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TBR News July 16, 2018

Jul 16 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8

Washington, D.C. July 16, 2018:” An elderly Russian, former intelligence agent released from a Russian prison where he was serving time for treason and resident in England, and his visiting daughter were allegedly poisoned by a nerve agent, originating in Russia.

In point of fact, the disgraced Russian was working with a British retired intelligence agent on certain sensitive American issues and was to be deposed by an American investigator.

That the Russians were blamed for the poisoning is nonsense because if that country wished to kill the subject, they could have done so far more easily when he was in their custody. His removal from the scene made it impossible for the Americans to depose him.

And recently, a British resident and his lady, resident in the same area as the Russian, were also poisoned, apparently with the identical nerve poison. The lady died and, as before, the Russians were blamed. But then the investigating police discovered that the nerve poison was in a bottle found in the man’s apartment.

What neither the British nor American press has commented on is that both the man and woman were drug addicts and were undergoing treatment for their addictions and, more important, the man had a relative who worked at Porton Down where this drug was manufactured.

How the latest victims ended up with a bottle of nerve poison is not known nor is any comment expected in either the British or American mainline media.

What ought to be obvious is that the Russians had nothing to do with either episode and if the British authorities continue to broadcast these erroneous accusations, the entire issue could well explode in their faces.”

 

 

The Table of Contents

  • Leak at Porton Down lab may be behind UK nerve-agent poisonings – Russian embassy
  • Trump Finds a New Weapon for His War on Journalism — Leak Indictments Aimed at Smearing Reporters
  • Germans fear Donald Trump more than Vladimir Putin, poll finds
  • Trump’s Family Connections
  • Immigrant children, parents reunited faster under new court order
  • American Jews slam Israel’s ‘racist’ nation-state bill as thousands protest against it in Tel Aviv
  • New York health officials say recreational marijuana should be LEGAL: Report says the drug does more good than harm (and could earn the state $700 MILLION in taxes)
  • EU, China seek closer ties as US turns against trade  
  • An economic disaster approaching
  • An economic disaster approaching

 

 

Leak at Porton Down lab may be behind UK nerve-agent poisonings – Russian embassy

July 14, 2018

RT

A leak at the Porton Down secret laboratory may explain the nerve agent poisonings in Britain, as both cases happened in nearby Salisbury and Amesbury, the Russian embassy in the UK has said.

The embassy was asked by the media to comment on Friday’s announcement by the UK police that a small bottle they found in the home of one of the Amesbury poisoning victims contained the infamous Novichok nerve agent.

However, Russian diplomats said that they “cannot check or verify any British statements” because London “refuses to cooperate with us in any way possible” on the issue.

Russia would like the UK to share its data on the nerve agent attacks that targeted former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March, and another poisoning in Amesbury in late June, the embassy said. However, it added that they were “almost sure that the British side will not be informing us directly.”

The Russian mission pointed out that both poisoning cases took place “in the vicinity of the secret military chemical laboratory in Porton Down,” which may well lead to the conclusion that “some kind of ‘leak’ from this laboratory might have taken place. This cannot be excluded.”

“We have already demanded that the UK reveal information concerning ongoing research and production of chemical warfare agents in Porton Down,” it added.

The Porton Down chemical laboratory is located some 8km from both Salisbury and Amesbury.

The embassy also criticized the British authorities for asking the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to examine the substance found by the police at Amesbury.

The “independent verification” procedure initiated by the UK is “non-transparent, goes beyond the mechanisms outlined in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” it said.

“This initiative is yet another step towards politicizing the OPCW to the detriment of its reputation,” the Russian mission said.

In late June, the UK and its allies voted to expand the powers of the OPCW, allowing the body to not only investigate alleged chemical attacks, but also to assign blame for incidents. Russia said that it was a “dangerous” development, as the neutral body was being turned into a political tool that will be used by the West to apply pressure on Syria and other dissident states.

The British counter-terrorism police said on Saturday they had recovered not only the bottle with the nerve agent, but more than 400 items that “are potentially contaminated” as part of the Amesbury probe. The suspicious objects have been submitted to laboratories for analysis, it added.

“Work is ongoing to establish whether the nerve agent is from the same batch as used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March, and this remains a main line of enquiry for the investigation team,” the police statement read.

On June 30, Charlie Rowley and his Dawn Sturgess were hospitalized after being poisoned at their home in Amesbury with what experts at Porton Down later identified as Novichok nerve agent. Sturgess died a week later, while Rowley’s health has improved. He is no longer in a critical condition, according reports on Wednesday.

In early March, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on the bench in Salisbury after a chemical attack and rushed to hospital. The UK authorities said that a Soviet-designed nerve agent, which they called ‘Novichok,’ had been used against the pair.

This gave London an opportunity to claim that Russia was “highly likely” responsible for the poisoning, and to introduce sanctions against Moscow. However, months later, the UK has yet to provide any convincing proof of Russia’s involvement, and it has turned down all requests for cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Skripals have miraculously recovered from the poisoning, despite Britain calling Novichok a deadly war-grade chemical. Their whereabouts are currently unknown, and Russian diplomats have been denied access to the pair.

The UK authorities say that the incidents in Amesbury and Salisbury are linked, but Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, Dave Collum, told RT that “it’s impossible to make a connection as there’s been no data presented” to the public to back those claims.

He also reiterated that London’s statements of only Russia being capable of producing the novichok chemical were “totally false.” He described the nerve agent as “a simple compound,” which is actually just “three steps from commercially available materials.”

“I’ve put it on a final exam on my course… and they [the students] all got full credit. It was so easy, I knew none would lose credit because it’s like asking a bunch of bakers to make chocolate chip cookie recipe,” the US chemist said.

 

Trump Finds a New Weapon for His War on Journalism — Leak Indictments Aimed at Smearing Reporters

July 15, 2018

by Peter Maass

The Intercept

Last month, James Wolfe was indicted for lying to the FBI about his contacts with four reporters while he worked for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His indictment, and the media coverage of it, focused to a lopsided extent on just one of the reporters: Ali Watkins, who the indictment revealed to have been Wolfe’s girlfriend for several years.

While the 11-page indictment provided no information about the other reporters, there was an abundance on Watkins, who is 26 years old and was referred to as “Reporter #2.” It noted that she started her career in Washington, D.C. as “an intern with a news service” (McClatchy Newspapers), and went on to work for “several different news organizations covering national security” (the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed News, and Politico).  The indictment stated that her relationship with the middle-aged Wolfe began in December 2013 and lasted until December 2017. During that time, Watkins published dozens of articles about the intelligence committee, of which Wolfe was the director of security.

The indictment had a TMZ vibe. It noted that Watkins and Wolfe “frequently met in person at a variety of locations.” Where? In stairwells at a Senate office building, in restaurants, and in her apartment. The two even traveled overseas together, according to the indictment. They also exchanged tens of thousands of text messages, emails, and phone calls, once swapping 82 texts in a single day. The Department of Justice knew all of this, in part, because it had secretly obtained years of Watkins’s email and phone records — an exceptional intrusion into a reporter’s life.

Curiously, the cagily worded indictment does not suggest that Wolfe disclosed anything to Watkins that was more sensitive than what he allegedly disclosed to the other reporters. Why did Watkins get the lion’s share of attention in the indictment even though, from a legal perspective, she does not appear to be the most important reporter in it? None of the information Wolfe allegedly discussed with Watkins was classified — though the FBI asked Wolfe if he provided classified information to an unnamed “Reporter #1.” The indictment provides no professional or personal information about that reporter, however; there is no clue about their identity.

Rather than aggressively questioning why the Justice Department went out of its way to tar Watkins, the media largely treated the case as a steamy sex scandal that could have been an episode of “House of Cards” – a young female reporter in Washington, D.C. sleeps with a powerful older man who can provide sensitive information. This framing was extremely harmful to Watkins, who was widely criticized for breaking a rule in journalism about sleeping with sources, and it was harmful to journalism in general – this is how reporters actually go about their work, the indictment suggested. Trump supporters on Twitter were not shy about making that point.

The Watkins case appears to reveal a new tactic in the Trump administration’s war on journalism. In addition to the president describing journalists as an “enemy of the people” and “the most dishonest people,” his Justice Department is using indictments of alleged leakers to peddle incidental information that is legally beside the point but smears the standing and credibility of reporters who publish stories that criticize or annoy the White House (especially stories about Russian interference in the U.S. election system).

It’s a cunning enhancement of the Obama administration’s war on journalists. In one of its most important leak prosecutions, Barack Obama’s Justice Department tried to force then-New York Times reporter James Risen to disclose the identity of one of his sources. Risen, who now works for The Intercept, refused to cooperate and risked going to jail, a struggle that turned him into a widely lauded defender of press freedom. While the offensive against Risen included negative insinuations about the reliability of his work, the government was primarily focused on getting him to say whether former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was a source for his revelation of a botched covert operation against Iran. The Trump administration is dispensing with the tell-us-your-source goal, craftily focusing instead on using its leak indictments to disseminate information that it hopes will damage the reputations of bothersome reporters.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, was struck by the amount of information about Watkins in the Wolfe indictment. “Because of the questions of her personal conduct, [prosecutors] are able to plant the seed that her motives were not honorable, maybe they were to advance her career. None of this is relevant from a legal perspective. … [Prosecutors] don’t want the reporter to be portrayed as seeking truth and reporting it to the public. They want to characterize her as someone lacking in morality.”

If the purpose of the indictment was to undermine journalists in general, it succeeded admirably, with a large number of news organizations taking the bait, including the New York Times, which hired Watkins as a staff writer late last year. In response to the indictment, the Times has published several stories about Watkins’ relationship with Wolfe, including a triple-bylined 3,300-word article, titled “How an Affair Between a Reporter and a Security Aide Has Rattled Washington Media.” That story was three times longer than the Times’s famous investigation of its erroneous coverage of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post also published several articles about the case that focused largely on Watkins, as did many other publications.

While most of these articles noted that the case involved an unsalacious issue that was crucially important — the government secretly seizing records of a reporter’s communications — the invasion of privacy got far less attention. The Trump administration succeeded in getting the media to focus on the derogatory baubles that had been slipped into the indictment. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the inclusion of so many details about Watkins’ relationship with Wolfe had any purpose other than to shift attention onto her sex life and away from what the government did to get so much information about her. As the Washington Post accurately noted, the romance was “a twist that introduces questions about journalism ethics and could buttress Trump’s characterization of reporters as creatures of the Washington swamp who will do anything for scoops.”

This is not the first time the Trump administration used a leak indictment to make unflattering allegations about reporters. In the first leak prosecution of the Trump era, former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner was indicted under the Espionage Act for disclosing a classified document (Winner has pleaded guilty). A search warrant that was released with Winner’s indictment included details about the manner in which the news organization she allegedly leaked to had sent the NSA a copy of the document for verification. The warrant said the copy showed the original document had been folded, which suggested that the leaker had printed it out from a work computer.

The inclusion of this information did not appear to serve any legal purpose. Why was it there? What seems likely is that it was intended to suggest, misleadingly, that the news organization inadvertently provided the crucial clue that led the government to Winner. The news organization is widely reported to be The Intercept, which around the time of Winner’s arrest published a top-secret document on Russian hacking of U.S. election systems. While The Intercept has acknowledged that its document-handling practices were not as careful as they should have been, the government had an abundance of methods to track down Winner. Particularly since Edward Snowden leaked a large cache of NSA documents in 2013, government agencies have increased surveillance of their own workers, including monitoring their computers, printers, and work spaces, tracking the printing and viewing histories of certain documents, and even dropping decoy documents into their systems as bait for potential leakers. Winner would almost certainly have been found whether or not The Intercept sent the NSA that particular copy of the document.

The stakes in Trump’s war on journalism go far beyond the reputations of the journalists who have been targeted so far, or the fates of their sources. These attacks are an effort to diminish the overall flow of vital information to the public — they send a message to potential sources that they will be prosecuted, and they send a message to investigative journalists that they will be smeared. In fact, in a memo about one of his meetings with Trump, former FBI Director James Comey wrote that he reminded the president of “the value of putting a head on a pike as a message” to leakers and journalists to stop publishing sensitive information.

The problem with Trump’s war on journalists (and Comey’s encouragement of it), is that leaks are often the only way that the public learns of things that rightfully belong in the public realm — for instance, the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the truth of what the government knew was happening in the Vietnam War. Trump has denied or downplayed the role of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and his administration has kept a lid on disclosing what the government knows. The leaked document published by The Intercept made clear that the NSA had evidence Russia tried to hack the U.S. voting system; a Senate report and election officials acknowledged that media reports played a key role in alerting them to the threat, and the latest Russian indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller relies in part on information that was in the Winner document.

In its final year, the Obama administration appeared to pull back from some of the worst parts of its crackdown on journalists. The final leak prosecution of Obama’s presidency was against retired Gen. James Cartwright, who pleaded guilty to making false statements about providing classified information on Iran to David Sanger of the New York Times and Daniel Klaidman of Newsweek. (Obama pardoned Cartwright before sentencing.) The Justice Department’s two-page information filing in that case mentions Sanger and Klaidman once, saying nothing about their contacts with Cartwright — how often they talked, when, where, whether they went out for beers together, whether the reporters left any trails of phone calls or emails that helped the government figure out that Cartwright had leaked to them. There was no attempt to disparage Sanger or Klaidman.

The Wolfe indictment shows that the era of disparagement campaigns is back. The long-term consequences for Watkins are unclear. Earlier this month, the Times announced that she had been reassigned from Washington, D.C. to a new position in New York, where she would have the guidance of a mentor. Her reassignment was reported in a 950-word story that revealed that the paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, had written a memo to the staff about Watkins. The paper also published the 575-word memo.

 

Germans fear Donald Trump more than Vladimir Putin, poll finds

The United States may be Germany’s No. 1 ally, but two-thirds of Germans think that the US president is more dangerous than his Russian counterpart. That’s not surprising when you look at Germany’s political priorities.

July 15, 2018

by Jefferson Chase (Berlin)

DW

When asked which world leader was the greater threat to world security, 64 percent of respondents chose US President Donald Trump over his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. That’s according to a Yougov poll published on the eve of Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

And the German antipathy for Trump doesn’t end there: 56 percent thought that Putin was more competent than Trump, with only 5 percent preferring the former to the latter on that score. Thirty-six percent of Germans find Putin more likable than Trump, while 6 percent say the opposite – although most respondents refused to indicate a preference on that question.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, 44 percent said Putin was more powerful than Trump, compared with only 29 percent who thought the US president has more power.

German conservatives share the general public’s dislike of Trump. People who voted for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) also found Putin more likeable, competent and powerful than the US president by margins similar to respondents as a whole. In fact, conservative voters were slightly more likely (66 percent) to class Trump as the bigger threat than people overall in the poll.

German Foreign Minister: Remember who your friends are

In an interview with the “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had a warning for the US President.

“Dialogue requires clarity, and President Trump’s system of coordinates lacks clarity,” Maas said. “Anyone who snubs his partners risks being the big loser in the end. One-sided deals to the detrminent of America’s own partners ultimately hurt the US, too.”

But Maas also said the bilateral summit could make the world more peaceful.

“It would be a step forward if this meeting also produced some impulses for nuclear disarmament,” said Maas.

On the one hand, Germans fear that Trump and Putin’s alpha-male tendencies could collide, ratcheting up tensions between the world’s two greatest military powers. But on the other, they’re perhaps even more that Trump and Putin might be too much on the same page.

Two against the European Union?

In its lead story on Sunday, “Bild” wrote of Trump and Putin: “The world’s two most powerful men have one thing in common – they want to weaken Europe.”

That’s a widespread view around Germany, where many people fear that Trump’s occasional hostility to NATO, for instance, plays into Putin strategic aim of dividing the West and increasing Russia’s influence in the world.

“Donald Trump is meeting Valdimir Putin, the man whom he admires – and who has become an adversary of the West,” writes weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel” in its current lead article. “If the Helsinki summit turns out to be a love-fest between two like-minded men, it could shake Europe to its core.”

A major aspect of German worry is the belief that the businessman and former reality TV star Trump maybe in over his head with a political veteran like Putin.

“The US president is stumbling into a summit meeting with a former KGB officer who has kept himself in power for 18 years, suppressed the opposition, manipulated democratic elections and has no scruples about using violence,” “Spiegel” wrote. “Someone who knows exactly what he wants.”

A complete disconnect on priorities

German distrust of Trump’s motivations and leadership capabilities is making itself felt in how Germany sees the United States as a whole. In another YouGov poll published at the start of this month in which Germans were asked whether they had a generally positive or negative view of the US. Of those, 59 percent of respondents said they viewed America negatively compared with only 29 percent who chose positive.

Germans are comparatively prone to see Germany in a negative light. The negative-positive split in France was 51 to 36 percent, while more respondents in Britain viewed the US positively (48 percent) than negatively (39 percent) — although Trump’s visit this week to the UK may have moved those numbers.

The reasons for the German antipathy toward the US president run deeper than a visceral response to Trump’s abrasive leadership style. Germans simply have different priorities.

In a new poll carried out by the Emnid organization for the “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper, in which respondent were asked to rank which political issues they considered most important, “increasing defense spending” – a Trump priority – came in dead last with only 16 percent.

According to the poll, Germans are also not particularly concerned with a rise in migrants to Europe – only 38 percent said they would prioritize “limiting immigration.” What worries Germans most are becoming poor in their old age, maintaining equal educational opportunities for all and improving their health-care system.

 

Germans’ Views on Trump and Putin

Who is the biggest danger to world security?

Trump   64%

Putin     16%

Who is the more competent leader?

Trump   5%

Putin    56%

Source: yougovpoll, July 15, 2018

 

Trump’s Family Connections

The current American President is directly descended from the German Trumpf family. His ancestor in the direct line was Johannes Trump(f), a native of the village of Kallstadt.

The same Trumpf family also produced one Arnold Wilhelm August Trumpf.

Arnold Trumpf was Vorstand Reichsverband Deutscher Landwirtschaftlicher Genossenschaften-Raiffensene.V and Hauptabteilungsleiter III of the Reichsnahrstand,  Allegemeine SS since 1934.

Trumpf was a director of the Reichsbank.

SS background of Arnold Trumpf:

SS-Oberführer / Leutnant d.R. a.D.

Born: 27. Oct. 1892 in Gifhorn

Died: 7. January 1985 in Garmish-Partenkirchen

NSDAP-Nr.: 389 920 from 1, December 1930

SS-Nr.: 187 119

Promotions:

 SS-Oberfuhrer: 30. Jan. 1939

Career:

Bei dem RuS-Hauptamt: (9. Nov. 1944)

Decorations & Awards:

1914 Eisernes Kreuz II. Klasse

 Kriegsverdienstkreuz II. Klasse ohne Schwerter

 Verwundetenabzeichen, 1918 in Schwarz

 Ehrenkreuz fur Frontkampfer

 Ehrendegen des RF SS

 Totenkopfring der SS

The RuSHA was founded in 1931 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler

Among their duties were:

  • Kidnapping of foreign children suitable for Germanization
  • Population transfers
  • The persecution and liquidation of Jews

The RuSHA also employed Josef Mengele from November 1940 to early 1941, in Department II of its Family Office, where he was responsible for “care of genetic health” and “genetic health tests”

References

  • http://de.metapedia.org/wiki/Trumpf,_Arnold
  • Das Deutsche Führerlexikon, Otto Stollberg G.m.b.H., Berlin 1934
  • Dienstaltersliste der Schutzstaffel der NSDAP 9, November 1944

 

 

 

Immigrant children, parents reunited faster under new court order

July 14, 2018

by Kristina Cooke and Reade Levinson

Reuters

When Yolany Padilla was released from immigration custody in Seattle last week, she assumed she would be quickly reunited with her 6-year-old son, who had been taken from her at the U.S.-Mexico border two months earlier.

But caseworkers at Cayuga Centers in New York, where the boy had been placed, told her lawyer that the government’s vetting process for reunification would take time. Fingerprint collection and analysis alone could take 60 days, and there would also be background checks of all the adults with whom she and her son would stay. It would likely be weeks before her son could be returned to her.

“I didn’t want to believe that could be true,” said Padilla, who comes from Honduras and is seeking asylum in the United States. “It hurt so much to even think it could be 60 days.”

That estimate changed abruptly on Thursday night after a federal judge’s order that the government streamline some vetting procedures for reunifying parents and children. Padilla’s lawyer, Leta Sanchez, received a call from Cayuga Centers’ general counsel saying the case had been referred for expedited processing.

On Saturday, Padilla and her son, Jelsin, were reunited at the Seattle airport, where he was flown from New York. Padilla ran to her son as he entered the airport waiting area, dropping to her knees and embracing the small boy as he smiled broadly.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, imagine how I feel inside,” Padilla said, speaking through a translator at the airport after the reunion. “It was like my heart was going to come out of my body,”

Several immigration attorneys reached by Reuters said they had seen similar expedited reunions following a July 10 order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in a case brought against the government by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The judge had previously ordered the government to reunify by July 26 as many as 2,500 immigrant children it had separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. The separations were part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, though some of the separated families are also asylum seekers. That policy was abandoned in June in the wake of widespread protests.

On July 10, after examining how an initial wave of reunifications of young children had gone, Sabraw concluded that government vetting policies could be streamlined to speed the process.

Reunifications should not be delayed by “lengthy background checks,” the judge wrote, noting that such checks would not have been performed if the parents and children had never been separated.

Like Padilla, Yeni Gonzalez and Rosayra Pablo-Cruz were also beneficiaries of that order, their attorney believes.

FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

New York attorney Jose Orochena received an email on Thursday evening saying his clients’ children, who ranged in age from 5 to 15, had been cleared for release and reunification. The next day it was confirmed that Gonzalez and Pablo-Cruz, both Guatemalan asylum seekers, could take their children home that day.

Orochena had been told by case workers at Cayuga just a few days earlier that his clients would have to undergo thorough background checks that included income verification and home studies, and that the process would take up to 60 days.

“It went from one extreme,” he said, in which the government required extensive and time-consuming vetting, to “just show me a birth certificate that she’s mom. We’ll take her word for it. We’ll let her go home with her kids.”

Health and Human Services official Chris Meekins said in a court filing on Friday that the government had modified its vetting procedures to comply with the July 10 court order, but he warned that the more rapid process “materially increases the risk of harm to children” and could result in children being placed in abusive environments or with adults who are not their parents.

Judge Sabraw disputed that assertion in a sternly worded order late Friday night, saying streamlined measures did not need to jeopardize child safety. He said parentage should still be verified and accused the government of “attempting to provide cover … for their own conduct in the practice of family separation, and the lack of foresight and infrastructure necessary to remedy the harms caused by that practice.”

REUNION IN NEW YORK

On Friday, Pablo-Cruz emerged from a New York shelter beaming and holding hands with her two sons, ages 15 and 5, after two months apart from them.

During their separation, her lawyer said, 15-year-old Jordy and his mother had agreed to tell the younger Fernando that his mother was away from them because of work, thinking he would find that less alarming. When the family was reunited, Orochena said, Jordy engulfed his mother and sobbed for what “seemed like years.”

On Saturday after learning that 6-year-old Jelsin Padilla had boarded his plane to Seattle and would arrive midday, his mother’s attorney was pleased but cautious.

“This is a happy ending,” said Sanchez, “but we need to keep remembering there are so many parents out there that are still separated from their children.”

Additional reporting by Tea Kvetenadze; editing by Sue Horton and and Jonathan Oatis

 

American Jews slam Israel’s ‘racist’ nation-state bill as thousands protest against it in Tel Aviv

July 14, 2018

RT

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Israeli capital in protest against the so-called nation-state bill, which, they say, would enable ethnic segregation. The controversial bill also drew criticism from US Jews.

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Tel Aviv chanting: “Full equality and no less,” “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and “The nation bill is a disaster,” according to witnesses.

“The Nation-State Law would turn racism, discrimination, and segregation into an inescapable part of our lives. More than that – racism and discrimination are becoming desired and central in the State of Israel. The Nation-State Law will bring exclusion and damage to minorities to terrifying levels we have never seen before. Our stance is clear: all citizens –all– are equal,” the organizers of the rally stated, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

Between 2,500 and 7,000 people took part in the rally, according to various Israeli media reports. The demonstration was organized by a wide range of NGOs, rights groups and at least four Israeli political parties. The march was reportedly led by some members of the Knesset – the Israeli parliament.

The bill in question, which is currently being debated in the Knesset and is expected to come to a final vote on Monday, declares Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Opponents of the controversial legislation say it would prioritize Jewish values over democratic ones and effectively endanger the rights of Israeli Arab citizens as well as even secular Israelis.

One of the most controversial clauses of the new bill envisages the establishment of settlements or communities that are segregated by religion or nationality. “The state may allow a community, including members of one religion or of one nationality, to maintain a separate communal settlement,” the provision says, according to the Jerusalem Post. This particular clause even drew criticism from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, however, actively supports the legislation.

The law of division and discrimination that this government is promoting – which they call the Nation-State Bill – will leave a great many of us out; out of towns with “admission committees; out of fair treatment in the courts; out of citizenship; out of democracy. To this, we will not agree,” the groups participating in the rally said in a statement.

The controversial bill also drew criticism from abroad, particularly from US Jews: 14 American Jewish organizations expressed their concerns over the legislation to the incoming Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who is also the opposition leader in the Knesset.

Some of these groups, such as the New Israel Fund, also took part in Saturday’s rally. “This is tribalism at its worst,” the New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch told Haaretz. “Beginning with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Jewish value of human dignity and the principle of the equality of all people have formed the democratic foundation of the state. This law is completely incompatible with those values,” he added.

Meanwhile, if adopted, the nation-state law would acquire the status of a “basic” law, which gives it a power equal to the constitution (even though Israel does not have a written one). “If racism, sexism, and religious fundamentalism are to be protected in Israel’s basic laws, it should be no surprise when the country embodies those values. This bill and the government that supported it are a danger to Israel’s future,” Sokatch, who even wrote a piece on the issue for the San Diego Jewish World media outlet, warned.

Others were seemingly also concerned over Israel’s international reputation. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, particularly warned that adoption of the bill would “make Israel an open target on the world stage for all those who seek to deny the Jewish people our right to a homeland.”A

The news comes just days after the Irish Senate, the upper house of parliament, supported a bill that makes it illegal to import goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements built on the Occupied Territories in the West Bank. The move prompted the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to call for Israel’s embassy in Ireland to be closed “immediately.”

 

New York health officials say recreational marijuana should be LEGAL: Report says the drug does more good than harm (and could earn the state $700 MILLION in taxes)

  • Andrew Cuomo commissioned a health report in January to look at the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York
  • New York’s neighbors Massachusetts, Vermont, Canada and New Jersey have either legalized or are considering it
  • Cuomo’s challenger for governorship, Cynthia Nixon, is pro-legalization
  • The health report found the drug does induce laziness, could damage the lungs and may exacerbate certain mental illnesses, but that the benefits outweigh the harms
  • They said legalization would likely have no impact on the rate of people who use the drug in New York (currently around 10% of the state population)

July 13, 2018

by Mia De Graaf, Health Editor

Daily Mail/UK

New York’s Department of Health has endorsed legalizing recreational use of marijuana in a highly-anticipated report about the drug’s harms and benefits.

The report, published on Friday morning, finds that ‘positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts’.

Currently, marijuana is only permitted for medical use in New York – though New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered police to stop arresting people for smoking it, and to issue a warning instead.

A move to legalize the drug state-wide would add weight to the cannabis industry’s bid to operate freely nationwide – and would be something of a jackpot for New York.

The underground marijuana market of New York is one of the most lucrative of any state in America, racking up as much as $3.5 billion from the 300 tons of weed sold each year. Were the state to legalize,that could translate into $677.7 million in taxes from the 10 percent of residents who already use it illegally – and likely some more.

After the report’s release, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who commissioned it in January, announced that he would be pulling together a committee to work out who recreational legalization could work.

Beyond the tax incentive, Cuomo faces political pressure: his challenger for the governship, Cynthia Nixon, has won legions of fans for her support of legal marijuana.

Meanwhile, New York’s neighbor Massachusetts is about to open retail stores almost two years after voting to legalize recreational use of the drug. New Jersey is also mulling legalization.

‘Those are our two border states,’ Cuomo said on Friday, according to the New York Daily News.

‘You have more control and there’s a possibility for revenue when you regulate it and in this context, where you have New Jersey and Massachusetts legalizing it, it’s not really an option of preventing it because you can go over a bridge and over a border.’

The 74-page report sought to weigh up the scientific research on marijuana – no easy task given the restrictions on testing cannabis in a lab setting, which means legalization is moving far faster than science.

What they could find, according to the report, is that legalization would not significantly increase the rate of marijuana use among adults and teenagers, but it would lower the amount of petty crimes charges which needlessly consume police time.

It did find that marijuana is damaging to the lungs, makes users lazy, and can exacerbate mental illnesses, but that the benefits outweighed those harms.

There should be some restrictions, they said.

‘It is imperative that a regulated marijuana program contain all necessary safeguards and measures to limit access for individuals under 21, minimize impaired driving, provide education and tailored messaging to different populations, and connect people to treatment if needed,’ the report said.

 

EU, China seek closer ties as US turns against trade   

At a time of heightened uncertainty in the global economic environment, leaders of Europe and China are meeting to ponder ways to counter the fallout from US President Trump’s “America First” policies.

July 15, 2018

by Srinivas Mazumdaru

DW

US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the international trading system, by imposing tariffs and engaging in virulent anti-trade rhetoric, have left America’s commercial partners worldwide scrambling for an appropriate response.

Leaders of the European Union and China, the US’ most significant trade partners, are meeting in Beijing on Monday, July 16, for their annual EU-China summit where global and bilateral trade and investment relations top the agenda.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker are representing the EU side. They will hold talks with senior Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, on a raft of global economic and security challenges, including the Iran nuclear deal, the situation in Syria and climate change, among other issues.

Given the current escalation in trade tensions by the imposition of tit-for-tat tariffs, both sides are expected to express their support for a rules-based international trading system, governed under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

United against tariffs

Trump’s slapping of tariffs on steel and aluminum as well as threats of new duties on the automotive industry, have unnerved Washington’s trade partners throughout Europe, particularly Germany.

Likewise, China has been in the crosshairs of Trump’s tariff threats for months. The US administration recently imposed 25 percent tariffs on 818 Chinese goods, worth approximately $34 billion (€29.1 billion), which came into force early this month. A second tranche of $16 billion in products is under review and could soon be added to the US measures.

The decisions prompted an immediate response from Beijing, with authorities there announcing they would hit back dollar for dollar.

Following Beijing’s retaliation, Trump threatened to impose 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. China has since accused the US of expanding the scope of the trade conflict and stressed that it would not back down from a trade fight.

Against this backdrop, some say Beijing hopes to join forces with Brussels to present a unified front against Washington’s unilateral “America First” policies. Together, they would have significant economic clout, as China and the EU account for more than a third of global economic output and almost half of global trade.

Major disagreements

Despite the two sides finding themselves on the same page with regard to tariffs, observers say it’s unlikely that Brussels and Beijing will form an alliance against Washington. The summit this time is merely expected to produce a modest communique, affirming support for a multilateral trading system, but nothing more.

That’s because the EU and China have significant disagreements when it comes to issues like market access and intellectual property rights.

A recent survey conducted by the EU Chamber of Commerce in China concluded that China is “one of the most restrictive economies in the world.”

European and American companies operating in the Asian giant have long complained that they face an array of regulatory issues, hindering a level-playing field on the Chinese market and their ability to freely do business there.

“Regulatory issues range from ambiguous rules to discretionary enforcement of policy to specific problems like access to licenses and financing or equal access to public procurement bids,” Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told DW.

“All of these challenges are especially acute for small and medium-sized enterprises, as they lack the resources and manpower to navigate these problems as easily as their larger counterparts,” he added.

Another bone of contention is intellectual property, with the Chinese government accused of strong-arming foreign companies into sharing and disclosing their technologies by, for instance, entering into partnerships with local companies.

Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, an ambitious plan to close the Asian giant’s technology gap with the West, is also viewed as exploitative by many in the EU. The initiative seeks to turn China from being the world’s factory into a global technology leader, including in biotech, robotics, aerospace and clean-energy cars.

European officials and business executives routinely express their concerns and dissatisfaction with Beijing’s moves to lay its hands on new technologies.

Apart from trade and market access, the two sides have recently clashed over the Eurasian connectivity vision of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure project that aims to bolster China’s trade and investment links with economies in Asia, Africa and Europe.

‘Complaints completely normal’

Furthermore, some in Brussels view Beijing’s strengthening ties to Central and Eastern European countries with suspicion, concerned that China’s growing leverage over these countries could pose a threat to EU unity, norms and values.

“Europeans have certain concerns when it comes to their economic ties with China. Beijing’s economic power and competition from China are growing. In this context, as populism in Europe rises, so do concerns about China,” Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told DW. “Europe and China are the world’s largest and third-largest economies. So dissatisfaction with and complaints about their policies and practices are completely normal,” the expert added.

The two sides have their respective demands, he underlined, pointing out that China believes it should receive Market Economy Status (MES), which would allow it to enjoy the same market status as the EU and the US when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the WTO.

“I hope that China and the EU can make concrete progress in the area of economic cooperation, for example by pressing ahead with negotiations for a comprehensive investment agreement,” Chun said. “Such an agreement benefits both sides, even the whole world. That would be a contribution to the fight against protectionism.”

Beijing and Brussels are in the process of negotiating a bilateral investment treaty, which is intended to provide more legal protection and market access for investors on both sides. During the last high-level dialogue in late June, both sides agreed to inject “political impetus” to speed up the process.

“The European Chamber is looking forward to seeing a well-negotiated agreement that addresses market concerns in all sectors and creates a more transparent and stable regulatory business environment,” said Harborn.

“The ball is in China’s court and it is imperative that the government show that it is moving towards a decisive stage of negotiations before the end of 2018. Doing so would send a clear signal that China is ready to deliver on its promises on market opening. If there are continued delays, however, it will have negative effects on both China and the EU.”

Additional reporting by Haiye Cao.

 

An economic disaster approaching

July 15, 2018

by Christian Jürs

Although only bankers are aware of it, there is a second wave of economic disaster starting to build up that will make the earlier one pale into insignificance. Let us start out with MERS, shall we?

MERS = Mortgage Electronic Registration Inc.holds approximately 60 million American mortgages and is a Delaware corporation whose sole shareholder is Mers Corp. MersCorp and its specified members have agreed to include the MERS corporate name on any mortgage that was executed in conjunction with any mortgage loan made by any member of MersCorp. Thus in place of the original lender being named as the mortgagee on the mortgage that is supposed to secure their loan, MERS is named as the “nominee” for the lender who actually loaned the money to the borrower. In other words MERS is really nothing more than a name that is used on the mortgage instrument in place of the actual lender. MERS’ primary function, therefore, is to act as a document custodian. MERS was created solely to simplify the process of transferring mortgages by avoiding the need to re-record liens – and pay county recorder filing fees – each time a loan is assigned. Instead, servicers record loans only once and MERS’ electronic system monitors transfers and facilitates the trading of notes. It has very conservatively estimated that as of February, 2010, over half of all new residential mortgage loans in the United States are registered with MERS and recorded in county recording offices in MERS’ name

MersCorp was the created in the early 1990’s by the former C.E.O.’s of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Indy Mac, Countrywide, Stewart Title Insurance and the American Land Title Association. The executives of these companies lined their pockets with billions of dollars of unearned bonuses and free stock by creating so-called mortgage backed securities using bogus mortgage loans to unqualified borrowers thereby creating a huge false demand for residential homes and thereby falsely inflating the value of those homes. MERS marketing claims that its “paperless systems fit within the legal framework of the laws of all fifty states” are now being vetted by courts and legal commentators throughout the country.

The MERS paperless system is the type of crooked rip-off scheme that is has been seen for generations past in the crooked financial world. In this present case, MERS was created in the boardrooms of the most powerful and controlling members of the American financial institutions. This gigantic scheme completely ignored long standing law of commerce relating to mortgage lending and did so for its own personal gain. That the inevitable collapse of the crooked mortgage swindles would lead to terrible national repercussions was a matter of little or no interest to the upper levels of America’s banking and financial world because the only interest of these entities was to grab the money of suckers, keep it in the form of fictitious bonuses, real estate and very large accounts in foreign banks.. The effect of this system has led to catastrophic meltdown on both the American and global economy.

MERS, it has clearly been proven in many civil cases, does not hold any promissory notes of any kind.. A party must have possession of a promissory note in order to have standing to enforce and/or otherwise collect a debt that is owed to another party. Given this clear-cut legal definition,  MERS does not have legal standing to enforce or collect on the over 60 million mortgages it controls and no member of MERS has any standing in an American civil court.

MERS has been taken to civil courts across the country and charged with a lack of standing in repossession issues. When the mortgage debacle initially, and inevitably, began, MERS always rotinely brought actions against defaulting mortgage holders purporting to represent the owners of the defaulted mortgages but once the courts discovered that MERS was only a front organization that did not hold any deed nor was aware of who or what agencies might hold a deed, they have been routinely been denied in their attempts to force foreclosure.  In the past, persons alleging they were officials of MERS in foreclosure motions, purported to be the holders of the mortgage, when, in fact, they nor only were not the holder of the mortgage but, under a court order, could not produce the identity of the actual holder. These so-called MERS officers have usually been just employees of entities who are servicing the loan for the actual lender. MERS, it is now widely acknowledged by the courty, has no legal right to foreclose or otherwise collect debt which are evidenced by promissory notes held by someone else.

The American media routinely identifies MERS as a mortgage lender, creditor, and mortgage company, when in point of fact MERS has never loaned so much as a dollar to anyone, is not a creditor and is not a mortgage company. MERS is merely a name that is printed on mortgages, purporting to give MERS some sort of legal status, in the matter of a loan made by a completely different and almost always,a totally unknown entity.

The infamous collapse of the American housing bubble originated, in the main, with one Angelo Mozilo, CEO of the later failed Countrywide Mortgage.

Mozilo started working in his father’s butcher shop, in the Bronx, when he was ten years old. He graduated from Fordham in 1960, and that year he met David Loeb.. In 1968, Mozilo and Loeb created a new mortgage company, Countrywide, together. Mozilo believed the company should make special efforts to lower the barrier for minorities and others who had been excluded from homeownership. Loeb died in 2003

In 1996, Countrywide created a new subsidiary for subprime loans.

The standard Countrywide procedure was to openly solicit persons who either had no credit or could not obtain it, and, by the use of false credit reports drawn up in their offices, arrange mortgages. The new home owners were barely able to meet the minimum interest only payments and when, as always happens, the mortgage payments are increased to far, far more than could be paid, defaults and repossessions were inevitable. Countrywide sold these mortgages to lower-tier banks which in turn, put them together in packages and sold them to the large American banks. These so-called “bundled mortgages” were quickly sold these major banking houses to many foreign investors with the comments that when the payments increased, so also would the income from the original mortgage. In 1996, Countrywide created a new subsidiary for subprime loans..

At one point in time, Countrywide Financial Corporation was regarded with awe in the business world. In 2003, Fortune observed that Countrywide was expected to write $400 billion in home loans and earn $1.9 billion. Countrywide’s chairman and C.E.O., Angelo Mozilo, did rather well himself. In 2003, he received nearly $33 million in compensation. By that same year, Wall Street had become addicted to home loans, which bankers used to create immensely lucrative mortgage-backed securities and, later, collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.s—and Countrywide was their biggest supplier. Under Mozilo’s leadership, Countrywide’s growth had been astonishing.

He was aiming to achieve a market share—thirty to forty per cent—that was far greater than anyone in the financial-services industry had ever attained. For several years, Countrywide continued to thrive. Then, inevitably, in 2007, subprime defaults began to rocket upwards,forcing the top American bankers to abandoned the mortgage-backed securities they had previously prized. It was obvious to them that the fraudulent mortgages engendered by Countrywide had been highly suceessful as a marketinig program but it was obvious to eveyone concerned, at all levels, that the mortgages based entirely on false and misleading credit information were bound to eventually default. In August of 2007, the top American bankers cut off

Countrywide’s short-term funding, which seriously hindered its ability to operate, and in just a few months following this abandonment, Mozilo was forced to choose between bankruptcy orselling out to the best bidder.. In January, 2008, Bank of America announced that it would buy the company for a fraction of what Countrywide was worth at its peak. Mozilo was subsequently named a defendant in more than a hundred civil lawsuits and a target of a criminal investigation. On June 4th, 2007 the S.E.C., in a civil suit, charged Mozilo, David Sambol, and Eric Sieracki with securities fraud; Mozilo was also charged with insider trading. The complaint formalized a public indictment of Mozilo as an icon of corporate malfeasance and greed.

In essence, not only bad credit risks were used to create and sell mortgages on American homes that were essentially worthless. By grouping all of these together and selling them abroad, the banks all made huge profits. When the kissing had to stop, there were two major groups holding the financial bag. The first were the investors and the second were, not those with weak credit, but those who had excellent credit and who were able, and willing to pay off their mortgages.

Unfortunately, as no one knows who owns the title to any home, when the legitimate mortgage holder finally pays off his mortgage, or tries to sell his house, a clear title to said house or property cannot ever be found so, in essence, the innocent mortgage payer can never own or sell his house. This is a terrible economic time bomb quietly ticking away under the feet of the Bank of America and if, and when, it explodes, another bank is but a fond memory.

 

Instagram users mistakenly believe new question feature is anonymous

People thought they could make unkind comments with recourse before discovering users could see who was asking what

July 15, 2018

by Sam Wolfson

The Guardian

Instagram’s constant kamikaze launch of new features, in which they desperately try to hold on to their sizeable but fickle user-base by throwing new story modes and face filters at them, installed an interesting new question and answer function this week.

The feature is similar to sites like Ask.fm and the now-defunct Formspring, where users could ask anonymous questions of each other, with the answers made public. Some people used these sites to secretly tell someone they had a crush on them, or ask something they’d be too frightened to say in public, but they also became hotbeds of high school bullying and were blamed for a spate of suicides.

The big difference with Instagram’s version of the feature, is that the questions aren’t anonymous, you can see which of your followers asked it – although this isn’t made explicit. In fact Instagram confuses users by telling them that if their question is shared, their username won’t be displayed.

It’s true that if the person you’re sending a question to decides to share your question publicly, your username is removed. However, what is not made clear is that the recipient is still able to see your username.

This has led to quite a few people mistakenly believing that they are asking questions anonymously. Twitter was awash with disaster stories from people who thought they could get away with incognito behaviour:

Fortunately for users worried about falling into a similar trap, the question feature is customisable. So while most people are using it for the default “Ask me a question” at the moment, in the future it could be used for less dangerous requests like “Where’s a good place to go for a beer in Chicago?”, “Can anyone recommend a plumber?” or “Does anyone know how to delete Instagram after I accidentally told all my friends their babies were ugly?”

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