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TBR News June 3, 2018

Jun 03 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 3, 2018:” An excerpt from ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Swift. Always look for the truth in the jest…

‘My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them.

I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions.

It does not appear, from all you have said, how any one perfection is required toward the procurement of any one station among you; much less, that men are ennobled on account of their virtue; that priests are advanced for their piety or learning; soldiers, for their conduct or valour; judges, for their integrity; senators, for the love of their country; or counsellors for their wisdom.

As for yourself,’ continued the king, ‘who have spent the greatest part of your life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country.

But by what I have gathered from your own relation, and the answers I have with much pains wrung and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.’”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but a CEO
  • Trump’s Lawyers, in Confidential Memo, Argue to Head Off a Historic Subpoena
  • German lawmakers cite NSA and Facebook scandals in rejecting US drone tech
  • Trump thinks he’s saving trade. The rest of the world thinks he’s blowing it up.
  • With Trump tensions high, Merkel reaches out to Macron on Europe
  • World saw ‘worst year ever’ for data breaches & cyberattacks in 2017 — report
  • Fool’s Gold
  • Blessed Prozac Moments:The Real Truth About the Kennedy Assassination
  • Thoughts on the Saudi-Israeli Connection
  • New Film “Discreet Airlift” Documents the Struggle to Hold U.S. Officials Accountable for Torture

 

 Donald Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but a CEO

From North Korea to Kim Kardashian, the US president has dispensed with the ‘adults in the room’ and is going it alone

June 3, 2018

by David Smith in Washington

The Guardian

Such a photograph would, it is fair to assume, have been beyond the most delirious, hallucinatory imaginings of a tropical fever patient five years ago. Donald Trump sits at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office with hands folded and a broad grin. To his right, dressed in black, stands an unsmiling Kim Kardashian West, a reality TV superstar catapulted to fame a decade ago by a sex tape.

“‘I broke the Internet.’ ‘I broke the country!’” parodied Comedy Central’s the Daily Show in response. The journalist Tom Gara of BuzzFeed News tweeted: “It’s amazing that the most powerful person in the world is just taking casual meetings with Trump like this.” And as preparations continue for talks with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the NBC correspondent Peter Alexander posted: “The other Kim summit.”

Trump himself tweeted simply that it was a “great meeting” at which they “talked about prison reform and sentencing”, glazing over Kardashian’s somewhat dubious qualifications as a White House policy guru. But then, the 45th US president appears to have dispensed with expertise or a trusted inner circle. The doors of his Oval Office have been thrown open to the national security adviser one minute, a famous face from Keeping Up with the Kardashians the next.

As Trump approaches 500 days in office, unleashing a daily barrage of remarks, tweets, insults, pardons and threats, teeing up a global trade war and chasing an on-off-on meeting with Kim, the restraints are off and the fabled “adults in the room” appear scarcer than ever. It is, critics say, not so much a team of rivals as a team of one. Donald Trump.

Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said: “I think we’ve got a fuller picture of it now. He’s not a president who thinks he needs anybody. This is the ‘I’ presidency. You hear it in every speech and see it in every tweet: it’s always about himself. As in all things, his presidency will rise and fall on his own efforts.”

Once it was thought that rival White House factions would compete to shape the Trump presidency. But talk of a fight to the death between the “globalist-Goldman Sachs” wing and the “populist-nationalist” wing has faded into the background noise of individual egos. It’s now a war of all against all, multiple media reports suggest. A feud between the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and the trade adviser Peter Navarro, for example, is said to have erupted in a shouting match last month on the sidelines of trade talks in China.

According to the Axios website, Kelly Sadler, who had made a derogatory comment about the ailing senator John McCain, told Trump in front of colleagues that she thought her boss, Mercedes Schlapp, was one of the worst leakers in the White House. Schlapp “pushed back aggressively” and defended herself as the president looked on, Axios said.

Steele commented: “He gets almost a sadistic pleasure watching his staff form up camps, go after each other, tear each other down. What he did not expect from his business background was the leaks. There was one agenda at Trump Tower; there is not one agenda at the White House. What he’s learned is that people come into it with their own agenda. But by and large he gets his kicks from watching the staff behave like children on a playground.”

The list of departures is long and includes his communications director Hope Hicks, likened to a surrogate daughter, and his chief strategist Steve Bannon, likened to Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Neither has been replaced. “He’s his own communications director; that job is still vacant,” Steele added. “He’s his own chief strategist: he goes by his gut. He’s his own policy person: again he goes by his gut.”

In the past week alone, that gut instinct has led Trump to: slap hefty steel and aluminum tariffs on allies Canada, the European Union and Mexico, risking a global trade war; abruptly reinstate the Kim summit in Singapore on 12 June while saying, “I don’t want to use the term ‘maximum pressure’ any more”; accuse the New York Times of making up a source when in fact it was quoting a White House official who briefed numerous reporters; make 35 claims that were untrue at a rally in Nashville, according to a Washington Post count; declare that he wished he chose someone other than Jeff Sessions as attorney general; insist that he did not fire the FBI director James Comey over the Russia investigation, despite having admitted doing so in a TV interview, and continue to push his baseless “spygate” theory; and react to comedian Roseanne Barr’s racist joke with self-pity rather than condemnation.

Then there was the curious episode of a presidential pardon for the conservative author and film-maker Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating federal campaign finance laws (and who once referred to Barack Obama as a “boy” from the “ghetto” ). The president also ruminated about pardons for the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and the TV personality Martha Stewart, both of whom had links to his show The Apprentice. It was widely speculated that he is sending a signal to aides questioned by the special Counsel Robert Mueller: stay loyal and all will be forgiven.

Typically a chief of staff would be expected to intervene and save a president from himself. John Kelly, who succeeded Reince Priebus in the job, never had much control over Trump’s Twitter finger and is now seen as a diminished force who no longer has the president’s ear. Even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, seems a bit-part player these days.

By contrast, the newest faces in the West Wing have a reputation for reaffirming Trump and making him feel good about himself. His national security adviser, John Bolton, economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani seem to indulge rather than check their boss’s impulses.

Bob Shrum, a 74-year-old Democratic strategist, said: “This is the first president in my memory, including Richard Nixon, who only listens to people who agree with him. I think it’s gotten worse. If there’s any change, it’s in the direction of impulsive, unilateral, unconsidered decision making.”Giuliani, a septuagenarian, thrice married New Yorker prone to incoherent interviews, and who has been working overtime to discredit Mueller, seems a natural fit. He and Trump are, the satirist John Oliver observed, “basically two versions of the same person.”

Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer, said: “Trump is a salesman and now he has a deputy salesman. He doesn’t regard Giuliani as a rival; Giuliani is there specifically because he can get headlines and attention. Now Trump has two distraction machines: two spinning tops are much better than one. It doesn’t matter if they contradict themselves because they get two headlines.”

Trump’s management style is familiar from his decades as a chief executive in the cut-throat Manhattan property world, Blair added. “It’s what he always did: he’s the hub of the wheel and everyone else is a spoke. He sets everyone against each other and without overlapping duties so their only loyalty is to him. It’s constant upheaval: first someone is up, then they’re in the doghouse. He loves them and then he fires them. It’s what he’s done his whole career.”

She observed: “If you’re named Trump, you’re probably pretty safe, although there have been a couple of wives thrown under the bus.”

 

Trump’s Lawyers, in Confidential Memo, Argue to Head Off a Historic Subpoena

June 2, 2018

by Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s lawyers have for months quietly waged a campaign to keep the special counsel from trying to force him to answer questions in the investigation into whether he obstructed justice, asserting that he cannot be compelled to testify and arguing in a confidential letter that he could not possibly have committed obstruction because he has unfettered authority over all federal investigations.

In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter — sent to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and obtained by The New York Times — contends that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, “if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers fear that if he answers questions, either voluntarily or in front of a grand jury, he risks exposing himself to accusations of lying to investigators, a potential crime or impeachable offense.

Mr. Trump’s broad interpretation of executive authority is novel and is likely to be tested if a court battle ensues over whether he could be ordered to answer questions. It is unclear how that fight, should the case reach that point, would play out. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

“We don’t know what the law is on the intersection between the obstruction statutes and the president exercising his constitutional power to supervise an investigation in the Justice Department,” said Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who oversaw the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration. “It’s an open question.”

Hand-delivered to the special counsel’s office in January and written by two of the president’s lawyers at the time, John M. Dowd and Jay A. Sekulow, the letter offers a rare glimpse into one side of the high-stakes negotiations over a presidential interview.

Though it is written as a defense of the president, the letter recalls the tangled drama of early 2017 as the new administration dealt with the Russia investigation. It also serves as a reminder that in weighing an obstruction case, Mr. Mueller is reviewing actions and conversations involving senior White House officials, including the president, the vice president and the White House counsel.

The letter also lays out a series of claims that foreshadow a potential subpoena fight that could unfold in the months leading into November’s midterm elections.

“We are reminded of our duty to protect the president and his office,” the lawyers wrote, making their case that Mr. Mueller has the information he needs from tens of thousands of pages of documents they provided and testimony by other witnesses, obviating the necessity for a presidential interview.

Mr. Mueller has told the president’s lawyers that he needs to talk to their client to determine whether he had criminal intent to obstruct the investigation into his associates’ possible links to Russia’s election interference. If Mr. Trump refuses to be questioned, Mr. Mueller will have to weigh their arguments while deciding whether to press ahead with a historic grand jury subpoena.

Mr. Mueller had raised the prospect of subpoenaing Mr. Trump to Mr. Dowd in March. Emmet T. Flood, the White House lawyer for the special counsel investigation, is preparing for that possibility, according to the president’s lead lawyer in the case, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The attempt to dissuade Mr. Mueller from seeking a grand jury subpoena is one of two fronts on which Mr. Trump’s lawyers are fighting. In recent weeks, they have also begun a public-relations campaign to discredit the investigation and in part to pre-empt a potentially damaging special counsel report that could prompt impeachment proceedings.

Mr. Trump complained on Twitter on Saturday before this article was published that the disclosure of the letter was a damaging leak to the news media and asked whether the “expensive Witch Hunt Hoax” would ever end.

Mr. Trump and his lawyers have also attacked the credibility of a key witness in the inquiry, the fired F.B.I. director James B. Comey; complained about what they see as investigative failures; and contested the interpretation of significant facts.

Mr. Giuliani said in an interview that Mr. Trump is telling the truth but that investigators “have a false version of it, we believe, so you’re trapped.” And the stakes are too high to risk being interviewed under those circumstances, he added: “That becomes not just a prosecutable offense, but an impeachable offense.”

Mr. Trump’s defense is a wide-ranging interpretation of presidential power. In saying he has the authority to end a law enforcement inquiry or pardon people, his lawyers ambiguously left open the possibility that they were referring only to the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, which he is accused of pressuring the F.B.I. to drop — or perhaps the one Mr. Mueller is pursuing into Mr. Trump himself as well.

Mr. Dowd and Mr. Sekulow outlined 16 areas they said the special counsel was scrutinizing as part of the obstruction investigation, including the firings of Mr. Comey and of Mr. Flynn, and the president’s reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation.

Over the past year, the president’s lawyers have mostly cooperated with the inquiry in an effort to end it more quickly. Mr. Trump’s lawyers say he deserves credit for that willingness, citing his waiver of executive privilege to allow some of his advisers to speak with Mr. Mueller.

“We cannot emphasize enough that regardless of the fact that the executive privilege clearly applies to his senior staff, in the interest of complete transparency, the president has allowed — in fact, has directed — the voluntary production of clearly protected documents,” his lawyers wrote.

Presidents frequently assert executive privilege, their right to refuse demands for information about internal executive branch dealings, but its limits are murky and mostly untested.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers are gambling that Mr. Mueller may not want to risk an attempt to forge new legal ground by bringing a grand jury subpoena against a sitting president into a criminal proceeding.

“Ensuring that the office remains sacred and above the fray of shifting political winds and gamesmanship is of critical importance,” they wrote.

They argued that the president holds a special position in the government and is busy running the country, making it difficult for him to prepare and sit for an interview. They said that because of those demands on Mr. Trump’s time, the special counsel’s office should have to clear a higher bar to get him to talk. Mr. Mueller, the president’s attorneys argued, needs to prove that the president is the only person who can give him the information he seeks and that he has exhausted all other avenues for getting it.

“The president’s prime function as the chief executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview,” they wrote. “Having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world.”

They also contended that nothing Mr. Trump did violated obstruction-of-justice statutes, making both a technical parsing of what one such law covers and a broad constitutional argument that Congress cannot infringe on how he exercises his power to supervise the executive branch. Because of the authority the Constitution gives him, it is impossible for him to obstruct justice by shutting down a case or firing a subordinate, no matter his motivation, they said.

“Every action that the president took was taken with full constitutional authority pursuant to Article II of the United States Constitution,” they wrote of the part of the Constitution that created the executive branch. “As such, these actions cannot constitute obstruction, whether viewed separately or even as a totality.”

That constitutional claim raises novel issues, according to legal experts. Under the Constitution, the president wields broad authority to control the actions of the executive branch. But the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can impose some restrictions on his exercise of that power, including by upholding statutes that limit his ability to fire certain officials. As a result, it is not clear whether statutes criminalizing obstruction of justice apply to the president and amount to another legal limit on how he may wield his powers.

The letter does not stress legal opinions by the Justice Department in the Nixon and Clinton administrations that held that a sitting president cannot be indicted, in part because it would impede his ability to carry out his constitutional responsibilities. But in recent weeks, Mr. Giuliani has pointed to those memos as part of a broader argument that, by extension, Mr. Trump also cannot be subpoenaed.

Subpoenas of the president are all but unheard-of. President Bill Clinton was ordered to testify before a grand jury in 1998 after requests for a voluntary appearance made by the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, went nowhere.To avoid the indignity of being marched into the courthouse, Mr. Clinton had his lawyers negotiate a deal in which the president agreed to provide testimony as long as it was taken at the White House and limited to four hours. Mr. Starr then withdrew the subpoena, avoiding a definitive court fight.

In making their arguments, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also revealed new details about the investigation. They took on Mr. Comey’s account of Mr. Trump asking him privately to end the investigation into Mr. Flynn. Investigators are examining that request as possible obstruction.

But Mr. Trump could not have intentionally impeded the F.B.I.’s investigation, the lawyers wrote, because he did not know Mr. Flynn was under investigation when he spoke to Mr. Comey. Mr. Flynn, they said, twice told senior White House officials in the days before he was fired in February 2017 that he was not under F.B.I. scrutiny.

“There could not possibly have been intent to obstruct an ‘investigation’ that had been neither confirmed nor denied to White House counsel,” the president’s lawyers wrote.

Moreover, F.B.I. investigations do not qualify as the sort of “proceeding” an obstruction-of-justice statute covers, they argued.

“Of course, the president of the United States is not above the law, but just as obvious and equally as true is the fact that the president should not be subjected to strained readings and forced applications of clearly irrelevant statutes,” Mr. Dowd and Mr. Sekulow wrote.

But the lawyers based those arguments on an outdated statute, without mentioning that Congress passed a broader law in 2002 that makes it a crime to obstruct proceedings that have not yet started.

Samuel W. Buell, a Duke Law School professor and white-collar criminal law specialist who was a lead prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Enron task force, said the real issue was whether Mr. Trump obstructed a potential grand jury investigation or trial — which do count as proceedings — even if the F.B.I. investigation had not yet developed into one of those. He called it inexplicable why the president’s legal team was making arguments that were focused on the wrong obstruction-of-justice statute.

They went beyond asserting Mr. Trump’s innocence, casting him as the hero of the Flynn episode and contending that he deserved credit for ordering his aides to investigate Mr. Flynn and ultimately firing him.

“Far, far, from obstructing justice, the only individual in the entire Flynn story that ensured swift justice was the president,” they wrote. “His actions speak louder than any words.”

The lawyers acknowledged that Mr. Trump dictated a statement to The Times about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between some of his top advisers and Russians who were said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Though the statement is misleading — in it, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said he met with Russians “primarily” to discuss adoption issues — the lawyers call it “short but accurate.”

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Mr. Trump, by dictating the comment, revealed that he was trying to cover up proof of the campaign’s ties to Russia — evidence that could go to whether he had the same intention when he took other actions.

The president’s lawyers argued that the statement is a matter between the president and The Times — and the president’s White House and legal advisers have said for the past year that misleading journalists is not a crime.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers also try to untangle another potential piece of evidence in the obstruction investigation: his assertion, during an interview with Lester Holt of NBC two days after Mr. Comey was fired, that he was thinking while he weighed the dismissal that “this Russia thing” had no validity. Mr. Mueller’s investigators view that statement as damning, according to people familiar with the investigation.

But the lawyers say that news accounts seized on only part of his comments and that his full remarks show that the president was aware that firing Mr. Comey would lengthen the investigation and dismissed him anyway.

The complete interview, the lawyers argued, makes clear “he was willing, even expecting, to let the investigation take more time, though he thinks it is ridiculous, because he believes that the American people deserve to have a competent leader of the F.B.I.”

Peter Baker contributed reporting.

 

 

German lawmakers cite NSA and Facebook scandals in rejecting US drone tech

June 1, 2018

by Sebastian Sprenger

Defense News

COLOGNE, Germany ― In an attempt to rally fellow Social Democrats behind a key vote on Israel-supplied drones, a group of lawmakers this week argued that U.S. vendors were rightfully excluded from the program because of past scandals involving spying by the National Security Agency and Facebook data breaches.

The three members, who belong to the SPD contingent in the Bundestag’s Defence Committee, made the connection in a May 28 letter to Social Democrats in parliament. The missive came just as the government had requested approval for a plan to lease five weapons-capable Heron TP drones from Israel at a cost of roughly $1 billion.

Given the SPD’s support for the Heron TP plan, passage in the Bundestag in the next few weeks is likely, though officials said surprises remain possible given the topic’s thorniness.

“Following the experiences with American high-tech in view of the NSA scandal, the ‘black boxes’ of the Euro Hawk and the scandals surrounding Facebook, we are disinclined to make ourselves dependent on U.S. technology when it comes to reconnaissance capabilities,” wrote Rolf Mützenich, Fritz Felgentreu and Karl-Heinz Brunner.

The paragraph appears to refer to revelations some years ago of the NSA’s spying on leaders of U.S. allies and Facebook’s large-scale loss of user data. The term “black boxes” refers to the defunct Euro Hawk spy drone, whose encryption and data links would have remained in U.S. hands and out Germany’s control.

General Atomics, which had hoped to sell its Sky Guardian drone, a derivative of the Predator, was excluded from the competition on the grounds that the company would be unable to meet the Bundeswehr’s performance specifications. The company has unsuccessfully appealed the decision, arguing it can deliver at a lower cost

To be clear, the SPD lawmakers’ argument in favor of the Israeli solution relies on more than reference to past scandals that made huge waves in Germany. For example, the three members cite the benefits of keeping in place the key players of an existing arrangement with the Heron TP’s predecessor, the Heron 1, that they claim has served German forces well.

But mention of a latent mistrust toward U.S. defense equipment is noteworthy because it comes from lawmakers of one of the majority parties, serving as evidence that crucial U.S. allies could jump on the chance to diversify their roster of suppliers.

The motion also comes as Europeans brace for a trade war with the United States. On May 31, the Trump administration announced that tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from the European Union would go into effect at midnight.

Such a trade war is sure to bring more uncertainty for defense companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

Trump thinks he’s saving trade. The rest of the world thinks he’s blowing it up.

June 2, 2018

by Heather Long and Steven Mufson

The Washington Post

President Trump appears prepared to unravel 70 years of pain­staking effort that the United States has led to build an inter­national system of trade based on mutually accepted rules and principles.

Ever since an agreement on trade emerged in 1947 from the ashes of World War II, presidents of both parties have pushed this system as a way to strengthen alliances and promote the expansion of democracy and prosperity in Europe and Asia.

But with Trump’s decision last week to enact aluminum and steel tariffs against U.S. allies in Europe and North America, he is subverting previously agreed-­upon trade pacts. The result is a brewing trade war with Canada, Mexico and Europe, which are expressing shock and bitter frustration while enacting tariffs of their own on a bevy of American products.

The measures announced last week went beyond Trump’s previous actions, such as pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a recently forged trade agreement among 12 nations, and his efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Now, he has imposed restrictions on aluminum and steel imports in the name of national security, even though almost all trade and national security analysts agree that it strains credulity to say it is risky to source metals from allies with whom the United States routinely shares sensitive intelligence information.

Veterans of trade policy worry that tensions will further escalate, putting existing trade agreements in peril and the future of World Trade Organization, the group that the United States helped establish in 1995 to adjudicate the rules of global trade, in doubt.

“Trump’s actions create a feeling of chaos and lawlessness. America is no longer abiding by basic due process and commitments made to other nations,” said Jennifer Hillman, a former commissioner at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Trump administration officials say the reaction from the rest of the world has been overblown. They say they are still eager to negotiate and they are just trying to stop a flood of cheap Chinese steel on the world market that has harmed American jobs and industry. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is heading a delegation in Beijing this weekend to “discuss rebalancing” trade relations between China and the United States.

Trump has argued that he’s trying to get other countries, especially China, to play by the rules, and the president’s advisers say trade agreements negotiated in the 1990s are past due for an update that better reflects the current realities of the global economy.

“When you’re almost 800 Billion Dollars a year down on Trade, you can’t lose a Trade War!” the president tweeted Saturday, referring to the U.S. trade deficit in goods. (The overall trade deficit, which includes services, was $566 billion last year.) “The U.S. has been ripped off by other countries for years on Trade, time to get smart!” the tweet continued.

“We are the ones trying to save the rules-based trading system,” a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said in an interview Saturday. “Europe and Canada are cheating. They are giving subsidies to some of their industries and putting U.S. companies at an unfair disadvantage.”

The sudden U.S. hostility toward existing trade agreements comes at a fragile time. While the world economy has been chugging along, multiple countries are recoiling from the trend toward economic integration that has been continuing for decades.

Britain is in the process of exiting the European Union. With newly elected populists in power, Italy is dancing close to leaving the euro currency zone. And a leading candidate to be Mexico’s next president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is also a trade skeptic and may take an even more confrontational approach with Trump than the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

“The door is open to the system unraveling,” said Douglas Irwin, an economics professor at Dartmouth and author of “Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy.”

One reason for worry about things spinning out of control, trade experts say, is Trump’s apparent belief that he can use threats to coax concessions out of allies. While South Korea, Brazil and Australia have been more acquiescent, most of the world’s major powers have rejected his demands.

For example, last week Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that he had rebuffed a request by Vice President Pence to resolve NAFTA negotiations with an agreement to revisit the terms of the pact every five years. That shattered hopes of Trump securing victory any time soon on NAFTA, and led the president to declare on Friday that he is considering abandoning the agreement altogether.

In the case of steel and aluminum, U.S. allies have refused to agree to quotas limiting their metals exports, thus forcing Trump to enact tariffs. Trump is acting more aggressively in part because a stable of cautious advisers has fallen away in recent months, and he has been emboldened by hard-line trade skeptics who have cast aside warnings about the economic pandemonium that could result from his confrontational behavior.

As a result, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Turkey and Japan have either begun or announced plans to launch countermeasures. They are also forging ahead with their own trade agreements without the United States, a situation that could put American companies at a disadvantage for years to come.

Numerous U.S. firms — and entire industries — are worried they could be caught in the crossfire of this escalating economic spat. Actions taken to fortify the steel industry could backfire by hurting other sectors dependent on inexpensive raw materials — possibly causing more job losses than jobs saved, economists say. And prices of many American goods — from cars to beer cans — could rise.

The cost of steel and aluminum tariffs for the average American family will be $210, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“This is basically a welfare scheme. You are taxing everyone in America to help a small number of people in the steel industry,” said Bart Oosterveld, director of the global business and economics program at the Atlantic Council.

Not every economist agrees, however, that the effect of the tariffs will be substantial.

“I don’t see a big risk to the global trading system. It’s not going to blow up the system,” said Peter Morici, a former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. “Trump wanted to send the Europeans a message on trade to get more concessions.”

Indeed, Trump’s tariffs so far are on a relatively small scale, hitting about $41 billion worth of steel and aluminum imports. But he has threatened to go after European-made autos next.

The bigger issue is a political one: the aggressive imposition of tariffs on an unprecedentedly wide variety of U.S. allies, and the use of national security as the justification for doing it.

As a result, America’s longtime partners are starting to view Trump’s move as a sea change in U.S. policy. Trudeau called the action “totally unacceptable.”

Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said, “I would not use the term ‘trade war’ because it has a psychological effect.” But she added: “The U.S. is playing a dangerous game here.”

“This will have an economic bite, and it will last a long time,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It will be hard to establish trust in the U.S. again, and all the uncertainty will drive down investment and productivity.”

Under WTO rules, the national security tariff is supposed to be wielded only in times of war or when there is a direct threat to a country. Trump’s team is arguing that any nation should be able to determine on its own when its national security is at risk and impose tariffs when it wants, a major shift that opens the door to any country erecting trade barriers whenever it wants.

“To me, it’s unequivocal that these U.S. tariffs are a violation of America’s WTO obligations,” said Hillman, a Georgetown Law professor. “Under the WTO, the U.S. committed to not discriminating among members of the WTO, so the U.S. can’t charge a 10 percent tariff on Canada but not Argentina.”

Past presidents from both parties worked hard to get other nations to join the WTO and adhere to a system that barred the arbitrary use of tariffs. Now the United States is facing multiple challenges at the WTO for inappropriate conduct.

If the United States loses such cases, Trump might simply ignore the rulings or even pull out of the organization. His administration has already blocked new appointments to the WTO’s appellate body, creating a backlog of trade disputes.

Some economists say that Trump is correct that trade has had some downsides that policymakers should address. But his explosive approach is misguided, they say.

“It is possible to address the negative consequences of liberalizing trade without destroying the global trade system, which has brought so much prosperity to the world,” said Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics and recently deputy governor of the Bank of England.

 

With Trump tensions high, Merkel reaches out to Macron on Europe

June 3, 2018

by Noah Barkin

Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s Angela Merkel has offered her most detailed response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s ideas for reforming Europe, seeking to avert a damaging rift with Paris at a time of high anxiety over Italy and growing transatlantic tensions.

With the clock ticking down to a European Union summit this month at which Merkel and Macron have promised to present a joint plan for overhauling Europe, the German chancellor gave an extensive newspaper interview on Sunday that touched on reform of the euro zone as well as defense and asylum policy.

She has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks for failing to engage with Macron, who campaigned on a pledge to reform Europe and has sketched out his ambitious vision in a series of speeches over the past year.

Pressure on the EU to show a united front has grown following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull Washington out of the Iran nuclear deal and to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports.

Top exporter Germany is especially vulnerable to a trade conflict with the United States and several analysts said the threats from Washington had given the notoriously cautious Merkel added incentive to reach out to Macron.

“This is a typical Merkel move,” said Henrik Enderlein, director of the Jacques Delors Institut in Berlin. “She’s on the defensive, people say she’s not going to do anything, and then she pulls something out of her hat.”

CLARITY

In the interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS), Merkel offered clarity about Germany’s stance on a number of key issues:

– She backed the idea of turning the euro zone’s ESM bailout mechanism into a European Monetary Fund (EMF) that could offer short-term loans for countries suffering economic stress. She said the EMF should be able to assess the debt sustainability of member states and “the instruments needed to restore this if necessary” – a nod to debt restructuring, which France opposes.

– She backed the step-by-step introduction of a euro zone investment budget in the low double-digit billions of euros, saying this could be housed within the EU budget or outside.

– She called for common asylum standards, a European border police force and a pan-European migration agency that could evaluate asylum applications. Crucially, she backed a “flexible system” in which countries that refuse to take on refugees could compensate by making contributions in other areas.

– She backed Macron’s idea for a European intervention force with a “common strategic military culture”, opening the door to a more active German defense role.

ITALY

Merkel has been torn for months between compromising with Macron and satisfying conservative hardliners at home who accuse the French leader of seeking a “transfer union” in which countries that refuse to reform are rewarded with German money.

The creation of a populist, euroskeptic government in heavily indebted Italy last week has only reinforced this scepticism.

Macron and his allies argue that Europe will continue to be vulnerable to external shocks unless its rules and structures are fundamentally overhauled.

He has called for a far bigger euro zone budget than Merkel spelled out in her FAS interview and urged Europe to become a bolder, more autonomous actor in defense, a shift that unsettles conflict-wary Germans.

“What is good is that for the first time Merkel has said something precise about what she has in mind,” Philippe Martin, a former Macron adviser who heads France’s Council of Economic Analysis (CAE), told Reuters.

However Martin called Merkel’s ideas for the euro zone, which reject federalist solutions in favor of an intergovernmental approach, minimalist.

“It is the minimum so that there is no big rift between France and Germany at a time when it would be extremely damaging.”

Merkel and Macron are due to present their ideas at an EU summit on June 28-29. They will meet, together with their top ministers, at the Meseberg palace outside Berlin on June 19 to finalize their joint position.

Ahead of those meetings, a number of prominent voices had criticized Merkel for failing to respond to Macron. Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer called her silence a “scandal” and Timothy Garton Ash, the author and Oxford historian, labeled it “pathetic”.

“We should be happy that Merkel has finally replied,” said Laurence Boone, chief economist at Axa and a former adviser to French President Francois Hollande.

“My sense is that she needs Macron now. Germany, with its trade surplus and car industry, is the country that is most vulnerable to Trump. Merkel has something to gain from European solidarity.”

Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Giles Elgood

 

World saw ‘worst year ever’ for data breaches & cyberattacks in 2017 — report

June 3, 2018

RT

Ransomware attacks and cyber business interruptions in 2017 were worse than ever, with claims for losses surpassing the previous four years combined, research by insurance group AIG has found.

According to its report, over a quarter of cyber claims (26 percent) received in 2017 had ransomware as the primary cause of loss – a significant leap from 16 percent of claims in the years 2013-2016.

“The combination of leaked National Security Agency (NSA) tools plus state-sponsored capabilities triggered a systemic event,” said Mark Camillo, head of cyber for EMEA at AIG. “The Wannacry outbreak, which hit hundreds of thousands of machines around the world, could have been worse in terms of scale and insured losses if a UK researcher hadn’t quickly found and activated the kill switch.”

Data breaches by hackers, other security failures including unauthorized access and impersonation fraud were among the other main breach types, according to the report. AIG explained that human error continues to be a significant factor in the majority of cyber claims despite the fact that the proportion of claims caused by employee negligence reduced marginally to seven percent last year.

Claims frequency has also increased yet again in the last year. In 2017 AIG’s specialist cyber claims staff were handling the equivalent of one claim per working day. The growth in claims frequency reflects a broader trend of cyber loss escalation.

The report outlined that as cyber insurance becomes a more common purchase for many organizations, buyers are also becoming more familiar with the product. “They understand more fully the scope of their cover and what incidents can and should be notified to their insurance carrier.”

While financial services continues to be a major contributor of claims, the sector made up a lower percentage in 2017 (down to 18 percent compared to 23 percent in the years 2013-2016).

“There’s still an attitude that company leaders think, ‘it won’t happen to me’ or ‘I don’t have any interesting data so why would I be a target?’ But even if a business doesn’t hold interesting data it can still fall victim to ransomware extortion, and if files are encrypted the business cannot function,” said Kathy Avery, financial lines major loss adjuster for AIG.

The notorious WannaCry ransom attack which occurred in May 2017, targeted computers around the world that used the Windows operating system. During the attack, personal data was stolen from private users and ransom payment was requested in the form of bitcoin. It impacted companies in numerous sectors, including healthcare, financial services, logistics, education and manufacturing.

While ransom payments only generated less than $150,000, total economic losses associated with WannaCry are estimated at $8 billion, with half a billion dollars attributed to direct costs and indirect business disruption.

“There were a couple of instances last year where companies were really on their knees because they did not have good back-ups,” said Jose Martinez, vice president of financial lines major loss claims at AIG

Fool’s Gold

Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme—the Internet’s favorite currency will collapse.

by Eric Posner

slate

Bitcoin is a fantasy. The Internet’s currency—a secure, private, decentralized type of money that makes possible anonymous and virtually costless transactions across borders—contains the seeds of its own destruction. More than anything else, it resembles a Ponzi scheme—and the wild claims made on its behalf reveal a great deal about a libertarian strain of thinking with deep roots in the American psyche.

As Farhad Manjoo relates in his entertaining (but dubious) foray into the market, bitcoin is the brainchild of a person (or persons) called Satoshi Nakamoto. Computer users can “mine” bitcoins by instructing their computers to solve complex problems generated by the bitcoin network. As more bitcoins are produced, the problems become more complex, requiring more computer power to solve them, and this limits the total number of bitcoins that can be created over time. Bitcoins are themselves simply strings of numbers. Once you own a bitcoin, you can transfer it to someone else (as a gift or to purchase goods) over the Internet. You can also convert it into dollars or other currencies on various exchanges. The Bitcoin network keeps track of where the bitcoins are located, so you cannot spend a single bitcoin over and over again by trying to transmit the identical code.*

The currency was launched in 2009. It has traded for less than 1 cent. As recently as a year ago, a bitcoin was worth less than $5; this week the price of a bitcoin reached $266, an increase of more than 1,000 percent over the last three months, but then yesterday plunged to $105 before finishing off at $165 last I looked. More than 11 million bitcoins circulate, and so their aggregate value is fluctuating between $1 and $2 billion—a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars in currency but not bad for the infant brainchild of an anonymous brain.

Bitcoin may be useful for certain types of transactions, especially illegal ones. But bitcoin’s defenders argue that the experiment has proved that a currency can come into existence and function without any government role, so designed as to make inflation impossible and bank transfer fees unnecessary. These features are supposed to make bitcoins irresistible for consumers. Meanwhile, stripped of the power to manipulate currencies to advance nefarious ends, governments will collapse, and we will live in an anarcho-utopia.

This is wrong, both theory and experience tell us. Bitcoin is not the first unregulated or private currency. Until central banks were invented in the 17th century, the money supply was unregulated even if governments did stamp coins. Other unregulated or private currencies have emerged from time to time—think of cigarettes in prison camps. Gold, silver, bank notes, and all kinds of other things have played similar roles. Paul Krugman wrote a famous Slate piece about a private currency that was invented to facilitate the exchange of services in a baby-sitting co-op.

Felix Salmon and many others have pointed out that a currency cannot succeed with a supply that is fixed, or if it grows too slowly. A currency is used to enter transactions; the more transactions there are, the more of the money you need. As the economy grows, a fixed-supply currency becomes worth more in terms of goods and services, and people begin to hoard it—expecting that if they wait a little longer, they will be able to buy more. Once hoarding takes over, circulation ends, and with it the function of the currency. Hoarding accounts for the large increase in the value of bitcoins; hoarding also sank Krugman’s baby-sitting scrip.

An even more fundamental problem with bitcoins, and indeed any private currency, is that there is no way to limit its supply. True, bitcoins cannot be manufactured beyond the limits set by Nakamoto. But there is no way to prevent future Nakamotos from creating bitcoin substitutes—say, bytecoin, or botcoin. If merchants are willing to accept bitcoins, they will be willing to accept the substitutes, especially as bitcoins become scarce and consumers scramble for substitutes. Nakamoto must have realized this because there are not enough bitcoins to substitute for the currencies around the world. The currency can only succeed if it is expanded or supplemented. But if there are no constraints on substitute digital currencies—and there aren’t—then the value of bitcoins will plummet as the subs begin to circulate. And once it becomes clear that there is no limit, people will realize that their holdings could become worthless at any moment, and demand for bitcoins and the other currencies will collapse, ending the experiment.

Unless a bitcoin has value as a currency, it has no value at all, and its price in dollars will fall to zero. A regular Ponzi scheme collapses when people realize that earlier investors are being paid out of the investments of later investors rather than from the returns on an underlying asset. Bitcoin will collapse when people realize that it can’t survive as a currency because of its built-in deflationary features, or because of the emergence of bytecoins, or both. A real Ponzi scheme takes fraud; bitcoin, by contrast, seems more like a collective delusion.

Given this, why all the enthusiasm for bitcoin? Partly, the technological ingenuity of the scheme, of course. And people have misinterpreted the run-up in price as a sign of success rather than failure. But more fundamentally, bitcoin unites futuristic left-wing Internet anarchism—the fantasy that the Web can provide the conditions for a governmentless society—with the cave-dwelling right-wing libertarianism of goldbugs who think a stable money supply can be established without government involvement. It is proof for both that government is not needed for much, or at all.

Yet history shows that private currencies always end in tears; if central banks sometimes abuse the trust we place in them, the alternatives are worse. The strangest feature of the bitcoin saga is that people who are so suspicious of government put their trust in Satoshi Nakamoto, who could be anyone, or anyones—eccentric academic researchers, mischievous Fed economists, DARPA, U.N. globalizers in black helicopters, a criminal syndicate, a bored 11-year-old Ukrainian genius. If Nakamoto is as amoral as he is ingenious, then he pocketed the early bitcoins and laughed himself to the bank.

Blessed Prozac Moments!

The Real Truth About the Kennedy Assassination!

July 20, 2005

by Lisa E. Pease

Foundation for Eternal Truths

At first we were told that Lee Oswald killed Kennedy and then that Ruby killed Oswald. I have written and spoken on this often to rapt audiences who truly understand my interest in Real Truth. Yes, others have attempted to give us alternative theories and for years I have wrestled with all of the incongruities in the many books published since that day in November of 1963.

One day, I suddenly realized that I was approaching my quest for Real Truth the wrong way and that to become enlightened, I would have to search in other areas for enlightenment.

I traveled to India with my co-worker, Wally Sheets, and we went to Nepal in search of a man whom I will call here, the Perfect Master. He lives high up in the mighty Himalayas, a plain and simple guru of great Internal Insight and Power. Wally gave up the Quest and returned to Pomona but I remained and finally was granted a Blessed Audience with the Perfect Master.

It was hard to actually look at him, so powerful was His Radiance but I overcame my fears and realized that he could see directly into my heart. He asked me what I wished and I told him that I wanted to know the Real Truth about the Kennedy Assassination.

He closed his eyes and meditated for nearly an hour before speaking.

I cannot begin to tell my readers the intense thrill I felt when I heard His words!

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightening, the Real Truth was before me!

I felt humbled yet proud in my new knowledge which I am now ready to reveal to the entire world!

In our world today, there are great men called the Adjudicators who move among mankind to guide us on the Right Path. They are sworn enemies of the Disharmonic Vibrations that come from evil sources seeking eternal control over mankind to enslave their Inner Fire. These Great Ones move silently among us, unseen but seeing all. They deflect the Disharmonic Vibrations and protect us from their evil and allow us to find True Peace and Understanding.

From the Perfect Master, it was revealed to me that it was the Adjudicators who killed Kennedy with a ray of Inner Cleansing. They killed him because he was a true Imp of Satan and was leading us straight into the jaws of Hell on Earth! Yes, Kennedy was revealed to me as the Black One whom those who project the Disharmonic Vibrations into our infantile minds have set up as one of their Controllers.

Viewed in this light of the Real Truth, the killing in Dallas at once becomes Revealed Truth from the Consciousness of the Perfect Master!

I have made a video and a tape of my Revelations and these will soon be available through my website now being constructed for me at The Foundations for Eternal Truths and as part of my New Awakening, I will be giving lectures across the United States in 2006 to reveal everything to the people for the first time!

Comment: What Lisa forgets to add is something about scientists proving her points. No effective blog is complete without a legion of unnamed scientists to fully prove their assertions. Not all scientists’ views are acceptable, however. A group of maverick scientists once proved that Jones of Infowars was the result of an alcohol-induced sexual liaison between a street person and a Poland China sow.

 

Thoughts on the Saudi-Israeli Connection

Israel and Saudi Arabia are making strange bedfellows but there are reasons for the emergence of their de facto alliance

May 25, 2018

by Lawrence Davidson

Consortium News

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his grand tour of the United States last month publicly declared in an interview with the Atlantic magazine that the Israelis “have a right to live in their own land just like the Palestinians.” It is a problematic assumption, given that the Israelis’ “own land” is the land they took away from the Palestinians. This, and much else, has been either forgotten or ignored by the Saudi crown prince.

Seventy-three years ago Saudi Arabia’s first king, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, expressed a very different position in a series of letters to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For instance in a letter of November 1938 Ibn Saud had wrote “The [European] Jews have no right to Palestine and their claim is an act of injustice unprecedented in the history of the human race.” Sadly, there was in fact plenty of precedent when it came to colonial injustice, but Ibn Saud’s declaration certainly demonstrated the King’s depth of feeling. Other letters followed, predicting that Palestine was bound to become a “hotbed of disturbances and troubles” if the Zionists got their way.

The two leaders finally met face to face in 1945 on the U.S. Cruiser Quincy in the Suez Canal during FDR’s return trip from Yalta. In that meeting Roosevelt tried to convince the Saudi ruler to allow European Jewish occupation of Palestine. Ibn Saud countered that “Make the enemy and the oppressor pay; that is how we Arabs wage war.” He continued, “Amends should be made by the criminal, not by the innocent bystander. What injury have Arabs done to the Jews of Europe? It is the ‘Christian’ Germans who stole their homes and lives.” He finally added that “The Arabs would choose to die rather than yield their land to the Jews.”

What Changed?

Now Crown Prince bin Salman shows us that a lot has changed in the intervening years. Zionist Israel has become an established “fact on the ground” and thus settler colonialism is well rooted in Palestine. Saudi Arabia has, perhaps begrudgingly, accepted this change – and it is not hard to see why.

The Saudis have built their security around an alliance with Israel’s major backer, the United States. One price paid for that alliance has been a de facto acceptance of Israel’s existence. Thus, Saudi dislike of Israel has been largely rhetorical. However, it would seem that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has finally abandoned even that facade as well as abandoning the Palestinians. That is why during the prince’s recent trip to the U. S., he was found publicly rubbing shoulders with AIPAC.

In the face of their inability to do anything about the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the Saudis have moved on to focus on other enemies. This proved easy because there has always been another assumed foe out there. This enemy is the Shiite Muslims, whom the Sunnis have always seen as apostates. Specifically, the enemy is now Shiite Iran. The Saudi crown prince, once more resorting to hyperbole, claimed in the Atlantic interview that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “makes Hitler look good.” Then there are Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Zaydis Houthi of Yemen – all Shiite and all seen as enemies.

The interesting part of this shift in enemies is that by now focusing on the Shiites, and particularly Iran (which, since the 1979 revolution, has not accepted the permanence of Zionist Israel), the Saudi crown prince has discovered that “there are a lot of interests we share with Israel.”

Operating on the motto that the enemies of our enemies must be our friends, the Zionist Israelis have become “good Jews” in the eyes of the present aspiring Saudi leader. Also, the Saudis have become “good Arabs” in the eyes of the Zionists. Both now intrigue together against their common enemies.

An Odd Couple

The Saudis and the Israelis no doubt make an odd couple. However, there are, if you will, inborn similarities. For instance:

— Both Israel and Saudi Arabia assert that they are “chosen people” and therefore nations blessed by their “one true God.” In both cases this assertion has led to a claim that the territory they control is “holy land” – divinely granted to them.

— Also, in both cases, the religious leadership of society exercises guiding influence over many internal policies. (In Saudi Arabia no other religion is even allowed to exist.)

— As a consequence, both the Saudis and the Israelis run their respective countries like restricted clubs. One demands that you be Jewish to have membership rights, and the other wants you to be a Wahhabi Sunni Muslim. Outsiders claiming equal club rights (here read citizenship) are going to be restricted, persecuted or just expelled. And, of course, in both cases minority groups do claim such rights: in Israel it is the Palestinians and in Saudi Arabia it is the Shiite population of the eastern Arabian peninsula.

Looked at objectively, both Saudi Arabia and Israel should be anachronisms. Two nations making outrageous, unprovable claims of divine right that in turn excuses undemocratic, racist-like behavior and policies. And the United States, which also sees itself as God-blessed, readily backs them both.

What this suggests is that, even amidst an increasingly high-tech culture, medieval thinking is still with us – deeply enough embedded to influence the thinking of millions, shape government policy and wage crusades.

 

New Film “Discreet Airlift” Documents the Struggle to Hold U.S. Officials Accountable for Torture

June 3, 2018

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

Emerging from the tumultuous years of the Bush administration, President Barack Obama famously pledged that he would “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” with regards to possible criminal actions carried out by the preceding administration. The Bush years saw the opening of the “global war on terrorism,” a borderless, opaque conflict in which the U.S. government became a proponent of wars of aggression, extrajudicial killing, indefinite detention, and torture. Obama’s fateful decision to not seek criminal accountability for the acts of that period — as well as his failure to shut down some of its most notorious landmarks, like the prison at Guantánamo Bay — has allowed many of those responsible for post-9/11 human rights abuses to remain in or return to public service. Among those who have found themselves “falling upwards” despite their involvement in likely criminal acts is Gina Haspel, a CIA official heavily implicated in detainee torture who was confirmed last month as the director of the intelligence agency.

With no apparent consequences for official criminality, some citizens are trying to take accountability into their own hands. As part of this effort, a citizen-led group called the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture is working to investigate the role that public and private institutions in its state played in helping facilitate extraordinary rendition — essentially a kidnapping program to clandestinely move detainees to more friendly jurisdictions — and torture carried out by the U.S. government. The commission is the focus of Johanna Hamilton’s new film “Discreet Airlift,” produced in partnership with Field of Vision. The film follows activists in North Carolina attempting to raise awareness about the involvement of local officials and private companies in post-9/11 torture, including Aero Contractors, a CIA-connected company that conducted rendition flights on behalf of the agency.

The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture comprises a group of academics, former government officials, legal experts, and local community leaders whose goal is to fill the gap in accountability created by the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute individuals involved in torture and other abuses. (Disclosure: My brother Humza Hussain works as a legal intern for the commission.) A number of hearings conducted by the commission have been held in anticipation of a final report to be issued in September of this year. North Carolina is a particular focal point for investigating post-9/11 abuses, given its hosting of several military bases, including Fort Bragg and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune.

The themes of a failure to get accountability and citizen-led efforts toward a corrective come through in the film, thanks to a look at the local concerns of North Carolinians who examine their own community’s relationship to a decidedly international issue. Along with experts and former government officials, an activist named Allyson Caison is profiled in the “Discreet Airlift.” A local real estate agent, Caison discovered that some of her neighbors had been involved in Aero Contractors rendition practices. In the film, Caison drives by the homes of individuals known to be connected to the rendition program, some of whom had been friends and acquaintances. “These are well-respected people, and they are all very well-insulated,” Caison says. “They protect each other, and they are prominent.”

The U.S. government has come under significant international criticism for its refusal to prosecute those involved in post-9/11 criminality. In addition to the blow to U.S. global prestige stemming from abuses committed at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and CIA black sites, the United Nations in 2014 criticized the U.S. for its “reluctance to work with international authorities on the issue of accountability for human rights violations.” This reluctance, the U.N. added, “has made it easier for other nations to shirk their responsibilities.”

A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture helped shine a light on some of the abuses that resulted from the agency’s rendition program, but the Obama administration’s failure to press charges despite publicly admitting U.S. involvement in torture left the door wide open for such policies to re-emerge in the future. Fear of such potential developments crystalized over the past several years. President Donald Trump made the revival of torture an explicit promise during his campaign, and his nomination of Haspel as CIA director serves as an indication of how Trump is at ease with current government officials who were involved in the mistreatment of detainees in the years following 9/11.

With the United States reportedly considering sending more prisoners to Guantánamo Bay and with covert counterterrorism operations expanding across several continents, the impetus for providing some measure of public accountability seems more urgent than ever. While its findings are not legally binding, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture report is expected to be one of the most important citizen-led attempts to account for war on terror policies that resulted in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The stakes come across bluntly in the film. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and a member of the North Carolina commission, describes on film the “war crimes” the U.S. must reckon with: “We had black sites, we had secret prisons, where unconscionable things were done.”

“The political authorities are absolutely without guts. They don’t have any courage,” Wilkerson says. “They do not want to deal with this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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