Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

TBR News March 14, 2018

Mar 14 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 14, 2018: “We will be out of the office until March 16. Ed”

Table of Contents

  • Republicans sound the alarm about Democratic fervor
  • Pennsylvania special election: Democrats declare victory in setback for Trump
  • It’s official: Democrat Conor Lamb wins Pennsylvania special election in major upset
  • How the Syrian Conflict Became a War of Ethnic Cleansing
  • Google to ban ads on cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings
  • Extreme winter weather becoming more common as Arctic warms, study finds
  • Satellite observations show sea levels rising, and climate change is accelerating it
  • Secrecy News
  • Will China’s high debt levels spark a financial crisis?
  • Some unpleasant historical background on the George W. Bush administration from official sources

 

Republicans sound the alarm about Democratic fervor

March 14, 2018

by Sharon Bernstein, Susan Cornwell and James Oliphant

Reuters

SACRAMENTO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican state senators in California gathered in Sacramento late last month for what amounted to an intervention

A leading Washington, D.C. polling firm warned the senators in no uncertain terms that intense Democratic antipathy toward President Donald Trump could spur that party’s voters to turn out in record numbers, jeopardizing safe Republican districts and potentially costing the party control of Congress.

The firm’s presentation, viewed by Reuters and not previously reported, showed a significant “intensity gap” between the two parties, with 82 percent of Democrats strongly disapproving of the job Trump is doing as president, while just 56 percent of Republicans strongly approve of his performance.

Similar alarms were sounded recently to big-ticket donors at retreats organized by billionaire Republicans Charles and David Koch in Palm Springs and by Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel in Washington.

“Complacency is our worst enemy,” McDaniel said at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. “Democrats have the energy.”

Interviews with more than 20 Republican lawmakers, operatives and strategists nationwide reveal a party increasingly worried about high levels of enthusiasm on the Democratic side and struggling to motivate its own voters to come out in the numbers needed to retain its grip on the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

“It’s a challenge, it is,” said Jeff Flake, a Republican U.S. senator who is retiring this year. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Issues that typically fire up conservatives when a Democrat is in the White House, including gun control, abortion, immigration and healthcare, have lost potency with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress as well as both legislative chambers in 32 U.S. states.

Many Republican operatives and lawmakers believe their best argument will be the state of the economy and the tax overhaul passed by Congress late last year. They also believe the party’s fundraising power can boost Republican candidates and get-out-the vote efforts in critical contests.

But some worry tax reform is not enough to get Republican voters to cast ballots in congressional races.

“Republicans are going to struggle to turn out voters if we can’t get a lot more accomplished before November,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster involved in key Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and elsewhere.

‘WE’RE IN RE-FREAK-OUT’

After a brief period of optimism when the tax package passed in December, Republicans are now openly fretting about their party’s image as Trump’s White House appears gripped by turmoil, with a range of policy fights on key issues, a new round of high-level departures and ongoing probes into alleged ties between Trump’s election campaign team and Russia.

“We’re in a re-freak-out right now,” said Doug Heye, a former top official at the RNC. “If the conversation is on Russia, or White House discord, or Trump’s tweets, we’re clearly not doing what we doing what we need to do.”

Republicans have watched with deepening alarm as highly motivated Democratic voters came out in force in state special elections in Kentucky and Wisconsin, and in Texas primaries last week.

“We should take seriously the fact that when you feel as though you are out of power and out of control of your government, you are going to respond with a higher level of engagement than you would otherwise,” said Dennis Revell, a board member of the California Republican Party.

The polling firm at the meeting in Sacramento warned that presidents who have an overall approving rating of under 50 percent — as Trump does – typically lose an average of 40 seats in midterm elections.

Democrats need to gain a net total of 2 Senate seats and 24 House seats to take control of those chambers.

‘FEEL THE HEAT NOW’

To counteract the enthusiasm gap, Republican strategists say, candidates will need to run smart and well-funded campaigns.

The polling firm urged Republican incumbents in California to focus on fundraising and to hold town halls without delay in order to draw out criticism as early as possible and energize voters.

One slide in its presentation urged Republican candidates to: “Feel the heat NOW, not in November.” Another counseled candidates to “prepare for a negative campaign” and not shy away from giving opponents “name ID, especially if that name ID is of the negative kind.”

In Washington, one Republican operative said, the party’s House incumbents were given a set of tips: Don’t take supposedly safe districts for granted. Raise money. Introduce legislation to help constituents.

One advantage Republicans do hold over Democrats is financial. At the end of January, according to a Reuters analysis of each of the parties’ three main political action committees, the RNC had a sizable financial advantage over Democrats at the end of January.

Filings with the Federal Election Commission show the RNC had nearly $107 million on hand at the end of January, the last full reporting period, compared to the DNC’s $74 million.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers, says it will be active in Senate races and spend much of its money early in the campaign in the belief that is its best opportunity to shape the narrative of individual contests.

In the last three congressional elections, Republicans held the enthusiasm advantage, animated by their opposition to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and galvanized by hot-button issues such as immigration, guns, and healthcare.

Navigating those issues may be trickier now. Republicans must defend 23 House districts won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and dominated by more moderate, college-educated voters.

The party also needs conservatives to vote heavily in rural states such as Montana, North Dakota, and Missouri, where Republicans hope to oust five moderate Democrats.

Wilson, the pollster involved in U.S. Senate races, warned that if bipartisan deals are reached in Congress on gun control and immigration in coming months, Republican turnout could be depressed.

“It’s a complete recipe for a demoralized base,” Wilson said.

Still, conservative activists say some cultural issues will retain a punch.

Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women of America, said the failure in February of a Senate bill that would have outlawed abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy could be used against Democratic senators who opposed it, including North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, suggested that Trump’s ongoing attacks on the media are popular with his base of voters and could be an effective rallying cry.

But the most effective way for the party to have a unified message rests on the economy, operatives said,

“You have to show people what you are doing to improve their lives,” said Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president, although he conceded it is harder to motivate voters to come out when Republicans are the party in power.

“It’s fair to say it’s easier to vote against something than for it,” he said.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and James Oliphant in Washington and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Additional reporting by Grant Smith; Editing by Kieran Murray and Sue Horton

 

Pennsylvania special election: Democrats declare victory in setback for Trump

Rick Saccone styled himself president’s wingman but faced tight race with Democrat Conor Lamb in district Trump won by 20 points in 2016

March 14, 2018

by Ben Jacobs in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania

The Guardian

Democrat Conor Lamb has claimed victory in a very tight special election race for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, where his surprisingly strong showing in a Republican stronghold dealt a blow to Donald Trump.

On Wednesday morning, with all precincts reporting, unofficial results had Lamb leading Republican Rick Saccone by 627 votes.

But provisional and military ballots were left uncounted, and Saccone was refusing to concede.

Saccone, who ran as an extension of Trump in a district the US president won by 20 points in 2016, had said he would be “Trump’s wingman” in Washington and touted himself as “Trump before Trump”.

He appeared with Trump in a rally only days before the election and held campaign events with two of the president’s children as well as a number of administration officials.

The photo finish in a deep red district made clear how much Trump’s standing has fallen since 2016 and gives Democrats increased optimism for November’s midterm elections. In a race this close, either candidate’s supporters can ask for a recount. However, there are stiff requirements, including requiring three voters in the same precinct who can attest that error or fraud was committed.

Some voters cast their ballot based on Trump. Outside a polling place in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, Joe Morgan told the Guardian: “I approve of the way the president is trying to put the country in a better spot and I think voting Republican will help him do that.”

In contrast, another voter, Paul Kane, told the Guardian he voted for Lamb because “Trump’s an asshole”.

Two counties have yet to count absentee ballots, delaying any final result, but Saccone has so far performed less well with absentee voters than he did with those who cast their ballots on election day.

The vote for Libertarian candidate Drew Miller was larger than than the margin between Lamb and Saccone – despite Miller receiving less than 1% of the vote.

Speaking briefly on stage late Tuesday night, Saccone insisted he was “still fighting the fight” and promised a crowd of supporters who had enjoyed an open bar and buffet featuring meatballs and crab dip: “We’re going to fight all the way to the end.”

National Republicans echoed Saccone. In a statement, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee said: “This race is too close to call and we’re ready to ensure that every legal vote is counted. Once they are, we’re confident Rick Saccone will be the newest Republican member of Congress.”

In contrast, Democrats declared victory. Lamb took the stage at his election night party as “Congressman-elect Conor Lamb” and proclaimed to a cheering crowd: “It took a little longer than we thought, but we got there.”

In a press release sent out earlier in the evening, Ben Ray Lujan, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, preemptively congratulated Lamb on his “incredible victory” and insisted: “These results should terrify Republicans.”

Lamb had actively attempted to distance himself from national Democrats. He recorded a television ad where he made clear he would not support Nancy Pelosi for Democratic leader in the House and had only a handful of national Democrats stump on his behalf. All of them were white men.

The election was not just about Trump and national issues. Lamb, a former marine with deep political roots in the district, ran as a moderate who steadfastly avoided any mention of the White House. He also benefited from heavy support from organized labor in a district that included a mix of suburban Pittsburgh and coal country. Lamb went out of his way to praise unions for their support on Wednesday morning. “I’ve never seen the unions as mobilized as they are right now,” said the Democrat.

In contrast, Saccone was a weak candidate and lackluster fundraiser, which forced outside Republican groups to spend over $10m to aid him.

The race took place under unusual circumstances. The district itself will not exist for the midterm elections after the Pennsylvania supreme court ruled the current congressional map unconstitutional. The vacancy was created when pro-life Republican Tim Murphy resigned in disgrace after it was revealed he had pressured his mistress to have an abortion.

If Lamb pulls out a win it would be the first time Democrats have picked up a seat in the House of Representatives since Trump took office. They endured disappointing losses in special elections for the House in states such as Montana and Georgia in 2017.

Republicans did lose a special election for the US Senate in Alabama in 2017, but only after their nominee, Roy Moore, faced credible allegations of sexually assaulting teenage girls.

 

It’s official: Democrat Conor Lamb wins Pennsylvania special election in major upset

Trump won this district by 20 points in 2016. For him, this was personal.

March 14, 2018

by Ella Nilsen

Vox

In a stunning upset, Democrat Conor Lamb won an incredibly close special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, beating out Republican candidate Rick Saccone in a deeply conservative district the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated R+11.

The race stretched into Wednesday midday, when CNN reported Lamb was in the lead with 627 votes, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. State law does not mandate a recount in district-level elections.

Conventional wisdom suggested that Saccone — a candidate who once declared himself “Trump before Trump was Trump” — would do well in a district that turned out in droves for President Donald Trump in 2016. But in recent weeks, Republicans were in full panic mode, dumping more than $9 million into the race. Lamb’s victory shows they were right to be so worried.

And it wasn’t just Republicans who feared losing this district — it was Trump himself.

In many ways, PA-18 was emblematic of Trump’s presidential success story; the president carried the district by 20 points in 2016, along with much of the rest of western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was one of the blue-collar Rust Belt states he was never supposed to win but won anyway, in a stunning rebuke to Hillary Clinton.

Along with Wisconsin and Michigan, the Keystone State carried Trump to victory on Election Day 2016. It’s a story he often recounts at rallies, including the one he held for Saccone in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday.

Voting for Saccone is exactly what the president wanted his supporters to do. Trump cared enough about Saccone winning that he joined him on the campaign trail multiple times and sent Vice President Mike Pence and members of his family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter Ivanka Trump, to stump.

He even pushed a controversial announcement on steel and aluminum import tariffs so it would land a week before the special election.

None of it worked.

Trump voters ended up either staying home or proving they could just as easily cast their votes for a Democrat with the right message, especially when Trump wasn’t the candidate on the ballot.

Conor Lamb won a district Democrats weren’t supposed to be competitive in

On its face, Tuesday’s special congressional election in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania was supposed to be a breeze for the GOP. The Cook Political Report rated the district R+11, due in part to partisan gerrymandering that the state Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional.

Political analysts in the state agreed that the district’s gerrymandering was part of the reason it was supposed to be impossible for Democrats to win. This is a seat that used to be so solidly Republican that Democrats didn’t even bother competing in it.

The seat had since 2003 been held by Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who was so secure in his seat that he often failed to attract a Democratic challenger. Murphy suddenly resigned in October amid revelations that he had pressured a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to have an abortion.

But even after he stepped down, national Democrats didn’t think they could compete in the special election, one Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) operative told Vox.

That was until Conor Lamb came along.

A 33-year-old Marine and former assistant US attorney who prosecuted drug dealers in the midst of Pennsylvania’s deadly opioid crisis, Lamb comes from a well-known political family in Pittsburgh but is new to politics himself.

He struck a decidedly independent tone throughout the campaign, making headlines when he said he would not support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader if a blue wave swept the House in 2018, echoing his support for the Second Amendment, and telling voters he personally doesn’t believe in abortion (though he supports Roe v. Wade as the law of the land).

“He’s got local ties; he’s a local guy,” Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers Political Action Committee, told Vox. “He’s a young guy with a lot of energy … right down the line on issues that affect workers in this district.”

Lamb’s independent streak has also made it difficult for Republicans to attack him as a politician in step with Pelosi, although they certainly tried. Republicans and conservative groups have mostly been trying to tie Lamb to the Democratic agenda.

But throughout the campaign, there was not a lot of evidence it was sticking.

Focused almost exclusively on local issues, Lamb has nevertheless stumbled into a long-running debate about how the Democratic Party can claw its way back to the majority after 2016.

Trying to recapture blue-collar workers, Lamb’s campaign represents one school of thought — going back to labor-liberal economic values and working with unions to retake territory in Midwest and Rust Belt states that voted for Trump in 2016.

Trump and Lamb actually campaigned on many of the same core issues

PA-18 is often characterized as a conservative district, but it has deep Democratic roots as well.

“It’s not so much a conservative district as it is an economic populist district,” said longtime Pennsylvania Democratic consultant Mike Mikus. “You don’t have to support the NRA down the line, but respect the right of people to own firearms … and [be] someone that’s willing to stand up to the national party when they feel it’s in the interest of the district or the region.”

There are technically 70,000 more registered Democrats in the 18th Congressional District than Republicans, but many of those voters have been casting ballots for GOP candidates for years. Mikus, who has worked on Democratic campaigns in the state for years, said Lamb successfully proved himself an independent.

“Conor, I think so far, has done a fairly good job of portraying himself as someone that’s going to fight for the region,” he said.

Lamb’s campaign was not against Trump. The former federal prosecutor rarely mentioned the president at his events, instead focusing on issues like protecting entitlements such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare and ending Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis, for which Gov. Tom Wolf recently declared a state of emergency — in other words, many of the same themes Trump echoed during his 2016 presidential campaign.

From the beginning of his campaign, Trump vowed not to cut entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Then when he got into office, his 2019 budget proposed cutting Medicare by $236 billion over 10 years. (Those cuts have not been enacted.)

Trump promised many times to end the opioid crisis that’s ravaging Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and other Rust Belt states. In 2016, it claimed more American lives than the entire Vietnam War.

The president’s response has been to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, but little else. The administration has largely ignored the recommendations of Trump’s opioids commission, Trump has twice tried to strip his Office of National Drug Control Policy of funding and proposed the death penalty for drug dealers. Congress recently appropriated $6 billion for treatment, which experts say falls dramatically short of what’s needed.

Even so, Trump has remained relatively popular inPennsylvania’s 18th District. Saccone was unable to replicate that popularity for himself.

This special election was personal for Trump

All special elections since Trump’s inauguration have been declared a referendum on Trump by pollsters and the media. But Pennsylvania is arguably one of the few Trump actually cared about because the state was one of his greatest 2016 success stories.

He won Pennsylvania by a little over 73,000 votes, 48.2 percent to Clinton’s 47.5 percent. The roughly 1 percentage point that separated the two candidates was seismic; it delivered Trump 20 Electoral College votes and was part of the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania trifecta that pushed him to the presidency.

Trump was never supposed to win Pennsylvania; the fact that he claimed the state in 2016 became an integral part of his narrative, one that he repeated at Saccone’s Saturday rally.

“On November 8, Pennsylvania is the state that gave us the 45th president of the United States,” Trump said, as the crowd cheered.

“You’re one of us!” one crowd member yelled.

“They said we couldn’t get elected,” Trump continued. “I say we … because some of you had never voted before, but you love the country. Remember, they said, ‘You cannot win.’ Remember the famous 270? Remember, they said he cannot get to 270. And we didn’t; we got to 306.”

For Republicans, there was a mad dash to pour cash into the race so they didn’t embarrass themselves by losing a district that Democrats were never even supposed to be competitive in. But for Trump, the impetus was much more personal.

Trump’s push wasn’t about Saccone, it was about hanging on to “Trump country” in southwestern Pennsylvania — and with it, the very narrative that put him in the White House. For the president who prizes loyalty, this race was the ultimate test.

“Normally I would not come, except it’s Pennsylvania,” Trump said on Saturday. “I love Pennsylvania.”

How the Syrian Conflict Became a War of Ethnic Cleansing

March 12, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

Syrian Arab militiamen leading the Turkish attack on Afrin in northern Syria are threatening to massacre its Kurdish population unless they convert to the variant of Islam espoused by Isis and al-Qaeda. In the past such demands have preceded the mass killings of sectarian and ethnic minorities in both Syria and Iraq.

In one video a militia fighter flanked by others describes the Kurds as “infidels” and issues a stark warning, saying “by Allah, if you repent and come back to Allah, then know that you are our brothers. But if you refuse, then we see that your heads are ripe, and that it’s time for us to pluck them.” Though the Kurds in Afrin are Sunni Muslims, Isis and al-Qaeda traditionally punish those who fail to subscribe to their beliefs as heretics deserving death.

“The video is 100 per cent authentic,” said Rami Abdulrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which released it, in an interview with The Independent. He adds that he is very concerned about the fate of some Yazidi villages in Afrin captured by the advancing Turkish forces, saying he has seen videos taken by the militiamen themselves in one of which “an elderly Yazidi man is questioned by them, asking him how many times he prays a day.”

Such interrogations of Yazidis by Isis to prove that they were not Muslims often preceded the killings, rapes and the taking of Yazidi women as sex slaves when Isis seized Yazidi areas in northern Iraq in 2014. Mr Abdulrahman, who is the leading human rights monitor in Syria with a network of informants throughout the country, says he is worried that international attention is entirely focused on the Syrian army assault on Eastern Ghouta and “nobody is talking about” the potential slaughter of the Kurds and other minorities in Afrin.

He says that the two situations are similar since “President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have taken 60 per cent of Ghouta and [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s forces have taken 60 per cent of Afrin.” He says that as many as one million Kurds may be threatened and adds that it is becoming extremely difficult for them to escape from Afrin because Syrian government checkpoints on the only road leading south to Aleppo “are demanding bribes of up to $4,000 per family to let people through.”

Mr Abdulrahman points to growing evidence drawn from videos taken by themselves of militiamen claiming to be members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the units advancing ahead of regular Turkish troops are extreme jihadis. This has previously been asserted by a former Isis member in an interview published by The Independent last month who said that many of his former comrades had been recruited and retrained by the Turkish military. He said that Isis recruits had been instructed by Turkish trainers not to use their traditional tactics, such as the of extensive use of car bombs, because this would identify them as terrorists. He suspected that Isis fighters would be used as cannon fodder in Turkey’s war against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and then discarded.

As the Turkish army closes in on Afrin and the Syrian army penetrates deeply into the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta, people in both areas fear that they will be the victims of enforced demographic change. One Kurdish observer in Iraq said that he thought Mr Erdogan, who has claimed that the majority in Afrin is not Kurdish, will “bring in Turkmen and others to replace the Kurdish population.”

Isis is particularly hostile to the US-backed YPG, as its most effective enemy which drove it out of a quarter of Syrian territory and captured the de facto Isis capital of Raqqa last October after a four-month siege.

As Mr Abdulrahman says, the sieges of Afrin and Eastern Ghouta have much in common, though the number of those trapped in Afrin may be larger. Motives for refusing to leave are also much the same. “I will never leave Ghouta,” said Haytham Bakkar, an anti-government journalist living there, speaking just as the present Syrian Army assault was getting underway. “We have lived here for hundreds and thousands of years. Here our grandparents lived. Here are our houses and tombs. We were born here and we will die here. Our souls and roots are here.”

Bakkar says that most people in Eastern Ghouta are convinced that their departure is part of a broader government plan to make drastic demographic changes whereby their property would be given to others. He says that even if people survived the dangerous journey out of the area, they did not want “to watch TV news and see strangers living in our homes.”

Kurds make a similar calculation, but it is also becoming extremely dangerous for them to try to flee. Precedents have already been set for ethnic and sectarian cleansing all over Syria since 2011 as those in control oust members of other communities.

The YPG is a formidable force and the YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud says that the group has 10,000 fighters in the enclave who would fight to the end. He says that Kurds are already being displaced and “in one village alone 600 people were told to go.” He said that the Kurds feared a genocide was in the making and complained that “the international media focus on Eastern Ghouta has given the Turks the opportunity to step up their attack on Afrin without the rest of the world paying much attention”. The Kurdish authorities are trying to publicise the sufferings of civilians in Afrin, but are so far not having much success.

In the long term – and possibly in the short term – Afrin may prove to be indefensible. It is surrounded by Turkish forces and their FSA allies who are vastly superior in numbers and heavy weapons and are able to use air power and artillery without opposition.

None of the foreign players in the Syrian crisis show any sign of intervening against Turkey. The Turks were able to invade Afrin on 20 January because Russia decided it would no longer defend its airspace as it had been doing previously. Kurdish leaders say they believe that Russia, Iran and Turkey have agreed that Turkey will get Afrin, possibly in exchange for the Turks agreeing to drop their support for the one big remaining anti-Assad enclave in Idlib.

The Turkish offensive against the Kurds in Afrin will not end when it falls, but its elimination may set the stage for further Turkish attacks against Kurdish-held territory further east. This will bring the Turks into a confrontation with the Washington which will try mediate, but, if US forces are to stay in Syria, then they will still need the Kurds as their one ally on the ground. But, if the fall of Afrin is accompanied by mass killings and ethnic cleansing, then the war in northern Syria is about to get a whole lot worse.

 

Google to ban ads on cryptocurrencies and Initial Coin Offerings

The US search engine giant will soon stop advertisements promoting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ripple under wider efforts to crack down on the marketing of a new breed of high-risk financial products.

March 14, 2018

DW

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Wednesday it will ban advertisements for unregulated or speculative financial products like binary options, cryptocurrency and financial spread betting among others.

“Improving the ads experience across the web, whether that’s removing harmful ads or intrusive ads, will continue to be a top priority for us,” said Scott Spencer, director of sustainable ads, after the company announced the updates to its policy.

Google rival Facebook took a similar step in January, leaving the world’s two largest internet ad sellers out of reach of the emerging digital currency sector.

Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market value, pared an advance of about 2 percent after Google’s announcement. Rival coins Ripple and Ether also pared gains.

At the moment, Google queries for terms like “binary options” and “buy bitcoin” produce four ads at the top of the results. Some aggressive businesses are exploiting a loophole by purposely misspelling words like “bitcoin” in their ads. A Google spokeswoman said the company’s policies will try to anticipate workarounds like this

‘Bad ads’ crackdown

In a separate blog post Tuesday, Google said it took down 3.2 billion ads that violated its advertising policies in 2017, nearly double the number of ads it removed in 2016. Last year, for instance, Google pulled 79 million ads for luring online clickers to websites with malware

Google is also accelerating a push against misleading content. The company suspended 7,000 customer accounts for ads that impersonated a news article, which is called “tabloid cloaking” by Google. It also blocked more than 12,000 websites for copying information from other publications.

According to analysts, Google’s bad ads crackdown is unlikely to have a serious impact on sales. Last year, Google generated $95.4 billion (€76.9 billion) in ad revenue, up 20 percent from 2016.

 

 

Extreme winter weather becoming more common as Arctic warms, study finds

Scientists found a strong link between high temperatures near the pole and unusually heavy snowfall and frigid weather farther south.

March 13, 2017

by Oliver Milman

The Guardian

The sort of severe winter weather that has rattled parts of the US and UK is becoming more common as the Arctic warms, with scientists finding a strong link between high temperatures near the pole and unusually heavy snowfall and frigid weather further south.

A sharp increase in temperatures across the Arctic since the early 1990s has coincided with an uptick in abnormally cold snaps in winter, particularly in the eastern US, according to new research that analyzed temperature data from 1950 onwards.

Extreme cold winter weather is up to four times more likely when temperatures in the Arctic are unusually high, the study found. Researchers compared daily temperatures from across the Arctic region with something called the accumulated winter season severity index, which grades winter weather based on temperature, snow fall and snow depth, across 12 US cities.

“There’s a remarkably strong correlation between a warm Arctic and cold winter weather further south,” said Judah Cohen, a climatologist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. “It’s a complex story – global warming is contributing to milder temperatures but is also having unforeseen consequences such as this.”

The Arctic has just experienced its toastiest winter on record, with parts of the region 20C (68F) warmer than the long-term average, a situation scientists have variously described as “crazy,” “weird,” and “simply shocking”. The far north latitudes are warming around twice as quickly as the global average, diminishing glaciers and sea ice and imperiling creatures such as polar bears.

Two large winter storms recently swept the US east coast in less than a week, unloading up to three inches of snow per hour in places, resulting in several deaths, thousands of cancelled flights, closed schools and snarled traffic.

The cold front even reached Florida, contributing to a recent surge in manatee deaths. So far this year, 166 of the marine mammals have been found dead off the state’s coast, with stress from the cold the leading cause of mortality. “Manatees may join polar bears as one of the first iconic victims of extinction in the wild from climate change,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The US storms follow freezing winds from Siberia – dubbed the ‘beast from the east’ – that battered parts of Europe, with the British army deployed to help liberate hundreds of stranded drivers on UK motorways.

“This winter is a great example of what we can expect from climate change,” said Cohen. “In the US we had the ‘bomb cyclone’ in January, followed by July-like warm weather in February that I’d never seen before. And now we’ve had a parade of powerful winter storms and the beast from the east. It’s mind boggling.”

The research didn’t look at the reasons behind the trend of see-sawing temperatures between the Arctic and areas to the south but Cohen said it was consistent with the theory that the polar vortex – which shot to public consciousness during a 2014 cold spell – is being disrupted as the earth heats up.

The polar vortex is a low pressure system that swirls around the polar region. Sometimes it can stray further south, bringing cold Arctic air with it. There is continuing conjecture over the impact climate change is having but some scientists believe warming temperatures could be weakening the polar vortex’s flow, allowing it to meander towards the equator.

This nuanced picture of the consequences of climate change has been derided by Donald Trump, with the president using Twitter to mockingly reference cold weather during almost every winter in recent years. In December, Trump tweeted that “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming” amid plunging temperatures.

Scientists say this stance overlooks the complicated changes underway in the environment as the world warms due to human activity, by an average of around 1C over the past century. This temperature rise hasn’t been uniform across the globe and has fueled an array of conditions, from increased flood risk in some areas to drought conditions and heatwaves in others.

Richard Alley, a leading glacier and climate expert at Penn State who was not involved in Cohen’s research, said the study is “fascinating” and “important” but added the discrepancy between Arctic temperatures and winter weather elsewhere could have other drivers, such as a warm Gulf of Mexico feeding extra energy into storms along the US east coast.

“The broadest picture is that we are indeed warming the world’s climate, primarily from carbon dioxide release from fossil-fuel burning, and this will impact us and other living things,” said Alley.

The Arctic’s role is seen quite differently by some other scientists, however, who point out that occasional outbursts of cold weather haven’t altered the trend that winters in the US northeast have been getting warmer, particularly since the 1970s.

“There have always been cold outbreaks. The cold air has to go somewhere,” said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“The issue is whether the air stays put or gets loose. Some years it is contained, other years it breaks out. The question is where and what is the cause. This study reaffirms the relationship but not its cause. The Arctic likely plays a modest role in terms of feedbacks but it is unlikely it is a cause.”

 

 

Satellite observations show sea levels rising, and climate change is accelerating it

March 13, 2018

by Brandon Miller, CNN Meteorologist

CNN

Sea level rise is happening now, and the rate at which it is rising is increasing every year, according to a study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers, led by University of Colorado-Boulder professor of aerospace engineering sciences Steve Nerem, used satellite data dating to 1993 to observe the levels of the world’s oceans.

Using satellite data rather than tide-gauge data that is normally used to measure sea levels allows for more precise estimates of global sea level, since it provides measurements of the open ocean.

The team observed a total rise in the ocean of 7 centimeters (2.8 inches) in 25 years of data, which aligns with the generally accepted current rate of sea level rise of about 3 millimeters (0.1 inches) per year.

But that rate is not constant.

Continuous emissions of greenhouse gases are warming the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans and melting its ice, causing the rate of sea level rise to increase.

“This acceleration, driven mainly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica, has the potential to double the total sea level rise by 2100 as compared to projections that assume a constant rate, to more than 60 centimeters instead of about 30,” said Nerem, who is also a fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science.

That projection agrees perfectly with climate models used in the latest International Panel on Climate Change report, which show sea level rise to be between 52 and 98 centimeters by 2100 for a “business as usual” scenario (in which greenhouse emissions continue without reduction).

Therefore, scientists now have observed evidence validating climate model projections, as well as providing policy-makers with a “data-driven assessment of sea level change that does not depend on the climate models,” Nerem said.

Sea level rise of 65 centimeters, or roughly 2 feet, would cause significant problems for coastal cities around the world. Extreme water levels, such as high tides and surges from strong storms, would be made exponentially worse.

Consider the record set in Boston Harbor during January’s “bomb cyclone” or the inundation regularly experienced in Miami during the King tides; these are occurring with sea levels that have risen about a foot in the past 100 years.

Now, researchers say we could add another 2 feet by the end of this century.

Nerem and his team took into account natural changes in sea level thanks to cycles such as El Niño/La Niña and even events such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which altered sea levels worldwide for several years.

The result is a “climate-change-driven” acceleration: the amount the sea levels are rising because of the warming caused by manmade global warming.

The researchers used data from other scientific missions such as GRACE, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, to determine what was causing the rate to accelerate.

Currently, over half of the observed rise is the result of “thermal expansion”: As ocean water warms, it expands, and sea levels rise. The rest of the rise is the result of melted ice in Greenland and Antarctica and mountain glaciers flowing into the oceans.

Theirs is a troubling finding when considering the recent rapid ice loss in the ice sheets.

“Sixty-five centimeters is probably on the low end for 2100,” Nerem said, “since it assumes the rate and acceleration we have seen over the last 25 years continues for the next 82 years.”

We are already seeing signs of ice sheet instability in Greenland and Antarctica, so if they experience rapid changes, then we would likely see more than 65 centimeters of sea level rise by 2100.”

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, who was not involved with the study, said “it confirms what we have long feared: that the sooner-than-expected ice loss from the west Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is leading to acceleration in sea level rise sooner than was projected.”

CNN’s Judson Jones contributed to this story.

 

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 17

March 13, 2018

US AIR FORCE LIMITS MEDIA ACCESS, INTERVIEWS

The US Air Force is suspending media embeds, base visits and interviews “until further notice” and it “will temporarily limit the number and type of public engagements” by public affairs officers and others while they are retrained to protect sensitive information, according to guidance obtained by Defense News.

“In line with the new National Defense Strategy, the Air Force must hone its culture of engagement to include a heightened focus on practicing sound operational security,” the new guidance memo said.

“As we engage the public, we must avoid giving insights to our adversaries which could erode our military advantage. We must now adapt to the reemergence of great power competition and the reality that our adversaries are learning from what we say in public.”

Notably, the new Air Force guidance does not distinguish between classified and unclassified information. Nor does it define the scope of “sensitive operational information” which must be protected.

The March 1, 2018 memo was reported (and posted) in “Air Force orders freeze on public outreach” by Valerie Insinna, David B. Larter, and Aaron Mehta, Defense News, March 12.

As it happens, a counter-argument in favor of enhanced Air Force release of information was made just last week by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“The Air Force has an obligation to communicate with the American public, including Airmen and families, and it is in the national interest to communicate with the international public,” the Secretary stated in a March 8 directive.

“Through the responsive release of accurate information and imagery to domestic and international audiences, public affairs puts operational actions in context, informs perceptions about Air Force operations, helps undermine adversarial propaganda efforts and contributes to the achievement of national, strategic and operational objectives.”

“The Air Force shall respond to requests for releasable information and material. To maintain the service’s credibility, commanders shall ensure a timely and responsive flow of such information,” she wrote.

But by the same token, unwarranted delays or interruptions in the public flow of Air Force information threaten to undermine the service’s credibility. See Public Affairs Management, Air Force Policy Directive 35-1, March 8, 2018.

CENSURING THE PRESIDENT, AND MORE FROM CRS

House Democrats have introduced two resolutions in the current Congress to censure the President. Neither resolution is expected to advance.

But a new memo from the Congressional Research Service considers whether such resolutions are permissible in practice, and concludes: “It would appear that Congress may censure the President through a simple (one chamber) or concurrent (two chamber) resolution, or other non-binding measure, so long as the censure does not carry with it any legal consequence.” See The Constitutionality of Censuring the President, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 12, 2018.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Threats to National Security Foiled? A Wrap Up of New Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 12, 2018

Cybersecurity: Selected Issues for the 115th Congress, March 9, 2018

Defense Primer: U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), CRS In Focus, March 6, 2018

Does Executive Privilege Apply to the Communications of a President-elect?, CRS Legal Sidebar, March 8, 2018

The United Kingdom: Background, Brexit, and Relations with the United States, updated March 12, 2018

Northern Ireland: Current Issues and Ongoing Challenges in the Peace Process, updated March 12, 2018

TPP Countries Sign New CPTPP Agreement without U.S. Participation, CRS Insight, March 9, 2018

 

Will China’s high debt levels spark a financial crisis?

Multiple international organizations have expressed concerns about China’s ballooning debt levels and warned the Asian giant could face a full-blown financial crisis should there be no action to counter the problem.

March 14, 2018

by William Yang (Taipei)

DW

Soaring debt levels and increasing complexity of the financial system have been a source of heightened concern among China watchers in recent months. A number of global bodies, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have warned the problems could lead to “financial distress” in the world’s second-biggest economy if the government doesn’t put in place remedial measures.

The IMF estimates China’s overall debt figure to be about 234 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and predicts it to rise to 300 percent by 2022. Corporate debt currently stands at around 165 percent of GDP, and household debt is also spiraling upward at a rapid pace.

Furthermore, systemic risks to the financial system have grown over the past several years due to the expanding role of the shadow-banking industry. As a result, China is seen as one of the economies most vulnerable to a banking crisis, although Beijing has repeatedly assured that the risks are under control.

Regulatory overhaul

In a bid to tighten their grip over the financial sector, Chinese policymakers have focused on strengthening oversight and regulation. In the latest move, the country’s leadership handed the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), the central bank, the authority to write rules for much of the financial sector.

Also, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission will be merged as part of an overhaul aimed at resolving existing problems such as unclear responsibilities and cross-regulation as well as closing regulatory loopholes and curbing risk in the $43 trillion (€34.78 trillion) banking and insurance industries. The moves place the PBoC at the heart of the new regulatory structure for finance in China.

Experts say it’s too early to say how effective this new structure would be in tackling the country’s debt problem while ensuring that economic growth doesn’t decelerate.

Last week, Premier Li Keqiang announced a growth target of around 6.5 percent for this year, the same level that it handily beat in 2017 thanks in part to massive government infrastructure spending and record bank lending.

Analysts argue that fixed-asset investment, the biggest engine of China’s economy, has long been a contributor to the growth of debt. “China has relied on export and debt-financed fixed asset investment for growth for over two decades,” said Ho-Fung Hung, the Henry M. & Elizabeth P. Wiesenfeld Professor in political economy at the Johns Hopkins University.

“And as the central government and banking system keep producing new loans to absorb the debt, it leads to the continuous debt buildup,” he told DW.

Maximilian Kärnfelt, an analyst at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies, told DW that infrastructure investment still largely drives China’s economic growth. Fixed investment contributed 45 percent to China’s GDP in 2016, and the infrastructure share of overall fixed-asset investment remains significant.

Experts say the Chinese government needs to slow down the pace of infrastructure investment if it wants to resolve the debt problem. But they doubt that the government is willing to push ahead with such a measure.

“Because it [infrastructure investment] already is a large contributor to growth, slowing investment will substantially reduce growth rates,” said Victor Shih, an associate professor of political economy at the University of California in San Diego. “This is not what the leadership wants.”

BRI and its impact

This is where President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) comes into play. The gigantic multibillion-dollar infrastructure development project seeks to build or upgrade a network of highways railways, ports and pipelines spanning Asia, Africa and Europe.

Last year, Xi said Chinese banks would lend 380 billion yuan ($55.09 billion) to support Belt and Road cooperation, and Beijing would also inject 100 billion yuan into a Silk Road Fund.

Some observers view the project as an instrument designed to help the Chinese economy, with state-owned companies in specific sectors expected to profit massively from its implementation.

But Andrew Collier, managing director at Orient Capital Research, says Chinese banks may remain cautious with regard to financing the BRI.

“The banks [may] remain leery of these projects because they doubt they will be profitable and they will be stuck with bad loans,” said Collier. “In the end, we are going to see increasing defaults among smaller institutions, the collapse of some private loans through wealth management products, and growing layoffs in areas of the country with less political power.”

Additionally, a study conducted by the Center for Global Development estimates that the initiative could increase debt sustainability problems in eight countries. To prevent sovereign debt risks from elevating in these countries, the study recommends China to multilateralize the BRI and adopt additional mechanisms to agree on lending standards.

Managing debt

Last week, the Chinese government set a fiscal deficit target of 2.6 percent of GDP for 2018, lowering it 0.4 percentage points from the 2017 target of 3.0 percent. It marked a first cut to China’s budget deficit target in six years, and is viewed by many as a sign of Beijing’s willingness to tackle the debt problem.

“I think it probably reflects a desire to address the problem,” said Albert Park, director of the Institute for Emerging Market Studies at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It is positive for growth in the long run, because it reflects a more disciplined investment environment and focus on more sustainable growth.”

But analyst Shih believes that once China’s economic growth drops to a certain level, Beijing would again resort to stimulus to boost expansion. “I still think that if growth falls below a certain level, the top leadership will order a stimulus, which involves acceleration in debt growth,” said Shih. “That is the only viable tool in China’s arsenal if the economy slows too much.”Still, the experts are of the view that China for now appears unlikely to face a full-blown financial crisis, as the government exercises significant economic control and possesses massive financial resources, which could come in handy should the need arise.

“I believe China has enough political control and channels of information to prevent widespread unrest,” said Collier. “Any areas or large institutions in trouble are generally recapitalized by the state and workers are paid a modest sum as compensation for unemployment. However, it is going to be a mess unraveling, which may explain why President Xi is concentrating his power at a time when China’s economy is still rising.”

 

Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections

March 14, 2018

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

When Mark Zuckerberg was asked if Facebook had influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the founder and CEO dismissed the notion that the site even had such power as “crazy.” It was a disingenuous remark. Facebook’s website had an entire section devoted to touting the “success stories” of political campaigns that used the social network to influence electoral outcomes. That page, however, is now gone, even as the 2018 congressional primaries get underway.

In the wake of a public reckoning with Facebook’s unparalleled ability to distribute information and global anxiety over election meddling, bragging about the company’s ability to run highly effective influence campaigns probably doesn’t look so great.

Facebook’s “success stories” page is a monument to the company’s dominance of online advertising, providing examples from almost every imaginable industry of how use of the social network gave certain players an advantage. “Case studies like these inspire and motivate us,” the page crows. Current examples include CoverGirl (“promoting a beauty brand makeover with video ads on Facebook and Instagram”) and Tropicana (“Facebook video ads elevate fruit juice brand awareness”). Not so controversial.

The case studies that Facebook used to list from political campaigns, however, included more interesting claims. Facebook’s work with Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott “used link ads and video ads to boost Hispanic voter turnout in their candidate’s successful bid for a second term, resulting in a 22% increase in Hispanic support and the majority of the Cuban vote.” Facebook’s work with the Scottish National Party, a political party in the U.K., was described as “triggering a landslide.”

The “success stories” drop-down menu that once included an entire section for “Government and Politics” is now gone. Pages for the individual case studies, like the Scott campaign and SNP, are still accessible through their URLs, but otherwise seem to have been delisted.

Asked about the delisting, a Facebook spokesperson said that “a number of the studies have been archived, but they’re still available at the individual links.” Asked why the “Government and Politics” section had been removed entirely, the spokesperson did not reply.

 

Some unpleasant historical background on the George W. Bush administration from official sources

  • YOU ARE ACCESSING A U.S. GOVERNMENT (USG) INFORMATION SYSTEM (IS) THAT IS PROVIDED FOR USG-AUTHORIZED USE ONLY.
  • By using this IS (which includes any device attached to this IS), you consent to the following conditions:
  • By using this IS (which includes any device attached to this IS), you consent to the following conditions:
  • The USG routinely intercepts and monitors communications on this IS for purposes including, but not limited to, penetration testing, COMSEC monitoring, network operations and defense, personnel misconduct (PM), law enforcement (LE), and counterintelligence (CI) investigations.
  • At any time, the USG may inspect and seize data stored on this IS.
  • Communications using, or data stored on, this IS are not private, are subject to routine monitoring, interception, and search, and may be disclosed or used for any USG-authorized purpose.
  • This IS includes security measures (e.g., authentication and access controls) to protect USG interests–not for your personal benefit or privacy.
  • Notwithstanding the above, using this IS does not constitute consent to PM, LE or CI investigative searching or monitoring of the content of privileged communications, or work product, related to personal representation or services by attorneys, psychotherapists, or clergy, and their assistants. Such communications and work product are private and confidential. See User Agreement for details.

In this final overview treatment of the economic warfare that has had disastrous consequences for the United States, we investigate the Saudi terrorists attacks on American targets of prominence on September 11, 2001. This report, in all rights, ought to be dedicated to dramatis personae: Karl Rove who conceived it, George W. Bush who approved it and Dick Cheney who implemented it.

The deadly attacks by a team of Saudi terrorists against American targets on September 11, 2001, was in no way a secret venture. Almost from its inception, its progress was known to, and closely followed by, the intelligence agencies of Britain, Russia, Germany and Israel. All of these countries, without exception, duly notified the American authorities about a pending attack, by aircraft, against American targets. The Israeli Foreign Intelligence agency, the Mossad, had actually penetrated the leadership of the group centered in Hollywood, Florida, and made regular reports on the pending attack to their government. The Israeli government, in turn, made full disclosure to the highest level of authority in Washington.

Interestingly enough, the man who formulated the attack, Osama bin Ladin, was a personal friend of the American president, George Bush, and his very wealthy Saudi family had been investors in Bush’s Arbusto Energy Oil Company, founded in 1978.Another big investor was BCCI (Bank of Credit & Commerce) that later was shut down in July of 1991, charged with multibillion-dollar fraud and which had been heavily involved in drug money laundering, arms brokering, covert intelligence work, bribery of government officials and aid to terrorists.

Several members of the Bush family were heavy investors in the Carlyle Group, a defense contractor and investment fund with numerous interests in the Middle East, run by former Reagan administration Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci. Former President George H. W. Bush attended an investment meeting at the Washington, D.C. Ritz-Carlton hotel on September 10, 2001 and also a meeting with Shafiq bin Laden, representing joint interests of the Saudi Binladin Group and Carlyle.

In addition to the question of American control of oil and natural gas deliveries, there was also an internal political issue. It should be noted that during the previous administration of William Clinton, the American right wing, personified by the Republicans, fought a long, loud and effective public relations battle against what they saw was Clinton’s left wing policies. There was a steady drumfire of attacks, mostly from the far right Evangelicals, about Clinton’s various affairs and also about alleged financial peculations when he was governor of Arkansas.

Always extremely manipulative and often very vicious, the Republican leadership, coupled with outside business interests, manoevered George Bush into the Oval Office by a mixture of bribery, political presssure and deliberate vote fraud in Florida.

When a narrow Supreme Court majority placed Bush into office, Dick Cheney, a fixture of the very far right Republicans, appointed himself to the office of Vice President.

Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney was born in Nebraska in 1941, Cheney grew up in Casper, Wyoming., later attending  Yale University. Cheney dropped out during his sophomore year, and eventually earned a political science degree at the University of Wyoming in 1965.

After winning a postgraduate fellowship that took him to Washington, Cheney was employed by the Nixon administration as a special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, who at that time was director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and later White House counsel.            In August 1974, after President Nixon resigned from office in disgrace , Rumsfeld was called to join the White House staff as an assistant to Ford, and Cheney moved along with Rumsfeld. Hard-working, loyal and good-natured, Cheney made a good impression and became Ford’s chief of staff from 1975 to 1977.

A very strong neo-conservative and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton Company, which greatly benefitted from contracts with the U.S. government, especially in the war with Iraq Cheney has ties to the Carlyle Group, is a former Senior Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute,has  served on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and has been linked to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Was anti-abortion advocate, and supports prayer in school. While serving in Congress, he was one of 21 members opposing the sale ban of armor-piercing bullets; was one of only four to oppose the ban on guns that can get through metal detectors; opposed sanctions against the apartheid-era South Africa in the mid-1980s along with voting against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela; voted for a constitutional amendment to ban school busing; voted against Head Start; and voted against extending the Clean Water Act in 1987.

Cheney was appointed head of Halliburton in 1995. This company was, and still is, the largest worldwide providers of equipment and services to the oil industry, Cheney was appointed to head this company solely because of his previous government employments and the contacts this supplied. During his five years as CEO, Cheney nearly doubled the size of Halliburton’s government contracts, totaling $2.3 billion.

Cheney continued to draw a $1,000,000 per year paycheck from Halliburton while serving as the Vice President.He stated a number of times that he saw no conflict of interest between taking this paycheck, and participating in White House decisions that have allocated billions of dollars of bids to Halliburton that have not gone to open tender.

Since he and Bush occupied the White House, Cheney managed to accomplish a great deal in the fields of personal enrichment and political gain. As Vice President, Cheney met with the heads of oil, gas, and nuclear power companies, asked for and got their needs and requirements and turned them into a new national Energy Plan. Cheney’s close relations with the later-convicted swindler, Ken Lay of Enron, is a case in point. Given his key role in determining the policy and practice of the Bush administration, an understanding of Cheney’s history is important

While Cheney was running Halliburton, there was a 91`% increase in U.S. government contracts with that firm.

  • In 2000, before assuming office as Vice President, Cheney’s income from Halliburton:was $36,086,635
  • American energy companies gave the 2000 Bush/Cheney presidential campaign $1,800,000
  • He convinced the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. to lend Halliburton and oil companies another $1.5 billion, backed by U.S. taxpayers. Unfortunately some of these loans went to a Russian company with ties to drug dealing and organized crime. Under Cheney’s leadership Halliburton and its subsidiaries supported, or even ordered, human rights violations and broke international laws.
  • Libya engaged a foreign subsidiary of Halliburton company, Brown & Root, to perform millions of dollars worth of work. At the time, Libya was strongly suspected of harboring and encouraging terrorist activity, Brown & Root was subsequently fined $3.8 million for violating Libyan sanctions. (Although Cheney wasn’t leading Halliburton when these sales started, subsidiaries’ sales to Libya continued throughout his tenure.)
  • Halliburton became the biggest oil contractor for Iraq, selling more than $73 million in goods and services to Saddam Hussein’s regime although there were firm U.S. sanctions on Iraq at the time. ,

Karl Christian Rove became Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush until his sudden resignation on August 31, 2007. He once headed the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Public Liaison, and the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives..

Rove influenced dealings with Iraq and North Korea, according to Bush administration sources. For instance, when the U.S. was notified, through formal diplomatic channels, that North Korea had nuclear technology, Congress was in the midst of discussing the Iraqi war resolution. Rove counseled the president to keep that information from Congress for 12 days, until the debate was finished, so it would not affect the vote. He was also reported to be present at a war strategy meeting concerning whether to attack Syria after Iraq. Rove said the timing was not right.

Yet. having the political advisor involved in that decision is wrong. It was Rove who kept President Bush relentlessly adherent to his obsessive goal of a permanent Republican-controlled executive, making the argument that America is safe only in their hands – Rove, highly intelligent and extremely arrogant, firmly believed himself an expert in both policy and politics because he could see no distinction between the two.

This matters for a number of reasons. There is always a time during any president’s administration when what is best for the future of the country diverges from what best serves that president’s political future. It was always Rove’s firm intention to push the president in the direction of reelection rather than the country’s best interests.

What Rove always wanted to achieve, was nothing less than a major alignment in US politics, making the Republicans the sole party of government for a generation or more.

In June 2003 powerful far right wing writer, Grover Norquist wrote “In crafting its agenda for economic reform, the Bush administration has the luxury of being able to think and plan over a full eight years…This guarantee of united Republican government has allowed the Bush administration to work and think long-term….Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and Senate and having the Presidency with some regularity.”  According to Norquist “every time the government gets smaller there are fewer Democratic precinct workers in the world…It is a virtuous cycle.”.

Now that we have some background on the players, let us consider the origins of the 9/11 attacks on American targets.

We have taken a brief look at the major players in the game and have taken even a briefer look at some of the attending circumstances behind the Saudi terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Now it is time to outline what lay behind the actual attack. High level people in the government are laboring under the misapprehension that they are speaking over secured telephone lines or email or faxing over other secure services but in the main, they are living in a fool’s paradise.

The President does have very secure lines of communications but neither Cheney nor Rove did. Not only can our very own NSA listen in to conversations held from Cheney’s “Secret Command Post” but so can others, to include the British and Russian intelligence agencies. Our Army has been reading top secret Israeli diplomatic, military and intelligence messages for some time and even the PRC and the French are not without success in pulling messages off the air and breaking even the most complicated algorithmic encryption.

It is from these sources that it has been possible to put together a plot that not even the most creative of the bloggers could possibly have imagined.

It is well known that the far right wing of the Republican Party was determined to get control of the White House just as they then had control of Congress. They were well on their way to stacking the third branch of our government, the judicial. The main architect of this ambitious plan was Karl Rove. Very intelligent but totally amoral and personally vicious, Rove was a powerful influence over George Bush, converting him to a form of aggressive Evangelical Christianity and getting him elected to the Governorship of Texas. Rove was instrumental in convincing the power elite of the time to support Bush as the Republican candidate for President in 2000 and the manipulations to put the colorless Bush into the Oval Office have been covered extensively in the media and on the Internet. There were deliberate voter frauds including fixed voting machines, machines made and controlled by a strong Bush supporter. There was obvious and deliberate voter fraud in Florida, a state run by Bush’s brother and Rove had seen to it that there was a bare majority of the Supreme Court to, in effect, job Bush straight into the White House.

Now, the plotters reasoned, they had control of the executive, the legislative and the judicial. There was only one more factor to take into account in the final securing of absolute power and that was the American public.

Not even the most accomplished of the watchers can say with certainty when the final chapter was first broached but enough has been pieced together to make a thoroughly believable scenario. In all probability it was Rove, a man with a good understanding of history, who realized that a so-called wartime President could gather unto himself, and his supporters, almost unlimited powers and among these was the power to frighten the public into obeying his dictates and the excuse for establish these dictates in the first place.

During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson set up a virtual dictatorship in the United States during his war with Germany and, of course, there was the seizure of power by Hitler in 1933 after he had been appointed a Chancellor with limited powers. Coupled with this burning desire for long-term, if not permanent, political control in the United States, there was also the issue of economic control but with a cowed public and control over all three branches of government, economic control would be a very easy matter to accomplish.

It was well known that the United States was in growing need of natural gas and, most especially oil. It was also less well known that the once-enormous Saudi fields were running dry and that Iraq had more oil than Saudi Arabia. Also, the Iraqi dictator, Hussein, had physically bombarded Israel during the Gulf War and he was viewed by that country as a great menace. The strong, overly strong many asserted, influence Israel and its organs in the United States had was another factor in the plan.

It was the gradual inclusion of top Israeli political and military leaders in the plan that allowed the Russian GRU to discover it. Rove saw a brief, Bismarckian campaign against Iraq that would gain the United States access to that country’s oil and to establish even stronger ties with Israel and its domestic support of Republican policies.

What was lacking was a casus belli, a cause for war. It was in this area that Bush and Cheney had excellent prospects. Osama bin Ladin was the son of a very powerful Saudi businessman who had the highest-level connections in his country and whose family activities were well known to Cheney because of his tenure as head of Halliburton.

The bin Ladins also had very good connections with George Bush and had invested heavily in his company, Arbusto. Certain favors could then certainly be asked and, if everyone could see profit in them, granted. It is known that the great bulk of the actual 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens (1 Egyptian, two UAE, 1 Lebanese and 15 Saudis) and they were ordered  to attack the United States, again (there had been one unsuccessful attack on the WTC on February 26, 1993, when a car bomb was detonated in the parking garage below the North Tower of the WTC. The 1,500 lb explosive device was intended to knock the North Tower  into the South Tower , bringing both towers down and killing thousands of people.)

The bomb was badly situated and it killed six people and injured over a thousand. Herein lay the seed for the Rovian casus belli, only this time, a more spectacular attacks needed to be launched to achieve any hoped for results in both supplying a Pearl Harbor-type excuse for war but also a power tool to be used to frighten the mass of the public into terribled obedience to the wishes of a protecting government.

There were so many contacts with the Saudi elements that no one could possibly keep track of them but it was obvious to most foreign agencies after the attack that its origins were never in doubt. And to further assist the plot, the Israelis were brought into the fold. Their competent foreign intelligence, the Mossad, was already at work undercover in the United States, spying on anti-Israel Moslim activists so it surprised no one when the Mossad, using Yemini Jews, infiltrated the Atta group in Hollywood, Florida. The incident would be executed by people controlled by bin Ladin but supervised by the Mossad.

But it was all very well and good for a trio of highly-placed plotters to scheme inside a relatively secure White House but as the plans were developed and others brought into the execution of it, the chnce for serious leaks became greater.

Although the government quickly enlisted the aid of a legion of conspiracy people to cloak their actions with absurd rumors and distracting fictions, there were still many who questioned the attacks but as the years have passed, the subject has grown stale and so grown over by a huge jungle of lies, fictions and confusion that like the earlier Kennedy assassination, it will pass into the oblivion of history.

The attacks went off as planned, Bush played the role of savior and in the wake of the attack, fear became the order of the day and fear was constatly being cultivated by the Bush people and harvested at the polls.

But the Rove people failed in two areas and it was a failure that eventualy brought down their plans. The Saudi attack that was aborted in the fields of Pennsylvania was intended to crash into the Capitol building when Congress was in session, causing huge casualties and giving Bush the excuse to govern by decree until some vague future time when new elections to replace the dead or crippled members of that body could be held.

The second area of failure was the refusal of the senior commanders of the Army to become involved in neo-Fascistic roundups of any dissident citizenry or to run any barbed wire detention centers.

By constantly crying about the wolves, the Bush conspirators exceeded their brief and eventually, the public ignored the color coding and the exhortations to use duct tape on windows to prevent radioactive matrial from entering their homes.

In short, the plotters could only go so far without eventually enforcing their wishes and the plot, which killed a huge number of people and bankrupted the country, fell apart.

But fortunately, so also did the far right Republicans and God willing, we shall not see their like again.

Here is a very brief timeline that contains items of interest:

July 4-14, 2001: Osama bin Laden receives treatments for kidney disease at the American hospital in Dubai and meets with a CIA official who returns to CIA headquarters on July 15. [Le Figaro, October 31st, 2001]

July 5, 2001: The government’s top counter-terrorism official, Richard Clarke, states to a group gathered at the White House: “Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” The group included the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the INS. Clarke directs every counter-terrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises and place domestic rapid response teams on much shorter alert.

July 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stops flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment. [CBS, 7/26/01]

Late July 2001: The U.S. and UN ignore warnings from the Taliban foreign minister that bin Laden is planning an imminent huge attack on US soil. The FBI and CIA also fail to take seriously, warnings that Islamic fundamentalists have enrolled in flight schools across the U.S. [Independent, 9/7/02]

August 2001: Russian President Vladimir Putin orders Russian intelligence to warn the U.S. government “in the strongest possible terms” of imminent attacks by suicide pilots on airports and government buildings. [MS-NBC interview with Putin, September 15, 2001,]

August 6, 2001: The CIA also presents a warning to the President, explicitly concerned with terrorism inside the United States, indicating that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. Actual content of this message has been the subject of considerable debate, with White House officials understandably downplaying its significance. [Time magazine, May 16, 2002; New York Times, May 16, 2002]

August 8-23, 2001: Two high ranking Israeli Mossad agents come to Washington to warn the FBI and CIA that up to 200 terrorists have slipped into the U.S. and are planning an imminent major assault in the U.S. Indications point to a highly visible target. [Telegraph, 9/16/01; Los Angeles Times, 9/16/01; “Fox News,” 5/17/02] The Mossad gives the CIA a list of terrorists. A major Israeli spy ring was hard on the heels of at least four members of the 9/11 hijackers, including lead hijacker Mohammed Atta. [BBC, 10/2/01]

September 10, 2001: NSA intercepts two messages in Arabic. One message read: “Tomorrow is zero hour,” and the second: “The match begins tomorrow.” [New York Times, August 10, 2002; Reuters, June 19, 2002] On June 19, 2002, CNN reported the contents of these two National Security Agency intercepts. Other news outlets, including the Washington Post, also reported on the intercepts. [New York Times, August 10, 2002]

September 10, 2001: A particularly urgent warning was received the night before the attacks, causing some top Pentagon brass to suddenly cancel travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of “sudden security concerns.” [Newsweek, 9/12/2001] “Why that same information was not available to the 266 people who died aboard the four hijacked commercial aircraft may become a hot topic on the Hill.” [Newsweek, 9/13/2001]

September 11, 2001: General Mahmud of the ISI, a friend of Mohammed Atta, is visiting Washington on behalf of the Taliban. [MS-NBC, Oct. 7, 2001]

September 11, 2001: Employees of Odigo, Inc. of Israel, one of the world’s largest instant messaging companies, with offices in New York, receives threat warnings of an imminent attack on the WTC less than two hours before the first plane hits the WTC. Law enforcement authorities have gone silent about any investigation of this. Odigo Research and Development offices in Israel are located in the city of Herzliyya, a suburb of Tel Aviv which is the same location as the Institute for Counter Terrorism which breaks early details of insider trading on 9-11. [Ha’aretz, 9/26/2001; Reuters, June 19, 2002]

September 13-19, 2001: Members of bin Laden’s family are driven or flown under FBI supervision to a secret assembly point in Texas and then to Washington, where they leave the country on a private charter plane when airports reopen three days after the attacks. [New York Times, September 30, 2001]

September 19, 2001: The FBI claims there may have been six hijacking teams on the morning of 9/11. [New York Times, 9/19/01; CBS, 9/14/01; Guardian, 10/13/01] Authorities have identified teams that total as many as 50 infiltrators who supported or carried out the strikes. About 40 of the men have been accounted for. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/01]

October 10, 2001: U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain paid a call on the Pakistani oil minister. A previously abandoned Unocal pipeline from Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan, to the Pakistani coast, for the purpose of selling oil and gas to China, is now back on the table “in view of recent geopolitical developments.” [Pakistan, the Frontier Post]

September 23, 2006: the French newspaper L’Est Républicain quoted a report from the French secret service (Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure, DGSE) stating that Osama bin Laden had died in Pakistan on 23 August 2006, after contracting a case of typhoid fever that paralyzed his lower limbs. Saudi security services first heard of bin Laden’s death on 4 September 2006. The Osama death was reported by the Saudi Arabian secret service to its government, which in turn quickly reported it to the French secret service. It is to be noted, however, that since his death, bin Ladin has released a number of tape recorded interviews that somehow seemed to have strongly supported the Bush administrations’s continued terrorization of the American public.

These tapes were made by a CIA-owned firm in Texas. Any educated Arabic person will tell you that while the language was technically correct, it was badly flawed in that no Arab would use such wooden and improbable phrases in his speech. This is not particularly surprising because the CIA is not known for either its intelligence, subtlety or creative ability.

And one cannot overlook the spectularly staged raid by U.S. Navy Seals on “bin Laden’s hiding place” in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.

This pure publicity operation, as well as the tapes, was badly constructed and never probed too deeply lest it be revealed as self-serving creative fiction.

We should like to give especial thanks to Mr. Leszek Kobiernicki, of the British Ministry of Defense, for all of his very valued assistance. Mr. Kobiernicki is a specialist in official documentation and has access to very high level intercepted American military and diplomatic transmissions. His assistance has been absolutely vital and his extensive material fundus will be dealt with in further articles. ed

 

No responses yet

Leave a Reply