TBR News September 25, 2016

Sep 25 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  September 25, 2016:”At one point, the New York Times was probably the best daily newspaper in the United States. Then it became a mouthpiece for the CIA and published only what that agency requested and published nothing they felt might damage their image or global activities. As the Internet developed, more and more people looked to that entity for news, and the American print media went into sharp decline. Now, the once-might New York Times (and the Washington Post) rarely have articles of any importance and their pages read like those of a small Iowa town. American television news has become a stage show with less substance than the Disney Channel. If someone is interested in news, they must look at the Internet. But even the foreign press always has a slant. The Guardian is quite left wing and stresses American minorities and third rate motion pictures. Russia Today is controlled by the Russian government but is quite accurate when it comes to American social problems. Reuters is dry and often accurate and Deutsche Welle contains shorter articles of accurate news. Advertisers are not going to pay ad money to a newspaper, or television network, if their readers or viewers are diminishing daily (in the last five years, the New York Times has lost 75% of its subscribers) and so we see a proliferation of annoying ads being shoved off on Internet viewers. Ad blocks exist and are very effective.”

Who’s Afraid of ‘Russia Today’?

Hand-wringing over Kremlin propaganda says more about about US media’s insecurity than it does Putin’s reach.

September 23, 2016

by Adam H. Johnson

The Nation

Donald Trump’s taboo friendly posture to Russia has pundits in a frenzy. Every day we have takes in major media outlets insisting Trump is a de facto Kremlin agent, a pro-Clinton Super PAC has launched a Web site to “raise awareness” of “the dangerous Putin-Trump connection” that even comes complete with a hammer and sickle (despite the fact that both Putin and Trump are ardent capitalists), and MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid had on a guest who suggested Putin would invade Ukraine to steer the election Trump’s way. One subgenre of this frenzy is a renewed focus on Russian-funded English language cable network Russia Today, which critics have accused of going to bat for Trump and working to undermine Clinton.

The latest example of this sub-take is Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for The New York Times. In “Larry King, the Russian Media and a Partisan Landscape,” Rutenberg muses on the rise of relativism and the loss of objective truth in media. This is a typical frame when discussing the uniquely sinister nature of RT, and it’s one worth dissecting in detail.

Rutenberg begins by citing RT’s lockstep support for the Russian invasion of Crimea as evidence it’s not a real news source. However, it’s worth noting, The New York Times‘s editorial board has supported every single US war—Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya—for the past 30 years. While its reporting and op-eds on these wars has often been critical, much of it’s coverage has also helped to sell war-weary liberals on the current military mission—the most notable example being Judith Miller and Michael Gordon’s hyping Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program in the buildup to the March 2003 invasion. Indeed, the image of The New York Times as an objective, unbiased news outlet is precisely how it was able to sell the war in the first place. The difference is one of efficacy, not affect.

In January, for example, The New York Times opposed Obama’s expanding the ISIS war to Libya. Six months later, after Obama started bombing targets in the country, it did a 180 and endorsed the new war. Perhaps media analysts like Rutenberg should spend more time questioning why this is, why the Times always agrees with the US position on starting wars. Either The New York Times dispassionately looked at the evidence and just so happened to agree with the US government 100 percent of the time, or there are other factors, such as ideology and groupthink, beyond the top-down government-control model of an RT. Examining these forces would be a better use of Rutenberg’s considerable influence than being the one-millionth person in US media stoking outrage over a network that reaches fewer than 30,000 Americans a day.

This isn’t to draw an equivalence; indeed, The New York Times and RT are apples and oranges in many ways. It’s essential in proper liberal circles to “other” RT, to remind people how it’s not real news and that, while American media have problems, they’re on a different moral plane. This tic mostly serves the function of signaling one’s “seriousness” and ingratiating oneself to the prevailing orthodoxy. (It certainly can’t provide any new insight, since this is already the conventional wisdom.) And while there are many good arguments to this effect, it’s a tedious form of ideology auditing and not one I wish to indulge for the purposes of this piece. The more important question is not whether RT is “propaganda”; it’s whether the nonstop insisting that it is—in some unique and pernicious way—serves any useful function beyond careerist signaling and anti-Russian point scoring.

The odds are, the average American is far more likely to hear about how terrible RT is than actually watch RT. From The New York Times to Time to BuzzFeed to The Daily Beast to Politico to The Washington Post, virtually every major American news outlet has dedicated considerable time to column inches to reminding us how sinister the Russian-funded network is. The question is, who cares? Russia Today’s reach is relatively minor. What, one may ask, are we so scared of? More speech, as the adage goes, is always better than less speech. Soviet propaganda added urgency to the United States’ taking the civil-rights movement seriously. Japanese propaganda was, according to Douglas Blackmon in his book Slavery by Another Name, one of the primary reasons Franklin Roosevelt sought to end debt peonage for African-Americans in the South. Getting trolled, for lack of a better term, by counties hostile to your interest can have healthy consequences.

Just the same, while Russia Today toes the Kremlin’s line on foreign policy, it also provides an outlet to marginalized issues and voices stateside. RT, for example, has covered the recent prison strikes—the largest in American history—twice. So far CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and Rutenberg’s employer, The New York Times, haven’t covered them at all. RT aggressively covered Occupy Wall Street early on while the rest of corporate US media were marginalizing from afar (for this effort RT was nominated for an Emmy). Perhaps Rutenberg and those Deeply Concerned about RT can see why there may be a market for RT to fill here. In many ways, RT’s success, to the extent it has had any, is as much an indictment of American corporate media as it is an expression of sinister Kremlin disinformation

Rutenberg, as many others have, insists RT is uniquely evil because “journalists who stray can wind up beaten or dead.” But even this critique is rather selective. Qatar, Al Jazeera’s patron, is a monarchy that stifles dissent while arming extremists in Syria and Libya. So does Al Arabiya’s patron, Saudi Arabia, which also executes LGBT people for the crime of being LGBT. The BBC’s patron, the British government, helped launch a war of aggression against Iraq that killed over 500,000 people. In April 2003, the United States bombed an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad, killing reporter Tarek Ayoub under suspicious circumstances. If news organizations are judged by the sins of their government patrons, we wouldn’t have government funded media.

Also missing from the posturing over RT is a bit of perspective. For decades the United States has supported similar tactics overseas to push their agenda—from the Voice of America and its assortment of spin offs to “pro-democracy” initiatives that often, with the help of Western NGO and think tanks, funnel money horizontally by sponsoring pundits who write in foreign media outlets. The professional hand-wringing classes make a distinction: that US-backed media are truthful and held to higher standards. While this is true in a strict sense, often times this simply means the United States is better at information war, not that it does less of it. The CIA helped produce, without disclosure, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, two glowing CIA commercials. The US government, via USAID, secretly created a fake social-media platform and infiltrated the hip-hop scene in Cuba to “stir unrest” and undermine the government. The Department of Defense runs a $100 million program to manipulate social media overseas, complete with fake sock-puppet profiles in “Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.” How many Americans are aware of these practices? Probably a lot fewer than know about Putin’s evil cable network.

The fundamental question is: Why do powerful media outlets feel the need to rush in and play ideological hall monitor and decry such a relatively minor player in American news? If a fraction of this energy went into critically examining our own country’s propaganda techniques and giving voice to the marginalized topics and people, perhaps the market—to the extent there is one—for a “counternarrative” would dry up and render outlets like RT irrelevant.

NYT Caught Creating Fake War Propaganda in Ukraine Just Like Iraq

April 24, 2014

by Kurt Nimmo


Following two days of propaganda centered upon dubious photographs the junta in Kyiv and the war machine media in the United States insist proves the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, The New York Times has issued a retraction. It is buried on page A9 of the newspaper.

The Times quotes Vyachislav Ponomaryov, the mayor of Slovyansk, who says the man shown in one of the photographs submitted to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is a close friend. He declined to name the man. “He has a good background. He is one of my old friends. I have good friends in South Ossetia and in Grozny,” Ponomaryov said.

“We don’t have any direct contact with the special services of the Russian Federation,” he said. “Everyone you see here in the militia are my friends, my brothers, my allies in the battle with fascism. We have volunteers who came to us from Moldova, from Russia, from Belarus, from Kazakhstan, from the North Caucasus.”

The establishment media in the United States claims the photographs show Russian Federation troops. The State Department pawned the photos off as evidence despite the fact the authenticity of the photographs could not be independently verified. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday the images prove Russian troops are in Ukraine. “So these are just further evidence of the connection between Russia and the armed militants,” she said.

The Times reports the photographs were lifted from the internet by the junta and passed off as evidence. Freelance photographer Maxim Dondyuk, who worked for a Russian newsmagazine, said he had taken the group photograph in Slovyansk and posted it on his Instagram account, according to the newspaper.

“It was taken in Slovyansk,” he told The New York Times. “Nobody asked my permission to use this photograph.”

On Thursday, the State Department was backtracking. Psaki admitted the photograph does not show Russian troops in Ukraine and said it appeared in a “draft version” of a briefing packet released by the State Department.

The sloppy propaganda, however, has not deterred the State Department. Psaki claimed there is enough material to “make a connection between the Russians and the armed militants” in eastern Ukraine.

“We don’t have a shadow of a doubt about the connection,” she said, but did not offer to provide additional information.

Despite the admission by the State Department and the retraction, much of the corporate media continues to use the photographs as propaganda to make the case Russia has invaded Ukraine.

Erdogan accuses U.S. court of ‘ulterior motives’ in case against gold trader

September 25, 2016

by Ayla Jean Yackley


ISTANBUL-Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said U.S. federal attorneys took aim at him in their prosecution of a Turkish gold trader accused of helping to violate sanctions against Iran, Turkish media reported on Sunday.

U.S. authorities arrested Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national who has ties with high-ranking Turkish officials, in Miami in March on charges he helped Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it faced U.S. sanctions for its nuclear program.

The 33-year-old businessman, who lived in Turkey, remains in custody in New York. He has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara’s office included in its indictment a corruption investigation in Turkey that targeted Zarrab, cabinet ministers and members of Erdogan’s family in late 2013. That probe had subsequently been dropped and prosecutors and investigators in the case re-assigned or sacked.

Private broadcaster NTV quoted Erdogan as telling a group of reporters he had raised Zarrab’s detention in talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, whom he met in New York last week after speaking at the United Nations general assembly.

Erdogan said U.S. prosecutors were trying to implicate him by including in the indictment Zarrab’s donations to an educational charity called Togem that is linked to the president’s family.

“They are not pursuing the law, but are after a network of relationships. It’s interesting that the indictment refers to my wife setting up Togem and my ties with that association. My wife and I are not among the founders of that association.

“The effort to mention our names in court proves there are ulterior motives,” he said.

Erdogan also accused U.S. officials involved in the case of traveling to Turkey as guests of a religious movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey now classifies the movement, dubbed FETO, as a terrorist organization that it blames for a failed military coup in July that killed hundreds.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is being represented by people who were wined and dined by FETO. I told Biden this and he said he was unaware,” Erdogan said.

Zarrab’s lawyers last month filed a motion asking the federal judge, Richard Berman, to recuse himself due to comments he made about Zarrab’s prosecution in Turkey at a 2014 conference they said was sponsored by lawyers charged in connection with the coup attempt. Berman’s chambers and a spokesmen for Bharara did not comment.

Turkey wants the United States to arrest and return Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania, to Turkey. Gulen, once a close ally of Erdogan, denies involvement in the coup attempt.

Erdogan, whom U.S. prosecutors have said has “close ties” to Zarrab, has also cast the 2013 graft probe that included Zarrab as a coup attempt organized by the Gulen movement.

Turkey’s justice and economy ministries had already investigated Zarrab and determined he was innocent, as had Iranian authorities, Erdogan said he told Biden, adding he would not remain “indifferent” to the detention of a Turkish national in the United States.

The arrest of Zarrab, a frequently photographed figure among Turkey’s jetset, sent shockwaves through Turkey and cheered Erdogan’s opponents who viewed the U.S. case as a blow to the Turkish leader, in power since 2003 as prime minister and, since 2014, as president.

Separately, newspapers on Sunday reported that Zarrab’s wife, Turkish pop star Ebru Gundes, had filed for divorce last week.

(Editing by Clelia Oziel)

Obama implicated in Clinton email scandal – New FBI docs

September 24, 2016


President Barack Obama used a pseudonym when communicating with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by email, while her IT company referred to her email deleting as a “cover-up”, new FBI documents reveal.

The heavily-redacted documents, almost 200 pages, include summaries of interviews with senior Clinton aides concerning the private email server, and brings to light details previously unknown.

During the interview with Huma Abedin, who served as deputy chief of staff under Clinton, the FBI reportedly presented her with an email exchange between Clinton and a person she did not recognize. The FBI then revealed the unknown person’s name was believed to be a pseudonym used by Obama. Abedin reacted by saying, “How is this not classified?”

This exchange could expose Obama as having mislead the public on the issue, given his 2015 statement that he found out about Clinton’s use of a private email server “the same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.”

The State Department will not make public the emails Clinton exchanged with Obama, citing “presidential communications privilege,” as reason to withhold the emails under the Freedom of Information Act, Politico reports.

The documents also include interview notes with other senior Clinton aides; Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and former Bill Clinton advisor Justin Cooper, who registered the clintonemail.com domain. Romanian hacker Guccifer and a number of state department officials were also interviewed.

The latest FBI document cache also refers to the engineer who used BleachBit to permanently delete emails from Clinton’s server soon after the House Benghazi Committee issued a subpoena for documents relating to the 2012 attack on the US embassy in Libya. According to the engineer, he did this “of his own accord based on his normal practices as an engineer.”

Documents show employees from Platte River Networks, the IT company who managed Clinton’s emails, referring to a request to wipe emails in 2014 as the “Hilary [sic] cover-up operation”. An employee told the FBI this was a joke.

Clinton aide, Bryan Pagliano, said concerns were raised about whether Clinton’s server created a “federal records retention issue” by state department officials in 2009 or 2010. When he communicated these concerns to Mills, however, she said that Clinton’s  predecessor, Colin Powell, had also used private email.

The reports further reveal Clinton’s alleged ineptitude with technology, with aides claiming she “could not use a computer,” and didn’t know her email password.

Abedin said she had two computers in her State Department office, one for unclassified communications and another for classified communications. She did most of her work on the unclassified computer and would go “days or weeks without logging into the classified system.”

One redacted interviewee described himself as a “Clintonista” and said he has a relationship with the Clintons dating back years. He said he would meet with Clinton four or five times a day and initially traveled with her until she was comfortable with the position of secretary of state.

The unnamed interviewee said he only became aware of the server after receiving an email from the address, which he thought was spam. He described Clinton as a “paper person” who preferred using paper over electronic communications.

Clinton’s spokesperson, Brian Fallon, responded to the new revelations by saying the interviews “further demonstrate why the Justice Department believed there was no basis to move forward with this case.”

He also criticized the timing of the release, three days before the first debate, in a tweet. Others also questioned the timing , but for a different reason.

The Trump camp said through advisor Jason Miller, the reference to a cover-up “suggests there was a concerted effort to systematically destroy potentially incriminating information.”

Erdogan doesn’t care if Turkey gets junk credit rating

September 23, 2016


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he is not concerned if American rating agencies like Fitch, S&P or Moody’s downgrade his country to junk status. Erdogan told Bloomberg that Turkey’s economy is strong and the ratings are biased.

“I don’t care at all, they’re making mistakes and they’re doing it intentionally. Whether you’re honest or not, Turkey’s economy is strong,” the Turkish leader said in an interview on Thursday.

After the failed military coup in Turkey on July 15, S&P slashed the country’s rating to BB, two notches below investment grade. In August, another US rating agency, Fitch, kept Turkey’s rating at BBB-, or the lowest investment grade, but downgraded the outlook from stable to negative. Moody’s announced on July 18 that Turkey may face a rating cut within 90 days.

Erdogan said the ratings are politically biased. “They’re praising economies that have collapsed, that are finished, on the other hand, they’re either freezing or going towards cutting a country that’s standing on its feet, that’s upright, and where investments are continuing,” he told the media.

“This is not a respectable stance. I’m inviting them to be honest,” he added.

The Turkish president also urged his country’s central bank to continue cutting the key rate to attract more investment. On Thursday, the regulator reduced the rate to 8.25 percent, marking the seventh straight month of cuts. Inflation in Turkey is at eight percent this year, slightly down from 2015.

“You can only talk about development in a country where there’s investment. But when interest rates are high, it’s not possible to invest,” said Erdogan.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders

What, the Saudis must be asking themselves, has happened to the fawning leaders who would normally grovel to the Kingdom?

September 22, 2016

by Robert Fisk

The Independent/UK

The Saudis step deeper into trouble almost by the week. Swamped in their ridiculous war in Yemen, they are now reeling from an extraordinary statement issued by around two hundred Sunni Muslim clerics who effectively referred to the Wahhabi belief – practiced in Saudi Arabia – as “a dangerous deformation” of Sunni Islam. The prelates included Egypt’s Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, the most important centre of theological study in the Islamic world, who only a year ago attacked “corrupt interpretations” of religious texts and who has now signed up to “a return to the schools of great knowledge” outside Saudi Arabia.

This remarkable meeting took place in Grozny and was unaccountably ignored by almost every media in the world – except for the former senior associate at St Antony’s College, Sharmine Narwani, and Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe – but it may prove to be even more dramatic than the terror of Syria’s civil war. For the statement, obviously approved by Vladimir Putin, is as close as Sunni clerics have got to excommunicating the Saudis.

Although they did not mention the Kingdom by name, the declaration was a stunning affront to a country which spends millions of dollars every year on thousands of Wahhabi mosques, schools and clerics around the world.

Wahhabism’s most dangerous deviation, in the eyes of the Sunnis who met in Chechenya, is that it sanctions violence against non-believers, including Muslims who reject Wahhabi interpretation. Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the principal foreign adherents to this creed outside Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Saudis, needless to say, repeatedly insist that they are against all terrorism. Their reaction to the Grozny declaration has been astonishing. “The world is getting ready to burn us,” Adil Al-Kalbani announced. And as Imam of the King Khaled Bin Abdulaziz mosque in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he should know.

As Narwani points out, the bad news kept on coming. At the start of the five-day Hajj pilgrimage, the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar published online a database which it said came from the Saudi ministry of health, claiming that up 90,000 pilgrims from around the world have died visiting the Hajj capital of Mecca over a 14-year period. Although this figure is officially denied, it is believed in Shia Muslim Iran, which has lost hundreds of its citizens on the Hajj. Among them was Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador and intelligence officer in Lebanon. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has just launched an unprecedented attack on the Saudis, accusing them of murder. “The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers…” he said in his own Hajj message.

A Saudi official said Khameni’s accusations reflected a “new low”. Abdulmohsen Alyas, the Saudi undersecretary for international communications, said they were “unfounded, but also timed to only serve their unethical failing propaganda”.

Yet the Iranians have boycotted the Hajj this year (not surprisingly, one might add) after claiming that they have not received Saudi assurances of basic security for pilgrims. According to Khamenei, Saudi rulers “have plunged the world of Islam into civil wars”.

However exaggerated his words, one thing is clear: for the first time, ever, the Saudis have been assaulted by both Sunni and Shia leaders at almost the same time.

The presence in Grozny of Grand Imam al-Tayeb of Egypt was particularly infuriating for the Saudis who have poured millions of dollars into the Egyptian economy since Brigadier-General-President al-Sissi staged his doleful military coup more than three years ago.

What, the Saudis must be asking themselves, has happened to the fawning leaders who would normally grovel to the Kingdom?

“In 2010, Saudi Arabia was crossing borders peacefully as a power-broker, working with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and others to troubleshoot in regional hotspots,” Narwani writes. “By 2016, it had buried two kings, shrugged off a measured approach to foreign policy, embraced ‘takfiri’ madness and emptied its coffers.” A “takfiri” is a Sunni who accuses another Muslim (or Christian or Jew) of apostasy.

Kuwait, Libya, Jordan and Sudan were present in Grozny, along with – you guessed it – Ahmed Hassoun, the grand mufti of Syria and a loyal Assad man. Intriguingly, Abu Dhabi played no official role, although its policy of “deradicalisation” is well known throughout the Arab world.

One year on, how did we forget Alan Kurdi?

But there are close links between President (and dictator) Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechenya, the official host of the recent conference, and Mohamed Ben Zayed al-Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince. The conference itself was opened by Putin, which shows what he thinks of the Saudis – although, typically, none of the Sunni delegates asked him to stop bombing Syria. But since the very meeting occurred against the backcloth of Isis and its possible defeat, they wouldn’t, would they?

That Chechenya, a country of monstrous bloodletting by Russia and its own Wahhabi rebels, should have been chosen as a venue for such a remarkable conclave was an irony which could not have been lost on the delegates. But the real questions they were discussing must have been equally apparent.

Who are the real representatives of Sunni Muslims if the Saudis are to be shoved aside? And what is the future of Saudi Arabia? Of such questions are revolutions made.

Netanyahu blocks toilet: Israeli PM needs 20 agents to go to bathroom

September 25, 2016


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the source of amusement in New York after he was spotted heading to the bathroom with a whopping escort of 20 bodyguards.

Netanyahu was out for dinner with his wife in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel’s Harry Cipriani restaurant when nature called. As he got up, half of his 40-strong crew of security agents followed him.

According to a bystander, a few went into the bathroom with him, while “one watched the door and the rest lined up with their arms up to form a human barricade, so nobody could enter the bathroom or even get close.”

The agents are part of the elite Shin Bet arm of the Israeli Security Agency.

It wasn’t just the toilets that had a wall of men surrounding it. The hotel itself was surrounded by a ring of security personnel and the restaurant was barricaded, giving New York diners a taste of Israel’s infamous security checkpoints.

“In order to get to the restaurant, you had to walk around the block to a barricaded area, which was manned by security and attack dogs,” a witness said. “Guests were patted down and had to go through metal detectors.”

The Israeli prime minister is in New York for the annual UN General Assembly Debate. He will also meet with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in two separate meetings on Sunday.

The meetings will be closed to the press and their locations have not been released. Netanyahu will meet with Trump in the morning and Clinton in the afternoon.

The Times of Israel reports the Trump campaign reached out to Netanyahu first, and that his office then made contact with Clinton, in order to appear neutral.

Netanyahu also caused security to be stepped-up when he attended the Broadway play ‘Hamilton.’

Former Wells Fargo workers file $2.6bn class action lawsuit amid quota scandal

Lawsuit seeks payout for workers in California who tried to meet sales quotas without turning to fraud – and ended up fired or demoted, filing says

September 24, 2016


Two former Wells Fargo employees have filed a class action in California seeking $2.6bn or more for workers who tried to meet aggressive sales quotas without engaging in fraud and were later demoted, forced to resign or fired.

The lawsuit on behalf of people who worked for Wells Fargo in California over the past 10 years, including current employees, focuses on those who followed the rules and were penalized for not meeting sales quotas.

“Wells Fargo fired or demoted employees who failed to meet unrealistic quotas while at the same time providing promotions to employees who met these quotas by opening fraudulent accounts,” said the lawsuit, which was filed on Thursday in California superior court in Los Angeles County.

Wells Fargo has fired some 5,300 employees for opening as many as 2m accounts in customers’ names without authorization from those customers. On 8 September, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a Los Angeles prosecutor announced a $185m settlement with the bank.

The revelations are a severe hit to Wells Fargo’s reputation. During the financial crisis, the bank trumpeted being conservative in contrast with its rivals. A Wells Fargo spokesman on Saturday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of wrongful termination, unlawful business practices and failure to pay wages, overtime and penalties under California law.

Former employees Alexander Polonsky and Brian Zaghi allege Wells Fargo managers pressed workers to meet quotas of 10 accounts per day, required progress reports several times daily and reprimanded workers who fell short.

Polonsky and Zaghi filed applications matching customer requests and were counselled, demoted and later terminated, the lawsuit says.

While executives at the top benefited from the activity, the blame landed on thousands of $12-per-hour employees who tried to meet the quotas and were often required to work off the clock to do so, the lawsuit said.

Employees with a conscience who tried to meet quotas without engaging in fraud were the biggest victims, losing wages and benefits and facing anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment, the lawsuit said.

Wells Fargo was aware many accounts were illegally opened, unwanted, carried a zero balance, or were simply a result of unethical business practices, the lawsuit said.

“Wells Fargo knew that their unreasonable quotas were driving these unethical behaviors that were used to fraudulently increase their stock price and benefit the CEO at the expense of the low level employees,” the lawsuit said.

Department of Homeless Security

September 24, 2016

by Peter Van Buren


Busy weekend for terrorism. Nine people stabbed in a shopping mall in Minnesota (meh), and the big one in New Jersey/New York.

It was there Afghan American Ahmad Rahami made up a bunch of pipe bombs and pressure cooker IEDs, distributed them in four separate locations, and set off two explosions. The one detonation in New York’s Chelsea area injured 29 people.

What We’re Told Happened

In the 15 years since 9/11, the United States has spent trillions of dollars on security, created a new cabinet agency that memorialized an odd term of reference to America, the Department of Homeland Security, and convinced far too many Americans that they had to choose between security or freedom, safety or privacy. Along the way our air travel experience is now a form of bondage play.

And we are watched.

For example, the city of New York boasts it has more than 8,000 cameras pointed at Manhattan streets. The NYPD calls it the city’s “Ring of Steel.”

Images from those cameras feed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. Officers there also keep track of biological, chemical, radiation, and shot-spotter sensors (which detect gunfire), throughout the city.

Data from the cameras and the detectors, as well as 911 calls, license plate readers, and crime databases is fed into a map-based Domain Awareness System, which analyzes information. The NYPD also has a “Dashboard” system that receives alerts on unattended packages, stolen vehicles crossing tunnels and bridges, and suspicious odors of hazardous materials.

In addition, the Lower Manhattan Center maintains a “vehicle of interest” listing to track vehicles utilizing license plate readers, and can go back 30 days to find suspect vehicles. More than 200 license plate readers within the city triangulate information with GPS systems.

That is a helluva lot of watching, all keeping us safe. Except it didn’t.

What Really Happened

What really happened is a guy built multiple explosive devices, and deployed them in public areas, without being detected. All that stuff above, plus the NSA, FBI, DHS, CIA, et al, missed him.

No one got killed and no one was seriously injured only because of two factors: an inept terrorist and America’s homeless.

Ahmad Rahami had a string of pipe bombs lined up along a marathon run route. One went off early (the start of the race was delayed) and the others failed to explode. If Rahami had used a command detonator triggered by the runners or himself, not a timer, and/or if all of the bombs had exploded when people were around, it would have been carnage.

One of Rahami’s Manhattan bombs failed to go off, even after two passersby shook it out of the suitcase Rahami had hid it in. His other bomb was set on a timer and randomly no one happened to be in its kill zone went it went off.

One is reminded of America’s other inept terrorists: the underwear bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, the shoe bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode, and the Times Square car bomber who couldn’t get his bomb to explode. We’ll throw in the Minnesota mall guy, who failed to seriously injure anyone despite his multiple stabbings of unarmed people.

As for the bombs planted at a New Jersey train station, they were found by two homeless guys who were looking to steal (the media now uses the word scavenge because they’re heroes) the backpack one of the explosives was tucked into.

How to Respond

The response the day after the New York bombings was swift — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed an additional 1,000 New York State Police and National Guard people to Manhattan’s bus terminals, airports, and subway stations. The NYPD turned out in force in similar locations, with officials boasting Manhattan on the Monday after the weekend explosions had more security personnel on its streets than at any other time in New York history.

Of course all of the previous security did not stop the bomber, and he did not target any bus terminals, airports and subway stations. Nor has any other terrorist.

So maybe it is time for a better solution.

The homeless guys who found the bomb at the New Jersey train station were rewarded by social services finding them a place to stay and getting them signed up for food stamps. Someone set up a GoFundMe page for the two that has raised $16,000. A kind citizen even gifted both men new backpacks, as the bomb backpack was blown up by police. They are happy guys.

So why not deputize our army of zombie homeless into terrorist hunters? The poor dudes are out on the streets all the time in all sorts of weather anyway, and they’re always digging in trash cans. If the homeless know that free housing and food stamps await them if they can bring in some terrorist booty, well, the terrorists don’t stand a chance.

Hailed a hero, the homeless man who found New Jersey bombs gets apartment, job prospects

September 24, 2016

by Colby Itkowitz

Washington Post

Lee Parker needed a backpack for a job interview the next day. He had been homeless for several years and carried his few possessions in a plastic bag.

So when he and a friend came across a new backpack sitting atop a garbage can next to the Elizabeth, N.J., train station last Sunday night, it was like divine intervention. He picked it up and they walked a bit. It was only when he looked inside that he saw a maze of wires hooked up to makeshift pipe bombs.

Parker and his friend, Ivan White, took the bag to a remote area in case the explosives detonated and went straight to the police.

Since then, they have been hailed as heroes for potentially saving the lives of hundreds on a weekend that saw bombs also planted in Manhattan and Seaside Park, N.J.

One man who was particularly moved was Donald Goncalves, a 52-year-old, lifelong resident of Elizabeth.

“I care a lot about my town,” he said in an interview Friday. “I used to be a commuter to New York myself. It touched me in a very profound way. How could I take what could have been a devastating moment and turn it into something positive?”

Goncalves turned to online crowdfunding, hoping to raise just a little bit of money as a token of appreciation for the men. He set a goal of $10,000 that would be split three ways between them and the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, a local nonprofit organization that has already found Parker an apartment, Goncalves said. White lives in subsidized housing on a fixed income.

Within days, the GoFundMe page that Goncalves set up had doubled its goal, and now has raised more than $25,000.

Goncalves, who has become the de facto spokesman for Parker and White — he has had inquiries from Hollywood for talk-show appearances and from the National Football League’s New York Jets to honor them at a game — said he is eager to get the money distributed. Some criticized his decision to give the local homeless organization a third of the money, but Goncalves felt it was important to give something to the group that will help Parker get back on his feet.

Parker didn’t make it to his job interview Monday morning — he was going to apply to load trucks — because he was still being interviewed by law enforcement. But Goncalves said a large food company based in Elizabeth has already reached out about giving Parker a job.

The men were interviewed by ABC7NY this week and downplayed their roles as heroes.

“I’m just glad I was able to realize what the situation was and react in such a way that, thank goodness, no one got hurt,” White told the TV station.

“Hero? No. I wouldn’t go that far. [I was] doing the right thing,” Parker said.

Bombing Everything, Gaining Nothing

An Obsolescent Military

September 24, 2016

by Fred Reed


What, precisely, is the US military for, and what, precisely, can it do? In practical terms, how powerful is it? On paper, it is formidable, huge, with carrier battle groups, advanced technology, remarkable submarines, satellites, and so on. What does this translate to?

Military power does not exist independently, but only in relation to specific circumstances. Comparing technical specifications of the T-14 to those of the M1A2, or Su-34 to F-15, or numbers of this to numbers of that, is an interesting intellectual exercise. It means little without reference to specific circumstances.

For example, America is vastly superior militarily to North Korea in every category of arms – but the North has nuclear bombs. It can’t deliver them to the US, but probably can to Seoul. Even without nuclear weapons, it has a large army and large numbers of artillery tubes within range of Seoul. It has an unpredictable government. As Gordon Liddy said, if your responses to provocation are wildly out of proportion to those provocations, and unpredictable, nobody will provoke you.

An American attack by air on the North, the only attack possible short of a preemptive nuclear strike, would offer a high probability of a peninsular war, devastation of Seoul, paralysis of an important trading partner – think Samsung – and an uncertain final outcome. The United States hasn’t the means of getting troops to Korea rapidly in any numbers, and the domestic political results of lots of GIs killed by a serious enemy would be politically grave. The probable cost far exceeds any possible benefit. In practical terms, Washington’s military superiority means nothing with regard to North Korea. Pyongyang knows it.

Or consider the Ukraine. On paper, US forces overall are superior to Russian. Locally, they are not. Russia borders on the Ukraine and could overrun it quickly. The US cannot rapidly bring force to bear except a degree of air power. Air power hasn’t worked against defenseless peasants in many countries. Russia is not a defenseless peasant. Europe, usually docile and obedient to America, is unlikely to engage in a shooting war with Moscow for the benefit of Washington. Europeans are aware that Russia borders on Eastern Europe, which borders on Western Europe. For Washington, fighting Russia in the Ukraine would require a huge effort with seaborne logistics and a national mobilization. Serious wars with nuclear powers do not represent the height of judgment.

Again, Washington’s military superiority means nothing.

Or consider Washington’s dispute with China in the Pacific. China cannot begin to match American naval power. It doesn’t have to. Beijing has focused on anti-ship missiles – read “carrier-killer” – such as the JD21 ballistic missile. How well it works I do not know, but the Chinese are not stupid. Is the risk of finding out worth it? Fast, stealthed, sea-skimming cruise missiles are very cheap compared to carriers, and America’s admirals know that lots of them arriving simultaneously would not have a happy ending.

Having a fleet disabled by China would be intolerable to Washington, but its possible responses would be unappealing. Would it start a conventional war with China with the ghastly global economic consequences? This would not generate allies. Cut China’s oil lanes to the Mideast and push Beijing toward nuclear war? Destroy the Three Gorges Dam and drown god knows how many people? If China used the war as a pretext for annexing bordering counties? What would Russia do?

The consequences both probable and assured make the adventure unattractive, especially since likely pretexts for a war with China – a few rocks in the Pacific, for example – are too trivial to be worth the certain costs and uncertain outcome. Again, military superiority doesn’t mean much.

We live in a military world fundamentally different from that of the last century. All-out wars between major powers, which is to say nuclear powers, are unlikely since they would last about an hour after they became all-out, and everyone knows it. In WWII Germany could convince itself, reasonably and almost correctly, that Russia would fall in a summer, or the Japanese that a Depression-ridden, unarmed America might decide not to fight. Now, no. Threaten something that a nuclear power regards as vital and you risk frying. So nobody does.

At any rate, nobody has. Fools abound in DC and New York.

What then, in today’s world, is the point of huge conventional forces?

The American military is an upgraded World War II military, designed to fight other militarizes like itself in a world like that which existed during World War II. The Soviet Union was that kind of military. Today there are no such militaries for America to fight. We are not in the same world. Washington seems not to have noticed.

A World War II military is intended to destroy point targets of high value – aircraft, ships, factories, tanks – and to capture crucial territory, such as the enemy’s country. When you have destroyed the Wehrmacht’s heavy weaponry and occupied Germany, you have won. This is the sort of war that militaries have always relished, having much sound and fury and clear goals.

It doesn’t work that way today. Since Korea, half-organized peasant militias have baffled the Pentagon by not having targets of high value or crucial territory. In Afghanistan for example goatherds with rifles could simply disperse, providing no point targets at all, and certainly not of high value. No territory was crucial to them. If the US mounted a huge operation to take Province A, the resistance could just fade into the population or move to Province B. The US would always be victorious but never win anything. Sooner or later America would go away. The world understands this.

Further, the underlying nature of conflict has changed. For most of history until the Soviet Union evaporated, empires expanded by military conquest. In today’s world, countries have not lost their imperial ambitions, but the approach is no longer military. China seems intent on bringing Eurasia under its hegemony, and advances toward doing it, but its approach is economic, not martial. The Chinese are not warm and fuzzy. They are, however, smart. It is much cheaper and safer to expand commercially than militarily, and wiser to sidestep martial confrontation – in a word, to ignore America. More correctly it is sidestepping the Pentagon.

Military and diplomatic power spring from economic power, and China is proving successful economically. Using commercial clout, she is expanding her influence, but in ways not easily bombed. She is pushing the BRICS alliance, from which the US is excluded. She is enlarging the SCO, from which America is excluded. Perhaps most importantly, she has set up the AIIB, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, which does not include the US but includes Washington’s European allies. These organizations will probably trade mostly not in dollars, a serious threat to Washington’s economic hegemony.

What is the relevance of the Pentagon? How do you bomb a trade agreement?

China enjoys solvency, and hegemonizes enthusiastically with it. Thus in Pakistan it has built the Karakoram Highway from Xian Jiang to Karachi, which will increase trade between the two. It is putting in the two power reactors near Karachi. It is investing in Afghan resources, increasing trade with Iran. . When the US finally leaves, China, without firing a shot, will be predominant in the region.

What is the relevance of aircraft carriers?

Beijing is talking seriously about building more rail lines, including high-speed rail, from itself to Europe, accompanied by fiber-optic lines and so on. This is not just talk. China has the money and a very large network of high-speed rail domestically. (The US has not a single mile.) Google “China-Europe Rail lines.”

What is the Pentagon going to do? Bomb the tracks?

As trade and ease of travel from Berlin to Beijing increase, and as China prospers and wants more European goods, European businessmen will want to cuddle up to that fabulously large market – which will loosen Washington’s grip on the throat of Europe. Say it three times slowly: Eur-asia. EurasiaEurasia I promise it is what the Chinese are saying.

What is the Pentagon’s trillion-dollar military going to bomb? Europe? Railways across Kazakhstan? BMW plants?

All of which is to say that while the US military looks formidable, it isn’t particularly useful, and aids China by bankrupting the US. Repeatedly it has demonstrated that it cannot defeat campesinos armed with those most formidable weapons, the AK, the RPG, and the IED. The US does not have the land forces to fight a major or semi-major enemy. It could bomb Iran, with unpredictable consequences, but couldn’t possibly conquer it.

The wars in the Mideast illustrate the principle nicely. Iraq didn’t work. Libya didn’t work. Iran didn’t back down. ISIS and related curiosities? The Pentagon is again bombing an enemy that can’t fight back – its specialty – but that it seems unable defeat.

Wrong military, wrong enemy, wrong war, wrong world.

What the Hacking at Yahoo Means for Verizon

Questions swirl about whether Verizon’s $4.8 billion deal for Yahoo’s core business will be renegotiated, or happen at all.

September. 23, 2016

by David Gelles

New York Times

It was the kind of phone call no chief executive wants to make — or receive — in the middle of a multibillion-dollar deal.

On Tuesday, Lowell McAdam, the head of Verizon Communications, was on the road. Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, was at work in Silicon Valley. Executives at both companies were moving forward on Verizon’s $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo’s core business.

But Ms. Mayer had some unexpected bad news. She caught up with Mr. McAdam and Marni Walden, a rising star at Verizon who is expected to oversee the Yahoo business after the deal is complete, by phone, according to people briefed on the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Yahoo recently discovered that at least 500 million of its user accounts had been breached by hackers two years ago, well before the two companies began talks. Yahoo and law enforcement officials were scrambling to unwind the intrusion.

After calling Mr. McAdam and Ms. Walden, Ms. Mayer phoned Tim Armstrong, who leads the AOL business at Verizon and will be overseeing the integration with Yahoo, according to the people briefed on the conversation. Again, the news was not good.

The calls set off a flurry of questions at Verizon — How could this possibly have happened? Who was behind it? Why is it only becoming known now? Could this jeopardize the deal? — but also the sounding of an alarm and the deployment of a triage team to assist Yahoo.

The telecom giant directed its online security experts, including Chandra McMahon, Verizon’s chief information security officer, to do their own investigation of the hack. And they enlisted the help of Verizon’s security division, part of its enterprise solutions business, which helps companies defend against and manage hacks.

Now, just a few days after Verizon learned of the breach, it is contending with the ramifications of what is believed to be the largest hack of a single company. Even as Verizon tries to assess the damage at Yahoo and prevent further security intrusions, the scope of the hack and the potential fallout — including the possibility of a costly class-action lawsuit — are inevitably prompting renewed scrutiny of a deal that was intended to transform the telecom behemoth into a digital media powerhouse.

For now, Verizon has given no indication of whether the breach will affect its plans to acquire Yahoo. On Friday, the company declined to provide a comment beyond a statement it issued on Thursday, in which it said it would evaluate the situation “as the investigation continues through the lens of overall Verizon interests, including consumers, customers, shareholders and related communities.”

On Friday, Yahoo said, “Our investigation into this matter is ongoing and the issues are complex.”

The effort is complicated because the sales proceedings between Verizon and Yahoo are at an early stage. Though teams from the two companies were already working together on integration plans, Verizon does not yet own Yahoo. As a result, Verizon does not have direct access to the Silicon Valley company’s servers to conduct its own investigation.

In late July, after the Verizon deal was announced, Yahoo became aware of a claim that about 280 million of its user credentials had been hacked, according to a person briefed on the specifics, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Yahoo started an investigation but could not substantiate the claim, this person said. It was not clear on Friday whether Yahoo had made Verizon aware that it was looking into this claim in July.

During the course of that investigation, Yahoo learned of the more severe breach, which it has said it believes was state-sponsored. Yahoo has not yet said exactly when it realized how large the intrusion was, leaving open the question of whether Ms. Mayer and her team waited to notify Verizon of the hack. Yahoo is now working with outside security consultants and said its investigation was continuing.

Brian Quinn, an associate professor at Boston College Law School, said Verizon had two main options if it decided to use the hack as leverage in setting the terms of the deal.

“They could say, ‘This thing is huge. We want to walk away from the transaction,’” he said. Were Verizon to try to claim that the breach was so severe it was grounds to terminate the deal, it would have to prove that the hack amounted to a material adverse effect on the value of Yahoo.

Such claims can be difficult to prove in court. According to Mr. Quinn’s reading of the merger document for the deal, Verizon would most likely have to prove that certain high-level Yahoo employees were aware of the severity of the hack before the deal was agreed upon, and intentionally withheld that information.

In the merger agreement, Yahoo states that “there have not been any incidents of, or third-party claims alleging” security breaches or thefts of user data that might result in a major change to the value of the company.

More likely, Mr. Quinn said, Verizon could pressure Yahoo to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

“They go to court, or threaten to go to court, and renegotiate the price,” he said. “That can be a very winning strategy.”

Like any big company contemplating an acquisition, Verizon performed due diligence on Yahoo before it agreed to the deal. It was not immediately clear, however, how seriously it took security issues during that process.

But Verizon would have known that Yahoo has a history of breaches. In 2012, Yahoo said that more than 450,000 user accounts had been hacked.

Such issues are increasingly pertinent to mergers and acquisitions. In a 2014 report, lawyers from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer wrote that corporate buyers were still not taking security due diligence seriously enough.

“With this concerted action and a series of high-profile strikes on businesses including eBay, Target and Yahoo, the risks of cyberattack are evident,” they wrote.

“Yet as the global economy recovers and deal activity rises,” the report continues, “increasing awareness of cyber-risk has not resulted in meaningful changes” to the mergers and acquisition process.

Verizon is purchasing Yahoo in the hope that the internet portal will make it a major player in the digital media business, positioning the company to compete with Google and Facebook for ad dollars. The biggest wireless carrier in the United States, with roots going back to the first telephone call in history, Verizon is facing declining revenue and is looking to Silicon Valley for growth.

Those motivations are unlikely to have changed in the course of two months. But it remains unclear whether this new information has made Yahoo a less desirable acquisition target.

Some of Verizon’s executives have indicated they may be up to the challenge of a big hack. In a recent talk at Penn State University, Ms. McMahon, the telecom company’s chief information security officer, suggested that she relished the cat-and-mouse game between hackers and companies.

“I love security,” she said. “I love the offense and the defense of it. The bad guys are innovating just as much as the good guys in terms of their defense. Our job as defenders is to see all that.”


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