TBR News October 7, 2017

Oct 07 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 7, 2017: “The Internet is filled with useful information and also is the breeding ground for all kinds of rip-off scams, be they fake news stories (“Russia responsible for ear wax problems!” screams the Washington Post) and such things as pictures of beautiful women (and men) with invitations to communicate.

Or notices from African sources about enormous legacies available to the recipient.

One interesting major fraud deals with faked German Third Reich political, military and personality items.

Fake Hitler paintings, rare tapestries, recently-invented expensive decorations and fancy and fictional daggers and swords are reaping a multi-million dollar harvest to a legion of dishonest dealers.

Interestingly enough, many of these dealers are Jewish and how they can have made, advertise and sell Nazi souvenirs is beyond the comprehension of a rational person.

But money is involved so therein must lie the answer.”

Table of Contents

  • Scam baiter: Why I risk death threats to expose online cons
  • A ‘Sonic Attack’ on Diplomats in Cuba? These Scientists Doubt It
  • Russia’s on the Way Back
  • Letters to the editor:
  • Spaniards take to streets as Catalonia independence tensions rise
  • Final results in banned Catalan independence vote put ‘yes’ on 90.18 percent: regional government
  • Political Support Growing to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Wall Street Debt
  • New Orleans battens down as strengthening Hurricane Nate approaches
  • FBI terrorism unit says ‘black identity extremists’ pose a violent threat
  • Can you afford to get married? In the US, it’s increasingly the privilege of the rich

Scam baiter: Why I risk death threats to expose online cons

October 7, 2017

by Zoe Kleinman


In the flesh, Wayne May (not his real name) is an affable gentleman in his late 40s, softly spoken with a lilting Welsh accent.

When we meet he’s casually dressed in jeans and a Batman T-shirt. He works full-time as a carer.

On the net, he’s a tireless defender of scam victims and a fearless scam baiter – a person who deliberately contacts scammers, engages with them and then publishes as much information about them as possible in order to warn others.

He regularly receives death threats, and his website, Scam Survivors, is often subjected to attempted DDoS attacks – where a site is maliciously hit with lots of web traffic to try to knock it offline.

But Mr May is determined to continue helping scamming victims in his spare time, and has a team of volunteers in the US, Canada and Europe doing the same.

Scam Survivors is not an official platform – in the UK victims are encouraged to contact Action Fraud – but the team has dealt with 20,000 cases in the past 12 years, he claims.

According to the Office for National Statistics there were 1.9 million reports of “cyber-related” fraud in the year ending March 2017 in England and Wales. But the report also says that many incidents go unreported.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website says nearly AUS$13m (£8m, $10m) has been lost this year to romance fraud alone.

Scamming may be an old trick but it’s still an effective one.

Mr May, who does not charge but invites donations on his website, says his website gets up to 10,000 hits a day and the group also receives up to two dozen messages a day from people who are victims of sextortion – when a person is blackmailed after being persuaded to carry out a sex act on webcam, which is then recorded.

“A lot of people, when they come to us are already so far deep into it, they have nowhere to turn,” he says.

“They’re not stupid, they’re just unaware of the scam.”

“It’s not obvious [that it’s a scam] if they’ve never experienced it before.”

He discovered he was “rather good” at baiting romance scammers and found relatives of victims were approaching him to help loved-ones.

“I started dealing more with the victims of the scams rather than the scammers themselves, so my priorities changed then from just having fun to actually helping people.”

Many scams are not a particularly sophisticated form of fraud.

“There are constantly new scams coming out, and we need to be aware of those,” says Mr May.

“But a lot of the scams aren’t high-tech, they simply write messages to people and that’s it.

“You might think, ‘I’m not going to fall for this scam’ but then you’ll fall for another one. The scammers will find a chink in your armour.”

The first thing Mr May has to explain to those who get in touch is that Scam Survivors cannot recover any money the victim has been persuaded to hand it over.

In his experience, the average victim will end up around £1,000 out of pocket, but some will go a lot further – one man who recently made contact with the support group had given more than £500,000 to a male Russian scammer he thought he was in a relationship with.

“We say upfront, we can’t get your money back. We can’t offer you emotional support. We’re not psychiatrists. We’re just people who know how scams work and how to deal with them,” he says.

Advice for victims

  • Drop all contact with the scammer.
  • Don’t try to track them down – remember, the scammer has your real details and possibly compromising information about you. It’s not worth the risk to continue talking to them, and especially not worth confronting them.
  • If you sent cash, there’s no realistic way to get it back – beware the “recovery scam” where the scammer then claims to be an agency able to get the money back, for a fee.
  • Contact the police.
  • Share as many details about the scam as you can to warn others.

To prevent being a victim, his advice is simple: “Google everything.”

Search the images you are sent, the messages you receive – often scammers use the same material and the more widely shared it is, the more likely it is to end up on a website dedicated to exposing scams.

If you fear blackmail, Mr May suggests setting up an alert so that you are notified if your name is mentioned online. If, in the case of sextortion, a video is published on the net, you will then know straight away and can report it, as you are likely to be tagged in it.

“Be aware and learn how to search everything,” he says.

“If someone sends you a picture or text, search it, try to find out as much as you can. If you’re unsure don’t send them money.”

“You might think, ‘I’m not going to fall for this scam’ but then you’ll fall for another one. The scammers will find a chink in your armour

Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime reporting service, said all scams reported to it are passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which is part of City of London Police.

However, a spokeswoman told the BBC that only around 30% of all fraud cases had “viable lines of inquiry”.

“We know that at these levels it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate all these crimes,” said a spokeswoman.

“We have to maximise our resources where there is the best chance of a successful investigative outcome.”

Professor Alan Woodward, cyber-security expert from Surrey University, said it was still important to keep reporting scams to the national body even if individual justice was not always possible.

“For those contacting Action Fraud UK to report a crime it may appear that little happens, but your information is vital in constructing an accurate picture of where, when and how online scams are occurring,” he said.

“It may be that the police are unable to solve your individual crime but by studying the big picture they are able to zero in on the scammers.

“Your report could be vital in completing the overall picture and enable law enforcement to prevent others suffering as you have.”

No sympathy

Some people argue that the scammers themselves are also in desperate situations – many of them operate in some of the poorest parts of the world, such as West Africa and the Philippines.

Wayne May has no sympathy.

“These people aren’t Robin Hood types,” he says.

“If you go online and scam people you have the money to go online, if you can’t afford food you can’t spend hours in an internet cafe.”

He is, however, haunted by one occasion when a woman from the Philippines he was scam-baiting offered to perform on webcam for him. When he declined she then asked if she should involve her sister.

“She called this girl over and she couldn’t have been more than nine or 10,” he recalls.

“That horrified me. I said, ‘Don’t do this, not for me, not for anybody. You shouldn’t do this’. I couldn’t talk to her again after that. I had to completely walk away.”

He says he has no idea what happened to her.

“I can’t let it affect me too much, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” he said.

“I’ve been doing it for almost 12 years now, and if I let every case affect me I’d be a gibbering wreck in the corner.”

Common Scams

Romance – when a scammer builds an intense online relationship with someone, then asks for money

Sextortion – when a victim is persuaded to carry out a sex act on webcam which is then videoed and the scammer demands a ransom in return for not publishing the content on the net

Pets – a pet is advertised for sale, and then fees are demanded in order to get the pet to its new owner. The pet does not exist.

Hitman – Someone claims to be a hitman and says that they have been paid to kill you. They then say that if you are prepared to pay more, they will not carry out the threat.

419 – named after section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code – claiming money from another person under false pretence: such as needing assistance to release a large sum of fictional inheritance.


A ‘Sonic Attack’ on Diplomats in Cuba? These Scientists Doubt It

October 5, 2017

by Carl Zimmer

New York Times

A scientific enigma lies at the heart of a strange confrontation between the United States and Cuba.

According to the State Department, nearly two dozen diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana have been stricken with a variety of mysterious medical symptoms, including hearing loss and cognitive difficulties.

After concluding that staffers were the victims of a stealth attack, the department withdrew nonessential personnel from Havana and issued an advisory urging Americans not to visit. On Tuesday, the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States.

The State Department has not provided further details about the medical condition of the affected staffers. But government officials have suggested anonymously that the diplomats may have been assaulted with some sort of sonic weapon.

Experts in acoustics, however, say that’s a theory more appropriate to a James Bond movie.

Sound can cause discomfort and even serious harm, and researchers have explored the idea of sonic weaponry for years. But scientists doubt a hidden ultrasound weapon can explain what happened in Cuba.

“I’d say it’s fairly implausible,” said Jurgen Altmann, a physicist at the Technische Universitat Dortmund in Germany and an expert on acoustics.

For decades, military researchers tried to transform sound into a nonlethal weapon that could stop enemy soldiers in their tracks.

“Why go in there with batons and guns when you can go in with something simple, like a sound generator?” said Dr. Geoffrey S. F. Ling, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University and the former director of the Biological Technologies Office of the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Pentagon funded development of loudspeakers to deliver long-range blasts of sound. The Navy uses them to ward off pirates, while the Army deploys them at checkpoints. In recent years, police have used so-called long range acoustic devices to break up crowds like those at the protests in Ferguson, Mo.

But these weapons work because they are insufferably loud, and if one were used against diplomats in Cuba, there would be no mystery about it. So speculation has swirled around another possibility: a device producing a sound outside the range of human hearing.

One possibility is infrasound — low-frequency sound that cannot be heard by humans. A report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in 2002 noted that the military had tried to weaponize infrasound but had not succeeded because it was hard to focus the wavelengths.

The primary effect of infrasound on humans “appears to be annoyance,” the report concluded.

Ultrasound is the more likely possibility. At frequencies higher than 20,000 hertz, beyond human hearing, ultrasound can damage tissue if produced with enough power.

Doctors use focused blasts of ultrasound to smash kidney stones. Decades ago, researchers created intensely powerful ultrasound beams in laboratories that can kill a mouse at close range.

Unfortunately, anecdotes like this make up most of what scientists know about the health effects of ultrasound. “The data is very slim,” said Timothy Leighton, a professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics at Southampton University.

It’s difficult to get people who report symptoms to volunteer for the studies, he said. And while the military, too, has investigated weapons based on sound beyond the audible spectrum, they dropped major research projects in the 1990s.

Even if another player has succeeded in developing an ultrasonic weapon, researchers said, the laws of physics make it unlikely that the device could harm diplomats from afar.

“Ultrasound cannot travel a long distance,” said Jun Qin, an acoustic engineer at Southern Illinois University. The further the sound goes, the weaker it gets. And, noted Dr. Garrett, humidity in a place like Havana would weaken it still more.

Moreover, a beam of ultrasound will mostly bounce off the exterior of a building. What little sound got through would be of a lower, less harmful frequency.

One way to overcome these hurdles would be to use a bigger weapon. But a massive vehicle topped with a giant sound cannon in front of diplomatic houses would probably not go unnoticed.

“If you’re talking about a ray-gun rifle knocking out someone with ultrasound they can’t hear at a hundred meters — that’s not going to happen,” said Dr. Leighton.

An ultrasound-emitting device planted inside a building, on the other hand, might be close and powerful enough to cause harm to occupants. But even an interior wall would block its waves.

A smaller emitter placed even more closely, perhaps in someone’s pillow, might do the trick, said Dr. Qin. But it’s hard to believe such a device could escape attention. In theory, a building could be packed with small emitters; however, experts called it unlikely.

And while ultrasound can cause many of the symptoms reported, there’s no evidence that it can cause mild brain injury.

“I know of no acoustic effect that can cause concussion symptoms,” Dr. Altmann said. “Sound going through the air cannot shake your head.”

For all of these reasons, experts said, ultrasound weapons should not top the list of possible explanations for the hearing loss and headaches and other symptoms said to have been observed in diplomats.

“I believe those people got something that hurt them,” said Dr. Qin. “But it could be something in the environment.” The possibilities include toxins, or bacterial or viral infections, that can damage hearing.

Dr. Leighton said contagious anxiety or another psychogenic contributor couldn’t be ruled out. “If you make people anxious that they’re under attack from an ultrasonic weapon, those are the symptoms you’ll get,” he said.

Sorting through all those possibilities will be difficult now.

If a mysterious high-tech ultrasound weapon were used, it ought to have been easy to get the evidence while the attack was underway, Dr. Garrett said. Cellphone microphones are often sensitive to ultrasonic sound, he noted, and commonly available iPhone apps could have revealed it.


  Comment: Audio Oscillator

 Russia’s on the Way Back

October 6, 2017

by Jim Rickards

The Daily Reckoning

Russia is poised to break out of its oil-related slump and become one of the best performing emerging markets economies in the years ahead. This sleeping giant is breaking its dependence on oil prices and embraces diversified growth.

When you hear the name “Russia” you probably run for cover. Russia has been the subject of nearly continuous media coverage bordering on frenzy since the election of Donald Trump last November.

Russia allegedly hacked U.S. computer systems and email servers, rigged the election in favor of Trump, and colluded with the Trump campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton. Trump campaign officials met with Russian operatives and spies to coordinate all of this nefarious activity. Or so the story goes.

The truth is more complex. Russia certainly does run an around-the-clock hacking and spying operation aimed at any U.S. system they can penetrate. We do the same to Russia. It’s what national intelligence agencies do. No news there.

There may have been some “weaponization” of the hacked data through selective leaks to publishing outlets like Wikileaks. That allegation is less clear. Wikileaks has always insisted that their leaks did not come from Russia. There is some evidence to support the claim that the Hillary Clinton related leaks came from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters. That truth may emerge later.

Trump campaign efforts to reach out to Russia between November 2016 and January 2017 did not have to do with “collusion.” They were a smart geopolitical move to align U.S. interests with Russia in advance of a confrontation with China about trade, currency, and North Korea.

Unfortunately, the Trump team consisted of amateurs like Jared Kushner who bungled the job. They played into the hands of Democrats who were waiting to pounce on the smallest sign of so-called collusion. This sequence combined with media bias has now poisoned the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Now, the confrontation with China is arriving right on schedule but the U.S. has no relationship with Russia to help back up our position. It’s two-against-one, and the U.S. is the odd man out — thanks to U.S. political dysfunction and the media.

The point in reciting this history is that it’s difficult for investors to separate the economic fundamentals of Russia from the media circus and political noise. If Russia were named “Volgastan,” and not involved in U.S. politics, its economic position would be one of the most attractive emerging markets stories in the world.

Let’s begin our independent analysis by reviewing the fundamentals.

Russia is the 12th largest economy in the world with about $1.3 trillion in GDP. That is slightly larger than Australia or Spain, and significantly larger than well-liked emerging markets economies such as Mexico, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Russia’s sovereign debt-to-GDP ratio is a microscopic 17%. Compare that to the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio of 106%, more than six times larger. Other debt-to-GDP zombies are Japan (240%), France (96%) and the UK (89%).

The fact is, in the next liquidity crisis, you won’t be hearing about Russian default. The U.S. and China are more likely to be in the eye of the storm.

Russia is the world’s second largest oil exporter (after Saudi Arabia) and the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. Russia is also the world’s third largest gold producer after China and Australia, and ahead of the United States.

From a geopolitical perspective, Russia is one of only three genuinely powerful countries in the world (along with the U.S. and China) despite media efforts to portray it as an inefficient economic backwater.

Still, there’s much more to the Russian economic analysis than the familiar story of an export and geopolitical powerhouse. In particular, Russia has engaged in one of the most aggressive gold accumulation operations since the U.S. in the 1920s.

Russian reserves are managed by the Central Bank of Russia, CBR. The CBR Chair since 2013 has been Elvira Nabiullina. Think of her as the “Janet Yellen of Russia,” but with a much different pedigree.

Nabiullina did not graduate from one of the Keynesian-monetarist hotbeds such as MIT or the University of Chicago. She graduated from Moscow State University and worked her way up through the Russian Ministry for Economic Development and Trade.

With that background, she has a much better feel for the dynamics of Russian growth and the Russian people than the so-called Western experts who rushed in to “fix” the Russian economy in the 1990s. Those experts ruined Russia and paved the way for the more authoritarian politics of Vladimir Putin.

To his credit, Putin has given Nabiullina independence and allowed her to manage reserves, interest rates, and capital outflows with a minimum of political interference. In 2017, The Banker, a British publication, named Nabiullina “Central Banker of the Year, Europe.”

Nabiullina’s greatest accomplishment is to increase Russia’s gold reserves by 700 tonnes since taking office. This gold has a market value of $32 billion at today’s prices. This is on top of the approximately 1,000 tonens of gold that Russia already had when Nabiullina became CBR Chair in 2013.

This is an extraordinary accomplishment considering that Russian reserves collapsed from about $525 billion to $350 billion during the oil price crash of 2014-2015. Today, Russia’s reserves are back up to a healthy $425 billion, recovering over 40% of the reserves lost in the oil price collapse.

Despite the roller-coaster ride in the overall reserve position, Russia never stopped buying gold. If it needed hard currency, Russia would sell U.S. Treasury securities and keep buying gold.

Russia now has a gold-to-GDP ratio of almost 6% — more than three times the comparable ratio for the U.S. Russia is preparing for the day when a full-blown crisis of confidence in the U.S. dollar emerges. At that point, a new international monetary conference similar to Bretton Woods will be convened.

In such a scenario, gold will be a major determinant of the power of each participant in reshaping the international monetary system. Russia will have a prime seat at the table, while gold weaklings such as the UK, Canada, and Australia sit along the sidelines.

Oil prices have stabilized above $40 per barrel, which puts a floor under the Russian economy. If oil prices rally, the Russian economy, stocks and currency will rally together.

But, Russia is not solely dependent on oil for economic growth. The Russian economy is poised for strong growth from a diversified combination of exports, agriculture, and direct foreign investment.

The combined prospect of strong growth independent of oil prices, and a possible windfall if oil prices spike on geopolitical fears, makes the Russian economy attractive right now.

What indicators am I using to support this positive fundamental analysis of the Russian economy?

The most important development is the diversification of the Russian economy to avoid exclusive reliance on energy exports.

Russia has revved up its export economy. These exports include arms sales to cash customers such as Iran and Turkey.

Russia is also a major exporter of nuclear power plants. Russia recently signed several major deals with Turkey on the expansion of Turkey’s nuclear power generating capacity, for example.

Russia is also harvesting a bumper crop of wheat both from Russia itself and parts of eastern Ukraine effectively dominated by Russia. These crops will be in high demand due to drought conditions in major Russian competitors such as Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Improvement in Russia’s trade surplus and reserve position will make it a magnet for direct foreign investment and global capital flows.

This combination of diversified export revenues and capable central bank reserve management has left Russia less vulnerable to economic sanctions and oil prices than most Western analysts expected.

Having weathered the storm, Russia will be the main beneficiary as sanctions are gradually eased and as oil prices gradually recover.

And did I mention that Russia’s acquiring gold?

The World Gold Council has reported that the Central Bank of Russia has more than doubled the pace of its gold purchases, bringing its reserves to the highest level since Putin took power 17 years ago.

Russia’s desire to break away from the hegemony of the U.S. dollar and the dollar payment system is well-known. Over 60% of global reserves and 80% of global payments are in dollars. The U.S. is the only country with veto power at the International Monetary Fund, the global lender of last resort.

Perhaps Russia’s most aggressive weapon in its war on dollars is gold. The first line of defense is to acquire physical gold, which cannot be frozen out of the international payments system or hacked.

With gold, you can always pay another country just by putting the gold on an airplane and shipping it to the counterparty. This is the 21st-century equivalent of how J.P. Morgan settled payments in gold by ship or railroad in the early 20th century.

Russia has now tripled its gold reserves from around 600 tonnes to 1,800 tonnes over the past 10 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Even when oil prices and Russian reserves were collapsing in 2015, Russia continued to acquire gold.

But Russia is pursuing other dollar alternatives besides gold.

For one, it’s been building nondollar payments systems with regional trading partners and China.

The U.S. uses its influence at SWIFT, the central nervous system of global money transfer message traffic, to cut off nations it considers to be threats.

From a financial perspective, this is like cutting off oxygen to a patient in the intensive care unit. Russia understands its vulnerability to U.S. domination and wants to reduce that vulnerability.

Now Russia has created an alternative to SWIFT.

The head of Russia’s central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, has reported to Vladimir Putin that “There was the threat of being shut out of SWIFT. We updated our transaction system, and if anything happens, all SWIFT-format operations will continue to work. We created an analogous system.”

Russia is also part of a reported Chinese plan to install a new international monetary order that excludes U.S. dollars. Under that plan, China could buy Russian oil with yuan and Russia could then exchange that yuan for gold on the Shanghai exchange.

Now it appears Russia has another weapon in its anti-dollar arsenal.

Russia’s development bank, VEB, and several Russian state ministries are reportedly teaming up to develop blockchain technology. They want to create a fully encrypted, distributed, inexpensive payments system that does not rely on Western banks, SWIFT or the U.S. to move money around.

This has nothing to do with bitcoin, which is just another digital token. The blockchain technology (now often referred to as distributed ledger technology, or DLT) is a platform that can facilitate a wide variety of transfers — possibly including a new Russian-state cryptocurrency backed by gold.

“Putin coins,” anyone?

The ultimate loser here will be the dollar. That’s one more reason for investors to allocate part of their portfolios to assets such as gold.


Letters to the editor:

Dear Sirs: I have been reading and enjoying your site for many years, ever since reading that David Wilcock mentioned TBR as a great insider source of information. Imagine my anger and disgust when I read the article labeling as fact that the Trade Center Towers collapsed because fireproofing was shaken loose. It insults my intelligence and breaks the laws of physics that it is in any way possible for those planes to have brought down the towers, not even mentioning building 7. I have noticed over the years that the one area where your news organization has seldom had much credibility was anything to do with 9/11. I’ve seen before that your articles exaggerate and belittle alternate theories in spite of the fact that the official story is absurd, contradictory and impossible. I believe it has been well established which 3 countries were involved, who did it, how they did it, and why they did it, so that your article of disinformation can only harm your reputation.

Sincerely, John C Brewer

TBR News October 5, 2017

In reply to John Brewer:

I was watching the event on television at the time.

A NYPD helicopter was slowly circling one of the towers that had been impacted. It was about 100′ away from the building.

When it came to the opening caused by the aircraft impact, one could see the ragged hole, the burn marks on the building and, most important, the sagging metal support beams.

I remarked to a friend who was watching with me that if the support beams were compromised to that degree, there was a very reasonable belief that the building could collapse.

It did, downwards.

Then, like the very recent Las Vegas shooting, the strange stories began to appear.

It was (non-existent) Thermeet.

No, it was something else.

No, it was Russian bombers.

And, of course, there was a story about “lakes of liquid steel” found weeks later in the sub cellar of the building.

By that time, any liquid steel would have hardened.

Chris Bolleyn invented this weird story and got fired from the AFP for his creation.

Now we read on YouTube, home of the fantasy people, stories about the shooting in Las Vegas, primarily that there was no shooting in Las Vegas and that it was all an act.

Just like the moon landing others claimed was shot in a Hollywood studio.

Many people like to be in possession of information that only a few, to include themselves, know about.

If Yellowstone park area erupted in a volcanic action, spewing ash for hundreds of miles, trust me there would rapidly be stories about the Hidden Hand causing this with a small atomic bomb dropped down a geyser.

Or powerful electro-magnetic rays from the Sun, or Pluto or somewhere in Wisconsin, being the true culprit.

No one has produced a scintilla of believable evidence that the 911 collapse of the WTC buildings was caused by anything but the weakening of the internal support system due to the fires caused by the impact of hijacked commercial airliners.

Not Russian bombers, Thermeet, robot geese, the Illuminati, or a radicalized group of Georgian Girl Scouts armed with fire crackers.

But one might examine the thesis that George H.W. Bush and his crime partner, Karl Rove, instigated the attack(s) to solidify the power of his useless drunk of a son and the radical Republicans.

One of the reasons no one looks at this is because the establishment has created and encouraged a great forest of wild rumors to hide the facts.


Spaniards take to streets as Catalonia independence tensions rise

October 7, 2017

by Raquel Castillo and Sam Edwards


MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people gathered in Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday morning as Catalonia prepared to declare independence, many dressed in white and calling for talks to defuse Spain’s worst political crisis for decades.

The wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, with its own language and culture, has long claimed to be distinct from the rest of the country and on Sunday held a referendum on leaving Spain, a vote the constitutional court had banned.

The Catalan authorities say that a majority of those who voted supported a split from Spain. Madrid says secession is illegal under the country’s 1978 constitution.

The political stand-off has divided the country, pushed banks and companies to move their headquarters outside Catalonia and shaken market confidence in the Spanish economy, prompting calls from the European Commission for Catalan and Spanish leaders to find a political solution.

In peaceful protests called across 50 Spanish cities, and fully dispersed by early afternoon, thousands gathered dressed in white and carrying banners calling for peace and dialogue between leaders.

In Barcelona, protesters chanted “let’s talk” in Catalan, while many carried signs criticizing political leaders for not finding a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

“This is producing a social rupture in Catalonia and this has to be resolved through dialogue, never via unilateralism,” Jose Manuel Garcia, 61, an economist who attended the protest dressed in white said.

“I‘m very worried. This will end badly and everyone will lose (without dialogue).”

While Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said he is open to mediation, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists he gives up the independence campaign, which grew in strength during a near-six year economic crisis, before discussions can be held.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, parallel to the “Let’s talk” march, thousands gathered beneath the enormous Spanish flag in Colon Plaza waving their own flags, singing and chanting “Viva España” and “Viva Catalonia”.

“I’ve come because I feel very Spanish and makes me very sad what’s happened,” said Rosa Borras, 47, an unemployed secretary who had joined a noisy gathering in central Madrid.

Borras, wearing a “Catalonia, we love you” sticker and surrounded by thousands waving Spanish flags, added: “I wanted to be here for unity, because I also feel very Catalan. My family lives in Catalonia.”


Rajoy’s government mobilized thousands of national police to stop Sunday’s vote, leading to clashes with would-be voters as they tried to close polling stations in schools and remove ballot boxes. Nine hundred people were injured on polling day.

The police violence drew widespread condemnation and forced the government to issue an apology on Friday, although tensions continued to rise after reports of plans for the Catalan parliament to vote on a unilateral declaration of independence on Tuesday.

The crisis has also caused disquiet among Spain’s European Union partners, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has discussed it with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EU official told Reuters. [L8N1MI08F]

Concern is growing in EU capitals about the impact of the crisis on the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, and on possible spillovers to other economies.

European finance ministers, gathering in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a regular meeting, could discuss the issue, although it is not formally on the agenda, EU officials said.

The support given in public statements by EU leaders to Rajoy is combined with concern expressed in private about how the Spanish government’s use of police to prevent Catalans from voting last week in the independence referendum could bac

Some EU states are worried that talk of Catalan independence could fuel secessionist feelings in other parts of Europe.

Reporting by Raquel Castillo; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Alexander Smith and Peter Graff


Final results in banned Catalan independence vote put ‘yes’ on 90.18 percent: regional government

October 6, 2017


BARCELONA (Reuters) – Final results in last weekend’s banned Catalan referendum on independence from Spain showed “yes” votes winning 90.18 percent of votes cast against 7.83 percent of “no” votes, the Catalan regional government said.

The Catalan government put voter turnout at nearly 2.3 million people, or around 43 percent of registered voters.

The referendum was declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts. Catalans who favor remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the ballot and many polling stations were closed


Political Support Growing to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Wall Street Debt

October 7, 2017

by Aída Chávez and Ryan Grim

The Intercept

President Donald Trump, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez are all on the same page when it comes to how to handle Puerto Rico’s crushing debt load in the wake of Hurricane Maria: The hedge funds need to take the hit.

“They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump said on Fox News this week. “You can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney quickly tried to dial back the comments, saying his remarks should not be taken literally, but if there is one issue Trump is deeply familiar with, it’s bankruptcy and the wiping out of debt.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, when asked by The Intercept if he supported Trump’s initial suggestion to completely wipe out Puerto Rico’s debt, said that he agreed with the sentiment. “I wish we could,” he said, “but that isn’t the way the economic system works.”

NPR, meanwhile, reported that wiping out the debt “would be a drastic and highly unusual intrusion of the government into the debt markets.” Bloomberg quoted an analyst warning, “It may possibly be the end of the municipal bond market as we know it.”

But underneath the doomsday talk is a simpler reality: A federal judge is currently overseeing a case that could very easily result in Puerto Rico’s debt being entirely or almost entirely wiped out. Before the storm, the judge had already agreed to write down 79 percent of it. Contra Hatch, that is, in fact, the way the economic system works.

And thanks to Trump’s comments, which sent Puerto Rican bond prices crashing, hedge funds that own the debt might be lucky to get anything at all. “Now, thanks to President Trump, a court restructuring, where recoveries are up for grabs, suddenly looks positively calming by comparison,” offered Bloomberg.

That’s music to the ears of Gutiérrez, a congressman from Illinois, who represents a sizable Puerto Rican population.

“Donald Trump, you wanna take care of that one? Hallelujah, I’m with you,” Gutiérrez said on Thursday.

“If you eliminate the debt, like Donald Trump says, you don’t need a control board and therefore you don’t have to make decisions anymore between paying the bondholders, and many of them are unscrupulous members of Wall Street hedge funds … and you don’t have to eliminate school teachers, you don’t have to eliminate doctors, you don’t have to eliminate care for the elderly,” he said.

The island is facing immediate crisis in the wake of the storm as only half of Puerto Ricans have access to drinking water and 5 percent of the entire island has electricity, but lawmakers are also debating the future of its massive $72 billion debt.

At the moment, the decision of the amount of debt to cancel legally is up to U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain. Gutierrez thinks that’s cause for optimism. “I’m going to be a little political here: It’s kind of good to have an African-American woman, appointed by a Democrat that lives in New York, because at least maybe we’re going to get a fair shot,” Gutiérrez said. “She’s still, in the end, a bankruptcy judge, but it’s kind of good to have those three things historically working in our favor. She can do a lot, and she should do a lot.”

Sanders echoed the attack on Wall Street vulture funds on Thursday in one of Puerto Rico’s top newspapers, El Nuevo Dia.

“Let me be very clear in saying that the 2016 PROMESA law that treats the island like a colony is not the answer,” Sanders said. “The people of Puerto Rico, through their own elected officials, should be determining the future of the island, not a seven-member control board. Wall Street vulture funds should not be allowed to make huge profits off the misery of the Puerto Rican people.”

Ironically, though, it is the board, and the structure erected around it, that opens up the path for the debt to be written down legally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. territory is home to 3.4 million American citizens who don’t have anyone to vote for them in Congress, only one House delegate who cannot vote on the House floor, and no representation at all in the Senate.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., initially didn’t believe Trump suggested wiping away Puerto Rico’s debt when told by The Intercept, but reaffirmed support of the federally appointed fiscal oversight board that controls the island’s finances.

“I have not heard that statement. I, I want to make sure that … Are you sure he said that? I don’t want to speak relative to his statement, but the reasons that I was so interested in us having a board down there, was for them to deal with their own debts in an appropriate manner, not us wiping it clean,” Corker said.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York said if “these fat cats from Wall Street” want to get their money back, “they’ve gotta recognize Puerto Rico is in a crisis right now.”

“If they pressure more, they’re going to break Puerto Rico’s back, and they won’t get their money,” Espaillat said. “So if they want their money, they better play ball, in this court … Otherwise, they won’t get their money back, and I think they’re very concerned about that.”

The idea of entirely wiping away the debt, he added, was a “great idea.”

For Trump, there may be more at play than warm feelings for the people of Puerto Rico. Trump has long derided hedge fund managers as “paper pushers” who are “getting away with murder.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Trump’s offer to wipe out the debt came shortly after The Intercept revealed that a leading holder of those bonds was the ardently anti-Trump Seth Klarman, who said during the campaign it was “unthinkable” Trump could become president.


New Orleans battens down as strengthening Hurricane Nate approaches

US authorities expect Hurricane Nate to slam into the Gulf Coast heads for New Orleans. Nate claimed at least 25 lives as a tropical storm in Central America before charting a path towards the US.

October 7, 2017


US forecasters said Hurricane Nate is expected to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane, packing winds of around 100 mph (160 kmph) when it slams into the central Gulf Coast Saturday night.

The storm is gathering strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s currently a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds steadily increasing. That is the lowest-intensity grade on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, but still capable of causing enormous damage.

It is also moving briskly over the gulf at 26 mph.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Friday ordered an evacuation of several areas of the city, saying a mandatory curfew would go into effect before Hurricane Nate makes landfall.

“I encourage everyone to stay off streets starting tomorrow [Saturday] at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT/UTC) and until we are clear on Sunday, so we can keep you safe,” Landrieu said in a tweet.

“We are strongly urging residents to secure outdoor furniture, loose debris and garbage cans, which can turn into projectiles during high wind … As we shared yesterday, none of our preparations will matter if citizens do not do their part.”

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction, most notably in Louisiana.

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a hurricane warning for parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where multiple shelters were opened for residents who had to be evacuated.

A state of emergency was also declared for 29 Florida counties.

Powerful winds and storm surge

Some areas of the US were predicted to be hit with a 2.5-meter (8-foot) storm surge.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC warned.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned people in low-lying areas to take heed of cautions.

Deadly storm

Tropical Storm Nate left 26 people dead and thousands more displaced in Central America. It caused widespread flooding in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras after pummeling the region on Thursday.

Nate brushed the edge of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Friday night, dumping at least 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain.

The storm has gained speed and power as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico, with meteorologists forecasting it will hit the southeastern US between Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

“The threat of the impact is increasing, so folks along the northern Gulf Coast should be paying attention to this thing,” the NHC’s Dennis Feltgen said.



FBI terrorism unit says ‘black identity extremists’ pose a violent threat

Leaked report, citing concerns of retaliation over ‘perceptions of police brutality against African Americans’, prompts fears of crackdown on activists

October 7, 2017

by Sam Levin in San Francisco

The Guardian

The US government has declared “black identity extremists” a violent threat, according to a leaked report from the FBI’s counter-terrorism division.

The assessment, obtained by Foreign Policy, has raised fears about federal authorities racially profiling activists and aggressively prosecuting civil rights protesters.

The report, dated August 2017 and compiled by the Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, said: “The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.” Incidents of “alleged police abuse” have “continued to feed the resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity within the BIE movement”.

The FBI’s dedicated surveillance of black activists follows a long history of the US government aggressively monitoring protest movements and working to disrupt civil rights groups, but the scrutiny of African Americans by a domestic terrorism unit was particularly alarming to some free speech campaigners.

“When we talk about enemies of the state and terrorists, with that comes an automatic stripping of those people’s rights to speak and protest,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It marginalizes what are legitimate voices within the political debate that are calling for racial and economic justice.”

The document has emerged at a time of growing concerns about Donald Trump’s links to the far right and white nationalists, and increasing anxieties about his administration’s efforts to further criminalize communities of color and shield police from scrutiny. Anti-Trump protesters and Black Lives Matter activists have continued to face harsh prosecutions and close federal monitoring.

The FBI did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment on Friday, but defended its tracking of “black identity extremists” in a statement to Foreign Policy, claiming the “FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights”.

The FBI’s report noted specific cases of recent violence against police, most notably Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old shooter in Dallas who killed five officers and said he was targeting white people and law enforcement. Black Lives Matter – a movement protesting the disproportionate killings of black citizens by police in the US – had no ties to Johnson or other targeted killings of police and has condemned those shootings.

The number of police officers killed on the job also remains a fraction of the number of citizens killed by officers each year, and statistics suggest that more white offenders than black offenders kill officers.

The new FBI report said “BIE violence” peaked in the 1960s and 1970s “in response to changing socioeconomic attitudes and treatment of blacks”, adding that possible indicators today for “BIEs posing a violent threat to law enforcement” include “violent anti-white rhetoric” and “attempts to acquire illegal weapons or explosives”. BIE appears to be a very new term within law enforcement, Foreign Policy noted.

Elsa Waithe, a comedian and activist with Black Lives Matter, said she feared the FBI’s classification could deter people from joining protests and further “criminalize anyone who is already in the movement”.

She noted that she often wears a “black power” button and could easily see the FBI labeling her as a threat as a result: “The term ‘black identity extremist’ is so vague on purpose … If I wanted to do a picnic for black folks, is this now some sort of terrorist activity?”

But law enforcement threats would not discourage her, she said. “This changes nothing. For some people, this means we fight harder.”

Some reports have suggested that the Trump administration has also pushed to focus counter-terrorism efforts solely on Islamist extremism and no longer target white supremacist groups. The president further faced significant backlash in August for saying there were “very fine people” on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally where a civil rights activist was killed by an alleged white nationalist.

The FBI document seemed to be aligned with far-right figures who have increasingly called Black Lives Matter a terrorist group, some comparing it to the Ku Klux Klan, noted Tajsar.

DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, likened the “black identity extremist” monitoring to the FBI’s highly controversial domestic counterintelligence program known as Cointelpro, which was used to target political groups and activists like the NAACP, Martin Luther King Jr, socialist and communist groups and anti-war protesters.

“We knew that we were likely being watched,” said Mckesson, who has spoken out about being monitored by the US government and FBI. “This is confirmation that the work of social justice continues to threaten those in power.”


Can you afford to get married? In the US, it’s increasingly the privilege of the rich

Wedded life is marked by a class divide linked to wealth and education, as more Americans face the prospect of living alone in old age

October 7, 2017T

by Lucy Rock

The Guardian

At 35, Mark Biddiscombe thinks it’s time he finally got married. “I have a woman, I have a kid, I want to do it. I wanted to before we had our son,” he said.

But he has a problem that increasing numbers of his generation encounter: he can’t afford it. Biddiscombe, a construction worker, is part of the changing face of marriage in the US.

In 1960, three-quarters of American adults were married. Today, just half are. Some are getting hitched later, but the share of those who never do has been rising steadily in recent decades, and research increasingly suggests money worries are a factor driving this trend. Nearly half of never-married adults with incomes under $30,000 say being financially insecure is a major reason.

Marriage has become a mark of status, increasingly the preserve of the wealthy and educated. Today, 26% of poor, 39% of working-class, and 56% of middle- and upper-class adults aged 18 to 55 are married, according to research by Opportunity America and the American Enterprise Institute. This compares with 51%, 57% and 65% respectively in 1990.

Education plays a part, too. Those without a college degree are less likely to have a spouse, analysis by the Pew Research Center shows. In 2015, 65% of graduates aged over 25 were married, compared with 50% of those with only a high school diploma. Twenty-five years earlier, the rate was above 60%, for each group.

It’s not that lots of non-graduates don’t want to marry, it’s that – like Biddiscombe – they are waiting until their finances are sound.

Biddiscombe left education after high school, lured by a job offer and thoughts that he would take a break before going to college.

He and his girlfriend moved from eastern Washington to Seattle, where the cost of living is more expensive, after his son was born with a hole in his heart and needed medical treatment.

Biddiscombe said: “My girlfriend doesn’t work at the moment, she’s looking after our son. I work part time so I can help her out. We manage OK, but we have no safety net. We live paycheck to paycheck.

“I feel it’s a good thing to be financially stable before you get married. Once you’ve made someone that commitment, it’s nice to know that if one of you loses your job, the other person can look after them.” Previous research by Pew showing that 78% of never-married women were looking for a partner with a steady job tends to support his view.

Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew Research Center, said there were real economic benefits from marriage and stable partnerships. “Married couples usually have a dual income, so household earnings will be significantly higher, and they are more likely to own a home. There’s a correlation between employment and marriage, so folks that are employed full time are likely to be married, that suggests a higher level of stability and income.”

Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, said there was a “class barrier emerging in the family lives of Americans according to whether they have a university degree or not”.

He cited two reasons for the decline in marriage: “First, alternatives to marriage are now acceptable – one can live in a cohabiting relationship, one can have a child on one’s own in a way that one could not several decades ago. The second is the inability of young adults without college degrees to find the sorts of jobs that can support a marriage.”

In July, economists showed how the decline in manufacturing jobs from 1990 to 2014 made men less marriageable because they lacked income and were more likely to drink too much, use drugs or be in prison.

Marriage rates also vary widely by race and ethnicity, although Pew points out that the “gap between whites and black Americans has remained fairly consistent over time”. In 2015, 54% of white adults were married, compared to 61% of Asian Americans, 46% of Hispanic Americans and 30% of African Americans.

Falling marriage rates concern Cherlin. “Marriage is the way Americans do long-term stable relationships,” he said. “Children do best in stable families. Americans don’t tend to cohabit for very long. They break up or they marry. In some northern European countries, there are long-term, stable cohabiting relationships and in those countries, I wouldn’t be as concerned about marriage.

“Marriage has a very high cultural value in the US, even today when it’s not necessary to marry. Getting married is a sign of having a successful life.”

Young people are increasingly seeing marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone” event, a crowning achievement once other goals have been reached, rather than a launchpad for adulthood.

Of course, many people enjoy living on their own. Jay Townsend, a construction worker, was married for five years in his late 20s. Now, at 35, he’s happily living alone. “I’m content doing what I want, when I want,” he said. “I’m not against marriage, but I don’t know if it really matters any more. I guess in some places, where appearances matter more, people still like to do it.”

But living alone can be difficult in old age, and with falling marriage rates, it’s a prospect facing more Americans – especially poorer ones.

Now more than a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older live on their own, Pew research shows. The share of men in that age group living alone rose from 15% in 1990 to 18% in 2014. Older adults living alone feel more financially strapped – only 33% say they live comfortably, compared with 49% of older adults who live with others. Being lonely or socially isolated can also affect your health. Research by psychologists at Brigham Young University found these factors increased the risk of premature death more than obesity.

Elena Portacolone, a sociologist at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California in San Francisco, said older adults living on their own faced several pressures. They struggle with household chores as their physical and mental health fails, and they often have problems navigating the complex system of services available and finding out their eligibility – only the very poor qualify for Home Care Aide, and those with modest savings cannot afford to pay for it themselves.

“Also, for older Americans, independence is really important, it’s in their DNA. If you are old and not productive you lose status,” she added.

“The compounding of all these pressures makes living alone in older age in the US almost unsustainable.”

Nyles Kracke, 93, a retired farmer from Iowa whose wife died more than 20 years ago, found a solution to loneliness when he moved into the El Dorado West assisted living centre in Burien, Washington, three years ago.

He has his own apartment, but enjoys coffee every morning with three or four female friends by the fireplace in one of the communal living rooms, and meals in the dining room.

“I don’t see very well, so I can’t go out. I like it here, though. There’s lots going on and I like chatting with my friends.”

Going forward, innovative ways to create connections between the generations will be needed, according to Portacolone.

One such scheme is the not-for-profit housing complex Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, where seniors (the oldest is 94) live next door to foster children and their adoptive families. It’s a win for each generation – older adults get low cost housing and a sense of purpose, parents get help with babysitting and homework, and children get surrogate grandparents.

Winona Phillips, 66, moved in after she was made redundant in her job as a software trainer and was forced to sell her home.

For the past five years, she has helped 12-year-old Noah with his reading and taught him to cook.

“We connected so well that he’s known as my ‘special buddy’,” she said.

Winona, who has never married, said she feels like part of Noah’s family. “I’m so sorry to hear so many people are isolated as they get older. I can’t imagine that happening here.”



No responses yet

Leave a Reply