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TBR News December 23, 2017

Dec 23 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 23, 2017:”Under the impression that they have the President’s undivided attention, the Israelis are pressuring him to flatten the Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. Trump might agree today but tomorrow might have changed his mind. His illegal rocket attack on Syria has horrified the brass at the Pentagon because they believe that in a moment of rage, he might launch a nuclear attack against Tehran or North Korea.  It is the general belief inside the Washington Beltway that Trump is not going to complete his term.”

 

Table of Contents

  • Interpreting the Catalan elections
  • Steve Bannon savages ‘Javanka’, laying bare White House tensions
  • Taking Names for Israel
  • Virginia’s New Socialist Lawmaker: “A Clean Medicaid Expansion Is the Compromise”
  • Let me come back, Catalan leader tells Spain
  • US ambassador to Netherlands Pete Hoekstra caught peddling ‘fake news’ lie
  • Donald Trump renews threats against press, hints at revoking TV licenses
  • Israeli forces kill protesters, assault journalists and medics
  • Mexico murders hit record high, dealing blow to president
  • The tree of Liberty is rotting from the top down
  • If the bitcoin bubble bursts, this is what will happen next
  • Deutsche Bank Economist Says a Bitcoin Crash Would Endanger Global Markets

 

 

Interpreting the Catalan elections

December 22, 2017

by Francisco de Borja Lasherasby

Aljazeera.com

The challenge of assessing the outcome of yesterday’s regional elections in Catalonia is that several actors in this crisis can claim different forms of victory – and are doing so – from different frames (majority in terms of seats neglecting share of votes, etc.). This, uncertainty and a strong component of post-truth politics in the secessionist camp, have been the defining features of a full-fledged crisis that has seen competing narratives about democracy, rule of law and basic constitutional covenants, first and foremost among the clashing camps in Catalonia. Such diametrically opposed framing and narrative building have also shaped the political framing elsewhere in Spain and at the international level.

Given the complexity of the results, their myriad implications and the renewed uncertainty about what comes next, it is important to perhaps distinguish between big read takeaways and deeper changes in the political and social landscape in Catalonia, which are sure to condition the region and Spain as a whole.

  1. The secessionist parties retained their wafer-thin parliamentary majority. This was slightly down from the 72 seats out of 135 they obtained in the September 2015 parliamentary elections, to 70. They claimed that as a victory, especially as their narrative largely hinges on conflating the whole of Catalonia and the Catalan people with their specific preference, and the latter with a majority in the Catalan Parliament (vs a Spanish “unionist minority”, as often claimed by former premier Carles Puigdemont and other leaders). This is key to their discourse.

The narrative of victimhood, with Puigdemont in “exile” in Brussels, some former government counsellors in prison and temporary direct rule from Madrid under article 155 of the Spanish Constitution (enacted in late October at the peak of the crisis), kept mobilised an already mobilised secessionist electorate, in spite of the political instability, division and economic damage wrought by the secessionist process. Expectations among non-secessionists and in the rest of Spain that that damage would see secessionists losing their majority, even by a few seats, have been dashed.

  1. The secessionists are still short of a majority of votes in Catalonia. The parties opposed to secession – though in different forms – have more than 50 percent of the votes, even if they fail to enjoy an equivalent number of seats, partly due to the electoral system. But that fact can be relatively overlooked by the current secessionist leaders, especially the more hardliners among them, who base their strategy on a parliamentary majority that allows them to retain control of almost all institutional and power levers in Catalonia.
  2. This was a landslide win, in votes (over 1.1 million and 25.3 percent) and seats (37), for pro-Spain Ciudadanos (liberals). This is no doubt a historic win for many reasons. It is the first time since 1980 that a non-nationalist party clearly wins elections in Catalonia.

Ciudadanos was born in 2006 as a small anti-nationalist party in Catalonia, before going national in 2015, becoming the fourth Spanish party (some 15 percent of the vote). It has won in the most populated urban areas (including most districts of Barcelona), sneaking votes away from the Catalan Socialists (PSC), even in the latter’s traditional, lower working class strongholds. And it has won in spite of a political language, including elements of hate speech, commonly used by many secessionists, that aimed at tarnishing Ciudadanos’ legitimacy by labelling them as “Spanish”, born outside Catalonia or even “fascists”.

Led by the young Ines Arrimadas, the party ran a clear anti-secessionist campaign and endorsed the Mariano Rajoy government’s application of temporary direct rule. So, while the secessionists claim that the “Catalan Republic defeated the tripartite of article 155” (Ciudadanos, PSC and Rajoy’s Popular Party), the biggest advocate together with the Popular Party(PP), of article 155 (even of harsher forms of federal coercion than the one finally agreed to), actually won elections in Catalonia, somewhat denting the secessionists’ narrative. A pyrrhic victory nevertheless, as Arrimadas will be unable to get enough votes in Parliament to be elected the next Catalan premier.

  1. This was a severe blow to Prime Minister Rajoy’s PP and the government. The PP has gone from 19 seats in the Catalan Parliament just five years ago to 11 seats in 2015, to a meagre 3 seats this year, and will have to humiliatingly join their foes from the anti-establishment, secessionist CUP (the other loser last night, from 10 seats to just 4) in the parliament’s Mixed Group.

There is a widespread perception in Spain that Prime Minister Rajoy’s bet on early elections (against the preference of some in his party who wanted a longer period of direct rule with elections later in 2018) has not delivered the political benefits he sought – mainly, defeating the secessionist process towards independence from Spain in polls. The loss of the secessionist majority that Rajoy expected has ultimately failed to materialise.

The other core objectives of reasserting the State’s authority and restoring political and institutional normalcy in Catalonia – especially after the worrying scenarios of civil strife in October – through last night’s well-attended, peaceful, elections, sadly, are of secondary relevance now, especially as the crisis and deadlock might deepen. Ironically, in a way, Ciudadanos, PP’s growing political competitor, are the other key beneficiaries of the application of article 155 by Rajoy’s party: They can claim victory on their own, even if remaining as opposition leaders in Catalonia.

  1. This was a severe blow to the leftist Podemos (Podem). Podemos is a Pablo Iglesias-led coalition of leftist parties in Catalonia, based on a rejection of independence (especially the unilateral independence pursued by Puigdemont’s bloc) and rejection of Rajoy’s policies too. It has also failed in these elections, further weakening Podemos in Spain as a whole.

That delicate balancing, perceived as slightly skewed against Rajoy and mute criticisms of the secessionists’ abridging of the constitutional framework in Catalonia and its social peace, has not worked. Podem has gone down from 11 seats and nearly 9 percent of votes in 2015 to 8 seats and around 7 percent. They can condition the next government in Catalonia and at times operate as a bridge builder, but will not be the indispensable kingmaker most analysts and polls had predicted.

Iglesias had portrayed the 2015 elections in Catalonia as a potential leap forward to winning in Spain and failed on both counts. This time around, the outcome has been even worse. Increasingly contested within Podemos – and after a lower profile campaign – the question is whether these elections in Catalonia could confirm Podemos’ (and Iglesias’) definite decline in Spain – and their falling behind Ciudadanos, the other contender for Spain’s so-called “new politics” (opposed to PP and PSOE’s hegemony in the state’s party landscape), which is now clearly reinforced at the national level.

Outlook

The elections last night confirmed that Catalonia remains a pluralistic society, not the nationalistic pretence of a sol poble (“one people” – aka, the nationalists). Alas, sadly, the vote – the closest thing to a real referendum on independence Catalonia has had in recent years, with over 80 percent of turnout – has also confirmed a deeply fractured polity, almost neatly divided into two main blocs – for and against independence – with similar percentages each. As I see it, in Catalonia, these blocs move mostly in their echo chambers and stick to competing narratives, though, to be plain spoken, only one – the current secessionist hardliners – seems to deny any social and political legitimacy to the other side.

Catalonia’s politics will thus remain polarised, especially as the parties most seeking to build bridges (PSC, Podem) have not been reinforced. The national question will remain predominant, dwarfing other pressing social and economic questions. Deadlock will probably continue, even if the secessionists manage to overcome their differences and form a government (some do not rule out repeat elections in the spring).

In these circumstances, especially if the next Catalan government goes on with unilateralism and ignores the other half of Catalonia, political instability and social tensions will continue, as will tensions with Madrid. And so will the damage to Catalonia, as more companies will continue to take flight and establish their HQs in other parts of Spain (over 3000 since October 1).

There is a sore need of a serious concerted effort, first and foremost in Catalonia, to build bridges, offer mutual concessions and revamp political consensus. This should be followed by constitutional reform in Spain, including progress towards a real federalism based on power-sharing, more devolution but also rule of law, equal rights and institutional and federal loyalty among the different parts of the commonwealth too – principles that Puigdemont and his followers have been so prone to recklessly undermine. Bar this hopeful scenario, I unfortunately see but the further impoverishment of Catalonia, ruled by self-absorbed, provincial and clientelist elites: a shadow of hitherto cosmopolitan, modernising Catalonia that was so crucial in Spain’s own modernisation.

 

Steve Bannon savages ‘Javanka’, laying bare White House tensions

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist has called Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner ‘the railhead of all bad decisions’ in a Vanity Fair interview

December 23, 2017

by David Smith in Washington

Reuters

Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are under fresh scrutiny over their influence at the White House after a very public eruption of their feud with former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

In a gloves-off interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Bannon laid bare the mutual enmity with the senior advisers to the president, one of the worst-kept secrets of the Trump administration.

“The railhead of all bad decisions is the same railhead: Javanka,” he said, using a nickname that conflates the couple.

Bannon, who returned to rightwing site Breitbart News after being forced out of the White House in August, recalled an Oval Office meeting in which he accused Ivanka of being “the queen of leaks”. The first daughter allegedly retorted: “You’re a fucking liar!”

He also condemned Ivanka over her handling of the recent US Senate special election in Alabama, where Republican candidate Roy Moore denied accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. Ivanka said pointedly during the campaign: “There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

Bannon, who supported Moore despite the allegations only to see him lose the Republican heartland to a Democrat, responded in the Vanity Fair interview: “What about the allegations about her dad and that 13-year-old?” – a reference to an unproven allegation from a California woman that Trump raped her as a teenager (last year the woman dropped a lawsuit making the claim). Trump has faced multiple claims of sexual misconduct and denies all of them.

Bannon added to Vanity Fair: “Ivanka was a fount of bad advice during the campaign.”

As for Kushner, Bannon made little attempt to disguise his contempt. “He doesn’t know anything about the hobbits or the deplorables” – using two ironic terms for Trump supporters.

It was Kushner who reportedly encouraged the president to fire FBI director James Comey, a move that could come back to haunt him during the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia in the election campaign. Bannon said: “It’s the dumbest political decision in modern political history, bar none. A self-inflicted wound of massive proportions.”

There was never much love lost between Bannon and “Javanka” as, like medieval courtiers, they competed for the ear of the president. Bannon, 64, has an unkempt appearance – one congressman recently remarked that he looks like a “disheveled drunk” – and grew up in a working-class, Irish Catholic family in Virginia. He embodies Trump’s instincts of insurgent nationalism and anti-globalisation and has been accused of stoking antisemitism, which he denies.

Kushner is Jewish and, at 36, from a different generation, with a clean-cut smartness that contrasts with Bannon’s scruffiness. The scion of a New York property empire, he was previously a Democratic donor who mingled with the wealthy east coast elites that Bannon despises. Ivanka, also 36, also belongs to the “New York faction” and is seen as the favourite of Trump’s five children.

Liberal observers had expressed a hope that “Javanka” would tame Trump’s wilder impulses but there have been constant disappointments. The president’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate deal was a notable victory for Bannon.

Rick Tyler, a Republican analyst and co-founder of consulting firm Foundry Strategies, said: “These things are very difficult when family is involved with any elected official. They have a different relationship with the principal and it’s very difficult to work around if there’s a problem.

“I don’t know what Jared and Ivanka bring to the administration. Some said they were going to moderate the president and keep him presidential but there’s not much evidence of that. I think a lot of advice they provided to the president has not been good.”

Ivanka came under fire this week after promoting Republicans’ sweeping tax reform, her father’s first major legislative achievement. During a sycophantic interview by Fox News, which praised her for securing an increase in the child tax credit, she claimed: “I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April when people realise the effect that this has … The vast majority will be [doing their taxes] on a single postcard.” Critics were quick to point out the postcard was a publicity stunt and a promise that has not been kept.

A headline in the Washington Post read: “Once again, Ivanka Trump shows off her cluelessness.” Columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote: “She’s a walking advertisement for the danger of nepotism, an exemplar of class privilege and a perfect representative for Republican know-nothingism. She was supposed to be the brains of the family and the moral ballast; instead, she’s a self-righteous enabler.”

Kushner, meanwhile, appears to be in retreat. Once ubiquitous, his public appearances have declined. It has been widely reported that his gigantic portfolio has shrunk and his influence is on the wane, raising questions over how long “Javanka” will remain in Washington.

This may in part be because of speculation that he will be the next big fish caught in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. There has been a steady drip of revelations about his part in the intrigue. Kushner was also forced to apologise in July for filing incomplete security clearance forms. He has denied any kind of collusion with Russia.

Also, according to media reports, Kushner was key to Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that earned considerable international blowback. This week the UN general assembly voted by a huge majority to reject America’s stance.

Tyler, former campaign spokesman for Republican Ted Cruz, added: “Jared has shrunken from the spotlight. He seemed to be seen in every photo and was keenly aware of where the photographers were and what type of lens they were using. But we never heard from him and, when we did, it wasn’t terribly impressive.

“Usually when we put people in positions of great responsibility and authority we have knowledge of their commensurate qualifications and experience; with Jared we know of none.”

 

Taking Names for Israel

December 23, 2017

by Brian Cloughley

AntiWar

In a scene reminiscent of the movie The Godfather the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the world on December 20 that the US would be “taking names” of countries that voted in the UN to reject Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel. It’s all part of the pattern of condescending arrogance which is the leitmotif of Trump’s call to “make America great again.” He and his fawning disciples are providing the answer to the question posed by GW Bush – “Why do they hate us?”

On December 8 Haley tweeted that Washington “will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly” which was an insulting rejection of international reaction to Donald Trump’s declaration. She did not mention the unpalatable fact that the Security Council “has adopted a number of resolutions, dating back 50 years, aimed in part at preventing Israel from claiming sovereignty over all of the holy city.”

In 1968 the world instructed Israel, by UNSC Resolution 252, to annul actions aimed at changing the status of Jerusalem, “including expropriation of land and properties thereon” and to ”

rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action” in regard to the city. It could not be more clear that Israel’s current actions continue to add to its flagrant illegalities of decades.

Exactly a year ago, Resolution 2334 unequivocally condemned Israel for building yet more settlements in Jerusalem and other occupied territories because construction “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”

Only a few minutes after this Resolution, President-elect Trump, due to enter the White House a month later, angrily tweeted that “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th.” We had been given fair warning that the new American President would ensure that the Middle East policy of the United States, always pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian, would crash into top gear and destroy all hopes that a peaceful solution could be reached about the appalling situation in Israel’s colonies. Trump would support Israel, come what may.

As with so many important matters of international policy, Trump rode roughshod over the hopes and aspirations of yet more millions of people and scornfully ignored the entire world, with the exception of one country. He told Prime Minister Netanyahu in February that “I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit,” which was an absurd and meaningless statement. He knew perfectly well that Netanyahu and the Zionists would continue their policy of persecution and illegal occupation, and now they’re going at full speed.

As noted by the analyst Jonathan Freedland, “The Old City of Jerusalem contains the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest mosque in Islam, to say nothing of its enormous significance to Christians, meaning that even the slightest move there is felt by billions.”

Those who support Trump’s deliberately disruptive decision are “mostly anti-Islam European leaders holding little political power.” They include the president of the Czech Republic and two of Europe’s most rabidly bigoted right-wing extremists, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and Hans-Christian Strache of Austria’s Freedom Party. The small countries who voted for him at the UN have simply caved in to his arrogant bullying.

Trump’s malevolent provocation has been condemned most forcefully in Europe, with Britain, France, Sweden, Germany and Italy issuing a joint statement condemning their American ally’s position, saying it was “not in line with Security Council resolutions and was unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.”

The strange thing, however, is lack of public condemnation within the United States, especially as a Brookings Institution survey released on December 1 found that 63 per cent of Americans are against the move of the embassy to Jerusalem and only 31 per cent in favor. A handful of legislators criticized Trump, but as reported by Israelʼs Haaretz newspaper, although there some Democrats disagreed, it was apparent that “members of the Republican Party overwhelmingly expressed support for the move”. Brookings, moreover, found that only 34 per cent of Americans thought their government should “lean towards Israel” in “mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Which leads to the matter of Israeli influence in the United States. If over 60 per cent of American citizens are opposed to the Trump decision, how can it be that their elected legislators are so much in favor?

One answer lies in the money.

Open Secrets records that “The Republican Jewish Coalition spent $80,000 lobbying in 2016, and J Street [an Israel lobby] spent $400,000. But topping them both was the longtime giant in the arena, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC], which poured more than $3.6 million into lobbying efforts for the year.” The amounts of money donated by pro-Israeli groups and individuals to politicians seeking election are immense. Legislators have been bought by people supporting Israel, and they are not going to raise any questions about Israel’s blatant violations of Security Council resolutions. Of equal significance, these pro-Israeli proxies were interfering with the electoral process of the United States.

During presidential and Congressional election campaigns, AIPAC and other agents working on behalf of Israel attempted to influence candidates at the behest of a foreign power. And they succeeded – as demonstrated by the lack of protest in Washington about Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.

It is therefore not surprising that last January it was reported that “the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan measure that rebukes the United Nations for criticizing Israeli settlements.” The House resolution “declares unwavering support for Israel and insists that the United States reject any future UN actions that are similarly ‘one-sided and anti-Israel’.”

But little critical appears in the US mainstream media about reasons for the unconditional support for Israel on the part of the legislators in Washington. And it is not only Congress and Trump who so ardently stand up for Israel, for, as the Jerusalem Post reported on December 12, Vice President Pence was “one of the most enthused advocates of the [Jerusalem decision] – one warmly welcomed by the Israeli government. His trip there [intended for December 20-23, but then canceled] will be a triumphant tour and defense of the policy from a true believer who has supported recognition of Jerusalem for many years.” Before becoming vice president, as a Republican representative for Indiana, the true believer Congressman Pence scored $206,192 in donations from pro-Israel sources.

As reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in March 2017, when Vice President Pence spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual convention, attended by 18,000 AIPAC activists, he was lavish in his praise of Israel. Not only that, but he recognized the massive influence that Israel had exercised over the 2016 elections and declared “Thanks to the support of so many in this room, President Trump won a historic victory. . . The United States will no longer allow the United Nations to be used as a forum for invective against Israel.”

America’s mainstream media has been devoting enormous energy and time to examining alleged interference in the 2016 elections by other countries. But it is intriguing that it doesn’t inquire into the impact that Israel has had and continues to have on the democratic processes of the United States. It seems that unconditional support can be had for cash.

It is Israel and the United States against the world, and the Bush question “Why do they hate us?” has rarely been so easy to answer.

 

Virginia’s New Socialist Lawmaker: “A Clean Medicaid Expansion Is the Compromise”

December 23 2017

by Zaid Jilani

The Intercept

Democrats in Virginia and around the country rebuked Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam for softening on a campaign promise to push for Medicaid expansion in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Newly elected state Delegate Lee Carter, a Democratic Socialist, says enough is enough, warning that Northam may be alienating the Democrats who put him in office.

Northam told the Washington Post last weekend that he will not try to force a vote on expanding Medicaid — an issue that was central to his campaign — in the legislature. Responding to criticisms, the governor-elect’s spokesperson told the Washington Post that Northam still wants to expand the program. Northam also renewed his commitment to Medicaid expansion on social media following the outcry.

Still, it remains unclear whether Northam will ask the legislature for a straight up or down vote on the measure or instead try to work out a compromise that may include reforms that could actually reduce Medicaid eligibility for some people.

Northam will enter office in January with a slate of newly elected Democrats, including Carter — a 30-year-old marine veteran who toppled the Republican House whip in the November election.

“It’s important to recognize that there are 750,000 Virginians with no health insurance whatsoever. So when we’re talking about the Medicaid expansion — there’s 370,000 people who are eligible under the federal rules,” Carter said in an interview with The Intercept. “So a clean Medicaid expansion only covers half of those people. A clean Medicaid expansion is the compromise. That’s where I’m coming from, that’s what I hope he’d be advocating for. I don’t think his comments were indicative of that.”

Carter himself has not had health insurance for nearly a year, as purchasing coverage through the health care marketplace can be cost-prohibitive. He thought about how that might change on the night he won his election, reportedly telling his wife, “You know what I won? Health insurance.”

Virginia is one of a handful of states that has yet to utilize the Affordable Care Act’s provision to expand Medicaid access. Republicans in the state legislature have been blocking the move, but the Democratic wave in November makes the body nearly evenly split. Northam would only have to swing a handful of Republicans in order to fully expand the program.

As a candidate, Northam made expanding Medicaid a cornerstone of his bid for governor. He highlighted that promise in campaign commercials aired throughout the state, a fact that was not lost on his supporters.

But he wavered on that promise in his recent interview with the Washington Post. Summarizing his view, the paper wrote, “Northam said he has no plans to try to force Republicans to accept a broad expansion of Medicaid. Instead, he has begun talks with lawmakers in both parties about overhauling the state’s Medicaid system to expand access to health care while better defining eligibility to control costs.” Later in the interview, Northam said he consulted with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and that he plans to instead push for a bipartisan solution that could involve, among other things, encouraging those who do not currently work to work. “I want people to have skin in the game. I want to incentivize people to really have good health,” he said.

Carter believes voters will punish Democrats if the party does not make progress on expanding health care coverage.

“There was a clear mandate from the voters on health care. I mean it was completely unambiguous,” he said. “750,000 Virginians with no health insurance whatsoever. There’s a million or two million more who have health insurance but can’t afford their deductible. Something has got to change on health care. It’s got to change in a dramatic matter. And if we don’t deliver on that, in two years there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

Former Virginia Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, who unsuccessfully challenged Northam for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, pointed out on Twitter that the Medicaid promise was a big part of the Democrats’ success last month.

Indeed, an NBC exit poll found that 37 percent of Virginia voters said health care was the most important issue to them. University of Maryland polling released earlier this year found that 69 percent of Virginians supported Medicaid expansion.

Northam has also made getting a full Medicaid expansion more difficult by so-far not appointing Republicans from the legislature into his administration. Doing so would trigger special elections that could throw control of the legislature to the Democrats instead.

Carter expressed some disappointment in the governor-elect’s move.

“It certainly would’ve made it easier to achieve our legislative priorities if he had done that,” Carter said of appointing a Republican to a cabinet position. “It’s not necessarily the decision I would have made, but it wasn’t the decision for me to make.”

 

Let me come back, Catalan leader tells Spain

December 23, 2017

by Clement Rossignol and Farah Salhi

Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Catalonia’s separatist leader Carles Puigdemont called on Spain’s government on Saturday to allow him to return home in time for the opening session of the Catalan parliament so that he can become the region’s next president.

Puigdemont, who ruled in Catalonia until October and faces arrest in Spain for his role in organizing an illegal referendum on independence and proclaiming a Catalan republic, is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

Separatist parties secured a parliamentary majority in a regional election on Thursday, though it is still unclear whether Puigdemont and other jailed leaders of the movement will be able to attend assembly sessions.

“I want to come back to Catalonia as soon as possible. I would like to come back right now. It would be good news for Spain,” Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview.

Asked if he would be back in time for the opening session which has to take place at the latest on January 23, he said: “It would be natural. If I am not allowed to be sworn in as president, it would be a major abnormality for the Spanish democratic system.”

“I am the president of the regional government and I will remain the president if the Spanish state respects the results of the vote,” he also said.

Puigdemont, who has called for dialogue with the Spanish government to resolve the current tensions between the turbulent region and the authorities in Madrid, said he was ready to listen to any proposal from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy even if this offer fell short of an offer of independence.

“If the Spanish state has a proposal for Catalonia, we should listen,” Puigdemont said, asking for a dialogue of equals.

Rajoy on Friday said he was open to dialogue but implicitly rejected Puigdemont’s demand to meet soon, saying he would talk with whoever was Catalonia’s president only once they have been elected by the new regional parliament.

Before that, his first interlocutor should be Ines Arrimadas, whose centrist, anti-independence party scored most votes on Thursday, he said. Arrimadas does not have enough seats or allies to form a government, while separatist parties put together have a narrow majority.

Past calls for dialogue on both the separatist and unionist side in the past have failed to yield concrete results and the crisis is likely to keep haunting Madrid, as well as EU leaders, for a long time.

Negotiations to form a government in Catalonia are likely to open after Jan. 6 following the holiday break. Parliament must vote by Feb. 8 on putting a new government into place.

Reporting by Clement Rossignol; Writing by Julien Toyer; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Richard Balmforth

 

US ambassador to Netherlands Pete Hoekstra caught peddling ‘fake news’ lie

The new US ambassador to the Netherlands has blatantly lied about his own anti-Islamic rhetoric, and then lied about lying. His cries of “fake news” left a Dutch interviewer scratching his head.

December 23, 2017

by Alistair Walsh (with dpa)

DW

The newly inaugurated US ambassador to the Netherlands was caught out blatantly lying about “fake news” on Friday.

Television reporter Wouter Zwart asked Ambassador Pete Hoekstra about comments on Islamic extremism in the Netherlands that he had made in 2015 in which he insisted there were “no-go zones” in the country and that politicians were being burned.

“That is an incorrect statement. We would call it fake news, I never said that,” Hoekstra responded. But Zwart was armed with footage clearly showing Hoekstra talking about “chaos in the Netherlands” with “cars being burned,” “politicians that are being burned” and that “yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”

After showing him the clip, Zwart once again challenged Hoekstra and asked him about his label of “fake news.”

“I didn’t call that fake news, I didn’t use the words today. No, I don’t think I did,” the ambassador replied, despite just having just called it “fake news.”

The comments came towards the end of a nine-minute feature on Hoekstra for the News Hour show on Dutch public broadcaster NOS. The fake news fragment was widely shared on US social media.

Critical of immigration policy

Hoekstra was born in the Netherlands but emigrated to the United States as a child in 1956. He has been highly critical of Europe’s immigration and open borders policies of recent years. He made the “no-go zones” comments at a 2015 panel titled “Muslim Migration into Europe: Eurabia Come True?”

“No-go zones” are supposedly areas of Europe where immigration has led to such dramatic increases in crime and cultural barriers that locals and authorities can no longer go there. They are a frequent topic of conversation for anti-immigration politicians, particularly from the US, but the claims have largely been disproved.

Hoekstra told News Hour that he was not close to his boss, US President Donald Trump, but was happy to be working under him.

Trump frequently labels any critical media coverage as “fake news” and the term was even named “Word of the Year” by the Collins Dictionary last month.

 

Donald Trump renews threats against press, hints at revoking TV licenses

The US president has suggested the government consider revoking broadcast licenses for outlets running stories critical of his administration. Some warned that freedom of speech is under threat.

November 12, 2017

DW

A combative US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to launch another attack against US media outlets, suggesting that the US government should contemplate revoking their broadcast licenses. It was not the first time Trump has made statements criticizing freedom of the press. The actions he mentioned do not fall under the direct purview of his administration.

Trump kept up his criticism of the media in an appearance later on Wednesday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying, “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

In the past, the president has suggested jailing journalists, loosening libel laws and asked why the US Senate Intelligence Committee is not investigating media outlets for publishing “fake news” rather than looking into his campaign team and administration’s possible ties to Russia meddling in the US election. He also threatened and maligned reporters and news outlets and blocked access to those reporting unfavorably about him and expanded access to those whose coverage was favorable.

Taking aim at the fourth estate

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the free press.” The Federal Communications Council (FCC) is tasked with issuing broadcast licenses to individual broadcast stations but not individual media outlets. While its five commissioners are appointed to 5-year terms by the president and confirmed in Senate hearings, the commission operates independently of the White House and has Republican and Democratic members.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, tweeted Wednesday that Trump would not be able to revoke a license for NBC.

 

Israeli forces kill protesters, assault journalists and medics

December 22, 2017

by Maureen Clare Murphy

electronicintifada

Two Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Friday, bringing to six the number of unarmed protesters killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Gaza health ministry identified the slain men as Zakariya Zakarna, 24, and Muhammad Muheisen, 29.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society stated that nearly 700 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces during protests in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday, 65 by live fire, more than 100 with rubber-coated bullets, and nearly 450 by gas.

Ten journalists were injured by Israeli forces while covering protests on Friday, the Journalists Support Committee stated.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has counted 100 violations against journalists by Israeli forces while covering protests since Trump’s announcement on 6 December, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

Several paramedics were also treated for injuries sustained during protests on Friday.

The Activestills collective documented Israeli soldiers hitting medics with their rifles and firing at and aiming their weapons towards journalists near the West Bank town of al-Bireh on Friday.

A paramedic named Muhammad Omar was hospitalized after being hit in the eye with a rifle butt while treating an injured protester at al-Bireh, the Ma’an News Agency reported.

The assault on medics and journalists occurred at the same al-Bireh traffic circle where Israeli forces shot and fatally wounded an incapacitated Palestinian youth who had stabbed a soldier last week.

Also on Friday, photojournalist Ahmad Talaat was injured by a rubber-coated bullet while covering confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at Huwwara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus.

More than 500 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli forces since Trump’s proclamation, the rights group Addameer stated Thursday.

Children as young as 12 have been among the 170 Palestinian minors arrested during that period.

Three dozen children arrested since Trump’s announcement, currently being held at Ofer military prison, “experienced humiliation and brutal direct beating from Israeli occupation soldiers while getting arrested,” according to Addameer.

The number of child detainees at Ofer more than doubled during the first 19 days of December, according to Defense for Children International – Palestine

 

Mexico murders hit record high, dealing blow to president

December 23, 2017

Reuters

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has this year registered its highest murder total since modern records began, according to official data, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s pledge to get gang violence under control with presidential elections due in 2018.

A total of 23,101 murder investigations were opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, figures published on Friday night by the interior ministry showed. The figures go back to 1997.

Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 pledging to tame the violence that escalated under his predecessor Felipe Calderon. He managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, but since then it has risen steadily.

At 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2017 Mexican murder rate is still lower than it was in 2011, when it reached almost 19.4 per 100,000, the data showed. The rate has also held below levels reported in several other Latin American countries.

The U.S. rate was 5 per 100,000.

Still, Pena Nieto’s failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility and hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which faces an uphill struggle to hold onto power in the July 2018 presidential election.

The current front-runner in the race, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has floated exploring an amnesty with criminal gangs to reduce the violence, without fleshing out the idea.

Mexican newspaper Reforma said on Saturday that after a campaign stop in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday, Lopez Obrador again addressed the issue when asked whether talks aimed at stopping the violence could include criminal gangs.

“There can be dialogue with everyone. There needs to be dialogue and there needs to be a push to end the war and guarantee peace. Things can’t go on as before,” Reforma quoted Lopez Obrador as saying.

Such a strategy harbors risks for the former Mexico City mayor.

A poll this month showed that two-thirds of Mexicans reject offering an amnesty to members of criminal gangs in a bid to curb violence, with less than a quarter in favor.

The law bars Pena Nieto from seeking re-election.

Reporting by Diego Ore and Dave Graham; Editing by Andrea Ricci

 

 

 

 

The tree of Liberty is rotting from the top down

December 23, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Out of all the conspiracy theories arising out of the 9/11 attacks, there is one that stands out very clearly. Given the significant number of proven warnings passed to the American government, at the highest levels, prior to the attack, the curious lack of official concern stands out significantly. Although none of the critics of the Bush Administration have dared to say so in public, it does not seem unrealistic to say that in all probability, George Bush and a number of his top officials, were fully aware that a attack by Arabs against specific American targets was not only highly probable but fully, and specifically expected. No official warnings were issued precisely because such an attack, if actually executed, would prove to be of great value to the Administration in allowing it to implement certain internal control projects that could never be even contemplated without the impetus of a severe national tragedy.

A White House that would deliberately, and feloniously, release information about an undercover CIA agent would certainly be possessed of a mind-set that would eagerly await an incident that could only increase its power. That many thousands would die and the nation would be plunged into turmoil and apprehension for years afterwards would clearly be of no pressing concern to them.

What would be of pressing concern to them would be the loss of a power, which permitted them to indulge in their imperial fantasies unimpeded.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, they have been so arrogant and so inept that one exposure has followed upon another to the point that, though they maintain official power, they are growing more and more powerless to exercise it.

A President who stated in public on a number of occasions that God Almighty had personally placed him in the White House would dismiss any collateral damage from his dreams of a religious empire as a matter that was entirely out of his hands.

In this study, great use has been made of classified intelligence documents, a number of which are reproduced in facsimile, and casualty records of the Defense Department that show, beyond any doubt, that the number of dead military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan are far in excess of the press releases supplied to the public by the same agency.

The first of these documents is a copy of a classified German intelligence document prepared in April of 2002 that gives hitherto unknown information on German intelligence warnings about a pending attack only a month before they happened.

The second document is the so-called “Downing Street Memo.”

These show with great clarity the real intentions of the Bush administration, obviously determined to use every excuse they could to launch a war for the enhancement of the President’s reputation, a guarantee of Republican control of Congress and an blind, on-going support of the policies of the state of Israel in the Middle East.

Because of the Bush family’s involvement in oil (Zapata Oil Company), many important and wealthy individuals and corporations with oil interests financially supported the Bush political career. Today, the Bush administration is therefore strongly influenced by major American business groups.

The candidate for American Vice President, Richard “Dick” Cheney, had been the Chief Director of the Halliburton Company. This company, based in Dallas, Texas, where Bush was Governor, is the largest oil service company in the world.

Between 1991 through 1997, such important American oil companies as Texaco, Unocal, Shell, BP Amoco, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil became involved with the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan who holds enormous oil reserves. The government of Kazakhstan was eventually paid over $3 billions of corporate money to allow these companies to secure oil rights. At the same time, these companies agreed further to give the sums of 35 billion U.S. Dollar in investments in plant and equipment to the Kazakhstan projects. A confidential project report of said U.S. firms announced that the gas and oil reserves in Kazakhstan would amount to 4 trillion U.S. Dollar.

The United States is not self-sufficient in oil and 50% of their supply is imported from various foreign sources. Some 80% of oil imported to the U.S. comes from OPEC-countries, the Arabian oil cartel. Because of the unconditional support by American political leaders of the state of Israel, these Arab governments have a very strained relationship with the U.S.A.

A further smaller percentage of oil imported to the U.S. comes from Venezuela. Just recently, the U.S. government has been attempting to overthrow the government of Chavez with the help of the CIA and replace it with a government “more sympathetic to American oil needs.”

A position paper prepared by the office of the later-Vice President Cheney states that the Kazakhstan oil reserves would be “more than sufficient to supply U.S. needs for at least a decade” and would further “reduce American dependence on OPEC.”

Unocal Oil Company signed an agreement with the reigning Taliban forces as well as their opponents, the Northern Alliance, in order to permit an oil pipeline to be built through Afghanistan direct through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. By this, the exorbitant rates charged by the Russians to use their pipelines would be avoided. Unocal then opened official offices in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to facilitate the construction of this oil pipeline.

In December of 1997, official Taliban representatives were in the United States to attend a conference at Unocal headquarters in Texas to discuss the

Afghanistan pipeline. These talks failed because the Taliban made what Unocal felt were excessive financial demands.

In 1998, internal strife in Afghanistan and inherent instability in Pakistan reached such levels as to render the pipeline project impossible to execute. In the same year, the Houston, Texas based firm of Enron suggested instead to build a $3 billion oil pipeline parallel to the Russian pipelines, running westwards rather than taking the shorter but more problematic route south.

In a secret memorandum by Cheney, it is stated that the Unocal Company was prepared to finance the southern route. According to this, this project would take five years to complete and its annual revenues from the successful completion of this pipeline would approximate $2 billions. However, and this has been the subject of a number of secret American reports, the only thing standing in the way of the construction of this pipeline was the basic opposition of the Afghanistan government and its political supporters.

On May 8, 2001, the U.S. Department of State, in the name of the Secretary of State Powell, gave 43 million U.S. Dollars to the Taliban in order to facilitate their cooperation in the pipeline project.

On June 10, 2001, the BND warned the CIA office in the U.S. Embassy to the Federal Republic [of Germany] that certain Arab terrorists were planning to seize American commercial aircraft for use as weapons of destruction against significant American symbols. This was considered a general warning only. The Federal Republic’s warning of August 6, however, was specific as to date, time and places of the attacks.

On July 11, 2001, in Berlin, U.S. officials: Thomas Simmons, a former American Ambassador to Pakistan, Lee Coldren, State Department expert on Asian matters and Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for Asian matters met with Russian and Pakistani intelligence officers. At this meeting, which was under surveillance, it was stated by the Americans that the United States planned to launch military strikes against Afghanistan in October of that year. The purpose of these strikes was to topple the Afghanistan government and the Taliban in order to replace it with a government “more sensitive to the needs of American oil interests.”

In mid-August, 2001, President of the Russian Federation Putin ordered that the American authorities be warned of pending attacks on government buildings inside the United States. This warning was conveyed to the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow and via the Russian Ambassador’s office directly to the U.S. President.

On August 20, the Government of France, through the American Embassy in Paris and their Embassy in Washington, issued a more specific warning. This warning specified the exact date, time and places of the attacks.

On September 11, President Bush and top aides flew to the state of Florida so that the President could speak with children in

a kindergarten. Also at that time, Vice President Cheney absented himself from Washington and went to the safety of the Presidential compound in the mountains of Maryland.

It was noted in Washington that Cheney remained sequestered in Maryland for some time and only appeared in public surrounded by heavy security.

 

If the bitcoin bubble bursts, this is what will happen next

Bitcoin looks like it’s heading towards a major crash. If it happens, crypto-millionaires will be hit hardest while governments move to regulate the cryptocurrency

December 22, 2017

by Gian Volpicelli

wired.co

The way media and experts are nearly universally labelling bitcoin’s vertiginous price surge a “bubble” is just another bizarre episode in the cryptocurrency’s odd saga. Generally, bubbles are not called as they happen. Like financial Rumpelstiltskins, the moment you dare speak their name, they either have already burst or are very close to doing so.

“Bubbles usually get identified in retrospect,” says William Derringer, an MIT historian who has extensively researched financial bubbles. “If we knew with absolute certainty that Bitcoin’s was a bubble, it would have already popped.”

Apart from the popping part, though, bitcoin’s hike ticks almost all the boxes on the bubble checklist. Like bitcoin’s surge, Deringer explains, most bubbles erupt off the back of novel technologies (think of the dot.com bubble in the noughties), often coupled with some form of financial innovation; bubbles also swell as a result of constant media coverage, which causes more and more FOMO-riddled investors to join the craze; and, of course, you have a bubble when speculation drives an asset’s price tremendously above its fundamental value (that’s tricky with bitcoin, as we can’t tell what the fundamental value of a string of cryptographic code is.)

Investors don’t seem to care about the red flags. Bitcoin’s price has soared from January 2017’s $800 to today’s $17,000, with plenty of ups and downs on the way. The debut of bitcoin futures on two major exchanges – initially expected to bring down Bitcoin’s price by allowing investors to short it, i.e. bet against it – has ended up giving the cryptocurrency more legitimacy among retail investors, further boosting its price.

All the same, it’s worth wondering what could happen if bitcoin crashed. If, in other words, bitcoin’s price really was in a bubble, and the bubble popped – whatever the reason (hack, state crack-down, market manipulation). How bad would that be? And how would it play out?

Some think that, as things stand, the harm would be limited. While investors are increasing by the day, most of bitcoin’s estimated $366.8 billion market value is held by a handful of super-rich, ranging from early adopters, to Silicon Valley bigshots and coin barons running cryptocurrency mining operations.

“Most of bitcoin’s value is held by a few thousand very, very wealthy people who would simply become a bit less wealthy. I would expect no meaningful general impact.” says Ari Paul, an analyst and chief information officer for cryptocurrrency investment firm BlockTower Capital.

But some collateral damage would be inevitable. A sudden fall in bitcoin’s price may put pressure on exchanges – companies converting Bitcoin to state-sponsored currency like dollars or pounds – with hordes of coin-owners trying to cash out of their bitcoins before a further slump in value. This reverse stampede, compounded by many exchanges’ notorious lack of liquidity, might leave more than a few casualties on the field.

“It will be like 2000, when the tech bubble popped,” says Garrick Hileman, who researches monetary systems at the University of Cambridge. “The largest and strongest players, the Amazons of the crypto world, will consolidate and propel themselves further ahead. But a lot of bitcoin companies – exchanges, wallet companies, etcetera – will go out of business.”

Some of them could make a last-ditch attempt to pivot. Remember 2014, when, after the collapse of Japanese Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox, people forgot about disgraced bitcoin and started waxing lyrical about the blockchain? “The cycle could repeat itself,” says Hileman.

There may be contagion. Cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Litecoin and Monero that have rocketed throughout the current surge could wind up being tarred with the same bitcoin brush and fall in value. According to Hileman, companies making hardware to mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are similarly bound to get a drubbing in a post-pop scenario. “Nvidia, Intel and other chip-makers are definitely exposed,” he says.

Hileman and Paul concur (together with several other economists) that a grave, 2008-style crash is a far-fetched possibility. Past systemic crises were fuelled by people getting in debt to fund their investment. “To have a major financial bubble you’ll need a lot of lending and credit to build up,” Hileman says – and he does not think bitcoin has witnessed that just yet.

But that may already be changing. Cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have already started speaking at industry conferences about the necessity for “leverage” , “lending” and “credit.” Just days ago, the FT revealed that Japanese crypto-exchange bitFlyer let investors borrow 15 times their cash deposit to buy bitcoin. And let’s not even mention the anecdotes about people remortgaging their houses to buy a slice of the bitcoin cake. A bigger, lending-driven, bubble might affect more than a couple crypto-millionaires’ wallets.

Whatever its severity, a bubble-pop would have at least one consequence: more regulation. As an increasing number of people – and even institutional Wall Street investors – join in the bitcoin mania, financial authorities worldwide will adopt a more interventionist stance. In fact, this is already happening: South Korea held a meeting on bitcoin two weeks ago and this week France’s minister of finance demanded that the G20 discussed stricter bitcoin regulation. A bitcoin crash would only precipitate what is underway, explains Brent Goldfarb, an associate professor of management at the University of Maryland.

“It would create regulatory pressure on the currency,” he says. There would be an upswing in complaints and political pressure to do something about [bitcoin]. That’s what created the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which was established after the crash of 1929.”

Granted: enforcing regulation on a digital currency designed to be borderless, stateless, and anonymous would certainly prove tough. One obvious thing for governments to do would be impose stricter rules on cryptocurrency exchanges in a bid to avoid the excesses we are witnessing right now. Will that work? Probably not for hardcore bitcoiners. But, Goldfarb thinks, retail investors of the get-rich-quick type would steer clear, at least initially.

Bitcoin itself may go back where it was born, among libertarians, crypto-enthusiasts, and darknet spelunkers. Or might be dethroned by another cryptocurrency, one less tainted by bubbly memories, and end up in digital purgatory. But it will not die. Just think of tulips, the unwitting protagonists of a speculative bubble in 17th century Netherlands. “Tulips didn’t disappear after the mania ended,” Goldfarb says. “They are a key part of Dutch economy even today.”

 

Deutsche Bank Economist Says a Bitcoin Crash Would Endanger Global Markets

December 10, 2017

by David Z. Morris

Fortune

An economist at Deutsche Bank thinks a crash in the price of bitcoin will be among the top risks to broader markets in 2018.

Torsten Slok, Deutsche’s Bank’s Chief International Economist, recently sent clients a list of 30 market risks which could impact growth next year. The list, shared with outlets including Bloomberg, ranks a bitcoin crash as the 13th-highest risk, behind various central banking challenges and overvaluation of U.S. equities.

It’s not hard to argue bitcoin is in a hype-fueled bubble, but Deutsche’s concern that it could impact the global economy still seems at least slightly overblown. According to Coinmarketcap, the total market value of all cryptocurrencies — including not just bitcoin, but Ethereum, Litecoin, and all the rest — is now swinging around $400 billion. For comparison, the total value of the U.S. housing market, which lay at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis, was estimated at $29.6 trillion in 2016 — or more than 70 times higher than cryptocurrencies’ current total value.

That doesn’t mean a bitcoin bust couldn’t contribute to a broader meltdown, but it’s hard to see it as a systemic risk in itself. Aside from pure size considerations, bitcoin owners are spread across the entire globe, which would also spread any crash’s impact.

Despite that, Slok’s list ranks a bitcoin crash above both Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump, which could result in the impeachment or even indictment of a sitting U.S. President, and North Korea, whose missile testing could spark a full-blown war. The bitcoin bubble, it seems, isn’t just in its price, but in outsized assessments of its broader economic significance.

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