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TBR News November 14, 2017

Nov 14 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 14, 2017:” “In Palestine, the first Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians and the second, by Herod Agrippa, was destroyed by the Romans after the collapse of the revolt of 67 AD.

‘The Temple Mount will first have to be cleared off to make way for the new construction,” Jakob Weissberg of the Temple Commission said “and the beginning of the new edifice can then commence.’

Plans for the new Temple have already been approved and construction is expected as soon as all the existing buildings on the site of the former Temples have been demolished and the site prepared.

Geological reports on the condition of the underlying stone have long been completed and all that was remaining for work to commence was the right political atmosphere and the moral support of the United States.

President Trump has personally expressed his satisfaction with this culturally and religiously significant project and indicated that he would be “deeply honored” to attend services when the new Temple was completed.

Mr. Trump has long been seen as a strong and active supporter of Israel and a firm friend of Mr. Netanyahu

Weissberg has stated that construction is expected not to exceed seven months.

The surplus ‘existing’ buildings that are mentioned include the Dome of the Rock mosque and other historically and religiously important Arab constructions.

Why not tear down the Vatican while they are at it and erect a bagel stand in its place?”

Table of Contents

  • Secrecy News
  • The Reverse Midas Touch of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Is Turning the Middle East to Dust
  • Reining in the Rogue Royal of Arabia
  • Russia accuses US of providing cover for the ‘Islamic State’ militia
  • Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria
  • Justice Dept weighs inquiry into Clintons and Uranium One
  • Israel Lobby Is Slowly Being Dragged Into the Light
  • The Vicious Inheritance: Stalin’s Jewish Executioners
  • Opening statements set in conspiracy trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy
  • Custom Brewed Lifestyle: The Booming Coffee Industry and Those It’s Left Behind

 

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 79

November 14, 2017

PRESIDENT’S POWER TO USE NUKES, & MORE FROM CRS

The President’s authority to use nuclear weapons — which is the subject of a congressional hearing today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — was addressed in several recent publications of the Congressional Research Service.

A new CRS Legal Sidebar addresses the unresolved question: Can Congress Limit the President’s Power to Launch Nuclear Weapons?

A detailed new CRS memorandum examines “Legislation Limiting the President’s Power to Use Nuclear Weapons: Separation of Powers Implications.”

See also Defense Primer: President’s Constitutional Authority with Regard to the Armed Forces, CRS In Focus.

The uncertain scope of presidential authority to order the use of nuclear weapons was identified as a serious policy problem in 1984 by the late Jeremy J. Stone, then-president of the Federation of American Scientists. In an article published in Foreign Policy at the time, he concluded that “presidential first use [of nuclear weapons] is unlawful.”

* * *

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

  • FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, November 8, 2017
  • The Rohingya Crises in Bangladesh and Burma, November 8, 2017

Lebanon, updated November 9, 2017

  • Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations in Brief, updated November 9, 2017
  • El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 3, 2017
  • Guatemala: Political and Socioeconomic Conditions and U.S. Relations, updated October 17, 2017
  • Why is Violence Rebounding in Mexico?, CRS Insight, November 8, 2017
  • Comprehensive Energy Planning for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, CRS Insight, November 6, 2017
  • Resolutions of Inquiry: An Analysis of Their Use in the House, 1947-2017, updated November 9, 2017
  • Government Printing, Publications, and Digital Information Management: Issues and Challenges, November 8, 2017
  • Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, CRS Insight, November 9, 2017
  • Natural Disasters of 2017: Congressional Considerations Related to FEMA Assistance, CRS Insight, November 2, 2017
  • Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy, updated November 7, 2017
  • U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees Who Received a Rating of “Not Qualified” from the American Bar Association: Background and Historical Analysis, CRS Insight, November 9, 2017
  • Consumer and Credit Reporting, Scoring, and Related Policy Issues, updated November 3, 2017
  • The U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment, Wages, and Unemployment, updated November 2, 2017

 

The Reverse Midas Touch of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Is Turning the Middle East to Dust

November 13 2017

by Mehdi Hasan

The Intercept

Kudos to Germany’s spooks. Back in December 2015, the German foreign intelligence agency, BND, distributed a one-and-a-half-page memo to various media outlets titled: “Saudi Arabia — Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation.” The document was pretty astonishing, both in its undiplomatic bluntness and remarkable prescience.

“The current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy,” the memo warned, focusing on the role of Mohammed bin Salman, who had been appointed as deputy crown prince and defense minister at the age of 30 earlier that year.

Both MBS, as he has come to be known, and his elderly father King Salman, the BND analysts wrote, want Saudi Arabia to be seen as “the leader of the Arab world” with a foreign policy built on “a strong military component.” Yet the memo also pointed out that the consolidation of so much power in a single young prince’s hands “harbors a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach,” adding: “Relations with friendly and above all allied countries in the region could be overstretched.”

And so it has come to pass. In fact, despite being repudiated at the time by a German government more concerned about diplomatic and commercial relations with Riyadh, the BND warning turned out to be eerily prophetic.

Consider recent events in the Gulf. Can you get more “impulsive” than rounding up 11 fellow princes, including one of the world’s richest men and the commander of the national guard, and holding them at the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption? Especially since MBS, who ordered the arrests only a few hours after his father set up an anti-corruption committee and put him in charge of it, isn’t exactly a paragon of probity and transparency himself. Where, for example, did the crown prince find more than $500 million to spend on a luxury yacht while vacationing in the south of France last year?

Is it anything other than “interventionist” to force the resignation of the prime minister of Lebanon on a visit to your country and then put him under a form of house arrest (though the hapless Saad Hariri, a long-standing client of Riyadh, publicly claims otherwise and says he is heading back to Beirut this week)? Or to also detain the president of Yemen? According to an investigation by the Associated Press, “Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen’s president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months.”

That the crown prince of Saudi Arabia can, essentially, kidnap the elected leaders of not one but two Middle Eastern countries — and, incidentally, put the leading Saudi royal he replaced as crown prince under palace arrest — speaks volumes about not just his “impulsive intervention policy” but the shameless pass he gets from Western governments for such rogue behavior. Imagine the reaction from the international community if Iran had, say, detained the Iraqi prime minister on Iranian soil after forcing him to resign on Iranian television. Yet President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to tweet his support for the crown prince and his father: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”

The more sober Europeans haven’t been much better. President Emmanuel Macron of France, on a surprise visit to Riyadh last week, saluted MBS “on the opening of his country and support for a moderate Islam.”

Meanwhile, are we supposed to call the rift between the Gulf countries, instigated by the Saudis, with the support of the Emiratis, anything other than “overreach,” to quote the BND, on the part of MBS? The crown prince and his cronies had assumed that tiny, defenseless Qatar would be brought to heel within a matter of weeks, if not days. Five months on, however, the Qataris, continue to reject the long list of Saudi/UAE demands — including the closure of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera media network — and have retreated into the warm embrace of the MBS’s key regional rivals, Iran and Turkey. Bravo, crown prince!

Then there is Yemen. More than two years after the richest country in the Middle East began bombing the poorest country in the Middle East, there is no end in sight. MBS owns this disastrous conflict — he pushed for it, defended it, escalated it. But wasn’t the recent Houthi rocket attack on Riyadh — which the crown prince called an act of “direct military aggression by the Iranian regime” — evidence of a complete failure of Saudi military strategy? Weren’t those pesky Houthi rebels supposed to have been vanquished by the Royal Saudi Air Force by now? Instead, Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — which MBS, as defense minister, shamefully intensified with his order last week to blockade all entry points into the country.

From Lebanon to Qatar to Yemen, the much-lauded MBS has in fact proved to be the reverse Midas — everything he touches turns to dust. Maybe the authors of that scathing BND memo underestimated just how much of a disaster this favored son of Salman would be both for the kingdom and for the wider region. The inconvenient truth about the crown prince is that he isn’t only impulsive, he’s incompetent; he isn’t only ambitious, he’s reckless. He is also a nationalist and a hawk who is bent on turning the long-standing Saudi/Iran cold war into a very hot war — and is even willing to ally with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel in order to do so. If MBS is the new “leader of the Arab world”… then Allah help the Arab world.

 

Reining in the Rogue Royal of Arabia

November 14, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan

AntiWar

If the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has in mind a war with Iran, President Trump should disabuse his royal highness of any notion that America would be doing his fighting for him.

Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, the 32-year-old son of the aging and ailing King Salman, is making too many enemies for his own good, or for ours.

Pledging to Westernize Saudi Arabia, he has antagonized the clerical establishment. Among the 200 Saudis he just had arrested for criminal corruption are 11 princes, the head of the National Guard, the governor of Riyadh, and the famed investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

The Saudi tradition of consensus collective rule is being trashed.

MBS is said to be pushing for an abdication by his father and his early assumption of the throne. He has begun to exhibit the familiar traits of an ambitious 21st-century autocrat in the mold of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Yet his foreign adventures are all proving to be debacles.

The rebels the Saudis backed in Syria’s civil war were routed. The war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen, of which MBS is architect, has proven to be a Saudi Vietnam and a human rights catastrophe.

The crown prince persuaded Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE to expel Qatar from the Sunni Arab community for aiding terrorists, but he has failed to choke the tiny country into submission.

Last week, MBS ordered Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where Hariri publicly resigned his office and now appears to be under house arrest. Refusing to recognize the resignation, Lebanon’s president is demanding Hariri’s return.

After embattled Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at its international airport, Riyadh declared the missile to be Iranian-made, smuggled into Yemen by Tehran, and fired with the help of Hezbollah.

The story seemed far-fetched, but Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the attack out of Yemen may be considered an “act of war” – by Iran. And as war talk spread across the region last week, Riyadh ordered all Saudi nationals in Lebanon to come home.

Riyadh has now imposed a virtual starvation blockade – land, sea and air – on Yemen, that poorest of Arab nations that is heavily dependent on imports for food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni are suffering from cholera. Millions face malnutrition.

The U.S. interest here is clear: no new war in the Middle East, and a negotiated end to the wars in Yemen and Syria.

Hence, the United States needs to rein in the royal prince.

Yet, on his Asia trip, Trump said of the Saudi-generated crisis, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”

Do they? In October, Jared Kushner made a trip to Riyadh, where he reportedly spent a long night of plotting Middle East strategy until 4 a.m. with MBS.

No one knows how a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would end. The Saudis has been buying modern U.S. weapons for years, but Iran, with twice the population, has larger if less-well-equipped forces.

Yet the seeming desire of the leading Sunni nation in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, for a confrontation with the leading Shiite power, Iran, appears to carry the greater risks for Riyadh.

For, a dozen years ago, the balance of power in the Gulf shifted to Iran, when Bush II launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, ousted Saddam Hussein, disarmed and disbanded his Sunni-led army, and turned Iraq into a Shiite-dominated nation friendly to Iran.

In the Reagan decade, Iraq had fought Iran as mortal enemies for eight years. Now they are associates, if not allies.

The Saudis may bristle at Hezbollah and demand a crackdown. But Hezbollah is a participant in the Lebanese government and has the largest fighting force in the country, hardened in battle in Syria’s civil war, where it emerged on the victorious side.

While the Israelis could fight and win a war with Hezbollah, both Israel and Hezbollah suffered so greatly from their 2006 war that neither appears eager to renew that costly but inconclusive conflict.

In an all-out war with Iran, Saudi Arabia could not prevail without U.S. support. And should Riyadh fail, the regime would be imperiled. As World War I, with the fall of the Romanov, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires demonstrated, imperial houses do not fare well in losing wars.

So far out on a limb has MBS gotten himself, with his purge of cabinet ministers and royal cousins, and his foreign adventures, it is hard to see how he climbs back without some humiliation that could cost him the throne.

Yet we have our own interests here. And we should tell the crown prince that if he starts a war in Lebanon or in the Gulf, he is on his own. We cannot have this impulsive prince deciding whether or not the United States goes to war again in the Middle East.

We alone decide that.

 

Russia accuses US of providing cover for the ‘Islamic State’ militia

The US-led coalition in Syria tried to “impede” Russian warplanes from bombing “Islamic State” (IS) militia, the Russian Defense Ministry said. It also accused Washington of allowing the jihadists to regroup in Iraq.

November 14, 2017

DW

The fighter jets of the US-led military coalition were trying to hinder Russian airstrikes by flying inside the bombing zone in the Syrian town of Abu Kamal, Moscow said on Tuesday. The town is one of the last “Islamic State” (IS) strongholds in Syria, located on the Euphrates River near Iraq.

In order to ensure “safe passage for the retreating IS forces” the coalition jets “were trying to interfere with Russian fighter jets which were active in the region” said the Russian Ministry of Defense.

“With this goal, coalition fighter jets were entering the 15-kilometer (9 mile) airspace around Abu Kamal in order to impede the activities of the Russian air force,” they added.

Americans refused to bomb IS

Convoys of IS fighters were fleeing the town towards the Iraqi border, according to the footage recorded by Russian military drones last week. The Russian military “has twice approached the central command of the US-led coalition and suggested joint strikes to destroy the retreating IS forces on the east shore of Euphrates.”

“However, the Americans categorically refused to conduct airstrikes against the IS terrorists, saying that, according to their data, the fighters were ‘surrendering’ and were protected by the Geneva convention on treatment of war prisoners,” the Russian officials said.

The retreating IS fighters were equipped with “military vehicles and heavy weapons,” they added. Russian military also reportedly asked the Americans why the jihadists were “regrouping in the zone controlled by the international coalition to conduct new attacks against the Syrian army in Abu Kamal,” but received no response.

IS to advance American interests

Moscow also accused the US of a plot to create a “pro-American” region on the Euphrates which would continue to oppose the Syrian government. According to the Defense Ministry, the routed Islamic Fighters would be sent back to reclaim the region themselves, but this time they would be flying the colors of the moderate Syrian Democratic Forces. The plans were dispelled by the rapid advance of the Syrian army, Moscow said.

“These facts are conclusive evidence that the United States, while imitating an noncompromising fight against international terrorism for the global community, in fact  provides cover for the IS units” in order to use them for advancing “American interests in the Middle East.”

 

Behind the Sudden Death of a $1 Billion Secret C.I.A. War in Syria

August 2, 2017

by Mark Mazetti, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The end came quickly for one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A.

During a White House briefing early last month, the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, recommended to President Trump that he shut down a four-year-old effort to arm and train Syrian rebels. The president swiftly ended the program.

The rebel army was by then a shell, hollowed out by more than a year of bombing by Russian planes and confined to ever-shrinking patches of Syria that government troops had not reconquered. Critics in Congress had complained for years about the costs — more than $1 billion over the life of the program — and reports that some of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons had ended up in the hands of a rebel group tied to Al Qaeda further sapped political support for the program.

While critics of Mr. Trump have argued that he ended the program to curry favor with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, there were in fact dim views of the effort in both the Trump and Obama White Houses — a rare confluence of opinion on national security policy.

The shuttering of the C.I.A. program, one of the most expensive efforts to arm and train rebels since the agency’s program arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s, has forced a reckoning over its successes and failures. Opponents say it was foolhardy, expensive and ineffective. Supporters say that it was unnecessarily cautious, and that its achievements were remarkable given that the Obama administration had so many restrictions on it from the start, which they say ultimately ensured its failure.

The program did have periods of success, including in 2015 when rebels using tank-destroying missiles, supplied by the C.I.A. and also Saudi Arabia, routed government forces in northern Syria. But by late 2015 the Russian military offensive in Syria was focusing squarely on the C.I.A.-backed fighters battling Syrian government troops. Many of the fighters were killed, and the fortunes of the rebel army reversed.

Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Middle East Institute, said he was not surprised that the Trump administration ended the program, which armed and trained thousands of Syrian rebels. (By comparison, a $500 million Pentagon program that envisioned training and equipping 15,000 Syrian rebels over three years, was canceled in 2015 after producing only a few dozen fighters.)

“In many ways, I would put the blame on the Obama administration,” Mr. Lister said of the C.I.A. program. “They never gave it the necessary resources or space to determine the dynamics of the battlefield. They were drip-feeding opposition groups just enough to survive but never enough to become dominant actors.”

Mr. Trump has twice publicly criticized the effort since he ended it. After The Washington Post first reported on his decision, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was ending “massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.” During an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month, the president said many of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons ended up in the hands of “Al Qaeda” — presumably a reference to the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, which often fought alongside the C.I.A.-backed rebels.

Michael V. Hayden, a former C.I.A. director, said the president’s comments “might give the agency pause with regard to how much he will have their backs on any future covert actions.”

Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of United States Special Operations Command, said during a conference last month that ending the C.I.A. program was a “tough, tough decision.”

“At least from what I know about that program and the decision to end it, it was absolutely not a sop to the Russians,” he said. “It was, I think, based on an assessment of the nature of the program, what we’re trying to accomplish, the viability of it going forward.”

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

President Barack Obama had reluctantly agreed to the program in 2013 as the administration was struggling to blunt the momentum of Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. It soon fell victim to the constantly shifting alliances in Syria’s six-year-old civil war and the limited visibility that American military and intelligence officials had over what was occurring on the ground.

Once C.I.A.-trained fighters crossed into Syria, C.I.A. officers had difficulty controlling them. The fact that some of their C.I.A. weapons ended up with Nusra Front fighters — and that some of the rebels joined the group — confirmed the fears of many in the Obama administration when the program began. Although the Nusra Front was widely seen as an effective fighting force against Mr. Assad’s troops, its Qaeda affiliation made it impossible for the Obama administration to provide direct support for the group.

American intelligence officials estimate that the Nusra Front now has as many as 20,000 fighters in Syria, making it Al Qaeda’s largest affiliate. Unlike other Qaeda affiliates such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Nusra Front has long focused on battling the Syrian government rather than plotting terrorist attacks against the United States and Europe.

The American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a program that is classified.

In the summer of 2012, David H. Petraeus, who was then C.I.A. director, first proposed a covert program of arming and training rebels as Syrian government forces bore down on them.

The proposal forced a debate inside the Obama administration, with some of Mr. Obama’s top aides arguing that Syria’s chaotic battlefield would make it nearly impossible to ensure that weapons provided by the C.I.A. could be kept out of the hands of militant groups like the Nusra Front. Mr. Obama rejected the plan.

But he changed his mind the following year, signing a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels at bases in Jordan. The president’s reversal came in part because of intense lobbying by foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued that the United States should take a more active role in trying to end the conflict.

Given the code name Timber Sycamore, the covert program began slowly, but by 2015 the C.I.A.-backed rebel groups had made significant progress against Syrian forces, pushing into areas of the country long considered to be government strongholds. The offensive gained momentum after the C.I.A. and Saudi Arabia began supplying the powerful tank-destroying weapons to the rebel groups.

But the rebel push in Idlib, Hama and Latakia Provinces in northern Syria also created problems for Washington. The Nusra Front, often battling alongside the C.I.A.-supported rebel groups, made its own territorial gains.

It was Nusra’s battlefield successes that Mr. Putin used as one justification for the Russian military offensive in Syria, which began in 2015. The Russian campaign, a relentless bombing of the C.I.A.-backed fighters and Nusra militants, battered the rebels and sent them into retreat.

The program suffered other setbacks. The arming and the training of the rebels occurred in Jordan and Turkey, and at one point Jordanian intelligence officers pilfered stockpiles of weapons the C.I.A. had shipped into the country for the Syrian rebels, selling them on the black market. In November, a member of the Jordanian military shot and killed three American soldiers who had been training Syrian rebels as part of the C.I.A. program.

White House officials also received periodic reports that the C.I.A.-trained rebels had summarily executed prisoners and committed other violations of the rules of armed conflict. Sometimes the reports led to the C.I.A. suspending cooperation with groups accused of wrongdoing.

John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s last C.I.A. director, remained a vigorous defender of the program despite divisions inside the spy agency about the effort’s effectiveness. But by the final year of the Obama administration, the program had lost many supporters in the White House — especially after the administration’s top priority in Syria became battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, rather than seeking an end to Mr. Assad’s government.

During one meeting in the White House Situation Room at the end of the Obama administration, with C.I.A.-backed rebels continuing to lose ground in the face of withering Russian air bombing, Mr. Brennan pressed the case that the United States continue to back the effort to topple Mr. Assad, according to one person who attended the meeting.

But Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, shot back. “Make no mistake,” she said, according to the person in the meeting. “The president’s priority in Syria is fighting ISIS.”

Backed by Russian aircraft, Syrian government forces gradually began to reclaim areas near the Turkish border that had long been rebel strongholds, and eventually pushed many of the rebels back to the bes

Aleppo fell to Syrian government troops in December.

Eric Schmitt, Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting.

 

Justice Dept weighs inquiry into Clintons and Uranium One

November 14, 2017

BBC News

The US Department of Justice says it has asked prosecutors to scrutinise the Clintons’ charitable foundation and a uranium deal.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said a top-level inquiry could be launched into “certain issues” at the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One.

Mr Sessions outlined the move in response to a letter from congressional Republicans.

The matters are longstanding political grievances of President Donald Trump.

Democrats have called Uranium One a “massive diversion” from the investigations dogging Mr Trump’s presidency.

His aides are currently the focus of inquiries by a special counsel and congressional committees into whether they colluded with alleged Kremlin attempts to sway last year’s US presidential election.

What is Uranium One?

Uranium One – a Canadian mining company that owned a fifth of US uranium supplies – was acquired in 2010 by Russian state-owned company Rosatom.

The US Department of State, under former Secretary of State Mrs Clinton, helped approve the 2010 deal, along with former President Barack Obama.

Republicans have charged that the Department of State approved the deal after Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation received a $145m (£110m) donation.

Some of those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite their pledge to publicly identify all donors, the New York Times reports.

Mr Clinton was also paid $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Kremlin-linked Russian investment bank that was promoting shares in Uranium One.

What is the Justice Department doing?

The chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Robert Goodlatte, wrote to the Department of Justice recommending that a special counsel look into the Uranium One deal.

US media report that a reply from the US attorney general’s deputy said he had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters”.

The Department of Justice cited “alleged unlawful dealings related to the Clinton Foundation and other matters”.

The agency also said it would decide “whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel”.

Republican lawmakers announced last month they were investigating the Uranium One sale.

They launched another inquiry relating to Mrs Clinton’s misuse of a personal email server.

Is the Justice Department independent?

The president wields significant constitutional authority over the Department of Justice since it belongs to the executive branch of US government.

But it has been a US civic tenet ever since the Watergate scandal that the agency should be free from political interference.

Mr Trump acknowledged this in a radio interview this month, when he said “the saddest thing” was that he was not supposed to meddle with the Justice Department.

However, the Republican president has also publicly called on his attorney general to open an investigation into Mrs Clinton.

He tweeted that America’s top prosecutor had “taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes”.

“So where is the investigation AG?” Mr Trump asked.

 

Israel Lobby Is Slowly Being Dragged Into the Light

November 14, 2017

by Jonathan Cook

AntiWar

The scandal surrounding Priti Patel, who was forced to resign as Britain’s international aid minister last week after secret meetings with Israeli officials during a “family holiday”, offers a small, opaque window on the UK’s powerful Israel lobby.

Patel’s off-the-books meetings with 12 Israelis, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were organized by a British lobbyist in violation of government rules requiring careful documentation of official meetings. That is to prevent conflicts of interest and illicit lobbying by foreign powers.

Government protocol was flouted again when Patel headed to the Golan Heights, occupied Syrian territory, escorted by the Israeli army. There she was shown an Israeli military field hospital that patches up Syrians, including Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters, wounded in Syria’s civil war.

Afterwards, Patel pressed for the Israeli army, one of the most powerful in the world, to receive a chunk of Britain’s overseas aid. Meanwhile, she has sought to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to vital projects in Gaza. A clue as to how she reached such absurd “humanitarian” priorities is provided in the figure of Stuart Polak, mentor on her Israel “holiday”.

The honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak has recruited four-fifths of Conservative MPs, and almost every government minister, to a group whose explicit goal is to advance Israeli interests in Britain. The prime minister, Theresa May, is regarded as one of Israel’s most fervent supporters in Europe.

That should be a cause for public indignation – no other foreign state enjoys such unabashed, high-level political support.

Another window on Israel’s meddling opened briefly last week. The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, took to Twitter to relay a damning comment from an unnamed “senior” member of Patel’s party. In a clear reference to Israel, the source observed: “The entire apparatus has turned a blind eye to a corrupt relationship that allows a country to buy access”.

A short time later, presumably under pressure, Kuenssberg deleted the tweet. The BBC has not reported the comment elsewhere and the senior Conservative has not dared go public. Such, it seems, is the intimidating and corrupting influence of the lobby.

More than a decade ago, two leading American academics wrote a study of the Israel lobby’s role in the United States, Israel’s chief patron for half a century. It was a sign of the lobby’s influence that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt could not find a publisher at home. They had to turn to a British journal instead.

The Israel lobby’s strength in western capitals has depended precisely on its ability to remain out of view. Simply to talk about the lobby risks being accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish cabals.

But Mearsheimer and Walt described a type of pressure group familiar in the US – and increasingly in European capitals. Everyone from Cuba to health insurers and arms manufacturers operate aggressive lobbyists in Washington to secure their interests.

What is special about the Israel lobby in the US – an amalgam of hawkish Jewish leadership organizations and messianic Christian evangelicals – is the fear it exploits to silence critics. No one wants to be labeled an anti-Semite.

Rarely identified or held to account, the lobby has entrenched its power.

That is what Britain’s heir to the throne, Prince Charles, was talking about three decades ago – even if he misidentified it as a “Jewish” rather Israel lobby – in a forgotten letter found in the public archives and publicized at the weekend.

“Surely some US president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby in the US? I must be naive, I suppose!” he wrote to a family friend in 1986.

Today, as recent events illustrate, the lobby is struggling to stay in the shadows. Social media and Palestinians with camera phones have exposed a global audience to systematic abuses by the Israeli army the western media largely ignored. For the first time, Israel supporters sound evasive and dissembling.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s strident efforts in the US Congress through 2014 and 2015 to prevent a nuclear accord with Iran dragged the lobby even farther into the light.

The Israel lobby’s dirty tricks in the UK were exposed earlier this year too. An Al Jazeera TV documentary showed Conservative party officials colluding with the Israeli embassy to “take down” Alan Duncan, a foreign office minister who supports the Palestinian cause.

It is noteworthy that Ms Patel’s downfall came about because of social media. Israeli officials like police minister Gilad Erdan were so unused to scrutiny or accountability themselves that they happily tweeted photos with Patel. Erdan is a key player in the lobby, running a “smear unit” to target overseas critics of Israel.

We may never know why Patel so grossly flouted ministerial rules or what she quietly promised in those meetings in Israel. Colleagues have hinted that, in a pattern familiar from US politics, she hoped to win over the lobby and its wealthy donors for a future leadership bid.

There is no way to know, given the lobby’s penchant for secrecy, whether Patel simply proved less adept at treading a path marked out by former Conservative and Labor party leadership hopefuls. But it is also possible that the lobby is discovering changes to the political and cultural environment are making its work much harder.

There is growing hysteria about foreign interference in US and European politics. Is it not time for western states to show as much concern about the malign influence of Israel’s lobbyists as they do about Russian hackers?

The Vicious Inheritance: Stalin’s Jewish Executioners

by Dr. Phillip L. Kushner

We mustn’t forget that some of greatest murderers of modern times were Jewish

Here’s a particularly forlorn historical date: Almost 90 years ago, between the 19th and 20th of December 1917, in the midst of the Bolshevik revolution and civil war, Lenin signed a decree calling for the establishment of The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage, also known as Cheka.

Within a short period of time, Cheka became the largest and cruelest state security organization. Its organizational structure was changed every few years, as were its names: From Cheka to GPU, later to NKVD, and later to KGB.

We cannot know with certainty the number of deaths Cheka was responsible for in its various manifestations, but the number is surely at least 20 million, including victims of the forced collectivization, the hunger, large purges, expulsions, banishments, executions, and mass death at Gulags.

Whole population strata were eliminated: Independent farmers, ethnic minorities, members of the bourgeoisie, senior officers, intellectuals, artists, labor movement activists, “opposition members” who were defined completely randomly, and countless members of the Communist party itself.

In his new, highly praised book “The War of the World,” historian Niall Ferguson writes that no revolution in the history of mankind devoured its children with the same unrestrained appetite as did the Soviet revolution. In his book on the Stalinist purges, Tel Aviv University ‘s Dr. Igal Halfin writes that Stalinist violence was unique in that it was directed internally.

Lenin, Stalin, and their successors could not have carried out their deeds without wide-scale cooperation of disciplined “terror officials,” cruel interrogators, snitches, executioners, guards, judges, perverts, and many bleeding hearts who were members of the progressive Western Left and were deceived by the Soviet regime of horror and even provided it with a kosher certificate.

All these things are well-known to some extent or another, even though the former Soviet Union ‘s archives have not yet been fully opened to the public. But who knows about this? Within Russia itself, very few people have been brought to justice for their crimes in the NKVD’s and KGB’s service. The Russian public discourse today completely ignores the question of “How could it have happened to us?” As opposed to Eastern European nations, the Russians did not settle the score with their Stalinist past.

And us, the Jews? An Israeli student finishes high school without ever hearing the name “Genrikh Yagoda,” the greatest Jewish murderer of the 20th Century, the GPU’s deputy commander and the founder and commander of the NKVD. Yagoda diligently implemented Stalin’s collectivization orders and is responsible for the deaths of at least 10 million people. His Jewish deputies established and managed the Gulag system. After Stalin no longer viewed him favorably, Yagoda was demoted and executed, and was replaced as chief hangman in 1936 by Yezhov, the “bloodthirsty dwarf.”

Yezhov was not Jewish but was blessed with an active Jewish wife. In his book “Stalin: Court of the Red Star”, Jewish historian Sebag Montefiore writes that during the darkest period of terror, when the Communist killing machine worked in full force, Stalin was surrounded by beautiful, young Jewish women.

Stalin’s close associates and loyalists included member of the Central Committee and Politburo Lazar Kaganovich. Montefiore characterizes him as the “first Stalinist” and adds that those starving to death in Ukraine , an unparalleled tragedy in the history of human kind aside from the Nazi horrors and Mao’s terror in China , did not move Kaganovich.

Many Jews sold their soul to the devil of the Communist revolution and have blood on their hands for eternity. We’ll mention just one more: Leonid Reichman, head of the NKVD’s special department and the organization’s chief interrogator, who was a particularly cruel sadist.

In 1934, according to published statistics, 38.5 percent of those holding the most senior posts in the Soviet security apparatuses were of Jewish origin. They too, of course, were gradually eliminated in the next purges. In a fascinating lecture at a Tel Aviv University convention this week, Dr. Halfin described the waves of soviet terror as a “carnival of mass murder,” “fantasy of purges”, and “essianism of evil.” Turns out that Jews too, when they become captivated by messianic ideology, can become great murderers, among the greatest known by modern history.

The Jews active in official communist terror apparatuses (In the Soviet Union and abroad) and who at times led them, did not do this, obviously, as Jews, but rather, as Stalinists, communists, and “Soviet people.” Therefore, we find it easy to ignore their origin and “play dumb”: What do we have to do with them? But let’s not forget them. My own view is different. I find it unacceptable that a person will be considered a member of the Jewish people when he does great things, but not considered part of our people when he does amazingly despicable things.

Even if we deny it, we cannot escape the Jewishness of “our hangmen,” who served the Red Terror with loyalty and dedication from its establishment. After all, others will always remind us of their origin.

Today, there are several millions of Jews living in the United States. The bulk of us are Reformed Jews. Nearly all of us consider ourselves to be Americans. We and our children are proud to have served in the American military and even prouder to be citizens of the one nation that has welcomed refugee Jews, fleeing from European persecutions, and permitted them free access to American society.

A much smaller percentage of American Jews are Zionists. They view themselves as Jews first, Israeli’s second and, perhaps, Americans third. Their complete allegiance is to the state of Israel and not to America. They send money to Israel and, when they have access to it, military and commercial secrets. They are the Pollards of this country. They do not represent the rest of us at all.

The State of Israel has always been a Zionist state. It was born in violence and hatred. Jews, mostly from Poland, invaded the Palestine area, killing and maiming anyone who stood in their way: Arabs, British soldiers, civilians and even high UN officials. Bombings, bank robberies, arsons and mass murder attended the birth of this state. One man, Menachim Begin, blew up a hotel full of people and was later made Chief of State!

The Zionists have fastened themselves onto the instruments of power in the United States, feeling, rightly, that American soldiers, and most importantly, money, will nurture their state and protect it from their many enemies.

Instead of making efforts to co-exist with their neighbors, Israel has constantly attacked the impoverished Palestinian Arabs and killed as many of them as they could. The IDF has had no problem murdering Arab men, women and children. It has had no problem destroying the homes and businesses of the reviled Arabs and their sole, stated aim, is to drive the Arabs out of their homes so that Jews can take them over.

How redolent this is of the attacks by the Nazis, the Poles and the Russians in recent times past! It is true that the abused child becomes the abusing parent and Israel has in truth become the National Socialists of the Middle East.

The Zionists have infiltrated the American government to a remarkable degree. They have gained an astonishing hold in the American mass media. CNN, Time Warner, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek and Time magazines and a host of other media giants are either owned outright by Jews or are under the control of Jews.

These mighty organs daily pour out a great stream of pro-Israel commentary while Jewish organizations such as the ADL and various other pressure groups, make constant, threatening demands on a subservient American legislative entity.

The fact that there are many Jews in America that view such blatant and ruthless manipulation with horror is never reported in the media.

We are the silent Jews although we outnumber the loud ones twenty to one. Our views, those of tolerance and moderation, are never seen in the media but the frantic, fanatic views of the hysterical Zionists receive daily, slavish attention.

The American public is not stupid but it has no voice to express its concerns. Faked opinion polls, pious statements about Israel as “America’s best ally” can be seen daily in all the major branches of the media.

Believe me, Israel is not America’s best ally. Through the Israel lobby, American leaders and legislators do as they are told. The consequences of refusal or worse, opposition to Zionist demands is orchestrated oblivion. Furious because President Harry Truman blocked the sale of weapons of destruction to the rampaging Zionists in 1948, Jewish money backed Thomas Dewey. An assassination attempt was launched by the Stern Gang against Truman but failed.

The British, the United Nations and the United States eventually let the Zionists have their murderous way in Palestine because they grew tired of the constant acts of savage terrorism which seemed to inspire the terrorists to even greater infamies.

These miserable, vicious and ideological creatures have nothing to do with the great majority of American Jews. We deplore their savage, manipulative behavior because we know from bitter experience that eventually the American public will become aroused and infuriated. When that dismal day comes, and it will come, all the rest of us will be held to account for the savage brutes like Sharon and his butchers. We will become the eternal victims of a population enraged by the ruthless and self-serving manipulations of a small, detestable handful of chronic fanatics. We will, at last, lose the respect of our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends and again, the eternal wandering will begin.

The pro-Israel lobby is an enormous and very powerful force in American politics; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, is the No. 1 foreign-policy lobby in Washington and the fourth most powerful lobby in Washington, according to Fortune Magazine. Other powerful and influential pro-Israel groups include the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Is propaganda which involves exaggeration and distortion of facts, however worthy the cause for which it is used, ever justified? Is fiction, labeled with the brand of authenticity, ever impossible?

No doubt Harriet Beecher Stowe, when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did so prompted by the highest of motives. Yet she, herself, relates the incident when she first met Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when he commented “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”

Few will deny that the printed word in this instance fanned the flames of passion which brought about one of the bloodiest and saddest wars of history, with brother sometimes pitted against brother, father against son. Perhaps if there had been less appeal to the emotions the problems might have resolved themselves through peaceful means. However, almost universally read at the time, few people then recognized the potency of one small book or the injustice done the South through its wide acceptance as a fair picture of slavery in the South.

Propaganda, as a weapon of psychological warfare is even in wider use today. Communists are masters of the art. Often they use the direct approach; just as often they employ diversion tactics to focus the eyes and ears of the world in directions other t h m where the real conflict is being waged. For many years, through propaganda alone, the dead threat of Hitler and Nazism has been constantly held before the public in a diversion maneuver to keep attention from being directed against the live threat of Stalin, Khrushchev and Communism.

Opening statements set in conspiracy trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy

November 14, 2017

by Julie Ann Formoso

Reuters

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers were due to square off on Tuesday in the trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for his role in a 2014 armed standoff that galvanized militia groups challenging U.S. government authority in the American West. Capping a week of procedural maneuvering following jury selection, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro on Monday rejected an 11th-hour defense bid to dismiss the case, paving the way for the two sides to deliver opening statements in a trial expected to last through February.

Bundy and three co-defendants are accused of conspiring to use threats of force to prevent a court-ordered impoundment of Bundy’s cattle, which the government said had trespassed on federal land after he refused for 20 years to pay his grazing fees and assessments.

Answering Bundy’s call for help, hundreds of followers – many of them heavily armed – descended on his ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, about 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Las Vegas, in April 2014, demanding that his livestock be returned.

Outnumbered law enforcement officers ultimately retreated rather than risk bloodshed, and no shots were ever fired.

But the dispute marked a flashpoint in long-simmering tensions between right-wing activists and the government over federal control of public lands in the West.

Defense lawyers have argued that the Bunkerville defendants were exercising constitutionally protected rights to assembly and to bear arms, casting the 2014 showdown as a patriotic act of civil disobedience against government overreach.

Prosecutors have argued armed gunmen were using force and intimidation to defy the rule of law

Standing trial with Bundy, 71, are his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and a fourth defendant, Ryan Payne, a Montana resident linked by prosecutors to a militia group called Operation Mutual Aid.

A would-be fifth defendant, internet blogger and radio host Peter Santilli Jr., pleaded guilty on Oct. 6 to conspiracy and faces a possible six-year prison term.

Six lesser-known participants in the Nevada showdown went on trial earlier this year. A mistrial was declared for four of them, and the jury found two guilty, one of whom received a prison term of 68 years. The other awaits sentencing.

Of the four remaining defendants from the first trial, two were retried and acquitted, and two pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for a maximum one-year prison term.

Another group of six defendants, including two other Bundy sons, Dave and Mel Bundy, are due to stand trial after the current trial ends.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other people, were charged in a separate conspiracy case last year stemming from the 2016 armed takeover of a federal wildlife center in Oregon, but those defendants were all acquitted.

Additional reporting by John L. Smith in Las Vegas; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Michael Perry

 

Custom Brewed Lifestyle: The Booming Coffee Industry and Those It’s Left Behind

For decades, coffee was about as exciting as washing powder and detergent. But today it has become a lifestyle statement. The bean boom, though, hides the brutal economic realities behind coffee production.

November 13, 2017

by Susanne Amann, Markus Brauck, Simon Hage, Nils Klawitter and Christoph Pauly

SPIEGEL

When exactly did coffee become so important? It has long been Germany’s favorite drink, but for decades it was hardly anything to get excited about. Ads touted its “rich aroma” in an attempt to turn it into a lifestyle commodity, but it was long merely a symbol of housewife heedfulness – in the same league as washing powder, detergent or low-fat margarine.

Times have changed. These days, coffee is a luxury product, almost a fashion accessory. Or at least that’s the way it’s presented. Coffee pods, as advertised by George Clooney, are presented in Nespresso shops as if they were pieces of jewelry.

Starbucks, too, is increasingly seeking to present its paper-cup lattes as luxury products. In Seattle, the company is testing a new café concept, with coffee beans not just ground but also roasted on site – in stout black machines made from cast iron, reminiscent of steam engines and designed to convey tradition. Cafés in Shanghai, Tokyo and New York are to follow.

The German company Probat, the world’s leading manufacturer of roasting machines, built the model specifically for Starbucks. “A coffee brand’s success,” says Wim Abbing, the company’s managing director, “is 90 percent about the story it tells.”

And the stories that people want to hear are changing. Two decades ago coffee ads featured cozy family celebrations. Then Starbucks’ paper cups began to represent a new laptop elite, always on the go, where home was nowhere and everywhere. Then along came George Clooney and his Nespresso pods, representing coffee individuality produced by a machine. Top-class espressos at home, as easy as frozen pizza.

“Quickly pop in another pod of this drug before your energy begins to wane and you will always be awake. It suits the new pace of our accelerated, individualized, thoroughly economized era,” says Munich sociologist, Stephan Lessenich.

The new Starbucks roaster-steam engine is an attempt to tell a new story, one for our post-globalized age. Coffee roasted on site before your eyes by people you know. A place to slow down amid the hectic pace of life. An artisanal product, not an industrial one. It’s a story told in thousands of smaller coffee shops where the barista celebrates the preparation of every cup of coffee as if it were a spiritual act and talks shop with the customers about the influence of the Arabica and Robusta beans on the structure of the crema.

It’s part of coffee’s success that no one talks about the reality behind these stories. The brutality of speculators, who push the price of coffee beans according to their whims. The global concentration of the coffee market. The protectionism of German roasters. The ridiculous prices for expensive espresso machines. The terrible quality of the 500-gram vacuum packs of supermarket coffee.

This is about one of the most important raw materials being traded globally. The market for roasted beans is worth over 50 billion euros and each year, around 1 trillion cups of coffee are drunk around the world. In Germany alone, each adult drinks an average of 162 liters annually.

Coffee is constantly being reinvented and repackaged for consumers. But its history is as old as the hills. It shows that much of what we today call globalization, is really just another name for colonialism.

I: The Harvest

A Nespresso pod contains 5.2 grams of coffee and costs between 30 and 40 cents. That’s the equivalent of 60 to 80 euros a kilogram.

Starbucks charges 3.85 euros for a latte, paper cup included. Each cup contains roughly 15 grams of coffee.

It’s possible that Juan Gonzales picked the beans for that coffee. He is 12 years old and works alongside his mother Maria, a Mayan woman, harvesting coffee on the slopes of Toliman, a volcano west of Guatemala’s capital city. The beans that grow here are the Arabica variety, in high demand across the West. The boy and his mother work for a finca that belongs to Carlos Torrebiarte, who sells his coffee to Starbucks, among other clients.

“That sack weighs over 50 kilograms and Juan carried it himself,” his mother says, looking at her son with a mixture of exhaustion and pride. She is barely 30 but looks over 50. She has a steel pin where one of her teeth is missing.

The coffee harvest is in full swing on the mountain and women with droves of children are making their way up the slope. It’s difficult for journalists to speak with them, with an armed guard from the plantation immediately intervening. It’s really only possible to speak with Maria, Juan and the other women and children if you jump on one of the flatbeds that take them back to the village.

The costs are low here at the start of the supply chain. The coffee-bean pickers earn 42 quetzales, around 5 euros, for a 50 kg. bag of picked coffee, a pittance compared to what will be earned with that coffee later on. And even in a country like Guatemala, it’s a starvation wage. In a European Starbucks, it would be just enough for a particularly large caramel macchiato.

Maria shows a yellow control slip, which shows how much she and her son have picked each day. She is paid every 15 days, with the amount dependent on the total weight of the beans she has picked. Sometimes it’s 75 kilograms a day, but usually it’s less. Early in the season, after all, many of the beans have to be left on the bush because they’re not yet ripe.

Maria’s daily wage is usually under the 87 quetzales, or 10 euros, that constitute the legal minimum for a day’s labor in Guatemala. It would be even less without the help of Juan, who is not officially allowed to work, since child labor is forbidden for those under 14. Yet it is a normal part of life for children to work on the big plantations. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible to harvest the coffee so cheaply.

“If you saw children on the plantations,” owner Torrebiarte later tells DER SPIEGEL, “then they are children who want to be with their families.” He does not employ children, he says, adding that he even offers daycare for families.

Coffee company Starbucks also claims not to have seen anything untoward on the farm. The Santo Tomas Perdido plantation was designated a “Top Performer” after an inspection of suppliers in October 2016. The company claims it has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding child labor and that there would be consequences were the plantation found to have been violating it.

The drive home passes the farm’s so-called galeras, concrete and stone huts that house around 100 pickers. Up to two families, including their children, are housed in just one room, which has little more than a bare concrete floor. Cooking takes place out in the mud in front of the huts. There are no private toilet facilities. This is where migrant workers, the poorest of the poor, live during the harvest season.

Emanuel Sabuc has a fair amount of experience with the less pleasant side of the global coffee trade. The 26-year-old lived as a child in one of the huts on the Santo Tomas Perdido plantation. “Back then, it was really like a village, every family had their own shack and lived there permanently,” he said.

Then around 20 years ago, Torrebiarte bought the plantation and that precarious idyll was over. “The entire village was forced to leave the farm,” Sabuc says. Torrebiarte, who is one of the most influential members of the national coffee association, Anacafé, dismissed this accusation. No workers were pushed off the farmland, he says.

Today the harvest is carried out by seasonal workers, while the plantation is cared for by so-called parcelistas, Sabuc says. They are employees of the farm and responsible for specific parcels – and are completely depended on the plantation owner or his foreman, Sabuc says. “If you complain, you’re out.”

II: The Roasting

Coffee prices have hit rock bottom. For too long, companies like Kraft and Melitta have prioritized mass production and in doing so, they have promoted monoculture in addition to environmental overexploitation in the source countries. They have also hurt their own margins: A kilogram of coffee often costs just 6 euros in supermarkets.

The parsimoniousness often displayed by German consumers is particularly apparent when it comes to the standard, 500-gram vacuum-packed block of ground coffee. The price has remained low for years – with devastating consequences for the quality of the beans that go into the product.

To keep the supermarket prices low, roasters have to work with beans that are of poorer and poorer quality. Indeed, to produce a product that is at all palatable, they are forced to rely on tricks. It used to be that the different varieties of coffee that make up each brand were roasted and ground together. With the quality of the beans falling, that’s not enough anymore. Each different variety is roasted separately to pull the last bit of flavor out of it. And they are ground separately so that the size of the grains can be varied according to quality. Only at the very end is everything combined, a procedure that allows good roasters to get the last bit of flavor out of even the poorest quality beans.

Roasting is the most interesting point in the production process, not only for connoisseurs, but also from a profit-margin perspective. It’s here that cheap coffee beans are turned into a sometimes-expensive consumer product. It is at this point in the supply chain where value is added.

Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of green coffee, the raw material that is eventually turned into the coffee we drink. The country sells every kilogram that is laboriously picked in the fields for $2.70. Germany, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest exporter of roasted coffee – and sells each kilogram for $6.21. That’s a markup of over 100 percent.

Germany and the European Union protect their coffee industry. A tariff of 7.5 percent is imposed on roast coffee imported from most countries while green coffee can be imported tariff-free. One can call such an economic policy coffee protectionism or colonialism. The result, however, is the same.

Probat head Wim Abbing, the man who believes that narrative is one of the most important factors of success for coffee, knows more about coffee roasting than almost anybody in the world. His factory is located in Emmerich, a town just across the Rhine River from the Netherlands. The company founder invented the world’s first “ball roaster” in 1870. Before that, most people had simply sizzled their coffee beans in a pan at home. Probat soon began supplying the entire world with its machines, from small coffee manufacturers to major companies.

Abbing speaks enthusiastically about the roasting process, about roasting time and amount, and how adding air can speed up the process. He notes the trend toward smaller, artisanal production. From big plants to drum roasters. He doesn’t, though, want to say much about the tricks used by the coffee roasters themselves and avoids talking about the problems faced by his clients. He only says that he is sometimes surprised by the “swill” that is sold to the masses.

Probat doesn’t sell any coffee itself but it produces its own brand of beans to test its machines, which is then only sold to employees at cost. “It’s around 12 euros per kilogram,” Abbing explains. “You can’t seriously produce good coffee for anything less.” However, most consumers are not prepared to pay that much.

III: The Pods

For a long time, no one at Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, believed that coffee sold in small aluminum tins could ever be a success. Within the company, working for Nespresso was seen as a career killer.

Jean-Paul Gaillard was also warned before he began working in the hapless department back in 1988. Many of his coworkers tried to persuade him against making the switch.

But the executive managed to infuse the small tins with the allure of class, opening boutiques in which grand cru coffees were celebrated like expensive wines. Within a few years, a sort of sect had emerged, one that was as loyal to the Nespresso pods as Apple consumers are to its products. “We were the iPhone of coffees,” Gaillard says.

The staging is phenomenal. George Clooney is the face of Nespresso in the ads while black-clad employees welcome visitors to the shops. In the “Tasting Area,” they gently inquire about a customer’s preferred flavor as though they were asking about something intimate. The entrance looks like that of a bank, with machines that look like ATMs, only classier. The customers swipe their credit card and pods fall into paper bags decorated with gold lettering.

Gaillard is no longer a believer. He never got much further at Nestlé after Nespresso and he left the company – and then sabotaged it. In 2008, he founded the Ethical Coffee Company (ECC) and launched his own pods, as a direct competitor to Nespresso. His pods not only could be used in Nespresso machines, but were also 25 percent cheaper and, he claimed, biodegradable.

Nestlé fought back and, for a time, introduced a mechanism in Nespresso machines that destroyed foreign pods. The ECC sued in response. A Nestlé spokeswoman now says that the company no longer produces those types of machines.

A lot of money is at stake. Nespresso is estimated to have an annual turnover of 4 billion euros. Despite the new competition, its profit margin is still around 25 percent; in Germany alone, it sells 2 billion pods a year.

Nespresso and Starbucks have awoken the sleeping coffee industry – and made it greedy.

Suddenly, the small profits from the mass-produced, 500-gram, vacuum-packed blends were no longer enough. Asia discovered coffee. Starbucks expanded, even into China, a tea-drinking country. And suddenly, a whole new group of people became attracted to a once staid industry.

IV: The Business

Peter Harf is like a German version of John Malkovich: Not much hair and lots of charisma, though he is a bit more jovial. The 71-year-old Rhinelander is currently the most powerful investor in the business. He is sitting in the gilded elegance of the five-star Excelsior Hotel near the Cologne Cathedral, where coffee is served in fine porcelain. Harf, though, seems to have little interest in the beverage. It wasn’t passion but common sense that drove him into the coffee business.

Coffee is a raw material, a stable business with high returns. “Coffee will always be drunk,” he says, “regardless of what else is happening in the world.”

Harf runs the investment firm JAB Holding Company, which is worth billions. Within just a few years, it rose to become the third biggest coffee company in the world after Nestlé and Starbucks. One in five cups of coffee is brewed using beans from the JAB empire.

The flow of money into Harf’s business never seems to dry up. His biggest investor is the Reimann family, one of the richest clans in Germany, which has already built an empire with consumer goods like Calgon, Finish and Clearasil. Now it wants to conquer the next multi-billion-euro market.

In 2012, Harf started to buy up coffee brands like Jacobs, Douwe Eberts, Senseo and Tassimo. The JAB portfolio now covers almost all sectors of the coffee industry, from producers of filtered coffee to pod suppliers to café chains and bagel bars, worth around 30 billion euros in total.

The regional companies that remain must now consider whether they want to compete with a company that is active across the globe, or simply give up and sell.

Harf’s campaign of conquest is having a greater impact on the coffee world than the pod revolution did. It is becoming more concentrated, more global and more industrialized. JAB has merged several regional brands into a conglomerate that it is now imposing cuts to improve efficiency and profitability. He and his colleagues have “completely changed the industry,” Harf says, “by taking on a leading global position.” Harf likes to refer to things like “economies of scale.” In less academic terms, it means that JAB is particularly skilled at capitalizing on its market power.

If a coffee company is acquired by JAB, that means that its suppliers face tougher conditions. Suppliers to JAB firms report that they are often only paid for green coffee after 180 days instead of 30 days. Those who don’t agree to the new conditions are rejected.

The benefit for JAB is that while their suppliers are waiting months to be paid, they can already sell the coffee and invest the profits elsewhere – for example in further acquisitions. In this way, the suppliers are financing JAB’s growth.

“The traders are basically paying an interest-free loan,” says Sara Morrocchi, founder of Vuna Origin Consulting, which advises coffee producers. “In the worst cases, these costs are then passed on to the small farmers.”

Harf disputes this. The companies in JAB Holding are committed to “sustainable and lasting relations with our more important supply partners.” He says that “all sides profit” from the negotiated contracts. Indisputable, though, is the fact that JAB has thinned out its network of green coffee suppliers. Those deemed insufficiently competitive to the new owners have been weeded out.

The blueprint for Harf’s activity is the beer market, which has been dramatically changed in recent years by a single global company. The Belgian firm AB InBev purchased brands in 150 countries, from the American brand Budweiser to Beck’s and Franziskaner in Germany, reducing costs and increasing profits.

Harf was the chairman of the board at AB InBev for many years and he is even friends with the owners. What has worked so well with beer should also work with coffee, he believes.

V: The Consumer

Marisa Benvenuto and her sister Nadia took over the running of the family business from their father. Gian-Carlo was a pioneer of good taste when he emigrated from La Spezia in Italy to Hamburg back in 1959. He was just one guest worker among many, but in addition to working in the port, he began to supply espresso beans to Italian restaurants and ice-cream parlors. There was no competition back then and no one saw much opportunity in the business. Back then, German coffee culture consisted of filter machines and condensed milk.

In their store in Hamburg, the Benvenuto family sells expensive and extremely expensive espresso machines alongside their coffee beans, top brands like La Pavoni and Elektra that were originally intended for cafés and restaurants, but which slowly found their way into the kitchens of the upper-middle class.

Here too one can draw a parallel between the worlds of coffee and beer. As a reaction to the standardized flavors offered by the industry, a scene has arisen which not only values individuality, quality and taste but is also willing to pay higher prices: as much as 30 euros a kilogram for the right espresso mix and several thousand euros for the perfect espresso machine.

“The Germans,” Marisa Benvenuto says, “take this incredibly seriously.” They treat the purchase of an espresso machine like that of new car. Unfortunately, they also expect it to function like a car. “You can’t just set up an espresso machine and coffee grinder and expect them to work the same way all the time,” she explains. The way espresso must be ground and brewed depends on the weather, the temperature, the humidity, the mix and quality of the beans. Without a certain passion and knowledge, even the most expensive espresso machine can end up being a wasted investment.

Since the machines are only a side business for her, she sometimes advises customers against the purchase. “If you only want to drink an espresso now and then, a simple stove-top pot is a perfectly good way to make an espresso.”

Although she’s profiting from the boom, she’s also critical of it. “The market lacks a middle ground,” she says. At the top end, customers are being ripped off with huge espresso machines, overpriced pods, and questionable premium roasts. In the mass market, meanwhile, people are being sold cheap blends that have little to do with proper coffee.

For Benvenuto, the nice thing about a good coffee is that it combines indulgence and the everyday, a mix of class and mass. “A good espresso is a drink free of class distinction. A daily luxury for everyone.”

VI: The Seal

Why is it that hardly any consumers are prepared to pay a little extra for fair-trade coffee, but so many are happy to pay multiple times the usual price for fancy pods?

It’s the same when it comes to bananas, T-shirts or gold jewelry. Yet the injustice is particularly obvious with regard to coffee. And consumers have known about it for decades.

“Maybe that’s also a problem,” says Stephan Lessenich, the sociologist from Munich. Fair-trade coffee is “perhaps too politicized,” reminiscent, for many consumers, of Nicaraguan coffee, left-wing or even communist projects.

Lessenich has little faith in the ability of thoughtful consumerism to help change the world. “Most people don’t give any thought to consumer politics,” he says. Indeed, despite all of their professed commitment to sustainability and justice, he says, most Germans aren’t particularly bothered by all the misery in the world.

“At the end of the day, we couldn’t care less about what effects our coffee consumption has on other people’s lives,” he says. “And if we do ever consume ethically, it’s just to make us feel better about ourselves.” Yet most Germans think they are model consumers, he says, at least in international comparison, simply because they separate their trash and think about buying an electric car.

But how fair is fair trade exactly?

Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, a Guatemalan living in Strasbourg, grows enraged when speaking about the fairness of fair trade. The fair-trade seal, one of the most famous certification logos in the world, often appears on brands like Darboven, Tchibo or Lidl. Morales-de la Cruz thinks it’s all just an expensive placebo to soothe the consciences of Western consumers. In the end, he says, all it does is help industrialized countries secure more cheap sources of raw materials. It does little to address fundamental problems of fairness, such as the way Germany protects its roasting industry.

“Fair trade actually contributes to preserving poverty and child labor in the supply chain,” Morales-de la Cruz says. “The fair trade premium is around a third of a cent per cup of coffee. How can such a meaningless amount be called fair?”

He suggests a transparent wage system, whereby workers on coffee plantations receive a minimum of 10 cents per cup of coffee. This is the only way to reduce poverty in the coffee-producing countries, he says.

The premium that fair trade pays coffee producers on top of the global market price is currently 20 U.S. cents per 454 grams of coffee. There’s also a minimum price guarantee of $1.40 per pound of coffee, which currently is superfluous since the global price, which fluctuates wildly, is a bit higher than that benchmark. There are additional premiums for particularly high quality or organic products. It’s rare for a coffee farmer to make more than 2 euros per pound, even with fair trade.

Last year a study showed that in the Brazilian coffee region of Minas Gerais, even workers on farms certified by various organizations earned around 300 euros a month, which is around 25 percent below a living wage.

Dieter Overath, head of Fairtrade Deutschland, Germany’s fair-trade organization, thinks this approach is short-sighted. He doesn’t want to boil down the benefit of the fair-trade seal to money. “By exclusively working with cooperatives in the coffee sector, we are giving back small farmers their right to self-determination,” he said.

Many farms and cooperatives get multiple certifications so that they can meet, for example, both the AAA standard of Nespresso and fair-trade criteria. However, that doesn’t mean the quality or taste is always good enough for the buyers. As a result, there is an absurd level of over-certification. In the period 2014-2015 around 560,000 tons of green coffee was certified as meeting fair-trade standards, but only 157,000 tons were sold with the fair trade seal.

“Fair trade always means that the added value moves from the north to the south,” says Ndongo Sylla, who used to work as an adviser to Fairtrade Deutschland.

Sylla, who is originally from Senegal, is now one of the organization’s biggest critics. “When surplus fair-trade products have to be sold as conventional products, then it’s the rich consumers in the north who avail of the added value: they get fair trade products without having to pay a cent more.”

VII: The Project

At the end of the day fair trade is simply tinkering with the symptoms of the injustice that will always prevail as long as one party only exports the green coffee and the other makes the profit from roasting and selling it. There is probably only one way to end this coffee colonialism: with coffee-producing countries roasting, milling, packing and exporting the finished product.

Felix Ahlers is trying to do just that in Ethiopia. The 51-year-old roasts coffee and espresso beans in Addis Ababa, which he then sells to supermarkets in Germany under the brand name Solino.

Ahlers’ main job is running FRoSTA, a producer of frozen ready-to-eat meals that doesn’t use any food additives. Ahlers is regarded as an unconventional thinker in an industry not known for its willingness to change.

“Ethiopia is the biggest green coffee producer in Africa,” Ahlers says. “But the real money in coffee is only made when it’s processed – and they don’t do that in Ethiopia.” That was what had to change, he thought.

By controlling the supply chain up to the final product, it should be possible to see 60 percent more in turnover. That will profit not just the coffee farmers, but everyone involved in production, from the women sorting the coffee beans, to the men who roast them, to the printer in Addis Ababa who prints the labels for Solino’s bags of coffee.

“If you want to take development aid seriously, you need to do more than just pump money into a country,” Ahlers says. It’s about anchoring the supply chain there in the long term. And that means, above all, training Ethiopian workers such that their products meet the demands of the German market.

“The printer has to learn that the label will only work if the EAN code can be read by the scanners in Karstadt and Edeka. The roaster has to know that the quality of the beans has to always be the same. And there has to be someone in Ethiopia who knows how German customers tick and what they want.”

Ahlers has been pushing ahead with the project for almost 10 years. He has secured start-up funding and machines, employed and trained roasters, got permits from the authorities and has constantly monitored the quality at every stage of the process. Officially he is just a middle man who imports the finished coffee into Germany and sells it on to Edeka and Karstadt.

For Ahlers, the calculations are simple. If all the coffee that Ethiopia exported was processed in the country, over 280,000 jobs could be created in the country. “That would achieve a lot more than a classic development project,” he says.

But Solino is just one small project. Ahlers only imported and sold around 30 tons of coffee from Ethiopia last year. That’s compared to the 200,000 tons of unprocessed green coffee that Ethiopia exports each year. Despite his efforts, coffee remains a colonial product in the country.

 

 

 

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