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TBR News December 14, 2017

Dec 14 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 14, 2017: “There is serious talk inside the Beltway that if the Democrats get control of both houses of Congress that there will be impeachment proceedings aimed at Trump. Their view is that he has no political or diplomatic skills and his blustering is causing serious problems both inside and outside the country. Trump is alienating everyone in sight and by Tweeting to the public he is denigrating the dignity of his high office. Also, he promises much and delivers almost nothing. Most sensible people, I am sure, hoped that he would prove himself after a period of adjustment but apparently this is not to be. Is this a reprise of the Nixon debacle?”

 

Table of Contents

  • Putin says U.S. gripped by fabricated spymania, praises Trump
  • Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore could mean a dramatic shift in Congress
  • Republicans trade blame over Alabama Senate loss
  • World’s richest 0.1% have boosted their wealth by as much as poorest half
  • Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Rubber Stamps 70 Years of Israeli Violations
  • Fearing 2018 Democratic Wave, Right-Wing Lobbyists Are Mobilizing Against a $15 Minimum Wage Push
  • ISIS threatens attacks on US soil over Trump’s Jerusalem decision
  • Roy Moore issues fiery video refusing to concede: ‘Immorality sweeps over our land’
  • Donald Trump’s First Year Sets Record for U.S. Special Ops
  • Brexit: UK Parliament backs final say in EU divorce in major blow to Theresa May

 

Putin says U.S. gripped by fabricated spymania, praises Trump

December 14, 2017

by Vladimir Soldatkin and Jack Stubbs

Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the United States was in the grip of a fabricated spymania whipped up by President Donald Trump’s opponents but he thought battered U.S.-Russia relations would recover one day.

Putin also praised the U.S. president for what he said were his achievements.

“I‘m not the one to evaluate the (U.S.) president’s work. That needs to be done by the voters, the American people,” Putin told his annual news conference in Moscow, in answer to a question. “(But) we are objectively seeing that there have been some major accomplishments, even in the short time he has been working. Look at how the markets have grown. This speaks to investors’ trust in the American economy.”

Trump took office in January, saying he was keen to mend ties which had fallen to a post-Cold War low. But since then, ties have soured further after U.S. officials said Russia meddled in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.

Congress is also investigating alleged contacts between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials amid fears that Moscow may have tried to exercise improper influence.

Putin dismissed those allegations and the idea of a Russia connection as “fabricated”.

“This is all invented by people who oppose Trump to give his work an illegitimate character. The people who do this are dealing a blow to the state of (U.S.) domestic politics,” he added, saying the accusations were disrespectful to U.S. voters.

Moscow understood that Trump’s scope to improve ties with Russia was limited by the scandal, said Putin, but remained keen to try to improve relations.

“COMMON THREATS”

Washington and Moscow had many common interests, he said, citing the Middle East, North Korea, international terrorism, environmental problems and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“You have to ask him (Trump) if he has such a desire (to improve ties) … or whether it has disappeared. I hope that he has such a desire,” said Putin.

“We are normalizing our relations and will develop (them) and overcome common threats.”

Putin, who is running for re-election in March, agreed with a questioner who said he faced no credible high-profile political opponents, but pledged to work to try to create a more balanced political system.

The promise drew mockery from his critics, who accuse him of using state TV, the courts and the police to demonize and marginalize the liberal opposition.

He seems sure to win comfortably in March and extend his grip on power into a third decade.

He said he planned to run as an independent candidate and garner support from more than one party, in a sign the former KGB officer may be keen to strengthen his image as a “father of the nation” rather than as a party political figure.

Putin said it was too early to set out his electoral program, but named priority issues as helping forge what he called a flexible political system, nurturing a high-tech economy, improving infrastructure, healthcare, education and productivity and increasing people’s real incomes.

Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since the end of 1999.

Reporting by Moscow bureau; writing by Andrew Osborn; editing by Andrew Roche

 

Doug Jones’s victory over Roy Moore could mean a dramatic shift in Congress

Democrats now have a plausible path to a House majority in 2018, while Republican control of the Senate rests precariously on the narrowest seat margin

December 13, 2017

by Lauren Gambino

The Guardian

Washington-Doug Jones’s stunning victory over Roy Moore in Alabama – which handed Democrats a rare win in the Republican South on Tuesday night – threatens to imperil Donald Trump’s legislative agenda and raises the prospect that the 2018 midterm elections could dramatically shift the balance of power in Congress.

Jones gave Democrats a much-needed adrenaline shot by beating Moore, the evangelical former state judge whose campaign was marred by multiple accusations of sexual assault and child molestation.

And the morning after, Democrats immediately seized upon the remarkable win, which cuts Republican majority in the Senate to one, as a sign of more victories to come in 2018.

“Alabama’s not an outlier – it’s a trend,” Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said on a conference call on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s results put the House and the Senate majorities in play next year, Perez said, setting an ambitious goal ahead for an election year focused on the November midterms. Democrats have a plausible path to a House majority in 2018, but the midterm map was widely expected to favor Republicans in the Senate. Democrats must defend 10 seats in states where Trump won while, until Alabama shifted the ground, only two Republican seats were seen as vulnerable.

Perez said Democrats have a real shot at winning Senate seats in Arizona and Tennessee, where the Republican senators are retiring after clashes with Trump, as well as in Nevada, where the Republican senator is being challenged from the right by a candidate aligned closely with the president

“The field is very wide open,” Perez said. “I think we will win the House of Representatives, I think we will win the US Senate.”

Yet the circumstances of the race for the Alabama seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, were unique.

Moore, who late on Tuesday was refusing to concede the race, had been favored in the state until two women came forward to claim that he assaulted them when they were teenagers; a number of other women said the Alabama Republican had romantically pursued them when they were underage. Moore has denied all the allegations.

On Tuesday night, Jones emerged to a euphoric reception just before 10pm local time. “Folks, I gotta tell you, I think that I have been waiting all my life and now I just don’t know what the hell to say,” he said, beginning a 10-minute speech.

“I have always believed that the people of Alabama had more in common than what would divide us.”

On Wednesday, at a relaxed post-election press conference, Jones brushed off Moore’s refusal to concede. He noted that he had a congratulatory call from Trump and said “when the president of United States who endorsed Roy Moore calls me and congratulates me I think it’s pretty clean cut”.

Jones said Trump had also invited him to visit the White House once he arrived in Washington and that he had also heard from both Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell as well as both of the Yellowhammer State’s current senators.

Senate majority cut

Republican control of the Senate now rests precariously on the narrowest 51 to 49 seat margin.

Jones struck a far more cautious note than many of his future colleagues who have demanded that he be seated right away in order to vote on the tax cut bill currently before Congress. The senator-elect didn’t take a position on the urgency of taking his seat in the Senate. “We’ll see the way it goes and I’ll go with it either way,” said Jones.

On Capitol Hill, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, said 2018 is “looking good for us”.

“The Republican brand, even in deep-red Alabama, is positively toxic,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“If they continue to run the government for the benefit of the few special, powerful, wealthy interests, there will be many more Alabamas in 2018, many more,” he added.

Schumer said the turn-out in Alabama followed a similar pattern as elections earlier this year in Virginia and New Jersey: an energized Democratic base; strong turnout by African American voters; decisive support from millennials; and significant gains among suburban white voters – an especially ominous sign for Republicans who are contemplating elections in affluent districts with highly-educated and high-income voters.

“The suburbs are swinging back to us,” Schumer said. “Republicans, with their policies, are going to lose them in 2018. And now they’re even making it worse with their tax bill, which is an anti-suburban tax bill.”

In the short-term, Democrats are mounting an unlikely effort to persuade the Republican Senate leadership to postpone the vote on their tax plan until after Jones is seated as a senator in the New Year.

But a senior Republican aide said there was no intention of changing the timeline of the tax vote – the party hopes to have a bill on Trump’s desk next week.

Jones’ victory is also a major political setback for Trump, who vigorously endorsed the Alabama Republican despite the sex allegations against him and held a rally on his behalf last week, just over the state line in Pensacola, Florida. Although most national Republican figures rushed to distance themselves from Moore in the aftermath of the allegations that he targeted teenage girls while he was in his 30s, Trump reaffirmed his support through tweets and public statements.

On Wednesday, Trump, who rarely concedes defeat or accepts responsibility, claimed that he had known all along that Moore was unelectable, which, he said, was why he initially endorsed his opponent, Luther Strange, during Alabama’s summer Republican primary.

“If last night’s election proved anything, it proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate,” he said.

However, as the soul-searching begins, Republican establishment figures like Senate leader Mitch McConnell are braced for an even uglier civil war with the populist faction whipped up by Trump’s former White House adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon blames entrenched Washington politicians for abandoning Moore and the interests of deeply conservative grassroots voters, while more moderate conservatives see his aggressive bid to takeover the party with firebrand candidates as a disaster for their image.

Earlier this year, Bannon declared a “season of war” on the so-called GOP establishment and has vowed to recruit and field candidates against Republican incumbents in 2018. But some Republicans are hopeful the sting of defeat will deflate Bannon’s confidence – and weaken his influence with the president.

“I don’t think Steve Bannon adds anything positive at all to the dialogue in the country,” New York congressman Pete King, a Republican, said on MSNBC, after calling on his party to “dump Bannon” the night before.

In his floor remarks, McConnell did not mention the Alabama election results in his before succumbing to a coughing fit. He was granted permission to submit the rest of his remarks for the public record and left the floor.

“Strange to say I guess from my side of the aisle, but I thought it was a great night for America, so I couldn’t be more happy,” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who is retiring at the end of his term, told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Yet Republicans downplayed the significance of the result, insisting that it did not signal a Democratic wave in 2018.

“This isn’t a rebuke of conservative values or agendas,” Republican senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters. “This was a rebuke of a candidate.”

Ben Jacobs contributed reporting from Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Republicans trade blame over Alabama Senate loss

Republican Roy Moore refuses to concede as his party came to grips with what the defeat meant for their narrow majority in the Senate. US President Donald Trump has reportedly blamed Steven Bannon for the loss.

December 14, 2017

DW

Controversial Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama still refused to concede defeat late on Wednesday, saying he would wait for the “final count” of the votes, which could take until the beginning of January.

Moore, a far-right former state Supreme Court judge who was accused of harassing and assaulting multiple underage girls in the 1970s, lost to Doug Jones, the first Democrat elected to an Alabama Senate seat in a quarter century.

Estimates indicate that Jones won by about 1.5 percent, or 20,000 votes. Moore said he would wait to see if a recount was called, despite Alabama Secretary of State saying such an outcome was “very unlikely.”

Moore’s defeat was also seen as a major blow to US President Donald Trump, who threw his support behind the former judge even as mainstream Republicans were calling for Moore to withdraw from the race over the assault claims and his openly bigoted platform.

Trump blames Bannon

At first, Trump shared an uncharacteristically magnanimous message of congratulations to Jones on Twitter, before following up with the qualification that “Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him.”

According to the Washington Post, however, Trump was angered at the perceived humiliation of Moore’s defeat, blaming former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon for the loss of a key Senate seat to Democrats. Bannon, who supported Roy Moore on the campaign trail, had sold a fake “bill of goods,” in persuading the president to support him, Trump reportedly said.

Other far-right Republicans blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for first calling in Moore to step out of the race and then distancing himself from the vote.

Doug Jones’ victory could be further damaging to Republicans as it narrows their majority in the Senate to just 51 of 100 seats.

With the prospect of their tax reform bill looming, it seemed likely that Congress would try to push forward a vote on the legislation next week before Jones could be sworn in

 

World’s richest 0.1% have boosted their wealth by as much as poorest half

Inequality report also shows UK’s 50,000 richest people have seen their share of the country’s wealth double since 1984

December 14, 2017

by Rupert Neate

The Guardian

The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980, according to a report detailing the widening gap between the very rich and poor.

The World Inequality Report, published on Thursday by French economist Thomas Piketty, warned that inequality had ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries and said the problem would only get worse unless governments took coordinated action to increase taxes and prevent tax avoidance.

The report, which drew on the work of more than 100 researchers around the world, found that the richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016. And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more. The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth, and the top 0.001% – about 76,000 people – collected 4% of all the new wealth created since 1980.

“The top 0.1% income group (about 7 million people) captured as much of the world’s growth since 1980 as the bottom half of the adult population,” the report said. “Conversely, income growth has been sluggish or even nil for the population between the global bottom 50% and top 1%.”

The economists said wealth inequality had become “extreme” in Russia and the US. The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980. The researchers noted that “most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth owners”.

The world’s richest person is Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who has a $98.8bn (£73.9bn) fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. Bezos, the biggest shareholder in Amazon, has seen his wealth increase by $33bn over the past year alone. Collectively, the world’s five richest people – Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – hold $425bn of assets. That is equivalent to one-sixth of the UK’s GDP.

In the UK, the richest 1% control 22% of the country’s wealth, up from 15% in 1984. The very richest in the UK have seen a huge increase in their wealth. The top 0.1% – around 50,000 people – have seen their share of the nation’s wealth double from 4.5% in 1984 to 9% in 2013.

“The increase in the concentration of wealth in the last four decades is very much a phenomenon confined to the hands of the top 0.5% (the richest 250,000 Britons), and in particular the top 0.1% (the richest 50,000),” the report said.

The richest people in the UK are the Hinduja family, who control a conglomerate of businesses including cars and banks, and are worth $15.4bn.

The economists, led by Piketty who shot to global fame after the publication of his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, said there was a “huge gap” in wealth between the richest people in the UK and everyone else in the country. They said the bottom 90% of people in the UK had an average wealth of £68,000, compared with £321,000 among the richest 10% and the top 0.5%, who were worth £3.7m on average.

While inequality was high in north America and Europe, the researchers warned that the problem was even more acute in Africa, Brazil and the Middle East, where they said “inequality has remained relatively stable at extremely high levels in recent decades”.

“The top 10% receives about 55% of total income in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Middle East, the top 10% income share is typically over 60%,” the report said. “These three regions never went through the postwar egalitarian regime and have always been at the world’s high-inequality frontier.”

The report warns that unless there is globally coordinated political action, the wealth gap will continue to grow. “The global top 1% income share could increase from nearly 20% today to more than 24% by 2050,” the report said. “In which case the global bottom 50% share could fall from 10% to less than 9%.”

However, the economists said increasing inequality was “not inevitable” if countries acted to bring in progressive income tax. “It not only reduces post-tax inequality, it shrinks pre-tax inequality by discouraging top earners from capturing higher shares of growth via aggressive bargaining for higher pay.”

The authors said taxation alone was not enough to tackle the problem as the wealthy were best placed to avoid and evade tax, as shown by the recent Paradise Papers investigation. The report said a tenth of the world’s wealth was held in tax havens.

 

Trump’s Jerusalem Decision Rubber Stamps 70 Years of Israeli Violations

For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol representing a century of betrayal by the West

December 14, 2017

by James Zogby

AntiWar

President Donald Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was irresponsible and dangerous for more reasons than I can count. Let me outline just a few of the principle concerns.

While we have all grown weary of hearing the overused mantra “this is the end of the peace process,” Trump’s decision may, in fact, be the nail in the coffin for any negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first place, there is no peace process. It has been replaced, instead, by a breath-holding exercise with Israelis and Palestinians waiting for Trump aides to cook up “the deal of the century.” It is presumed that when “the deal” is presented negotiations will begin.

The unilateral American recognition of Jerusalem not only prejudges one of the conflicts most sensitive issues, it does so in Israel’s favor. From the beginning of the modern “peace process,” there have been two fatal flaws that have hampered the effort: the asymmetry of power in Israel’s favor and the clear U.S. bias in support of Israel.

Trump’s action has accented both flaws. It has emboldened and rewarded the most hardline and intransigent elements in Israel while weakening and compromising those Palestinian and Arab leaders who have put their trust in the US role. The decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to begin the process of relocating the US embassy makes it clear that the US is not an “honest broker.” In this context, the president’s appeal to the parties to continue to focus on achieving peace simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

It must be recalled that when the Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, its Republican authors, working with Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, viewed it as a poison pill that would sabotage the then still barely operational Oslo Peace Process. The legislation was a GOP-Likud slap in the face of both Rabin and Clinton. The reason why US presidents, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have used the act’s waiver provision to defer its implementation was precisely to avoid this poison pill and to preserve some US peacemaking credibility. The pill has now been taken and swallowed.

What the authors of the act and anti-peace forces in Israel and the US knew was that Jerusalem is not to be toyed with. It is not just any city. It is central to the narratives of all three Abrahamic faiths. For this reason, the architects of the UN partition plan, set it aside as an international zone. It was for this reason that when Israel occupied the western side of the city in 1948 and later declared Jerusalem as their capital, that unilateral decision was never recognized by the international community.

Israel compounded their defiance in 1967 when, after occupying the rest of Palestine, they annexed a substantial area of Palestinian land (including over two dozen Palestinian villages) and declared the entirety of West and East Jerusalem as “Greater Jerusalem,” insisting that it was their “eternal undivided capital.” This flagrant violation of international law was unanimously condemned by the United Nations.

Seen in this context, Trump’s action puts the US stamp of approval on Israel’s 70 year record of violations of law and UN Resolutions.

For Arabs and Muslims worldwide, Jerusalem has become a powerful symbol representing a century of betrayal by the West. Like the issue of Palestine itself, mention of Jerusalem evokes broken promises, brutal occupation by imperial and colonial powers, loss of control of history, and denial of fundamental rights. I often remind American audiences that Jerusalem is to Arabs and Muslims what the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee was to Native Americans. It may not have been their tribe that was involved in the infamous brutality inflicted on those who were killed at Wounded Knee – but what happened there spoke to all of them, reminding them of their collective history dispossession and continuing hurt.

Jerusalem is the wound in the heart of Arabs and Muslims that never healed. With his callous decision to absolve Israel of its crimes and recognize their control of the city, by conquest, Trump rubbed salt into this wound.

It was, therefore, absurdly insensitive and galling for the US president to couple his provocation with an appeal to Palestinians to remain calm and peaceful. He was in effect saying, “I don’t care what you have suffered, nor do I care how unjust and illegal Israeli actions have been, just sit back and take it.”

I would add that while, with his decision, Trump was playing to his right wing evangelical Christian supporters, he ignored the feelings of the Christian community in Palestine. In a statement issued the day before the president’s announcement, the patriarchs and bishops of the eastern Christian churches headquartered in Jerusalem pleaded with him not to recognize Israel’s exclusive claim to the city.

Finally, there is the reality of daily life for Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. Having closed East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, Israel has accelerated its policy of strangling the life out of Arabs in Jerusalem. Denied employment, victimized by home demolitions and land theft, and subject to host of discriminatory policies that violate fundamental human rights, the endurance of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arab population is tested daily. Trump’s silence on these matters while offering a hollow “God Bless the Palestinian people” at the end of his remarks was more like “ashes in the mouth” than an expression of real concern. It aggravated, more than it comforted.

While Americans remember December 7, the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as “a day of infamy,” Arabs and Palestinians may well feel the same about December 6 – the date Donald Trump delivered a fatal and fateful blow to peace and justice in the Holy Land.

 

Fearing 2018 Democratic Wave, Right-Wing Lobbyists Are Mobilizing Against a $15 Minimum Wage Push

December 14 2017

by Lee Fang and  Nick Surgey

The Intercept

Even before Democrat Doug Jones’s unlikely win in the race for an Alabama Senate seat, Republicans were worried: There could be a wave of Democratic victories ahead, a backlash against President Donald Trump, in next year’s elections. The wave could carry with it a raft of pushes for progressive policies. But the right is girding itself for the fights they see coming up. One such fight could emerge over increasing the minimum wage.

One infamous lobbyist, in particular, is already looking forward to the battle. Rick Berman, a corporate lobbyist who specializes in orchestrating relentless public relation campaigns on behalf of industry groups, is busy mobilizing business groups to go on “offense” with the aim of killing minimum wage hikes even before public support has been marshaled for a push.

Berman recently traveled to Dallas to pitch a $4.6 million campaign to defeat labor reforms that may be championed by a resurgent Democratic Party.

“There will be significant erosion in Republican-held state legislative seats in November 2018,” the Berman memo notes. “The policy implications are obvious.” (Berman & Company, the consulting firm behind the pitch, did not provide a comment when contacted by The Intercept.)The memo goes on to note the tough political terrain for this fight: The public is not generally opposed to raising the tipped minimum wage or pushing the federal minimum wage to $15. Indeed, a growing number of leading Democrats have pushed to raise the minimum wage.

While the issue created a significant fissure during the last Democratic presidential primary, most senior Democrats have come to embrace the $15 minimum wage championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. In May, a group of Democrats, including congressional party leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced support for legislation that would phase-in a $15 federal minimum wage by 2024.

Berman sees a looming threat for the industries he represents. In his pitch to potential donors, he called for businesses to provide funds to one of his groups, the Employment Policies Institute, in order to mount a multitiered campaign to shift the debate against minimum wage.

“First, we need an offense message that identifies the true victims of ill-conceived wage mandates,” the memo says. “Our research indicates that when we connect the dots on wage mandates, the negative impact on youth unemployment, and the consequent destruction of entry-level jobs, we achieve a new public awareness and sympathy for youth ‘victims.’”

The communications budget in the pitch has line items for media outreach, including opinion columns and letters to the editor; television and print advertisements; and support for websites run by Berman, including Faces of 15, a site featuring businesses allegedly shut down over local minimum wage hikes.

A second part of the campaign calls for the food service industry, a longtime Berman client, to use its sphere of influence to make the case that businesses cannot afford greater labor costs. Berman suggests that messages from his group could be displayed on “table top coasters, tray liners, coffee sleeves, etc.” to make sure “millions” of customers and employees see the warning.

The campaign would also include an effort to sidetrack the debate on raising the minimum wage by instead proposing a special low minimum wage for youth. “A bipartisan public is receptive to lower ‘apprentice’ or ‘intern’ wage rates for young people,” Berman says in the memo. A lower youth wage would have the additional benefit of depressing wages across the board for lower level employees, the memo states, adding, “And a ‘youth’ wage will have a sobering ripple effect on all entry level wage rates.”

Berman is well-known for setting up groups that appear as authentic academic policy shops and grassroots organizations that are actually fronts for his business clients. Throughout the 1990s, Berman was paid by Philip Morris to downplay the risks of secondhand smoke through one such front group called the Guest Choice Network. In more recent years, Berman raised funds from the alcohol, meat, soda, and processed food industry while maintaining organizations designed to criticize public interest groups calling for greater regulation of consumer goods. In 2014, a leaked presentation showed Berman calling for oil executives to support his drive to vilify anti-fossil fuel activists and to exploit human emotions of fear and anger to win policy campaigns. “You can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

Organized labor is Berman’s most consistent target. He operates several websites and groups, such as the Center for Union Facts, designed to mock union leaders and discourage Americans from supporting labor reforms.

The anti-minimum wage strategy for 2018 suggests that Berman hopes to again harness a more visceral approach.

“Today we need fewer statistics, and more graphic stories that show a growing societal crisis that needs to be avoided by rejecting wage policies with unintended consequence,” the memo states.

Previous disclosures have shown that companies such as Wendy’s, Phillip Morris, Tyson Foods, Cargill, and Coca-Cola have provided financial support to Berman.

It’s not the first time a former restaurant industry consultant has worked to use social media and clever advertising to weaken resurgent labor organizing. In 2014, a former Walmart lobbyist created a group called Worker Center Watch to ridicule retail and fast food activists agitating for more workplace representation and higher wages.

Berman, however, has used a network of tax-exempt nonprofit groups to shield the identities of his business supporters. The package of documents distributed to potential supporters for the 2018 campaign includes a pledge card that donors to Berman’s Employment Policies Institute will be granted anonymity.

Business groups hoping to defeat minimum wage legislation have a limited opportunity to shift public opinion, according to the memo.

“Our time frame to get this done is in 2018,” Berman’s memo claims. “We expect a post-2018 election environment to embrace a far-left resurgence proposing broad labor market interventions. Our opportunity is to use the next 12 months before those elections to inform and engage public support on the growing crisis of youth unemployment.”

 

ISIS threatens attacks on US soil over Trump’s Jerusalem decision

December 14, 2017

RT

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has threatened attacks in the United States in retaliation for Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, according to one of the terrorist group’s social media accounts.

The message was relayed on an account on the Telegram instant message service. In that message, IS said it would carry out operations in the US, showing photos of New York’s Times Square and what appeared to be an explosive belt and detonator.

Calling the US president a “dog,” the message promised a response to that decision by “recognizing explosives” as the capital of the United States, Reuters reported.

Trump announced his formal recognition of the ancient city as the Jewish state’s capital last week. “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering,” he said.

The move prompted anger across the Muslim world, along with criticism from most EU states, Russia and China.

On Wednesday, Hamas renewed its call for a new infitada, or uprising: “The Hamas movement has called on the Palestinian people to face the Israeli occupation and adopt the blessed intifada option against it and against the American decision on Jerusalem,” Hamas spokesperson Abdullatif Al Qanoua told RT.

Meanwhile, Iran’s defense minister said Trump’s decision would speed up the destruction of Tehran’s arch rival: “(Trump‘s) move will hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime [Israel] and will double unity among Muslims,” Brigadier General Hatami told a meeting of senior military officials Monday, as cited by various Iranian media outlets.

‘Day of Rage’ protests were called in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem following Trump’s announcement, leading to hundreds being injured. Others demonstrated in Asian capitals and in Europe, with Israeli flags being burned in Berlin.

In an emergency UN Security Council meeting following the decision, British ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the UK “disagrees” with Trump’s decision, while France said it “regrets” the move. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also stressed that Berlin “does not support” Trump’s decision, while EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the European Union would continue to recognize the “international consensus” on Jerusalem.

However, the US remains steadfast, with US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley stating on Sunday that “the sky hasn’t fallen” following Trump’s decision. She insisted that the move was the “right thing to do” and that it’s “just reality” that Jerusalem is indisputably the capital of Israel.

Haley also stated during the emergency meeting that only the United States – not the other 14 nations comprising the council – has credibility when it comes to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

Roy Moore issues fiery video refusing to concede: ‘Immorality sweeps over our land’

In a statement, the Alabama judge railed against a litany of issues, including ‘abortion, sodomy and materialism’, before wishing viewers a ‘Merry Christmas’

December 14, 2017

by Amanda Holpuch in New York

The Guardian

Roy Moore refused to concede the Alabama senate election in a fiery video statement released Wednesday night in which he warned “the heart and soul of our country is at stake”.

“Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty,” Moore said. “Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”He added: “Immorality sweeps over our land.”

Moore, a Republican, lost to Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday after facing multiple allegations of sexual assault during the campaign. In a statement released by the Moore campaign on Wednesday night, Moore said he was still waiting for the final vote count, which stands at present at 49.9% to 48.4%.

Alabama voting officials have said it is unlikely Jones will not be declared the winner. The Moore campaign can call for a recount, but would have to pay for it unless the margin is within half a percentage point.

Moore spoke from behind a shiny wooden desk, with a large statue of someone riding a horse and a decorative lamp in the background. In the statement, he quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in March 1863 for a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer.

He then transitioned smoothly from Lincoln’s call for more humility to Moore’s own proclamation of the ills of the US.

“We have stopped prayer in our schools,” Moore said. “We have killed over 60 million of our unborn children. We have redefined marriage and destroyed the basis of family, which is the building block of our country.”

He continued to rail against a litany of other issues, including transgender rights (“We have even begun to recognize the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa”), the economy and campaign finance.

In the video, Moore also alluded to the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against him. “Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the issues which affect our country,” Moore said.

The four minute and 46 second video ends with a white screen wishing viewers a “Merry Christmas” and reminding them that the video was paid for by Moore’s campaign for the Senate.

 

 

Donald Trump’s First Year Sets Record for U.S. Special Ops

Elite Commandos Deployed to 149 Countries in 2017

by Nick Turse

Tom Dispatch

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Graham and other senators expressed shock about the deployment, but the global sweep of America’s most elite forces is, at best, an open secret.

Earlier this year before that same Senate committee — though Graham was not in attendance — General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), offered some clues about the planetwide reach of America’s most elite troops. “We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” he boasted.  “Rather than a mere ‘break-glass-in-case-of-war’ force, we are now proactively engaged across the ‘battle space’ of the Geographic Combatant Commands… providing key integrating and enabling capabilities to support their campaigns and operations.”

In 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  That’s about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration.  It’s also a jump of nearly 150% from the last days of George W. Bush’s White House.  This record-setting number of deployments comes as American commandos are battling a plethora of terror groups in quasi-wars that stretch from Africa and the Middle East to Asia.

“Most Americans would be amazed to learn that U.S. Special Operations Forces have been deployed to three quarters of the nations on the planet,” observes William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.  “There is little or no transparency as to what they are doing in these countries and whether their efforts are promoting security or provoking further tension and conflict.”

Growth Opportunity

“Since 9/11, we expanded the size of our force by almost 75% in order to take on mission-sets that are likely to endure,” SOCOM’s Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.  Since 2001, from the pace of operations to their geographic sweep, the activities of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) have, in fact, grown in every conceivable way.  On any given day, about 8,000 special operators — from a command numbering roughly 70,000 — are deployed in approximately 80 countries.

“The increase in the use of Special Forces since 9/11 was part of what was then referred to as the Global War on Terror as a way to keep the United States active militarily in areas beyond its two main wars, Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hartung told TomDispatch.  “The even heavier reliance on Special Forces during the Obama years was part of a strategy of what I think of as ‘politically sustainable warfare,’ in which the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to a few key theaters of war was replaced by a ‘lighter footprint’ in more places, using drones, arms sales and training, and Special Forces.”

The Trump White House has attacked Barack Obama’s legacy on nearly all fronts.  It has undercut, renounced, or reversed actions of his ranging from trade pacts to financial and environmental regulations to rules that shielded transgender employees from workplace discrimination.  When it comes to Special Operations forces, however, the Trump administration has embraced their use in the style of the former president, while upping the ante even further.  President Trump has also provided military commanders greater authority to launch attacks in quasi-war zones like Yemen and Somalia.  According to Micah Zenko, a national security expert and Whitehead Senior Fellow at the think tank Chatham House, those forces conducted five times as many lethal counterterrorism missions in such non-battlefield countries in the Trump administration’s first six months in office as they did during Obama’s final six months.

A Wide World of War

U.S. commandos specialize in 12 core skills, from “unconventional warfare” (helping to stoke insurgencies and regime change) to “foreign internal defense” (supporting allies’ efforts to guard themselves against terrorism, insurgencies, and coups). Counterterrorism — fighting what SOCOM calls violent extremist organizations or VEOs — is, however, the specialty America’s commandos have become best known for in the post-9/11 era.

In the spring of 2002, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, SOCOM chief General Charles Holland touted efforts to “improve SOF capabilities to prosecute unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense programs to better support friends and allies. The value of these programs, demonstrated in the Afghanistan campaign,” he said, “can be particularly useful in stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.”

Over the last decade and a half, however, there’s been little evidence America’s commandos have excelled at “stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.”  This was reflected in General Thomas’s May testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort,” he explained.

However, unlike Holland who highlighted only one country — Afghanistan — where special operators were battling militants in 2002, Thomas listed a panoply of terrorist hot spots bedeviling America’s commandos a decade and a half later.  “Special Operations Forces,” he said, “are the main effort, or major supporting effort for U.S. VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America — essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found.”

Officially, there are about 5,300 U.S. troops in Iraq.  (The real figure is thought to be higher.)  Significant numbers of them are special operators training and advising Iraqi government forces and Kurdish troops.  Elite U.S. forces have also played a crucial role in Iraq’s recent offensive against the militants of the Islamic State, providing artillery and airpower, including SOCOM’s AC-130W Stinger II gunships with 105mm cannons that allow them to serve as flying howitzers.  In that campaign, Special Operations forces were “thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support,” wrote Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. “This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.”

Special Operations forces have, in fact, played a key role in the war effort in Syria, too.  While American commandos have been killed in battle there, Kurdish and Arab proxies — known as the Syrian Democratic Forces — have done the lion’s share of the fighting and dying to take back much of the territory once held by the Islamic State.  SOCOM’s Thomas spoke about this in surprisingly frank terms at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, this summer.  “We’re right now inside the capital of [ISIS’s] caliphate at Raqqa [Syria].  We’ll have that back soon with our proxies, a surrogate force of 50,000 people that are working for us and doing our bidding,” he said.  “So two and a half years of fighting this fight with our surrogates, they’ve lost thousands, we’ve only lost two service members. Two is too many, but it’s, you know, a relief that we haven’t had the kind of losses that we’ve had elsewhere.”

This year, U.S. special operators were killed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Sahelian nations of Niger and Mali (although reports indicate that a Green Beret who died in that country was likely strangled by U.S. Navy SEALs).  In Libya, SEALs recently kidnapped a suspect in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.  In the Philippines, U.S. Special Forces joined the months-long battle to recapture Marawi City after it was taken by Islamist militants earlier this year.

And even this growing list of counterterror hotspots is only a fraction of the story.  In Africa, the countries singled out by Thomas — Somalia, Libya, and those in the Sahel — are just a handful of the nations to which American commandos were deployed in 2017. As recently reported at Vice News, U.S. Special Operations forces were active in at least 33 nations across the continent, with troops heavily concentrated in and around countries now home to a growing number of what the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies calls “active militant Islamist groups.”  While Defense Department spokeswoman Major Audricia Harris would not provide details on the range of operations being carried out by the elite forces, it’s known that they run the gamut from conducting security assessments at U.S. embassies to combat operations.

Data provided by SOCOM also reveals a special ops presence in 33 European countries this year.  “Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events,” Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, told TomDispatch.

For the past two years, in fact, the U.S. has maintained a Special Operations contingent in almost every nation on Russia’s western border.  “[W]e’ve had persistent presence in every country — every NATO country and others on the border with Russia doing phenomenal things with our allies, helping them prepare for their threats,” said SOCOM’s Thomas, mentioning the Baltic states as well as Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia by name.  These activities represent, in the words of General Charles Cleveland, chief of U.S. Army Special Operations Command from 2012 to 2015 and now the senior mentor to the Army War College, “undeclared campaigns” by commandos. Weisman, however, balked at that particular language.  “U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed persistently and at the invitation of our allies in the Baltic States and Poland since 2014 as part of the broader U.S. European Command and Department of Defense European Deterrence Initiative,” he told TomDispatch.  “The persistent presence of U.S. SOF alongside our Allies sends a clear message of U.S. commitment to our allies and the defense of our NATO Alliance.”

Asia is also a crucial region for America’s elite forces.  In addition to Iran and Russia, SOCOM’s Thomas singled out China and North Korea as nations that are “becoming more aggressive in challenging U.S. interests and partners through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of conventional conflict.”  He went on to say that the “ability of our special operators to conduct low-visibility special warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain.”

U.S.-North Korean saber rattling has brought increased attention to Special Forces Detachment Korea (SFDK), the longest serving U.S. Special Forces unit in the world.  It would, of course, be called into action should a war ever break out on the peninsula.  In such a conflict, U.S. and South Korean elite forces would unite under the umbrella of the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force.  In March, commandos — including, according to some reports, members of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 — took part in Foal Eagle, a training exercise, alongside conventional U.S. forces and their South Korean counterparts.

U.S. special operators also were involved in training exercises and operations elsewhere across Asia and the Pacific.  In June, in Okinawa, Japan, for example, airmen from the 17th Special Operations Squadron (17th SOS) carried out their annual (and oddly spelled) “Day of the Jakal,” the launch of five Air Force Special Operations MC-130J Commando II aircraft to practice, according to a military news release, “airdrops, aircraft landings, and rapid infiltration and exfiltration of equipment.”  According to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Dube of the 17th SOS, “It shows how we can meet the emerging mission sets for both SOCKOR [Special Operations Command Korea] and SOCPAC [Special Operations Command Pacific] out here in the Pacific theater.”

At about the same time, members of the Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group carried out Teak Jet, a joint combined exchange training, or JCET, mission meant to improve military coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces.  In June and July, intelligence analysts from the Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group took part in Talisman Saber, a biennial military training exercise conducted in various locations across Australia.

More for War

The steady rise in the number of elite operators, missions, and foreign deployments since 9/11 appears in no danger of ending, despite years of worries by think-tank experts and special ops supporters about the effects of such a high operations tempo on these troops.  “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas said earlier this year. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.”  Yet the number of deployments still grew to a record 149 nations in 2017.  (During the Obama years, deployments reached 147 in 2015.)

At a recent conference on special operations held in Washington, D.C., influential members of the Senate and House armed services committees acknowledged that there were growing strains on the force. “I do worry about overuse of SOF,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Republican.  One solution offered by both Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, was to bulk up Special Operations Command yet more.  “We have to increase numbers and resources,” Reed insisted.

This desire to expand Special Operations further comes at a moment when senators like Lindsey Graham continue to acknowledge how remarkably clueless they are about where those elite forces are deployed and what exactly they are doing in far-flung corners of the globe.  Experts point out just how dangerous further expansion could be, given the proliferation of terror groups and battle zones since 9/11 and the dangers of unforeseen blowback as a result of low-profile special ops missions.

“Almost by definition, the dizzying number of deployments undertaken by U.S. Special Operations forces in recent years would be hard to track.  But few in Congress seem to be even making the effort,” said William Hartung. “This is a colossal mistake if one is concerned about reining in the globe-spanning U.S. military strategy of the post-9/11 era, which has caused more harm than good and done little to curb terrorism.”

However, with special ops deployments rising above Bush and Obama administration levels to record-setting heights and the Trump administration embracing the use of commandos in quasi-wars in places like Somalia and Yemen, there appears to be little interest in the White House or on Capitol Hill in reining in the geographic scope and sweep of America’s most secretive troops.  And the results, say experts, may be dire.  “While the retreat from large ‘boots on the ground’ wars like the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq is welcome,” said Hartung, “the proliferation of Special Operations forces is a dangerous alternative, given the prospects of getting the United States further embroiled in complex overseas conflicts.”

 

Brexit: UK Parliament backs final say in EU divorce in major blow to Theresa May

In a major blow to Theresa May’s government, the British parliament has granted itself the power to determine the fate of a final Brexit deal. The move follows the European Parliament’s warning on London back-pedaling.

December 13, 2017

DW

The British parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an amendment that gives the legislative body the power to approve or reject any Brexit deal made by the government in a major blow to Theresa May’s power.

With a group of May’s Conservative lawmakers rebelling against her Brexit vision, parliament voted 309 to 305 in favor of amending the government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill, a move which observers believe will undermine the government’s ability to negotiate a deal.

A government spokeswoman said that while British negotiators were disappointed with vote’s results, it will not prevent them from moving forward and making legal preparations for the UK to leave the bloc.

“This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the (EU withdrawal) bill to ensure it fulfills its vital purpose,” she said after the vote.

‘Taking back control’

The Labour Party supported the amendment to the bill, with shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer saying that the measure ensures the UK’s future is not determined solely by the government.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hailed the vote as a victory for parliament in deciding the terms in which the UK will depart the EU.

This defeat is a humiliating loss of authority for the government on the eve of the European Council meeting,” Corbyn said.

“Theresa May has resisted democratic accountability. Her refusal to listen means she will now have to accept Parliament taking back control.”

 

 

 

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