and where think tanks and experts face charges of disloyalty if they invite an ambassador to a speech, much less seek to fulfill their responsibility to conduct thorough research and honest analysis by engaging with “undesirable” foreigners representing not only the points-of-view we find sympathetic, but the full range of politically influential opinions in important rival nations. For someone displaying such hostility to Putin, Matthews seems bizarrely eager to replicate Moscow’s political environment here in Washington. As committed American patriots at an organization founded to advance U.S. national interests, we find that profoundly disturbing.

This answers a question that some may have: why dignify Matthews’ pathetic charges with a response, when he provides no evidence to support his charges against the Center and the case he tries to make is so flimsy? It might be adequate for a denunciation delivered to the Soviet KGB, but is hardly persuasive (or even acceptable) in a Western democracy. What is remarkable is that Matthews himself seems to consider his argument a convincing one. In the absence of evidence, this suggests opposition to the very idea of attempting to understand Russia’s thinking and positions as a subversive exercise.

When Harry Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson looked back at his career in his memoir Present at the Creation, he described Senator Joseph McCarthy’s rabid assault on purported Communist penetration of the State Department as “the attack of the primitives.” There is also something quite primitive and repugnant in the reactions that Matthews and others like him seem to want to evoke today.

How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets

American officials say Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But the agendas of WikiLeaks and the Kremlin have often dovetailed.

August 31, 2016

by Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger and Eric Schmitt

The New York Times

Julian Assange was in classic didactic form, holding forth on the topic that consumes him — the perfidy of big government and especially of the United States.

Mr. Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, rose to global fame in 2010 for releasing huge caches of highly classified American government communications that exposed the underbelly of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its sometimes cynical diplomatic maneuvering around the world. But in a televised interview last September, it was clear that he still had plenty to say about “The World According to US Empire,” the subtitle of his latest book, “The WikiLeaks Files.”

From the cramped confines of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum four years ago amid a legal imbroglio, Mr. Assange proffered a vision of America as superbully: a nation that has achieved imperial power by proclaiming allegiance to principles of human rights while deploying its military-intelligence apparatus in “pincer” formation to “push” countries into doing its bidding, and punishing people like him who dare to speak the truth.

Notably absent from Mr. Assange’s analysis, however, was criticism of another world power, Russia, or its president, Vladimir V. Putin, who has hardly lived up to WikiLeaks’ ideal of transparency. Mr. Putin’s government has cracked down hard on dissent — spying on, jailing, and, critics charge, sometimes assassinating opponents while consolidating control over the news media and internet. If Mr. Assange appreciated the irony of the moment — denouncing censorship in an interview on Russia Today, the Kremlin-controlled English-language propaganda channel — it was not readily apparent.

Now, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks are back in the spotlight, roiling the geopolitical landscape with new disclosures and a promise of more to come.

In July, the organization released nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails suggesting that the party had conspired with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to undermine her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders. Mr. Assange — who has been openly critical of Mrs. Clinton — has promised further disclosures that could upend her campaign against the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. Separately, WikiLeaks announced that it would soon release some of the crown jewels of American intelligence: a “pristine” set of cyberspying codes.

United States officials say they believe with a high degree of confidence that the Democratic Party material was hacked by the Russian government, and suspect that the codes may have been stolen by the Russians as well. That raises a question: Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin’s Kremlin?

Those questions are made all the more pointed by Russia’s prominent place in the American presidential election campaign. Mr. Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, has publicly praised Mr. Trump, who has returned the compliment, calling for closer ties to Russia and speaking favorably of Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

From the outset of WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange said he was motivated by a desire to use “cryptography to protect human rights,” and would focus on authoritarian governments like Russia’s.

But a New York Times examination of WikiLeaks’ activities during Mr. Assange’s years in exile found a different pattern: Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.

Among United States officials, the emerging consensus is that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But they say that, at least in the case of the Democrats’ emails, Moscow knew it had a sympathetic outlet in WikiLeaks, where intermediaries could drop pilfered documents in the group’s anonymized digital inbox.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Times, Mr. Assange said Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats were “whipping up a neo-McCarthyist hysteria about Russia.” There is “no concrete evidence” that what WikiLeaks publishes comes from intelligence agencies, he said, even as he indicated that he would happily accept such material.

WikiLeaks neither targets nor spares any particular nation, he added, but rather works to verify whatever material it is given in service of the public, which “loves it when they get a glimpse into the corrupt machinery that is attempting to rule them.”

But given WikiLeaks’ limited resources and the hurdles of translation, Mr. Assange said, why focus on Russia, which he described as a “bit player on the world stage,” compared with countries like China and the United States? In any event, he said, Kremlin corruption is an old story. “Every man and his dog is criticizing Russia,” he said. “It’s a bit boring, isn’t it?”

Since its inception, WikiLeaks has succeeded spectacularly on some fronts, uncovering indiscriminate killing, hypocrisy and corruption, and helping spark the Arab Spring.

To Gavin MacFadyen, a WikiLeaks supporter who runs the Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of London, the question for Mr. Assange is not where the material comes from, but whether it is true and in the public interest. He noted that intelligence services had a long history of using news organizations to plant stories, and that Western news outlets often published “material that comes from the C.I.A. uncritically.”

Recent events, though, have left some transparency advocates wondering if WikiLeaks has lost its way. There is a big difference between publishing materials from a whistle-blower like Chelsea Manning — the soldier who gave WikiLeaks its war log and diplomatic cable scoops — and accepting information, even indirectly, from a foreign intelligence service seeking to advance its own powerful interests, said John Wonderlich, the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.

“They’re just aligning themselves with whoever gives them information to get attention or revenge against their enemies,” Mr. Wonderlich said. “They’re welcoming governments to hack into each other and disrupt each other’s democratic processes, all on a pretty weak case for the public interest.”

Others see Mr. Assange assuming an increasingly blinkered approach to the world that, coupled with his own secrecy, has left them disillusioned.

“The battle for transparency was supposed to be global; at least Assange claimed that at the beginning,” said Andrei A. Soldatov, an investigative journalist who has written extensively about Russia’s security services.

“It is strange that this principle is not being applied to Assange himself and his dealings with one particular country, and that is Russia,” Mr. Soldatov said. “He seems to think that one may compromise a lot fighting a bigger evil.”

Support From Moscow

WikiLeaks was just getting started in 2006 when Mr. Assange, an Australian national, sent a mission statement to potential collaborators. One of his goals, he said, was to help expose “illegal or immoral” behavior by governments in the West.

Mr. Assange made clear, though, that his main focus lay elsewhere. “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia,” he wrote.

Shortly after releasing the war logs in 2010, Mr. Assange threatened to make good on that promise. WikiLeaks, he told a Moscow newspaper, had obtained compromising materials “about Russia, about your government and your businessmen.”

But Mr. Assange’s life was soon upended. On Nov. 20 of that year, an international warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, which he denies. Eight days later, WikiLeaks’ release of a cache of State Department cables cast unvarnished — and unwelcome — light on the United States’ diplomatic relationships.

As Mr. Assange pointed out in the interview with The Times, many of the cables involved blunt judgments on Russia; one called it a “mafia state.” But the documents proved far more damaging to the United States’ interests than to Russia’s, and officials in Moscow seemed unperturbed. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, dismissed Mr. Assange as a “petty thief running around on the internet.”

Mr. Assange, asked soon after by Time magazine whether he still planned to expose the secret dealings of the Kremlin, reiterated his earlier vow. “Yes indeed,” he said.

But that promised assault would not materialize. Instead, with Mr. Assange’s legal troubles mounting, Mr. Putin would come to his defense.

In late November 2010, United States officials announced an investigation of WikiLeaks; Mrs. Clinton, whose State Department was scrambled by what became known as “Cablegate,” vowed to take “aggressive” steps to hold those responsible to account.

The next month, Mr. Assange was arrested by the London police to face questioning by the Swedes, who he feared would turn him over to the Americans. Out on bail, he holed up and fought extradition at a Georgian country house owned by a supporter, Vaughan Smith, who said in an interview that he believed Mr. Assange to be the victim of an “intense online bullying and disinformation” campaign.

One day after Mr. Assange’s arrest, the Russian president appeared at a news conference with the French prime minister. Brushing off a questioner who suggested that the diplomatic cables portrayed Russia as undemocratic, Mr. Putin used the opportunity to bash the West.

“As far as democracy goes, it should be a complete democracy. Why then did they put Mr. Assange behind bars?” he asked. “There’s an American saying: He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.”

It was the first of several times that Mr. Putin would take up Mr. Assange’s cause. He has called the charges against Mr. Assange “politically motivated” and declared that the WikiLeaks founder is being “persecuted for spreading the information he received from the U.S. military regarding the actions of the U.S.A. in the Middle East, including Iraq.”

In January 2011, the Kremlin issued Mr. Assange a visa, and one Russian official suggested that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, in April 2012, with WikiLeaks’ funding drying up — under American pressure, Visa and MasterCard had stopped accepting donations — Russia Today began broadcasting a show called “The World Tomorrow” with Mr. Assange as the host.

How much he or WikiLeaks was paid for the 12 episodes remains unclear. In a written statement, Sunshine Press, which works as his spokesman, said Russia Today “was among a dozen broadcasters that purchased a broadcasting license for his show.”

But on June 19, 2012, Mr. Assange’s narrative quickly took a different turn. He broke bail after losing an appeal against extradition to Sweden and was granted asylum in the tiny embassy of Ecuador in London, overlooking the back of Harrods department store.

A World Divided

One year later, a man who would soon eclipse Mr. Assange in terms of whistle-blowing fame boarded a plane in Hong Kong. His name was Edward J. Snowden, and he was a National Security Agency contractor-turned-fugitive, having stunned the world and strained American alliances by leaking documents that revealed a United States-led network of global surveillance programs.

Mr. Snowden had not given his thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Still, it was at the suggestion of Mr. Assange that the flight Mr. Snowden boarded on June 23, 2013, accompanied by his WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison, was bound for Moscow, where Mr. Snowden remains today after the United States canceled his passport en route.

In fact, worried that he would be seen as a spy, Mr. Snowden had hoped merely to pass through Russia on his way to South America, Mr. Assange later recounted, a plan he had not fully endorsed. Russia, he believed, could best protect Mr. Snowden from a C.I.A. kidnapping, or worse.

“Now I thought, and in fact advised Edward Snowden, that he would be safest in Moscow,” Mr. Assange told the news program Democracy Now.

Years earlier, during a November 2010 meeting with New York Times journalists negotiating for access to the diplomatic cables, Mr. Assange had mused about seeking refuge in Russia. Anticipating the likely fallout from the cables’ release, Mr. Assange spoke of relocating to Russia and setting up WikiLeaks there. His associates were openly skeptical of the idea, given the Kremlin’s ruthless surveillance apparatus and tight control over the news media.

That Mr. Assange would now advise Mr. Snowden to travel that path is a measure not just of his worldview, but also of his circumstances and personality, friends and former colleagues say.

Suelette Dreyfus, a longtime friend of Mr. Assange’s and an academic who studies whistle-blowing, says his sole motivation is a deep-seated belief that governments and other large and powerful institutions must be held in check to safeguard the rights of individuals.

“This is not an East-West fight,” she said, though “it is being presented as such by people with an agenda.

But even as other longtime supporters continue to see Mr. Assange as a courageous crusader — “a moral individual in a world of mass societies,” as one put it — they say he can be vain and childlike, with a tendency to see the world as divided into those who support him and those who do not.

During his time isolated in the Ecuadorean Embassy, under constant surveillance, his instinctive mistrust of the West hardened even as he became increasingly numb to the abuses of the Kremlin, which he viewed as a “bulwark against Western imperialism,” said one supporter, who like many others asked for anonymity for fear of angering Mr. Assange.

Another person who collaborated with WikiLeaks in the past added: “He views everything through the prism of how he’s treated. America and Hillary Clinton have caused him trouble, and Russia never has.”

The result has been a “one-dimensional confrontation with the U.S.A.,” Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who before quitting WikiLeaks in 2010 was one of Mr. Assange’s closest partners, has said.

And the beneficiary of that confrontation, played out in a series of public statements by Mr. Assange and strategically timed document releases by WikiLeaks, has often been Mr. Putin. While the release of the Democratic Party documents appears to be the first time WikiLeaks has published material that United States officials assert was stolen by Russian intelligence, the agendas of WikiLeaks and Mr. Putin have repeatedly dovetailed since Mr. Assange fled to the embassy.

Mr. Assange has at times offered mild criticisms of the Putin government. In a 2011 interview, for instance, he spoke of the “Putinization” of Russia. On Twitter, he has also called attention to Pussy Riot, the punk band whose members were jailed after taking on Mr. Putin.

But for the most part, Mr. Assange has remained silent about some of the Russian president’s harshest moves. It was Mr. Snowden, for instance, not Mr. Assange, who took to Twitter in July to denounce a law giving the Kremlin sweeping new surveillance powers. Mr. Assange, asked during Wednesday’s interview about the new law and others like it, acknowledged that Russia had undergone “creeping authoritarianism.” But he suggested that “that same development” had occurred in the United States.

Mr. Assange has also taken a decidedly pro-Russian view of hostilities in Ukraine, where the Obama administration has accused Mr. Putin of supporting the separatists. The United States, Mr. Assange told an Argentine newspaper in March of last year, has been the one meddling there, fomenting unrest by “trying to draw Ukraine into the Western orbit, to pluck it out of Russia’s sphere of influence.” After the annexation of Crimea, he said Washington and its intelligence allies had “annexed the whole world” through global surveillance.

Like Mr. Trump, who stood to gain from the Democratic Party leak, Mr. Assange supported Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and he has repeatedly gone after NATO — taking on two organizations that Mr. Putin would like nothing more than to defang or dismantle.

In September 2014, for instance, Mr. Assange wrote on Twitter about what he called the “corrupt deal” that Turkey engineered to force the suppression of a pro-Kurdish television station in Denmark in return for allowing that country’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to take the helm of NATO.

The timing of his Twitter post was curious on two fronts. It relied on a diplomatic cable that had garnered headlines when WikiLeaks released it four years earlier. And it followed a monthslong tit for tat between Mr. Rasmussen and Mr. Putin, with the Russian president taking the NATO chief to task for secretly recording their private conversation, and Mr. Rasmussen accusing Mr. Putin of playing a “double game” in Ukraine by issuing conciliatory statements while massing troops on the border and shipping weapons to the separatists.

Mr. Assange again recycled the story this past June — days after President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine named Mr. Rasmussen a special adviser — this time via a video appearance at a Russian media forum attended by Mr. Putin and timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Information Bureau.

A Matter of Timing

Then there are the leaks themselves. Some, such as hacked Church of Scientology documents, are of no obvious benefit to the Russians. But many are.

The organization has published leaks of material from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are United States allies, but also to varying degrees from authoritarian regimes. The leaks came during times of heightened tension between those countries and Russia.

The Saudi documents, for instance, which highlighted efforts to manipulate world opinion about the kingdom, were published months after Mr. Putin accused the Saudis of holding down oil prices to harm the economies of Russia and its allies Iran and Venezuela.

Another set of leaks indirectly benefited Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company. Those documents detailed a “corrupt multi-billion-dollar war by Western and Chinese companies” — including Rosatom’s chief competitors — to obtain uranium and other mining rights in the Central African Republic.

WikiLeaks seems aware of a perception problem when it comes to Russia.

When Russia Today began broadcasting Mr. Assange’s television program, he joked in a statement that it would be used to “smear” him: “Assange is a hopeless Kremlin stooge!”

And Sunshine Press, the group’s public relations voice, pointed out that in 2012 WikiLeaks also published an archive it called the Syria files — more than two million emails from and about the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia is supporting in Syria’s civil war.

Yet at the time of the release, Mr. Assange’s associate, Ms. Harrison, characterized the material as “embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.” Since then, Mr. Assange has accused the United States of deliberately destabilizing Syria, but has not publicly criticized human rights abuses by Mr. Assad and Russian forces fighting there.

Many of the documents WikiLeaks has published are classified, such as a C.I.A. tutorial on how to maintain cover in foreign airports. But what may be WikiLeaks’ most intriguing release of secret documents involved what is, on the surface, a less sensational topic: trade negotiations.

From November 2013 to May 2016, WikiLeaks published documents describing internal deliberations on two trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade between the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Trade in Services Agreement, an accord between the United States, 21 other countries and the European Union.

Russia, which was excluded, has been the most vocal opponent of the pacts, with Mr. Putin portraying them as an effort to give the United States an unfair leg up in the global economy.

The drafts released by WikiLeaks stirred controversy among environmentalists, advocates of internet freedom and privacy, labor leaders and corporate governance watchdogs, among others. They also stoked populist resentment against free trade that has become an important factor in American and European politics.

The material was released at critical moments, with the apparent aim of thwarting negotiations, American trade officials said.

WikiLeaks highlighted the domestic and international discord on its Twitter accounts.

American negotiators assumed that the leaks had come from a party at the table seeking leverage. Then in July 2015, on the day American and Japanese negotiators were working out the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, came what WikiLeaks dubbed its “Target Tokyo” release.

Relying on top-secret N.S.A. documents, the release highlighted 35 American espionage targets in Japan, including cabinet members and trade negotiators, as well as companies like Mitsubishi. The trade accord was finally agreed on — though it has not been ratified by the United States Senate — but the document release threw a wrench into the talks.

“The lesson for Japan is this: Do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honor or respect,” Mr. Assange said in a news release at the time. “There is only one rule: There are no rules.”

Because of the files’ provenance, United States intelligence officials assumed that Mr. Assange had gotten his hands on some of the N.S.A. documents copied by Mr. Snowden.

But in an interview, Glenn Greenwald, one of the two journalists entrusted with the full Snowden archive, said that Mr. Snowden had not given his documents to WikiLeaks and that the “Target Tokyo” documents were not even among those Mr. Snowden had taken.

The same is true, Mr. Greenwald said, of another set of N.S.A. intercepts released by WikiLeaks that showed that the United States bugged conversations of United Nations officials and European allies, including private climate-control talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. On Wednesday, Mr. Assange said he had his own separate sources for N.S.A. material.

That raises the question of whether another, still-secret, N.S.A. whistle-blower is leaking documents to WikiLeaks, or whether the files were obtained from the outside via a sophisticated cyberespionage operation, possibly sponsored by a state actor. That question was underscored by Mr. Assange’s statement a few weeks ago that he would release the codes that the United States uses to hack others.

And that has some former collaborators questioning just who is giving Mr. Assange his information these days.

“It’s not in his temperament to be a cat’s paw, and I don’t think he would take anything overtly from the F.S.B.,” said one, referring to the Russian intelligence agency. “He wouldn’t trust them enough. But if someone could plausibly be seen as a hacker group, he’d be fine. He was never too thorough about checking out sources or motivations.”

The Panama Papers

In April of this year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists unleashed a torrent of articles that reverberated around the world.

Based on 11.5 million leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm that specialized in creating secretive offshore companies, the “Panama Papers” offered a look inside a shadowy world in which banks, law firms and asset management companies help the world’s rich and powerful hide wealth and avoid taxes.

It was the largest archive of leaked documents that journalists had ever handled, and so it was no surprise that WikiLeaks initially linked to the consortium’s work on Twitter. But what shocked some of the journalists involved was what WikiLeaks did next.

Among the biggest stories was one showing how billions of dollars had wound up in shell companies controlled by one of Mr. Putin’s closest friends, a cellist named Sergei P. Roldugin. Nearly a dozen news organizations, including two of Russia’s last independent newspapers, Vedomosti and Novaya Gazeta, had collaborated in tracing the money.

But WikiLeaks seized on the contribution of just one: the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. In a series of Twitter posts after the revelations about Mr. Roldugin, WikiLeaks questioned the integrity of the reporting, noting that the project had received grants from the Soros Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.

Mr. Assange, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reiterated the suggestion that the consortium, with a pro-Western agenda, had cherry-picked the documents it chose to release. “There was clearly a conscious effort to go with the Putin bashing, North Korea bashing, sanctions bashing, etc.,” he said.

In fact, the consortium’s opening salvo featured many hard-hitting articles with Western targets, including one on the use of offshore companies in tax havens by the father of then-Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain. Another focused on an offshore company set up by the Ukrainian president, Mr. Poroshenko, a Putin enemy.

Nevertheless, Mr. Putin seized on WikiLeaks’ take on the controversy to defend himself. He declared that while the articles suggested that “there is this friend of the Russian president, and they say he has done something, probably corruption-related, in fact there is no corruption involved at all.”

“Besides,” he added, “we now know from WikiLeaks that officials and state agencies in the United States are behind all this.”

Gerard Ryle, the consortium’s director, chalked Mr. Assange’s actions up to professional jealousy. The leaker, who remains anonymous, said in a manifesto in May that the Panama Papers had first been offered to WikiLeaks, but that multiple attempts to contact the organization had gone unanswered. (Mr. Assange said he had no knowledge of that.)

But Mr. Soldatov, the Russian investigative journalist, was so furious that he confronted Ms. Harrison, Mr. Assange’s associate, at a journalism conference in Italy the next day. “Many journalists at Novaya Gazeta were killed” after reporting on Mr. Putin’s Russia, he told her, “and now their integrity is questioned by WikiLeaks?”

It is striking, Mr. Soldatov said in an interview, that Mr. Snowden, who is stuck in Moscow, is far more willing to criticize Mr. Putin than is Mr. Assange, whom he sees as an apologist.

Roman Shleynov, who worked on the project first at Vedmosti and then as an editor at the Organized Crime and Reporting Project, said that he, too, was “at a loss” to explain Mr. Assange’s attack on the Panama Papers.

“For me it was a surprise that Mr. Assange was repeating the same excuse that our officials, even back in Soviet days, used to say — that it’s all some conspiracy from abroad,” Mr. Shleynov said.

“I understand his struggle with the United States,” he added, “but I never thought he’d use our work, the work of Russian journalists, to make such a statement. I respected and still respect what Julian Assange has done, but I have changed my opinion of him as a person.”

Public Spats

Mr. Assange has always insisted, “I am WikiLeaks,” and it seems truer now than ever.

Four years into his time at the Ecuadorean Embassy, he is increasingly isolated. Now 45, he lives in two small rooms: an office equipped with a bed, sunlamp, phone, computer, kitchenette, shower, treadmill and bookshelves, and a conference room where he can meet with visitors and oversee the operation with the help of a few dozen employees, mostly in Berlin. One person familiar with the setup called it “a gas station with two attendants.”

Melinda Taylor, one of Mr. Assange’s lawyers, said that he needed dental work and a magnetic resonance imaging scan for a painful shoulder, but that those procedures could not be done inside the embassy for practical and insurance reasons. He also has a vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sunlight, she said, and “severe depression exacerbated” by his legal travails.

Mr. Smith, who still supports and visits Mr. Assange, said, “Julian’s a big bloke, with big bones, and he fills the room physically and intellectually.”

“It’s a tiny embassy with a tiny balcony,” he added, “small, hot and with not great air flow, and it must be jolly difficult for everyone there.”

And public spats with would-be allies are not uncommon.

One involves Mr. Assange’s insistence that document troves should be published in their entirety, not curated by journalists who might have agendas.

In his interview with The Times on Wednesday, Mr. Assange criticized the Panama Papers consortium for not making all the documents in its possession public, calling it censorship. “It is not the WikiLeaks model,” he said. “In fact, it is the anti-WikiLeaks model.”

WikiLeaks did collaborate with journalists on the war logs and diplomatic cables. But Mr. Assange’s decision to abandon that approach in the name of total transparency is what led Mr. Snowden to work with Mr. Greenwald and another journalist on the N.S.A. revelations. Mr. Snowden felt openness should be balanced with concern for people’s privacy and safety.

After the release of the Democratic Party documents this summer, Mr. Snowden criticized WikiLeaks on Twitter for not redacting the Social Security numbers and credit card information of private individuals named in the trove.

WikiLeaks shot back on Twitter: “Opportunism won’t earn you a pardon from Clinton & curation is not censorship of ruling party cash flows.”

Mr. Greenwald said of Mr. Assange, “He’s alienated a lot of people.”

“It’s often hard for me to separate my personal views of Julian with my views of WikiLeaks” he added. “I do think on balance WikiLeaks is a force for good.”

Friends can differ, Mr. Assange said in the interview. Still, some of his staunchest supporters, like the heiress Jemima Goldsmith Khan, have turned on him, troubled by what they see as a double standard. In an opinion piece for the New Statesman, Ms. Khan wrote that WikiLeaks, which was created to produce a more just society, “has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose.”

In February, Mr. Assange received legal news that he hoped would be a game changer. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that he was being arbitrarily detained and should be released freely and with compensation for the violation of his rights. But the opinion was nonbinding and has been rejected by British and Swedish courts.

“The U.S. and the West will hold out a U.N. working group decision when it is in their favor,” said Jennifer Robinson, one of his lawyers. “But when it’s about Julian Assange, they criticize and undermine.”

A few weeks ago came a possible breakthrough: an agreement for Swedish prosecutors to question Mr. Assange about the rape allegations. But Ms. Taylor said that even if the Swedes declined to prosecute, Mr. Assange still feared being held by Britain on bail-jumping charges and turned over to the United States, where an investigation into his leak activities remains open. “The uncertainty gets to him,” she said.

Mr. Assange tries to keep his mind off his troubles with his guitar and a cat given to him by his children, but what really lifts his spirits is publishing new leaks like the Democrats’ files. “The work keeps him going,” said his colleague, Ms. Harrison.

Is there an October surprise in his back pocket?

“Julian loves misinformation; it’s his passion,” Mr. Greenwald said. “He’d likely say this just to make the Clintons uncomfortable.”

For his part, Mr. Assange is looking a bit further on.

“Let’s leap forward a couple of years,” he said in the interview. “Let’s imagine that rival intelligence services — in the U.S., in China — went to settle their conflicts about who is right, who’s the good actor, who’s the bad actor, on a particular situation by presenting the public the truth.

“That’s the most amazing advance I can think of.”

Deutsche Bank refuses clients’ demand for physical gold

September 1, 2016


Clients of Germany’s biggest bank who have invested in the exchange-traded commodity Xetra-Gold are facing problems when they want to obtain physical gold, according to German analytic website Godmode-Trader.de.

Xetra-Gold is a bond on the Deutsche Börse commodities market, and Deutsche Bank is a designated sponsor. On the website, Xetra-Gold says its clients have the right for physical delivery of gold.

“Physically backed: The issuer uses the proceeds from the issue of Xetra-Gold to purchase gold. The physical gold is held in custody for the issuer in the Frankfurt vaults of Clearstream Banking AG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Deutsche Börse. In order to facilitate the delivery of physical gold, the issuer holds a further limited amount of gold on an unallocated weight account with Umicore AG & Co.,” says Xetra-Gold.

However, despite claims that every virtual gram of gold is backed by the same amount of physical gold, clients have been refused the precious metal upon demand.

According to Godmode Trader, its reader “sought physical delivery of his holdings of Xetra-Gold. For this he approached, as instructed by the German Börse document, his principal bank, Deutsche Bank.” However, he was told that “the service” was no longer available for “reasons of business policy”. The article went on to say it’s not yet clear whether other banks are still delivering gold through Xetra.

Xetra-Gold says its holdings amount to over 85 tons of gold. “At the same time, the number of deliveries of physical gold has risen to nearly 900, at a total volume of over 4 tons”, and the assets it manages reach €3.5 billion.

Thus, troubles with delivering even small gold amounts to retail clients by Deutsche Bank may indicate that a global physical gold shortage is only growing.

According to the World Gold Council, Germany has the world’s second largest gold reserves at 3,381 metric tons. However, there has been a public backlash against the government for keeping most of the country’s gold reserves abroad.

The majority of Germany’s gold held in country is being stored in Frankfurt. In December 2015 there were reserves of 1,402.5 metric tons. The Deutsche Bundesbank reports it still holds more than 1,347 metric tons of gold in New York, 434.7 metric tons in London and more than 196 metric tons in Paris.

Germany has repatriated more than 177 metric tons from Paris, and about 189 metric tons from New York.

Germany’s failed attempts to get its gold back from the US ‘opens question of its sovereignty’

July 7, 2016


There is neither real criticism from German politicians, nor any visible efforts to return German gold held in the US, so it seems that US controls Germany, economic analyst Michael Mross told RT.

In one of its recent reports Bloomberg claimed that Germany decided not to repatriate its gold reserves from the US, instead the Bundesbank issued an official statement that underscores it’s “trust” in its American partners. According to Bloomberg, Germany gave up after repatriating just 5 tons of gold, though earlier it was told that it would get all the German gold back by 2020.

RT:What’s really behind Germany’s efforts to get its gold reserves back?

Michael Mross: These German efforts to get back gold reserves are not really there. They are talking about it but it is only a simple and ridiculous theatre in my opinion. I cannot see any effort to do it. What we have is lack to re-transport or take back, 300 tons before 2020, but also this is ridiculous – last year they took back only 37 tons. At the end of the day, it is to make the public calm, but it is not really an effort to take back the gold.

RT:Shifting so much gold in the time-frame they’ve given themselves sounds like a logistical nightmare. How are they going to manage it?

MM: 300 tons by 2020 is really nothing, and as a matter of fact only 37 tons have been transported so far back from the US. In my opinion, the gold will stay there as propaganda like actions are underway to tell the German public that the German gold in New York is safe. But of course the contrary is true.

RT:Do you buy any of the conspiracy theories that the gold is missing?

MM: This is not a conspiracy theory. If it is there you can take it back. Why don’t they give it back to us? In my opinion, it seems that they like to control us, even blackmail us. If you have gold, you tell me what to do. It opens many questions when it comes to the real sovereignty of Germany. Also it comes to all the scandals which we had, for example, these NSA surveillance things in Germany. We do not hear real actual critique from German politicians, and also when it comes to the German gold at the moment everything is calm and everything will stay where it is. But I have a solution. They can keep it, they can keep our gold. It’s worth about 100 billion dollars at the moment or even euro, and so they can send us the money, then we can buy back the gold on the market during 1-2 years. But even this does not happen. In my opinion they keep the gold because we are condemned to be calm and must not have any questions and any demands in order to take it back.

RT:Here’s a recent quote from Merkel’s party’s spokesperson: “The Americans are taking good care of our gold. Objectively, there’s absolutely no reason for mistrust.” This has led some to speculate that Germany’s had a change of heart and wants its gold to stay put. What do you make of that?

MM: This was a report from Bloomberg and it was a wrong report. It did not reflect the truth. It is very interesting that Bloomberg is publishing such a thing. Bloomberg got this thing deliberately wrong to con the German public. There are many quotations of people, for example, we have here in Germany the action [initiative] “Take our gold back home”, and at Bloomberg he was quoted as “Ok, we are calm, we don’t want it back”. This was absolutely not true. And these politicians which were quoted in this report, they have absolutely no competence about our gold. When it comes to German gold only the Bundesbank has something to say, but they were not mentioned in this article.

Hillary Clinton, the Podesta Group and the Saudi Regime: A Fatal Ménage à Trois

September 1, 2016

by Medea Benjamin


If I told you that Democratic Party lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose brother John Podesta chairs Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is a registered foreign agent on the Saudi government’s payroll, you’d probably think I was a Trump-thumping, conspiratorial nutcase. But it’s true.

The lobby firm created by both Tony and John Podesta in 1988 receives $140,000 a month from the Saudi government, a government that beheads nonviolent dissidents, uses torture to extract forced confessions, doesn’t allow women to drive, and bombs schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods in neighboring Yemen.

The Podesta Group’s March 2016 filing, required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, shows that Tony Podesta himself oversees the Saudi account. At the same time, Tony Podesta is also a top campaign contributor and bundler for Hillary Clinton. So while one brother runs the campaign, the other brother funds it with earnings that come, in part, from the Saudis.

John and Tony Podesta have been heavyweights in DC insider politics for decades. John Podesta served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, founded the influential DC think tank Center for American Progress (which regularly touts Saudi “reforms”), and was counselor to President Obama. Tony Podesta was dubbed by The New York Times as “one of Washington’s biggest players” whose clients “are going to get a blueprint for how to succeed in official Washington.”The brothers seem to have no problem mixing their roles into the same pot. Tony Podesta held a Clinton campaign fundraiser at his home featuring gourmet Italian food cooked by himself and his brother, the campaign chairman. The fundraiser, by the way, came just days after Tony Podesta filed his Saudi contract with the Justice Department, a contract that included an initial “project fee” payment of $200,000.

The Saudis hired the Podesta Group in 2015 because it was getting hammered in the press over civilian casualties from its airstrikes in Yemen and its crackdown on political dissidents at home, including sentencing blogger Raif Badawi to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” Since then, Tony Podesta’s fingerprints have been all over Saudi Arabia’s advocacy efforts in Washington DC. When Saudi Arabia executed the prominent nonviolent Shia dissident Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, causing protests throughout the Shia world and inflaming sectarian divisions, The New York Times noted that the Podesta Group provided the newspaper with a Saudi commentator who defended the execution.

The Podesta-Clinton-Saudi connection should be seen in light of the recent media exposes revealing the tawdry pay-to-play nature of the Clinton Foundation. Top on the list of foreign donors to the foundation is Saudi Arabia, which contributed between $10 million and $25 million.

What did the Saudis get for their largesse and access? WikiLeaks revealed a 2009 cable by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying:”More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e-Tayyiba and other terrorist groups.” Instead of sanctioning the Saudis, Clinton did the opposite: She authorized enormous quantities of weapons to be sold to them. On Christmas Eve in 2011, Hillary Clinton and her closest aides celebrated a massive $29.4 billion sale to the Saudis of over 80 F-15 fighter jets, manufactured by Boeing, a company which coincidentally contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In a chain of enthusiastic emails, an aide exclaimed that it was “not a bad Christmas present.” I’m sure the Yemenis at the receiving end of the Saudi bombings would not be so enthusiastic.

The Clintons have said that if Hillary Clinton gets elected, the foundation will stop taking foreign donations. But what about no longer taking campaign contributions from people who are paid by the Saudi government to whitewash its image? The Podesta Group should be blacklisted from contributing to Clinton’s campaign until they drop the monarchy as a client and return their ill-gotten gains. If Hillary Clinton wants to be a meaningful symbol for human rights and women’s empowerment, her campaign must live up to the values she claims to represent, and this would be one step in the right direction.

Germany investigating 64 suspected extremist Islamists in armed forces

August 31, 2016

by Michelle Martin


Germany’s military counter-intelligence agency is investigating 64 suspected “extremist Islamists” working for the armed forces, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.

The 64 could include civilian as well as uniformed employees, the spokesman added. People judged to be “extremist Islamists” are not permitted to work for the military.

Between 2007 and 2016, 30 “extremist Islamists” went to Syria or Iraq after being employed in the armed forces, the spokesman said. Nineteen people were discharged from the forces for being “extremist Islamists” during that period.

Germany’s military counter-intelligence agency is investigating 64 suspected “extremist Islamists” working for the armed forces, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.

The 64 could include civilian as well as uniformed employees, the spokesman added. People judged to be “extremist Islamists” are not permitted to work for the military.

Between 2007 and 2016, 30 “extremist Islamists” went to Syria or Iraq after being employed in the armed forces, the spokesman said. Nineteen people were discharged from the forces for being “extremist Islamists” during that period.

Germans have been unsettled by a series of violent attacks on civilians, two of which were claimed by Islamic State.

The agency is currently only allowed to run checks on people who already work in the armed forces. The cabinet on Wednesday approved proposals to change the law to permit such checks to be made on applicants to join.

On Sunday Welt am Sonntag newspaper said a draft document justifying the changes said there were indications Islamists were trying to get into the military for training.

The armed forces employ 250,000 people.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by Andrew Roche)

A growing number of U.S. adults are using pot. But are their perceptions of risks realistic?

September 1, 2016

by Ariana Eunjung Cha

The Washington Post

Virtually everyone knows marijuana use in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to the loosening of state laws that had limited the drug to medicinal and related purposes. But by just how much has been anybody’s guess.

A new survey of more than 500,000 adults now puts a number on the change — and it’s big. From 2002 to 2014, the percentage of adults using marijuana jumped from 10.4 percent to 13.3 percent. Those using it daily or close to that went from 1.9 percent to 3.5 percent. That means there could be 31.9 million adults using marijuana — with 8.4 million of them using it a lot.

The results, reported in Wednesday’s The Lancet Psychiatry, also noted an important trend in how marijuana is regarded. Although the drug has “become increasingly potent over the past decade,” the authors wrote, fewer people think it’s harmful.

Wilson M. Compton, a researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse who worked on the study, described this shifting perception as a worrisome development and said it suggests a need for improved education on the risks.

“Understanding patterns of marijuana use and dependence and how these have changed over time is essential for policymakers who continue to consider whether and how to modify laws related to marijuana and for health-care practitioners who care for patients using marijuana,” he explained.

That said, the data from the National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health did offer a positive finding: The prevalence of marijuana abuse or dependence remained stable at about 1.5 percent over the period.

Marijuana has both short- and long-term effects on the brain and physical health. Scientists are still learning more about the different components of the cannabis plant and how they impact the human body, but there’s consensus that smoking marijuana may irritate breathing passages, that it increases the heart rate and that it may negatively impact a fetus if a woman smokes while pregnant.

On the flip side, many people swear by it for chronic pain. There’s also evidence that it may help with nausea, sleep disorders, depressed appetite and a number of other conditions.

A lot of the positive publicity around marijuana’s medicinal use has recently focused on how one extract made from cannabis may benefit some patients with epilepsy. In March, GW Pharmaceuticals said its studies showed that its cannabis-based drug appeared to dramatically reduce seizures in patients with Dravet syndrome.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said in August that while it would still maintain marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs, it would loosen research restrictions to make it easier for scientists to look into other possible medical benefits — a move almost universally applauded, even by the strictest opponents of national marijuana legalization.















































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