TBR News December 26, 2017

Dec 26 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 26, 2017: “In 1962, John Calhoun

published a fascinating study of the effect of over-population on an experimental rat

community. Random, unexplained violence and other unpleasant phenomenon  were noted and what Calhoun described in 1962 is easily seen today. We could list all such anti-social aberrations here but it would take a hundred pages. A discussion of the Calhoun report can be seen on the Internet and is well worth the trouble of reading.”


Table of Contents

  • Commentary: What to watch in 2018
  • Mexico maelstrom: how the drug violence got so bad 
  • How a Gay Friendly and “Very Pro-Choice” Trump Created the Most Anti-Choice, Anti-LGBT Administration in Generations
  • The Never-Ending Crisis of Zionism
  • Japan considers refitting helicopter carrier for stealth fighters: government sources
  • Bitcoin implosion could ‘spill over’ into stock market – Wells Fargo
  • Can Your Debts Be Erased in Student Loan Bankruptcy?
  • Secret Service blames Romanian cybercriminals with hacking D.C. surveillance cameras
  • Will self-driving cars do more harm than good?
  • Depends who wins after all

 Commentary: What to watch in 2018

December 26, 2017

by Peter Apps


Professional forecasters like to say that making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future. As we reach the end of 2017, however, here are some of the key themes – and questions – that look set to shape global events next year.

  1. Will Mueller’s Russia investigation mark the end of Trump’s presidency?

President Donald Trump didn’t expect to be TIME’s “Man of the year” for 2017, but 2018 could be the year that we get a clearer idea of the legacy he will leave.

First, it should become clear just how much mileage prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election really has. Further arrests of high-profile figures might signal that investigators have acquired useful information from key individuals now helping them with their inquiries, particularly former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Trump aide George Papadopoulos. So far we have plenty of rumor, but precious little detail.

The real question is whether Mueller can pin evidence of a conspiracy on Trump. If the prosecutor can’t reach Trump himself, some of Trump’s Russia problems may begin to ease. If, however, it becomes clear the president or those near him have attempted to pervert the course of justice, then the situation will change abruptly. U.S. political experts are virtually unanimous in their belief that Republicans will not impeach Trump in 2018, but that calculus may shift if the Democrats manage to capitalize on Republicans’ unpopularity in the November mid-terms and take control of either the Senate or the House.

  1. Will Trump or North Korea risk moving beyond bluster and posturing to military action?

In many ways, the likely trajectory of events surrounding North Korea is easier to predict. Based on events so far, it seems almost certain Kim Jong Un will continue to test increasingly powerful bombs and rockets. As Pyongyang’s ability to strike the U.S. mainland increases, Washington will get increasingly aggressive – but likely will still remain reluctant to launch any kind of strike that could trigger a devastating conflagration.

There remain several wildcards in play, however. The most obvious is whether Trump might ignore the cautionary noises coming from the Pentagon and beyond and attempt to decapitate Kim’s regime and weapons program militarily.

For now, both Japan and South Korea remain extremely cautious about the idea of a unilateral U.S. strike, with South Korea repeatedly stating that it would wish to veto any such action.

Washington’s longstanding alliance with South Korea means that Trump should – in theory, at least – get Seoul’s consent before trying to shoot down a North Korean test missile using regional ground-based interceptors. Such a strategy would be high risk – Washington’s credibility would suffer if the interceptor rocket missed its target.

Aside from the nuclear threat, don’t discount Pyongyang’s growing cyber capabilities. Its suspected efforts to penetrate the U.S. electric grid could escalate into crippling attacks on critical infrastructure.

Keep an eye on Russia and China too. So far, Moscow has been broadly supportive of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions while Beijing has been much more cautious. A shift in either position might well influence Kim’s thinking.

Whatever happens, expect more posturing and more sanctions.

  1. Will Europe’s multiple crises reach crunch point?

This has been a volatile year for Europe. After the shock of the Brexit vote in 2016, France and the Netherlands fended off electoral challenges from the far-right. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged from Germany’s October election with diminished support and a struggle to form a viable coalition government. That means the country may have to go back to the polls next year.

The surprisingly strong performance of pro-Catalan independence parties in December elections means domestic tensions within Spain will remain on the table next year, with a new independence referendum looking increasingly likely.

The problem is none of the strains within the continent have gone away – frustration with government policies on migration, the ongoing struggle to keep the single currency bloc and, of course, the ongoing trauma of how to make Brexit work.

The latter issue will escalate in importance throughout the year, as British and EU negotiators attempt to transform December’s preliminary agreement into a workable deal before Britain leaves the union in March 2019. That progress will inevitably hit problems, and if it breaks down entirely a new UK election – or even another referendum – remain plausible.

The far-right hasn’t gone away either. The results of local and national elections in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Holland, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy and Sweden will all be watched for signs that populists are gaining ground.

  1. Will new conflicts erupt as America’s Mideast influence slips?

For all the sound and fury following Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 2019 will likely see America ever less at the heart of events in the region.

U.S. forces will continue to mop up remnants of Islamic State and other militant groups, but Washington will increasingly take a backseat to regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran when it comes to driving events. With Tehran seeming to have strengthened its influence in Iraq and Syria this year, expect Sunni Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to push back ever harder against their Shi’ite rival.

The war in Yemen will likely remain the bloodiest theater, a humanitarian catastrophe largely invisible from the outside world. In additional, some analysts already believe Riyadh is already quietly encouraging Israel to consider another war in Lebanon to push back Iran’s Hezbollah proxies.

Another story worth watching will be the push by Kurdish groups for great influence within Turkey, Syria and particularly Iraq, where strains have become particularly severe since September’s independence referendum.

  1. Will 2018 see growing challenges to authority in Russia and China?

On balance, 2017 was a good year for the leaders in Moscow and Beijing. While the West remained mired in domestic clinical crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have never looked more in control.

Beneath the surface, however, those assumptions are already being tested. Russia saw a string of anti-government and anti-corruption protests throughout 2017, and Putin will no doubt be hoping to avoid a repeat next year of one of the few prospects that could complicate the presidential election he seems certain to win. Turnout may be reduced, however – challenger and anti-corruption campaign Alexei Navalny called for a boycott this week after he was banned from running against Putin.

In China, Xi secured his position as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao at the quinquennial Communist Party Congress in September. There too, however, there are signs of quietly mounting discontent and protest, particularly in Hong Kong.

Don’t expect either country to see seismic change next year on the back of these trends. But they are worth watching, for they may point too much more significant things to come.


Mexico maelstrom: how the drug violence got so bad 

11 years since the government launched a crackdown on cartels, violence continues, rule of law is elusive and accusations of human rights abuses abound

December 26, 2017

by David Agren in Reynosa

The Guardian

Sofía, a medical assistant in Reynosa, a scruffy border city in northern Mexico, has a regular morning routine.

She wakes at 6am and readies her son for preschool; then she reviews her social media feeds for news of the latest murders.

Updates come via WhatsApp messages from friends and family: “There was a gun battle on X street”, “They found a body in Y neighbourhood”, “Avoid Z”.

In Mexico today, choosing your route to work can be a matter of life or death, but Sofía compares the daily drill to checking the weather on the way out the door. “It doesn’t rain water here,” she said. “It rains lead.”

It is 11 years since the then president Felipe Calderón launched a militarised crackdown on drug cartels deploying thousands of soldiers and promising an end to the violence and impunity. But the bloodletting continues, the rule of law remains elusive and accusations of human rights abuses by state security forces abound.

All the while, Mexico continues to race past a series a grim milestones: more than 200,000 dead and an estimated 30,000 missing, more than 850 clandestine graves unearthed. This year is set to be the country’s bloodiest since the government started releasing crime figures in 1997, with about 27,000 murders in the past 12 months.

Some of the worst violence in recent years has struck Reynosa and the surrounding state of Tamaulipas, which sits squeezed against the Gulf coast and the US border.

Once in a while, a particularly terrible incident here will make news around the world, such as the murder of Miriam Rodríguez, an activist for families of missing people, who was shot dead in her home on Mother’s Day.

But most crimes are not even reported in the local papers: journalists censor themselves to stay alive and drug cartels dictate press coverage.

“We don’t publish cartel and crime news in order to protect our journalists,” said one local news director, whose media outlet has been attacked by cartel gunmen. Eight journalists were murdered in Mexico in 2017, making it the most dangerous country for the press after Syria.

The information vacuum is filled by social media where bloody photographs of crime scenes and breaking news alerts on cartel shootouts are shared on anonymous accounts.

In Reynosa, violence has become a constant strand in everyday life. Morning commutes are held up by gun battles; movie theatres lock the doors if a shootout erupts during a screening. More than 90% of residents feel unsafe in the city, according to a September survey by the state statistics service.

Signs of the drug war are everywhere: trees and walls along the main boulevard are pockmarked with bullet holes. Drug dealers can be seen loafing on abandoned lots; every so often, rival convoys of gunmen battle on the streets.

Video cameras look down from rooftops; spies are all around. “They have eyes everywhere,” said one woman. “It could be the government or the cartels.”

The violence here first erupted around 2010 when the the Gulf cartel’s armed wing – a group of former soldiers known as Los Zetas – turned on their masters.

Since then, wave after wave of conflict has scorched through the state as rival factions emerge and collapse.

Fighting erupts over trafficking routes and the growing local drug markets, but state forces are also implicated: earlier this month, soldiers killed seven people, including two women, in what was described as a “confrontation”.

Crime hit such alarming levels this year that the local maquiladora industry – which pulls thousands to Reynosa every year to work in its export factories – warned that companies might be forced to relocate.

Amid the mayhem, ordinary life continues: shopping malls fill with families trying to escape the oppressive heat. Cars full of young people cruise the streets at night, banda music blaring from open windows.

“Life can’t stop. We have to get out and enjoy ourselves a little,” said Alonso de León, a local caterer. But he added: “The problem affecting us in Tamaulipas is the shootouts, this violence – in any other country this would be called terrorism.”

The government bristles at any suggestion that the country is at war. When the International Institute for Strategic Studies ranked Mexico as second-deadliest country in the world – ahead of warzones such as Afghanistan and Yemen – the foreign ministry responded angrily, pointing to higher murder rates in Brazil and Venezuela.

War or not, the bodycount keeps climbing.

And the violence is spreading: tourist areas have seen shootouts and decapitations, and even the capital has seen confrontations with armed groups. Earlier this month, the bodies of six men were found hanging from bridges in the resort city of Los Cabos.

All of which has been disastrous for the image of President Enrique Peña Nieto who took office in 2012 with an ambitious agenda to push through structural reforms and promote Mexico as an emerging economy.

Fighting crime seemed an afterthought.

“He thought that security issues in Mexico were a problem of perception so he embraced a policy of silence,” said Viridiana Ríos, scholar at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Peña Nieto’s government maintained the military focus of the drug war, and continued to target cartel kingpins. But analysts question the strategy, saying that it shatters larger criminal empires but leaves smaller – often more violent – factions fighting for the spoils.

Breaking up the cartels also has the perverse effect of encouraging crime groups to diversify, said Brian J Phillips, professor at the Centre for Teaching and Research in Economics.

“The new groups are more likely to raise money by kidnapping or extortion since that doesn’t require the logistics of drug trafficking,” he said. “And as long as demand exists in the USA, and supply is in or passing through Mexico, new criminal organisations will appear.”

But analysts say even that would not work nowadays as the drug cartels have splintered.

“It’s a useless endeavour, given the broken criminal landscape,” said security analyst Jorge Kawas. “There’s no group of leaders who can be summoned to discuss stopping the violence.”

Politicians are nonetheless still perceived as allying themselves with criminals –especially during costly election campaigns.

“Mexico cannot stop dirty money going into the political system,” said Edgardo Buscaglia, an organised crime expert at Columbia University. “That’s the key to understanding why violence has increased in Mexico.”

Such accusations are all too familiar in Tamaulipas, where two of the past three governors have been indicted in US courts on drug and organised crime charges.


How a Gay Friendly and “Very Pro-Choice” Trump Created the Most Anti-Choice, Anti-LGBT Administration in Generations

December 26 2017

by Rachel M. Cohen

The Intercept

Maggie Wynne’s career as a foot-soldier in the anti-abortion movement began in Congress, where throughout much of the 1990s she was a staffer for the so-called Pro-Life Caucus. When George W. Bush took the White House, she moved to the Department of Health and Human Services to work in the office that connected Congress and the agency.

A few years later, in 2005, she became a special assistant within HHS. But as the administration neared its end, Wynne pulled off a bureaucratic move known as “burrowing,” in which an appointed official becomes a career government employee, with all the job protections that entails.

So when Barack Obama’s HHS team arrived, Wynne was there waiting for them at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, continuing to wage her bureaucratic battles on behalf of the unborn. Career staff are famously difficult to fire, but they can be marginalized so that they can’t stall an agenda. In 2011, HHS got her out of the agency temporarily by “detailing” her to the staff of the House Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the most zealous right-to-lifer in the House and co-chair of the Pro-Life Caucus. The reassignment was part of an effort to keep her away from the bidding process for federal funding for anti-trafficking work, as Wynne was known to favor the U.S. bishops who fought a new Obama-era requirement to offer victims access to abortion services.

She managed to involve herself in the process regardless, and, in 2015, Wynne’s department was reorganized to strip most of her authority; she was left directing a relatively small trafficking office, helping to determine whether foreign-born victims qualified for public services. Less than a year later, with the punditry convinced Hillary Clinton would become the next president, Wynne finally called it quits. For the next several months, she went to work for the Knights of Columbus and was the pilgrimage director at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington.

But then Donald Trump won.

Wynne quickly came back to public service, becoming an early and influential member of the HHS transition team. A woman who’d just recently been a low-level functionary within the agency now had influence over staffing it at the highest levels, and, until the new director arrived, she was effectively running ORR. She got herself named Counselor for Human Services Policy, one of the most powerful positions within the department.

“The Counselor is the point person for the secretary and the agency on all major policy and program decisions,” explained Jeff Hild, who served under Obama as chief of staff for HHS’s Administration for Children & Families. “It’s a crucial position, and pretty under-the-radar as it’s not public-facing. But the people who have held that job are some of the most experienced and respected in the field of human services. During the Obama administration, the Counselors had decades of experience prior to taking on the role, including as senior staff in Congress and leaders at prominent think tanks.”

Wynne is none of that. But she does have one critical qualification: She is zealously opposed to abortion — and a slew of her allies in the movement soon poured into the building.

Wynne, in many ways, is the story of the Trump administration: a fringe operative who fought her battles far from the center of power, suddenly washed into a position of extraordinary authority. Across the administration, officials like her have been leaving their marks, but in the Health and Human Services Department, the lurch toward the evangelical, right-to-life movement has elevated what were once sleepy bureaucratic backwaters into prominent culture war battlefields.

Trump’s Health and Human Services Department has been quietly stocked with a host of anti-choice and anti-LGBT ideologues. There’s Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, who now serves in a top communications post, and Valerie Huber, an abstinence education champion who works as chief of staff for the Office of Assistant Secretary. There’s Teresa Manning, a former National Right to Life Committee lobbyist who is overseeing federal family planning services, and Tom Price, who led the Department up until October and boasted about as anti-choice a record as a legislator could.

And then there’s Scott Lloyd, another objectively unqualified appointee leading the Office of Refugee Resettlement. He formerly worked as an attorney for Knights of Columbus, a leading anti-abortion group, and once argued that “contraceptives are the cause of abortion.” Wynne, who spent seven years toiling in ORR, overlapped with Lloyd at Knights of Columbus before coming back to join Trump’s transition team.

It was the Office of Refugee Resettlement that made international news by attempting to block a 17-year-old immigrant in its custody from getting an abortion. In late October, after being barred for a month by Lloyd, the unaccompanied minor — known in court filings as Jane Doe — was finally able to end her unwanted pregnancy. She was detained in a privately run shelter funded by ORR – which had implemented a new policy forbidding shelters from “facilitating” abortions. Except Jane Doe wasn’t relying on the shelter to pay for the procedure, or even to transport her there. She just needed permission to leave temporarily.

In court filings, the administration wrote that it has “strong and constitutionally legitimate interests in promoting childbirth, in refusing to facilitate abortion, and in not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegal cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.” As Jane Doe waited for her abortion, government agencies forced her to obtain counseling from a Christian-affiliated crisis pregnancy center and to look at an ultrasound.

The American Civil Liberties Union ultimately prevailed in court for Jane Doe, but the underlying ORR policy remains in place, and in mid-December the ACLU filed suit on behalf of two more undocumented minors – Jane Roe and Jane Poe. A federal judge ruled in their favor last week. In court filings several days later, Lloyd argued that ORR shouldn’t let even a minor impregnated through rape end her unwanted pregnancy because perhaps she’d experience “additional trauma” as a result.

Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU attorney representing the minors, told The Intercept that ORR started to interfere with abortion access in March by working aggressively to dissuade teenagers, giving them unwanted religious counseling, and even contacting their parents against their express wishes. “When all that fails, as it did with Jane Doe, then they just say you can’t get an abortion,” she said.

These problems, Amiri emphasized, didn’t all start with Trump. “Under Obama, millions of dollars flowed to shelters that had objections to abortion, and if the minor asked for one, they could say well you can’t stay here but we’ll contact the federal government and they’ll transfer you somewhere else,” Amiri said. “It was totally stigmatizing, it delayed access to abortion, and it made the procedure more risky. I had meetings with ORR’s directors – Eskinder Negash in the early years and Bob Carey towards the end – and I said you need to overhaul these policies. But they would not budge, so we sued them.”

This is, in many ways, the defining contrast between the last administration and the current one. The Obama administration, sometimes to its credit, other times to its great discredit, tried to walk a fraught middle ground. In the case of HHS, it meant partnering with faith-based groups in ways that sometimes made accessing reproductive health care more difficult for youth and victims. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has abandoned all pretense of compromise.

“They just flout the law and the Constitution,” said Amiri. “They’re utterly, utterly brazen.”

Under the Obama administration, former ORR director Robert Carey said, the office had a deliberate process for crafting policy that involved convening stakeholders, drafting revisions, and providing opportunities for feedback. That process had been inherited from the Bush administration, and every administration before it, since the advent of the modern bureaucracy. Under Trump, new ORR policies — including the rule banning grantees from “facilitating” abortion — have been issued through hastily drafted emails and memos.

The new rules are issued with such speed that nobody, apparently, even reviews them for grammar. According to court filings, on March 30, two days after becoming ORR director, Lloyd emailed his team announcing that ORR-funded shelters “should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release. Only pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling.” Another email dated March 4 and sent by then ORR-Acting Director Kenneth Tota said that if unaccompanied minors “may be involved in an abortion” then ORR-funded shelters were “prohibited from taking any action that facilitates an abortion without direction and approval from the Director of ORR.”

When she first learned the federal government was prohibiting Jane Doe from leaving her shelter to access an abortion, Amiri, the ACLU lawyer, thought, “No way, they can’t do that.” But then, she told The Intercept, “I realized, oh, they can do it, and they will do it, until a court stops them.”

Aside from appointments, many advocates have raised concerns with specific actions HHS has taken over the past year – actions signaling that vulnerable populations, including undocumented immigrants, victims of trafficking, and LGBTQ individuals – may be subject to further discrimination. Indeed, “vulnerable” is one of the Centers for Disease Control’s newly banned words.

When the HHS published its draft strategic plan for FY2018-2022 this past fall, it removed all mentions of LGBTQ individuals and ethnic minorities that had appeared in the Obama-era version. The Trump draft plan also rewrote the federal government’s definition of life, emphasizing that life begins “at conception.”

Then, in early October, the Trump administration issued new rules rolling back the Obama-era mandate that employers include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. (A judge issued a nationwide injunction against this in mid-December, and second judge issued a preliminary injunction last week.)

The Trump administration also announced in October it would be soliciting public comment on ways to potentially reduce HHS regulations governing faith-based groups – a bright red flag for those worried about discrimination.“Agency regulations already contain religious exemptions that are too expensive,” wrote the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination in a letter sent to HHS dated November 24.

In response to its solicitation, HHS received nearly 11,000 comments. But it has only made 80 of them public, those that largely reflect support for anti-abortion policies and disapproval for rules requiring groups to serve transgender individuals. “HHS should not solicit comments for rule-making from thousands of child welfare experts, health experts, and everyday Americans and then hide those comments from public view,” said Julie Kruse, a federal policy advocate at Family Equality Council.

In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other faith-based groups protested ORR for its new rule designed to prevent, detect, and respond to unaccompanied children who suffered sexual abuse. Rather than worry if the level of protection offered to minors was adequate, the groups charged that ORR had fallen short of “protecting existing and prospective grantees, contractors, subgrantees and subcontractors with religious or moral objections.” Specifically, they protested requirements to offer victims access to emergency contraception and abortion, even through referrals.

Put differently, two years ago, some faith-based groups called on the federal government to exempt them from providing victims with comprehensive reproductive services. Today, the government itself is led by officials like Wynne and Lloyd who forbid grantees from providing youth with comprehensive reproductive services, even when those grantees have no religious or moral objection to doing so.

As the Supreme Court currently reviews a case that could make it easier for states, businesses, and organizations to discriminate based on religious or moral objections, the stakes for LGBTQ individuals are particularly high.

Earlier this year when HHS released its annual national survey on older adults, it announced it would no longer be asking questions about gender identity — effectively preventing transgender adults from identifying as a subgroup on the questionnaire.

“We know the history of HIV and AIDS, we know what happens when the government is not willing to name a group of people who are most affected by a public health issue,” said Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality. “For years we have been trying to document and address the serious health disparities transgender people face, and we can’t do that when the government refuses to name them as a population.”

On December 15, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published an open letter rejecting the legitimacy of transgender identities. “We come together to join our voices on a more fundamental precept of our shared existence, namely, that human beings are male or female and that the socio-cultural reality of gender cannot be separated from one’s sex as male or female,” the letter reads.

Not to be outdone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is under the authority of HHS, made global news itself that day with reports that it had developed a new list of verboten words. Along with “vulnerable,” words such as “evidence-based,” “transgender” and “fetus” no longer exist, as far as the agency is concerned.

What the department does or does not do influences others across the country. “It’s really important to us that HHS send a signal to the states that federally funded agencies need to serve all youth,” said Kruse of the Family Equality Council. According to the group’s data, 19 percent of foster youth over the age of 12 identify as LGBTQ, and same-sex couples foster at four times the rate and adopt at six times the rate of opposite-sex couples. Despite 111,000 foster children waiting to be adopted annually, and an opioid epidemic that has exploded that population, seven states have passed bills that allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and prospective parents. Three of those bills passed in 2017.

“We’re very concerned about placement of LGBTQ youth into non-affirming homes or into faith-based group homes where they might be subjected to conversion therapy,” said Kruse.

And it’s not just youth. HHS currently requires all medical facilities receiving Medicaid and Medicare to honor the visitation preferences of their patients, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. HHS may soon decide to allow federally-funded hospitals and health clinics to turn away LGBT patients or their loved ones. “State and local housing agencies that administer programs, like housing vouchers or loans to assist with purchasing a home, could [also] refuse to offer those services to LGBT older adults and older same-sex couples,” warned a new report from the Movement Advancement Project.

A Manhattan playboy, who campaigned as friendly to the LGBTQ community and has dubbed himself “very pro-choice,” is now leading the most extreme anti-choice, transphobic, and anti-gay administration in modern history. The movement’s prayers have been answered.


The Never-Ending Crisis of Zionism

December 22, 2017

by Philip Weiss

The Unz Review

After a video came out this week of two young Palestinian women slapping Israeli soldiers in the occupied village of Nabi Saleh, the Israeli leftwing group Peace Now tweeted that the soldiers were “heroes” for not responding violently, and issued a statement commending the soldiers for “demonstrating moral fortitude in the face of an attempted stunt to blacken Israel’s image.”

The day those women slapped the soldiers, their 14-year-old cousin was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers, blood pouring from his head “like a fountain,” and he had to undergo a lengthy operation.

Peace Now didn’t say anything about that.

Both young women were later arrested. The 16-year-old, Ahed Tamimi, faces a possibly lengthy sentence so that Israel can maintain its honor. Peace Now has not issued a statement about that.

I find this so dispiriting it is hard to put one word after another. But people should know: this is the world Zionism made. In which a leftwing organization cares about Jewish soldiers maintaining their honor and purity of arms; and has nothing to say about human rights violations against an occupied, subject people.

This is a story about Jewish identity being rooted in trauma; and how long will it take us to overcome that trauma?

The Palestinian experience today is a lot like the Jewish experience of pogroms 100 years ago and more in eastern Europe. As Jews were beaten and killed by marauding gangs with the blessing of the state — American Jews were not silent. Jews acted. Our leaders went to the White House. Important Jewish organizations were formed. The most powerful Jew in the world, the banker Jacob Schiff, supported the Russian revolution because he so hated the czar. The most brilliant Jew in the world, Franz Kafka came out of his office in Prague to see Jews being beaten and he went to Zionist meetings.

Today millions of Palestinians under occupation are being humiliated, deprived of freedom, their children given no chance to dream of a better life… and the leftwing Zionist organization says a 16-year-old Palestinian woman whose cousin was maimed and who slapped a soldier in the courtyard of her house is carrying out a stunt.

Peace Now urges separation: “the occupation corrodes Israel and its image, and will continue until Israel extricates itself from the Palestinians.”

Jewish separation from Palestinians is a delusion. It is like whites separating from blacks in the U.S. Israel is 20 percent non-Jewish; and it rules territories containing 5 million Palestinians; and though the world has resolved to “extricate” the Jews from the Arabs for 70 years now, the communities are intertwined more than ever, as Israeli Jews flood the West Bank and build more and more Jewish-only colonies.

These Jewish colonies and their military escort have inflicted endless trauma on the subject population. Ahed Tamimi is plainly traumatized; she has been subject to violence again and again in her short life.

Two years ago Ahed Tamimi famously tried to protect her brother from an Israeli soldier.

Two years later she is a young woman put in jail for slapping Israeli soldiers in her village.

And Americans for Peace Now, the strongest liberal Zionist group, retweets the statement.

The occupation surely is destroying Israel spiritually. But who is it actually destroying, Palestinians. Liberal and leftwing American Jews have known this forever.

Seven years ago video of a Palestinian boy running after his father as Israeli police dragged the father away for allegedly stealing water from Jewish colonists inside occupied territory gained international attention, and then too Israel said the footage was staged– and Peter Beinart wrote a book partially inspired by that moment, The Crisis of Zionism.

And nothing changes. The Jews stay in crisis, and the Palestinian children get older– and more traumatized.

The only question is why Jews do not act? Why, given this endless evidence of persecution, haven’t Beinart and Peace Now come out for something stronger to break the occupation? Does Palestinian human wreckage count for anything?

These liberals mock the idea of bearing witness. Americans for Peace Now is still on the board of AIPAC. It could quit tomorrow and send a message. It doesn’t. And I understand calls for partition. Nationalism is a dangerous force. But partition efforts have crumbled for 70 years, and the last 25 years of earnest effort have been a miserable failure. It is not enough to call for partition.

Palestinians like Ahed Tamimi have called on Americans to support boycott of Israel, the tool that has been used on countless occasions in our progressive history to stirring effect– lately over transgender access to bathrooms in North Carolina. But Jewish Voice for Peace is the only large Jewish group to support boycott, and JVP is renegade; a leader of the official Jewish community, Jeffrey Goldberg, smears JVP for having a “homicidal impulse” for Israel; and he gets away with it.

Because at some deep level older Jews are committed to the idea of a Jewish state as some historical compensation for the greatest trauma of the last century, the Holocaust. That’s an understandable desire, to gain some amendment from the world’s powers for the horrors of the last century.

But it comes down ultimately to a matter of selfishness in the formation of identity. How safe are we today in the west? Safe, and empowered. On what terms are we safe? Democratic principles of equality for all persons. Even Bannon and Trump’s indulgence of anti-Semites has done nothing to curb our powers.

That is the modern Jewish condition; but we cannot acknowledge it, let alone the Palestinians’ condition. No, we are traumatized; so we insist that a girl living right now in an occupied village with no future is somehow on an equal footing with a heavily-armed occupying soldier, who is there to keep her family from going to its spring and who when his three years is up and he’s done his one year decompensation smoking dope in India will go to the Technion and then participate in a tech startup while his little brother replaces him in armor.

This is so dispiriting it can’t be expressed in words. Every young American Jew who goes home for the new year needs to talk to their parents about the persecution of Ahed Tamimi. It is only happening with American Jews’ blessing.

Thanks to Allison Deger


Japan considers refitting helicopter carrier for stealth fighters: government sources

December 26, 2017

by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly


TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is considering refitting the Izumo helicopter carrier so that it can land U.S. Marines F-35B stealth fighters, government sources said on Tuesday, as Tokyo faces China’s maritime expansion and North Korea’s missile and nuclear development.

Japan has not had fully fledged aircraft carriers since its World War Two defeat in 1945.

Any refit of the Izumo would be aimed at preparing for a scenario in which runways in Japan had been destroyed by missile attacks, and at bolstering defense around Japan’s southwestern islands, where China’s maritime activity has increased.

Three government sources close to the matter said the Japanese government was keeping in sight the possible future procurement of F-35B fighter jets, which can take off and land vertically, as it looks into the remodeling of the Izumo.

The 248-metre (814-feet) Izumo, Japan’s largest warship equipped with a flat flight deck, was designed with an eye to hosting F-35B fighters. Its elevator connecting the deck with the hangar can carry the aircraft, the sources said.

Possible refitting measures included adding a curved ramp at the end of the flight deck, improving the deck’s heat resistance against jet burners, and reinforcing the ship’s air traffic control capability, they said.

However, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the government was not taking any concrete steps towards refitting the Izumo.

“Regarding our defense posture, we are constantly conducting various examinations. But no concrete examination is under way on the introduction of F-35B or remodeling of Izumo-class destroyers,” Onodera told reporters on Tuesday.

The Izumo has a sister ship called the Kaga.

Japan has frequently conducted joint drills with U.S. aircraft carriers in recent months to boost deterrence against North Korea.

One of the three government sources called such exercises “a great opportunity to see with our own eyes how the U.S. military operates their aircraft carriers” as Japan looks into the possible conversion of the Izumo into an aircraft carrier.

Regional tension has soared since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September. Pyongyang said a month later it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland.

Japan is also wary of China’s long-range missiles, and would like to secure measures to launch fighters from aircraft carriers in case runways operated by U.S. forces in Japan or by Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force were destroyed by missiles.

Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. However, Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defense.

Owning an aircraft carrier could raise a question of constitutionality, the sources said, so the government is set to address the issue in its new National Defence Programme Guidelines to be compiled by the end of 2018.

Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Paul Tait


Bitcoin implosion could ‘spill over’ into stock market – Wells Fargo

December 26, 2017


Stocks could easily get dragged into chaos if the cryptocurrency boom goes bust, according to Wells Fargo Securities, which warns the unusual activity in the crypto market could lead to one of the most epic bubbles of all time.

There is a significant amount of froth in the crypto markets. We do think that if that froth comes out, it will start to spillover,” Christopher Harvey, the firm’s head of equity strategy told CNBC.

The recent wild rally of bitcoin and its peers has sparked warnings that investors need to beware that they are not risking a repeat of the 17th-century tulip mania bubble.

Bitcoin has fallen more than 25 percent from its all-time highs of $20,000 spurred by futures listings on major derivatives exchanges. The virtual currency’s slump last week has made some of its supporters revise their projections. Even billionaire Michael Novogratz who had predicted bitcoin would rise to $40,000 by 2019 and was very bullish on cryptocurrencies, updated his forecast, saying bitcoin could drop to $8,000 by year-end.

The Wells Fargo chief said he was worried a cryptomarket crash would start affecting equities. “You’re seeing it a little bit, but just not to a large degree. And, it’s something to watch out for in 2018.”

Talking about the stock market, which is poised to have its best year since 2013, he said: “You have to lower your expectations for next year.”

“A lot of good news is already priced in, and we just don’t see that much going forward. It’ll be a decent market, it just won’t be a banner year,” he explained.

According to Harvey, the first half of the year will be stronger than the second.

He has predicted that by that time stocks will come up against new challenges, whether the crypto market implodes or not.

“What the market will have to contend with is EPS [earnings per share] peaking, ISM [International Securities Market] potentially peaking, you’re going to have the yield-curve in all likelihood flattening — and in addition to that, you’ll likely have multiples start to compress,” Harvey said.

“You’re going to have to scratch and claw to stay afloat for it to break even,” he added


Can Your Debts Be Erased in Student Loan Bankruptcy?

May 23, 2017

by Shannon Insler

studentloan hero

Under federal law, you have the right to declare bankruptcy relief from your creditors. However, this comes at the cost of hurting your credit for several years. You’ll also likely rack up significant legal and court fees along the way.

That said, if you’re defaulting on debt, then your credit score has already taken a hit. So at this point, bankruptcy may, in fact, provide you with a fresh start.

But can you file bankruptcy on student loans? The process certainly isn’t easy — and it doesn’t always work. Here’s what you need to know before going down this path.

Can student loans be discharged in bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy is rarely an easy process, but it’s notoriously difficult with student loan debt. In fact, the only way to discharge federal student loans through bankruptcy is to prove “undue hardship.”

Essentially, you have to prove that you can’t pay back your federal student loans. However, courts are left with some room to interpret your eligibility. Most courts evaluate hardship using The Brunner Test.

The factors of this test are outlined by the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office and are paraphrased below:

  • You wouldn’t be able to maintain a basic standard of living if you had to pay back your federal student loans
  • You can prove that the hardship will last for a large percentage of your repayment period
  • You honestly tried to repay your federal student loans before this point

Although these points may seem easy to prove if you’re in dire straights, Leslie H. Tayne Esq. of Tayne Law Group, P.C. explains why that’s not the case:

“The reality is that unless you can show an extreme hardship where you will never work again and have attempted to pay back the loans and cannot, the likelihood is that bankruptcy won’t be an option. As a result, the general advice given is that student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.”

If you do manage to prove undue hardship and successfully declare bankruptcy on your student loans, they’ll be partially discharged, fully discharged, or restructured. If restructured, you’ll receive new repayment terms that should be easier for you to handle.

Note: If you attended a for-profit school, you might be able to raise a defense related to the school’s practices. If you can prove there was a breach of contract or deceptive practices, you could have a chance of convincing a judge to discharge your student loans.

How student loan bankruptcy discharge works

  1. Find a lawyer

While you don’t technically have to go through a lawyer to file bankruptcy, student loan bankruptcy can be an incredibly complex process. Going through it all alone could mean extra time, incorrect filings, and a lost case.

If you don’t know a lawyer, don’t worry. You can find one through the American Bar Association. Just make sure you pick a lawyer that specializes in bankruptcy and has very good reviews.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable working with a particular lawyer, find another one. Remember, you don’t have stick with the first lawyer you talk to.

Also, depending on your situation, you might be eligible for a lawyer at no cost to you through the Legal Services Corporation. It’s an independent nonprofit created by Congress offering financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans.

  1. Follow the steps as the lawyer outlines them

Next, your lawyer will help you decide whether to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Below is a breakdown of both:

Chapter 7 bankruptcy

  • You must prove you have little disposable income available to pay off your debt
  • Most unsecured debt can get wiped out
  • Student loan debt may be eligible for discharge
  • The process can take three to five months

Chapter 13 bankruptcy

  • You have some income to use to repay some of your debt
  • Your debt will be restructured, and some of it will need to be repaid
  • Student loan debt may be eligible — but your repayment will be restructured, not discharged
  • The repayment plan could last from three to five years

Another thing you and your lawyer will have to do is file a petition called an adversary proceeding to get a determination of undue hardship. This is part of the process that is unique to bankruptcy and student loans. Note that you can’t proceed with a student loan bankruptcy without this step.

Once all the proper paperwork is filed, your attorney will tell you what happens next. The steps could vary depending on your specific situation and the type of bankruptcy you proceed with.

Consider student loan repayment and forgiveness options first

Can you file bankruptcy on student loans? Maybe. Should you? That depends on you.

Bankruptcy is a complicated, intrusive, and extensive process. In fact, Tayne advises not doing it at all if you can help it:

“Though it’s difficult if not impossible to discharge student loans through bankruptcy, it would be wise to steer clear of considering bankruptcy in the first place. Bankruptcy is considered a more drastic option for debt resolution and often can be easily avoided with simple solutions that may not be obvious when strapped with a lot of student loan debt.”

There are also many solutions that are alternatives to bankruptcy. For example, federal student loans come with options such as income-driven repayment plans and deferment or forbearance.

You also have the option to apply for forgiveness, either through an income-driven repayment plan or Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). PSLF is available to those who work for certain public service organizations, such as government agencies or non-profits.

And if you have private student loans, talk to your lender. They might have a hardship program that you didn’t know about. Remember, you lose nothing at all by asking.

Before declaring bankruptcy and trying to fight against a system that’s designed not to discharge your student loan debt, be sure to research your other debt repayment options for student debt relief.


Secret Service blames Romanian cybercriminals with hacking D.C. surveillance cameras

December 22, 2017

by Andrew Blake –

The Washington Times

Europol announced separately that Romanian authorities recently arrested two people in connection with a ransomware scheme being investigated by the Secret Service.

“After the U.S. authorities issued an international arrest warrant for the two suspects, they were arrested the day after in Bucharest while trying to leave the country,” Europol said Wednesday

Europol didn’t identify the suspects by name, but the agency’s statement said the two suspects were wanted in connection with Cerber, a strain of ransomware that encrypts files on infected computers and then holds them hostage until receiving payment. The Secret Service found traces of Cerber on the hacked MPD

Europol announced separately that Romanian authorities recently arrested two people in connection with a ransomware scheme being investigated by the Secret Service.

“After the U.S. authorities issued an international arrest warrant for the two suspects, they were arrested the day after in Bucharest while trying to leave the country,” Europol said Wednesday.

Europol didn’t identify the suspects by name, but the agency’s statement said the two suspects were wanted in connection with Cerber, a strain of ransomware that encrypts files on infected computers and then holds them hostage until receiving payment. The Secret Service found traces of Cerber on the hacked MPD surveillance system, and investigators ultimately traced those infections directly to the two Romanians accused in the document published by CNN the same day as Europol’s statement.

“The evidence uncovered by the investigation shows that Isvanca and Cismaru participated in a conspiracy to distribute ransomware by spam emails — that is, to send emails containing malicious software (also called malware) that would lock or encrypt files on various victim computers to which the malware was to be sent and installed and, then, to extort money from the victims in exchange for unlocking or decrypting files on the computers,” Secret Service agent James Graham wrote in an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed under seal in D.C. federal court on Dec. 11 and ultimately obtained by CNN.

“In furtherance of the conspiracy, between in or about January 9, 2017, and January 12, 2017, Isvanca and Cismaru participated in an intrusion into and taking control of approximately 123 internet-connected computers used by the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia(“MPDC”) to operate surveillance cameras in public, outdoor areas in the District of Columbia, which computers could then be used to send the ransomware-laden spam emails,” the affidavit said.

The infections plagued about two-thirds of the police department’s 187 digital video records and prompted law enforcement to undertake a citywide reinstallation a week prior to the presidential inauguration, Archana Vemulapalli, D.C.’s city’s chief technology officer, said previously.

“These reports highlight how vulnerable our systems are to fast-proliferating ransomware threats,” Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told The Washington Times at the time. “While many ransomware attacks are opportunistic, with attackers scanning internet connections for insecure devices, incidents like these highlight how devastating a deliberate attack targeting critical infrastructure or sensitive security systems could be.”


Will self-driving cars do more harm than good?

December 29, 2017


A future containing driverless cars might be safer, according to proponents. However, critics point to the potential job loss that automation of transport might entail.

The technology is still in its infancy, but it will continue to develop over the coming years.

“According to the British government, driverless cars could create up to about 30,000 jobs in the United Kingdom,” Al Jazeera correspondent Laurence Lee, reporting from Coventry in London, said.

“The number sounds okay until you hear that in this part of the country, automation could cost as much as 300,000 jobs.”

For the UK, the possibility of increased automation brings back memories of a time when car factories closed en masse because of foreign competition.

“It’s pretty clear that governments like the one in Britain need a job strategy for automation,” he said.

Leap forward

Despite this gloomy job forecast, proponents of driverless cars think the technology will be a leap forward that will change the way we travel and make it a lot safer.According to them, there might be a future where car ownership is limited, and people move from driverless pod to driverless pod.

“Monorail systems near airports are driverless, and people use those quite happily,” Tom Sorell, a University of Warwick professor, told Al Jazeera.

“So long as the speeds are fairly low, it’s probably a safe proposition.”

Some even say people will be able to sleep or work in their vehicle, while the automated driver takes care of what happens on the road.

According to critics, however, automation could lead to the loss of millions of jobs, especially in the transport sector.

And some are not so sure it is safe yet to go completely driverless, at least not in urban areas.

“There’s too much going on. It’s an extremely busy and complex environment with lots of potential distractions, like people suddenly crossing the street. It’s probably too complex,” Neville Stanton, a Southampton University professor, told Al Jazeera.

The rapid progress of the technology means that drivers, commercial or private, will probably be obsolete sooner rather than later.

And although the promise of safer roads sounds enticing because automated cars are said to be less prone to mistakes, many fear that the loss of jobs will be a disaster on a different scale.



Depends who wins after all

December 26, 2017

by Christian Jürs


It has been very accurately said that one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist, it all depends on one’s point of view. In a historical context, Germany, Soviet Russia, Great Britain and the United States have been occupying powers and all have suffered the ravages of guerrilla warfare: Germany in Europe and Russia, Britain in half of the world, the Soviets in their own country and Eastern Europe, and the United States in Southeast Asia.

All of these powers dealt with their dissidents in the same way: extensive use of force and terror. Concentration camps have been called “detention” or “relocation centers” but in the final analysis, they are prisons where the politically dangerous are caged, often tortured, and left to the ravages of disease, hunger and neglect.

The Regional Interrogation Centers of the CIA in Vietnam differed little from their counterparts of the Gestapo or the NKVD. The aims of these entities was to elicit information and destroy the will to resist in the occupied countries. Extensive exposure of these methods have done absolutely nothing at all to eradicate them—witness the barbarity of the Serbs against their neighbors in Bosnia and Croatia.

A low-key controversy has been bubbling for a number of years concerning the deaths of a large number of German prisoners of war in the months following the end of the Second World War. Revisionists claim that after the collapse of Germany, huge numbers of prisoners were left in exposed, outdoor camps with only meager rations—certainly not enough for all of them—and the death tolls were tremendously high. Apologists for the captors claim that while there were a few deaths, due to natural causes, a pattern of deliberate starvation and neglect did not occur.

Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has been singled out for blame in this matter. Although blame is difficult to place, it should be noted that Eisenhower despised the Germans, not just the defeated military but all Germans. Some apologists have credited Eisenhower’s loathing of Germans to his discovery of the horrors in the concentration camp system. However, Müller’s papers contain a thick dossier on Eisenhower that may offer a different reason for his attitudes and actions.

According to what appears to be a thoroughly researched study, one of many kept on Allied leaders both political and military, the Eisenhower family was Jewish and emigrated to the United States in the 19th century from the Saxon city of Pirna. If this is true, it would explain Eisenhower’s hatred of Germans.



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