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TBR News December 14, 2016

Dec 14 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  December 14, 2016:”he American government, in a l of its branches, ois supported by the income from the tax-payers. Paying annual taxes in so arrainged that the public has little to do with it. Tax monies are deducted by the employer and sent to Washington. The biggest share of all these billions goes to the US military and has for many years. Like all agencies, the military loves to expand so that each year there are more justifications for higher payments. And we have more and more small wars, threats of wars and demands for more and more military equipment that costs an enormous amount of tax-payers money and more often than not, does not work properly, or at all. The advent of the political outside, Donald Trump has frightened those who suck off the public tit but none are more alarmed than the military. Politicians can vote against him and oligarchs can support politicians with more bribe money to support their views but the military can only bluster and threaten. In alliance with the warmongering Neo-Cons, they can postulate threats present and future so we can all look for signs of violence to our national security on Tonga or the Maldives very soon now.”

Former UK Ambassador Blasts “CIA’s Blatant Lies”, Shows “A Little Simple Logic Destroys Their Claims”

December 11, 2016

by Craig Murray

Blacklisted News

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.

A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.

As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.

The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

I had a call from a Guardian journalist this afternoon. The astonishing result was that for three hours, an article was accessible through the Guardian front page which actually included the truth among the CIA hype:

The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations, while the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has previously said the DNC leaks were not linked to Russia. A second senior official cited by the Washington Post conceded that intelligence agencies did not have specific proof that the Kremlin was “directing” the hackers, who were said to be one step removed from the Russian government.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange, called the CIA claims “bullshit”, adding: “They are absolutely making it up.”

“I know who leaked them,” Murray said. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.

“If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.

“America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

But only three hours. While the article was not taken down, the home page links to it vanished and it was replaced by a ludicrous one repeating the mad CIA allegations against Russia and now claiming – incredibly – that the CIA believe the FBI is deliberately blocking the information on Russian collusion. Presumably this totally nutty theory, that Putin is somehow now controlling the FBI, is meant to answer my obvious objection that, if the CIA know who it is, why haven’t they arrested somebody. That bit of course would be the job of the FBI, who those desperate to annul the election now wish us to believe are the KGB.

It is terrible that the prime conduit for this paranoid nonsense is a once great newspaper, the Washington Post, which far from investigating executive power, now is a sounding board for totally evidence free anonymous source briefing of utter bullshit from the executive.

In the UK, one single article sums up the total abnegation of all journalistic standards. The truly execrable Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian writes “Few credible sources doubt that Russia was behind the hacking of internal Democratic party emails, whose release by Julian Assange was timed to cause maximum pain to Hillary Clinton and pleasure for Trump.” Does he produce any evidence at all for this assertion? No, none whatsoever. What does a journalist mean by a “credible source”? Well, any journalist worth their salt in considering the credibility of a source will first consider access. Do they credibly have access to the information they claim to have?

Now both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.

Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake.

In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.

Here’s the Public Evidence Russia Hacked the DNC – It’s Not Enough

December 14 2016

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

There are some good reasons to believe Russians had something to do with the breaches into email accounts belonging to members of the Democratic party, which proved varyingly embarrassing or disruptive for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But “good” doesn’t necessarily mean good enough to indict Russia’s head of state for sabotaging our democracy.

There’s a lot of evidence from the attack on the table, mostly detailing how the hack was perpetrated, and possibly the language of the perpetrators. It certainly remains plausible that Russians hacked the DNC, and remains possible that Russia itself ordered it. But the refrain of Russian attribution has been repeated so regularly and so emphatically that it’s become easy to forget that no one has ever truly proven the claim. There is strong evidence indicating that Democratic email accounts were breached via phishing messages, and that specific malware was spread across DNC computers. There’s even evidence that the attackers are the same group that’s been spotted attacking other targets in the past. But again: No one has actually proven that group is the Russian government (or works for it). This remains the enormous inductive leap that’s not been reckoned with, and Americans deserve better.

We should also bear in mind that private security firm CrowdStrike’s frequently cited findings of Russian responsibility were essentially paid for by the DNC, who contracted their services in June. It’s highly unusual for evidence of a crime to be assembled on the victim’s dime. If we’re going to blame the Russian government for disrupting our presidential election — easily construed as an act of war — we need to be damn sure of every single shred of evidence. Guesswork and assumption could be disastrous.

The gist of the Case Against Russia goes like this: The person or people who infiltrated the DNC’s email system and the account of John Podesta left behind clues of varying technical specificity indicating they have some connection to Russia, or at least speak Russian. Guccifer 2.0, the entity that originally distributed hacked materials from the Democratic party, is a deeply suspicious figure who has made statements and decisions that indicate some Russian connection. The website DCLeaks, which began publishing a great number of DNC emails, has some apparent ties to Guccifer and possibly Russia. And then there’s Wikileaks, which after a long, sad slide into paranoia, conspiracy theorizing, and general internet toxicity, has made no attempt to mask its affection for Vladimir Putin and its crazed contempt for Hillary Clinton. (Julian Assange has been stuck indoors for a very, very long time.) If you look at all of this and sort of squint, it looks quite strong indeed, an insurmountable heap of circumstantial evidence too great in volume to dismiss as just circumstantial or mere coincidence.

But look more closely at the above and you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates. It’s impossible (or at least dishonest) to present the evidence for Russian responsibility for hacking the Democrats without using language like this. The question, then, is this: Do we want to make major foreign policy decisions with a belligerent nuclear power based on suggestions alone, no matter how strong?

What We Know

So far, all of the evidence pointing to Russia’s involvement in the Democratic hacks (DNC, DCCC, Podesta, et al.) comes from either private security firms (like CrowdStrike or FireEye) who sell cyber-defense services to other companies, or independent researchers, some with university affiliations and serious credentials, and some who are basically just Guys on Twitter. Although some of these private firms groups had proprietary access to DNC computers or files from them, much of the evidence has been drawn from publicly available data like the hacked emails and documents.

Some of the malware found on DNC computers is believed to be the same as that used by two hacking groups believed to be Russian intelligence units, codenamed APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) 28/Fancy Bear and APT 29/Cozy Bear by industry researchers who track them.

  • The attacker or attackers registered a deliberately misspelled domain name used for email phishing attacks against DNC employees, connected to an IP address associated with APT 28/Fancy Bear.
  • Malware found on the DNC computers was programmed to communicate with an IP address associated with APT 28/Fancy Bear.
  • Metadata in a file leaked by “Guccifer 2.0″ shows it was modified by a user called, in cyrillic, “Felix Edmundovich,” a reference to the founder of a Soviet-era secret police force. Another document contained cyrillic metadata indicating it had been edited on a document with Russian language settings.
  • Peculiarities in a conversation with “Guccifer 2.0″ that Motherboard published in June suggests he is not Romanian, as he originally claimed.
  • The DCLeaks.com domain was registered by a person using the same email service as the person who registered a misspelled domain used to send phishing emails to DNC employees.
  • Some of the phishing emails were sent using Yandex, a Moscow-based webmail provider.
  • A bit.ly link believed to have been used by APT 28/Fancy Bear in the past was also used against Podesta.

Why That Isn’t Enough

Viewed as a whole, the above evidence looks strong, and maybe even damning. But view each piece on its own, and it’s hard to feel impressed.

For one, a lot of the so-called evidence above is no such thing. CrowdStrike, whose claims of Russian responsibility are perhaps most influential throughout the media, says APT 28/Fancy Bear “is known for its technique of registering domains that closely resemble domains of legitimate organizations they plan to target.” But this isn’t a Russian technique any more than using a computer is a Russian technique — misspelled domains are a cornerstone of phishing attacks all over the world. Is Yandex — the Russian equivalent of Google — some sort of giveaway? Anyone who claimed a hacker must be a CIA agent because they used a Gmail account would be laughed off the internet. We must also acknowledge that just because Guccifer 2.0 pretended to be Romanian, we can’t conclude he works for the Russian government — it just makes him a liar.

Next, consider the fact that CrowdStrike describes APT 28 and 29 like this:

Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and ‘access management’ tradecraft – both groups were constantly going back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels and perform other tasks to try to stay ahead of being detected.

Compare that description to CrowdStrike’s claim it was able to finger APT 28 and 29, described above as digital spies par excellence, because they were so incredibly sloppy. Would a group whose “tradecraft is superb” with “operational security second to none” really leave behind the name of a Soviet spy chief imprinted on a document it sent to American journalists? Would these groups really be dumb enough to leave cyrillic comments on these documents? Would these groups that “constantly [go] back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels” get caught because they precisely didn’t make sure not to use IP addresses they’d been associated before? It’s very hard to buy the argument that the Democrats were hacked by one of the most sophisticated, diabolical foreign intelligence services in history, and that we know this because they screwed up over and over again.

But how do we even know these oddly named groups are Russian? CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch himself describes APT 28 as a “Russian-based threat actor” whose modus operandi “closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government” and “may indicate affiliation [Russia’s] Main Intelligence Department or GRU, Russia’s premier military intelligence service.” Security firm SecureWorks issued a report blaming Russia with “moderate confidence.” What constitutes moderate confidence? SecureWorks said it adopted the “grading system published by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence to indicate confidence in their assessments. … Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.” All of this amounts to a very educated guess, at best.

Even the claim that APT 28/Fancy Bear itself is a group working for the Kremlin is speculative, a fact that’s been completely erased from this year’s discourse. In its 2014 reveal of the group, the high-profile security firm FireEye couldn’t even blame Russia without a question mark in the headline: “APT28: A Window into Russia’s Cyber Espionage Operations?” The blog post itself is remarkably similar to arguments about the DNC hack: Technical but still largely speculative, presenting evidence the company “[believes] indicate a government sponsor based in Moscow.” Believe! Indicate! We should know already this is no smoking gun. FireEye’s argument that the malware used by APT 28 is connected to the Russian government is based on the belief that its “developers are Russian language speakers operating during business hours that are consistent with the time zone of Russia’s major cities.”

As security researcher Jeffrey Carr pointed out in June, FireEye’s 2014 report on APT 28 is questionable from the start:

To my surprise, the report’s authors declared that they deliberately excluded evidence that didn’t support their judgment that the Russian government was responsible for APT28’s activities:

“APT28 has targeted a variety of organizations that fall outside of the three themes we highlighted above. However, we are not profiling all of APT28’s targets with the same detail because they are not particularly indicative of a specific sponsor’s interests.” (emphasis added)

That is the very definition of confirmation bias. Had FireEye published a detailed picture of APT28’s activities including all of their known targets, other theories regarding this group could have emerged; for example, that the malware developers and the operators of that malware were not the same or even necessarily affiliated.

The notion that APT 28 has a narrow focus on American political targets is undermined in another SecureWorks paper, which shows that the hackers have a wide variety of interests: 10 percent of their targets are NGOs, 22 percent are journalists, 4 percent are aerospace researchers, and 8 percent are “government supply chain.” SecureWorks says that only 8 percent of APT 28/Fancy Bear’s targets are “government personnel” of any nationality — hardly the focused agenda described by CrowdStrike.

Truly, the argument that “Guccifer 2.0″ is a Kremlin agent or that GRU breached John Podesta’s email only works if you presume that APT 28/Fancy Bear is a unit of the Russian government, a fact that has never been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. According to Carr, “it’s an old assumption going back years to when any attack against a non-financial target was attributed to a state actor.” Without that premise, all we can truly conclude is that some email accounts at the DNC et al. appear to have been broken into by someone, and perhaps they speak Russian. Left ignored is the mammoth difference between Russians and Russia.

Security researcher Claudio Guarnieri put it this way:

[Private security firms] can’t produce anything conclusive. What they produce is speculative attribution that is pretty common to make in the threat research field. I do that same speculative attribution myself, but it is just circumstantial. At the very best it can only prove that the actor that perpetrated the attack is very likely located in Russia. As for government involvement, it can only speculate that it is plausible because of context and political motivations, as well as technical connections with previous (or following attacks) that appear to be perpetrated by the same group and that corroborate the analysis that it is a Russian state-sponsored actor (for example, hacking of institutions of other countries Russia has some geopolitical interests in).

Finally, one can’t be reminded enough that all of this evidence comes from private companies with a direct financial interest in making the internet seem as scary as possible, just as Lysol depends on making you believe your kitchen is crawling with E. Coli.

What Does the Government Know?

In October, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement blaming the Russian government for hacking the DNC. In it, they state their attribution plainly:

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.

What’s missing is any evidence at all. If this federal confidence is based on evidence that’s being withheld from the public for any reason, that’s one thing — secrecy is their game. But if the U.S. Intelligence Community is asking the American electorate to believe them, to accept as true their claim that our most important civic institution was compromised by a longtime geopolitical nemesis, we need them to show us why.

The same goes for the CIA, which is now squaring off directly against Trump, claiming (through leaks to the Washington Post and New York Times) that the Russian government conducted the hacks for the express purpose of helping defeat Clinton. Days later, Senator John McCain agreed with the assessment, deeming it “another form of warfare.” Again, it’s completely possible (and probable, really) that the CIA possesses hard evidence that could establish Russian attribution — it’s their job to have such evidence, and often to keep it secret.

But what we’re presented with isn’t just the idea that these hacks happened, and that someone is responsible, and, well, I guess it’s just a shame. Our lawmakers and intelligence agencies are asking us to react to an attack that is almost military in nature — this is, we’re being told, “warfare.” When a foreign government conducts (or supports) an act of warfare against another country, it’s entirely possible that there will be an equal response. What we’re looking at now is the distinct possibility that the United States will consider military retaliation (digital or otherwise) against Russia, based on nothing but private sector consultants and secret intelligence agency notes. If you care about the country enough to be angry at the prospect of election-meddling, you should be terrified of the prospect of military tensions with Russia based on hidden evidence. You need not look too far back in recent history to find an example of when wrongly blaming a foreign government for sponsoring an attack on the U.S. has tremendously backfired.

We Need the Real Evidence, Right Now

It must be stated plainly: The U.S. intelligence community must make its evidence against Russia public if they want us to believe their claims. The integrity of our presidential elections is vital to the country’s survival; blind trust in the CIA is not. A governmental disclosure like this is also not entirely without precedent: In 2014, the Department of Justice produced a 56-page indictment detailing their exact evidence against a team of Chinese hackers working for the People’s Liberation Army, accused of stealing American trade secrets; each member was accused by name. The 2014 trade secret theft was a crime of much lower magnitude than election meddling, but what the DOJ furnished is what we should demand today from our country’s spies.

If the CIA does show its hand, we should demand to see the evidence that matters (which, according to Edward Snowden, the government probably has, if it exists). I asked Jeffrey Carr what he would consider undeniable evidence of Russian governmental involvement: “Captured communications between a Russian government employee and the hackers,” adding that attribution “should solely be handled by government agencies because they have the legal authorization to do what it takes to get hard evidence.”

Claudio Guarnieri concurred:

All in all, technical circumstantial attribution is acceptable only so far as it is to explain an attack. It most definitely isn’t for the political repercussions that we’re observing now. For that, only documental evidence that is verifiable or intercepts of Russian officials would be convincing enough, I suspect.

Given that the U.S. routinely attempts to intercept the communications of heads of state around the world, it’s not impossible that the CIA or the NSA has exactly this kind of proof. Granted, these intelligence agencies will be loath to reveal any evidence that could compromise the method they used to gather it. But in times of extraordinary risk, with two enormous military powers placed in direct conflict over national sovereignty, we need an extraordinary disclosure. The stakes are simply too high to take anyone’s word for it.

Why They Hate Rex Tillerson

He’s not John Bolton, he’s not Mitt Romney, and he’s for peace with Russia

December 14, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


While the Democrats morph into a neoconservative party of paranoiacs whose main issue is hating on Russia, and the John McCain-Lindsey Graham duo arises to make its last stand in a Trumpified GOP, Rex Tillerson is the perfect target of their ire. Seeking to delegitimize the President-elect as a Russian-controlled Manchurian candidate, the CIA-Clinton-Saudi axis of “resistance” is on the warpath, and Tillerson’s alleged ties to Vladimir Putin are taking center stage in what is bound to turn into a knock-down drag-out fight on the Senate floor.

What’s noteworthy about this gathering storm is that Trump seems to welcome it: despite the rising tide of cold war hysteria, the Trump team is determined to have this fight right out of the starting gate. Instead of waiting for the inevitable assault, they’re going on the offensive against the War Party  – and that is a welcome development for those of us who support détente with Russia.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of State is the CEO of Exxon, a company that has always opposed the American empire’s favorite ploy short of war: economic sanctions. Exxon is one of the principal supporters of USA Engage, a business lobby that has for years argued against Iranian and Iraqi sanctions, and that believes in “positively engaging other societies through diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, the presence of American organizations,” and that “the best practices of American companies and humanitarian exchanges better advances U.S. objectives than punitive unilateral economic sanctions.”

Contrary to the brainless leftist narrative that characterizes Big Oil as the driving force behind the War Party – remember “No Blood for Oil!”? – the reality is that the oil industry, including Exxon, opposed the Iraq war, just as they opposed the economic sanctions that preceded it. Iran sanctions are equally unpopular with the oil industry, and, as a New Yorker profile of Tillerson put it: “In general, Tillerson and ExxonMobil have argued against economic sanctions as an instrument of American foreign policy.”

Tillerson went to work for Exxon directly after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975 with a degree in engineering. Thirty years later, he was named chairman and CEO. He made his mark in the company during his tenure as chief of Exxon’s Caspian operations, where he forged strong relations with the Yeltsin and subsequently the Putin governments. A multi-billion dollar deal with the Russian state-owned Rosneft was nixed when the US imposed sanctions after Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation. Tillerson reportedly made several trips to the Obama White House trying to get those onerous sanctions removed. As Secretary of State, he will be well placed to inaugurate a new era of peaceful and mutually beneficial trade relations with Russia – a point that critics of Trump’s supposedly protectionist policies will undoubtedly fail to note.

The Russia sanctions issue wasn’t the only time Tillerson butted heads with the Obama administration: Exxon signed off on a deal with autonomous Kurdistan to drill for oil, a bold move which ran into opposition from the central government in Baghdad: the corrupt regime of then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wanted a cut. The State Department was furious with Tillerson, but he was unrepentant: “I had to do what was best for my shareholders,” he said, according to the above-cited New Yorker profile. Not too surprising considering Tillerson has said that his favorite book is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (And he’s not the only member of Trump’s team to hold the Russian-born novelist in high esteem.)

The big issue, however, will be with Tillerson’s alleged “close ties” to Putin. Much will be made of of his acceptance of Russia’s “Order of Friendship,” which the heavy-breathers in the Hate-Russia lobby will inevitably liken to Charles Lindbergh’s acceptance of the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 – because, as we all know, Putin is Literally Hitler, as Hillary Clinton once opined. Poor Lindsey Graham was recently seen clutching his pearls and declaring that he finds Tillerson’s receipt of this medal “a bit unnerving,” but even the Washington Post – second only to Keith Olbermann in their crusade to convince us that Trump is one of the bad guys in “The Americans” – scoffs at the Senator’s alarm:

“You don’t have to be a close personal friend of President Vladimir Putin to be awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship, much less the globetrotting head of one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

“You can be a basketball coach who couldn’t cut it in Cleveland….”

Yes, you can be former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt, who “was fired midway through his second season in January, even though his Cleveland Cavaliers were in first place and would eventually go on to win the NBA title. What wasn’t good enough for Cleveland was perfectly fine for the Kremlin. Blatt was awarded an Order of Friendship in 2014 for his successes as the head coach of the Russian National Team between 2006 and 2012.”

Yet facts won’t matter to the conspiracy theorists masquerading as Very Serious People who see a Russian spy under every bed: these loons, some of whom are US senators, are already slavering for a bruising fight. No doubt Tillerson will be hauled before this drooling mob and asked “Are you or have you ever been …?” In addition to McCain and Aunt Lindsey, Little Marco Rubio has expressed trepidation that a “friend of Russia” could be our Secretary of State.

The editors of the Washington Post have given us a forewarning of the interrogation to come. Darkly opining that Trump may be “driven by undisclosed personal or financial interests” in his unwillingness to view Russia through the lens of J. Edgar Hoover, Tillerson, they rant, must be subjected to an inquisition at which “senators should seek clear statements recognizing the well-established facts about Russia’s belligerent behavior.”

This from a newspaper that has supported every American war of aggression in the modern era, and whose op ed page is a nesting place for flocks of war birds, including the well-known shrike Jennifer Rubin.

The Tillerson nomination is a very good sign of what we can expect from the Trump administration: he’s an opponent of sanctions, which are in and of themselves a form of warfare. He enjoys wide contacts around the world, and he has a proven ability to deal with even the worst despots while keeping the interests of his employer – in this case, the people of the United States – at the forefront of his mind. And he’s neither Mitt Romney nor is he John Bolton, both of whom were at one time said to be frontrunners to take the helm at Foggy Bottom – and neither of whom agrees with Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

Even better, this nomination is a clear signal that the Trump administration isn’t going to be intimidated by the War Party, even in the midst of one of its bouts of media-driven hysteria. While the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the over-the-edge wackos who have taken over the Democratic party scream and yell that the omnipotent Russians are about to raise their flag over the White House, Team Trump is ready to take them on with a nomination that is sure to provoke them.

Let’s have it out! Let the public hear the ranting demagoguery of the Democrats and their “Republican” collaborators as they exhibit the latest incarnation of the paranoid style in American politics. Like Senator Joseph McCarthy – who was not nearly as sloppy as his present day epigones – let them go overboard in their fantastic portrayal of a Vast Conspiracy until the public is thoroughly sick of them. These people are their own worst enemies.

So get out the popcorn, and pull up a chair. This is going to be instructive – and fun.

Banned by 119 Countries, U.S. Cluster Bombs Continue to Orphan Yemeni Children

December 14 2016

by Alex Emmons and Mohammed Ali Kalfood

The Intercept

On the morning of October 5, Ali Mohammed “Jubahi” Medarij set out early from his family home in al-Hayma, a coastal fishing village on the Red Sea in western Yemen. Every day, the 34-year-old fisherman traveled 9 miles to a local market — not to sell his catch, but to look for work.

The father of five had not taken his boat to sea in months. Eight other fishermen had already gone missing, presumed dead from attacks by the Saudi naval blockade. Jubahi had joined the other fisherman and dragged his boat onto the beach, where it sat idle while he struggled to support his wife, elderly father, and children.

But on that fall day, Jubahi’s trip to the market was successful. He returned in the early afternoon to share a meal with his family, before wandering down to the beach by himself. According to his father, Jubahi slipped underneath an overturned boat to escape the afternoon sun, and — exhausted — closed his eyes to sleep.

He never woke up.

Villagers in al-Hayma told The Intercept they heard rumbling around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Soon after, they saw a jet from the Saudi-led coalition circling over the coast. Assisted by the U.S. with weapons and intelligence, Saudi Arabia has been bombing and blockading Yemen for 21 months.

“The warplane was hovering toward the shoreline before I saw something with parachutes falling down,” said Yahya Qassem Zabah, a local fisherman. “For a moment I thought that soldiers were landing. Then I heard a number of explosions soon after that.”

What Zabah saw was not a soldier parachuting toward the coast, it was a cluster weapon. In mid-air, its shell casing opened and released cylinder-shaped bomblets, which scattered as they plummeted to the beach.

All at once, like deafening firecrackers, explosions ripped across the sand, splintering, smashing, and overturning fishing boats.

Jubahi’s family found his body among the wreckage in a pool of his own blood. His head had been struck by one of the munitions while he slept. “There was a hole in his head with blood spilled underneath,” Jubahi’s father, Mohammed Omar Medarij, told The Intercept before bursting into tears.

The villagers recovered two empty shell casings and three parachutes, which Jubahi’s family kept as evidence and showed to The Intercept. “They took out my son and left these rags behind,” Medarij said, gesturing toward the parachutes.

It was not the first time the villagers had seen such weapons. In December 2015, Human Rights Watch confirmed that coalition warplanes dropped CBU-105 cluster bombs on al-Hayma, damaging multiple homes and seriously injuring at least two civilians.

Researchers from Human Rights Watch identified the shell casings in photographs taken by The Intercept as a U.S.-made cluster bomb. The serial number documented in the photographs also begins with the five-number “commercial and government entity” (CAGE) code 04614 — indicating that the weapons were produced in the United States, by the Rhode Island-based company Textron Systems.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, seven months after Houthi rebels overran the capital city Sanaa and deposed the Saudi-backed leader, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The U.S. has been a silent partner to the war ever since, supplying targeting intelligence, flying refueling missions for Saudi aircraft, and authorizing more than $20 billion in new weapons transfers. Since the beginning of his administration, President Barack Obama has sold $115 billion in weapons to the Saudis, more than any of his predecessors.

Saudi Arabia is dependent on the U.S. in its bombing campaign, explained Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and 30-year CIA officer, at an event in April. “If the United States and the United Kingdom, tonight, told King Salman [of Saudi Arabia] ‘this war has to end,’ it would end tomorrow. The Royal Saudi Air Force cannot operate without American and British support.”

An official at the Saudi Embassy declined to comment.

Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department would confirm to The Intercept that the weapons photographed by The Intercept were U.S.-supplied, or that they were CBU-105 munitions. When confronted with photos containing the weapons’ serial numbers, Textron Systems spokesperson Dan Sylvestre declined to comment, telling The Intercept that the photos “raise more questions than answers as far as where those weapons were photographed and under what circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Textron’s video advertisements for the CBU-105 depict munitions that appear to be identical to those photographed by The Intercept.

Cluster weapons have a stigma attached to them, because of the particularly heavy toll they’ve taken on civilians. The weapons disperse miniature explosives over a large area, and a small number of the bomblets typically fail to detonate on impact, leaving behind mine-like explosives that often later kill civilians and destroy farmland. A report by the group Cluster Munitions Monitor found that civilians made up 97 percent of all worldwide cluster bomb casualties, primarily due to their use by the Assad government in Syria and the U.S.-backed bombing coalition in Yemen.

Due to their civilian toll, cluster bombs were banned by a 2008 treaty signed by 119 countries, but not by the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia in recent years. In 2010, the State Department authorized the sale of 1,300 CBU-105 bombs to Saudi Arabia as part of a $30 billion arms sale, and in 2011, another 400, for $355 million.

Foreign Policy magazine reported in May that the Obama administration put a hold on the latest transfer of CBU-105 munitions to Saudi Arabia, likely due to a 2009 export law that forbids the sale of cluster bombs to countries that use the weapons “where civilians are known to be present.”

Bowing to public pressure in August, Textron Systems also announced that it would be phasing out production of the CBU-105, ending the manufacturing of cluster bombs in America. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Textron explained that CBU-105 sales relied on “both executive branch and congressional approval,” and that “the current political environment has made it difficult to obtain these approvals.”

The Pentagon nonetheless maintains a large stockpile of CBU-105 munitions that it could transfer at a later date. Congress narrowly defeated a measure in June that would have prohibited their export to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon opposed the measure, worried that it would unfairly “stigmatize” the weapon.

The Saudi coalition continues to use cluster bombs, and other U.S.-supplied weapons, to bomb civilian sites, including homes, factories, markets, hospitals, children’s schools, and a funeral. Human Rights Watch released a report last week documenting further attacks on a prison and water-drilling site.

“After more than 20 months of war, unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes not only continue but have become shockingly common in Yemen,” said Kristine Beckerle, Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It is hard to see how the U.S. continuing to ship billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia — despite the rising civilian death toll and evidence of war crimes — is likely to do anything other than signal an American stamp of approval for the conduct of Saudi military operations and further put the U.S. at risk of complicity in unlawful coalition attacks.”

Jubahi’s death has thrust his family into poverty. His father, in his mid-sixties, is too weak to earn an income from hard labor. Jubahi’s wife is trying to feed her five children by weaving rope and mats out of palm leaves, but the family is mostly dependent on handouts from the already poor community.

In a country dependent on imports for the majority of its food, strikes against Yemen’s fishing industry have taken a particularly devastating toll. Fishing has declined in the Hodeidah governorate — the province where al-Hayma is located — by 75 percent. Of all of Yemen’s provinces, the U.N. places Hodeidah at the highest risk for famine, and the U.N. estimates that 100,000 children under age 5 are at risk of severe malnutrition. In al-Hayma alone, nearly 300 of the village’s 1,600 children are malnourished, according to local medical staff.

And the Saudi-led coalition has continued to attack fisherman and their ships, accusing them of smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis. In one particularly vicious attack in October 2015, Saudi warplanes fired missiles at fisherman anchored off the Red Sea island of Aqban, before Apache attack helicopters strafed the shallows to shoot survivors. The attack killed at least 42 fisherman, and possibly as many as 100.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the United States will halt transfer of munition guidance systems to Saudi Arabia and modify its training for the kingdom’s air force. An administration official who refused to be named confirmed the report to The Intercept.

Vladimir Putin tops Forbes 2016 list of most influential people

Donald Trump is in second place on annual list, with Theresa May 13th and Barack Obama 48th

December 14, 2016

by Nadia Khomami

The Guardian

Vladimir Putin has beaten Donald Trump to top Forbes magazine’s annual list of the world’s most powerful people, taking the number one spot for the third consecutive year.

The Forbes list, now in its eighth year, identifies 74 people – one for every 100 million on the planet – whose actions have the most impact across the world. Factors taken into consideration include the amount of people a person has power over, the financial resources they control, whether they have influence in more than one sphere, and how actively they wield their power to change the world.

This year, 28 members of the list serve as chief executives of major companies. The top ten of those CEOs – all of whom are American – run firms with a combined market capitalisation of $3tn (£2.4tn), Forbes reports.

Trump’s rise to second from number 72 last year is the biggest ever on the list. Other notable entries associated with him include the vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, at number 69, Rex Tillerson, the outgoing ExxonMobil chief who was selected this week as Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, at number 24, and the Blackstone Group CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, who has been appointed to Trump’s panel of economic advisers, at number 52. Several Trump donors are on the list as well, including Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands, at number 72, and the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel at 73.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, remains the most powerful woman, at number 3. The British prime minister, Theresa May, is a new addition to the list at number 13, replacing her predecessor David Cameron, who was ranked at number 8 last year. Barack Obama drops to 48.

Khalid al-Falih, the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, is another newcomer at number 49, as is the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, at number 63. Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, who drove the company to become the richest startup in history, is new at number 64, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest person on the list, at number 10.

“Forbes’s list this year of the world’s most powerful people reflects rapid and profound change happening around the globe,” said David Ewalt, Forbes contributing editor. “The biggest trend this year is likely the rise to power of Donald Trump, as well as the increasing power of his supporters and allies.”

Unfolding events in the White House, as well as those in Aleppo and Europe, including Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, have made 2016 a significant year for Putin, who has helped reshape the global landscape.

Trump, who last week was named Time’s person of the year, has continued to stoke concerns over his relationship with the Russian leader, in part by dismissing CIA reports of Russian intervention in the US presidential election.

A number of appointments by the incoming president, including that of Tillerson, have represented significant gains for Moscow, and members of the US intelligence community recently told the Guardian they even feared reprisals from Trump over their previous assessments of Russia’s hostile conduct.

Records: Too many votes in 37% of Detroit’s precincts

December 13, 2016

by Joel Kurth and Jonathan Oosting

The Detroit News

Voting machines in more than one-third of all Detroit precincts registered more votes than they should have during last month’s presidential election, according to Wayne County records prepared at the request of The Detroit News.

Detailed reports from the office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett show optical scanners at 248 of the city’s 662 precincts, or 37 percent, tabulated more ballots than the number of voters tallied by workers in the poll books. Voting irregularities in Detroit have spurred plans for an audit by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, Elections Director Chris Thomas said Monday.

The Detroit precincts are among those that couldn’t be counted during a statewide presidential recount that began last week and ended Friday following a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Democrat Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly prevailed in Detroit and Wayne County. But Republican President-elect Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes or 47.5 percent to 47.3 percent.

Overall, state records show 10.6 percent of the precincts in the 22 counties that began the retabulation process couldn’t be recounted because of state law that bars recounts for unbalanced precincts or ones with broken seals.

The problems were the worst in Detroit, where discrepancies meant officials couldn’t recount votes in 392 precincts, or nearly 60 percent. And two-thirds of those precincts had too many votes.

“There’s always going to be small problems to some degree, but we didn’t expect the degree of problem we saw in Detroit. This isn’t normal,” said Krista Haroutunian, chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.

State officials are planning to examine about 20 Detroit precincts where ballot boxes opened during the recount had fewer ballots than poll workers had recorded on Election Day.

“We’re assuming there were (human) errors, and we will have discussions with Detroit election officials and staff in addition to reviewing the ballots,” Thomas said.

The Detroit News last week was first to report that more than half of Detroit would be ineligible for the recount because of the irregularities. The results were based on county reports obtained by The News.

The new report, compiled by Wayne County elections officials, sheds light on the extent of the problems and shows a systematic tendency toward counting more votes than the previous Wayne County report, which didn’t specify if precincts had over-counted or under-counted ballots.

Republican state senators last week called for an investigation in Wayne County, including one precinct where a Detroit ballot box contained only 50 of the 306 ballots listed in a poll book, according to an observer for Trump.

City officials have told state officials that ballots in that precinct were never taken out of a locked bin below the voting machine tabulator on Election Day, said Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

“That’s what we’ve been told, and we’ll be wanting to verify it,” Woodhams said. “At any rate, this should not have happened.”

The state is not calling the audit an investigation, “but based on what we find, it could lead to more,” he said.

City Clerk Janice Winfrey and Elections Director Daniel Baxter did not return multiple messages.

Audit ‘good place to start’

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, called the planned audit “a good place to start” that could help determine whether Detroit elections workers “followed the correct procedures” or “fraudulent procedures” on Election Day.

Whether a poll book mismatch suggests there are too few or too many ballots in any given precinct, “it’s concerning,” said Colbeck, who spearheaded the request for probe. “It’s supposed to reconcile to zero.”

It’s unclear how many votes were added in Detroit. That’s because county officials have not tabulated how much the ballots were off in precincts with discrepancies of at least five votes.

Of the data available, though, machines tallied at least 388 more ballots, according to a Detroit News analysis of the records. That’s 0.16 percent of the 248,000 ballots cast in the city that voted for Clinton 95 percent to 3 percent over Trump.

Haroutunian said she didn’t know what to make of the trend toward over-counting because there was no explanation from Detroit poll workers. The city had another 34 precincts that were out of balance, but they included explanations for the discrepancies.

Under state law, those precincts could be recounted because there were explanations. The law states that original results stand in precincts that can’t be recounted.

Washtenaw County Elections Director Ed Golembiewski said discrepancies tend to “even themselves out” — there are usually about as many precincts whose machines report more votes than fewer votes. But he said the large number of precincts with over-votes in Detroit isn’t necessarily significant.

“It’s usually human error,” Golembiewski said. “I have not seen anyone intentionally try to run an extra ballot. You aren’t going to rig an election three ballots at a time. You’re going to need a far more systematic and thorough approach than a couple of people here and there stuffing three extra ballots.”

In Washtenaw County, 23 of 150 precincts, about 15 percent, could not be recounted. Other counties with high percentages of unrecountable precincts include Branch (27 percent); Cass (24 percent); Wayne (24 percent) and Ionia (24 percent).

Who’s responsible for errors?

Last week, Baxter told The News 87 optical scanners broke on Election Day. He said many jammed when voters tried repeatedly to stuff single ballots into scanners, which can result in erroneous vote counts if poll workers don’t adjust counters.

Former Detroit mayoral candidate Tom Barrow, who has challenged the city’s elections process for years, said blaming workers is a cop-out. According to city protocol, all precincts are supposed to be balanced when the ballot boxes are sealed at the end of the night, he said.

“The city is responsible. Janice Winfrey is responsible,” Barrow said. “This didn’t happen because of crazy, dyslexic senior citizens who are working as poll workers, like they want to portray this. That’s people who are trying to deny responsibility.”

He has asserted on social media that Winfrey cost Clinton the election in Michigan.

Others said there could be benign explanations.

Detroit’s ballot was two pages because it included dozens of candidates for the local Board of Education. The number of pages can cause machines to jam and lead them to count too many ballots, said Genesee County Clerk John Gleason.

“Usually, if there’s a problem, it tends to be more voters than votes,” he said. “But when we’re off, we should be very, very close, like one ballot.”

Genesee County, which like Wayne County is heavily Democratic, couldn’t recount 14 of the 142 precincts it had started before the court scuttled the process. Gleason took office in 2013 and said he had to “ride herd” over city clerks to ensure they reconciled precincts.

“Nothing is perfect. You have paper. You have humidity. You have people hanging onto ballots,” Gleason said.

“So there’s reasons, but there should be no excuses.”

Turkey: Fear marks 2016

From terror attacks to never-ending arrests, Turkey has suffered through a rough year. President Erdogan’s recent call for national mobilization may not be sufficient writes DW’s Seda Serdar.

December 14, 2016


It has been a traumatic year for Turkey. Terrorist attacks in big cities, trench warfare in eastern Turkey against the Kurds, the spill-over from the war in Syria and the failed coup attempt that led to the current state-of-emergency have left the country in a shambles.

The loss of lives and the fear of becoming a victim of a terror attack have fueled public anxiety. Despite the inculcations of the Turkish government and constant promises to end terror in the country, the instability continues to deepen.

Fear – the common denominator

Turkey is not only struggling with deadly attacks, but also with a rapidly deteriorating democracy. Following the failed coup attempt, the arrests and job losses of thousands have created another level of fear and unease in the country. Not only are people known as Gülenists being replaced. Anyone considered a threat to the ruling AKP rapidly becomes a target.

The systematic policy of attrition towards the Kurdish HDP is another element of oppression. This policy adds more fuel to the fire, inciting deeper divisions within society. It is important to keep in mind that the people behind bars today are the same people that the AKP was working with to find a solution to the Kurdish issue not long ago. Pushing aside an elected party and marginalizing their role in politics is clearly harming democracy.

The wall of shame rises even higher when one looks at the situation of Turkish media. The few remaining free voices are struggling not to drown between propaganda and self-censorship, if their editors are not already imprisoned.

This gloomy picture becomes more complex when almost 4 million refugees are included. One cannot blame the refugees for not seeing any hope or future in Turkey. The majority of them see no perspective for the future and little hope. Since Turkey expects another refugee influx due to the intensified fighting in Aleppo, the future of these people and their integration becomes an even more important issue. Even though it is only the humane response to accommodate people fleeing war, one cannot deny that this is a social problem waiting to explode. At the same time, the refugee deal struck with the EU continues to hang in the balance.

What’s the rush?

Türkei Istanbul nach den Anschlägen (Reuters/Handout /Presidential Palace/K. Ozer)

Erdogan visiting a policman wounded during the December 11 terror attack in Istanbul

With all these problems, it is clear that the timing for changing the constitution was poorly chosen. The recent terrorist attack in Istanbul also proved that there are more urgent issues that have to be dealt with. The government needs to invest all of its energy in finding a solution to terror, since this was not the first attack, but just one among many that shook Turkey in 2016.

Even though some argue that this was an attempt to slow down Turkey on the road to progress, it should rather be seen as proof that terrorism is on the rise and can influence daily lives anytime, anywhere. Therefore the problem needs undivided attention and resources.

Mixed signals

At a speech given to the elected neighborhood representatives, which has become one of President Erdogan’s signature moves, he declared a national mobilization against terrorism. Erdogan called for unity among citizens and promised to strike back by intensifying the fight on terror.

At the same time, he ordered neighborhood representatives to report suspicious activities since who else would know what’s happening in each and every household better than them? This however conflicts with the call for unity. Not only does it encourage the invasion of privacy, but also adds to the fear factor of being reported to the government. It is one thing to fight terrorism and to prevent attacks; it is quite another to grant authority to further intimidate an already traumatized public.

It seems that the AKP has realized that the ritual of paying respect to the victims of terrorist attacks is no longer sufficient. However, once the promises are put aside and the press conferences are over, there still seems to be no concrete plan of action in place to bring peace and unity to the country.

Algorithms are making us small-minded

Your life is mapped out for you but, not in the way that you think. How predictive algorithms narrow your perspective – and ultimately your choices.

December 13, 2016

by Sydney Finkelstein

BBC News

We live in a world of curation. The internet — aided by algorithms that predict what we search, buy, listen to, read, watch and even who we want to date and marry — expertly helps to us find what we want.

Well, as long as it’s similar to whatever we’ve liked in the past.

And there’s the rub. The ubiquity of incredibly powerful algorithms designed to reinforce our interests also ensures that we see little of what’s new, different and unfamiliar. The very things that are at the heart of learning, understanding and innovation. Rather than taking us out of our comfort zone, the digital revolution is enabling each of us to live happily in our own worlds, and in the process closing down opportunities for originality, spontaneity and learning.

The best part of all: we love it this way.

How do I know?

Because we flock to Amazon to buy what their algorithms say we should buy. Because we read news that reinforces what we already believe. And because we even rely on dating sites that specifically seek to match us with similar people.

The consequences of living in our algorithm-enabled straightjackets are not trivial. Intellectually and socially, we are paying a price.

Take, for example, the recent presidential election in the US.  The stark political polarisations became arguably more entrenched and increasingly evident here as the tendency of people to seek out confirmatory evidence to support their inherent beliefs or intuition became a self-reinforcing cycle. Different Americans are living in different versions of the same country. By limiting ourselves to certain news organisations and certain pundits, our curated analyses of current events begin to look spectacularly different to those of others with different outlooks and life experiences.

The problem of narrow-mindedness crosses over into business and leadership. Not only has research shown time and time again that open-mindedness improves our sense of wellbeing, but it also leads to better decisions. That was certainly the case with superbosses, those exceptional leaders who built thriving businesses based on agility and creativity in both managerial mindset and business practices.

And then there’s a recent paper published in the Strategic Management Journal that illustrates the importance of both top-down and bottom-up processes for noticing and exploiting new opportunities. While top-down processes, like drawing from previous experiences, are important, they can sometimes blind us from noticing unexpected changes in the industry. In contrast, bottom-up processes, or noticing changes in the environment despite pre-existing knowledge, allow us to pay attention to and exploit unexpected opportunities the competition might miss.

What comfort zone?

But, we can fight back against the dominance of algorithms to keep us, and our thinking, from being pigeonholed to what we’ve done before. It’s not as hard as we might think to broaden our scope and keep an open mind in our professional and personal lives.

At the office, start with the people you hire. By selecting unusual candidates, people who might think differently than others already on the team, you’re more likely to hear different perspectives and come up with innovative solutions or ideas. Algorithms scan CVs for key words or phrases, but what if you also spent some time reading them individually or tried to search for different key words? Or even better, actually get out there to scout for talent wherever you can find it.

To foster creativity in the long term, when you’re the one in charge, embrace a mindset of change. Rather than constructing an organisation or team along a specific formula, build it around a set of principles and invite employees to come up with new approaches to work that adhere to those principles, but may otherwise be radically different. Again, this was a hallmark of superboss leaders like Jay Chiat, founder and long-time CEO of advertising agency Chiat/Day, who would reward employees for doing things differently, even if those efforts fell short.

More importantly, be honest with yourself and recognise if this narrowing pattern of behaviour seems like you. You might then consider intentionally selecting something out of your standard framework on a regular basis.

The next time you eat out for example, try a cuisine you normally wouldn’t go for. Watch a movie from a completely different genre than you’re used to. Or join a book club. Devote some time to speaking with someone as different from you as possible at the next party or event you attend — and ask them for recommendations of what to read, eat and watch.

There are also websites and apps that can help. Procon.org, for example, presents opposing arguments to controversial issues, while apps like Earbits allow you to discover new music by clicking on different genres, rather than presenting users with more of what they already like.

It will probably take effort to seek out new things. But as the new year approaches, think of it this way: As algorithms and artificial intelligence become better at predicting our needs and narrowing our focus, our ability to adapt and keep learning new things may become crucial to our value as people — in business and in life. That’s certainly worth investing in.

Large protests in Poland as leader vows to stifle opposition

December 13, 2016

by Monika Scislowska

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of anti-government protesters marched Tuesday from the former Communist party headquarters in Warsaw to the offices of Poland’s current ruling party, a symbolic route chosen to underline the charge that the government is destroying democracy.

The march, held under the slogan “Stop the Devastation of Poland,” marked the 35th anniversary of martial law being declared by the communist regime in 1981 to crush the Solidarity democracy movement.

It was organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, or KOD, a civic rights group that arose in reaction to the policies of the ruling Law and Justice party.

The populist party with a conservative streak has moved quickly since winning control of the government last year to solidify its power by weakening the judiciary and assuming more influence over state media, among other steps. The European Union and the United States have criticized the moves.

“I don’t like the way things are going in Poland,” said Joanna Grabowska, a 63-year-old taking part in the march as others around her whistled and waved Polish and European Union flags. “I am terrified that democracy and freedom of expression are being taken from us.”

Members of the political opposition, including former Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of the Civic Platform party, were among the marchers, who carried banners reading “We will not surrender freedom.”

Government supporters stood on the sidelines of Tuesday’s march shouting “red swine” and other insults.

Earlier in the day, Law and Justice Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski said he does not like the style of political debate in Poland and said government leaders would make “attempts to introduce some kind of order into the opposition’s activity.”

Kaczynski, a former prime minister widely recognized as the power behind the government, did not specify the measures or their timing, but said he expects they will be criticized by many as efforts to limit freedom and democracy.

At the march, people said his words were worrying.

“I would expect only bad things,” Grabowska said. “This is some kind of sick policy. I don’t understand it and it’s hurting Poland’s interest.”

Another marcher, Ewa Kniaziolucka, a history and political science teacher at a Warsaw high school, said she hopes to live to see the current leaders “face the State Tribunal” as punishment for the way they are remaking the country.

“I was really happy that I live in a free country, and they are taking the free country away from me,” she said.

At the same time, a few thousand backers of the ruling party held a remembrance rally to patriotic music in a downtown square where Kaczynski addressed them and spoke about the need for justice and equality.

Adam Rucinski, 50, came in an organized group on a bus from Szczecin, some 550 kilometers (340 miles) away to show his support for government policies.

“We have democracy and freedom to the degree we never had before, but something bad is taking place lately with those unruly KOD marches abusing it. It is worrying me,” Rucinski said. “So I came to show I support the government.”

Law and Justice came to power promising to punish former communists, who they think were let off too easily when communism fell in 1989. They are also hugely critical of the former ruling centrist party, Civic Platform, accusing its members of promoting liberal economic policies that have allowed the rich to get richer but kept many others mired in low wages.

Also Tuesday, Poland’s government said it was taking steps to strip two late communist-era generals of their top military ranks — the two top leaders who imposed martial law on Dec. 13, 1981, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and his deputy, Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak. Jaruzelski died in 2014 and Kiszczak in 2015.

“Today, for the last time, will the word ‘general’ be used alongside the name of Mr. Jaruzelski” within the Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said, adding that Kiszczak also was being stripped of his rank.

“Criminals responsible for armed action against their own nation do not deserve to wear these military ranks,” Macierewicz said.

Jaruzelski always insisted he was a patriot who imposed martial law to save the freedom-seeking nation from a Soviet invasion.

While the moves against Jaruzelski and Kiszczak are largely symbolic, Law and Justice party lawmakers also are debating a new law aimed at reducing the pensions of retired secret security officials and some military leaders from the communist era.

Their pensions are higher than pensions of ordinary Poles, and the government argues that officials who served under the system imposed by Moscow do not merit any privileges.

Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this story.






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