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TBR News January 22, 2020

Jan 22 2020

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. January 22, 2020:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.

Trump aches from his head to his toes
His sphincters have gone where who knows
And his love life has ended
By a paunch so distended
That all he can use is his nose

Commentary for January 22: “The farce in the Senate trial will become painfully evident as the bought-and-paid-for Republicans will declare Donald Trump God’s Gift to America and Zuckerberg’s Facebook will start grinding out ficticious pro-Trump sewage to entertain its dimwitted adherents. Trump could walk into a Macdonalds, pull out a pistol and shoot two old ladies and a baby in a stroller and the Senate Republicans would comfort themselves with the idea that he had to do it because God His Father wanted it. On the other hand, Senate Republicans carefully ignore his extensive dealings with Russian drug money. This is somewhat like speaking kindly of a whore because she sends money to her mother.”

Trump’s Approval/Disapproval rating January 21 reporting
Source                           Approve Disapprove
American Research Group 37%      59%

The Table of Contents
Shock and Horror for the dim of wit
Pandemic fears grow as new coronavirus spreads
• Never the Pentagon
• Different…but the same!
• As Trump goes on trial, so does the conscience of the Republican party
• US sanctions helped Russia to boost oil exports in 2019
• The Season of Evil
• Encyclopedia of American Loons

Shock and Horror for the dim of wit
Pandemic fears grow as new coronavirus spreads

The World Health Organization could classify the new coronavirus outbreak, which has reached the US, as a global emergency. The virus has now infected 440 people and killed nine in China, officials said.
January 22, 2020
The World Health Organization (WHO) will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether to declare a global public health emergency over a new viral illness spread through east Asia and has reached the United States.
Authorities in China, where the virus originated, said the number of cases of a new virus had jumped to 440 and the death toll had risen to nine.
Deputy Director of the National Health Commission Li Bin told reporters on Wednesday that all the deaths were reported in the city of Wuhan in the central Hubei province.
The new death toll comes less than a day after the first case in the US was reported. A person with the virus was also found in Hong Kong for the first time. Travelers from China are being screened for the virus at many airports around the world.
The coronavirus is transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease,” Li said at a news conference. The commission announced measures to contain the virus as millions of people travel across the country for this week’s Lunar New Year holiday, including disinfection and ventilation at airports, train stations and shopping centers.
“We are still in the process of learning more about this disease,” said Gao Fu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control said at the same news conference.
Is the new virus a ‘super spreader’?
Li said there was so far no evidence that the new virus was a “super spreader” — meaning it infects a disproportionate number of people. However, he said that it was still a possibility that was being investigated as research continues.
“We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease,” Li vowed.
The new coronavirus has caused alarm for its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which also started in China and killed nearly 800 people in total from 2002 to 2003.
Will the virus spread further?
“At present, during the Lunar New Year, the rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading and the difficulty of prevention and control,” Li also warned.
In addition to the case reported in the US, the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau also noted its first case of pneumonia caused by the virus on Wednesday. The patient was a tourist from Wuhan.
Casino staff in the gambling hub have duly been ordered to wear masks.
More cases have been identified in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and South Korea. In Australia, authorities isolated a man in his Brisbane home after he flew back from Wuhan in suspected coronavirus case, but testing eventually ruled out an infection.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airlines will allow airline staff to wear surgical masks and will not charge people who want to cancel or change flights to Wuhan.
No travel to North Korea
Authorities in North Korea, which shares a land border with China, suspended border crossings for all foreign tourists, according to tour operators in China. It was not immediately clear how long the suspension would last.
North Korea has “closed all of their borders until further notice due to coronavirus,” Koryo Tours said in an email cited by the AP news agency.
Pyongyang did not immediately confirm the report.
The isolated, Communist-ruled nation already closed its borders during similar health scares, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Ebola epidemic in 2014.

Here we have an interesting eruption of genuine fake news purporting to warn the semi-literate world of a terrible new disease poised to sweep across the planet.
In actuality Cornavirus is not a deadly disease but no worse than a common cold. Any reporter could verify this by searching the subject on Google.
There, anyone with a brain larger than a golf ball could see a number of articles from legitimate medcal sources that describe the virus as dangerous as the common cold.
Either reporters are stupid beyond belief or the public is deliberately being conned into believing a terrible plague is hovering just around the corner.
It is not but the question arises as to who concocted this entertaining fraud and, more important, why?
The public often believes such nonsense as the childish and semi-literate babblings of mentally disturbed and corrupt presidential tweets, pouring out like sewage on a daily basis.
Others firmly believe in the imminent arrival of Jesus in Yonkers or that all vaccines are essentially filled with crippling poisons that cause autism or terminal flatulence.
But now the sheep are being fed a similar diet of fraud to mislead and frighten them.
To disrtract from Trump’s mounting legal problems?
To con a frightened public into buying some useless, and expensive, vaccine?
To further restrict pubic travel by air?
To boost the paid readership of the failing newspapers?

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat.
Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.
Some types of them are serious, though. More than 475 people have died from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which first appeared in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian peninsula. People also died from a severe acute respiratory syndrome ( SARS ) outbreak in 2003. As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS. Both MERS and SARS are types of coronaviruses.
But usually a coronavirus causes common cold symptoms that you can easily treat with rest and over-the-counter medication.
What Is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.
Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do, through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.
Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection any time.
Common Symptoms of Coronavirus
The symptoms of most coronaviruses are similar to any other upper-respiratory infection, including runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and sometimes a fever. In most cases, you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus.
You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.
But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.
What to Do About Coronavirus
There is no vaccine for coronavirus. To help prevent coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Avoid close contact with people who are infected.
You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold:
Get plenty of rest.
Drink fluids.
Take over-the-counter medicine for sore throat and fever (but don’t give aspirin to children or teens younger than 19; use ibuprofen or acetaminophen instead).
A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.
Even when coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.

Never the Pentagon
by Mandy Smithberger
Call it a colossal victory for a Pentagon that hasn’t won a war in this century , but not for the rest of us. Congress only recently passed and the president approved one of the largest Pentagon budgets ever. It will surpass spending at the peaks of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. As last year ended,as if to highlight the strangeness of all this, the Washington Post broke a story about a “confidential trove of government documents”– interviews with key figures involved in the Afghan War by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction – revealing the degree to which senior Pentagon leaders and military commanders understood that the war was failing. Yet, year after year, they provided “rosy pronouncements they knew to be false,” while “hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable.”
However, as the latest Pentagon budget shows, no matter the revelations, there will be no reckoning when it comes to this country’s endless wars or its military establishment – not at a moment when President Donald Trump is sending yet more US military personnel into the Middle East and has picked a new fight with Iran. No less troubling: how few in either party in Congress are willing to hold the president and the Pentagon accountable for runaway defense spending or the poor performance that has gone with it.
Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into those endless wars,in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a reevaluation of its expenditures. (It has, by the way, never actually passed an audit.) According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Washington has already spent at least $2 trillion on its war in Afghanistan alone and, as the Post made clear, the corruption, waste, and failure associated with those expenditures was (or at least should have been) mindboggling.
Of course, little of this was news to people who had read the damning reports released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in previous years. They included evidence, for instance, that somewhere between $10 million and $43 million had been spent constructing a single gas station in the middle of nowhere, that $150 million had gone into luxury private villas for Americans who were supposed to be helping strengthen Afghanistan’s economy, and that tens of millions more were wasted on failed programs to improve Afghan industries focused on extracting more of the country’s minerals, oil, and naturalgas reserves.
In the face of all this, rather than curtailing Pentagon spending, Congress continued to increase its budget, while also supporting a Department of Defense slushfund for war spending to keep the efforts going. Still, the special inspector general’s reports did manage to rankle American military commanders (unable to find successful combat strategies in Afghanistan) enough to launch what, in effect, would be a public-relations war to try to undermine that watchdog’s findings.
All of this, in turn, reflected the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex that President (and former five-star General) Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans about in his memorable 1961 farewell address. That complex only continues to thrive and grow almost six decades later, as contractor profits are endlessly prioritized over what might be considered the national security interests of the citizenry.
The infamous “revolving door” that regularly ushers senior Pentagon officials into defense-industry posts and senior defense-industry figures into key positions at the Pentagon (and in the rest of the national security state) just adds to the endless public-relations offensives that accompany this country’s forever wars. After all, the retired generals and other officials the media regularly looks to for expertise are often essentially paid shills for the defense industry. The lack of public disclosure and media discussion about such obvious conflicts of interest only further corrupts public debate on both the wars and the funding of the military, while giving the arms industry the biggest seat at the table when decisions are made on how much to spend on war and preparations for the same.
Media Analysis Brought to You by the Arms Industry
That lack of disclosure regarding potential conflicts of interest recently came into fresh relief as industry boosters beat the media drums for war with Iran. Unfortunately, it’s a story we’ve seen many times before. Back in 2008, for instance, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series, the New York Times revealed that the Pentagon had launched a program to cultivate a coterie of retired-military-officers-turned-punditsin support of its already disastrous war in Iraq. Seeing such figures on TV or reading their comments in the press, the public may have assumed that they were just speaking their minds. However, the Times investigation showed that, while widely cited in the media and regularly featured on the TV news, they never disclosed that they received special Pentagon access and that, collectively, they had financial ties to more than 150 Pentagon contractors.
Given such financial interests, it was nearly impossible for them to be “objective” when it came to this country’s failing war in Iraq. After all, they needed to secure more contracts for their defense-industry employers. A subsequent analysis by the Government Accountability Office found that the Pentagon’s program raised “legitimate questions” about how its public propaganda efforts were tied to theweaponry it bought, highlighting “the possibility of compromised procurementsresulting from potential competitive advantages” for those who helped them.
While the program was discontinued that same year, a similar effort was revealed in 2013 during a debate over whetherthe US should attack Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. You probably won’tbe surprised to discover that most of the former military figures and officials used as analysts at the time supported action against Syria. A review of their commentary by the Public Accountability Initiative found a number of them also had undisclosed ties to the arms industry. In fact, of 111 appearances in major media outlets by 22 commentators, only 13 of them disclosed any aspect of their potential conflicts of interest that might lead them to promote war.
The same pattern is now being repeated in the debate over the Trump administration’s decision to assassinate by drone Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani andother Iran-related issues. While Suleimani clearly opposed the United States and many of its national security interests, his killing risked pushing Washington into another endless war in the Middle East. And in a distinctly recognizable pattern, the Intercept has already found that the air waves were subsequently flooded by defense-industry pundits praising the strike. Unsurprisingly, news of a potential war also promptly boosted defense industry stocks. Northrop Grumman’s, Raytheon’s, and Lockheed Martin’s all started 2020 with an uptick.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) have offered legislation that could shut down that revolving door between the major weapons makers and Washington for good, but it has met concerted resistance from Pentagon officials and others still in Congress who stand to benefit from preserving the system as is. Even if that revolving door wasn’t shut down, transparency about just who was going through it would help the public better understand what former officials and military commanders are really advocating for when they speak positively of the necessity for yet another war in the Middle East.
Costly Weapons (and Well-Paid Lobbyists)
Here’s what we already know about how it all now works: weapon systems produced by the big defense firms with all those retired generals, former administration officials, and one-time congressional representatives on their boards (or lobbying for or consulting for them behind the scenes) regularly come in overpriced,are often delivered behind schedule, and repeatedly fail to have the capabilities advertised. Take, for instance, the new Ford class aircraft carriers, produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sort of ships that have traditionally been used to show strength globally. In this case, however, the program’s development has been stifled by problems with its weapons elevators and the systems used to launch and recover its aircraft. Those problems have been costly enough to send the price for the first of those carriers soaring to $13.1 billion. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet fighter, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, has an abysmal rate of combat readiness and currently comes in at more than $100 million per aircraft.
And yet, somehow, no one ever seems to be responsible for such programmatic failures and prices – certainly not the companies that make them (or allthose retired military commanders sitting on their boards or working for them).One crucial reason for this lack of accountability is that key members of Congress serving on committees that should be overseeing such spending are often the top recipients of campaign contributions from the big weapons makers and their allies. And just as at the Pentagon, members of those committees or their staff often later become lobbyists for those very federal contractors.
With this in mind, the big defense firms carefully spread their contracts for weapons production across as many congressional districts as possible. This practice of “political engineering,” a term promoted by former Department of Defense analyst and military reformer Chuck Spinney, helps those contractors and the Pentagon buy off members of Congress from both parties. Take, for example, the Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel meant to operate close to shore. Costs for the program tripled over initial estimates and, according to Defense News, the Navy is already considering decommissioning four of the new ships next year as a cost-saving measure. It’s not the first time that program has been threatened with the budget ax. In the past, however, pork-barrel politics spearheaded by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Richard Shelby(R-AL), in whose states those boats were being built, kept the program afloat.
The Air Force’s new bomber, the B-21, being built by Northrup Grumman, has been on a similar trajectory. Despite significant pressure from then-Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Air Force refused in 2017 to make public or agree upon a contract price for the program. (It was a “cost-plus,” not a “fixed price” contract, after all.) It did, however, release the names of the companies providing components to the program, ensuring that relevant congressional representatives would support it, no matter the predictably spiraling costs to come.
Recent polling indicates that such pork-barrel politics isn’t backed by the public, even when they might benefit from it. Asked whether congressional representatives should use the Pentagon’s budget to generate jobs in their districts, 77% of respondents rejected the notion. Two-thirds favored shifting such funds to sectors like healthcare, infrastructure, and clean energy that would, infact, create significantly more jobs.
And keep in mind that, in this big-time system of profiteering, hardware costs, however staggering, are just a modest part of the equation. The Pentagon spends about as much on what it calls “services” as it does on the weaponry itself and those service contracts are another major source ofprofits. For example, it’s estimated that the F-35 program will cost $1.5 trillion over the lifetime of the plane, but a trillion dollars of those costs will be for support and maintenance of the aircraft.
Increasingly, this means contractors are able to hold the Pentagon hostage over a weapon’s lifetime, which means overcharges of just about every imaginable sort, including for labor.The Project On Government Oversight (where I work) has, for instance, been uncovering overcharges in spare parts since our founding, including an infamous $435 hammer back in 1983.I’m sad to report that what, in the 1980s, was a seemingly outrageous $640 plastic toilet-seat cover for military airplanes now costs an eye-popping $10,000.A number of factors help explain such otherwise unimaginable prices, including the way contractors often retain intellectual property rights to many of the systems taxpayers funded to develop, legal loopholes that make it difficult for the government to challenge wild charges, and a system largely beholden to the interests of defense companies.
The most recent and notorious case may be TransDigm, a company that has purchased other companies with a monopoly on providing spare parts for a number of weapon systems. That, in turn, gave it power to increase the prices of parts with little fear of losing business – once, receiving 9,400% in excess profits for a single half-inch metal pin. An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that TransDigm’s employees had been coached to resist providing cost or pricing information to the government, lest such overcharges be challenged.
In one case, for instance, a subsidiary of TransDigm resisted providing such information until the government, desperate for parts for weapons to be used in Iraq and Afghanistan, was forced to capitulate or risk putting troops’ lives on the line. TransDigm did later repay the government $16 million for certain overcharges, but only after the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the subject that shamed the company. As it happens, TransDigm’s behavior isn’t an outlier. It’s typical of many defense-related companies doing business with the government – about 20 major industry players, according to a former Pentagon pricing czar.
A Recipe for Disaster
For too long Congress has largely abdicated its responsibilities when it comes to holding the Pentagon accountable. You won’t be surprised to learn that most of the “acquisition reforms” it’s passed in recent years, which affect how the Department of Defense buys goods and services, have placed just about all real negotiating power in the hands of the big defense contractors. To add insult to injury, both parties of Congress continue to vote in near unanimity for increases in the Pentagon budget, despite 18-plus years of losing wars, the never-ending gross mismanagement of weapons programs, and a continued failure to pass a basic audit. If any other federal agency (or the contractors it dealt with) had a similar track record, you can only begin to imagine thehubbub that would ensue. But not the Pentagon. Never the Pentagon.
A significantly reduced budget would undoubtedly increase that institution’s effectiveness by curbing its urge to throw ever more money at problems. Instead, an often bought-and-paid-for Congress continues to enable bad decision-making about what to buy and how to buy it. And let’s face it, a Congress that allows endless wars, terrible spending practices, and multiplying conflicts of interest is, as the history of the twenty-first century has shown us, a recipe for disaster.

Different…but the same!
January 22, 2020
by Christian Jürs
There are strong parallels between the Evangelical Christians and the Holocaust Jewish religious/political movements.
And these parallels are most certainly there.
Both are oriented to gaining political and economic power.
Both have made extensive use of fictional writings. In the case of the Evangelical Christians, the Rapture and the Battle of Armageddon which are recent inventions (ca 1910) by a Charles Parham Fox and are not in the Bible. Parham Fox was a convicted thief and child molester.
Also, note that none of the Gospels were contemporary with the purported career of Jesus and in the ensuing centuries, have been constantly rewritten to suit current political needs. Further, the mainstay of Evangelical Christians is the so-called ‘Book of Revelations’ purported to have been written by John the Devine, Jesus’ most intimate friend. This was certainly not written by someone living at the time of Jesus’ alleged ministry but over fifty years later. The actual author was one John of Patmos who was resident at the Roman lunatic colony located on the island of Patmos. This particular work is beloved of Evangelicals because it is so muddled, obscure and bizarre that any meaning can, and is, attributed to it.
I refer the reader to “Foundations of Christianity” by Karl Kautsky (a Jewish German early Communist and secretary to Engels)
The nationalistic Zionist movement does not have a great body of historical supportive material so, like the early Christians, they have simply invented it. These fictions include, but certainly are not limited to, “The Painted Bird” by Kosinski, (later admitted by its author to be an invented fraud before his suicide, ) and “Fragments” by “Binjimin Wilkomersky” ( A Swiss Protestant named Bruno Dossecker who was born in 1944) that is mostly copied from the Kosinski book and consists of ‘recovered memory,’ and of course the highly-propagandized favorite “Anne Frank Diary” which was proven, beyond a doubt, by the German BKA(Bundes Kriminal Amt, an official German forensic agency) as a forgery, made circa 1949 (ball point ink was used on paper made after 1948 and the handwriting completely different from the original Frank girl’s school papers still extant) All of these frauds have been, and still are, considered as seminal truths by the Holocaust supporters and the discovery of fakery loudly denied by them, and questioners accused of being ‘Nazis.’ This closely parallels the same anger expressed by the Evangelicals when their stories about the Rapture or the Battle of Armageddon are questioned by anyone. Here, doubters are accused of being ‘Satanists’ and ‘Secular Humanists.’
I refer the reader to “The Holocaust Industry” by Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish academic and the son of genuine survivors of the German Concentration Camp system.
When confronted with period and very authentic evidence that the death toll among Jewish prisoners never approached even a million, or that there were no gas chambers in use at any prison camp, the standard, and badly flawed counter argument is that while the accuracy of the period German documents is not in question, as everyone knows that 6 millions of Jews perished, therefore the names are on so-called ‘secret lists.’
When asked where a researcher could view these documents (the actual German SS records, complete, are located in the Russian Central Archives in Moscow) the ludicrous response is that because these lists are secret, no one has ever seen them! This rationale does not even bear comment.
The Christians have their Passion of the Christ, which may or may not have happened, (it was in direct opposition to Roman law which governed Judea at the time,) and the Jews have their long agony of the Holocaust, which is an elaborate and fictional construction based on fragmentary facts. A Jewish supporter, Deborah Lipstadt ( a well-known academic) has said repeatedly that the word holocaust must be capitalized and can only be used to discuss the enormous suffering of the Jewish people. The huge genocidal programs practiced by the Turks against Armenian Christians in 1916 and the even larger massacres by Pol Pot in Southeast Asia may never be likened to the absolutely unique Jewish suffering, according to current Zionist-Holocaust Jewish dogma.
Both stress the suffering and death of their icons, in the former case, the leader of their cult, which initially consisted entirely of very poor Jews, and in the second, an entire people. Both sides have enormous public relations machinery in place which is used constantly to promulgate both faiths and both are hysterically opposed to any questioning or debate on any aspects of their faith.
The issues of suffering, death and prosecution are both used to fortify their positions in society and render it difficult for anyone to attack them. These issues are also used to gain political power (for the Evangelicals) and money (for the Zionist-Holocausters)
Both of these groups seek a high moral ground from which to attack any questioning of their faith and because many of the adherents to both beliefs are aware that their houses are based on sand, fight fiercely lest a storm arise, beat upon both houses and thereby cause a great fall (to be Biblical in expression.)

As Trump goes on trial, so does the conscience of the Republican party
Can Republicans divorce themselves from a demagogue? The impeachment trial’s first day offers little hope”
January 21, 2020
by David Smith in Washington
The Guardian
A lone figure in a blue suit slipped quietly into the front row of the US Senate public gallery just before 3.30pm on Tuesday and gazed down at his former colleagues.
Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, had returned to Washington to witness two trials. One was that of an impeached American president accused of strong-arming a foreign government for his own political ends. The other was a trial of the conscience of the Republican party.
Perhaps Flake, a “Never Trumper” who quit the Senate a year ago, noticed how majority leader Mitch McConnell and several fellow Republicans sported bright red ties and white shirts reminiscent of Donald Trump himself. Coincidence? Perhaps he saw, too, how unmoved they appeared by Democrats’ appeal for a fair trial with witnesses.
But perhaps he also spotted senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski listening intently and taking copious notes and wondered, at least for moment, if the grand old party could still untether itself from the demagogue in the White House.
“History is watching,” they were warned. Busts of former vice-presidents, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, glowered from niches above the public gallery where teenage spectators looked twitchy without their mobile phones (banned by the rules of decorum).
If Flake hoped to be a ghost at the feast, pointing an accusing finger, he would first have to sit through a trial within a trial over the rules of engagement. McConnell started out by addressing an empty chamber to propose a resolution that would rush the trial through with sittings into the early hours, a move likely to satisfy no one but political insomniacs.
As McConnell went on, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, sat down and gave his nose a hearty blow in a white handkerchief. He spoke in opposition to the resolution.
“On something as important as impeachment, the McConnell resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace,” he railed, pointing a finger at Republicans’ empty desks. “This will go down, this resolution, as one of the darker moments in the Senate history. Perhaps even one of the darkest.”
As he spoke, senators gradually filtered in. Jon Tester of Montana let out a magnificent sneeze. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona crossed the floor in a lurid pink coat – was it fur? – and bright yellow boots. The Senate chaplain, Barry Black, sporting a bow tie, got the Elizabeth Warren handshake that Bernie Sanders was denied last week and held on for ages as they talked. Sanders worked the room, chatting with Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown and others.
Finally, the hundred senators took their seats at individual desks arranged in a semicircle facing John Roberts, chief justice of the supreme court. The sergeant-at-arms declared: “All persons are commanded to remain silent on pain of imprisonment.” Snacks were banned but drinks of water and milk were permitted.
This moment had been much hyped by cable TV but viewers hoping for the political equivalent of the OJ Simpson trial were in for a disappointment. There was no prisoner in the dock; Trump is thousands of miles away in Davos. This was reality TV without the reality TV president.
There was, however, the California Democrat Adam Schiff, the lead House manager in the impeachment trial, who once wrote a screenplay for a Hollywood crime thriller. He was not quite Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men or Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, but he did put Republicans on the spot over their pledge on oath to be impartial jurors.
“The American people want a fair trial. They want to believe their system of government is still capable of rising to the occasion,” Schiff entreated. “They want to believe we can rise above party and do what’s best for the country, but a great many Americans don’t believe that will happen. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s prove them wrong!”
In the Hollywood version, the chamber erupted in applause, heavenly horns played and a solitary tear trickled down McConnell’s face. In the Washington version, however, Republicans sat or slouched expressionless or studied papers on their desks, while McConnell fixed Schiff with a death stare as if intent on turning him to stone.
The Washington version also brought Jay Sekulow, a conservative radio host and shouty Trump lawyer, stepping up to defend the president by slamming his accusers for denying due process. He took his lead from Brett Kavanaugh at his supreme court confirmation hearing, so angry and aggressive that his voice boomed in the chamber, no doubt seeking his Fox News shout out, viral clip and, most prized of all, presidential tweet of approval.
“Why are we here?” Sekulow demanded, brimming with righteous indignation. “Are we here because of a phone call? Or are we here, before this great body, because since the president was sworn into office there was a desire to see him removed?”
It was an unwelcome blast of Trumpian bluster in these august surroundings. Now McConnell – who by obstructing Barack Obama’s agenda, blocking Merrick Garland’s supreme court nomination and embracing the Trump presidency arguably did more than anyone to bring us to this moment – sat back in his chair with a sly smile on his lips.
His tie was red; across the aisle, Schumer’s was blue. The politics of red team versus blue team ruled supreme. Flake was not the only one left sitting on the sidelines.

US sanctions helped Russia to boost oil exports in 2019
January 22, 2020
Exports of Russian crude surged last year, with shipments to the US increasing threefold, as Washington tightened sanctions against a number of countries, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development has said.
The volume of Russian oil exports was up 3.9 percent, according to customs data for January-November 2019. In a note, seen by business outlet RBC, the ministry said that the surge was due to Washington’s sanctions that targeted Iran and Venezuela, prompting Turkey and, surprisingly, the US to buy more oil from Russia.
Exports to Turkey jumped more than four-fold in 11 months of 2019 as Turkish refineries switched to Russian supplies after the US reimposed sweeping sanctions on Tehran. Exports to Ankara rose to 7.55 million tons last year, up from 1.69 million tons in 2018, according to the Federal Customs Service.
Since the US hit Venezuela with sanctions, including restrictions on its vital oil sector, Russia sold three times more oil to the US over the same period. Russia gained nearly $2 billion from crude exports to the US as they reached 4.28 million tons in 2019. Additionally, Moscow sold $3.8 billion worth of petroleum products to Washington.
One of the main buyers of Russian oil, China, also boosted imports by almost 4 percent to 63.1 million tons last year.
Washington imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, among other crippling restrictions on Caracas, in early 2019 in a bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Iran has been under Washington’s sanctions since 2018, after the US unilaterally abandoned the landmark deal to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program. Tensions have been rising between the two countries for months, and escalated further after a US drone strike killed a senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, earlier this month.

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.

To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 64

And so it went for nearly three hours.
Alex had some latent ability but was trying to please far too much and Chuck finally stopped the session when he could see the boy’s growing frustrations.
“Rome was not built in a day, Alex. You have ability but how much I don’t know. Here, wait here for a minute and let me get something for you.”
He returned in five minutes carrying a large electronic keyboard and stacked on top of it, a box of manuals.
“This is a practice board. I got it in California when I lived in an apartment and couldn’t afford a piano. You plug it in and put on the earphones. Then you can play on it and it sounds exactly like a good piano but your neighbors can’t hear a damned thing. We’ll set this up in your room so you can practice without disturbing anyone. Also, there are some basic books in here to help you learn to read music and so on. We can hook all of this up now and then you can read the manuals and fool around with the keyboard.”
Alex looked at the keyboard with the same sharp intensity he had displayed earlier while watching Chuck.
“It sounds like the real thing?”
“Yes, on the earphones. I mean you can play this all night and no one in the house can hear you. You will have questions and we can work all of that out during the day. In other words, practice on this and then you and I can work with the real thing. How does that sound?”
Alex grinned widely and rubbed his hands together.
“Oh it sounds cool! Can I plug it in now?”
“Sure, why not?”
It was suddenly dark and Alex looked around.
“Hey, what happened, man? It’s got awful dark outside.”
“It has gotten, Alex, it has gotten. What time is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have a watch.”
Chuck looked at his.
“Christ, we’ve been here for almost four hours! I have to make dinner pretty soon. Come on and give me a hand with this keyboard. You bring the box and I’ll take the machinery.”
When it was set up on a table in Alex’s room, Chuck plugged it in and tested it.
“Works fine. Hold the fort, kid. I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, Chuck came back with something in his hand. Alex was hunched over the keyboard, struggling with the keys.
Chuck tapped him on the shoulder.
Off came the earphones and Alex turned around, grinning widely.
“Hey, this thing is great, Chuck! It really does sound like the piano!”
“I am never wrong, kid. And here, you might as well take this.”
It turned out to be an impressive watch with a face covered with dials. The case and band were in stainless steel.
“Shit, for me?”
“Don’t say ‘shit’ and yes, it’s for you. Let’s fix the band so it fits.”
Alex had thin wrists and Chuck had to adjust the band to its smallest setting.
“This is super neat! I never had a watch before, Chuck. Thanks!”
Chuck reached in his pocket and pulled out another case.
“The one you have on is for daily use. It has a quartz movement and is always accurate. This one is for dress.”
And he handed him a gold Rolex worth ten thousand dollars.
Alex had no knowledge of expensive watches so if Chuck expected a demonstration of enthusiasm, he was disappointed.
“I don’t have to have two watches, Chuck. The first one is fine with me.”
“Put the nice one away. It’s mechanical and the quartz one keeps better time.”
Alex decided that this must be the best day he ever had. He had received a second hand pair of athletic shoes and a comic book for Christmas and now he had wonderful things that he had never dreamed of, let alone thinking he would ever own.
In order to head off any emotional scenes, Chuck walked to the door.
“I’m going to fix dinner now, kid. You can stay here and play with your new toy or come and help me.”
Shoving back his chair, Alex jumped up.
“Will you teach me how to cook, too?”
“Yes, and after dinner, we can go outside and I can teach you brain surgery on the bears. At least one of them still has a brain. How does that sound?”
“Chuck, I think you’re super great but sometimes I think you’re a nut.”
“Sometimes? Most of the time. Let’s hustle and get some food.”
When Gwen and Lars returned from their expedition laden with boxes and bags, the smell of cooking nearly overpowered them. A Madeira sauce was reducing on the stove while Chuck prepared tournedos of beef. There was a pan of pastry sitting on the sideboard and Alex, wearing an apron, was mixing something in a glass bowl.
“Well, what have we here? A cooking class?”
Chuck set the meat platter down and wiped his hands on his own apron.
“There’s Gwen and others. We’ve been fixing a fancy dinner for you but we weren’t sure when you were coming back. Everything look all right out front?”
He was thinking about the bears.
“Looked fine to me. Did you see anything interesting Lars?”
“No, just snow.”
“Is it snowing?” Chuck asked as he sliced up an endive into very small pieces.
“It was earlier but it stopped and I guess there’s about an inch on the road. Can you give us a hand with the packages, Chuck? We’ve been dragging things around all day and we’re both tired. And New Year’s Eve is tomorrow, in case you forgot, so I picked up some nice things for us at one of the stores. I figured you had enough food but I stopped and got some milk and eggs and some good lettuce for you.
“I’m glad you got the milk. Alexander here has drunk up every drop in the house.”
“Good for him. He can use some decent food. Give us a hand, will you?”
The back of the van was still full of packages and there were more stacked in the entrance hall.

Dinner was put on hold while Alex was compelled to end his culinary lesson and try on what seemed like an endless quantity of clothing. There was underwear in glossy packages, sheaves of all kinds of socks from dress to sport, a beautiful down parka and hood, gloves, winter boots, pajamas, two bathrobes, T-shirts, dress shirts, three sport jackets, a raincoat, three pair of wool dress slacks and a dozen casual pants, not to mention toothbrushes, combs, nail clippers, handkerchiefs, two swimming briefs, beach sandals, scarves, belts, two wallets, two pair of sport shoes, three pair of dress shoes and an inexpensive wrist watch.
Alex was supposed to go into his room, try on various pieces of clothing and come back into the living room so others could judge if they fit him properly.
He flatly refused to model either the underwear or the swimming trunks but obviously Gwen had done her homework by looking into the few items of clothing Alex had on at the time of his rescue and everything fit well enough. He was delighted with the plump and elegant parka and she was disappointed to note that he already had a watch.
Chuck kept coming back in from the kitchen as Alex was made to rotate slowly in various items of his new wardrobe.
There were various approving comments about fit, style and color and eventually, he was allowed to go back to the kitchen after duly lavishing praise on every piece of new clothing and giving great thanks to Gwen for her excellent taste and bounty.
Poor Alex was embarrassed to a high degree and he had never in his life had so many things to wear. Chuck had to dissuade him from wearing the parka in the kitchen.
After the others had gone upstairs, there was humorous conversation among the pots, pans and vegetables.
“Yes, Alex, you looked just adorable in those shoes. And the tweed coat was simply too much!”
“All right, Chuck, why don’t you get off my case?”
“Why don’t you go model the swimming stuff? If you’re afraid your dick’s too small, you can put this mango down the front and be the life of the party.”
“Listen, I look like shit in stuff like that and you know it. You’re just as skinny as I am and I don’t see you walking around the house like Claude.”
“That’s true. But the stuff does look fine on you, Alexander, so don’t worry about the sexy underwear. Now, if you watch how I slice these stupid things, you’ll have learned something really significant.”
Alex cupped his hand beside his mouth and lowered his voice.
“What about the bears? No one saw them. Are they blind or are they covered with snow?”
“I don’t see how anyone could miss something like that. Why don’t we just stick the dessert in the oven…at 425 for thirty minutes, kid…and then we can go outside and have a little look. And let’s not advertise the trip, OK?”
“Great! Let me get my parka!”
It was very dark outside and Chuck had a flashlight.
There were no snow-dusted hairy bodies visible from the inside of the fence so they opened the gate and carefully inspected the outside. There were no bears or parts of bears to be seen but Alex saw almost immediately what had happened to the ursine invaders. There were a considerable number of bear tracks in the new snow and great bloody swaths swept across the road and down into the area where LeBec had ended up.
His corpse was not in sight and it was too dark and there was too much brush to see much of anything but deep drag marks in the snow and quantities of blackish dried blood and something that looked like pink tapioca pudding.
“What’s that goop, Chuck?” Alex said, as the flashlight beam caught it.
“Brains, Alex. Bear brains. Well, there goes our brain surgery session. It looks like the bears came in the night and saved us a lot of trouble. And we don’t have to explain to Gwen about our little adventure this afternoon, do we?”
“No. Do you think the bears ate that guy too?”
“Now Alex, we don’t know if the bears ate anything at all. Maybe they just came and took away their nice friends and are even now having a candlelight service over them prior to the funeral.”
“Oh sure! And I guess you’ll tell me they got an organ too.
“They have an organ, kid, have is correct. Got is not. And all bears have organs. Some have primary organs and some have secondary organs. We’ll have to have anatomy lessons one of these days.”
Alex laughed, his breath wreathing his head in the cold air.
“Tell me about it.”
“I don’t know. It’s an awfully mature subject for such a young boy. Maybe we can talk about getting our asses back into the nice warm house and hope the blood and brains wash away before anyone else sees them.”
Gwen came into the kitchen a minute after they got back.
“Alex, I know you like your new coat but you mustn’t wear it in the kitchen. You’ll get food all over it.”
“Yes mom,” he said under his breath as he hung the coat over a chair back.
“What did you say?”
“He said yes ma’am and please let us resume fixing the dinner.”
“It does smell good, Chuck. Is Claude back yet?”
“No, not yet and I am not going to wait.”
“How much longer?”
“Give us another half hour or so.”
And after she left, they both engaged in conspiratorial laughter.
It would be interesting to see, Chuck thought as he resumed his culinary work, if the bears ate up LeBec. Did they eat carrion?
Everyone was in bed by the time Claude returned. Chuck was still in the kitchen working on a project for New Year’s Day when he saw the car headlights flare on the drive. A minute later, the garage door rumbled up and soon enough, a very dapper and very tired Claude appeared in the kitchen.
“Nice overcoat, Claude. What in God’s name happened in Duluth?”
Claude picked up a small pastry that was cooling on the counter.
“Nice stuff, Chas. Oh, I had a wonderful time today. Let’s go down into the sauna and have a private chat. There are too many people running around loose here. Let me bring in a box of stuff first and get rid of all these fancy clothes.”
Twenty minutes later they were sitting in the confines of the sauna, the thick door closed.
“Did you kill that fat asshole?” Chuck asked as Claude munched hungrily on a cold roast beef sandwich.
“No, I didn’t. The kid told me last night about some stuff he left behind at his house so I decided, just to keep him happy, that I’d go down and get it. I did. And I had a real adventure, let me tell you. My dick is still sore.
This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

Encyclopedia of American Loons

Karl Stephan

Karl Stephan is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Texas State University, San Marcos, and a thorough science denialist with regard to fields in which he has no expertise. Stephan is for instance a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s idiotic petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism (though we haven’t verified his actual views on evolution), and when you give up scientific standards in one area you might as well walk the whole mile: Stephan is also a climate change denialist, and instead of climate change Stephan has suggested that birth control is among the greatest threats to civilization, citing Steven Mosher, no less.
Diagnosis: A fine example of crank magnetism, Stephan does have a real degree and is involved in research in his own field of expertise. To some people that might lend some credence to his silly claims about other fields, too, but Stephan is really a good illustration of why it shouldn’t.

Joseph Pizzorno

Not as market-aggressive as Joe Mercola or as high-profile as Andrew Weil, Joseph Pizzorno is nevertheless one of the most influential pseudoscientists affiliated with the world of woo (and associated conspiracy mongering) working today. Pizzorno is the founding President and currently President Emeritus of Bastyr University, arguably the most influential “schools” of naturopathic “medicine” in North America, and is still involved in the institution where he, right from the beginning and until 2000, was running its day-to-day operations. Now, Pizzorno’s style is a far cry from the paranoia-driven delusions of someone like, say, Mike Adams – he did, for instance, recognize Hulda Clark’s quackery for what it was (not exactly a major cognitive feat, though) – but his own brand of naturopathy is hardly more evidence-based or health-promoting; it just sounds less deranged to the uninitiated. Bastyr embraces homeopathy without criticism, for instance; indeed, Bastyr’s students are required to study homeopathy together with all the other nonsense suggested to be beneficial by naturopaths, from myofascial analysis and vega testing to traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and even distant healing and germ theory denialism. Make no mistake; Pizzorno, his university, and naturopathy in general, are anti-science to the core.
Pizzorno is the co-author of the Textbook of Natural Medicine(with Michael T. Murray, who is also former faculty at Bastyr University and currently on its Board of Regents), which is widely used even in accredited education programs – despite being demonstrably a piece of unscientific junk. The book is described in some detail here. It is advertised as “the gold standard in natural medicine,” and as a scientific presentation that “includes the science behind concepts and treatments, and discusses Western medical treatments and how they can work with natural medicine in a comprehensive treatment plan;” more than “10,000 research literature citations show that the content is based on science rather than opinions or anecdotes.” It is interesting that they felt the need to point it out. Of course, as most critics would also point out, more important than what they included is what they did not include (i.e. all the well-designed tests, real scientific literature, and the parts of the texts they cited that do not support the conclusions they wish to draw); besides, the authors are fully prepared to drop any pretense of scientific support when it suits them, and the chapters on therapeutic modalitis baldly admits that “[a]lthough this textbook is strongly oriented to the scientific method and the use of the peer-review literature for documentation of the efficacy of a therapy, these modalities’ widespread clinical use and long history of patient satisfaction demand that they be given a place here even though the mechanisms of action of several have yet to be elicited.” Or in short: when scientific evidence shows that what they wish would work doesn’t work, disregard the science and rely on anecdotes and appeals to popularity or tradition instead. Among the most obvious and damning things that should strike anyone opening the book is naturopathy’s wholesale endorsement of medieval-style and thoroughly refuted vitalism; Pizzorno and Murray are unfazed by refutation, however, and claim against all evidence, knowledge and reality that homeostasis, entropy, and even evolution require vitalistic rather than mechanistic explanations. This is, of course, not simply false but a testament to the authors’ poor judgment and equally poor understanding of science. There is a good review of the second edition of the textbook here.
Pizzorno is also co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the Bible of Woo, in which more or less every piece of quackery is described as efficacious and studies that might seem to support those types of quackery if you don’t look closely enough to see the flaws, are carefully selected to provide a sheen of legitimacy while the many high-quality studies that don’t “fit the narrative” are just not mentioned. Like the textbook, the Encyclopedia (e.g.) recommends a range of questionable dietary measures, vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs for more than 70 health problems ranging from acne to AIDS – in many cases daily administration of ten or more products is recommended, often in dosages high enough to cause toxicity.
Pizzorno is also the author of Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By Understanding Your Body’s Healing Systems, which even contains a chapter titled “Strengthen Your Immune System” arguing (assuming) that “immune suppression” as an underlying cause of most disease. Total Wellness book is also antivaccine, of course. “Quackery” simply isn’t strong enough to describe the nature of Pizzorno’s advice. And things are barely better in his How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine (with Murray, Tim Birdsall, and Paul Riley), one of many cancer quack books providing a whole “arsenal” of advice that range from the admittedly sensible to the useless, and since the latter is hard to distinguish from the former in the authors’ presentation, the book is one to avoid completely and with prejudice if you ever need information about cancer.
From the very founding of Bastyr, Pizzorno’s main concern seems to have been how to make naturopathic quackery look respectable. An important part of that process was of course to get their naturopathic program accredited, and to achieve this goal, Pizzorno helped write the CNME standards for naturopathic programs that would eventually be used to accredit Bastyr’s naturopathic program establishing a separate accrediting agency for naturopathic schools, effectively shielding them from effective oversight of their pseudoscience-filled curricula. Pizzorno is also on the board of AAFP’s Board on Functional Medicine; “functional medicine” being one of the ultimate misnomers in the world of woo.
Pizzorno has worked tirelessly to achieve more widespread acceptance of quackery through other venues as well, including offering courses for the American Council for Continuing Medical Education, where he for instance teaches about “Detoxification” and “Assessing Body Burden” – the latter presumably related to his Encyclopedia’s nonsensical claim that 25% of the US population suffers from heavy metal poisoning, which can ostensibly be assessed by provoked urine testing. That is a myth, of course, but tests almost ensuring false positives are useful for people pushing fraudulent detox regimes – you won’t have toxic levels of heavy metals in your body after completing the detox regimes, of course, and what more do you want? More on his efforts here.
As for his own background, Pizzorno has a B.S. in Chemistry and an N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) degree in 1975 from National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He does, in other words, not have a background in medicine.
Diagnosis: Quackery galore. But Pizzorno isn’t just a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist with a website, and his efforts to give naturopathy a sheen of legitimacy – marketing is everything, since most people don’t have the resources or background knowledge to assess the contents – have proved scarily successful. Definitely one of the most dangerous loons alive today.

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