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TBR News December 31, 2017

Dec 31 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. December 31, 2017:” Among other issues looming in the near future is the fact that the United States government has sold off, by proxy, vast amounts of gold loaned to it by various foreign goverments for safe-keeping. The US government gave the gold to the privately-owned Federal Reserve as collateral for loans and when the governemt could not repay these loans, the Federal Reserve sold most of the foreign gold on deposit in their vaults to the Chinese. The US cannot return what it does not have so everyone is running around, refusing to address reality and frantically trying to get its victims to look at the pink donkey dancing in the street.”

Table of Contents

  • Republicans Mock “Coastal Elites,” But the Trump Administration Is Full of Them
  • Germany ends 2017 without a government for Angela Merkel
  • Essay on Current Events
  • US gold of low purity & that’s why audit of reserves will never be allowed – expert tells RT
  • Germany wants its gold back
  • The theft of German gold
  • The Destructive Iran Obsession
  • Iran warns protesters against pursuing bold challenge to leadership
  • Iran protests: Telegram and Instagram restricted
  • Mexico’s crisis of justice

 Republicans Mock “Coastal Elites,” But the Trump Administration Is Full of Them

December 29m 2017

by Shaun King

The Intercept

In a culture of sound bites and memes, one conservative trope that has strangely stuck to liberals and Democrats is that of “coastal elites.” It’s a phrase frequently used by talking heads and Twitter bots alike to describe wealthy, aloof snobs who live on America’s East and West coasts — far away, in spirit and distance, from the real, land-locked people of middle America. The Notion came up recently in the debate over the Republican tax bill: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, seemed positively giddy to announce taxes would only go up for “rich people in Manhattan and San Francisco.”

Except the idea that right hates coastal elites is a farce. President Donald Trump and his ruling clique — his family, advisers (and family-advisers), staff (and family-staff), and cabinet — are themselves the exaggerated, cartoonish personification of the coastal elite. The Republican government, in other words, is being led by the very same folks the right wing has been warning its followers about for years.

Say a novelist concocted a story about a wealthy, white billionaire who lives in a gold-plated penthouse with his third wife, 24 years his junior, overlooking Manhattan, who surrounds himself with filthy rich mansion dwellers from up and down the East and West coasts, and then convinces middle America to vote him into the presidency on a rising tide of hating coastal elites, from which he comes. Such a tale would seem so far-fetched and preposterous that it would be considered some type of dystopian fiction.

Trump, son of rich parents, father to rich children, once owned a yacht with 210 telephones. His private jet, said to be like “floating on a cloud of opulence,” has gold-plated seatbelt buckles, faucet knobs, and table legs. He has spent a full third of his presidency hobnobbing at his palatial resorts, which have locations in the poshest coastal destinations, from Palm Beach to Hawaii.

The coastal elitism of this White House does not begin and end with Trump, though. He has surrounded himself with the coastal elite. It’s who and what he knows best.

Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, just bought a $12 million mansion in Washington, D.C. He also has super-swanky digs in the Hamptons and Palm Beach. He recently sold his Manhattan penthouse on “Billionaire’s Row” for $16 million. He has an art collection worth at least $125 million.

Trump’s chief economic adviser is Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs lifer who is hard at work giving his old pals at Goldman everything they ever wanted from a government. And why not? Cohn, after all, left on good terms, receiving a $285 million payout after his term as president there. Like Ross, Cohn is the very picture of a New York, coastal elite: He owns a vacation home in the Hamptons and has called Manhattan home for decades.

It’d be hard to top the coastal elitism of Steven Mnuchin — Trump’s secretary of the treasury. If you’ve seen Mnuchin’s name in the news recently, it’s likely because a man sent a Christmas present full of manure to his Los Angeles mansion … in Bel-Air, a pretty swank neighborhood. For all the conservatives railing against Hollywood, Mnuchin was a producer on at least 34 different blockbuster films. He just bought a $12.6 million mansion in D.C. Born in New York, Mnuchin’s father, Robert, worked for decades at Goldman Sachs. Steven followed him there and worked for Goldman for nearly 20 years before launching several hedge funds of his own. Like Cohn and Ross, Mnuchin also owns a palatial estate in the Hamptons, which he bought for $15 million in 2005.

Mnuchin’s latest wife, Louise Linton, has struggled to conceal the couple’s coastal elitism since her husband joined Trump’s staff. Again, if someone fictionalized her stereotypical snobbery, it would seem like overkill. She posted on Instagram a photo of herself getting off a government plane in Kentucky like it was a model shoot. In the caption, she hash-tagged the various brands of clothes she was sporting, including #hermes, #valentino, #roulandmouret, and #tomfordsunnies.

When a woman critiqued the trip in an Instagram comment, Linton fired back, boasting that her family made more money and paid more in taxes than the woman ever would. The last time I heard that type of snobbery was from the classic WWE character the Million Dollar Man, who was not at all rich but aimed to play the most exaggerated version of a rich man possible, often mocking the wages of those in the crowd.

Before Trump, no president had ever had a single billionaire serve in their first cabinet. Trump has two.

One is Linda McMahon, who serves as the head of Trump’s Small Business Administration and was one of the largest donors to his campaign. McMahon’s Connecticut home was valued at $40 million in 2006. She also owns a vacation home in Boca Raton, Florida; a condo in Vegas; two condos in Stamford, Connecticut; another house in Greenwich, Connecticut; and a 47-foot yacht called “Sexy Bitch.”

When billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not in her $10 million vacation home in Michigan, she lives on her “compound” in Vero Beach, Florida. She owns 10 boats — including a mega $40 million 164-foot yacht. Her family also owns four airplanes and two helicopters to get around. She travels on her own private jet even for government travel. Her family has full-time staff members who schedule and maintain their yacht and even help with toy repairs.

And the list goes on. Like Trump and many members of his cabinet, for instance, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also has a mansion in Palm Beach.

Perhaps no two Trumpers are more hypocritical in their coastal elitism, though, than Trump’s Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller and former Chief Policy Director Steve Bannon, who also chaired Trump’s campaign. Both men have been frequently quoted calling out “coastal elites,” but they are the definition of coastal elites.

Miller, for instance, was born and raised in the liberal elite beach town of Santa Monica, California. where he spent more than half of his life.

Bannon, however, is a finalist for the top prize. For all his ranting about elites, populism, and people in the middle of America, the man is as phony as a $3 bill. Bannon weaves in and out of small southern towns, stumping for men like Roy Moore, like he understands the people he’s talking to. The reality is that he’s just playing them for power.

Bannon got rich in Hollywood. He regularly speaks out against the place like he didn’t come from it himself. Before he was in Hollywood, Bannon, too, was at Goldman Sachs. What’s wild is that while now he’s rich and speaks out against anti-globalism, he made his money as a capitalist profiting off the global economy. His last three known addresses were in California, New York, and Florida. He has a beachfront home in Laguna Beach, California. He frequently lives and works out of a 14-room, multimillion-dollar townhouse in D.C. that is owned by a former member of Egypt’s Parliament.

While Bannon is a standout example of the hypocrisy at the center of Republicans’ attacks on coastal elites, it may be better to close out with Paul Manafort, he of the indicted variety. Manafort, Trump’s longtime friend and former campaign manager, owned at least three multimillion-dollar homes in New York — including his part-time residence in Trump Tower. Each seemed to be bought with money that was laundered from shady consulting work completed around the world. Manafort owned a brownstone in Brooklyn, a condo in SoHo, and, like many other Trump team members, a lavish 10-bedroom estate in the Hamptons. He spent $1 million alone on the landscaping and security system for his Hamptons mansion. Manafort also owned a home in Arlington, Virginia, and a condo nearby in Alexandria. In a deal to avoid house arrest, it appears Manafort is going to be allowed to move to his Florida home in Palm Beach, just miles down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

For the purported enemies of the coastal elite, Trump and his team sure spend a lot of time ferrying between the Hamptons and Palm Beach.

 

Germany ends 2017 without a government for Angela Merkel

It is unknown in the history of modern Germany: Three months after the election the country still doesn’t have a new government. How can it be that Merkel’s CDU remains on the hunt for a coalition partner?

December 30, 2017

by Nina Werkhäuser

DW

It was just before midnight on November 19 that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dream of a so-called “Jamaica coalition” collapsed. The political constellation consisting of the conservative union parties (CDU/CSU), the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and the pro-environment Greens — whose colors together reflect those of the Caribbean country’s flag — was to not be.

Christian Lindner, the FDP leader, stood up from the negotiating table in the Parliamentary Association building and declared that his party had had enough. The FDP could not support policies they didn’t believe in, he said. Outside, Lindner said a few words into the microphones, then vanished into the night.

Disappointed and aghast, the chancellor was left with the negotiators from her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the Greens. Merkel thought she had almost secured her fourth term in office, had believed the new Jamaica coalition was possible — and now this. Weeks of exploratory talks revealed political gulfs between the parties that even Merkel, the experienced strategist, couldn’t bridge.

Germany is changing

So in 2017 Merkel failed to achieve what she had managed three times before: presenting a new cabinet a few weeks after the election and a sheaf of papers bearing the title “Coalition Agreement.” The new distribution of power in the Bundestag had left her with much less room to maneuver after the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered parliament for the first time, securing 12.6 percent of the vote.

The CDU, in turn, lost so much support that the only way it could form a dual alliance was with the Social Democrats (SPD). One reason for the CDU’s disappointing election result was Merkel’s controversial refugee policy, which had led to a rift with her Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and had polarized German society. Never before had the chancellor been heckled on the campaign trail with shouts of “Get lost!” and “Merkel must go!” Now she had gambled on the Jamaica alliance, in vain. Once again, the prospect of forming a government was wide open.

Merkel: Home alone

Germans are seen as having staying power — in politics, too. Helmut Kohl, who died last year, was chancellor for 16 years. Angela Merkel has been in office since 2005 and feels well qualified to follow in his footsteps. The problem is, she can’t find partners to support her anymore. Her critics say that whoever governs with, or rather under, Angela Merkel gets marginalized, and is essentially governed into the ground.

The last three federal elections clearly demonstrated this. In 2009, after the first grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU/CSU, the Social Democrats’ share of the vote dropped dramatically. Then in 2013, after four years in government with Merkel, the FDP didn’t even get the 5 percent of the vote required for representation in the Bundestag, and it took them a very long time to recover. Another grand coalition followed, which again did not pay off for the SPD: On 24 September, 2017, the Social Democrats suffered the worst election result in their history. The once-proud national party plummeted in the polls, gaining just 20.5 percent of the vote.

A brief window for change

Yet 2017 started so promisingly for the SPD. At the end of January, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, whom few Social Democrats saw as a heavy-hitting challenger for Merkel, stepped down as leader of the SPD. He presented Martin Schulz, the long-term president of the European Parliament, as his successor and the SPD’s chancellor candidate.

The Social Democrats responded to the decision as if it were a long-awaited omen of liberation. They celebrated Schulz, the former bookseller from Würselen, as their savior and redeemer. The SPD gained thousands of new members. Schulz was elected party leader with a sensational 100 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats shot up in the opinion polls, and at times they were put ahead of the CDU. It seemed that the winds of change were blowing.

But the Schulz hype turned out to be just a flash in the pan. One after another the SPD lost state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, and in the party heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). The political rule of thumb is that you can’t win on a federal level if you lose in NRW.

And it proved just so: Angela Merkel remained unfazed by the euphoria around Martin Schulz; she made up ground in the polls and by early summer was clearly ahead again. For his part, Schulz failed to capitalize on being a fresh face on the domestic political scene and not having been part of Merkel’s coalition cabinet. He misdirected his energy during the campaign and didn’t press the chancellor hard enough on policy detail.

On election night, when it became clear that the SPD had suffered heavy losses, Schulz took appropriate action. Addressing his supporters at party headquarters in the Willy-Brandt-Haus, he announced that the grand coalition had been voted out. His words were met with a storm of applause. “I have therefore recommended to the SPD party leadership that the SPD should go into opposition,” he said.

In opposition, his party would “fundamentally reposition itself” and put clear blue water between itself and the CDU. It hadn’t been possible to do this as part of a coalition government, he said.

Steinmeier opposes fresh elections

But when the Jamaica idea bit the dust, Martin Schulz’s phone rang. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier asked the SPD leader to visit him at his residence, Schloss Bellevue — along with the party leaders of the CDU and CSU. From that point on, the SPD could say goodbye to the prospect of regenerating in opposition. The head of state’s message was clear: As the second-largest party in parliament, the SPD also shared some of the responsibility for ensuring that Germany got a stable government again. Failure to form a coalition and consequent new elections were not, he said, an acceptable solution.

So, once again, all eyes are suddenly on the SPD, the party which Merkel described after the vote as “not fit for government.” There’s no talk of that now, not since the power-conscious CDU leader started homing in on the “Grand Coalition 3” project, dubbed “GroKo 3.” Merkel’s party backed her when the Jamaica exploratory talks collapsed. The CDU also resolved its quarrels with the CSU. All that’s missing is a coalition partner.

‘Open-ended talks’

Schulz was forced to make a move. Eventually he announced that he was prepared to enter into “constructive, but open-ended” exploratory talks with the CDU. At the SPD party conference he was given a mandate to negotiate, but many Social Democrats urgently warned against entering into a grand coalition under Merkel’s leadership for a third time. They fear the SPD would not be able to implement key elements of its program, such as greater state coordination of health insurance or allowing refugees’ immediate family members to join them in Germany.

In its unease about a repeat of the unpopular dual alliance, the SPD is now putting forward alternative models, such as a so-called cooperation coalition, which would only commit to certain common goals, leaving contentious points open. Merkel isn’t keen on these proposals. A grand coalition would have a clear majority of 399 in the new Bundestag, which now comprises 709 representatives, making it the largest in history. If she can’t bring about a coalition agreement, Merkel will be on shaky ground. It’s far from given that the CDU would still close ranks behind her if another election were called.

New talks in a new year

For now, the situation remains unresolved. The majority of voters don’t like this. Business leaders are pressing for a solution, and allies in Europe are raising their eyebrows. French President Emmanuel Macron recently wished Angela Merkel “bon courage” — good luck. His plans for reforming the EU can’t progress without a new German government.

Exploratory talks are set to begin on January 7. Schulz has promised his party that he will include it at every step, so he wants to hold a congress to get the approval of party delegates before exploratory talks would progress into formal coalition talks. The bigger hurdle, however, would come after that: The SPD’s 440,000 members will be allowed to vote on whether or not it should enter into another grand coalition. The general prognosis is that there is little chance of a new government being in place before Easter. So the extraordinary election year 2017 ends with the old grand coalition carrying on with business as usual, until the new grand coalition has — perhaps — been cobbled together.

Essay on Current Events

April-June 2017

by Bernice Lipkin

Think Israel

We live in an odd time. A divisive time. For some, Donald Trump’s election was a win for American values. For others, it was an unbearable impediment in what had been a fairly smooth transition to a global society, a utopia where national difference and borders were no longer a threat to peace because there were no national borders that mattered. Had all gone as planned, administrative control would eventually shift to some international body, a larger version of the European Union perhaps. Or maybe the UN or some similar structure. Concern for the environment would be used to quiet any objections individual groups might raise while the core of global control was being firmed up. There would likely be an internal struggle to decide which pigmented group would actually be in charge. It has been a given for years that whites had to be cut down to size. In the last decade we went from reducing pride in American exceptionalism to degrading the white race, eradicating ‘white privilege’. One would suppose that WASPS would not smilingly expose themselves to a future of being powerless, discriminated against in the society they created and having to fight for any sort of equal treatment. But many many whites in the western countries had been persuaded to see their demotion as a good thing. They agreed with ex-Prez Obama that putting the USA and its dominant culture down a peg or two was a top priority.

In an augmented EU or a herniated UN-type government, the odd-couple symbiosis of global socialists and religion-focused Muslims would likely continue, despite their very different value systems.

The Muslims might no longer be a solid block but even when divided, they have common goals they are furthering using their oil money. They would certainly continue their religious mission to install sharia law everywhere. Success would mean a de facto global Caliphate. Whether an Iranian or a Saudi Arabian would be the Caliph they would decide later. They also have a common interest in preventing the West from exploiting its own oil and gas resources or restricting the expansion of Muslim communities.

The globalists also want to unify the world, but with a socialist agenda in redistributing wealth. The dream of many an academician and politician in the West is to unite countries within a socialist unification. Protecting the environment and undoing global warming are the levers currently being used to pry open a massive global effort to fight climate change and eliminate human practices said to be polluting the atmosphere. The stated policy of the Democratic party in the USA (2016 Democratic Party Platform, July 21, 2016, p45) is to lead this global enterprise. Given the complexity of the task, an over-the-whole-world government would be needed to organize the project. Surprise, surprise — such a government would also have the infrastructure to control the global economy and handle welfare and healthcare. At the moment, the envisioned control mechanism seemed to be a global glob, a fuzzy sort of socialism where the majority of people are dependent on the government and the super rich are the milk cows providing renewable money. Not all the very rich. Not the politician and administrators who run the show, of course. What appears to be envisioned by the globalists is more a two-tiered socialism where a small elite class lives for us, takes vacations for us, flies in comfort in their own planes for us — an expanded version of the Obamas taking vacations that cost millions while access to jobs and health care and education for the middle class diminished.

Into what some had seen as a marvelous future, Brexit and then Trump were the proverbial wrench in the machinery. In the USA, under the Trump administration, it is a time of rage, crumblings, new mottoes and simultaneously a time of satisfaction, sharpenings and new adhesions. The re-seating of reporters in the White House news briefings was emblematic — dissing the wise elders of the New York Times and allowing unvetted scamps from nowhere with no lineage to warm the best seats! It brings up the image of the unwashed commoner being allowed into Andrew Jackson’s White House. Shockingly uncouth. But Trump is succeeding in overturning many of the arbitrary and ill-advised decisions of the previous administration. Nevertheless, to assume that the government’s oligarchical power structure is being dissolved may be premature. Already we’ve seen some of Trump’s choices bringing into power those who happily served in the Obama administration.

The Trump administration may end up as a brief stop on the road to socialism but it is at least a pause. Individualism, nationalism and free choice might yet survive. It’s too soon to do an analysis. And so this issue of Think-Israel is a jumble of comments on some chunks that are coalescing in the chaos.

 

US gold of low purity & that’s why audit of reserves will never be allowed – expert tells RT

December 30, 2017

RT

The United States doesn’t let anyone see its gold reserves. Even if the Treasury has the number of billions it claims, they are not tradable, warns Singapore’s BullionStar precious metals expert Ronan Manly.

The US government claims to hold 8133.5 tonnes of physical gold in its official reserves. Fifty-eight percent is reportedly held in Fort Knox, Kentucky, 20 percent at West Point in New York State, 16 percent is said to be at the US Mint in Denver, Colorado and five percent is held at the NY Fed.

The entire story around the US gold reserves is opaque and secretive. There has never been a full independent audit of the US gold reserves, and the custodians of the gold, the US Mint and the Federal Reserve of New York will not let anybody into the vaults to view the gold or to count it,”Manly told RT.

However, despite the numerous accusations against the US Treasury that it has much less gold than it claims, there is another reason, according to the expert – US gold is of bad quality.

“Even the details that have been provided on the supposed US gold holdings show that a majority of the gold bars are low purity and in weights that don’t conform to the industry standard ‘Good Delivery” gold bar specifications,” says Manly.

“So even if the US has the amount of gold it claims to have, most of this gold would not be acceptable for trading on the international market, and could only be used in swap transactions with other central banks that wished to swap Good Delivery gold bars for low purity and unusual weight US held gold bars,” he added.

If the claims about lower-than-claimed US gold reserves are true, it would re-shuffle the entire global economy, Manly predicts. Though it wouldn’t hit the US dollar directly, or result in an immediate shift away from using the US dollar for international trade, the consequences will be sizable.

“Firstly, proof of lower US gold reserves than claimed would add pressure for a full independent audit of all US gold reserves. It would also put the spotlight on the gold reserves of other major trading blocs such as the eurozone and China and Russia, and open up a debate as to what is the role of gold in the international monetary system. Which is something the US government constantly tries to avoid,” the expert says.

“It would also then refocus attention on international holders of US dollars pre-August 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window because after all those outstanding dollars held at the time by foreign central banks are still technically convertible into gold at the official gold price of the time,” he added.

Moreover, if the US Treasury gold holdings are falsified, it would put additional pressure on other central banks around the world, which have gold in the United States.

A proper check of the US gold reserves should include weighing all gold bars, checking assays, and publishing a full weight list in the public domain; the audit would have to be conducted by an entirely independent auditor. It will never be allowed by Washington, Manly says.

 

Germany wants its gold back

March 21, 2017

RT

The Bundesbank has announced plans to repatriate some of Germany’s gold reserves from abroad. At least half of the country’s gold would be transferred to Frankfurt by 2020, according to Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann.

Weidmann says 366 tons of gold worth €11.5 billion have been delivered to Frankfurt so far. “There are now about 1,400 tons or 41.5 percent of our gold reserves here,” the banker said.

In October last year Germany’s gold reserves stood to around 3,384 tonnes, worth about €120 billion, which is the second largest in the world after the US.

Weidmann added the rest of the gold will remain in New York and London, which he says are as safe as Germany. In case of emergency, these reserves would quickly be converted on the markets in these cities, the banker said.

The Bundesbank has been criticized at home for keeping a major part of Germany’s gold reserves abroad. Critics are demanding the complete return of the gold to the country. They regard the gold as insurance if a crisis comes, and the immediate physical availability would be the decisive criterion.

When trying to move gold from New York in 2014, the Bundesbank met obstacles from US authorities when officials tried to inspect the German gold kept in US vaults.

“I’m no conspiracy theorist, but the Bundesbank should be able to audit the gold once a year like it does with reserves in Frankfurt,” Hans Olaf Henkel, a German member of the European Parliament, told RT.

Some even doubted the German gold is still physically there.

“We are still missing … published lists of gold bar number, even though the US Federal reserve publishes this list for their own gold,” said Peter Boehringer, founder of the Repatriate our Gold Campaign.

The theft of German gold

December 31, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Since before World War II, Fort Knox, America’s delegated repository for gold, served as the safe haven for much of the gold legally belonging to foreign nations.

In the 1930s, fears that Europe would be overrun by Hitler’s Wehrmacht sent the gold from Eastern Europe, France, and Great Britain to Fort Knox for safekeeping.

Those same fears mounted during the Cold War era.

There was exactly the same scenario with the German, French, Dutch, British or Belgian gold during the created threat of Soviet military units overrunning Europe.

This gold was sent across the Atlantic for safekeeping by the US Treasury.

However, instead of storing it in Fort Knox secure vaults, the American

Treasury gave it instead to the Federal Reserve as collateral for the loans (currently $19.5 trillion) which the private Federal Reserve Corporation made to the US Treasury, in exchange for which the Treasury issued IOUs in the form of T-Bills to be held by the Federal Reserve.

The bullion vault at Fort Knox, Kentucky, an American military installation, has indeed held a large amount of the U.S. gold reserves in the past, but now the Federal Reserve Bank of New York holds the prize as the world’s biggest known stockpile of gold, some 550,000 bars, buried deep into the bedrock of lower Manhattan. That’s $203.3 billion worth of gold in a single place.

Just 2% to 5% of it is owned by the U.S. government, though. The rest is owned by foreign countries.

The New York-based, privately owned, Federal Reserve has been acting as the guardian and custodian of the gold on behalf of account holders, which include the US government, foreign governments, other central banks and official international organizations.

Federal Reserve is not an official American government bank but is an amalgam of twelve private banks.

America’s private central bank began taking foreign gold deposits when it opened in 1924.

Gold custody is one of several financial services the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides to central banks, governments and official international organizations on behalf of the Federal Reserve System.

Currently, The Federal Reserve is holding 7.4 million ounces, or $6.8 billion, worth of gold and 134.9 million ounces, or $2.2 billion, of silver in storage.

None of the gold stored in the vault belongs to the New York Fed (or the Federal Reserve System.) The New York Federal Reserve acts as the guardian and custodian of the gold on behalf of account holders, which include the U.S. government, foreign governments, other central banks, and official international organizations. No individuals or private sector entities are permitted to store gold in the vault.

Holdings in the gold vault continued to increase and peaked in 1973, shortly after the United States suspended convertibility of dollars into gold for foreign governments. At its peak, the vault contained over 12,000 tons of monetary gold. Since that time, gold deposit and withdrawal activity has slowed and the vault has experienced a gradual but steady decline in overall holdings. However, the vault today remains the world’s largest known depository of monetary gold.

98 percent of Gold at Federal Reserve Bank of New York is owned by central banks of foreign nations and 2 percent is owned by United States of America.

As of 2017, the vault houses approximately 508,000 gold bars, with a combined weight of approximately 6,350 tons.

The vault is able to support this weight because it rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Island, 80 feet below street level and 50 feet below sea level.

The largest foreign gold holder at the New York Federal Reserve gold vaults is the International Monetary Fund, with a holding of over 2,000 tons.

The next largest gold holder has been the Deutsche Bundesbank, which at the end of 2015 reported that it held 1,347.4 tons in the New York vaults.

After this, the Banca d’Italia says that it holds a substantial amount of gold in New York, estimated to be over 1,000 tons.

The Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank, holds 190 tons of its gold with the New York Federal Reserve.

In total, the IMF, Bundesbank, Banca d’Italia and De Nederlandsche Bank officially could hold more than 4,700 tons of gold in New York, which would account for approximately 80% of the total gold held in the Federal Reserve Bank vaults.

As to whether all of this gold is actually in the main and auxiliary vaults is another matter entirely.

In November 2014, the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) announced that it had repatriated approximately 122 tons of its gold from the New York Fed. This would leave the DNB with approximately 190 tons of gold still left in New York.

Other central bank gold customers of the New York Fed include the following.

  • The Swedish Riksbank holds 13.2 tons of gold (10.7% of its 125.7 gold reserves) at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • The Central Bank of Finland holds 8.8 tons of its gold reserves (18% of its 49,5 tons total) with the New York Federal Reserve.

Other gold account customers of the FRBNY include

  • the Bank of Greece
  • the Bank for International Settlements (BIS),
  • the European Central Bank (ECB),
  • Banque du Liban (Lebanon),
  • Central Bank of Afghanistan,
  • and the Bank of Ghana.

As a result of increasing concerns expressed by a number of German politicians and Germany’s financial policeman, its National Audit Office, the Bundesbank is to check up on Germany’s gold reserves, an estimated two-thirds of which are stored outside Germany. The Bundesbank has also revealed that a physical check of Germany’s gold has never been carried out.

A large proportion of Germany’s gold reserves is stored abroad in vaults in the US, Britain and France. The gold bars have not been inspected by German officials for decades, prompting German federal auditors to call for a long overdue stock-take.

As the European single currency zone crisis rumbles on from one summit to the next with no resolution in sight, Germany’s National Audit Office and some of the country’s politicians have become increasingly edgy about the country’s gold serves, nearly three quarters of which are held outwith Germany.

There are historical reasons for Germany not having its own Fort Knox. The quid pro quo for (West) Germany was allied troops being stationed in West Germany long after the Second World War had ended.

With only about 30% of Germany’s gold reserves being held in German custody and the remainder far away from Frankfurt, Germany’s National Audit Office – the organisation independent of government that keeps an eye on Germany’s finances – has queried whether the German central bank, the Bundesbank, has been regularly keeping tabs on German gold bullion.

The National Audit Office is concerned that no physical checks have been carried out.

The Bundesbank reacted to the National Audit Office’s demands emphasising it does not doubt ‘the integrity, reputation and safety’ of foreign storage sites, relying on documentation and procedures in place to provide proof and traceability of German gold reserves stored abroad over past decades.

Nonetheless, to allay audit office concerns, the Bundesbank made arrangements to repatriate some of Germany’s gold reserves and test the gold for purity. The Bundesbank had agreed to ship 150 tons of gold currently stored at the New York Federal Reserve to Germany.

German concerns mounted after a delegation of German federal politicians requested an inspection of German gold reserves stored at the Banque de France, France’s central bank, in Paris. The group were turned away by officials who said there were no visiting facilities at their vaults.

Now, the official view in Germany is that the Bundesbank has no reason to doubt that all German gold reserves stored in foreign countries can be properly accounted for.

On January 16, 2013 Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, said it would ship back home all 374 tons it had stored with the Banque de France in Paris, as well as 300 tons held in Manhattan by the US Federal Reserve, by 2020.

That having been said, the Federal Bank of Germany has only managed to bring home a paltry 37 tons of gold.

And only 5 tons of that came from the US, the rest coming from Paris. The US Fed holds 45% or roughly $635 billion of the total 3,396 tons of gold Germany has in reserve, the world’s second largest hoard.

Needless to say this prompted renewed questions as to whether Germany’s gold still exists in those Manhattan vaults or if it has been sold to others.

Ending talk of repatriating the world’s second-biggest gold reserves removes a potential irritant in U.S.-German relations.

It’s also a political rebuff to critics including the anti-euro ‘Alternative for Germany’ party, which says all the gold should be returned to Frankfurt so it can’t be impounded to blackmail Germany into keeping the currency union together.

As an enforced NATO partner of the U.S. during the Cold War, many German institutions were heavily infiltrated by American agents, such as CIA personnel, and the current German government does not wish to create serious problems by antagonizing the United States.

In sum, the Merkel government is willing to cover up the theft of their gold by the Amereicans for political reasons.

German gold is also held at The Bank of England which stores 13% in London, while the Bank of France in Paris has 11% in total and the remainder is held at the Bundesbank’s headquarters in Frankfurt.

The gold that was claimed to have been returned to Germany at Frankfurt was never shown to the public but was said to have been melted down immediately to  “bring the bullion to the current bar standard.” Germany holds more than 3,000 tons of gold bullion, which represents more than 75 percent of its foreign currency reserves.

It is well-known in the American banking community that the U.S. Treasury will never be able to repay $19.5 trillion which is owes to the Federal Reserve banks for loans, based on the gold the Federal Reserve has held as security for their loans to the U.S. government. Because the U.S. Treasury was unable to repay these loans the Federal Reserve sold all the gold to the Chinese government and they regard the the promissory notes from the Treasury (the T-Bills) as so much worthless paper.

The US Government will most certainly never have the money to redeem $19.5 trillion out of the taxes it collects, so the only way to repay the Federal Reserve is to borrow more money from the Federal Reserve to repay the older loans, with, of course the interest.

Thus, the Federal Reserve will never have to give back the gold to the Treasury, and has paid the U.S. Treasury debt and has kept some of the gold to cover itself.

When the foreign depositors, such as Germany, come to the US Government Treasury and ask for their gold back, the US Government does not have it, and has not had it in its possession in Fort Knox since soon after the end of WWII.

The final conclusion is that the U.S. Government has converted hundreds of trillions of other nations’ gold to act as collateral for its own borrowing and profligate spending, on endless wars, political corruption, bribery, and baldfaced theft.

The Destructive Iran Obsession

December 28, 2017

by Daniel Larison

The American Conservative

Michael Makovsky offers up an example of where the hard-line obsession with Iran leads:

Indeed, the principal vulnerability of Iran’s regional strategy is its dependence on brutal regimes to rule lands riven by ethno-sectarian fissures. The United States should exploit this vulnerability by supporting those forces in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen that oppose Iran’s domination and seek greater self-determination or independence from the capitals. The result could be transforming these failed states into loose confederations or new countries with more borders that more naturally conform along sectarian lines.

Makovsky dresses this up as a proposal for “countering” Iran, but all that this would do is further shatter existing states at a high price in loss of life. The end result would be mass killing and forcible expulsion of the people that don’t have a place inside the new extremely artificial states defined by sect and ethnicity. Besides being morally abhorrent and completely divorced from any discernible U.S. security interest, Makovsky’s proposal would almost certainly fail in its stated goal of reducing Iranian influence.

Each time that Iran hawks concoct a half-baked plan to hurt Iran and weaken its position in the region, it reliably backfires and increases Iranian influence. Iran is in the position it is today largely because of dimwitted, short-sighted hawkish American plans to upend the existing political order in the region, and Makovsky would have the U.S. do more of the same. Trying to carve up existing countries in the hope of turning new statelets into obstacles to Iranian influence is obviously self-defeating. If Iran already has significant influence in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon today, its position in these places will tend to get stronger if those states are weakened by separatism and instability. The more that the U.S. encourages challenges to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these states, the more dependent on Iran their governments will tend to become. Because of a fanatical desire to oppose Iran at every turn, Iran hawks like Makovsky would make it that much easier for Iran to retain and expand their influence.

 

Iran warns protesters against pursuing bold challenge to leadership

December 31, 2017

by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran warned of a tough crackdown on Sunday against demonstrators who pose one of the most audacious challenges to its clerical leaders since nationwide pro-reform unrest jolted the Islamist theocracy in 2009.

Police in Tehran fired water cannon to try to disperse demonstrators gathering in Ferdowsi Square in the center of the capital, according to video footage posted on social media, in an apparent fourth day of protests.

Video posted online also showed a clash between protesters and police in the city of Khoramdareh in Zanjan province in the country’s northwest. There were also reports of protests in the cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah in western Iran.

Reuters was unable immediately to verify the authenticity of the footage.

Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the region. They have also chanted slogans in support of political prisoners.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over economic hardships and alleged corruption but they have also begun to call on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram and Instagram messaging apps, state television quoted an informed source as saying.

President Hassan Rouhani will address the nation on television on Sunday night, the semi-official news agency ISNA said. It did not give details and there was no immediate official confirmation of the report.

An Iranian reached by telephone, who asked not to be named, said there was a heavy presence of police and security forces in central Tehran.

“I saw a few young men being arrested and put into police van. They don’t let anyone assemble,” he said.

Video from earlier days posted on social media showed people chanting: “Mullahs, have some shame, leave the country alone.”

BREAKING TABOO

The demonstrators also shouted: “Reza Shah, bless your soul”. Such calls are evidence of a deep level of anger and break a taboo. The king ruled Iran from 1925 to 1941 and his Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in a revolution in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s first leader.

The protests are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Demonstrators denounce high prices, corruption and mismanagement. Unemployment stood at 12.4 percent in this fiscal year, up 1.4 points from the previous year. About 3.2 million Iranians are jobless, out of a total population of 80 million.

The demonstrations are particularly troublesome for Rouhani’s government because he was elected on a promise to guarantee rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

His main achievement is a deal in 2015 with world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of most international sanctions. But it is yet to bring the economic benefits the government promised.

“Those who damage public property, violate law and order and create unrest are responsible for their actions and should pay the price,” state media quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying.

Ali Asghar Naserbakht, deputy governor of Tehran province, was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency that 200 protesters had been arrested on Saturday.

Videos posted on social media showed families gathering in front of Evin Prison in Tehran, asking for information about relatives arrested in recent days.

“CARRIED AWAY BY EMOTIONS”

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said some of the arrested protesters had confessed “they were carried away by emotions and set fire to mosques and public buildings” and said they would face heavy punishment.

“After giving thousands of martyrs for the Revolution, the nation will not return to dark era of Pahlavi rule,” he said.

Protesters defied the police and Revolutionary Guards who have used violence to crush previous unrest. These demonstrations could be more worrying for authorities because they seem spontaneous and lack a clear leader.

No political party had urged Iranians to take to the streets and opposition leaders who galvanized Iranians during 2009 are under house arrest. In addition, the range of slogans suggests discontent across social classes with government policies.

Iran has a dual system of clerical and republican rule, in which each faction vies for control. The supreme leader rules for life and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He also appoints the head of the judiciary and, in all, has more power over foreign and economic policy than the elected president.

Analysts say Iran’s leaders believe they can count on the support of many from a generation that took part as youths in the 1979 revolution and the ensuing eight-year war with Iraq to continue to defend the Islamic system, despite their advancing age, because of their ideological commitment and the economic gains they have made under the government.

In apparent response to the protests, the government backed down on plans to raise fuel prices, promised to increase cash handouts to the poor and create more jobs in coming years.

“We predict that at least 830,000 jobs will be created in the new year,” government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said on state television on Saturday night. He gave no details. Around 3.2 million Iranians are jobless.

Protesters also expressed anger over costly interventions in Syria and Iraq, where Iran is engaged in a proxy war for influence against regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Videos on social media showed protesters in the city of Shiraz tearing down a banner of Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of the Quds Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ that overseas operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

TRUMP TWEETS

The United States condemned the scores of arrests of protesters reported by Iranian media.

President Donald Trump tweeted: “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

Trump refused in October to certify that Tehran is complying with its 2015 nuclear deal and said he might terminate the agreement. He also detailed a more aggressive approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for militant groups in the Middle East.

Canada said it was encouraged by the protests. The country suspended diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 and called Tehran the biggest threat to global security.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state media that “Canada’s intervention in Iranian affairs is a violation of international conventions”.

British foreign minister Boris Johnson tweeted that it was “vital that citizens should have the right to demonstrate peacefully”.

Protesters have attacked banks and government buildings and burned police vehicles. Two demonstrators were shot dead in the western town of Dorud on Saturday night. The deputy governor of Lorestan province blamed foreign agents for the deaths.

“No shots were fired by the police and security forces. We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, Takfiri groups and foreign agents in this clash,” Habibollah Khojastehpour said on state television. Takfiri is a term for extreme Sunni militants such as Islamic State.

Ahmad Khatami, a hardline cleric who leads Friday prayers in the capital Tehran, called for capital punishment for those chanting slogans against the values of the Islamic Republic.

Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and William Maclean

 

Iran protests: Telegram and Instagram restricted

December 31, 2017

BBC News

Iran has moved to restrict social media networks that have been used to organise three days of anti-establishment protests.

The restrictions on messaging app Telegram and photo sharing app Instagram are “temporary”, state news agency Irib reported.

The decision was taken “to maintain tranquillity and security of society”, a source was quoted as saying.

The protests have been the biggest show of dissent since huge rallies in 2009.

They began in the north-east as an outcry against economic hardship and rising prices, but turned political in many places, with slogans chanted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s interventionist foreign policy in the region.

After violence flared in many places on Saturday, it is unclear how many demonstrations are occurring on Sunday. There are reports of water cannon being used by police in Tehran against protesters who have gathered in a central square.

Why are these social networks being restricted?

In a tightly controlled media environment, much of the information about the demonstrations has emerged via social media, and platforms like Telegram and Instagram have been used extensively by protesters.

Telegram in particular is very popular in Iran, with more than 50% of the country’s 80m population said to be active on the app.

The company’s CEO Pavel Durov tweeted that Iranian authorities took action after his company refused to shut down “peacefully protesting channels”.

Mr Durov explained in a Telegram post that a major foreign-based opposition channel, Amadnews, was blocked on Saturday by Telegram after it called for violence against police.

He said a new “peaceful channel” – access to which is now being restricted – was set up for hundreds of thousands of their subscribers.

Iranian Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi had earlier accused channels like Amadnews of promoting “armed uprising and social unrest”, including the use of petrol bombs.

Where will the protests lead?

Analysis by Kasra Naji, BBC Persian

There is widespread and seething discontent in Iran where repression is pervasive and economic hardship is getting worse – one BBC Persian investigation has found that on average Iranians have become 15% poorer in the past 10 years.

Protests have remained confined to relatively small pockets of mostly young male demonstrators who are demanding the overthrow of the clerical regime.

They have spread even to small towns throughout the country and have the potential to grow in size. But there is no obvious leadership. Opposition figures have long been silenced or sent into exile.

Even in exile, there is no one opposition figure that commands a large following. Some protesters have been calling for the return of the monarchy and the former shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in exile in the United States, has issued a statement supporting the demonstrations. But there are signs that he is as much in the dark about where these protests are going as anyone else.

BBC Persian, which broadcasts on TV, on radio and online from London, is banned in Iran – where staff and their families routinely face harassment and questioning from the authorities.

Has there been violence?

There were outbreaks of clashes in several cities on Saturday and two protesters died of gunshot wounds in the western city of Dorud.

The authorities said security forces did not open fire on demonstrators, and blamed the deaths instead on Sunni Muslim extremists and foreign powers.

Correspondents say the reference to foreign intelligence agencies was intended to mean Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have warned anti-government protesters they will face the nation’s “iron fist” if political unrest continues. Scores of people are reported to have been arrested in recent days.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is a powerful force with ties to the country’s supreme leader, and is dedicated to preserving the country’s Islamic system.

Brig-Gen Esmail Kowsari told the Isna news agency: “If people came into the streets over high prices, they should not have chanted those slogans and burned public property and cars.”

Iran’s interior minister has also warned the public that protesters will be held accountable.

What has been the response, at home and abroad?

The Iranian authorities are blaming anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak of protests.

But politicians have also weighed in. Reformists tend to stress people’s right to freedom of expression, while conservatives highlight economic problems and accuse some of attempting to hijack the protests and divert attention from economic problems to political demands.

The US has led international support for the protesters.

In his latest tweet on the issue, President Donald Trump said that Iranians were “finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”.

Iran’s foreign ministry called earlier comments from Mr Trump and other US officials “opportunistic and deceitful”.

What happened in 2009?

On Saturday, thousands of pro-government demonstrators turned out for pre-arranged rallies across the country to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of the 2009 street protests.

Those mass demonstrations – referred to as the Green Movement – were held by millions of opposition supporters against the disputed election victory of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At least 30 people were killed and thousands arrested in the wave of protests, which drew the largest crowds on Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

 

Mexico’s crisis of justice

How a U.S.-backed effort to fix Mexico’s justice system led to turmoil

December 29, 2017

by Joshua Partlow

The Washington Post

OCOTLAN, MEXICO — One morning in this grim farming town, a Mexican judge who carries a rubber-bullet gun for protection strode into his courtroom to consider the matter of the 11-inch knife.

Slumped at the defendant’s table was David Ramos, a day laborer charged with attempted homicide for participating in a drunken knife fight. Ramos had already spent 16 days in jail. But Judge Juan Antonio Rubio Gutiérrez had discovered a glaring irregularity.

In the initial paperwork, no one mentioned where police found the plastic-handled blade. When the point had been raised, the missing information suddenly appeared in a new shade of blue ink. Rubio Gutiérrez decided that the information was dubious and that the defendant could walk.

“Procedurally speaking, a knife no longer exists,” the judge told Ramos in the courtroom earlier this month. “Today, you have recovered your freedom.”

The scene playing out in this new one-room courthouse represents a radical departure from the old Mexican traditions of law and order.

Mexico is completing its first full year of a new accusatory justice system, following the most profound overhaul of its legal structure in a century. The most visible sign of the transformation is public trials instead of a secretive process involving written arguments. But the changes go far deeper. Both Mexican and U.S. officials have described the system as crucial to restoring order to a country torn apart by drug violence.

So far, the results have been chaos.

Bickering and confusion reign at each link in the legal chain. Police complain of hours lost on laborious forms; prosecutors blame judges for setting criminals free; judges accuse poorly trained police of botching crime scenes. Powerful drug cartels, meanwhile, are exploiting the weaknesses in the new system and strong-arming authorities with death threats and bribes.

The upheaval has come during the deadliest year in Mexico’s modern history. Politicians here increasingly blame the judicial changes for emptying jails and fanning crime. Even those who embrace the new legal system worry about its first-year fiascos.

“The reform is going badly,” José Ramón Cossío, a justice on Mexico’s Supreme Court, said in an interview. “There are many small problems that, taken together, are causing what I believe to be an important crisis.”

It is hard to overstate the significance of the restructuring. It seeks to turn the notoriously ineffective police into professional investigators. It strengthens the independence of judges. It provides more rights to defendants in a country where authorities have been known to demand bribes, extract confessions under torture and doctor evidence.

The U.S. government is deeply invested in the project, contributing more than $300 million since 2008 to equip courthouses and train police and legal personnel.

Even in rural outposts such as Ocotlan, the system has ushered in many trappings of high-tech justice: courthouses with surveillance cameras and fingerprint sensors; forensic investigators at crime scenes in latex gloves and protective footwear.

But the exacting new procedures have been grafted onto feeble, corruption-plagued institutions created decades ago by an authoritarian state.

Judges are demanding the kind of legal precision found in Washington or London, from police who sometimes can barely read and live in places that can feel like war zones.

“This is a baby that has just been born,” Rubio Gutiérrez said in an interview. “We are asking the system to run, and it is not possible.”

‘We are weak’

The western state of Jalisco is home to the most dangerous drug cartel in Mexico, a network of traffickers and assassins who have shot down an army helicopter, ambushed federal police and sent a pig’s head to the former attorney general’s home. Cartel Jalisco New Generation represents the ultimate test of the fledgling legal system.

This year, crime has been winning. The state has recorded 1,218 homicides through November, putting it on pace for its deadliest year in the past two decades of available statistics. In Ocotlan, home to many cartel gunmen, traffickers and police have clashed. Not far away, bodies have been discovered in mass graves.

It was in this unnerving atmosphere that Rubio Gutiérrez began his job last year in the state’s fourth judicial district.

A youthful jurist with a quick stride and confident air, Rubio Gutiérrez, 37, was quick to embrace the new system. He wrote a 385-page book about it. He has opened an institute to teach lawyers about the big legal shift underway: from written proceedings to oral trials, with an explicit presumption of innocence.

The first person in his family to graduate from college, Rubio Gutiérrez began as an unpaid courthouse aide. As he rose through the judicial ranks, he witnessed a system in meltdown. Crime was soaring, judicial backlogs were massive and only a tiny fraction of crimes ever resulted in convictions.

At the same time, penitentiaries were flooded with people caught carrying guns or small amounts of drugs. Their cases could drag on for years before they were sentenced.

“There were many injustices,” Rubio Gutiérrez said.

Now judges have far more leeway to release suspects pending trial. The new system provides alternatives such as mediation or plea bargaining to ease the congestion in the court system.

The result has been fewer people behind bars. Mexico has about 202,700 prisoners, down from nearly 235,900 when the changes went into effect in June 2016, according to prison authorities. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera said last month that there are 11,000 fewer inmates in the capital than in the year before the judicial revisions started — a decline of nearly 30 percent — a situation he called “very dangerous.”

Judges now have greater power to toss out charges when a suspect’s rights have been violated. Rubio Gutiérrez and many other judges blame the high number of suspects released on errors by poorly trained police and prosecutors. Often these are paperwork mistakes by police unaccustomed to the new 22-page incident report that is required for every arrest or crime scene. The chain of custody for evidence is regularly violated.

One recent afternoon, Rubio Gutiérrez drove to Ocotlan’s neighboring town, Jamay, to lecture the local police force about how to avoid errors and document their cases.

“I’m not a mind reader. I’m a judge,” he told them. “Help yourselves out.”

The police listened respectfully. But a few days later, their police chief, Fidel Moreno Robledo, sat in his cramped office and laid out the reality of a small rural force.

Of the 16 officers theoretically available on any shift, several are detailed to guard government buildings, while others are often injured or on vacation, leaving fewer than five able to patrol a municipality of 25,000 people, he said. His men get paid $400 per month and receive no life insurance or social security. All this, in a town where last year police recovered 20 bodies floating down the Lerma River, one of the many drug-war front lines in Mexico.

“We are weak,” Moreno said.

And the new system, he said, has made them weaker.

About 20 policemen have been fired for failing the national background tests intended to weed out corruption. Now, police can’t enter houses as easily without a warrant, which are often hard to get. Suspects have the right to remain silent; police must justify stops and searches. If there is the “smallest error” in paperwork or a delay getting a detainee before a judge, Moreno said, a “criminal, a kidnapper, a killer, gets set free.”

A period of ‘great confusion’

The push to overhaul Mexico’s legal system began a decade ago as violence flared across the country. Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón had declared war on drug cartels in 2006, and the death toll began to mount.

The old legal structure couldn’t cope with the bloodshed. It was based on the inquisitorial system, also used in other parts of Latin America, but it was shaped by the authoritarian, one-party system that defined Mexico for most of the 20th century. Police were often seen as an instrument of control — not investigation. Judicial appointees, meanwhile, were expected to be loyal to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. Judges rarely disagreed with the written cases put together by prosecutors.

The deadline to adopt the accusatory system was June 2016. Many states waited until just months out to start the shift. Federal and state governments spent a fraction of what was required, according to Héctor Díaz Santana, the former head of the organization in charge of implementing the changes.

“We have poorly trained, unprofessional police, poorly paid prosecutors accustomed to the old ways, judges that were very comfortable before because you never saw them,” he said. “They created a very demanding system when we practically don’t have the tools.”

When Salvador Caro Cabrera took over as Guadalajara police chief in October 2015, only 80 of his 2,600 policemen had received any training on the new protocols for collecting evidence, writing up crime scenes or interacting with prosecutors.

“We have had a period of great confusion,” he said.

In the latter half of this year, the Guadalajara crime rate has more than doubled over the rate in the first half of 2016, before the new judicial system began, Caro Cabrera said. Under the old system, he said, more than 100 people arrested each month went to prison; now only 10 to 15 end up in jail.

The chief said only 50 arrest warrants have been issued in Guadalajara, the state capital, in the past year and a half — while there are 1,300 crimes per month.

“The judges are a disaster,” Caro Cabrera said.

The judges have their own concerns. The accusatory system is far more transparent, with prosecutors and defense attorneys arguing in public hearings, as in the United States. But that can be unsettling, even to defenders of the changes, like Rubio Gutiérrez.

Unlike the old system, in which judges signed off on mountains of paperwork behind closed doors, Rubio Gutiérerez sits behind a blond-wood bench at hearings and looks the suspects — and the public — in the face.

“It’s much more dangerous. You are in front of the criminals,” he said.

One day last month in Guadalajara, a cooler containing body parts was placed outside a courthouse. A note warned a judge: “You’re next.”

Because it’s difficult to get a weapons permit, Rubio Gutiérrez bought an “Angel Guardian” rubber bullet pistol. Earlier this year, someone hurled from the street a wrapped-up knife that bounced off his office window.

“We don’t have protection, guns, nothing,” he said.

Calls for revisions

In many ways, the crime scene seemed like something out of an American cop show. A woman slumped dead in her white van. Municipal police strung up yellow tape and filled out paperwork. State forensic staff in white jumpsuits placed numbered placards next to shell casings. State prosecutor staff questioned neighbors about the afternoon’s shooting.

“This is the same process as the United States,” said Jose Luis Estrada, a Guadalajara police spokesman on the scene. “This is all new for Mexico.”

Under the old system, most Mexican police had little role in investigations and were supposed to focus on preventing crime. The new protocols require them to rigorously process crime scenes.

But follow-up remains a glaring weakness as the system takes hold. And impunity remains high.

“The problem is not that people are getting out of prison,” said Guillermo Zepeda Lecuona, a law professor at the University of Guadalajara who is an expert on the judicial revisions. “It’s that they are not going in.”

The case of Luz Margarita Ramirez Gallardo, the ­35-year-old woman found dead in her van, shows how the new system still isn’t stopping crime.

Early on Nov. 2, just over a month before Ramirez was killed, two gunmen approached her as she was backing her van out of the garage in the working-class Olimpica neighborhood of Guadalajara. They told her to hand over the keys and then “they shot her,” according to her 18-year-old son, Jonatan Ramirez.

Ramirez was hit twice in the face and lost her right eye but somehow survived.

The police appeared to handle the crime scene professionally. But Ramirez’s family says that after the first day, police and prosecutors never asked them for more information about the shooting. No arrests were made.

Aldo Monjardín, a police commander in southern Guadalajara, questioned Ramirez in the hospital. He found her story of a robbery suspicious, he recalled; nothing had been stolen, including the van.

Monjardín noticed what he believed were breast implants, as Ramirez lay supine in the hospital bed. He assumed she was the girlfriend of some cartel figure and had crossed the wrong narco.

“Women love to go out with these guys,” he said.

Authorities denied they had shrugged off the investigation. An official from the attorney general’s office in Jalisco said the Ramirez family had not been forthcoming. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, refused to answer further questions about the case. Prosecutors say witnesses are often too afraid to talk, even more so now that proceedings are in open court.

Many prosecutors are also not used to assembling complex cases. In the past, they often relied on confessions from suspects — sometimes criminals caught in the act, sometimes people who admitted to a crime under ­torture.

“The new system is totally opposite” to the old, said Alejandro Torres Ramirez, 32, a prosecutor in Jalisco. “First you have to investigate and get proof together to be able to arrest someone, something that we’re not used to, culturally.”

Within a couple weeks, Ramirez was back home and working again. On the afternoon of Dec. 5, a man got out of a gray BMW, walked up to the passenger window of her van and shot her dead

A neighbor, who identified himself only as Hugo, said he had called the city’s emergency number at least four times about suspicious vehicles on the street in the two weeks leading up to the murder. “The police never arrived,” he said. The police said a patrol passed by the scene about 10 minutes before the killing but saw nothing suspicious.

The chaos in the new judicial system and rising crime rates in Mexico have prompted politicians to call for major revisions in the protocols; some even openly yearn for the old procedures.

Many judicial officials insist regressing would be disaster. They say the changes will eventually encourage more rigorous investigations and make Mexico’s legal system more transparent and effective.

Those future benefits are of little consolation to the Ramirez ­family.

Some of her relatives assume the police who investigated her case were bought off by criminals, but Enrique Ramirez Gallardo, her eldest brother, doesn’t agree.

“I think they are just overwhelmed by all they have to do,” he said. “Unfortunately, what happened to my sister happens every day.”

Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

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