Happy Holidays & New Year from the Justice Integrity Project!
Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative December 2016 news and views
Federal Justice System Year-End Report
Washington Post, Roberts steers clear of controversy, praises district judges in year-end report, Robert Barnes, Dec. 31, 2016. The federal courts in general and the Supreme Court in particular have been a focal point of the contentious 2016 election campaign, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. continued to steer well clear of controversy in his year-end report issued Saturday.
Roberts, shown in an official photo, did not mention that the court has been shorthanded since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February nor the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee to the court, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland. That action kept the seat open for an appointment by President-elect Donald Trump, and will retain a conservative majority of Republican nominees on the Supreme Court.
Instead, Roberts used his Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary to focus on what he said was the underappreciated role of federal district judges, who conduct trials and serve at the first level of the justice system.
The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency.
“While the Supreme Court is often the focus of public attention, our system of justice depends fundamentally on the skill, hard work, and dedication of those outside the limelight,” Roberts wrote.
Trump has the chance to fill an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving him a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office.
Former UK Ambassador Claims Obama, CIA Deceit Over Hacking, Leaks
CraigMurray.org, Exit Obama in a Cloud of Disillusion, Delusion and Deceit, Craig Murray, Dec. 31, 2016. Craig Murray, shown in a file photo, is an author and former UK ambassador who says he delivered Democratic National Committee documents to WikiLeaks that were leaded from DNC staffer and falsely described as stolen by Russian hackers.
I find myself in the unusual position of having twice been in a position to know directly that governments were lying in globe-shaking events, firstly Iraqi WMD and now the “Russian hacks.”
Anybody who believes the latest report issued by Obama as “proof” provides anything of the sort is very easily impressed by some entirely meaningless diagrams. William Binney, who was Technical Director at the NSA and actually designed their surveillance capabilities, has advised me by email. It is plain from the report itself that the Russian groups discussed have been under targeted NSA surveillance for a period longer than the timeframe for the DNC and Podesta leaks.
It is therefore inconceivable that the NSA would not have detected and traced those particular data flows and they would be saved. In other words, the NSA would have the actual hack on record, would be able to recognise the emails themselves and tell you exactly the second the transmission or transmissions took place and how they were routed. They would be able to give you date, time and IP addresses. In fact, not only do they produce no evidence of this kind, they do not even claim to have this kind of definite evidence.
Secondly, Bill points out that WikiLeaks is in itself a top priority target and any transmission to WikiLeaks or any of its major operatives would be tracked, captured and saved by NSA as a matter of routine. The exact route and date of the transmission or transmissions of the particular emails to WikiLeaks would be available. In fact, not only does the report not make this information available, it makes no claim at all to know anything about how the information was got to WikiLeaks.
Of course Russian hackers exist. They attack this blog pretty well continually – as do hackers from the USA and many other countries. Of course there have been attempted Russian hacks of the DNC. But the report gives no evidence at all of the alleged successful hack that transmitted these particular emails, nor any evidence of the connection between the hackers and the Russian government, let alone Putin.
Trump Family and JFK Document Release
JFKFacts.org, Trump family confidante served on the Warren Commission, Jefferson Morley, Dec. 31, 2016. JFK researcher Bill Kelly has the story on the former Warren Commission lawyer who is close to Donald Trump and well-positioned to influence the decisions the Trump administration will have to make about JFK secrecy and disclosure in the next ten months:
“Of all the surviving former Warren Commission lawyers,” Kelly wrote on the site JFK Countercoup, “none will be more influential in the new administration than Murray Laulicht, a New Jersey attorney whose wife, Linda Kushner, is the sister of Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.” Laulicht is shown in a file photo.
Channel News Asia, China’s CCTV launches global ‘soft power’ media network to extend influence, Engen Tham and Ryan Woo, Dec. 31, 2016. China Central Television (CCTV), Beijing’s largest and most important TV network, said it will launch a new global media platform at the stroke of New Year’s Day to help re-brand China overseas. The new multilingual media cluster will have six TV channels, a video newsletter agency and a new media agency and will see the original CCTV News channel renamed as China Global Television Network, the network said on its website on Friday night.
China has been extending its global influence with “soft power” tactics such as launching new English language media and auditioning international public relations firms to tailor its branding strategy. President Xi Jinping said in February state media must tell China’s story to the world better and become internationally influential, adding that onshore portals must follow the party line and promote “positive propaganda as the main theme.”
Entertainment Weekly, Oliver Stone writes essay cautioning against Russian hacking hysteria, Devan Coggan, Dec. 31, 2016. Oliver Stone is speaking out about the accusations that Russian hackers intervened in the U.S. presidential election to aid Donald Trump’s victory. The director wrote a lengthy essay titled “The Russians Are Coming” on his Facebook page, warning against “group-think” in accepting the claims about Russian interference. Stone wrote that he disagreed with the multiple American intelligence agencies and officials who have concluded that Russian president Vladimir Putin intervened in the election, likening the response to Cold War-era hysteria.
White House Chronicle, What were the big ideas of 2016? Llewellyn King, Dec. 30, 2016. The great, world-changing actions are the decision of Britain to leave the European Union — Brexit — and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Both pointed to electorates that had had it with the status quo and the elites who run things. On either side of the Atlantic, the status quo got the heave-ho.
The victors in these elections relied on and triumphed with a simple strategy: a propaganda coup. They told the electorate that things were worse than they actually were. The Trump administration will come to power burdened with weight of expectations it has ignited. This was the year where shaded facts, political myth and old-fashioned lies dominated the discourse. Expectations levitated in 2016 will fall to earth in 2017 — softly, one hopes.
As for the big idea? It has not yet been tweeted to us.
Trump Administration, JFK and Deep State Issues
WhoWhatWhy, Trump and the Deep State, Russ Baker, Dec. 29, 2016. Some of you supported Donald Trump. Others are paralyzed with concern over what his presidency will bring.
JFKCounterCoup, Warren Commission Lawyers Strike Back, William E. Kelly, Dec. 30, 2016. The story was familiar: a group of former Warren Commission lawyers meet in Washington D.C. to plot their media strategy in the face of another looming threat to their dubious legacy – the Warren Report conclusion that one man alone was responsible for the murder of President Kennedy.
As reported in the American Scholar (Summer 2016), “On a sunny day in Washington last October,” seven former Commission colleagues met to reflect, in their words, “on our investigation and the report we wrote.” The discussion of the issues has recently shifted from “Who killed Kennedy?” to “What’s in the secret and soon-to-be-released records?”, and whether the next president will release them or acquiesce to the intelligence agency requests to keep the documents secret for reasons of national security.
Actor, assassin or fall guy, Oswald’s role in what happened at Dealey Plaza is taking a back seat in the debate as the controversy over the release of the records increases in intensity.
As former Commission lawyer Howard Willens mentions in the American Scholar article, the remaining few who met in Washington included Willens, David Slawson, Stuart Pollack, Sam Stern, Murray Laulicht (shown in a file photo) and Alfred Goldberg. All are high powered lawyers except for Goldberg, a recently retired Army historian who worked out of an office in the Pentagon and was brought in to substantially re-write the investigative reports and chapter drafts to give the Warren Report a readable and believable narrative, an exercise that was only partly successful.
Willens, Slawson, Pollack, Stern and Laulicht were each responsible for drafting different aspects of the case, while Goldberg substantially re-wrote their drafts to form the basic narrative.
Of all the surviving former Warren Commission lawyers, none will be more influential in the new administration than Murray Laulicht, a New Jersey attorney whose wife, Linda Kushner, is the sister of Charles Kushner, the father of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
Washington Post, Putin won’t expel diplomats in response to U.S. hacking sanctions, Andrew Roth, Dec. 30, 2016. In a rare break from the diplomatic tradition of reciprocal punishment, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he would not deport U.S. diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to U.S. hacking sanctions, as Russia looks to cultivate relations with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
“We won’t create problems for American diplomats,” Putin said in a statement released by his press service Friday afternoon, adding that Russia retained the right to punish U.S. diplomats in the future. He said he would “plan further steps for restoring the Russian-American relationship based on the policies enacted by the administration of President Donald Trump.”
The surprising decision came just hours after the Russian Foreign Ministry suggested that Putin expel 35 U.S. diplomats and close two properties used by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as part of a growing diplomatic slugfest over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
President Barack Obama talks with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice in the Oval Office prior to a phone call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Feb. 10, 2015 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).
Wall Street Journal, U.S. Sanctions Russia Over Election Hacking; Russia Threatens to Retaliate, Carol E. Lee and Paul Sonne, Dec. 29, 2016. Sanctions follow assessment Russia used cyberattacks to interfere with U.S. election. President Barack Obama on Thursday launched a sharp response to Russia’s alleged use of cyberattacks to try to interfere with the U.S. presidential election, including sanctions on top Russian government intelligence services and officials, as well as the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S.
Russia threatened to retaliate. A Kremlin spokesman said President Vladimir Putin would determine a response to the sanctions and other measures, saying the “principle of reciprocity applies here,” according to the Interfax news agency.
The targets of the sanctions include Moscow’s top intelligence services, the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate, as well as three companies and a handful of individuals. Among the individuals are top officials from the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU. The State Department expelled 35 Russian operatives from the Russian embassy in Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco on Thursday. The officials and their families were given 72 hours to leave the U.S.
The State Department also notified Russia that as of Friday Moscow would be denied access to two Russian government-owned compounds—one in Maryland and one in New York.
Mr. Obama said the steps were “in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election” and followed repeated warnings to Moscow. “These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
Russia previously has denied involvement in the hacks. Mr. Obama, who has strongly suggested Mr. Putin was involved in the hacks, said the entirety of the U.S. response may not be publicly disclosed.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Mr. Obama said. “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.”
Huffington Post, 35 Russian Diplomats Expelled, Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Dec. 29, 2016. President Barack Obama sanctioned Russian officials and entities on Thursday in response to Moscow’s reported hacking during the U.S. presidential election. “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” the president said in a statement.
Obama’s successor, president-elect Donald Trump, has cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was responsible for unearthing and releasing material damaging to Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On Wednesday, Trump said it was time to “move on” and repeated that he believes it’s impossible to know who targeted Clinton. But Obama appears committed to proving Russia’s responsibility. His administration wants Congress to receive intelligence reports showing the proof before Trump enters office and is able to call off such investigations.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page joint report on Thursday that provided some details of what the agencies know about the Russian actions. Officials may release more public details on its findings soon, according to The New York Times.
Obama’s sanctions target the Russian intelligence agency believed to be responsible for the hacking, and they place Trump in a bind: It could be politically difficult for him to waive the sanctions once he is in office, particularly because many on Capitol Hill, including members of his own party, are keen to signal toughness against Moscow.
The Real News Network, Former FBI Agent: Russia Sanctions Moves the US Closer to Another Cold War, Interview by Jaisal Noor, Dec. 29, 2016. Former FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley says the evidence the Russian government hacked and interfered with US elections must be made public. Coleen Rowley is a former FBI agent and whistleblower. Rowley jointly held the TIME “Person of the Year” award in 2002 with two other women credited as whistleblowers.
The question is not was there some hacking, the question is was it on behalf of official governments? And that is where Obama has been extremely evasive. I noticed in the press conference a day ago when he was asked by Martha Raddatz if there was strong evidence connecting the Russian government, Obama hedged and answered, “The Russians.” Instead of the Russian government, he said, “Yes, we believe the Russians.”
The evidence needs to be shown, because the thing that’s missing here is who gave this information to WikiLeaks? That’s been totally absent. If there was hacking and surveillance, that’s exactly what our government does, as well. Our government is… (scoffs) intercepting communications all over Russia right now, including of their politicians. The difference here was that they allege, without evidence — so far, we have not seen it — that this evidence was given to be publicized to WikiLeaks.
Middle Eastern News
Washington Post, Syrian army announces cease-fire to begin at midnight, Louisa Loveluck and Andrew Roth, Dec. 29, 2016. The deal excluded “terrorist organizations” including the country’s al-Qaeda affiliate, now a key component of what remains of Syria’s armed opposition. The caveat suggested that the fighting could continue in key swaths of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most important backers, announced that the truce was reached with the Syrian government, certain Syrian rebel groups, Iran and Turkey. Notably absent from the peace process was the United States.
The Russian government did not say which opposition groups have joined the cease-fire. Shoigu said negotiations were held with rebel forces through Turkish mediation over a period of two months. He said seven opposition groups with a combined 60,000 fighters from central and northern Syria have agreed to the cease-fire.
Putin, in his televised remarks, offered some caveats about the agreements, calling them “fragile and requiring special attention.” But the deals marked an ambitious venture by the Russian leader to establish his dominant role as dealmaker in the Syrian conflict and further sideline the United States less than a month before Trump’s inauguration.
Washington, How one reporter uncovered parts of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret, David A. Fahrenthold, Dec. 29, 2016. This Post journalist asked what he thought was a simple question: What happened to the $6 million Donald Trump raised for veterans during his campaign? That began the reporter’s strange journey to track down an “orange” portrait, receive a hot tip about a vulgar conversation and write a story that he thought would never be published.
Excerpt: The story published at 4:02 p.m. It became the most-read story of all time on The Post’s website, easily surpassing the past champion, a tale about a woman from Burundi who was believed dead but returned to crash her own funeral. At one point, more than 100,000 people were simultaneously reading the story about the video. The servers that measure The Post’s Web traffic actually broke because there was too much traffic.
Washington, Trump to focus on ‘peace through strength’ over Obama’s ‘soft power’ approach, David Nakamura and Juliet Eilperin, Dec. 29, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump has stacked his Cabinet with military generals, pushed for more Pentagon spending and a bigger Navy, threatened to slap tariffs on China and Mexico and, last week, suggested that he was open to expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The aim, he has said, is to achieve “peace through strength.” If Trump follows through with this confrontational approach, it will represent a sharp break with the multifaceted foreign policy strategy that both Democratic and Republican presidents have practiced for decades, including reliance on what diplomats call “soft power” to achieve objectives and avoid conflict. Instead, Trump views foreign policy as largely transactional, aides say, and his goal is to win — by speaking loudly and carrying a big stick.
WhoWhatWhy, Fake News Brought to You by the Ad Wizards of Corporate America, Jeff Schechtman, Dec. 30, 2016 (Podcast). Fake news is just one part of the story. Advertising itself is now considered “content” and directed at us in new and insidious ways. We’re going to talk about this today with my guest Mara Einstein. Mara is a professor of media studies at Queens College City of New York (CUNY), as well as an independent marketing consultant. She’s been an executive at NBC and MTV, and it is my pleasure to welcome her to talk about Black Ops Advertising.Dec. 28
Middle Eastern News
Washington Post, Kerry: Allowing U.N. vote against Israel preserves two-state solution, Carol Morello, Dec. 28, 2016. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States allowed the passage a U.N. condemnation of Israel’s settlement policies as the only way to preserve a two-state solution on the verge of being destroyed. In response to Israeli criticism that the U.S has abandoned and betrayed its closest ally in the Middle East, Kerry said no administration has done more for Israel’s security than the current one.
“The vote in the UN was about preserving the two state solution,” said Kerry (shown in an official photo), speaking from the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium. “That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve, for our sake and for theirs.”
Politico, Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare, Gregg Carlstrom, Dec. 28, 2016. Netanyahu finally has the American partner of his dreams. Until everything falls apart. It was a valedictory speech, irrelevant in a few weeks, but John Kerry’s much-anticipated remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were still a remarkable indictment. In a 75-minute address at the State Department on Wednesday, the secretary of state outlined a long list of reasons why the two-state solution was on its deathbed, and defended last week’s abstention from a controversial Security Council vote on Israeli settlements.
He laid most of the blame on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government, whose policies, he argued, were pushing Israel toward a binational state with the Palestinians. “Friends tell each other hard truths,” he said.
Netanyahu was quick to fire back, calling the speech “biased against Israel.” It was an immediate, furious reaction, just like Netanyahu’s response to the Security Council vote, when he accused the Obama administration of a “shameful ambush.”
But the embrace of Trump and the belligerence toward the rest of the world that Netanyahu is using to woo right-wing voters carries a profound risk. Israel is betting all its chips on an unpopular, untested president with no knowledge of the region and a history of breaking his campaign promises. If he does renege, Israel will find itself even more isolated.
And if he keeps his word — if Trump governs the way he campaigned — then he will promote policies that are deeply unpopular with many Americans, including American Jews.
Implausible as it sounds, it may be Trump and Netanyahu, two men who profess to be Israel’s strongest defenders, who definitively shatter the “unbreakable alliance” and rupture the decades-old bipartisan consensus on Israel.
Washington Post, Trump expresses support for Israel ahead of Kerry speech on Middle East, Ruth Eglash and Carol Morello, Dec. 28, 2016. Donald Trump tweeted that he could no longer allow Israel to be treated with disdain and urged Israel to “stay strong” until he takes office on Jan. 20. The messages came hours before Secretary of State Kerry was scheduled to give a speech outlining the Obama administration’s vision for resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Washington Post, Trump accuses Obama of putting up ‘roadblocks’ to a smooth transition, John Wagner, Dec. 28, 2016. The president-elect’s criticisms come amid days of verbal sparring with Obama. Trump (shown in a file photo by Gage Skidmore) also made it clear that he is perturbed by a number of actions the outgoing administration is taking related to Israel.
After having repeatedly praised President Obama’s efforts to ensure a smooth transition, President-elect Donald Trump reversed course on Wednesday, accusing the current occupant of the Oval Office of putting “roadblocks” in his way. Trump took to Twitter shortly after 9 a.m., saying he was “doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks.”
During a conference call with reporters later Wednesday morning, transition spokesman Sean Spicer at first declined to elaborate on Trump’s tweets, saying they “speak for themselves.” He later said that Obama and his administration officials have been generous with their time during the transition process and helpful with “mechanical” issues. Trump’s view of his Democratic predecessor soured earlier this week when Obama said on a podcast hosted by his former adviser, David Axelrod, that he thought he could have prevailed in an election over Trump.
CNN, Jerusalem cancels vote on settlement construction, Oren Liebermann, Jeremy Freeman, Laura Smith Spark, Dec. 28, 2016. The city of Jerusalem canceled a vote Wednesday to approve the construction of 492 units — such as homes, synagogues and other public buildings — in East Jerusalem, a city council member said. The decision follows a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (shown in a file photo), said council member Hanan Rubin, who’s also a member of the city’s zoning committee.
Washington Post, Memo to Trump: There can be only one president at a time, Ruth Marcus, Dec. 28, 2016. Donald Trump must have missed this memo. One of the hallmarks of our democratic system is its commitment to the peaceful transition of power.
This practice comes with two important, linked corollaries that fall under the umbrella that there can be only one president at a time. The first is that the incoming president, especially in the arena of foreign policy, takes care not to trespass on the prerogatives of the incumbent. The second is that the outgoing president, once departed, remains largely mute, giving his successor space to operate unimpeded by post-presidential back-seat carping.
Fake News Controversies
PressThink.org, Winter is coming: prospects for the American press under Trump, Jay Rosen, Dec. 28, 2016. How bad is it? Bad. I will explain why. Any bright signs? A few. This is part one. Part two is about what can be done.
This started as a thread on Twitter about “things to look for” in the next six to eight months. Readers asked what could be done in response. I will try to meet that request in part two. (And here it is.) First we have to understand how deep and interconnected the problems are. How bad is it? Pretty bad.
For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent. I say this because so many things are happening at once to disarm and disable serious journalism, or to push it out of the frame. Most of these are well known, but it helps to put them all together. Here is my list:
1. An economic crisis in (most) news companies, leaving the occupation of journalism in a weakened state, especially at the state and local level, where newsrooms have been decimated by the decline of the newspaper business. The digital money is going to Google and Facebook, but they do not have newsrooms.
2. A low-trust environment for most institutions and their leaders, the same ones who are regularly featured in the news.
3. A broken and outdated model in political journalism, which tries to connect to the public through “inside” or access reporting about a class whose legitimacy is itself eroding. And since almost everyone got the result wrong in 2016, responsibility for this massive error is evenly distributed across the press, which means that no one is responsible for fixing what is broken.
So that is what I mean by “winter is coming.” All those things 1-17 are happening at once, and strengthening one another. The combined effect is chilling.
The common elements: Low trust all around, an emboldened and nationalist right wing that treats the press as natural enemy, the bill coming due for decades of coasting on a model in political reporting that worked well for “junkies” but failed to engage the rest of us….a damaged economic base, weak institutional structure and newsroom mono-culture that hinders any creative response, and a dawning recognition that freedom of the press is a fragile state, not a constitutional certainty.
Washington Post, Melania Trump, First Amendment warrior? Erik Wemple, Dec. 28, 2016. The National Enquirer is weighing in with some fresh reporting on the role of Melania Trump, just as the presidential transition is nearing its closing stages: “The Enquirer can reveal former model Melania will adopt a two-pronged platform as First Lady, including an unprecedented push to protect freedom of speech and a second campaign to eradicate cyber-bullying!” Really?
New York Magazine, A Surprising Number of Democrats Think Pizzagate Is True, Adam K. Raymond, Dec. 28, 2016. Nearly half of the nation’s Republicans believe John Podesta’s leaked emails contain coded messages referring to “pedophilia, human trafficking and satanic ritual abuse,” according to a new poll from The Economist and YouGov. But more shocking is the number of Dems who have signed on to the asinine conspiracy: Twenty four percent say Pizzagate is “definitely” or “probably” true.
The poll asked respondents to weigh in on a series of questions labeled “conspiracy theories,” including some classics (Was 9/11 an inside job?) and some of the tinfoil crowd’s more recent hits (Did millions of undocumented people vote in the election?). Answers broke down largely along party lines, but it’s the small percentage of weirdos who believe in the conspiracies aimed at their own side that’s always the most fascinating.
For example, it’s not shocking to learn that more than half of Republicans think President Obama was born in Kenya, which was thoroughly debunked years ago. But it is shocking to learn that 20 percent of Democrats think so, too. On the other side, it’s easy to believe that a full 50 percent of Clinton voters think Russia “tampered with vote tallies” to help elect Trump, despite a lack of evidence. But why would 9 percent of Trump voters believe the same thing?
Dallas detective Paul Bentley escorts Lee Harvey Oswald out of the Texas Theater on Nov. 24, 1963, pushing “The Fall Guy” to his day of reckoning (Jim MacCammon photo via Warren Report exhibits)
JFKcountercoup, Oswald is Dashiell Hammett’s Fall Guy, William Kelly, Dec. 28, 2016. Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco private eye Sam Spade had it all figured out. Chapter 14 of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is called “The Fall Guy,.” Spade explains the need for a Fall Guy: “There’s another thing that’s got to be taken care of first. We’ve got to have a fall guy. The police have got to have a victim — somebody they can stick those murders on. The way to handle them is to toss them a victim, somebody they can hang the works on.”
“I get away with it because I never let myself forget that a day of reckoning is coming. I never forget that when the day of reckoning comes I want to be all set to march into headquarters pushing a victim in front of me, saying ‘Here, you chumps, is your criminal!’ …. He’s made to order for the part. Let’s pin the necessary evidence on him and turn him over to them.”
In fact, Detective Paul Bentley may have more to do with the assassination than Oswald, a pawn and Fall Guy….while Bentley was the Dallas police polygraph operator who should never have been at the scene of Oswald’s arrest. Even before Oswald was killed while in police custody, a close friend of Bentley, Robert D. Steel, wrote him a letter:
“Paul, Perhaps you are aware that ONI has quite a file on Oswald, which no doubt has been made available on the Washington level. If not, I am certain that this information can be obtained for you through our resident special agent in charge of the Dallas office, A. C. Sullivan, who is a wonderful agent, and whom I hope you know.”
In an interview before he died, ONI investigator Robert Steel said that he visited Bentley in Dallas, and personally wrote or read a number of 119 investigative reports on Oswald’s defection and after the assassination, none of which are among the records of the JFK Collection at the National Archives or among the still withheld records list.
So the “quite a file” Steel said ONI had on Oswald just went missing, and no one is looking for them.
Washington Post, On Twitter, Trump defends foundation, ignores legal controversy surrounding it, David A. Fahrenthold and John Wagner, Dec. 27, 2016. The president-elect said the media had not given him enough credit for his generosity, but he made no mention of allegations that he violated a “self-dealing” provision.
Huffington Post, Trump Taps His Company’s Lawyer To Be ‘Special Representative For International Negotiations,’ Christina Wilkie, Dec. 27, 2016. Jason Greenblatt has spent 20 years negotiating on behalf of Trump and his real estate projects. President-elect Donald Trump has appointed his longtime corporate lawyer Jason Greenblatt to a new position as special representative for international negotiations in the Trump administration. Greenblatt is currently the chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, Trump’s sprawling real estate and licensing company, where he represents Trump’s business interests in domestic and international negotiations. Greenblatt also served as an adviser on Israel during Trump’s presidential campaign.
A satiric rendering of the famed painting “Christina’s World” portrays New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie after his failed 2016 presidential race and ouster as transition chief for President-elect Trump
NJ.com / Advance Media, Christie’s 10 most humiliating moments of 2016, Staff report, Dec. 27, 2016. It wasn’t all bad for Chris Christie in 2016. The guy he backed for president — despite overwhelming criticism and long odds — actually won. Along the way, there have been many low-lights in this roughest of political years for Christie. Here are 10 embarrassing moments, in chronological order.
Washington Post, Navy dismissed evidence that ‘Fat Leonard’ was cheating the service out of millions, Craig Whitlock, Dec. 27, 2016. Documents show the service investigated Singapore-based contractor Leonard Glenn Francis 27 times and closed those cases despite evidence that he was bribing officers with booze, sex and lavish dinners, newly released documents show.
Do Congressional Staff Need Protection From CIA?
Federal News Radio, Senator alleges CIA intimidation of committee staff, seeks protections, Host Tom Temin, reporter Terry Wing, Dec. 27, 2016. Congress has passed laws to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, but what about Congress’ own staff? That’s something Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) would like his colleagues to address, to ensure Congress can perform its constitutional oversight of the executive branch.
The fact is, when the legislative branch is investigating an executive branch agency, the agency may not be pleased with the investigators find. The agency may even go as far as trying to stymie the investigation. That’s what Whitehouse believes may have taken place when he was on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, looking into the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Detention and Interrogation program. During their investigation, committee investigators became the target of a CIA-initiated criminal referral. Whitehouse called it an attempt at intimidation.
He raised the issue earlier this month in a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the federal separation of powers. He also discussed his concerns on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. Whitehouse said his concerns began in 2009, when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence started looking into reports of unorthodox interrogation techniques being used by the CIA. Conducted on CIA property and using a network search tool provided by the CIA, committee staff located documents the CIA apparently had not intended to make available for review.
The documents found contained an internal CIA assessment of the interrogation program known as the “Panetta Review,” which called into question many of the CIA’s statements to Congress about the scope and brutality of the so-called “torture program.” Its inadvertent release to committee investigators caused considerable alarm within the CIA.
In response to the realization that Senate investigators had obtained access to the Panetta Review, CIA personnel and contractors proceeded to access a computer network that had been set-up exclusively for the committee’s use. They searched the network and reviewed the email of Senate staff without their permission.
Upon learning of the CIA’s unauthorized access, the CIA’s inspector general conducted an investigation and made a referral to the Department of Justice — based on the judgment that the CIA’s search of the Senate’s computer network was a potential crime.
On the floor of the Senate in March 2014, Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the CIA referral unfounded and described it as “a potential effort to intimidate [Committee] staff.” It took the Justice more than five months to clear the committee staff and announce that no investigation would be opened.
To make things worse, Whitehouse said the staff was put in the position of having to pay for their own lawyers. Whitehouse said there needs to be a check in place to prevent “fanciful” charges from being brought. “All that you really need is a good relationship between the executive official and the attorney general, and the attorney general doesn’t even need to act on it,” he said. “He can just sit on the referral disables the performance of the duties of the Congressional investigative staff.”
Politico, ‘Profitable’ Washington Post adding more than five dozen journalists, Ken Doctor, Dec. 27, 2016. The Washington Post newsroom will grow by more than 60 jobs — or 8 percent — an astounding number in this day and age. Such contrarian additions, of course, come at a time when newsroom staff reductions are the rule across daily journalism.
The Post newsroom will number more than 750, third among the national newspaper-based press and moving it closer to the Times, with which it increasingly competes for high-end talent. The Times complement stands at about 1,307, the company says. USA Today’s newsroom stands at about 450, while the Journal, after its recent buyouts, tells me it employs 1,500.
Assassination Archives and Research Center, Publication Spotlight: The CIA As Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World, Alan Dale, quoting book publisher’s announcement, Dec. 27, 2016. Author of three books on CIA operations, Douglas Valentine’s research into CIA activities began when CIA Director William Colby gave him free access to interview CIA officials who had been involved in various aspects of the Phoenix program in South Vietnam. It was a permission Colby was to regret. The CIA would rescind it, making every effort to impede publication of The Phoenix Program, which documented the CIA’s elaborate system of population surveillance, control, entrapment, imprisonment, torture and assassination in Vietnam.
While researching Phoenix, Valentine learned that the CIA allowed opium and heroin to flow from its secret bases in Laos, to generals and politicians on its payroll in South Vietnam. His investigations into this illegal activity focused on the CIA’s relationship with the federal drugs agencies mandated by Congress to stop illegal drugs from entering the United States. Based on interviews with senior officials, Valentine wrote two subsequent books, The Strength of the Wolf and The Strength of the Pack, showing how the CIA infiltrated federal drug law enforcement agencies and commandeered their executive management, intelligence and foreign operations staffs in order to ensure that the flow of drugs continues unimpeded to traffickers and foreign officials in its employ.
Ultimately, portions of his research materials would be archived at the National Security Archive, Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Center, and John Jay College. This book includes excerpts from the above titles along with subsequent articles and transcripts of interviews on a range of current topics, with a view to shedding light on the systemic dimensions of the CIA’s ongoing illegal and extra-legal activities. These terrorism and drug law enforcement articles and interviews illustrate how the CIA’s activities impact social and political movements abroad and in the United States.
A common theme is the CIA’s ability to deceive and propagandize the American public through its impenetrable government-sanctioned shield of official secrecy and plausible deniability. Though investigated by the Church Committee in 1975, CIA praxis then continues to inform CIA praxis now. Valentine tracks its steady infiltration into practices targeting the last population to be subjected to the exigencies of the American empire: the American people.
Syria: Jubilant Syrians gather for Christmas celebration in west Aleppo
Hundreds of residents gathered at Al Azizieh Square in western Aleppo on Tuesday, to watch the Christmas tree lights being turned on, in an attempt to establish some sense of normality in a city that has been a focal point of the Syrian conflict.
SouthFront, Militants In Daraa Surrender To Syrian Army, Staff report, Dec. 27, 2016. A high number of militants has laid down arms and joined the reconciliation process with the Syrian government in the province of Daraa. The event took place in the government-held town of al-Sanamyen north of the provincial capital. The total numbers of Free Syrian Army members that had laid their arms and took the amnesty were estimated from 150 to 250. Local sources argue that this was a prelude to a wider reconciliation agreement in the province that will allow government forces to set control over all parts over the city of Daraa.Also, mass graves of torture victims have been uncovered in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Washington Post, Days after settlement vote, Trump calls U.N. ‘just a club for people’ to ‘have a good time,’ Juliet Eilperin, Dec. 26, 2016. The president-elect’s harsh criticism signaled he would likely challenge more than just the 71-year-old international body’s approach to the Middle East once he takes office.
See also below in today’s Global News: CNN, Israel curbs working ties with nations that voted for UN resolution, Elise Labott, Oren Liebermann and Theodore Schleifer, Dec. 26, 2016.
Associated Press, Election system susceptible to rigging despite red flags, Michael Rubinkam and Frank Bajak, Dec. 26, 2016. Jill Stein’s bid to recount votes in Pennsylvania was in trouble even before a federal judge shot it down Dec. 12. That’s because the Green Party candidate’s effort stood almost no chance of detecting potential fraud or error in the vote — there was basically nothing to recount. Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting. There’s almost no way to know if they’ve accurately recorded individual votes — or if anyone tampered with the count.
More than 80 percent of Pennsylvanians who voted Nov. 8 cast their ballots on such machines, according to VotePA, a nonprofit seeking their replacement. A recount would, in the words of VotePA’s Marybeth Kuznik, a veteran election judge, essentially amount to this: “You go to the computer and you say, ‘OK, computer, you counted this a week-and-a-half ago. Were you right the first time?'”
These paperless digital voting machines, used by roughly 1 in 5 U.S. voters last month, present one of the most glaring dangers to the security of the rickety, underfunded U.S. election system. Like many electronic voting machines, they are vulnerable to hacking. But other machines typically leave a paper trail that could be manually checked. The paperless digital machines open the door to potential election rigging that might not ever be detected.
What’s more, their prevalence magnifies other risks in the election system, such as the possibility that hackers might compromise the computers that tally votes, by making failures or attacks harder to catch. And like other voting machines adopted since the 2000 election, the paperless systems are nearing the end of their useful life — yet there is no comprehensive plan to replace them.
The U.S. voting system — a loosely regulated, locally managed patchwork of more than 3,000 jurisdictions overseen by the states — employs more than two dozen types of machinery from 15 manufacturers. Elections officials across the nation say they take great care to secure their machines from tampering. They are locked away when not in use and sealed to prevent tampering.
All that makes national elections very difficult to steal without getting caught. “It would take a ‘large conspiracy’ to hack the results of a presidential election,” said Kay Stimson, speaking for the National Association of Secretaries of State. But difficult is not impossible. Wallach and his colleagues believe a crafty team of pros could strike surgically, focusing on select counties in a few battleground states where “a small nudge might be decisive,” he said.
Washington Post, Trump in position to reshape judiciary with more than 100 vacancies, Philip Rucker and Robert Barnes, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). Donald Trump is set to inherit an uncommon number of vacancies in the federal courts in addition to the open Supreme Court seat, giving the president-elect a monumental opportunity to reshape the judiciary after taking office. The estimated 103 judicial vacancies that President Obama is expected to hand over to Trump in the Jan. 20 transition of power is nearly double the 54 openings Obama found eight years ago following George W. Bush’s presidency.
Confirmation of Obama’s judicial nominees slowed to a crawl after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Obama White House officials blame Senate Republicans for what they characterize as an unprecedented level of obstruction in blocking the Democratic president’s court picks. The result is a multitude of openings throughout the federal circuit and district courts that will allow the new Republican president to quickly make a wide array of lifetime appointments.
State gun control laws, abortion restrictions, voter laws, anti-discrimination measures and immigrant issues are all matters that are increasingly heard by federal judges and will be influenced by the new composition of the courts. Trump has vowed to choose ideologues in the mold of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon — a prospect that has activists on the right giddy.
The Supreme Court vacancy created by Scalia’s death in February was a motivating issue for many conservative voters, especially evangelical Christians, to turn out for Trump. Senate Republicans refused to hold even a hearing on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for the Scalia seat. Democrats accuse Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, of intentionally denying Obama’s nominees a fair hearing and running out the clock in hopes that a Republican would succeed him, as Trump has.
Twenty-five of Obama’s court nominees were pending on the Senate floor, after having been approved out of the committee with bipartisan support, but did not get a vote before the Senate ended its two-year term before the holidays, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Washington Post, President Obama says he would have beaten Trump, Michael Kranish, Dec. 26, 2016. President Obama said in an interview released Monday that he would have beaten Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “if I had run again.” In his most pointed critique yet, Obama said Hillary Clinton’s campaign acted too cautiously out of a mistaken belief that victory was all but certain.
“If you think you’re winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer,” Obama said in the interview with former adviser and longtime friend David Axelrod, a CNN analyst, for his “The Axe Files” podcast. The president said Clinton “understandably . . . looked and said, well, given my opponent and the things he’s saying and what he’s doing, we should focus on that.”
Obama (shown in a White House file photo in the Situation Room) stressed his admiration for Clinton and said she had been the victim of unfair attacks. But, as he has in other exit interviews, he insisted that her defeat was not a rejection of the eight years of his presidency. To the contrary, he argued that he had put together a winning coalition that stretched across the country but that the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign had failed to follow through on it.
“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it — I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” the president said.
“See, I think the issue was less that Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class, I think that’s nonsense,” Obama said. “Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters. There are a lot of folks in places like West Virginia or Kentucky who didn’t vote for Hillary, didn’t vote for me, but are being helped by this . . . The problem is, is that we’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities.”
Politico, Trump pick backs out of White House job after affair allegations, Marc Caputo, Josh Dawsey and Alex Isenstadt, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). Donald Trump’s newly tapped White House communications director, Jason Miller, backed out of the job following claims that he had an affair with another transition official, according to three sources close to the Trump transition.
Two days after his appointment as communications director was announced, Miller (shown in a screen shot from a cable TV appearance) told Politico on Christmas Eve that he was stepping down because the White House job would be too demanding at a time when he needed to devote attention to his family. He and his wife are expecting their second child next month.
“After spending this past week with my family, the most amount of time I have been able to spend with them since March 2015, it is clear they need to be my top priority right now,” Miller, a senior campaign official, said in a prepared statement. “I need to put them in front of my career.”
But around the same time, campaign surrogate and transition aide A.J. Delgado began directing comments at Miller on Twitter. On Thursday, Delgado congratulated “the baby-daddy” on his promotion, and cryptically wrote: “The 2016 version of John Edwards.” Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate, had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign worker who became pregnant.
By Saturday, Delgado used Twitter to call for Miller to resign and then deactivated her account once he had announced he wouldn’t join Trump’s White House. “When you try to put a brave face and tweet about nonsense to distract, your feed looks like @JasonMillerDC’s,” she wrote Saturday before his announcement to step down. “When people need to resign graciously and refuse to, it’s a bit … spooky,” Delgado then wrote. When an old law school friend asked on Twitter to whom she was referring, Delgado replied: “Jason Miller. Who needed to resign…yesterday.” Delgado and Miller declined to comment on Sunday.
The matter has caused turmoil within the Trump operation over the past week. After Politico reporters received an anonymous email about the alleged affair, Delgado disclosed details of the relationship to senior officials in emails Thursday, the people close to the transition said.
The nature of their relationship had been known to people involved in the Trump campaign and transition for “a number of months,” one source said. Delgado is an attorney and conservative commentator who frequently defended Trump on cable networks during the campaign. Miller joined Trump’s operation after advising Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) failed presidential campaign.
‘Fake News’ Controversies
New York Times, With Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Media, Jeremy W. Peters, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). The term once referred to fabricated accounts intended to deceive, but many on the right have turned it against news they see as hostile to their agenda.
The C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the White House may all agree that Russia was behind the hacking that interfered with the election. But that was of no import to the website Breitbart News, which dismissed reports on the intelligence assessment as “left-wing fake news.” Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. “The fake news is the everyday news” in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. “They just make it up.” Some supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump have also taken up the call. As reporters were walking out of a Trump rally this month in Orlando, Fla., a man heckled them with shouts of “Fake news!”
Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.
In defining “fake news” so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.
“Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,” said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. “Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.”
Journalists who work to separate fact from fiction see a dangerous conflation of stories that turn out to be wrong because of a legitimate misunderstanding with those whose clear intention is to deceive. A report, shared more than a million times on social media, that the pope had endorsed Mr. Trump was undeniably false. But was it “fake news” to report on data models that showed Hillary Clinton with overwhelming odds of winning the presidency? Are opinion articles fake if they cherry-pick facts to draw disputable conclusions?
“Fake news was a term specifically about people who purposely fabricated stories for clicks and revenue,” said David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, the myth-busting website. “Now it includes bad reporting, slanted journalism and outright propaganda. And I think we’re doing a disservice to lump all those things together.”
New York Times, For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks, David Streitfeld, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). The last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery that make up so much of the modern internet is in a downscale strip mall near the beach. Snopes, the fact-checking website, does not have an office designed to impress, or even be noticed. A big sign outside still bears the name of the previous tenant, a maker of underwater headphones. Inside there’s nothing much — a bunch of improvised desks, a table tennis table, cartons of Popchips and cases of Dr. Pepper. It looks like a dot-com on the way to nowhere.
Appearances deceive. This is where the muddled masses come by the virtual millions to establish just what the heck is really going on in a world turned upside down. “Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue,” said Brooke Binkowski, Snopes’s managing editor. “People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”
That is certainly true at Snopes itself. For 20 years, the site was dedicated to urban legends, like the purported existence of alligators in New York City sewers, and other benign misinformation. But its range and readership increased significantly during a prolonged presidential election campaign in which the facts became a partisan issue and reality itself seemed up for grabs.
One way to chart Snopes’s increasing prominence is by measuring the rise in fake news about the site itself. If you believe the internet, the founder of Snopes, David Mikkelson, has a longer rap sheet than Al Capone. He was supposedly arrested for committing fraud and corruption and running a pit bull ring. In the wake of a deal that Snopes and others made this month to start fact-checking for Facebook, new slurs and allegations poured forth. The underlying message of these spurious attacks is that the movement to fact-check the internet is a left-wing conspiracy whose real goal is to censor the right, and therefore must be resisted at all costs.
New York Times, Lessons From 2016 for the News Media, as the Ground Shifts, Jim Rutenberg, Dec. 26, 2016 (print edition). A presidential race that made fools of pundits and prognosticators suggests reporters should hew closely to hard facts and leave received wisdom on ice, our columnist writes.
Starting a weekly column about the nexus between media, technology, culture and politics in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign was like parachuting into a hail of machine-gun crossfire. Dense smoke was everywhere as the candidates and their supporters unloaded on one another and, frequently, the news media, which more than occasionally was drawn into the fighting. The territory that was at stake was the realm of the true, and how all sides would define it in the hyperpartisan debate to come under a new president. With the campaign behind us and a new administration quickly taking shape, that territory remains very much in dispute.
So the ammunition keeps flying, especially at the national news media, which emerges from the election invigorated in its mission to report on plate-shifting news while rooting out the truth. And yet it has never been more besieged or, if the Gallup Organization had it right, distrusted. Sitting at my desk as I write this sentence on a Thursday night, our offices littered with empty champagne cups and cake crumbs on paper plates — the detritus of too many sayonara toasts to sage colleagues leaving with buyout packages — I’m trying to think my way to the big takeaway from the year American journalism just lived through that can help it in the downsized year ahead.
Times of Israel, Report: Netanyahu to be investigated for bribery, fraud, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2016. A months-long inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s affairs took a new twist on Monday, with police reportedly convinced that they will be able to open a full-blown criminal investigation against him in the next few days. Police recently received new documents as part of a secret inquiry that began almost nine months ago, Channel 2 reported.
The report stated that among the suspected offenses are bribe-taking and aggravated fraud. A spokesperson for the prime minister said that “it’s all nonsense,” Haaretz reported. “Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last elections and even before, hostile elements have made heroic efforts to attempt to bring about [Netanyahu’s] downfall, with false accusations against him and his family. This [latest attempt] is absolutely false. There was nothing and there will be nothing.”
SouthFront, Russian Defense Ministry: Mass Burials of Dozens of Tortured Syrians Found in Aleppo, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2016. Mass graves of torture victims have been uncovered in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Monday.
“Mass burial sites of many dozens [of Syrians], who had been subjected to brutal torture and [then] murdered, have been found,” Maj. Gen. Konashenkov said. “In many cases, body parts are missing; most victims had been shot in the head. And this, it seems, is only the beginning.”
The Russian general emphasized that the cases are being thoroughly recorded as heavy war crimes to be put to maximum publicity “so that European backers of the so-called opposition in London and Paris are well aware of who their wards actually are.”
Konashenkov added that militants of the “moderate opposition” mined in eastern Aleppo nearly everything: streets, entrances to premises, and cars. Seven large ammunition depots were also discovered in Aleppo. Last weekend, reports appeared that militants executed over 100 captured soldiers of the Syrian Army before leaving the last neighborhoods of Aleppo.
CNN, Israel curbs working ties with nations that voted for UN resolution, Elise Labott, Oren Liebermann and Theodore Schleifer, Dec. 26, 2016. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his nation’s Foreign Ministry to temporarily limit all working ties with the embassies of the 12 UN Security Council members who voted in favor of Friday’s resolution on West Bank settlements and who have diplomatic relations with Israel, two senior Israeli officials tell CNN.
The officials said that business with the embassies of those countries — Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal and New Zealand — will be suspended, the officials said. Netanyahu (shown in a file photo) will not meet with the foreign ministers of those countries and their ambassadors will not be received at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the officials added.
In addition, travel by Israeli ministers to those countries will also be limited, the officials said, noting that Israeli ambassadors in the countries will still be able to continue working with the governments of their host nations.
The move came after ten ambassadors were summoned, under orders by Netanyahu, to the Foreign Ministry for a personal rebuke over the vote. Israel was furious at the passage of Security Council resolution 2334, which says its settlements in the West Bank “had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.” The United States, a Security Council member, abstained on the resolution.
More than anything else, the diplomatic move to suspend embassy ties is a statement meant to express Netanyahu’s anger at the countries that voted for the resolution. It is unlikely to have any practical effect on either Israel or the other countries, as it does not affect trade, security coordination, or other aspects of the relations.
Notably, it does not affect diplomatic relations with the United States, which has been the focus of much of Netanyahu’s anger. Netanyahu summoned the US ambassador and launched a scathing attack Sunday on the Obama administration.
Late Monday afternoon Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, explained his country’s diplomatic moves to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “Israel’s not going to be kicked in the teeth and not just respond to this,” Dermer said. “We can’t just meet with visiting dignitaries as if nothing has happened. This is a serious effort against Israel.”
JIP Editor’s Note: The UN’s action came after Israeli politicians announced plans to ramp up land-seizures long regarded as illegal under international law and opposed by United States presidents for decades as illegal. Congress and Obama, meanwhile, approved this fall some $38 billion in new military aid to Israel in a multi-year deal won by Israel’s powerful lobby that controls the United States Congress.
SouthFront, Danish Government Pays State Unemployment Benefits to Dozens of ISIS Members Fighting in Syria, Jails the Girl who Fought against ISIS, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2016. Denmark has discovered that dozens of its citizens fighting for ISIS have continued to receive cash benefits. According to local media, the government somehow expects terrorists to pay the improperly distributed funds back. At least 36 people who are known by authorities to have left Denmark to allegedly to join the ranks of ISIS continued to receive welfare payments, according to the Ekstra Bladet newspaper.
Thirty-four alleged terrorists received cash benefits from municipal authorities, and two others from private but heavily state-subsidized funds. The newspaper obtained the figures from the Danish Employment Ministry through a freedom of information request. The municipalities and the private funds demanded a repayment of the improperly distributed benefits from the 29 of the alleged terrorists. The seven others have presumably been killed in action. It remains unclear, exactly how the organizations expect to get the money from terrorists back, who in total have received a hefty sum of 672,000 kroner (around $77,300).
Members of the Employment Committee of the Danish Parliament from two opposing sides of the Danish political spectrum have showed a notable unanimity on this matter. “It is totally reprehensible. It is clear that you must be available to the Danish labor market when receiving cash, so you obviously do not travel abroad, and one should certainly not travel to a place where you take part in something like that,” the Ekstra Bladet quoted Karsten Honge of the Socialist People’s Party as saying.
Denmark’s Employment Minister Troels Lund Poulsen promised to “take action.” “It is totally unacceptable and a disgrace. It must be stopped,” he told Ekstra Bladet. “If you travel to Syria to participate in war, to become an ISIS fighter, then you obviously do not have any right for benefits from the government.”
A week ago news surfaced online showing the Danish government jailed Joanna Palani for for breaking national laws preventing citizens from fighting for foreign countries. Joanna Palani, 23, who has Iranian and Kurdish origins, is now facing six months in prison and had her passport confiscated upon her return home last year. In 2014, she made the decision to join Kurdish forces, dropped out of college and returned to her motherland to “fight for human rights for all people,” described in her own words.
Around the Nation
JFKFacts.org, What the JFK review board recommended for 2017, Jefferson Morley (shown in file photo), Dec. 26, 2016. Between 1994 and 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) reviewed and declassified millions of pages of JFK records, contributing immensely to the history of the JFK’s murder, his presidency, and the Cold War. The board’s final report also laid down the law to any government agency that wants to continue withholding JFK documents past October 26, 2017: “the JFK Act mandated that all postponed assassination records be opened to the public no later than the year 2017 (25 years from the date of enactment of the JFK Act).”
The report goes on: “Government offices could continue to postpone public release of material in assassination records after the year 2017 if “the President certifies” that (1) “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and (2) “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
”The report stated: “Without such certification, NARA will release all postponed records or portions of records in 2017.” It continued, “government offices could request the Review Board to agree to postpone the release of information in an assassination record only if the agency could demonstrate by providing ‘clear and convincing evidence’ to the Review Board a compelling need for postponement.” This is the legal standard that all federal agencies must meet if they want to continue withholding JFK documents. They must present “clear and convincing” evidence of harm and such harm must outweigh the public interest. Speculation will not suffice.
Washington Post, 107 former Justice officials think this case was handled unjustly. DOJ must act, Philip B. Heymann, Dec. 26, 2016. Philip B. Heymann is a former deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton and assistant attorney general under President Jimmy Carter. He is the James Barr Ames professor of law emeritus at Harvard University Law School.
Last week, President Obama granted clemency to 153 individuals who had been incarcerated under mandatory minimum drug-sentencing laws, bringing to more than 1,100 the number of clemency petitions the administration has granted. “You don’t just try to hammer everybody for as long as you can, because you can,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told the New York Times.
That is the right attitude for someone tasked with the fair administration of justice. Unfortunately, Yates and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch (shown in a file photo) have, for the past year, rebuffed efforts by me and many other former senior Justice Department officials to even discuss another prosecution in which justice fell far short: the case of Sholom Rubashkin, a Brooklyn-born rabbi who was sentenced to 27 years for bank fraud. Rubashkin, a 57-year-old father of 10 (shown in a photo), has already served seven years for the crime, which ordinarily merits no more than three years. Worse, his sentence was based on perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct.
If even a few highly respected prosecutors think a particular case was handled unjustly, resulting in a vastly excessive sentence, the department’s representatives should be prepared at least to discuss the reasons. In Rubashkin’s case, 107 former Justice Department officials, including five former attorneys general, six former deputy attorneys general (myself included), two former FBI directors, 30 former federal judges and other leading jurists, have sought to meet with senior officials of the department we once served. The only response: a form letter from an assistant attorney general stating that no meeting could take place while Rubashkin was also pursuing his case in court.
Meanwhile, Kevin Techau, the U.S. attorney in Iowa (where Rubashkin was prosecuted), has suggested that Rubashkin used his financial resources to buy the support of so many prominent justice officials. Not only has Rubashkin lost everything he owned in this case, his wife and children now depend heavily on the support of their community for their needs. Moreover, all 107 of us are working on this pro bono. Among other things, former deputy attorneys general Larry Thompson, Charles Renfrew and I have traveled to distant meetings and volunteered considerable time to this matter, all on our own nickel.
Members Alexandrov Ensemble, a famed Soviet-Russian military ensemble led by a father and son for more than 60 years, shown in a 2009 concert (via Wikimedia photo)
Associated Press via Boston Globe, Russian officials: no apparent survivors of plane that crashed into Black Sea, Vladimir Isachenkov, Dec. 25, 2016. A Russian plane carrying 92 people to an air base in Syria crashed Sunday into the Black Sea minutes after taking off from the city of Sochi, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. There appeared to be no survivors, and those on board included members of Russia’s world-famous army choir.
The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, but some experts pointed at a terror attack as a possible reason — a scenario rejected by Russian officials. A total of 84 passengers and eight crew members were on the Tu-154 plane when it disappeared from radar two minutes after taking off in good weather. Emergency crews found fragments of the plane about 1.5 kilometers (less than one mile) from shore. By Sunday afternoon, rescue teams had already recovered 10 bodies from the crash site.
The plane (illustrated by a file photo by Michael Gurenkow via Flickr) belonged to the Defense Ministry and was taking the Alexandrov Ensemble to a New Year’s concert at Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
President Vladimir Putin went on television to declare Monday a nationwide day of mourning. ‘‘We will conduct a thorough investigation into the reasons and will do everything to support the victims’ families,’’ said Putin (shown in a file photo).
Magomed Tolboyev, a decorated Russian test pilot, said the circumstances of the crash indicated that all people on board have died. ‘‘There is no chance to survive in such situation,’’ he said, according to the Interfax news agency. ‘‘The plane gets instantly blown into pieces.’’
The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. More than 1,000 have been built, and they have been used extensively by carriers in Russia and worldwide. The plane that crashed was built in 1983, and underwent repairs in 2014, according to the Defense Ministry.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the crash could have been caused by a technical malfunction or a crew error. He said he believes it could not have been a terror attack because the plane was operated by the Russian military. The passenger list released by the Defense Ministry included 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, including its leader, Valery Khalilov. The ensemble, often referred to as the Red Army choir, is the official choir of the Russian military and also includes a band and a dance company. The choir sang ‘‘Get Lucky’’ at the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games that Russia hosted in Sochi, becoming an instant online sensation.
The military has repeatedly flown groups of Russian singers and artists to perform at Hemeimeem, which serves as the main hub for the Russian air campaign in Syria, which has been operating since September 2015. New Year’s is the main holiday for most Russians, and the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7 is also widely celebrated. Also on board was Yelizaveta Glinka, a Russian doctor who has won wide acclaim for her charity work, which has included missions to war zones in eastern Ukraine and Syria. Her foundation said Glinka was accompanying a shipment of medicine for a hospital in Syria.
SouthFront, Water Supply in Damascus Turned Off at Main after Rebels Polluted It with Diesel, Staff report, Dec. 25, 2016. The authorities of the city of Damascus have been forced to cut water supplies in the city for a few days, after militants polluted the water with diesel. The al-Fija spring, which is used to supply Damascus with water, is located is in the militant-held Wadi Barada valley, to the northwest of the city, in a mountainous area near the Lebanese border.
Reader comment: SF (SouthFront) is reporting a legitimate piece on something newsworthy, but much of it is taken from the original Reuters piece. The Reuters piece was, unfortunately, a carefully-worded piece of English-language propaganda designed to set the narrative for the many outlets that would use it as a basis for their reporting. A non-native English speaker or someone who didn’t know that they were using language manipulation at Reuters would be unaware of the intent and effect. Reuters left out much through omission, and minimizes the grave nature of this act in their editing.
Israel Tries To Shame U.S.
Washington Post, Netanyahu summons U.S. envoy over anti-settlement resolution adopted by U.N., Ruth Eglash, Dec. 25, 2016. Netanyahu reprimands Obama administration over U.N. vote; During his weekly cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a stinging reprimand of the anti-settlement vote at the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was requested Sunday to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over America’s failure to prevent a U.N. Security Council resolution harshly criticizing Israeli settlements from passing, a senior official in the prime minister’s office said. The meeting follows a series of summons Sunday, Christmas Day, with envoys from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel and which voted in favor of the resolution.
Passing by 14 votes to 0, the resolution declares that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and constitute a “flagrant violation under international law.” It also calls the settlements a major obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.
Breaking with a long-standing policy of blocking resolutions dealing with Israel, the United States did not use its veto powers to stop its passage, opting to abstain instead. The summons were part of a series of diplomatic measures announced by Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, since the resolution was adopted Friday.
Israeli media reported Sunday that Netanyahu had instructed members of his cabinet to refrain from traveling to countries that voted for the resolution and that he had canceled a meeting scheduled with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Following the U.N. vote, Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal and canceled scheduled trips to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister and Ukraine’s prime minister. He also said that Israeli aid to Senegal will be canceled and that contributions Israel makes to five U.N. agencies will be halted.
“I share my ministers’ feelings of anger and frustration vis-à-vis the unbalanced resolution,” Netanyahu (shown in a file photo) said at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday. He laid blame for the resolution squarely on the shoulders of President Obama. “From the information we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed,” Netanyahu said.
He said the move contradicted traditional American policy not to dictate terms of a permanent peace agreement on Israel. “Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue,” he said. “As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”
Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem estimates there are close to 600,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The figures are based on data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. Palestinians say the figure is likely higher.
Over the past six months, Israel has announced plans to add hundreds of units to existing settlements, each time drawing rebuke from the White House. More recently, Netanyahu’s government has been pushing legislation to legalize settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Washington Post, Trump could quickly doom health law’s subsidies for millions, Amy Goldstein, Dec. 25, 2016 (print edition, published electronically Dec. 21). Even without repealing the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration could undermine it by ending billions of dollars paid to insurers to subsidize the health coverage of nearly 6 million Americans. That could prompt health plans to raise their prices or exit the health-care marketplaces.
Washington Post, Tracking how many key positions Trump has filled so far, Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service staff, Updated Dec. 19, 2016. Of 689 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, 23 announced and 0 confirmed.
The Post and Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, are tracking nearly 700 executive branch appointments through the nomination process. These positions include Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions. All require Senate confirmation. The Senate confirmation process can begin when the newly elected 115th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2017 — two weeks before Trump’s inauguration. The Senate can begin holding hearings to confirm Trump’s eventual nominees during this period. In total, the transition team may need to find appointees for 4,100 positions.
Washington Post, Europe’s grim future could be terrorism as a fact of life, Michael Birnbaum, Dec. 24, 2016. New Islamic State efforts to sow terror are pushing the continent’s counter-terrorism authorities to their limits, forcing citizens and their leaders to resign themselves to a new era in which attacks may no longer be the exception. E.U. leaders say they have bolstered border controls, but even as security officials say they’re foiling big plots, questions are raised about what signs were missed before the attack on Berlin’s Christmas market, the slaughter-by-truck in France and dozens of other incidents.
Reputed unimpeded travel through Europe by Tunisian terrorist Anis Amri after Berlin atrocity (Chart by Zero Hedge)
SouthFront, Euroskeptics Enraged at Europe’s Open Borders after Details of Berlin Killer’s Trip Emerge, Staff report, Dec. 24, 2016. Leading Euroskeptics have started to actively blame the Schengen agreement, which allows passport-free travel between many European Union states, due to incident with the trip of Anis Amri, the suspect in the terrorist attack in Berlin.
Shortly after Amri was killed by Milan police, it became known that Amri had traveled from Chambery to Turin and then to Milan. The new details of the Amri’s trip mean that the most wanted man of Europe traveled unhindered through at least three countries: Germany, France and Italy before was gunned down in northern Italy.
Against the background of these events, another target of Eurosceptics has emerged: Europe’s passport-free travel, the Schengen Area, which allowed Amri to cross two international borders without as much as a question.
“This escapade in at least two or three countries is symptomatic of the total security catastrophe that is the Schengen agreement,” said Marine Le Pen (shown in a file photo), the leader of the France’s far-right National Front party. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, a former leader of UKIP wrote on his Twitter of the Schengen Area, “It must go.”
SouthFront, ‘Moderate Rebels’ Executed Hostages Before Leaving East Aleppo, Staff report, Dec. 24, 2016. (Graphic photos, recommended only for age 18 and older). According to some reports, the number of executed victims reached 100 people. The so-called ‘moderate’ opposition massively executed captured soldiers of the Syrian Army before to leave the last neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo this week. Various pro-government sources claim that the number of killed Syrian soldiers reached 100 people.
Reportedly, the massacre was committed by the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Jaish al-Fatah groups in Sukkari and Bustan Al-Qasr districts of the city. The victims were mainly young men between the ages of 18-25.
A video, published online, presumably shows a Syrian soldier captured, according to the voiceover, by members of the al-Din al-Zenki group. We also can see the same soldier in one of the photos showing killed servicemen. So, it is clear that al-Din al-Zenki committed the murder of this soldier, as well as others in the picture.
According to some reports, the High Command of the Syrian Army demanded to free these soldiers before jihadists left eastern Aleppo. However, militants denied that they have any hostages.
Meanwhile, the Sputnik news agency also reported that Syrian servicemen discovered bodies of people executed by terrorists in one of the schools in Sukkari district. According to attorney of the Syrian military police, Samer Yousef, there were children among the killed people. Reportedly, characteristic traces of an execution “including severed heads and poked out eyes” were on the bodies of the victims. Some of them were shot dead at close range. Yousef added that soon DNA samples will be taken in order to identify the victims. According to the attorney, the execution occurred about fopur to five days ago.
Al Jazeera, Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree, Jonathan Cook, Dec. 24, 2016. As tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims converge on the Holy Land this week to celebrate the birth of Jesus, senior Israeli rabbis have announced a war on the Christmas tree. In Jerusalem, the rabbinate has issued a letter warning dozens of hotels in the city that it is “forbidden” by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage new year’s parties.
Many hotel owners have taken the warning to heart, fearful that the rabbis may carry out previous threats to damage their businesses by denying them certificates declaring their premises to be “kosher.”
In the coastal city of Haifa, in northern Israel, the rabbi of Israel’s premier technology university has taken a similarly strict line. Elad Dokow, the Technion’s rabbi, ordered that Jewish students boycott their students’ union after it installed for the first time a modest Christmas tree. He called the tree “idolatry,” warning that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status of the building, including its food hall. About a fifth of the Technion’s students belong to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.
While most of Israel’s Palestinian citizens are Muslim, there are some 130,000 Christians, most of them living in Galilee. More Palestinian Christians live under occupation in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed in violation of international law.
“This is not about freedom of worship,” Dokow told the Technion’s students. “This is the world’s only Jewish state. And it has a role to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and not to uncritically embrace every idea.”
Rabea Mahajni, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student, said that placing the tree in the union was backed by Palestinian students but had strongly divided opinion among Jewish students and staff. Mahajni added: “This is not really about a Christmas tree. It is about who the tree represents. It is a test of whether Jewish society is willing to accept an Arab minority and our symbols.”
Jerusalem Post, Leading Israeli priest calls for unity after Christmas tree affair, Staff report, Dec. 24, 2016. Israel’s religious leaders need to work toward unity, a leading priest said about a rabbi’s advice to avoid a building because it had a Christmas tree inside. “Your God is also our God,” Father Gabriel Naddaf wrote to Rabbi Elad Dokow on Thursday. “We were all born in the image of God.”
In a Q&A on the national-religious Srugim website on Tuesday, Dokow, the rabbi of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, forbade students from entering the student union on campus because of the presence of a Christmas tree in the building. National-religious Rabbi Shlomo Aviner wrote in response to the affair that Israel needed to decide what its religious future would be.
“It must be decided once and for all, are we a Jewish state or a Christian state,” he told Srugim on Thursday. Aviner said it was a mistake to think Christians were the Jewish people’s friends. “Their hands are stained with Jews’ blood over the course of centuries: Murders, destruction, expulsions and humiliations.”
Naddaf, the leader of the Christian Empowerment Council, which encourages Christian Israelis to enlist and integrate into the larger Israeli society, said Christianity was no longer a threat to Jews. “It’s true that there were awful things against the Jewish people done in the name of Christianity, but this is not the state of Christianity today,” Naddaf said. “And from you [Dokow], it’s expected that you will act toward unity and not divisiveness and segregation.” Dokow had called the Christian symbol a pagan one.
New Zealand Herald, Israeli ambassador recalled from New Zealand after UN resolution, Audrey Young, Dec. 24, 2016. Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the Herald Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him before the vote ambassador Itzhak Gerberg would be recalled if the resolution passed. The Israeli Government has recalled its ambassador from New Zealand after the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel’s continued settlements. New Zealand co-sponsored the resolution, which said the settlements violate international law and undermine a two-state solution in Israel’s conflict with Palestine.
The resolution was passed 14-0 at the last council meeting of the year, and New Zealand’s last meeting in its two-year term as an elected member of the Security Council. Loud applause was heard in the packed chamber when the US ambassador, Samantha Power, abstained. All remaining members of the security council, including Egypt, which had drafted the resolution and had been briefly persuaded by Israel to postpone the vote, voted in support.
New York Times, U.S. Transition Puts Israeli Focus Back on Palestinians, Peter Baker, Dec. 24, 2016. On the wall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is a giant floor-to-ceiling map with Israel at its center. Mr. Netanyahu likes staring at the map. He regales visitors with stories about how Israel has made friends with so many of the countries shown, some nearby, others far away.
His point is that Israel has moved beyond the days when its conflict with the Palestinians defined its relations with the world. But even as he celebrates the ascension of President-elect Donald J. Trump as a steadfast ally, Mr. Netanyahu may find that it complicates management of his own conservative coalition and undercuts the very diplomatic outreach that has been his central priority.
The 14-to-0 vote by the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, permitted on Friday by President Obama, who ordered an American abstention, served as a reminder that the Palestinian issue remains a powder keg. Instead of counting new friends, Mr. Netanyahu (shown in a file photo) was left to tally up old enemies, and in a speech on Saturday night he lashed out, vowing to exact a “diplomatic and economic price” from countries that in his view try to hurt Israel.
He announced that he was cutting off $8 million in contributions to the United Nations and reviewing whether to continue allowing its personnel to enter Israel, in addition to recalling ambassadors and canceling visits from some countries that supported the measure. He accused the departing Obama administration of carrying out a “disgraceful anti-Israel maneuver.”
Lawfare, UNSCR 2334 on Israeli Settlements, Elena Chachko, Dec. 24, 2016. In sum, while the resolution’s immediate practical significance is limited, it revitalizes the legal case against settlements under international law and provides a basis for states and organizations to act against Israeli settlements in the future — with or without U.S. participation.
President-elect Trump’s objections to the resolution and threats by members of congress to defund the U.N. not withstanding, chances are that the resolution is here to stay. To reverse it, the Trump administration would need to push through a new resolution, which requires the support of the other members of the Security Council. That is not going to be easy.
Huffington Post, Pakistani Defense Minister Makes Nuclear Threat Against Israel After Fake News Provocation, Philip Lewis, Dec. 24, 2016. Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, wrote a frightening Twitter post in response to a fake news article stating that Israel would attack Pakistan with nuclear weapons. According to The New York Times, Asif appeared to be responding to a fake news article published earlier in the week on awdnews.com titled, “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops into Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack.” Pakistan and Israel both have nuclear arsenals.
Asif appeared to accept the article at face value, according to the Times. The story doesn’t mention Israel’s current defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and instead quotes a former minister, Moshe Yaalon, who resigned in May. Israel’s Defense Ministry responded to Asif’s tweet, denying the former Israeli defense minister made the statement cited in the fake news article.
Washington Post, A new solution for Trump and his team of billionaires: Ignore the law, Dana Milbank, Dec. 24, 2016. The president-elect is directly at odds with the Constitution and many of his top aides are flouting federal laws against self-dealing. Trump lieutenant Newt Gingrich this week proposed an elegant solution for all the conflicts of interest swirling around the president-elect and his team of billionaires: Ignore the law.
President-elect Donald Trump, Gingrich said, should let those in his administration do as they wish with their personal fortunes and business interests and pardon them if they are found to have violated laws against using public office for personal enrichment.
“He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period’,” Gingrich (shown in a Gage Skidmore photo) said on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” on Monday.
“Drain the Swamp” is so October. In another NPR interview on Wednesday, Gingrich said Trump’s “swamp” campaign theme had been relegated to the marshlands of history, asserting that “he now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.”
Trump, in a subsequent tweet, said he will continue to use the phrase. But former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who just announced he’s setting up a consulting firm that will profit from his proximity to the new president, told Fox News on Thursday that “drain the swamp is probably somewhere down at the bottom” of Trump’s to-do list.
Associated Press via Washington Post, Trump co-chair wishes death on Obama, calls 1st lady male, Chris Carola, Dec. 23, 2016. A wealthy businessman who co-chaired president-Elect Donald Trump’s state campaign confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that he told an alternative newspaper he hoped President Barack Obama would die from mad cow disease and that the first lady would “return to being a male.”
Carl Paladino, a millionaire real estate developer who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010 as a Republican (and shown in a 2010 campaign photo as the GOP nominee), made the comments in response to a survey by Artvoice, a Buffalo publication that asked local artists, performers and business owners for their New Year’s wish list.
Asked what he would most like to happen in 2017, Paladino responded that he hoped “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations” with a cow, dies and is buried in a cow pasture. Asked who he would like to see “go away,” he said Michelle Obama. “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla,” he wrote.
Reached at his western New York office by phone, Paladino, a member of the Buffalo school board, confirmed to the AP the answers published in Artvoice were his. In a subsequent emailed statement, Paladino, 70, claimed his comments had “nothing to do with race” but instead reflected his opinion of the president’s performance in office.
“Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer,” he wrote.
As recently as August, Paladino falsely claimed Obama was not Christian, telling the New York Observer that to average Americans, “there is no doubt he is a Muslim.” And in 2010, Paladino was criticized after it was revealed he had forwarded to friends racially charged emails that depicted Obama as a pimp.
Asked what he would most like to happen in 2017, Paladino responded that he hoped “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations” with a cow, dies and is buried in a cow pasture. Asked who he would like to see “go away,” he said Michelle Obama. “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla,” he wrote.
Carl Paladino, right, served as a co-chairman in President-elect Donald Trump’s New York State election campaign and has been an ardent Trump supporter. (Photo by Lori Van Buren / Rochester Times Union)
Buffalo News, Carl Paladino’s Harsh 2017 Wish List Causes Firestorm, Tiffany Lankes, Dec. 23, 2016. Buffalo School Board member Carl P. Paladino’s latest inflammatory comments to a weekly Buffalo paper saying he wished death by mad cow disease upon President Obama, referred to the first lady as a man and said he’d like her to be “let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla” prompted calls for his removal from the board and sparked outrage from Buffalo to the state capital.
Even the transition team for President-elect Donald J. Trump – who Paladino campaigned fervently for – called his remarks “absolutely reprehensible” and having no place in the public discourse.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz called on Paladino to resign immediately, as did Assemblyman Sean Ryan D-Buffalo, who said Paladino’s comments are “outrageous, dangerous and disturbing.” Paladino said in an interview on WBEN that he would not step down. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo described the remarks as “racist, ugly and reprehensible” and urged New Yorkers to stand together against such discrimination. Mayor Byron W. Brown weighed in, calling the comments “terrible.”
By mid-morning Saturday, over 4,000 people had signed an online petition calling for his removal from the school board in a diverse district where the majority of students are black. The story was trending on social media, and news outlets around the world picked it up. A Facebook page inviting people to voice their outrage at the next School Board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18. had been shared over 800 times.
During the campaign, Paladino appeared on National Public Radio and described supporters of Trump as people frustrated with government who “want the raccoons out of the basement.” He described what’s happening in the presidential race as “a political revolution” aimed at getting rid of “the establishment class” within the Republican Party and ridding Washington, D.C., of “the Washington elite monsters.”
In June 2015, Paladino commented during a political rally in Olean about “damn Asians” and other “foreigners” attending the University at Buffalo. Paladino also defended a then-Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority commissioner who used a racial epithet to describe several African-American politicians, including Mayor Byron W. Brown. And during his run for governor in 2010, Paladino received national attention for circulating emails, including pornographic images, and one that included the use of the N-word.
Washington Post, Trump’s pick for national security adviser had role in firm co-led by man who tried to sell material to the KGB, Jerry Markon, Dec. 23, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for national security adviser partnered in recent months with a technology company co-led by a businessman who pleaded guilty to trying to sell stolen scientific…
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for national security adviser partnered in recent months with a technology company co-led by a businessman who pleaded guilty to trying to sell stolen scientific material in the 1980s to the KGB, the former Soviet intelligence service.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (shown in an official photo) joined the advisory board of Brainwave Science in February, company documents show. The Massachusetts firm develops controversial “brain fingerprinting” technology designed to assess whether people under interrogation are being truthful by measuring their brain waves. The firm offers training in how to use the technology, in partnership with Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, according to Brainwave’s website.
One of Brainwave’s two-member board of directors was Sabu Kota, an Indian-born software engineer who pleaded guilty in 1996 to selling stolen biotech material to an FBI agent posing as a Soviet spy. Prosecutors said the sale stemmed from what they called Kota’s involvement in a spy ring that passed sensitive defense technology to the KGB between 1985 and 1990, according to a Defense Department summary of the case.
Brainwave Science removed Kota’s name from the company website sometime between Thursday and Friday, when Bloomberg News published a report about Flynn’s ties to the firm, according to a search of archived Google data. Company officials and officials from Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, and Kota did not respond to messages left at his home.
Kota’s lawyer denied that he had any connection to spying when he was charged in 1995, and Kota told Bloomberg that the criminal charges were a misunderstanding and stemmed from a patent dispute, not espionage.
UN Anti-Settlement Resolution Against Israeli Lawbreaking
Haaretz, Breaking News: No veto: UN Security Council adopts anti-settlement resolution; U.S. abstains, Barak Ravid, Dec. 23, 2016. New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal pushed for a vote after Egypt asked to postpone it due to Israeli pressure; Israeli officials slam Obama: ‘He’s abandoning Israel.’
Haaretz,Israel: Obama’s failure to veto UN resolution on settlements would breach U.S. commitment, Barak Ravid, Dec. 23, 2016. Egypt asked to postpone the vote at the UN Security Council on a draft resolution it had put forward on Israeli settlements Thursday following Israeli pressure, western diplomats with knowledge of the matter told Haaretz, adding there was a chance it would be delayed “indefinitely.”
The diplomats said the Egypt put forward the resolution on Wednesday evening with the intent of having it put to a vote. According to diplomats, in the early morning hours, Netanyahu exerted heavy pressure on Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to try to have it delayed.
The diplomats said that in wake of the Israeli pressure, Egypt requested the vote’s delay to permit them to conduct an additional meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers to work on the resolution’s wording.
It was unclear when the new vote, initially scheduled for Thursday, would take place, if ever, with diplomats saying it could be put off “indefinitely.” The request came hours of President-elect Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested the U.S. veto the resolution.
Egypt presented the UN Security Council on Wednesday night with a draft resolution against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A senior Israeli official said that should the U.S. fail to veto the resolution, it would be breaching its long-standing commitment to Israel. The official added that Israel expects the U.S. to act in accordance with its long-term policy, unhindered by changes in administration, according to which negotiations must be carried out directly between Israel and the Palestinians themselves.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump issued a statement Thursday calling on President Barack Obama to veto the resolution. According to Trump, if the resolution is adopted by the Security Council this would be unfair toward Israelis and will place Israel at a disadvantage in future negotiations.
Earlier on Thursday, the French ambassador to Israel said that the draft UN Security Council resolution against the settlements submitted by Egypt is balanced and matches France’s position, and that she expects her country to support it.
In recent months, Netanyahu expressed his concern that toward the end of his term Obama would refrain from vetoing a resolution on the settlements at the Security Council. Since taking office in 2009, Obama vetoed a resolution presented to the Security Council once – in February 2011, when the Palestinians brought to a vote a resolution against the settlements. The draft resolution’s main clauses:
■ “Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution.”
■ “Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
Washington Post, Evangelicals side with Israel. That’s hurting Palestinian Christians, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Dec. 23, 2016. When Americans sing carols about the ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ this Christmas, they should keep in mind who lives there.
More Global News
Washington Post, Berlin attacker killed in Milan; video shows he pledged allegiance to ISIS, Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet and Stefano Pitrelli, Dec. 23, 2016. ISIS-linked news agency releases video of Berlin attacker swearing allegiance to the radical group. Anis Amri, the 24-year-old Tunisian who was fatally shot in a standoff with police early today in Italy, had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State, according to a video released by a news agency linked to the group.
His case suggests two critical realities of modern terrorism that present major new challenges, especially in Europe. The cumbersome, sometimes flawed system of deportation and asylum — mixed with open borders — has made it exceedingly easy for radicalized Islamists to operate on the continent.
In case after case — including that of the German Christmas market attack — authorities have come forward after the fact to say that they had enough cause to place the suspect under surveillance well before the violence. But never enough to move in for an arrest.
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit on Sept. 5, 2016
Washington Post, Putin to Democratic Party: You lost. Get over it, David Filipov, Dec. 23, 2016. “They need to learn to lose with dignity,” the Russian president told journalists at his annual press conference. Putin also said it’s “not important” who hacked the Democratic National Committee, but important that the “information that was revealed was true.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has a message for the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of stealing their victory: Don’t be sore losers. That was how Putin answered a question Friday about whether Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump at the Russian leader’s nationally televised annual news conference
“Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere,” Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. “They need to learn to lose with dignity.” The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking “Did we do that, too?”
“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a grin. “Except for you and me.”
CNN, Jeff Sessions’ office accused of prosecutorial misconduct in the ’90s, Drew Griffin, Scott Glover and Nelli Black, Dec. 23, 2016. As Sen. Jeff Sessions awaits a confirmation hearing in hopes of becoming the next US attorney general, a blistering legal opinion on a case he oversaw as Alabama’s top prosecutor two decades ago could emerge as an issue for the nominee.
The 1997 “order and opinion” by an Alabama judge accused the state attorney general’s office, which had been headed by Sessions, of the worst prosecutorial misconduct he’d ever seen.
“The court finds that even having been given every benefit of the doubt, the misconduct of the Attorney General in this case far surpasses in both extensiveness and measure the totality of any prosecutorial misconduct ever previously presented to or witnessed by this court,” wrote James S. Garrett, a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge. The misconduct was “so pronounced and persistent,” Garrett wrote, that “it permeates the entire atmosphere of this prosecution.”
As a result, Garrett dismissed the case, which, according to the judge’s order, had earlier been heralded by Sessions’ office as being “of the greatest magnitude” it had undertaken in the past 25 years. Sessions (shown in an official photo) did not respond to requests for comment from CNN. He also did not mention the case on a questionnaire he submitted ahead of his upcoming Senate confirmation hearing, which included a section for “most significant litigated matters.”
At the time of the judge’s order, Sessions told the Associated Press “the allegations in the order are unfounded and without merit.”
Washington Post, A tense new battle over nuclear arms erupts between Donald Trump and his staff, Philip Bump, Dec. 23, 2016. It began, it seems, with a speech from Vladimir Putin on Thursday, during which the Russian president argued that his country’s nuclear arsenal needed to be upgraded. In short order a tense two-day stand-off began — between Donald Trump and the communications staffers on his transition team.
Trump’s initial comment about nuclear proliferation was clear in its intent if vague in its boundaries. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” is not subtle, implying that as president Trump aims to match whatever it is that Russia does. That, as we pointed out on Thursday, means a new nuclear arms race, contravening decades of American foreign policy. The transition team assures us he didn’t mean what he said.
Justice Department Reaches Bank Settlement Over Investor Fraud
Reuters, Deutsche Bank agrees to $7.2 billion mortgage settlement with U.S., Karen Freifeld, Arno Schuetze and Kathrin Jones, Dec. 23, 2016. Deutsche Bank has agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over its sale and pooling of toxic mortgage securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. The agreement in principle, announced by Deutsche Bank’s Frankfurt headquarters early Friday morning, offers some relief to the German lender, whose stock was hit hard in September after it acknowledged the Justice Department had been seeking nearly twice as much.
It also highlights the Justice Department’s recent efforts to hold European banks accountable for shoddy securities that contributed to the U.S. housing market collapse. The department sued Barclays PLC (BARC.L) on Thursday over similar claims, after having reached $46 billion in settlements with U.S. banks over the last three years.
As part of the agreement, Deutsche Bank would pay a civil monetary penalty of $3.1 billion and provide $4.1 billion in consumer relief, such as loan forgiveness. The bank cautioned that there is “no assurance” the two sides will agree on the final documents. Settling the mortgage-securities case would mean Deutsche Bank has shaken off one legal headache.
Three major probes remain. Deutsche faces investigations into the alleged manipulation of foreign exchange rates, suspicious equities trades in Russia, as well as alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran and other countries. Deutsche Bank’s “troubling practices” were widespread, including when trader Greg Lippmann told colleagues that many home loans the bank was packaging into securities were “crap” and “pigs,” according to a 2011 U.S. Senate subcommittee report.
U.S. banks have paid tens of billions of dollars over the past three years to settle with U.S. authorities over misleading investors about the quality of mortgages underlying securities. In 2013, JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay $13 billion. The following year, Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay $16.65 billion, while Citigroup cut a deal for $7 billion. In February this year, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $2.6 billion, and in April, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. negotiated a $5 billion deal.
Reuters, Trump team seeks names of officials working to counter violent extremism, Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed, Dec. 23, 2016. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has asked two Cabinet departments for the names of government officials working on programs to counter violent extremism, according to a document seen by Reuters and U.S. officials.
The requests to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security involve a set of programs that seek to prevent violence by extremists of any stripe, including recruitment by militant Islamist groups within the United States and abroad. Reuters could not determine why the Trump team asked for these names. The Trump team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
OpEdNews, Intro to Election Theft in America, Josh Mitteldorf, Dec. 22, 2016. Are votes in American elections being counted fairly and accurately? The United States is unique in the developed world in counting votes with proprietary software that has been ruled a trade secret, not open to inspection, even by local officials whose responsibility it is to administer elections. As we have learned, there is stiff resistance to looking at the ballots with human eyes which might offer a check on the computers.
So we are left looking at statistics and anecdotes, trying to determine whether vote counts are honest and reliable. The evidence does not inspire confidence. But whatever you think of the evidence, there is no justification for a system without the possibility of public verification.
Since the 2004 election, I have been a statistician in the election integrity movement, a loose network of journalists, academics, lawyers, and interested citizens who share information about problems in America’s electoral system, and try to bring our findings to legislators and the press.
But neither major party in the U.S. is interested in questioning the vote counts that maintain them in office. From one perspective, this is not surprising, since they are the incumbents, who, by definition, have done well under the existing system.
From another vantage, however, it is puzzling that the Democrats have not made an issue of the present system, because there is evidence that, in the 21st century, it is overwhelmingly Republicans that have benefited from the nation’s shaky electoral machinery. There is a long and sordid history of vote theft in America, going back to the Colonial era; from Jim Crow to strong-arm union tactics to ballot box stuffing, all sides have worked the system to their own advantage, wherever they felt they could get away with it.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Snopes co-founder embezzled funds for prostitutes, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 22, 2016 (Subscription required, $7 monthly or $32 yearly). The “debunking” site Snopes.com, which was recently named by Facebook as a partner in tagging “fake news” and whose co-founder David Mikkelson wrote that WMR is “a disreputable web site,” appears to have some reputation problems of its own.
Forbes, The Daily Mail Snopes Story And Fact Checking The Fact Checkers, Kalev Leetaru, Dec. 22, 2016. When I reached out to David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, for comment, I fully expected him to respond with a lengthy email in Snopes’ trademark point-by-point format, fully refuting each and every one of the claims in the Daily Mail’s article and writing the entire article off as “fake news.”
It was with incredible surprise therefore that I received David’s one-sentence response which read in its entirety “I’d be happy to speak with you, but I can only address some aspects in general because I’m precluded by the terms of a binding settlement agreement from discussing details of my divorce.”
At the end of the day, it is clear that before we rush to place fact checking organizations like Snopes in charge of arbitrating what is “truth” on Facebook, we need to have a lot more understanding of how they function internally and much greater transparency into their work.
Washington Post, Donald Trump says he wants to ‘greatly strengthen and expand’ U.S. nuclear capability, a radical break from U.S. foreign policy, Carol Morello, Dec. 22, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday called for the United States to expand its nuclear arsenal after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country’s nuclear potential needs fortifying, raising the specter of a new arms race that would reverse decades of efforts to reduce the number and size of the two countries’ nuclear weapons.
In a tweet that offered no details, Trump said, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Currently, the United States has just under 5,000 warheads in its active arsenal, and more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, a number that fluctuates.
Washington Post, Trump chooses Sean Spicer for press secretary, rounds out communications staff, Elise Viebeck, Dec. 22, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump named Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, filling what is likely to be a challenging position given Trump’s sometimes hostile relationship with the media and his propensity to bypass staff to communicate directly with the public on Twitter.
Spicer, the RNC’s communications director since 2011 and chief strategist since 2015, has become an increasingly visible presence on Trump’s team since the GOP nominee won the election on Nov. 8. Noted for his combative television interviews, he helps to lead daily transition news media calls and has a close relationship with RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff. Trump also announced that longtime aide Hope Hicks, his campaign press secretary, will serve as director of strategic communications, and Dan Scavino will continue his current role as director of social media. Jason Miller, who leads the transition calls, will be communications director.
Washington Post, Trump names Kellyanne Conway as counselor to the president, Philip Rucker, Dec. 22, 2016. Kellyanne Conway, who served as Donald Trump’s campaign manager and as a senior adviser to the president-elect’s transition team, will join the White House as counselor to the president, Trump announced. She is shown in a file photo.
Daily Mail, Screaming Brooklyn lawyer chases down Ivanka Trump and yells at her, Dec. 22, 2016. A Brooklyn lawyer confronted Ivanka Trump and said her father is ‘ruining this country’ while she was on a plane with her children. Dan Goldstein and his Hillary supporter husband Matthew Lasner were thrown off of the JetBlue flight from New York to San Francisco on Thursday when they accosted the future first daughter and started shouting at her.
While holding a child in his arms Goldstein, 35, began screaming: “Why is she on our flight. She should be flying private.” Ivanka paid as little attention as possible and tried to preoccupy her children with some crayons to diffuse the situation until the crew escorted him off the plane.
Lasner, said that was not what happened, however, on Twitter, writing: “My husband expressed his displeasure in a calm tone, JetBlue staff overheard, and they kicked us off the plane.” But just an hour prior to that, Lasner wrote on Twitter: “Ivanka and Jared at JFK T5, flying commercial. My husband chasing them down to harass them. #banalityofevil.”
Democratic Plans, Actions
Washington Post, Obama administration tries to shut down visitor registry program before Trump takes office, Abigail Hauslohner and Ellen Nakashima, Dec. 22, 2016. The Obama administration on Thursday took the unprecedented step of creating obstacles to a widely-anticipated but poorly understood plan by President-elect Donald Trump to establish a Muslim ban or registry — by dismantling the registry system that already exists.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a “final rule” to formally dismantle the regulatory framework for the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a preexisting government program that was used to register and monitor visitors from “high-risk” countries from 2002 to 2011.
Washington Post, The Democratic Party’s future could be on the line in 7 hugely important governor’s races, Amber Phillips and Aaron Blake, Dec. 22, 2016. Republicans control government at nearly all levels — from the presidency to Congress to their historic domination of governorships and state legislatures. And a big reason they’ve monopolized the U.S. House and state legislatures this entire decade is that, in much of the country, they drew the maps.
*Which leaves Democrats with a real chicken-and-egg dilemma: To redraw those maps more favorably for themselves, they first must win the races that allow them to be at the table when the lines are redrawn. Except they have little hope of retaking a significant number of state legislative chambers by 2020 because of those very same maps. In 2010, the last election before maps were redrawn based on new census data, Republicans picked up some 21 chambers and flipped 725 state legislative seats. They controlled the drawing of nearly half of all congressional districts — four times as many as Democrats.
Washington Post, Why the attorney general didn’t stop the FBI’s bombshell Clinton letter, Sari Horwitz, Dec. 22, 2016. As James Comey’s boss, Loretta Lynch (shown in an official photo) could have ordered the FBI director not to send the letter to Congress announcing that the agency had discovered more emails possibly related to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. Instead the letter, sent two weeks before the election, reveals how the two officials repeatedly underestimated how their actions would reverberate in a closely contested race.
Justice officials laid out a number of arguments against releasing the letter. It violated two long-standing policies. Never publicly discuss an ongoing investigation. And never take an action affecting a candidate for office close to Election Day. Besides, they said, the FBI did not know yet what was in the emails or if they had anything to do with the Clinton case.
Remarkably, the country’s two top law enforcement officials never spoke.
Miami Herald, Guantánamo board cleared Bin Laden bodyguard before transfer deadline, Carol Rosenberg, Dec. 22, 2016. The Pentagon disclosed Wednesday that the inter-agency parole board had cleared a 23rd Guantánamo captive for release — a Yemeni profiled as an Osama bin Laden bodyguard — in a flurry of activity to perhaps downsize the detainee population to fewer than 45 prisoners by Inauguration Day.
Sana’a-born Muhammed al Ansi had been held for years as a “forever prisoner,” described by U.S. intelligence as an al-Qaida loyalist who in his teens or 20s swore an oath of allegiance to bin Laden. With the latest decision, 23 of Guantánamo’s 59 captives are cleared for release, with security assurances. Another 26 are “forever prisoners,” and the last 10 have been charged at the war court.
Canada Free Press, New CIA chief Pompeo: ‘Jesus Christ is the only solution for our world,’ Dan Calabrese, Dec. 21, 2016. Mike Pompeo gave a Church speech where he said Muslims who think Islam is “the only way” needed to be dealt with.
I am very much in favor of individuals who are in submission to Christ holding key positions within the government. They can be expected to perform their duties in a wise and honest manner, and not to misuse their positions to favor evil over good, as happened far too often during the Obama Administration.
That is especially true with a position like CIA director, where the nature of the job is that we won’t know a lot about what the person is doing. That’s when you really want to be sure that the person who holds the job is not only highly qualified and exceedingly competent, but bursting with integrity.
So the more I hear about Mike Pompeo, the more I like. Two years ago, Pompeo (shown in a Congressional photo) gave a Church speech where he said Muslims who think Islam is “the only way” needed to be dealt with. “This threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer,” Pompeo told the church-goers, according to Press TV. “These folks believe that it is religiously driven for them to wipe Christians from the face of the earth,” he added. “They abhor Christians,” he said of a small minority among Muslims.
Pompeo passionately urged believers to “pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior and is truly the only solution for our world.”
Washington Post, Donald Trump is holding a government casting call. He’s seeking ‘the look,’ Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty, Dec. 21, 2016. Donald Trump believes that those who aspire to the most visible spots in his administration should not just be able to do the job, but also look the part. Given Trump’s own background as a master brander and showman who ran beauty pageants as a sideline, it was probably inevitable that he would be looking beyond their résumés for a certain aesthetic in his supporting players.
“Presentation is very important because you’re representing America not only on the national stage but also the international stage, depending on the position,” said Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller. To lead the Pentagon, Trump chose a rugged combat general, whom he compares to a historic one. At the United Nations, his ambassador will be a poised and elegant Indian American with a compelling immigrant backstory. As secretary of state, Trump tapped a neophyte to international diplomacy, but one whose silvery hair and boardroom bearing project authority.
The parade of potential job-seekers passing a bank of media cameras to board the elevators at Trump Tower has the feel of a casting call. It is no coincidence that a disproportionate share of the names most mentioned for jobs at the upper echelon of the Trump administration are familiar faces to obsessive viewers of cable news — of whom the president-elect is one.
“He likes people who present themselves very well, and he’s very impressed when somebody has a background of being good on television because he thinks it’s a very important medium for public policy,” said Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of Trump. “Don’t forget, he’s a showbiz guy. He was at the pinnacle of showbiz, and he thinks about showbiz. He sees this as a business that relates to the public.”
WhoWhatWhy, Trump and the Bushes — the New Guy and the Old Guard Dance, Russ Baker (shown in file photo), Dec. 21, 2016. Trump famously claimed that he would “drain the swamp.” Yet some long standing swamp residents, such as the Bush Clan, don’t plan on being removed from their natural habitat.
Here’s what happened: Trump was muddling around, had not a clue who, or even what kind of person, he wanted. That’s why the random parade of pretty much everyone who wanted a shot, or anyone he or his inner sanctum could think of.
That of course included Mitt Romney, improbably. (And a claim that, with a little classic sadism, Trump invited Romney just to dangle the prospect and ultimately reject him.)
Center for Public Integrity, How a trumped-up fundraiser with the first family imploded, Carrie Levine, Dec. 21, 2016. A pay-to-play soiree offering the ultra-wealthy access to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump is unraveling — after the Center for Public Integrity on Monday revealed that Trump’s adult sons are registered directors of the new, Texas-based nonprofit organizing the event.
Since then, Eric Trump told the New York Times that he and his brother will not attend the Jan. 21 event in Washington, D.C., despite promotional material originally promising their participation as honorary co-chairmen — and a bonus hunting and fishing trip with one or both of the brothers. Event organizers, meanwhile, distributed revised descriptions of the event that removed references to Donald Trump’s attendance. It also removed mention of the multi-day hunting and fishing trip for sponsors who ponied up $500,000 or more.
‘Fake News’ Fact-Checking
Daily Caller, Snopes Co-Founder Accused Of Embezzling Company Money, Spending It On Prostitutes, Peter Hasson, Dec. 21, 2016. The founder of mythbusting website Snopes, which was recently tapped by Facebook as one of four “fact-check” organizations patrolling the site for “fake news,” embezzled $98,000 in company funds before spending it on “himself and the prostitutes he hired,” according to legal documents filed by his ex-wife reviewed by the Daily Mail.
After divorcing from his first wife, Barbara Mikkelson, David Mikkelson married Elyssa Young, a former porn star and current escort who now works for Snopes as an administrator, according to the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail also revealed that top Snopes “fact-checker” Kim LaCapria claimed on her personal blog that she has “posted to Snopes” after smoking marijuana. As TheDC previously revealed, LaCapria describes herself as “openly left-leaning” and once claimed that Republicans fear “female agency.” (RELATED: Fact-Checking Snopes: Website’s Political ‘Fact-Checker’ Is Just A Failed Liberal Blogger)
As originally reported by TheDC, Snopes almost exclusively employs leftists as fact-checkers, many of whom have exhibited a clear distaste for Republican voters. TheDC could not identify a single Snopes fact-checker who comes from a conservative background.
The Hill, New questions complicate Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, Jonathan Easley, Dec. 21, 2016. Opponents of Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman are raising new questions about the Minnesota Democrat’s past to make the case that he’s unfit to be the party’s next leader. Ellison’s critics in the DNC and some supporters of Labor secretary Tom Perez, the other top candidate, are pointing to the Minnesota Democrat’s past tax troubles, campaign finance violations and minor legal issues that once led to his driver’s license being suspended as evidence that he’s ill-equipped to lead the DNC.
Some of those instances date back to the 1990s. All of the issues have been rectified and were previously used in attacks against Ellison during his first run for House in 2006. That year, Ellison’s then-wife, Kim Ellison, who acted as his campaign treasurer, wrote to the Minneapolis Star Tribune to accept responsibility for all of the violations.
First Amendment Clash With National Security Over Clinton Emails?
Politico, Critics see dangers lurking in framing of Clinton search warrant, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 21, 2016. Arguments the government offered behind closed doors when seeking a search warrant in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails are causing alarm among some transparency proponents and civil liberties advocates. An affidavit unsealed Tuesday by a federal judge in New York shows that the FBI claimed there was probable cause to believe that a laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, contained evidence of crimes involving illegal possession of classified information.
Clinton aides and others have vigorously disputed that assertion, but critics are also zeroing in on another aspect of the warrant application: a claim that the Clinton-related emails on the laptop were likely to contain “contraband, fruits of crime or other items illegally possessed.” Another passage in the affidavit seems to assert that classified information remains the government’s property, no matter where it exists: “There is … probable cause to believe that the correspondence … on the subject laptop contains classified information which was produced by and is owned by the U.S. Government.”
Some experts say the FBI affidavit, which almost certainly was vetted by Justice Department prosecutors, appears to argue that the government has the right to seize any information it deems classified from any place it has reason to think such information may be. “This has implications that are terrifying and unacceptable,” said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. “We haven’t seen this line of argument widely pursued. … Taken literally, this would mean the end of independent reporting on national security policy.”
Deep State Threats To Democracy
WhoWhatWhy, Berlin Truck Terror Suspect and the Curious Matter of ID Papers Left Behind; Not the First Time a Terror Suspect Apparently Left a Paper Trail — or Was Previously KnownNot the First Time a Terror Suspect Apparently Left a Paper Trail — or Was Previously Known, WhoWhatWhy Staff, Dec. 21, 2016. Today, WhoWhatWhy has seen heavy traffic coming from Google searches that point to a story we ran almost two years ago. Why the sudden interest? It took us only a moment to discover the connection: We had written about the odd phenomenon of terrorists repeatedly leaving ID papers behind at the scene. And now, with the Berlin truck attack, we see yet another such example.
We also see that, in a pattern we have previously reported on with other terror incidents, the suspect was already known to authorities — had even been in custody, but was released.
What does it all mean? That’s for you to decide. You can start by reading the original article, below.
Original story: One intriguing — if barely discussed — aspect of the Paris massacre was the quick progress authorities made in their investigation. According to CNN, this was thanks to a staggering error—by one of the two now-dead alleged perpetrators. The man, Said Kouachi, reportedly left his identification card in the abandoned getaway vehicle. “It was their only mistake,” Dominique Rizet, police and justice consultant for CNN-affiliate BFMTV, opined. Nonetheless, it was a most curious mistake. After all, this is the same man who went to such trouble to seemingly hide his identity by wearing a mask.
Such apparent gaffes have marked other watershed violence. Consider these examples, and draw your own conclusion:
- Bundle of evidence dropped by James Earl Ray
- Wallet of Lee Harvey Oswald
- Passports belonging to Ziad Jarrah and Saeed al-Ghamdi
Sputnik, Thanks to Oliver Stone, Thousands of JFK Assassination Files To Be Released, Staff report, Dec. 21, 2016. Next year, the US government will hit its 25-year deadline to release approximately 3,000 never-before-seen documents, and 34,000 previously redacted files relating to the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. In 1991, Oliver Stone’s film JFK renewed public interest in a probable conspiracy surrounding the events leading to the November 22, 1963 assassination. The massive surge in interest lead to the passage of the 1992 JFK Records Act, which gave the government 25 years to release all documents relating to what happened in Dealey Plaza on that day.
The National Archives annex in Maryland is currently processing, scanning, and preparing for the large trove of files to be released.Many of the files are from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and are expected to reveal what the CIA may have known about Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the shooting.
Also contained in the previously unseen files is “information about the CIA’s station in Mexico City, where Oswald showed up weeks before JFK’s death; 400 pages on E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglary conspirator who said on his deathbed that he had prior knowledge of the assassination; and testimony from the CIA’s James Angleton, who oversaw intelligence on Oswald,” Time Magazine reports.
“The records that are out there are going to fill out this picture,” Jefferson Morley, an author who has spent decades researching the JFK assassination, told the magazine. There are hopes that the files will provide information on George Joannides, a CIA officer who had been involved with an anti-Castro organization whose members fought with Oswald in New Orleans months before the assassination.
RIA Novosti viaSouthFront, Failure For Ukraine: Hopes Of European Integration Vanish, Zahar Vinogradov, translated by Borislav, Dec. 21, 2016. On Dec. 15, EU leaders adopted a decision according to which Ukraine will not be able to become a full EU member, neither now or in the future. It can not rely on the provision of guarantees for their security, or on receiving military aid from the EU. Moreover, citizens of Ukraine will not be entitled to move freely and work in the territory of the EU. Leaders of the EU adopted this decision under pressure from the Netherlands.
What does this decision mean?
The main dream of the Ukrainian authorities was virtually destroyed on December 15 in Brussels – the dream of Ukraine joining the EU. This was a blow toward the entire political system of the Ukrainian government. Suddenly however, the process of accession to the EU came to a halt. It was approved by 27 countries from all 28 member states of the European Parliament and of the Parliament of Ukraine.
President Obama greets Secretary of State John Kerry Dec. 16, 2015 (White House photo)
Moon of Alabama, How The Military Excluded The White House From International Syria Negotiations, Anonymous, Dec. 21, 2016. The New York Times laments today that international negotiations about the situation in Syria now continue without any U.S. participation: “Russia, Iran and Turkey Meet for Syria Talks, Excluding U.S.” Russia kicked the U.S. out of any further talks about Syria after the U.S. blew a deal which, after long delaying negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry had made with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.
In a recent interview, Kerry admits that it was opposition from the Pentagon, not Moscow or Damascus, that had blown up his agreement with Russia over Syria: “More recently, he has clashed inside the administration with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (shown in an official photo). Kerry negotiated an agreement with Russia to share joint military operations, but it fell apart. ‘Unfortunately we had divisions within our own ranks that made the implementation of that extremely hard to accomplish,’ Kerry said. ‘But I believe in it, I think it can work, could have worked.'”
Kerry’s agreement with Russia did not just “fell apart.” The Pentagon actively sabotaged it by intentionally and perfidiously attacking the Syrian army. The deal with Russia was made in June. It envisioned coordinated attacks on ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria, both designated as terrorist under two UN Security Council resolutions, which call upon all countries to eradicate them. For months, the U.S. failed to separate its CIA and Pentagon-trained, supplied and paid “moderate rebels” from al-Qaeda, thereby blocking the deal. In September, the deal was modified and finally ready to be implemented.
The Pentagon still did not like it but had been overruled by the White House: The agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry announced with Russia to reduce the killing in Syria has widened an increasingly public divide between Mr. Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, who has deep reservations about the plan for American and Russian forces to jointly target terrorist groups.
Mr. Carter was among the administration officials who pushed against the agreement on a conference call with the White House last week as Mr. Kerry, joining the argument from a secure facility in Geneva, grew increasingly frustrated.
Although President Obama ultimately approved the effort after hours of debate, Pentagon officials remain unconvinced….“I’m not saying yes or no,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of the United States Air Forces Central Command, told reporters on a video conference call. “It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.”
The CentCom general (shown in an official photo) threatened to not follow the decision his Commander of Chief had taken. He would not have done so without cover from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Three days later U.S. CentCom Air Forces and allied Danish airplanes attacked Syrian army positions near the ISIS besieged city of Deir Ezzor. During 37 air attacks within one hour between 62 and 100 Syrian Arab Army soldiers were killed and many more wounded. They had held a defensive positions on hills overlooking the Deir Ezzor airport. Shortly after the U.S. air attack ISIS forces stormed the hills and have held them since. Resupply for the 100,000+ civilians and soldiers in Deir Ezzor is now endangered if not impossible.
During the U.S. attack the Syrian-Russian operations center had immediately tried to contact the designated coordination officer at U.S. Central Command to stop the attack. But that officer could not be reached.
After the CentCom air attack the Kerry-Lavrov deal was off. On the sidelines of an emergency UN Security Council meeting called on the matter, tempers were high. Russia’s permanent UN representative, Vitaly Churkin, questioned the timing of the strikes, two days before Russian-American coordination in the fight against terror groups in Syria was to begin. “I have never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness,” he said after abruptly leaving the meeting.
Around the Nation: Election Fraud?
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis prosecutor uncovers ‘important evidence’ in voter fraud probe, turns case over to feds, Doug Moore and Stephen Deere, Dec. 21, 2016. The city’s top prosecutor said her office “uncovered important evidence” in a voter fraud investigation dealing with an August primary statehouse race that has since been reversed by voters. The case — which centered on the validity of absentee ballots — has now been turned over to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The circuit attorney’s inquiry appears to retrace some of the steps of Post-Dispatch reporters, who uncovered numerous voting irregularities in the race. In the contest for the 78th District state representative seat, Bruce Franks Jr., a Ferguson protester who had never before run for office, challenged Penny Hubbard (shown in an official photo), the longtime incumbent and member of a formidable north St. Louis political family.
For weeks up to the election, David Roland, an attorney for Franks and two candidates running for committeeman, committeewoman and state representative in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary, said his review of voting records over 15 election cycles shows a “massive, systematic violation of the state’s absentee ballot statutes.”
In the Post-Dispatch investigation, some voters said applications for absentee ballots were filled out in their names unbeknownst to them. Others said that they weren’t incapacitated as their applications claimed. And still others said that people representing themselves as Hubbard campaign workers filled out their ballots for them.
Meanwhile, Roland sued for a new election. He argued that the Election Board had cast doubt on the outcome of the election by not requiring all absentee ballots to be placed in envelopes as outlined in state law. A judge agreed and ordered a new election. Franks won the Sept. 16 contest by a 3-to-1 ratio. Roland filed another lawsuit in the race for the Fifth Ward committeeman alleging that absentee ballots were improperly cast. Rodney Hubbard, Penny’s husband, had defeated Rasheen Aldridge Jr. on Aug. 2. Aldridge won a redo election for that position on Nov. 8.
Center for Public Integrity, Donald Trump’s sons behind nonprofit selling access to president-elect, Carrie Levine, Dec. 20, 2016. New Texas-based group not legally required to disclose its donors. A new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s grown sons is offering access to the freshly-minted president during inauguration weekend — all in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.
And the donors’ identities may never be known. Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”
Website TMZ.com first published a brochure hyping the happening. The brochure says that “all net proceeds from the Opening Day event will be donated to conservation charities,” but it does not name the charities or detail how net proceeds will be calculated.
Who’s behind the get-together? Walter Kinzie, chief executive officer of Texas event management company Encore Live, confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that a nonprofit group called the Opening Day Foundation hired his firm to manage Opening Day 2017.
A Center for Public Integrity review of Texas incorporation records found the Opening Day Foundation was created less than a week ago, on Dec. 14. Unlike political committees, such nonprofits aren’t required by law to reveal their donors, allowing sponsors to write seven-figure checks for access to the president while staying anonymous, if they choose.
Varied videos on government recapture of Syria:
- Aleppo Christmas celebrations, Eyad Al-Hosain, Dec. 19, 2016 (48 secs.).
- CNN, Explosion at Aleppo Christmas tree lighting, Muhammad Lila, Dec. 20, 2016 (1:18 min).
- The Saker, Syria Names Foreign Secret Agents Trapped in Aleppo to the UN Security Council, Dec. 20, 2016. US, Israeli, Turkish, Qatari and Saudi secret service officers are trapped in Eastern Aleppo, Ambassador Al-Jafari says. He mentions names and nationalities and says, “We are going to catch them and show them to you.”
Washington Post, ISIS claims Berlin attack as search for suspects resumes, Anthony Faiola, Souad Mekhennet and Stephanie Kirchner, Dec. 20, 2016. Germany was on high alert as authorities searched for the suspects in the attack that left 12 dead and dozens injured when a truck plowed into a Christmas market in Berlin.
Reuters via Huffington Post, Asylum-Seeker Arrested Over Truck Attack On Berlin Christmas Market, Michelle Martin, Caroline Copley, Joseph Nasr, Emma Thomasson and Paul Carrel, Dec. 20, 2016. “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.”
A man arrested on suspicion of killing 12 people by plowing a truck into a crowded Berlin Christmas market was an asylum-seeker, the government said on Tuesday, as politicians in Germany and beyond demanded a crackdown on immigration. Update: The suspect was released for lack of evidence.
The truck smashed into wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, one of west Berlin’s most famous landmarks, on Monday evening. Forty-eight people were injured, 30 severely.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the arrested man, who denied involvement, was probably from Pakistan and was in the process of applying for asylum. Chancellor Angela Merkel (shown in a file photo via Flickr) told reporters: “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.”
She added: “I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum.” In a surprise development, Die Welt newspaper later quoted security sources as saying the arrested man was not believed to be the perpetrator.
Washington Post, An assassination and a gunman’s final words put Turkey on edge, David Filipov, Kareem Fahim and Adam Entous, Dec. 20, 2016. A team of Russian detectives arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to join the investigation into the slaying of Moscow’s ambassador by a Turkish police officer — an act portrayed by both countries as an effort to rupture a rapprochement between the two regional powers backing opposite sides in Syria’s civil war.
The attack Monday also touched off sweeps across Turkey as authorities hunted for clues in the life of the 22-year-old gunman, who decried the violence in Syria after pumping several bullets into the ambassador at a photo exhibit. Russia is a key ally of Syria’s government while Turkey has been a stalwart backer of rebel factions, although both nations have worked together on a plan to evacuate civilians and opposition fighters from their last enclave in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.
Officer Mevlut Mert Altintas gunned down Ambassador Andrei Karlov as the diplomat (shown in a file photo) spoke before an exhibition of Russian photos at an art gallery in the Turkish capital of Ankara. After killing the ambassador, Altintas, an officer with the riot police, denounced Russia’s role in the Syrian war, screaming: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” He was later killed in a gun battle with the police.
Washington Post, Offer of access to Trump and family at fundraiser is pulled back, but ties remain, Matea Gold and David A. Fahrenthold, Dec. 20, 2016. The initial invitation from Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump dangled a rare opportunity for donors willing to pony up $500,000 and more: a private reception with the new president the day after his inauguration and a hunting or fishing excursion with one of the brothers.
Washington Post, Trump voters didn’t take him literally on Obamacare. Oops? Dana Milbank, Dec. 20, 2016. Donald Trump’s supporters, in conservative writer Salena Zito’s memorable formulation, take him seriously but not literally. They will be forgiving if, say, he doesn’t literally get Mexico to pay for a border wall, or if he doesn’t literally ban all Muslims from entering the United States.
But in other areas, Trump’s supporters perhaps should have taken him literally — because they now may have a serious problem. Vox senior editor Sarah Kliff wrote a poignant account last week of her visit to Whitley County, Ky., where the uninsured rate declined 60 percent under Obamacare but 82 percent of voters supported Trump. There, Kliff, a former Post colleague, found Trump voters who were downright frightened that the president-elect would do exactly — literally — what he and Republicans promised: repeal Obamacare.
Roll Call, Hard-Liners Are Confident Heading Into Immigration Battle, Jonathan Miller and Dean DeChiaro, Dec. 20, 2016. Donald Trump’s administration will feature a host of emboldened immigration hard-liners plucked from Congress, chief among them Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the president-elect’s pick for attorney general. Trump’s transition team includes several aides with ties to Sessions. Danielle Cutrona, his chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee, is leading the “Immigration Reform & Building the Wall” policy implementation group. Cindy Hayden, another former Judiciary aide, is guiding the transition team at the Department of Homeland Security. Hayden was widely credited with helping to defeat a 2007 immigration overhaul.
But if anyone thinks Republicans can jam through hard-line measures, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told Roll Call: think again. A bill that deals strictly with border issues or enforcement is a loser mathematically, he said. “The only way there is a shot at getting border and interior security through the Senate is if you also deal with the issue of the undocumented,” said the Florida Republican, a principal House negotiator during the failed attempt at a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013-2014.
Politico, Details of $25 million Trump U. settlement filed, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 20, 2016. Lawyers filed details Monday evening of the $25 million settlement President-elect Donald Trump agreed to last month in an effort to resolve three pending lawsuits over his Trump University real estate seminar program. The settlement submitted to a federal court in San Diego indicates that Trump is personally guaranteeing that the $25 million will be handed over to plaintiffs’ lawyers by Jan. 18, 2017, two days before he is scheduled to be sworn-in as president. The deal scuttled the bizarre possibility of Trump facing a civil class-action fraud trial as he waited to assume the nation’s highest office.
In a joint motion, lawyers backing the federal class-action suits and those representing Trump in the cases asked asking U.S. District Court Judge Gonazlo Curiel to give preliminary approval to the settlement. “By any metric, this is a fair, adequate, and reasonable settlement,” the attorneys wrote. The deal is expected to offer refunds of about 50 percent of the fees paid by Trump University participants, who typically paid about $1,500 for a three-day seminar or up to $35,000 for a mentorship program. (Under the deal, students who previously received refunds will get reduced payments or none at all.)
The suits alleged that the real estate training program was deceptively marketed, including by asserting that instructors were hand-picked by Trump when he did not actually know them and by claiming that the seminars were educational programs on par with prestigious universities. Trump’s attorneys denied any fraud, arguing that any inflated boasts about Trump University were, at worst, the kind of sales “puffery” that courts have found not to be legally actionable. In the proposed settlement, Trump and Trump University do not admit any wrongdoing.
Of the $25 million, $4 million is to be set aside for settlement of a parallel state lawsuit brought in New York by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Sometimes lawyers fees becomes a point of contention in approval of class-action settlements, but that seems unlikely here since the plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to waive their fees and even to absorb costs they already incurred in litigating the case.
Washington Post, How Ed Schultz transformed from MSNBC lefty to the American face of Moscow media, Paul Farhi, Dec. 20, 2016. The former liberal host who once called Donald Trump “a racist” for his birther views has become the lead news anchor for RT America, the global media organization funded by the Russian government.
Around the Nation
Washington Post, Famed poker pro with ‘remarkable’ $9.6 million scheme has to pay it back, judge rules, Ben Guarino, Dec. 20, 2016. In July 2012, Phil Ivey walked into the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N. J. Over the next 17 hours, he would become nearly $4.8 million richer. Baccarat, as it is played in most U.S. casinos, rewards luck, not skill. Ivey did not have $9.6 million worth of luck.
Borgata sued Ivey, alleging that the gambler had defrauded the casino. But his winning scheme, once revealed, was not exactly cheating, not in the eyes of a district court judge. Ivey did not commit fraud, Judge Noel Hillman for the U.S. District of New Jersey wrote in an opinion on Monday. It wasn’t fraud, however, because they did not break the rules of baccarat, he determined. Those rules “do not prohibit a player from manipulating the cards.” Nor were they obligated, as the casino claimed, to explain why they wanted the dealer to behave in a certain way.
Instead, the judge ruled Ivey and a partner did break the rules of New Jersey’s Casino Control Act and thus “breached their contract with Borgata.” In December, the judge ordered the pair to return $10.1 million to Borgata, reflecting the baccarat cash as well as $500,000 won using some of the winnings at craps.
Wall Street Journal, Truck Rams Berlin Christmas Market, Leaving Nine Dead and Injuring at Least 50, Zeke Turner, Ruth Bender and Anton Troianovski, Dec. 19, 2016. A truck rammed into a popular Christmas market near one of Berlin’s prime tourist sites on Monday evening, leaving nine people dead and injuring at least 50, police said. The suspected driver of the semitrailer truck was arrested shortly after it drove onto the sidewalk and plowed into the crowd of revelers, police said, adding that a person found in the truck was among the dead. Authorities said that they had no definitive information on the motive but that evidence increasingly indicated a deliberate act.
“I don’t yet want to use the word ‘attack,’ though there is much that points in this direction,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said on German television. If determined to be a terror attack, it would be the first in Germany to result in deaths in recent years. Two terrorist attacks struck Germany earlier this year — but no bystanders were killed in either of them. In one, a teenager registered as an Afghan refugee went on an ax rampage on a train and injured five people. In another, a suicide bomber struck an outdoor concert, injuring 15.
The suspected driver was apprehended near the Victory Column in Berlin’s nearby Tiergarten after the fleeing the scene. Police declined to comment on the nationality of the suspect or the dead passenger, though the black Scania truck had Polish license plates. However, a man who said he was the truck’s owner, Ariel Zurawski, told Polish news channel TVN24 he had lost contact with the man who had been driving the truck earlier in the day — a cousin of hi s— in the early afternoon. He said that he believed the driver might have been assaulted and that he was confident his cousin wasn’t behind the steering wheel at the time of the attack.
Washington Post, Russia’s ambassador assassinated in Turkey, David Filipov and Brian Murphy, Dec. 19, 2016 (with graphic video of murder). A gunman in Turkey wearing a suit and tie opened fire Monday on Russia’s ambassador, killing the diplomat and wounding several others in an attack possibly linked to Russia’s military involvement in Syria. The gunman was killed as panicked people scattered for cover at a photo exhibit in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where the ambassador was a guest speaker.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. But video posted on social media purported to show the Turkish-speaking attacker (shown at left and distributed by AP) decrying violence in Syria, where Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said Ambassador Andrei Karlov (shown above in a file photo) died after being hit in the back by gunfire. Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said efforts to treat Karlov were delayed as gunfire raged. Photos from the gallery showed the suspected attacker, wearing a dark suit and tie, gripping a pistol as he stood near the fallen ambassador. The gunman was later killed.
The Reuters news agency, citing security sources, said the attacker was an off-duty police officer. “We consider this to have been a terrorist attack,” Zakharova said. “Terrorism will not pass. We will fight it decisively.”
“Allah Akbar! Do not forget Aleppo!” said the gunman, according to the widely circulated video. “Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! As long as our lands are not safe, you will not be safe!
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned Monday’s attack. Leonid Slutsky, head of the committee on international affairs of the Russian lower house of parliament, said talks in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey over Syria will continue as planned. “I think that tomorrow despite this monstrous tragedy,” he said, “something constructive will nonetheless be achieved.” Earlier report: Independent, Russian ambassador to Turkey fatally shot in Ankara, Will Worley.
The Duran via SouthFront, Russia Outlines Road Map For Syrian Peace Settlement, Alexander Mercouris, Dec. 19, 2016. Russia’s President Putin proposes a peace conference to seek a settlement of the Syrian conflict in the Kazakh capital Astana. Proposes Turkey as co-sponsor. Proposal however elicits hostile reaction from the Western powers.
Russia’s Foreign and Defense Ministers spoke with their Turkish and Iranian counterparts yesterday, and Russia is inviting Iranian President Rouhani to visit Moscow. Putin is also talking about a ceasefire between the Syrian army and the non-Jihadi opposition, and the convening of a peace conference bringing together the Syrian government and the ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition to be held in the Kazakh capital Astana.
What is striking about the latter proposal is that it appears to cut across the existing UN led peace conference, which is supposed to be taking place in Geneva, and which the US, the other Western powers, and the Gulf Arab states, have been attending. By contrast, at Saudi Arabia’s insistence, Iran’s role in the Geneva conference has been restricted even though Iran is a major player in the Syrian conflict. Putin’s proposed conference at Astana would by contrast place Iran center stage, and appears to be intended to limit the negotiations to settle the conflict to the leading powers directly involved in the conflict in Syria: Russia, Turkey and Iran.
SouthFront, Syrian Govt Forces Prepare To Retake Eastern Ghouta, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2016. Government forces are preparing to take control of a key region near the Syrian capital, Damascus. The Syrian army and its allies are going to launch a fresh military operation to force Jaish al-Islam militant group to surrender their strongholds in the region and to withdraw to Idlib.
Douma is Jaish al-Islam’s main stronghold in the area. It will likely become one of the targets of the operation. According to pro-militant sources: Jaish al-Islam and its allies have about 10,000 fighters; and 435,000 civilians live in the region.
Christine Lagarde at National Press Club on Jan. 16, 2014 (Copyrighted photo by Noel St. John, used with permission)
New York Times, Christine Lagarde, I.M.F. Chief, Is Found Guilty of Negligence, Liz Alderman and Aurelien Breeden, Dec. 19, 2016. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was found guilty on Monday of criminal charges linked to the misuse of public funds during her time as France’s finance minister, a verdict that could force her out of her post.
The judge hearing the case declined, however, to impose a fine or any jail time on Ms. Lagarde, who began her second five-year term at the I.M.F. in February. The scandal has overshadowed her work at the fund, to which she was appointed in 2011, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director when he was accused of having sexually assaulted a maid in a New York City hotel.
The move is likely to destabilize the I.M.F. as it faces a host of thorny issues, including questions over its participation in a multibillion-dollar bailout for Greece and uncertainty about the United States’ role in the organization once Donald J. Trump becomes president in January. The verdict was a surprise, after the prosecutor in the trial said last week that the case against her was “very weak” and did not appear to be enough to win a conviction.
Washington Post, Trump victory is official after electoral college vote, Ed O’Keefe, Dec. 19, 2016. Donald Trump crossed the 270-vote threshold he needed to clinch the presidency. The usually overlooked, constitutionally obligated gatherings drew extra scrutiny by Trump opponents. But despite questions about how many electors would vote against Trump, it was Hillary Clinton who saw her tally shrink.
Courts and Justice
President Obama is shown working at White House desk in a White House file photo
Huffington Post, Obama Commutes 153 Sentences, Pardons 78, In Clemency Push, Ryan J. Reilly, Dec. 19, 2016. President Barack Obama shortened sentences of 153 federal prisoners on Monday as part of a clemency push before he leaves office in a few weeks. Obama has now commuted the sentences of 1,176 people during his presidency, and has pardoned 148. The announcement came as the president and his family were in Hawaii for a holiday vacation.
“The 231 individuals granted clemency today have all demonstrated that they are ready to make use — or have already made use — of a second chance,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post Monday. “While each clemency recipient’s story is unique, the common thread of rehabilitation underlies all of them. For the pardon recipient, it is the story of an individual who has led a productive and law-abiding post-conviction life, including by contributing to the community in a meaningful way. For the commutation recipient, it is the story of an individual who has made the most of his or her time in prison, by participating in educational courses, vocational training, and drug treatment.”
Those whose sentences were commuted on Monday, granting them early release, were convicted on drug crimes. Some will be released in 2017 and 2018, while others will have to wait several years before their release date. Obama also granted pardons to 78 individuals on Monday.
Separately, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a report on Monday showing a 5 percent drop in the number of federal offenders sentenced in the 2016 fiscal year from the year earlier. There are currently about 190,000 federal inmates, the fewest since 2005.
Politico, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to return to hearing appeals court cases, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 19, 2016. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (shown in an official photo) is going back to his day job hearing cases as chief judge of the D.C. Circuit, acknowledging that his dim chances of being confirmed by the Senate were extinguished by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election last month.
Garland stepped off several court panels he was assigned to and stopped taking on new cases after he was tapped for the high court by President Barack Obama in March, following the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia the previous month. However, a calendar of upcoming oral arguments the D.C. Circuit updated on its website Monday shows Garland assigned to three cases to be heard Jan. 18, two days before Trump’s inauguration.
Unz Review, American Pravda: How the CIA Invented “Conspiracy Theories,” Ron Unz (software entrepreneur and former American Conservative Magazine publisher), Dec. 19, 2016. Obviously, a large fraction of everything described by our government leaders or presented in the pages of our most respectable newspapers — from the 9/11 attacks to the most insignificant local case of petty urban corruption — could objectively be categorized as a “conspiracy theory” but such words are never applied. Instead, use of that highly loaded phrase is reserved for those theories, whether plausible or fanciful, that do not possess the endorsement stamp of establishmentarian approval.
Put another way, there are good “conspiracy theories” and bad “conspiracy theories,” with the former being the ones promoted by pundits on mainstream television shows and hence never described as such. Even without such changes in media control, huge shifts in American public beliefs have frequently occurred in the recent past, merely on the basis of implied association. In the initial weeks and months following the 2001 attacks, every American media organ was enlisted to denounce and vilify Osama Bin Laden, the purported Islamicist master-mind, as our greatest national enemy, with his bearded visage (shown below in a purported Al Qaeda video) endlessly appearing on television and in print, soon becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the world.
But as the Bush Administration and its key media allies prepared a war against Iraq, the images of the Burning Towers were instead regularly juxtaposed with mustachioed photos of dictator Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden’s arch-enemy.
As a consequence, by the time we attacked Iraq in 2003, polls revealed that some 70% of the American public believed that Saddam was personally involved in the destruction of our World Trade Center. By that date I don’t doubt that many millions of patriotic but low-information Americans would have angrily denounced and vilified as a “crazy conspiracy theorist” anyone with the temerity to suggest that Saddam had not been behind 9/11, despite almost no one in authority having ever explicitly made such a fallacious claim.
These factors of media manipulation were very much in my mind a couple of years ago when I stumbled across a short but fascinating book published by the University of Texas academic press. The author of Conspiracy Theory in America was Prof. Lance deHaven-Smith, a former president of the Florida Political Science Association.
JFKFacts.org, Attention CIA: the whole world expects full JFK disclosure, Jefferson Morley (JFKFacts.org editor, author, and adjunct professor shown in file photo), Dec. 19, 2016. Thanks to the Internet, the media is finally paying attention. Three days ago, it was Macleans, the Canadian newsweekly, which ran an article about the impending release of thousands of secret JFK records in October 2016. Today it is Time magazine, which reports: “The tortured path that began with a left turn onto Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, will find its unlikely end point this October in College Park, Md. At a National Archives annex, the last remaining documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are being processed, scanned and readied for release.”
In 2015, it was Politico which explained “Why the last of the JFK files could embarrass CIA.” In 2013, it was Associated Press that reported, “5 decades later, me JFK probe files still sealed.” The story is out there. It is undisputed. And it has nothing to do with the stupid JFK conspiracy theories.
Thanks to the Mary Ferrell Foundation (Mark The Date), and WhoWhatWhy (Exclusive: List of Withheld JFK Assassination Documents), anybody who wants to know can see a listing of all the JFK records that are supposed to be released on or before October 26, 2017.
The JFK issue in 2017 is not conspiracy. That is to say, the issue today is not whether one long deceased young man, Lee Oswald, engaged in criminal behavior on November 22, 1963. That is an interesting question, but it is actually a secondary issue.
The more significant issue for Americans today is the well-documented but still unexplained criminal behavior of certain career government officials when responding to the murder of the liberal president.
Note to all reporters/bloggers/pundits interested in the JFK story: We are not “conspiracy theorists.” I’ve been writing about JFK for thirty five years and I don’t have a “theory.” And we are not–repeat not–looking for a “smoking gun.” Nor do we expect to find one. So when no single “smoking gun” document emerges in October 2017, please do not report that as news. It is not news. It is already a commonly accepted fact.
Conservative Attacks on Clinton Emails Continue
Politico, Mills, State Department oppose video release in Clinton email case, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 19, 2016. Lawyers for the State Department and former Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills are opposing a conservative group’s move to unseal videos of depositions taken in a Freedom of Information act lawsuit relating to Clinton’s use of a private email account. Attorneys for Mills and attorneys for the diplomatic agency where she formerly worked as chief of staff under Clinton are urging U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan not to disturb a prior order barring publication of videos of the depositions taken in the case brought by watchdog group Judicial Watch. Transcripts of the depositions were made public shortly after they took place.
Judicial Watch argued in a motion filed earlier this month that the ban on distribution of the videos should be lifted since the presidential election has passed, diminishing the chances the videos will become fodder for election-related ads.
LawNewz, Roger Stone Starts Petition in Effort to Convince Trump to Prosecute Hillary, Chris White, Dec. 19, 2016. Roger Stone apparently really wants to see Hillary Clinton “frogged marched” out of her Chappaqua, NY residence and into the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan to await criminal charges of some sort. In fact, Stone is reportedly now formally petitioning the incoming Trump administration to empanel a grand jury to investigate possible criminal charges against the former Democratic presidential candidate.
Or, maybe the self-proclaimed master of the political dark arts was just coming up with a clever ad campaign for his new book about the 2016 presidential campaign due to hit bookstores and Amazon right after the election. To describe Stone as merely controversial would probably be an understatement.
After all, he has been around since the Nixon years in Republican Party circles in various capacities. He even briefly had an official position with the Trump campaign early on. There is still some mystery about how his official role ended and the debate is still ongoing as to whether he ultimately played a larger role in an unofficial capacity during a nearly year-long run up to the Election Day.
During the 2016 campaign Trump made a series of statements about how he wants to expand the country’s surveillance apparatus. In late 2015, Trump said in an interview he tends “to err on the side of security” and that restoring parts of the Patriot Act that have been amended would “be fine.” Trump’s pick for CIA Director, Republican Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, has also defended the country’s sweeping surveillance program and protested any narrow restraints placed on government surveillance.
When Congress passed a series of modest surveillance reforms in the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015, many Republicans joined the bipartisan effort to protect civil liberties. But Pompeo later introduced legislation that would undo many of the changes in the USA FREEDOM Act. “To share Edward Snowden’s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama’s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis,” he wrote in a 2015 op-ed.
Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions felt similarly, penning an op-ed against USA FREEDOM that said the bulk phone records collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act was “subject to extraordinary oversight” and warned the bill “would make it vastly more difficult for the NSA to stop a terrorist than it is to stop a tax cheat.”
Washington Post, Congressional push for sanctions against Russia could set up clash with Trump, Karoun Demirjian, Dec. 17, 2016. A showdown in Congress is looming over expanding sanctions against Russia, possibly pitting lawmakers once again against President-elect Donald J. Trump and his secretary of state nominee who previously has opposed them. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an outspoken Trump critic shown in an official photo, is the latest lawmaker to join the fray, stating that his goal in a series of investigations next year “is to put on President Trump’s desk crippling sanctions against Russia,” he wrote on Twitter. “They need to pay a price.”
Washington Post, A new poll shows an astonishing 52% of Republicans incorrectly think Trump won the popular vote, Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, Dec. 18, 2016. Amid the speculation on whether the electoral college will refuse to make Donald Trump president, many Trump opponents are pinning their hopes on one glaring fact: Hillary Clinton’s sizable win in the popular vote.
Clinton’s lead now exceeds 2.8 million votes (more than 2.1 percent of the total vote) and continues to grow. Many Democrats hope this fact alone might persuade Republican electors to reject Trump in favor of some alternative.
But this hope faces a serious challenge: Half of all Republicans actually think Trump won the popular vote. Respondents’ correct understanding of the popular vote depended a great deal on partisanship. A large fraction of Republicans — 52 percent — said Trump won the popular vote, compared with only 7 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents. Among Republicans without any college education, the share was even larger: 60 percent, compared with 37 percent of Republicans with a college degree.
WhoWhatWhy, Open Letter to John Podesta: This Is Your FBI Wakeup Call, Russ Baker, Dec. 18, 2016. I get that John Podesta is frustrated with the FBI’s role in the recent election. But he should wake up. The FBI has always been a dangerously problematical institution. Time to pay attention, to the many examples we cite here.
Guardian, Leak reveals Rex Tillerson was director of Bahamas-based US-Russian oil firm, Luke Harding and Hannes Munzinger, Dec. 18, 2016. Documents from tax haven will raise more questions over suitability of Donald Trump’s pick for US secretary of state. Rex Tillerson, the businessman nominated by Donald Trump to be the next US secretary of state, was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show.
Tillerson – the chief executive of ExxonMobil – became a director of the oil company’s Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, in 1998. His name – RW Tillerson – appears next to other officers who are based at Houston, Texas; Moscow; and Sakhalin, in Russia’s far east. The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source. The registry is public but details of individual directors are typically incomplete or missing entirely.
Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson (shown in a file photo) was no longer a director.
New York Post, Ivanka looks to join DC temple with Trump-hating rabbi, Aaron Short, Dec. 18, 2016. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are looking to join an Orthodox temple as they move their family to Washington, DC, before the inauguration. A rep from the Kushner family inquired about membership at Ohev Sholom, the district’s oldest modern Orthodox synagogue, said a source close to the congregation.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld — a vocal critic of Donald Trump — would not confirm any communication with the Kushners. But members of the synagogue said Trump’s power progeny is welcome to worship with them.
“We are open to everybody,” said Maryland resident Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a member of the Shepherd Park shul for 12 years. “We have a summer camp, excellent lunches on Shabbat, we are politically diverse, and there are plenty of nice homes in our neighborhood.” The rabbi might beg to differ. Herzfeld once shouted down Donald Trump at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference at the Verizon Center arena in DC.
“Do not listen to this man. He is wicked. He inspires racists and bigots,” Herzfeld had said, briefly interrupting Trump’s March 21 address before security officers removed him. Herzfeld later wrote on Facebook that he “felt the obligation as a rabbi to declare his wickedness to the world.”
The 130-year-old temple is near the Maryland border and boasts one of the largest Orthodox congregations in the capital region. That the Kushners inquired about Ohev Sholom suggests they’re house-hunting nearby. Wherever they worship will have to be within walking distance from their home, since Orthodox Jews cannot ride in motor vehicles on the sabbath.
Meanwhile, Washington’s churches are praying Donald Trump will grace them with his presence when he moves into the White House next month. Trump, a Presbyterian, attended Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Presidents Obama and Ronald Reagan worshipped at St. John’s Episcopal Church in DC, although neither was Episcopalian.
SouthFront, Syrian ‘Rebels’ Burn Buses En Route To Evacuate Sick & Injured Civilians From Govt-Held Villages In Idlib Province (Video from rebel sources), Staff report, Dec. 18, 2016. Government buses en route to evacuate the sick and injured from two government-held villages in the province of Idlib have been burned by the so-called “moderate opposition.” The villages of Foah and Kefraya are encircled by al-Nusra-led militant groups.
The Aleppo evacuation agreement included the demand to militants to allow people to evacuate from Foah and Kefraya. However up to six buses (some sources say five) were attacked and torched on the way to Foah and Kefraya by militant grouips. Jabhat Fath al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and its allies were responsible for the attack.
Washington Post, In last-shot bid, thousands urge electoral college to block Trump, Robert Samuels, Dec. 17, 2016. Amid the scrutiny of a divisive election, pressure on members of the country’s electoral college to select someone other than Donald Trump has grown dramatically — and noisily — in recent weeks. But although some electors appeared to waver, there is little evidence that Trump will fall short when they convene Monday.
RollCall, Trump Nominates Anti-Deficit Crusader Mulvaney to Head OMB, Ryan McCrimmon, Dec. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump announced Saturday the nomination of South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, an opponent of government spending who rode the 2010 tea party wave to Congress, for director of the Office of Management and Budget. The three-term Republican congressman, a founding member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, met with Trump in New York earlier this month.
Trump’s transition team touted Mulvaney’s “strong voice in Congress for reining in out-of-control spending, fighting government waste and enacting tax policies that will allow working Americans to thrive,” in its announcement on Saturday.
“We are going to do great things for the American people with Mick Mulvaney leading the Office of Management and Budget,” Trump was quoted in the announcement. “Right now we are nearly $20 trillion in debt, but Mick is a very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation’s finances and save our country from drowning in red ink.”
Mulvaney (shown in an official photo) would likely bring major change to an office that is the hub of a sprawling federal bureaucracy. The position is usually filled by old hands with deep knowledge of the federal budget as well as managerial experience, an uncommon combination. Those qualifications will be critically important under Trump, a newcomer to Washington, and with a 2017 agenda packed with fiscal action largely under OMB’s purview.
If confirmed, Mulvaney would play a central role in complex major health care and tax changes, as Republicans in Congress plan to use a budgetary maneuver known as reconciliation to avoid procedural hurdles. He would also be in the middle of a new debt ceiling increase or suspension, the rolling back of budgetary limits on defense spending, the expected slashing of federal regulations, a push for massive infrastructure spending, and much more.
Mulvaney, a father of triplets, has managerial experience dating back to his days as the owner and operator of an outlet of the Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina chain of restaurants. He’s a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly 40 rebellious Republicans that left an outsized mark on the 114th Congress — most notably by spurring the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. The group’s dramatic clashes with Republican leaders in Congress may not portend a smooth relationship between Mulvaney as OMB director and the GOP-controlled House and Senate.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image via DCMA)
VPK via SouthFront, The Attack On Palmyra Shows Professional Staff Work Beyond The Militants’ Capabilities, Yevgeny Satanovskiy, translated by Alice Decker, Dec. 17, 2016. On December 11, militants from the “Islamic State” (IS), which is banned in Russia, forced Assad’s troops out of Tadmora, historic Palmyra, for the second time and captured the provincial town of world historical significance — not so important strategically, unless you take into account the nearby intersection with the road leading to Deir ez Zor, besieged by IS for several years, with its refineries and air force base.
Characteristically, the attacking forces of five thousand fighters with tanks, armored personnel carriers and rocket artillery made their way through the desert for several hundred kilometers without being detected by Assad’s intelligence, which makes experts speak of a possible betrayal at the highest level of the Syrian army command and its Mukhabarat (or military intelligence).
The specific question is, where could these 5,000 militants have come from, despite the fact that Mosul remained under “siege” by the US and its coalition, according to “the anti-terrorist coalition,” at the time Palmyra was captured by 3,000–5,000 Islamist fighters?
Assad’s loss of Palmyra coincided too exactly with the completion of the operation in East Aleppo to be accidental. It is highly likely that the US in this case either directly used IS as an instrument of military pressure on Damascus or turned a blind eye to the fact that it was used by their allies in the “coalition against terrorism” — probably by Qatar and possibly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Well, Doha, Riyadh and Ankara were at the time coordinating their actions in Syria, when necessary.
Which version is true is a separate question. One thing is clear: Washington and its allies have not taken and most likely will not take any action against IS if the terrorist structure is at war with Assad and the Russian military.
Independent, There’s more propaganda than news coming out of Aleppo this week, Patrick Cockburn, Dec. 17, 2016. There was a period in 2011 and 2012 when there were genuinely independent opposition activists operating inside Syria, but as the jihadis took over these brave people were forced to flee abroad, fell silent or were dead.
It has just become more dangerous to be a foreign correspondent reporting on the civil war in Syria. This is because the jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude Western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan “local activists” who cannot escape being under jihadi control.
The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda-type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda.
The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists. Killing or abducting the latter turns out to have been a smart move by the jihadis because it enabled them to establish substantial control of news reaching the outside world. This is bad news for any independent journalist entering their territory and threatening their monopoly of information.
There was always a glaring contradiction at the heart of the position of the international media: on the one hand it was impossibly dangerous for foreign journalists to enter opposition-held areas of Syria, but at the same time independent activists were apparently allowed to operate freely by some of the most violent and merciless movements on earth. The threat to Western reporters was very real: James Foley had been ritually beheaded on 8 August 2014 and Steven Sotloff a few days later, though long before then foreign journalists who entered insurgent-controlled zones were in great danger.
SouthFront, 14 US-Led Coalition Military Advisers Captured by Syrian Special Forces in Aleppo, Staff and wire reports, Dec. 17, 2016. At least 14 US-led coalition military advisers have been captured by the Syrian Special Forces in a bunker in the city of Aleppo, according to media reports. 21stcenturywire.com also provided a list of names of the coalition’s military advisers captured in Aleppo, citing a Syrian member of Parliament. JIP Editor’s note: This report could not be confirmed.
Washington Post, Obama warns that partisan divisions make U.S. vulnerable, Juliet Eilperin, Dec. 16, 2016. Weeks after Donald Trump’s win, President Obama’s optimistic facade about the country is beginning to crack.
A snowman peeks into the Oval Office as President Barack Obama signs end-of-the-year bills, Dec. 16, 2016. Staff moved four snowmen that were decorating the Rose Garden just outside several Oval Office windows to greet the President when he arrived in the office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Washington Post, FBI agrees with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump win, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima, Dec. 16, 2016. Revelations that FBI Director James B. Comey — along with the Director of National Intelligence — agreed with the CIA assessment could put to rest suggestions that the agencies weren’t on the same page on the cyber-intrusions. President Obama defended his administration’s response to Russia’s alleged meddling, but warned Moscow that it could face retaliation. Hillary Clinton told donors she believed hackers went after her campaign because of a personal grudge Russian President Vladimir Putin had against her.
Washington Post, GOP leaders, donors intervene to save Tillerson nomination — and sway Rubio, Sean Sullivan, Dec. 16, 2016. At the start of the week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL, and shown in an official photo) seemed bent on opposing Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. By the end of it, Rubio had heard directly from former vice president Richard B. Cheney, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation, as well as other supporters of the ExxonMobil chief. With that, one more proposal by President-elect Donald Trump at risk of running aground had found new hope for smoother waters.
Washington Post, Trump tries to calm his ‘vicious, violent, screaming’ supporters, Philip Rucker, Dec. 16, 2016. As the president-elect spoke in Orlando, his supporters repeated their anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “Lock her up!” But if Trump loved hearing their plea, he did not say so.
Roll Call, Too Many Trumps at the Table, Patricia Murphy, Dec. 16, 2016. An uncomfortable closeness to the trappings of a monarchy. The three older children of President-elect Donald Trump need to avoid involvement in government operations if Trump wants to protect both his future presidency and his business empires.
When Bill and Hillary Clinton moved into the White House in 1993, the newly installed first couple was nearly destroyed for making an offer they thought America could not refuse — a two-for-one special on Yale-trained lawyers interested in national public policy. Not only would Bill Clinton become the president, but Hillary Clinton would set up shop in the West Wing and go about the business of trying to overhaul the nation’s health care system. The arrangement wasn’t technically illegal, but it made many uncomfortable and played a big part in health care reform being declared DOA in Congress at the time.
More than 20 years later, President-elect Donald Trump has an even bigger, better deal for the American people. Instead of two for one, like the Clintons, how about five for one? That’s right, America, for a limited time only, you can will get Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, to run your government, all for the low, low price of Donald Trump. Just one of them was elected, and none of them have experience, but you’re going to love them once you try them. All of them.
Russian Interference Claims Debunked As Elitist Plot Against Trump
Moon of Alabama, The “Elite” Coup Of 2016, Anonymous, Dec. 15, 2016. There is an “elite” coup attempt underway against the U.S. President-elect Trump. The coup is orchestrated by the camp of Hillary Clinton in association with the CIA and neoconservative powers in Congress.
The plan is to use the CIA’s “Russia made Trump the winner” nonsense to swing the electoral college against him. The case would then be bumped up to Congress. Major neocon and warmonger parts of the Republicans could then move the presidency to Clinton or, if that fails, put Trump’s vice president-elect Mike Pence onto the throne. The regular bipartisan war business, which a Trump presidency threatens to interrupt, could continue.
Should the coup succeed violent insurrections in the United States are likely to ensue with unpredictable consequences.
The above theses are thus far only a general outlay. No general plan has been published. The scheme though is pretty obvious by now. However, the following contains some speculation.
- The priority aim is to deny Trump the presidency. He is too independent and a danger for several power centers within the ruling U.S. power circles. The selection of Tillerson as new Secretary of State only reinforces this (Prediction: Bolton will not get the Deputy position.) Tillerson is for profitable stability, not for regime change adventures. The institutional Trump enemies are:
- The CIA which has become the Central Assassination Agency under the Bush and Obama administrations. Huge parts of its budgets depend on a continuation of the war on Syria and the drone assassination campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Trump’s more isolationist policies would likely end these campaigns and the related budget troughs.
- The weapons industry which could lose its enormous sales to its major customers in the Persian Gulf should a President Trump reduce U.S. interference in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- The neoconservatives and Likudniks who want the U.S. as Israel’s weapon to strong arm the Middle East to the Zionists’ benefit.
- The general war hawks, military and “humanitarian interventionists” to whom any reduction of the U.S. role as primary power in the world is anathema to their believes.
- The current CIA director Brennan, a leading figure of the CIA torture program and Obama consigliere, is in the Clinton/anti-Trump camp. The former CIA heads Hayden and Panetta are public Clinton supporters as is torturer king and former CIA deputy director Michael Morell.
- It is thereby no wonder that the CIA is leading the anti-Russian campaign. Its task now is to implant the idea in the U.S. public that Russian intervention skewed the U.S. election towards Trump. The purpose is the delegitimization of the Trump victory in the eyes of the media and public but even more so in the eyes of the electors within the electoral college.
The CIA is heavily supported by the same mainstream media that pushed for Clinton during the election. (These are, not by chance, also the same media that pushed the CIA’s earlier “Saddam’s Weapon of Mass Destruction” campaign.)
Strategic Culture Foundation, ‘Fake news’: Who is really making the war on truth? Michael Jabara Carley, Dec. 15, 2016. Michael Jabara Carley is professor of history at the Université de Montréal. The other day David Ignatius, a columnist at the Washington Post, declared sententiously that “truth is losing.” He meant of course “the truth” according to the US government. Ignatius recently interviewed Richard Stengel, a State Department official responsible for “public diplomacy,” someone who had previously worked for Time magazine, a stellar source of “truth” and the “American way.” Things are getting tough, Stengel said. We’ve entered “a ‘post-truth’ world, where the facts are sometimes overwhelmed by propaganda from Russia and the Islamic State.” You can see right away where this conversation is headed. And how outrageous to compare Russia and the IS, when the original purveyors of Salafi-Jihadism are located in Washington, DC.
Unhampered by inconvenient facts, Stengel was just getting started with Ignatius. “How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?”
The State Department official complained that people don’t believe the US government, which is not exactly a revelation. During the Vietnam War, it was called the “credibility gap.” This was an understatement. In fact, the gap was a chasm between what the US government said about the war and the visible, perceivable reality of it reported from the scene.
Of course that fellow at the State Department in charge of “public diplomacy” would not know a “credibility gap” if it hit him between the eyes. Neither would Ignatius. The chief culprits of State Department woes are, as you might guess, Russia Today and Sputnik, popular English language media based in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. According to the State Department, they don’t play fair.
There’s the cue for policing “the truth.” Shut up the people who don’t speak it, according to State Department lights. Just the other day, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, said ”truth” has to be protected and action contemplated against Alternate Media which could threaten “the stability of our familiar order.” Is the groundwork being laid in the West for censorship of discordant narratives?
The American elite has such a short memory. It was only twenty years ago when American NGOs and “advisors” to then President Boris Yeltsin helped him, it is said, to steal the 1996 presidential election from Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov. (Time itself published a cover story subtitled “The Secret Story of How American Advisors Helpted Boris Yeltsin.”) For the United States turn-about is never fair play.
US accusations are like Pot calling Kettle black, or like the aggressor who accuses its intended victim of aggression. Psychologists call it “projection,” projecting one’s own evil behaviour on to “the other.” One set of rules for the United States and its vassals, and one set of rules for everyone else. Call it double standards. “Do as I say, not as I do,” Mr. Kirby would no doubt privately agree with his friends.
Just recently the European Parliament voted, though far from unanimously, to condemn RT and Sputnik, as “tools of Russian propaganda.” One MEP even claimed that “we are at war with Russia.” What a reckless, stupid thing to say. He obviously does not have any idea of what being at war with Russia would mean. Germans know though; perhaps these foolish MEPs should ask their German colleagues what it meant to be at war with the USSR.
The effectiveness of RT, Sputnik, and other such alternate media can be measured directly by the fury of the MSM and their defenders like Messrs. Ignatius and Kirby. More and more people don’t believe them. “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time,” said US president Abraham Lincoln, “but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” The Alternate Media assures the continuing pertinence of this old idea.
JFK Facts.org, The impact of JFK’s assassination endures because of the cover-up continues, Jefferson Morley, Dec. 16, 2016. Even a half century after the fact, Americans believe the murder of the 35th president was one of the four most important events in the nation’s history, according to a new Pew Survey [reported in the New York Times as What Events Most Shaped America in Your Lifetime?]. This despite the fact that more than two-thirds of all Americans were born after November 22, 1963.
Arizona Republic via USA Today, Sheriff Joe Arpaio renews birther claims about Obama’s birth certificate, Megan Cassidy, Dec. 16, 2016. It was a presentation hyped by a tauntingly brief media notification more than 24 hours earlier: On Thursday afternoon, it said, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (shown in file photo) would present the newest revelations on an investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate.
At 4 p.m. sharp, Arpaio and a member of his Sheriff’s Office’s Cold Case Posse had a big message for the 40-odd journalists in attendance: You were wrong. Arpaio and his aides announced that a five-year investigation had “proved” that Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii in 1961 was a fake. An accompanying presentation highlighted what they called “9 points of forgery” on the document, which focused on the angles of date stamps, typed letters and words.
According to the theory, the birth certificate presented to the public was created after copying and pasting information from the legitimate birth certificate of a woman born in Hawaii. The conference included an audience of mostly older supporters, many of whom would clap their hands or nod their heads at various points of the event.
Mike Zullo, a posse member, talked throughout the bulk of the news conference, and for about 50 minutes walked the audience through what he claimed was irrefutable proof that the birth certificate had been forged. Zullo repeatedly insisted that the probe was not political and that he simply wanted to “clear” the president of the United States.
“It didn’t work out that way,” he said. Arpaio’s focus on the outgoing president has spanned several years. Obama was a favorite subject in Arpaio’s fundraiser emails, speeches and campaign ads, and the president was blamed for the lawman’s civil rights-related legal battles.
Arpaio’s persistence on the “birther” issues has outlived that of many other once-fervent supporters. President-elect Donald Trump had been a leader of the movement to prove Obama was not a natural-born citizen and was therefore not eligible for the nation’s highest office. After years of persistent questioning — seen by many as racially motivated — the president produced his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. In September, Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, announced he was dropping the issue.
Around the Nation
New York Times, What Events Most Shaped America in Your Lifetime? A Pew Survey Tries to Answer, Niraj Chokshi, Dec. 15, 2016. As divided as the American public may seem, there are still some things on which most people agree. No matter age, party or gender, Americans overwhelmingly believe that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, played a dominant role in shaping the history of the country, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center with A+E Networks’ History.
When asked to name the events in their lifetimes that had the greatest impact on the nation, 76 percent of those surveyed listed the attacks, far surpassing any other event, according to Pew, which conducted the survey of about 2,000 people, in part, to better understand the events that drive public discourse.
Sept. 11 came to mind most often, by a long-shot. President Obama’s election followed distantly, with 40 percent including it in their list. The tech revolution was next, followed closely by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and then the Vietnam War. The survey found that Americans were primarily united by their age.
While Sept. 11 dominated each generation’s list, the other entries varied by age. The so-called “silent” and “greatest” generations, identified as Americans 71 and older, were united by the import they placed on World War II. For baby boomers — adults 52 to 70 — it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War that unified them. Millennials and members of Generation X, the groups including those 18 to 51, were united in the importance they placed on Mr. Obama’s election.
Washington Post, Roof guilty of hate crimes in Charleston church massacre; execution possible, Dustin Waters and Kevin Sullivan, Dec. 15, 2016. “There’s no win in this,” said a son of one of the nine parishioners killed by Dylann Roof, a 22-year-old self-described white supremacist who was convicted by a federal jury on all 33 counts he faced. The government will seek the death penalty when the sentencing phase of the case begins next month.
Project On Government Oversight (POGO), NSA Watchdog Removed for Whistleblower Retaliation, Staff report, Dec. 15, 2016. Until just a few months ago, Dr. George Ellard occupied a position of trust as top watchdog of the National Security Agency, America’s principal collector of signals intelligence. Ellard was not only NSA’s Inspector General, but an outspoken critic of Edward Snowden, the former contract employee who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified emails to publicly expose the agency’s domestic surveillance program. Snowden claimed, among other things, that his concerns about NSA’s domestic eavesdropping were ignored by the agency, and that he feared retaliation. Ellard publicly argued in 2014 that Snowden could have safely reported the allegations of NSA’s domestic surveillance directly to him.
Then last May, after eight months of inquiry and deliberation, a high-level Intelligence Community panel found that Ellard himself had previously retaliated against an NSA whistleblower, sources tell the Project On Government Oversight. Informed of that finding, NSA’s Director, Admiral Michael Rogers, promptly issued Ellard a notice of proposed termination, although Ellard apparently remains an agency employee while on administrative leave, pending a possible response to his appeal from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Ellard, a Yale-trained lawyer and former prosecutor with a doctorate in philosophy, was for nine years the top oversight official keeping tabs on NSA, an agency fraught with controversy over its handling of Edward Snowden and other prominent whistleblowers. Ellard (shown in a file photo) in particular chose to enter that debate along with other critics who faulted Snowden for his alleged unwillingness to report his concerns about NSA domestic surveillance through channels inside the agency set up for that purpose.
IG Ellard’s criticism of Snowden first stirred controversy during a 2014 panel discussion at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. “Snowden could have come to me,” Ellard declared, arguing that the leaker, now a fugitive in Russia, would have received the same protections as other NSA employees, who file some one thousand reports annually to the agency’s hotline. “We have surprising success in resolving the complaints that are brought to us,” Ellard said, adding, “Perhaps it’s the case that we could have shown, we could have explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do.”
Snowden himself has explicitly contended that he feared retaliation and that he had no other option but to go public if he wished to expose NSA domestic eavesdropping. Among the cases of retaliation that Snowden has pointed to is that of former senior NSA employee Thomas Drake, who after reporting alleged wrongdoing through authorized channels, was arrested at dawn by the FBI, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes under the Espionage Act, all of which were later dropped, leaving him to find work in an Apple store. Snowden’s related contention is that in his own case, he did, in fact, report his concerns in emails to NSA superiors at the time, a contention which NBC has said it verified.
Now, given the official finding that Ellard retaliated against an NSA whistleblower, the credibility of Ellard’s argument that Snowden could have come to him is gravely undermined. More generally, there are few if any incentives for intelligence whistleblowers to report problems through designated authorities when the IG of NSA is found to have retaliated against such an individual.
Washington Post, Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel supports West Bank settlements, Karen DeYoung, Dec. 15, 2016. David M. Friedman, who was the president-elect’s bankruptcy lawyer, has been outspoken in backing the settlements, which every U.S. administration since 1967 has considered illegitimate.
Wall Street Journal, Shifting Political Landscape in U.S. Prompts Saudi Arabia to Rethink Financial Strategy, Justin Scheck, Maureen Farrell and Brody Mullins, Dec. 16, 2016. Saudi Arabia is re-evaluating its multibillion-dollar U.S. financial strategy because of shifts in the American political landscape, including whether to go elsewhere with the public stock debut of its state oil company, according to people involved in the planning.
Two events — the recent passage of legislation that could allow U.S. terror victims to sue Saudi Arabia and the election of Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of the bill — prompted the reassessment by senior Saudi officials and outside advisers, people involved in the discussions said. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund has paused its U.S. investments until they can figure out the implications of the bill and the new direction of the White House, said a person familiar with the fund’s decision making.
21st Century Wire, BREAKING: At Least 14 US Coalition Military Officers Captured by Syrian Special Forces in East Aleppo Bunker, Staff report, Dec. 16, 2016. According to two reports coming out of Aleppo today, at least 14 US Coalition military officers were captured this morning in an East Aleppo bunker by Syrian Special Forces.
This story was quietly leaked by Voltaire.net, who announced, “The Security Council is sitting in private on Friday, December 16, 2016, at 17:00 GMT, while NATO officers were arrested this morning by the Syrian Special Forces in a bunker in East Aleppo.” Fares Shehabi MP, a prominent Syrian Parliamentarian and head of Aleppo’s Chamber of Commerce published the names of the Coalition officers on his Facebook page. JIP Editor’s note: This report could not be confirmed.
Washington Post, Why America was bound to fail in Syria, David Ignatius, Dec. 15, 2016. The fall of Aleppo is a human catastrophe. It’s also a demonstration of the perils of choosing the middle course in a military conflict. Sometimes it’s possible to talk and fight at the same time. But in Syria, the U.S. decision to pursue a dual-track, halfway approach made the mayhem worse.
In the annals of covert warfare, the CIA’s support for the Syrian opposition deserves a special, dark chapter. The effort began late — nearly two years into the war — after extremists had already begun to dominate the fight against President Bashar al-Assad. It was a hodgepodge of regional states and their pet fighters — nominally coordinated from operations centers in Jordan and Turkey but in reality controlled by more than 80 local militias whose commanders were often corrupt and proto-jihadists themselves.
WhoWhatWhy, Recounts Are Only as Good as They Are Allowed to Be, Jonathan Simon, Dec. 15, 2016. Jonathan Simon is Executive Director of Election Defense Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring observable vote counting in electoral integrity. He’s also the author of “Code Red: Computerized Election Theft in the New American Century.”
The existence of paper ballots is generally touted as the ultimate backstop guaranteeing the integrity of American elections, because “if there is a problem or any doubts, those ballots can always be recounted.” They can be — but will they be?
Now we have seen three “recounts” up close and learned that, in practice, this amounts to a false and dangerous assurance. The effort to recount these ballots, where they do exist, has been blocked, subverted, and turned into a sham in each of the three states in which it has been attempted this month.
The sheer number (and variety) of obstacles that have been thrown in the path of the recount efforts in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania begs the question: What evidence are these blockades trying to hide?
Media coverage has ignored or soft-pedaled most of these roadblocks, misreported the actions and motives of Jill Stein, and adhered tightly to the “nothing to look at here, folks” theme. Jeffrey Toobin, writing in The New Yorker, went so far as to attribute the entire motivation for the recount to Jill Stein’s “narcissism.”
Washington Post, Jill Stein has done the nation a tremendous public service, Jonathan S. Abady and Ilann M. Maazel, Dec. 15, 2016. As lead counsel in Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein’s quest to have votes recounted in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, we have been in court for the past two weeks trying to verify the integrity of the election and make sure that no one hacked our democracy. Some have cast Stein as a spoiler, or alleged that the recounts were futile, because they didn’t change who won the election.
But the recount would only be futile if we, as Americans, ignored the lessons of the past weeks and preserved the status quo that is our broken voting system. To start, we must recognize that what we saw in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were recounts in name only. Though more than 161,000 people across the nation donated to the effort — and millions more demanded it with their voices — every imaginable financial, legal and political obstacle was thrown in the way of the recounts.
Around the Nation
Washington Post, This former journalist helps caregivers get to know who their patients once were, before dementia took hold, Tara Bahrampour, Dec. 15, 2016. Jay Newton-Small, a District resident, started a business writing anecdote-filled profiles of dementia patients after her father got Alzheimer’s. Three years ago, when Jay Newton-Small moved her father into a care facility in Sykesville, MD, she was given a 20-page questionnaire to fill out. Her father had Alzheimer’s Disease and his fading memory and agitated behavior made it hard for caregivers to understand his needs. But as Newton-Small leafed through the lengthy form, she had a hunch that it was not the best approach.
“I was like, ‘You’re never going to have time to read 20 pages on each patient,” said Newton-Small, a District resident who was a reporter for Time magazine. So, at the risk of the staff thinking she was “weird,” she offered to use her professional skills to write her father’s story for them – including the bit about how he was once a part-time driver for Winston Churchill and how he liked to amble around the cypress trees and lavender fields in the south of France, where he had a country home.
“They loved it,” she recalled. Knowing personal details of her father’s life helped his caregivers understand trigger points that could upset him and references that might please him. “It completely transformed his care.” The experience was so powerful that Newton-Small began compiling stories for others, first as a favor to friends and then as a start-up business that provides memory care facilities with online profiles that comprise personal anecdotes, photos, videos and recordings of favorite songs. This fall she left her reporting job to pursue it full-time.
Working with two partners and hiring freelance journalists to conduct interviews and gather photos and other media, her organization, MemoryWell, has provided profiles of a dozen people at three facilities, and is piloting with five more organizations. Research shows that quality of care increases and aggressive behavior decreases for longterm care patients whose caregivers are familiar with their life histories. But even well-trained caregivers can have a hard time breaking through to people whose memories are shrouded by dementia, Newton-Small said. “They don’t have any context to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing…It’s really isolating.”
Hacking and High-Tech
AP via Boston Globe, Yahoo says hackers stole data from more than 1 billion accounts, Staff report, Dec. 14, 2016. Yahoo says it believes hackers stole data from more than one billion user accounts in August 2013, in what is thought to be the largest data breach at an email provider. The Sunnyvale, California, company was also home to what’s now most likely the second largest hack in history, one that exposed 500 million Yahoo accounts . The company disclosed that breach in September. Yahoo said it hasn’t identified the intrusion associated with this theft.
Yahoo says the information stolen may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and security questions and answers. The company says it believes bank-account information and payment-card data were not affected. The new hack revelation raises fresh questions about Verizon’s $4.8 billion proposed acquisition of Yahoo, and whether the big mobile carrier will seek to modify or abandon its bid.
Politico, Source: Twitter cut out of Trump tech meeting over failed emoji deal, Nancy Scola, Dec. 14, 2016. Twitter was told it was “bounced” from Wednesday’s meeting between tech executives and President-elect Donald Trump in retribution for refusing during the campaign to allow an emoji version of the hashtag #CrookedHillary, according to a source close to the situation.
Twitter is one of the few major U.S. tech companies not represented at Wednesday afternoon’s Trump Tower meeting attended by, among others, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk — an omission all the more striking because of Trump’s heavy dependence on the Twitter platform. With some 17.3 million followers of his account, the president-elect has made Twitter into the de facto press channel of his transition operation.
McClatchy DC, CIA refuses House intel committee request for briefing on Russia hacking probe, Michael Doyle, Dec. 14, 2016. Capitol Hill tensions over handling of the alleged Russian cyber-hacking scandal boiled over late Wednesday, as the chairman of the House intelligence panel blasted U.S. spy agency officials for declining to brief the committee this week.
In a blunt statement that exposed raw feelings and hinted at deeper conflicts, Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, declared it was “unacceptable” that representatives of what is collectively called the Intelligence Community would not be appearing Thursday before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He said the CIA had not told the committee in its most recent briefing that it believed Russia had hacked Democratic party computers with the intent of helping Donald Trump win the presidency.
Daily Mail, Ex-British ambassador who is now a WikiLeaks operative claims Russia did NOT provide Clinton emails; they were handed over to him at a D.C. park by an intermediary for ‘disgusted’ Democratic whistleblowers, Alana Goodman, Dec. 14, 2016. A Wikileaks envoy today claims he personally received Clinton campaign emails in Washington D.C. after they were leaked by ‘disgusted’ whisteblowers – and not hacked by Russia. Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, told Dailymail.com that he flew to Washington, D.C. for a clandestine hand-off with one of the email sources in September.
‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ said Murray (shown in a file photo) in an interview with Dailymail.com on Tuesday. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’
His account contradicts directly the version of how thousands of Democratic emails were published before the election being advanced by U.S. intelligence. [One such story was a major investigation by the New York Times, Russian Hacks, How Moscow Aimed a Perfect Weapon at the U.S. Election, by Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane published Dec. 13.]
Murray is a controversial figure who was removed from his post as a British ambassador amid allegations of misconduct. He was cleared of those but left the diplomatic service in acrimony. His links to Wikileaks are well known and while his account is likely to be seen as both unprovable and possibly biased, it is also the first intervention by Wikileaks since reports surfaced last week that the CIA believed Russia hacked the Clinton emails to help hand the election to Donald Trump.
Murray’s claims about the origins of the Clinton campaign emails comes as U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly confident that Russian hackers infiltrated both the Democratic National Committee and the email account of top Clinton aide John Podesta. In Podesta’s case, his account appeared to have been compromised through a basic ‘phishing’ scheme, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly told members of Congress during classified briefings that they believe Russians passed the documents on to Wikileaks as part of an influence operation to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump.
He said the leakers were motivated by ‘disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.’ Murray said he retrieved the package from a source during a clandestine meeting in a wooded area near American University, in northwest D.C. He said the individual he met with was not the original person who obtained the information, but an intermediary.
Washington Post, Trump’s national security adviser shared secrets without permission, files show, Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller, Dec. 14, 2016. A secret U.S. military investigation in 2010 determined that Michael T. Flynn, the retired Army general tapped to serve as national security adviser in the Trump White House, “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign military officers in Afghanistan, newly released documents show.
Although Flynn (shown in an official photo) lacked authorization to share the classified material, he was not disciplined or reprimanded after the investigation concluded that he did not act “knowingly” and that “there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result,” according to Army records obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.
Our Future.org, By Picking Tillerson and Perry, Trump’s Pretty Much Just Trolling Us Now, Richard Eskow, Dec. 14, 2016. When it comes to Cabinet-level appointments, Donald Trump hasn’t lost his ability to astonish and dismay. At this point his staffing process has pretty much turned into an extended exercise in trolling, a test to see how much humiliation the American people will endure. Rick Perry for the Department of Energy? Perry will be running an organization he doesn’t even think should exist. Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, for Secretary of State? Negotiating a peace treaty requires a different skill set than getting a permit to drill in the Black Sea.
Common Dreams, Electoral College Revolt Growing Into ‘Powerful Show of Force,’ Deirdre Fulton, Dec. 14, 2016. Lawrence Lessig says 20 Republican electors are considering a vote against Trump on December 19. With the Electoral College vote less than a week away, Harvard University constitutional law professor Lawrence Lessig says 20 Republican members are considering voting against Donald Trump—more than half the number needed to potentially block the real estate mogul’s election.
The 538 delegates to the Electoral College will gather at state capitols on Monday, December 19 to cast their votes for president. Ahead of that day, Lessig’s Electors Trust group “has been offering pro bono legal counsel to Republican presidential electors considering ditching Trump and has been acting as a clearinghouse for electors to privately communicate their intentions,” Politico explains. Lessig further outlined his arguments for doing so in an op-ed posted Tuesday at Medium.
He said Tuesday: “Obviously, whether an elector ultimately votes his or her conscience will depend in part upon whether there are enough doing the same. We now believe there are more than half the number needed to change the result seriously considering making that vote.”
SouthFront, Syrian War Report: Heavy Clashes At Tyas Airbase, Staff report, Dec. 14, 2016 (video above). The situation remains critical in the area west of Palmyra. ISIS terrorists flanked government forces and seized a key crossroad between the Tyas airbase and the city of al-Qaryatayn in the Syrian province of Homs. The terrorist group also continued to put pressure on the Tyas Airbase and on the Homs-Palmyra highway from the southern direction. These attacks put government forces deployed in the Tyas Airbase under a threat of encirclement by ISIS forces.
Some militants in eastern Aleppo attacked the Syrian army on Wednesday morning, violating ceasefire and withdrawal agreements with the Syrian government. In turn, government forces launched a counter-terrorism operation to clear building blocks held by militants that violated the agreement. This delayed the general evacuation of remaining militants and their families. According to unofficial estimates, there are up to 5,000 people – members of militant groups and their families – have to be evacuated from Aleppo.
Around the Nation
JFFacts.org, Dealey Plaza eyewitness: ‘People were running to the grassy knoll,’ Jefferson Morley, Dec. 14, 2016. As a thirteen year old girl, Tina Towner went to Dealey Plaza with her parents on November 22, 1963 to see President Kennedy . She filmed the motorcade with a movie camera as it turned on to Elm Street. Here’s what she recorded.
Kennedys and King (formerly CTKA), Review: ‘A Coup in Camelot,’ Martin Hay, Dec. 14, 2016. Aside from Shane O’Sullivan’s mostly worthwhile Killing Oswald, there has been very little of note that has even attempted to counter the MSM’s seemingly endless deluge of propaganda with reliable evidence and solid reasoning. A Coup in Camelot (Directed and produced by Stephen Goetsch; written and produced by Art Van Kampen) clearly aims to fill that void. Unfortunately, however, it falls considerably short of the mark, writes Martin Hay, as described here:
Considering the large number of films and TV specials about the assassination of President Kennedy that have appeared over the last ten or fifteen years, genuinely worthwhile documentaries on the subject are sadly few and far between. The likes of Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgement and Chip Selby’s Reasonable Doubt were fine for their day but given the wealth of information and technological tools that have become available in the time since those films were produced they appear more than a little outdated now.
Sadly, the majority of well budgeted, slickly produced documentaries of the 21st century have been created solely to push the delusory mythology of the Warren Commission. Aside from Shane O’Sullivan’s mostly worthwhile Killing Oswald, there has been very little of note that has even attempted to counter the MSM’s seemingly endless deluge of propaganda with reliable evidence and solid reasoning. A Coup in Camelot clearly aims to fill that void. Unfortunately, however, it falls considerably short of the mark because it consistently confuses theory with fact.
The film begins strongly enough with a ten minute introduction that briefly discusses Kennedy’s intention to withdraw American troops from Vietnam then outlines the reasons for his trip to Dallas and explains how, within hours of the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was fingered as the lone nut assassin.
From there A Coup in Camelot moves swiftly into one of its strongest segments, featuring respected author and researcher Vince Palamara as its main talking head. Over the years, through his diligent hard work in locating and interviewing members of the Secret Service, Palamara has made himself the go-to expert on the subject of President Kennedy’s protection ― or lack thereof ― in Dallas. I must admit that I have never been convinced the Secret Service was actively involved in the assassination. Yet Palamara’s work most certainly gives reason to at least consider the idea that JFK’s protection on November 22, 1963, was intentionally compromised.
Palamara details just how many of the Secret Service’s usual practices were not followed that day.
Lone nut mythologists also tend to blame Kennedy for the fact that the limousine’s plexiglass bubble top was not used that day. Although the bubble top was not bullet proof or resistant it was, as Palamara notes, “a psychological deterrent because most people assumed it was bullet proof…The bottom line what the bubble top would have done is it would have obscured an assassin’s view via the sun’s glare.” To discover whether or not Kennedy really had ordered its removal, Palamara spoke with Special Agent Sam Kinney who was the driver of the Secret Service follow-up car. “Sam Kinney adamantly on three different occasions told me that President Kennedy had nothing to do with it; it was solely his responsibility.”
Ratical, John Judge, Leading Change: A Transformational, Quiet Servant Leader, Cynthia McKinney, Dec. 14, 2016. David Ratcliff Introduction: In June 2014, I joined the board of John Judge’s Museum of Hidden History non-profit. John (shown in a photo) was born 69 years ago today and died all too soon of complications from a stroke in April 2014. The current project focus of the Museum is the Hidden History Center located in York, Pennsylvania. In honoring John today I am pleased to announce an extended hypertext version of a case study written by former Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Presidential Candidate Dr. Cynthia McKinney (shown below) in 2012 as part of her Ph.D. leadership studies program. As Ms. McKinney describes some of the scope explored in this remarkable paper:
I decided that because of the brilliance and the dedication of this gentleman, that in my own PhD leadership studies I would write a paper on him and the type of leadership that he demonstrates. John Judge is perhaps one of the most important unknown historians of our generation. I chose to research the story of John Judge because he startled me into not one, not two, but many, disorienting dilemmas. I became so fascinated with John that I wanted to pierce deep down inside his world. There is a piece of each one of us, including me, inside this very special man. Imagine if we could flip the switch and have a little of John inside each and every one of us.
And while I might not agree with John on every issue, I say that if we had even just a few more John Judges in this country, not only our country, but also our world, would be a vastly different and much-improved place. In this paper, I give the floor to John and the other participants [Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D., Peter Dale Scott, Ph.D., Tamara Carter, Joe Green, Michael Nurko]. I give them the opportunity to be heard in full context.
Hacking and the 2016 Election
WikiLeaks graphic illustrating its series of stolen emails damaging Clinton Presidential Campaign chairman John Podesta, prompting vicious false attacks on him and some say a cause for election defeat
New York Times, Russian Hacks, How Moscow Aimed a Perfect Weapon at the U.S. Election, Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, Scott Shane, Dec. 13, 2016.
When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk. His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.
The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.
It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.
An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.
The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems.
In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the D.N.C., including Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later. Even Mr. Podesta, a savvy Washington insider who had written a 2014 report on cyberprivacy for President Obama, did not truly understand the gravity of the hacking.
Washington Post, Trump recruits army of business titans to do battle in Washington, Karen Tumulty, Dec. 13, 2016. Among those Trump has recruited from the private sector so far: ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state; former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary; venture capitalist Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary; and fast-food chief executive Andrew Puzder to run the Labor Department. Trump’s critics say that populating an administration with people of enormous wealth and myriad financial interests is not “draining the swamp” as Trump had promised, but simply bringing in another species of reptile.
Washington Post, Rick Perry is picked to head Energy Department, an agency he once vowed to abolish, Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, Dec. 13, 2016. Rick Perry (shown in a Noel St. John photo taken July 2, 2015 during Perry’s campaign for the GOP nomination) is likely to shift the department away from renewable energy and toward fossil fuels, whose production he championed as Texas governor while serving for 14 years.
Washington Post, Energy Dept. rejects Trump’s request to name climate change workers, who remain worried, Joe Davidson, Dec. 13, 2016. Scientists are unsure about what President-elect Donald Trump might do to those whose work has been in line with global warming and the Obama administration, which has spoken about “the urgent imperatives of climate change.”
Politico, FBI sued for files on election-era probes, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 13, 2016. A journalist and a university researcher are suing the FBI for a slew of records relating to the law enforcement agency’s activities in the months leading up to the presidential election. The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, demands a wide range of FBI files and emails pertaining to the agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and its inquiries into the Clinton Foundation. The lawsuit also demands information on a variety of people, entities and topics associated with the presidential campaign such as Breitbart News, Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon (who has been picked to serve as a top White House adviser to President-elect Donald Trump) and the “alt-right.”
The suit also seeks all FBI emails mentioning Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, former Clinton campaign vice chair Huma Abedin, Abedin’s estranged husband Anthony Weiner, Trump, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump advisers Corey Lewandowski, Roger Stone and Kellyanne Conway, CNN commentator Jeffrey Lord, Fox News host Sean Hannity, or Fox News anchor Bret Baier, among others.
Vice News reporter Jason Leopold and Harvard/MIT researcher Ryan Shapiro submitted the request on December 2. Normally, agencies are entitled to at least 20 business days to respond to a FOIA request before a suit is filed. However, the case filed Tuesday claims the FBI failed to respond to a demand for expedited processing of their request, apparently on grounds of the public and media interest in the FBI’s pre-election actions. The suit was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss, an appointee of President Barack Obama.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid interviewed by BuzzFeed reporter Tarini Parti (Tim Lundin / Newseum Photo)
BuzzFeed, Harry Reid Says Electors Should Have Intelligence Briefing, Ben Smith and Lissandra Villa, Dec. 13, 2016. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that members of the Electoral College should receive an intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the US election before they vote on Dec. 19. The Senate’s minority leader was interviewed at a BuzzFeed Brews event, where the retiring Nevada lawmaker also reflected on the state of the US Senate.
“I think this is as big a deal as Watergate, as 9/11. I think they should have a 9/11-type commission. I know that [US Sens.] Dianne Feinstein and Ben Cardin and others are calling for that. I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Reid said. “This is a scandal that has been uncovered.”
In addition to calling for the commission, Reid said he placed much of the blame on FBI Director James Comey. “I think Comey has done as much to denigrate the FBI in just the short three years he’s been here as J. Edgar Hoover did during his time,” Reid said.
More current events came up during Reid’s one-on-one interview (with Tarini Parti, BuzzFeed News’ US Senate reporter). Regarding a group of electors that has demanded a briefing on Russian hacking in a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump from becoming president — a move that has drawn some support from former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers — Reid said that “of course” they should get briefings. “If they had the same briefings that I had they would be concerned about the election, and I believe focusing on the Electoral College is important,” Reid said.
“Republicans have taken the filibuster to extremes that are unknown to anyone,” he said. Reid, who changed the Senate’s rules during his time as majority leader to weaken the filibuster, said that while it was not included in the Constitution, the filibuster had developed over time to make the Senate “operable.” But recently, Reid said, the Senate had become “inoperable” and filibuster reform became necessary.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee needs “competition” as it looks for a new chairman and direction post-election, he added. “The DNC does nothing to help state organizations. That’s what they should be spending their time on,” Reid said, adding that there’s a group of politicians who need to stay involved, including President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Hillary and Bill Clinton.
Reid, who gave his farewell address on the Senate floor last week, will be retiring after a three-decade Senate career. He was elected to the Senate in 1986, and has been the Democratic leader for more than a decade.
Democracy Now! Greg Palast: By Rejecting Recount, Is Michigan Covering Up 75,000 Ballots Never Counted? Amy Goodman interview, Dec. 13, 2016. Investigative reporter Greg Palast (shown in file photo) has just returned from Michigan, where he went to probe the state’s closely contested election. Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes out of nearly 4.8 million votes cast. Green Party presidential contender Dr. Jill Stein attempted to force Michigan to hold a recount, but a federal judge ordered Michigan’s Board of Elections to stop the state’s electoral recount. One big question remains: Why did 75,335 ballots go uncounted?
Huffington Post, While Democrats Chase Russians, Republicans Keep Rigging Elections, Richard (RJ) Eskow, Dec. 13, 2016. What does it tell us when leading Democrats are more upset about alleged Russian election-rigging than they are about proven Republican election-rigging? After all, American oligarchs like the Koch Brothers have no more right to undermine our democracy than Russian oligarchs do.
GOP voting laws systematically discriminate against minority voters and working people. Yes, leading Democrats have lodged pro-forma protests against them, but they should be shouting about it from the rooftops. They seem more comfortable challenging Russians than they do challenging a party that’s undermining the electoral process much closer to home.
Maybe voters in places like North Carolina and Texas were “hacked” by the wrong people. The CIA said last week that the Russian government was trying to help Trump win. They certainly stood to gain, as Trump’s Secretary of State pick proves. But even if that proves true — something that shouldn’t be taken on faith, given the agency’s track record — it’s not likely to change the election outcome.
That would take a wave of Republican electors and House members switching sides.
And if it isn’t proven — if the CIA don’t offer any hard evidence, or if its evidence is weak — many Americans may conclude that we still have a fully functioning democracy. That would be tragic, because we don’t.
Voter ID laws are the modern-day version of Jim Crow laws like poll taxes and “literacy tests,” as courts have increasingly recognized. These laws are popular, but they’re profoundly undemocratic. Surely Democrats can make an effective case against them — once they find the courage and common sense to fight them.
Other kinds of Republican laws have had the same racist effect. North Carolina’s sweeping vote overhaul — the so-called “monster” law — aggressively suppressed the African-American vote. Was that deliberate?
The Washington Post reviewed Republican legislators’ emails and other evidence, and the result is damning. Republicans asked for reports that showed that African Americans and other minorities were more likely to vote in the first week of early voting, use out-of-precinct voting, and vote without ID. Then, as the Post reports: “Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID …”
Voter suppression is systematic. Lower-income voters from all groups are discouraged from voting by our lack of an automatic voter registration process, and by the fact that voting takes place on a work day. Voters are purged from the rolls through caging, wrongful purges, and “no match no vote.” Long waits times suppress future vote participation and discriminate against minority and lower-income voters.
Democrats should propose comprehensive pro-democracy reforms, and then explain why Republicans are blocking them.
Why don’t they? Are they afraid they’ll lose the white vote? Lower-income white voters are being deterred by these restrictions too — including, in all likelihood, the 4.6 percent of Republican voters effectively disenfranchised by voter ID laws.
Democrats who rail at Russia should be equally outraged that the United States ranks only 47th on a ranking of 139 nations for “electoral integrity.”
Reader Supported News via OpEdNews, Now the CIA Will Rescue Us From Donald Trump, John Kiriakou (shown below in a file photo), Dec. 13 2016. I’ve made a living the past several years criticizing the CIA. The Agency is easy to criticize. Its analysts have missed most of the major trends and events throughout post World War II history, as documented in Tim Weiner’s excellent book Legacy of Ashes. Its operatives have committed crimes against humanity, including torture and extraordinary rendition. And its leaders lie every time they open their mouths. “We don’t torture prisoners.” A lie. “We don’t send prisoners to third countries to be tortured.” A lie. You get the idea.
But now the CIA — indeed, the whole “intelligence community” — is telling us that the Russian government somehow hacked into “the election” or “the electoral process,” apparently with the help of Wikileaks or other hackers, for the express purpose of aiding the Donald Trump campaign. The FBI apparently has come to a variation of the same conclusion, although the Washington Post says that the FBI is more circumspect about the accusation. Still, President Obama has ordered a governmental review of the allegations. And a bipartisan group in Congress, including senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.), has announced hearings on the matter.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Russians did indeed conduct a covert action operation to influence the election in Trump’s favor. Where does that leave us? First, it means the election is (or ought to be) illegitimate. Russian intervention, coupled with the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, makes Trump look like a usurper. The Washington swells’ admonitions that we should all “pull together” for the sake of the country make them look like quislings and are just as anti-democratic as Trump’s election.
Whatever the American people decide to do in response to Russian interference, if there was Russian interference, one thing is clear — we have to be a monkey on Trump’s back every day for the remainder of his presidency. We must not let up.
Oh, and by the way — the release of the CIA report, or information from the CIA report, is an act of espionage as defined by the Obama Justice Department: “Providing national security information to any person not entitled to receive it.” I wonder who’s going to be charged with that leak. Yeah, right.
Fake News Claims
Nieman Labs, Slate’s Chrome extension helps identify fake news on Facebook — and lets readers flag it themselves, Shan Wang, Dec. 13, 2016. “This is Fake,” a project that emerged from a post-election hack day at Slate, defines “fake” news as “something intentionally misleading, intentionally false.” The politically divided, filter-bubbled United States has fake news fever, and the only prescription is…a cold dose of debunking on Facebook?
Fake news (an unwieldy term, but one that seems to have stuck) — dupes American readers on both sides of the political spectrum. And Facebook, the main vector for all these fake news ills, has suggested it’s working on products to tackle misinformation and hoaxes on its platform, including “better technical systems to detect” fake posts and labels for stories that have been flagged by the community (see Mark Zuckerberg’s post about the social network’s roadmap here).
While Zuckerberg has given no timeline for these fake news defense efforts, Slate has already built its own version of a solution (or the beginnings of a solution). This is Fake, which emerged out of a post-election hack day and was released this week, is a Chrome extension that slaps a warning label onto confirmed fake news stories and sites, and lets users who’ve authenticated it through Facebook flag suspicious posts on their own (for now, moderators from the Slate editorial staff will be reviewing these crowdsourced posts).
The tool is already loaded up with a list of problematic “news” sources, based on various guides that have floated around since the election, which the Slate staffers then culled into a working database. Some of those internet guides, such as one highly circulated list by Merrimack professor Melissa Zimdars, had, controversially, included satire sites as well as Breitbart and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. This is Fake, however, is focusing on completely fraudulent, completely fake, no-kernel-of-truth-whatsoever stories — not inflammatory opinion pieces and not, at least at launch, conspiracy theories.
“We’re taking a pretty narrow definition of what is fake — something intentionally misleading, intentionally false. [For example], the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump, that’s just a blatantly false statement,” Dan Check, Slate’s vice chairman, said. “Divining people’s intentions may be hard, but the reality is, we’re a media company, and one of the things we do all day is separate fact from fiction. This is not a new problem for our staffers. It’s a set of judgments, a set of discernments, that we hire people to make.”
(In a piece announcing the launch of This is Fake, Slate’s Will Oremus clarified further: “We also distinguish between news and conspiracy theories, which may be genuinely believed by the people who purvey them. Our database focuses on the former, although it’s worth noting that fake news stories often have their roots in conspiracy theories.”)
Washington Post, Russian envoy: Evacuation deal reached for last rebel zones in Syria’s ravaged Aleppo, Louisa Loveluck and Liz Sly, Dec. 13, 2016. A tentative deal to evacuate the last rebel-held zones in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo was reached Tuesday after reports of widespread civilian deaths spurred diplomatic efforts, a Russian envoy and rebel commanders said. Details of the deal remained unclear, however. Among the questions: whether the possible escape routes would be open to civilians, where those evacuated would be taken, and what could face rebel fighters choosing to leave.
A Western diplomat familiar with the outlines of the deal said it was brokered by Turkey and Russia and that it appeared to give people still trapped by the fighting an opportunity to leave. But he said there is widespread skepticism among the rebels’ Western allies that the agreement would be carried out.
SouthFront, Syrian Army Liberated Aleppo City, Staff report, Dec. 13, 2016. On December 12, government forces made significant advances inside the city and pushed the al-Nusra-led “opposition” to accept the withdrawal agreement. Militants will be allowed to move from the eastern Aleppo pocket to the Anadan plains. Some militant units are still remaining in the city. But they are not able to resist. The Syrian Defense Ministry will announce officially the liberation of Aleppo as soon as the rest of militants leave the area under the agreement or by force.
New York Times, ‘A Complete Meltdown of Humanity’: Civilians Die in Fight for Eastern Aleppo, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Anne Barnard, Dec. 13, 2016. Pro-government forces retaking the eastern neighborhoods of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo killed at least 82 civilians on Monday, the United Nations estimated, in what one official called “a complete meltdown of humanity.”
Monthly Review, Controlling the Narrative on Syria, Louis Allday, Dec. 13, 2016. Since 2011, the torrent of ill-informed, inaccurate and often entirely dishonest analysis of events in Syria has been unremitting. The mainstream discourse on Syria has become so toxic, detached from reality and devoid of nuance that anyone who dares to even question the constructed narrative of ongoing ‘revolution’, or opposes the arguments of those who advocate for the imposition of a no-fly zone by the West, can expect swift retribution. Such dissenters are immediately attacked, frequently slandered as ‘Assadists’ or ‘Pro-Assad’ and often accused of showing cruel indifference to the suffering of Syrians.
One of many truths lost within this discourse is the reality that the creation of a no-fly zone would, in the words of the most senior general in the US Armed Forces, mean the US going to war “against Syria and Russia.” I wish to be clear from the outset that I write this as someone who has previously lived in Syria and cherishes deeply the memories of my time there. I remain in touch with many Syrian friends, most of whom are now refugees outside of the country. So it is particularly difficult for me to swallow accusations of callousness towards the plight of Syrians and their country: nothing could be further from the truth.
President-elect Donald Trump in a promotional photo from his hit show The Apprentice, which he has since leveraged into the presidency and a taxpayer-funded network answerable to him personally
Politico, Trump to inherit state-run TV network with expanded reach, Tara Palmeri, Dec. 12, 2016. A provision tucked into the defense bill guts the Voice of America board, stoking fears that Trump could wield a powerful propaganda arm. President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit a newly empowered Voice of America that some officials fear could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for the former reality TV star who has flirted for years with launching his own network.
Buried on page 1,404 of the National Defense Authorization Act that passed last week is a provision that would disband the bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent U.S. agency that includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks. The move — pushed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce as a way to streamline the agency — concentrates control into a powerful CEO who is appointed by the president.
That change, combined with a 2013 legislative revision that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience, which was once banned, could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity. Essentially, Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year. And some of the few people in the know aren’t happy about it.
“Congress unwittingly just gave President-elect Trump unchecked control of all U.S. media outlets,” said Michael Kempner, a Democratic member of the board who was appointed by President Barack Obama and was a Hillary Clinton donor. “No president, either Democrat or Republican, should have that kind of control. It’s a public jewel. Its independence is what makes it so credible.”
Melania Trump Presses Libel Lawsuit Against Withdrawn Claim She Was An Escort
Washington Post, Incoming first lady Melania Trump appears in Maryland county courtroom, Dan Morse, Dec. 12, 2016. Incoming first lady Melania Trump appeared in a Maryland courtroom Monday for a scheduling conference as legal proceedings geared up in her defamation suit against a Montgomery County blogger and a British tabloid. “Mrs. Trump was not required to attend the court conference but chose to do so to meet the judge, meet opposing counsel and show her commitment to the case,” said her attorney, Charles J. Harder.
He said Trump (shown in her Twitter photo) “looks forward to seeing the case to a successful conclusion.” The 24-minute hearing covered standard scheduling matters for civil litigation. The hearing was held in a regular courtroom. Deputies from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, who are charged with security at the courthouse in downtown Rockville, were present, as were members of the Secret Service. Trump arrived and departed without using a public entrance, which is not uncommon for high-profile plaintiffs or defendants.
Montgomery Circuit Judge Sharon Burrell scheduled trial for Nov. 6 through 22, 2017. Trump did not speak other than to politely respond to Burrell’s greeting.
On Sept. 1, in Montgomery Court, Trump sued blogger Webster Tarpley, 70, and the Daily Mail for defamation. Her attorneys cited published allegations, including those made in Tarpley’s blog post, according to court records.
In the lawsuit, Trump alleged Tarpley and the Daily Mail had published false assertions that, earlier in her life, she had worked as a high-end escort. Both publications retracted their stories. [There has been no report of her suing publications such as the Murdoch-owned New York Post that printed during the campaign nude photos of her, including in sexual poses as portrayed on a Post front page that were taken during her modeling career.]
Tarpley (shown in a file photo) has said that he did not libel Melania Trump, and was passing on “unfounded rumors and innuendo” that had appeared on the Internet. None of the claims or defenses were discussed at Monday’s hearing. The blogger was not there. Attorneys for him and for the Daily Mail were present.
Trump has said that as first lady she would focus on the damage done by cyberbullying, particularly of children.
More Presidential Deference To CIA, Torture
President Obama with CIA Director John O. Brennan in 2012. At the White House then, Brennan managed the “kill lists” for drone strikes. White House Photo.
Politico, Obama won’t declassify Senate ‘torture report’ now, but will preserve it, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 12, 2016. President Barack Obama has moved to preserve a Senate report on harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA during the war on terror, but he’s passed up options that could have led to declassification of broad swaths of the review in the near future. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), other lawmakers, and human rights and transparency advocates have been pressing Obama to declassify the nearly 7,000-page unabridged version of the Senate Intelligence Committee “torture report,” or to have it declared an official record of one of the agencies that has a copy.
Obama decided instead to place the report in his official presidential records, according to a letter White House Counsel Neil Eggleston sent to Feinstein on Friday. That means the full-length report will be subject to public requests in 2029, which would trigger a declassification process at that time.
New York Times, The Tainted Election, Editorial board, Dec. 12, 2106. The C.I.A., according to the Washington Post, has now determined that hackers working for the Russian government worked to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump (shown in a file photo by Gage Skidmore). This has actually been obvious for months, but the agency was reluctant to state that conclusion before the election out of fear that it would be seen as taking a political role. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. went public 10 days before the election, dominating headlines and TV coverage across the country with a letter strongly implying that it might be about to find damning new evidence against Hillary Clinton — when it turned out, literally, to have found nothing at all.
Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?
And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004. So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.
The question now is what to do with that horrifying knowledge in the months and years ahead. One could, I suppose, appeal to the president-elect to act as a healer, to conduct himself in a way that respects the majority of Americans who voted against him and the fragility of his Electoral College victory. Yeah, right. What we’re actually getting are wild claims that millions of people voted illegally, false assertions of a landslide, and denigration of the intelligence agencies.
Consortium News, US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), Dec. 12, 2016. As the hysteria about Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election grows, a key mystery is why U.S. intelligence would rely on “circumstantial evidence” when it has the capability for hard evidence, say U.S. intelligence veterans. From the VIPS Steering Group: William Binney, Mike Gravel, Larry Johnson, Ray McGovern (shown in a file photo), Elizabeth Murray, Kirk Wiebe:
A New York Times report on Monday alluding to “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” leading the CIA to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin “deployed computer hackers with the goal of tipping the election to Donald J. Trump” is, sadly, evidence-free.
This is no surprise, because harder evidence of a technical nature points to an inside leak, not hacking – by Russians or anyone else. Monday’s Washington Post reports that Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has joined other senators in calling for a bipartisan investigation of suspected cyber-intrusion by Russia. Reading our short memo could save the Senate from endemic partisanship, expense and unnecessary delay.
In what follows, we draw on decades of senior-level experience – with emphasis on cyber-intelligence and security – to cut through uninformed, largely partisan fog. Far from hiding behind anonymity, we are proud to speak out with the hope of gaining an audience appropriate to what we merit – given our long labors in government and other areas of technology. And corny though it may sound these days, our ethos as intelligence professionals remains, simply, to tell it like it is – without fear or favor.
We have gone through the various claims about hacking. For us, it is child’s play to dismiss them. The email disclosures in question are the result of a leak, not a hack. Here’s the difference between leaking and hacking:
Leak: When someone physically takes data out of an organization and gives it to some other person or organization, as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did.
Hack: When someone in a remote location electronically penetrates operating systems, firewalls or any other cyber-protection system and then extracts data.
All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.
As for the comments to the media as to what the CIA believes, the reality is that CIA is almost totally dependent on NSA for ground truth in the communications arena. Thus, it remains something of a mystery why the media is being fed strange stories about hacking that have no basis in fact. In sum, given what we know of NSA’s existing capabilities, it beggars belief that NSA would be unable to identify anyone – Russian or not – attempting to interfere in a U.S. election by hacking.
Washington Post, Bolton makes extraordinary claim that hacking may be a ‘false flag’ by Obama administration, Derek Hawkins, Dec. 12, 2016. John Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador reportedly being considered for deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration, said Sunday that reports of Russian interference in the presidential election may be a “false flag” conjured up by the Obama administration.
In an interview with Eric Shawn of Fox News, Bolton claimed the Obama administration had “politicized” intelligence and suggested there may have been a hidden motive behind the CIA’s finding that Russians hacked computer networks belonging to the Democratic and Republican national committees. He questioned why the FBI did not uncover similar evidence of meddling by foreign intelligence services when it investigated Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Politico, Judge issues order to preserve White House official’s private email, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 12, 2016. A federal judge has ordered the top science policy official at the White House to preserve all of his emails from a private account while a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the messages proceeds. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler issued the order Monday, requiring Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren to load a thumb drive with all archived messages (including messages marked as deleted) from an account provided by his former employer, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
The judge’s unusual and perhaps unprecedented order came in litigation that raises many of the same issues as the plethora of lawsuits over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The case involving Holdren was brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2014, after the group learned that he was conducting some official business on his Woods Hole account. Most White House offices are beyond the reach of FOIA, but the Office of Science and Technology is one of a few with duties assigned by statute that are covered by the access law.
Huffington Post, Donald Trump Names Rex Tillerson Secretary Of State, Paige Lavender, President-elect Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he’s chosen Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (shown in file photo) as his secretary of state. “Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies,” Trump said in a statement. “His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State.”
Trump had tweeted Monday that he would make an official announcement about his choice on Tuesday morning. The Associated Press and The New York Times had earlier reported that Tillerson was Trump’s pick.
On Capitol Hill
The Hill, Senate fails to confirm FCC commissioner after lengthy battle, Ali Breland, Dec. 12, 2016. Jessica Rosenworcel will be forced step down from her post as commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission after Congress finished its last legislative session of the year on Saturday without confirming her.
Rosenworcel, who is a Democrat (and shown in an official photo), will step down in January when her term ends. Congress’s inaction will leave the commission’s panel in a partisan stalemate with two Republican commissioners — Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly — and two Democratic commissioners — Chairman Tom Wheeler and Mignon Clyburn — until the Senate confirms a a new commissioner, likely a Republican.
In a last-ditch effort last Thursday, Wheeler offered to step down in exchange for a Rosenworcel confirmation after he avoided a direct answer on his intentions to remain or depart from the panel after President-elect Donald Trump’s victory. Wheeler will almost certainly lose his chairmanship after Trump takes office in January. He has not indicated if he will stay on the panel as a commissioner until his term ends in 2018. Jeffrey Eisenach, Trump’s FCC landing team adviser, said last week that a Republican commissioner will take over for Wheeler as chairman. Many expect Pai to edge out O’Rielly for the position.
Lawmakers had been working on Rosenworcel’s confirmation for more than a year. Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said her confirmation was supposed to be part of an agreement struck in 2015 to jointly confirm both a Republican and a Democrat at the same time. O’Rielly received confirmation, but Rosenworcel did not.
Around the Nation
Detroit News, Detroit’s voting irregularities spur state audit, Jonathan Oosting, Dec. 12, 2016. Voting irregularities in Detroit have spurred plans for an audit by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, Elections Director Chris Thomas said Monday. State officials are planning examine about 20 Detroit precincts where ballot boxes opened during the recount had fewer ballots than poll workers had recorded on Election Day.
“We’re assuming there were (human) errors, and we will have discussions with Detroit election officials and staff in addition to reviewing the ballots,” Thomas said. The Detroit precincts are among those that couldn’t be counted during a statewide presidential recount that began last week and ended Friday following a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court.
The recount problems were the worst in Detroit, where discrepancies meant officials couldn’t recount votes in 392 of the city’s 662 precincts, or nearly 60 percent. State law that bars recounts for unbalanced precincts or ones with broken seals. Democrat Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly prevailed in Detroit and Wayne County. But Republican President-elect Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes, or 47.5 percent to 47.3 percent.
Philadelphia Inquirer via Roll Call, Chaka Fattah Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison, Staff and wire reports, Dec. 12, 2016. Former Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on Monday following a corruption trial that centered around a failed bid for mayor of Philadelphia.
Prosecutors had asked Philadelphia federal Judge Harvey Bartle to sentence Fattah to 17 to 22 years, but defense attorneys called the recommendation “unnecessarily harsh.” Fattah, 60, had been charged in a 29-count indictment with racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud as part of a probe launched by the IRS and FBI in March 2013. The case centered around a $1 million campaign loan to a 2007 mayoral bid that prosecutors said was paid back illegally.
Washington Post, Trump draws rebuke after saying U.S. isn’t bound by One China policy, Emily Rauhala, Dec. 12, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump is talking about Taiwan again — and nobody, it seems, is pleased about his comments on the nearly four-decade-old basis of U.S.-China relations. In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump said the United States would not necessarily be bound by the One China policy, the diplomatic understanding that underpins ties between Washington and Beijing, unless it could “make a deal,” potentially on trade between the two countries.
The remark elicited an angry response from Beijing, with the Foreign Ministry expressing “serious concern” and a party-controlled newspaper calling the president-elect “as ignorant as a child.” By appearing to treat Taiwan as just a bargaining chip for trade deals, he may also have irked Taipei, experts said. The comment came less than two weeks after the president-elect made headlines by taking a phone call from Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, a surprise move that was interpreted by some of as a high-stakes slip-up and by others as an overdue show of support for a democratic friend.
Trump’s latest foray into East Asian affairs came when he was asked by Fox News about the planning for the Dec. 2 call. He said he learned about the call “an hour or two” before it took place but said he understood the stakes.
SouthFront, Russia To Do ‘Everything’ To Take Back Palmyra From ISIS – Deputy FM, Staff report, Dec. 12, 2016. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said Russia will do all what is possible to take back Palmyra from terrorists. “We consider the liberation of Palmyra to be a very important result of our joint actions. Obviously, we will do everything to prevent terrorists from returning to these areas,” he said.
On December 11, ISIS terrorists seized the ancient city of Palmyra from the Syrian army as result of a four-day-long offensive operation. Syrian government forces, supported by the Russian Aerospace Forces, liberated Palmyra from ISIS for the first time in March, 2016.
Moon of Alabama, MSM Create #Fakenews Storm As Rebel Aleppo Vanishes, Editor (anonymous), Dec. 13, 2016. I have not ever experienced a #fakenews onslaught as today. Every mainstream media and agency seems to have lost all inhibitions and is reporting any rumor claim regarding the liberation of east Aleppo as fact.
Consider this BBC headline and opener: “Aleppo battle: UN says 82 civilians shot on the spot….Syrian pro-government forces have been entering homes in eastern Aleppo and killing those inside, including women and children, the UN says. The UN’s human rights office said it had reliable evidence that in four areas 82 civilians were shot on sight.”
1. A UN human rights office does not exist. What the BBC means is the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). That commissioner is the Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a Hashemite educated in the UK and U.S. and a relative of the Jordanian dictator-king. That is relevant to note as Jordan is heavily involved in the supporting the “rebels” against the Syrian government.
2. The office has not “said” that “82 civilians were shot” or other such gruesome stuff. It said that there were “sources” that have “reports” that such happened.
Washington Post, Trump dismisses CIA conclusion about Russia’s role in election as ‘ridiculous,’ Elise Viebeck, Dec. 11, 2016. On his first Sunday show since the election, he was dismissive of the daily intelligence briefing: “I get it when I need it.”
President-elect Donald Trump said he does not believe the CIA’s conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to help him win, attributing the assessment to Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton and claiming repeatedly that the U.S. intelligence community has “no idea” what might have happened. “I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” his first Sunday show appearance since the election last month. “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.”
Trump also denied the importance of receiving the daily intelligence briefing, a tradition for presidents and presidents-elect. He has received the briefings only sporadically since winning the election.
CraigMurray.com, The CIA’s Absence of Conviction, Craig Murray, Dec. 11, 2016. Author and human rights activist Craig Murray is a former British diplomat. I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also.
A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition. We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt.
As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two. And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened.
The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia,” while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.
It is terrible that the prime conduit for this paranoid nonsense is a once great newspaper, the Washington Post, which far from investigating executive power, now is a sounding board for totally evidence-free anonymous source briefing of utter bullshit from the executive.
Now both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.
The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.
WhoWhatWhy, Making Sure That Only the Right People Vote, Hint: It Helps to Be White, Donkey Hotay, Dec. 12, 2016. When the demographics of the US electorate began to turn against Republicans, it appeared as though they only had two options: Adapt their policies to appeal to minorities and young people, or stay the course and risk slowly fading into irrelevance. Unwilling to change their policies and unable to change the country’s demographics, the GOP instead chose a third option: Alter who can vote.
That’s why, once they gained full control of a state, Republicans quickly moved to consolidate their power. They gerrymandered congressional districts and passed laws that would make it more difficult for likely Democrats to vote. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 with its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, it removed one of the last remaining obstacles that stood between the GOP and the ability to pick an electorate more to its liking.
State Republicans immediately went to work and passed laws across the country to make that happen. Soon, we will see what it looks like when that plan goes national. With Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans in control of Congress, Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and Kris Kobach (the architect of various voter suppression efforts) in the transition team, chances are the GOP will soon come up with another scheme to keep minorities on the sidelines on Election Day.
TruthDig, Demagogue-in-Chief, Chris Hedges, Dec.11, 2016. I have covered numerous demagogues as a foreign correspondent, including the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the Syrian dictator Hafez Assad of Syria, as well as Erich Honecker of the former East Germany, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. They had different idiosyncrasies and styles. Gadhafi and Ceausescu loved the spectacle and pomp that come with power. Milosevic and Assad spent long periods out of the spotlight. But all had patterns of behavior exhibited by Trump.
A chilling view of things to come, from the gilded glory of Trump Tower to the silencing of oppositional voices through thuggery, as in the case of Megyn Kelly; I listened to Terry Gross’ interview with Kelly, last week, as she expressed her fear for both herself and her family in the face of Trump’s threats. [National Public Radio / Fresh Air With Terry Gross via KDLG-FM, Megyn Kelly On Trump And The Media: ‘We’re In A Dangerous Phase Right Now,’ Interview by Dave Davies, Dec. 7, 2016.]
As Donald Trump continues to court controversy via Twitter, Fox News host Megyn Kelly [says] that the president-elect “really does need to be aware of the power that he has when he releases these tweets.”
When [the host] asked Kelly about the “alt-right” figures gathered around Trump, including Steve Bannon, Kelly was unequivocal. “They will come after you,” she said. “They will target you. And they will be relentless about it.”
Washington Post, New push to replace Obamacare reignites old GOP tensions, Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell, Dec. 11, 2016. Republicans on Capitol Hill are already laying the groundwork for a rapid repeal of President Obama’s signature health-care law beginning on the first day of the new Congress, before President-elect Donald Trump is even sworn in.
Strategic Culture Foundation, The Coming Fracture of Saudi Arabia, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 11, 2016. The Bible’s Book of Galatians, VI, teaches, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And for Saudi Arabia, which has overtly and covertly supported rebellions in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia, Philippines, and Lebanon that have led to civil wars and inter-religious strife, the day of reckoning may soon be at hand.
The present Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz (shown in a 2013 photo), is the last of the sons of the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz al Saud, who will ever sit on the Saudi throne. After Salman dies Saudi leadership will pass to a new generation of Saudi royals.
But not all the descendants of the first Saudi king are happy about how the future succession may turn out.
Around the Nation
New York Post, New JFK assassination theory: Cuban double agent led plot, Joshua Rhett Miller, Nov. 11, 2016. More than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, new evidence uncovered in the secret diaries of a Cold War spy and assassin implicates another clandestine figure believed to be working as a double agent for Cuba, an explosive new book claims.
The never-before-revealed diaries of Douglas DeWitt Bazata, a decorated officer for the United States Office of Strategic Services — the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency — claim that his longtime close friend and fellow spy, René Alexander Dussaq, was a “primary organizer and plotter” of Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. The diaries reveal that Dussaq might even have fired the fatal “shot or shots” that killed the 35th president of the United States, according to author Robert K. Wilcox’s latest book, Target: JFK, The Spy Who Killed Kennedy?, which goes on sale Nov. 14. JIP Editor’s note: This mention of publication does not imply endorsement of the book’s thesis.
Washington Post, Omarosa Manigault works to build bridges for her former ‘Apprentice’ boss, Abby Phillip and Lisa Rein, Dec. 10, 2016. One of Donald Trump’s most loyal backers, reality TV star Omarosa Manigault, is playing a significant role in Trump’s transition, potentially setting her up for a post in the White House. Manigault has emerged as Trump’s emissary to a broad array of interest groups inside and outside Washington on issues of diversity, political outreach and hiring for his nascent administration.
Manigault recently met with veterans groups in Washington. Last weekend, she flew to Atlanta to address an annual meeting of presidents of the country’s historically black colleges. At the events, she signaled her growing role in Trump’s transition as a senior adviser leading the Office of Nationwide Engagement. She is said to have an open line of communication with the president-elect, with whom she developed a close relationship after becoming the breakout star of the first season of “The Apprentice.”
In a brief interview, Manigault said that she speaks with Trump regularly and that her mandate is to prioritize diversity in the transition.
CIA v. Russia and Trump?
Washington Post, Potential showdown looms between Trump, CIA, David Nakamura and Greg Miller, Dec. 10, 2016. The simmering distrust between the president-elect and intelligence agencies escalated into open antagonism after he mocked a report that Russian operatives intervened to help him win the election.
Intercept, Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence, Glenn Greenwald, Dec. 10, 2016. The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.
These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.
A second leak from last night, this one given to the New York Times, cites other anonymous officials as asserting that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” But that NYT story says that “it is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.”
Deep down in its article, the Post notes — rather critically — that “there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.” Most importantly, the Post adds that “intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.” But the purpose of both anonymous leaks is to finger the Russian government for these hacks, acting with the motive to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Huffington Post, Opinion: Russian Interference Could Give Courts Legal Authority To Install Clinton, Alex Mohajer, Dec. 10, 2016. As of December 9, Clinton has won the national popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. According to Cook Political Report, the vote count has Clinton approaching 66 million votes, meaning the first female major-party nominee has already earned more votes than any other presidential candidate in history, second only to Barack Obama (the totals suggest she is on course to surpass the president’s 2012 count, as well).
In light of late-breaking reports Friday evening that Russians interfered with the 2016 presidential election to assist Donald Trump’s victory, Clinton supporters are furiously in pursuit of remedies.
At 10:45 p.m. Friday evening, the Washington Post broke an explosive story alleging that Russians had interfered with the 2016 presidential election in order to assist Donald Trump in a victory over democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The story reveals that a CIA assessment detailing this conclusion had been presented to President Obama and top congressional leaders last week.
The development has Clinton supporters and other concerned Americans confused and hot in pursuit of potential remedies. No clear constitutional remedy exists to halt the certification of the outcome. Article II of the U.S. Constitution vests Congress with the power to determine the date by which the Electoral College will cast their votes, presently set for December 19. In recent weeks, a massive online movement asking members of the Electoral College to become “faithless” or “conscientious” electors and to vote for Clinton instead of Trump has garnered national attention.
The electors would be well within their constitutional authority to do so, say groups like Hamilton’s Electors, which claims that the purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent demagogues like Mr. Trump from assuming the nation’s highest office. A petition urging the Electoral College to make Hillary Clinton president has gained nearly 5 million signatures.
Proponents of this strategy are concerned, with good reason, about the likelihood it will succeed. With Donald Trump having won 306 Electoral College votes, 37 Republican electors would need to switch their votes to Clinton, a tall order, and in the event that no one candidate has 270 electoral votes, the decision would go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Fake News Flare-ups
Hillary Clinton (Gage Skidmore Photo)
New York Times, Dissecting the #PizzaGate Conspiracy Theories, Gregor Aisch, Jon Huang and Ceclia Kang, Dec. 10, 2016. In the span of a few weeks, a false rumor that Hillary Clinton and her top aides were involved in various crimes snowballed into a wild conspiracy theory that they were running a child-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizza parlor. The fast evolution of the false theory revealed how a powerful mix of fake news and social media led an armed North Carolina man to investigate the rumors about the pizza place, Comet Ping Pong, last Sunday. How the #PizzaGate conspiracy theory evolved
1 WikiLeaks began releasing emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, a month before the election.
2 Social media users on a popular Reddit forum dedicated to Donald J. Trump and 4chan’s far-right fringe message board searched the releases for evidence of wrongdoing.
3 Within the emails were discussions that include the word pizza, including dinner plans between Mr. Podesta and his lobbyist brother, Tony Podesta.
4 A participant on 4chan connected the phrase “cheese pizza” to pedophiles, who on chat boards use the initials “c.p.” to denote child pornography.
5 Following the use of “pizza,” theorists focused on the Washington pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong. The WikiLeaks emails revealed that John Podesta corresponded with Comet’s owner, James Alefantis, who had connections to Democratic operatives.
6 The theory started snowballing, taking on the meme #PizzaGate. Fake news articles emerged and were spread on Twitter and Facebook.
7 The false stories swept up neighboring businesses and bands that had played at Comet. Theories about kill rooms, underground tunnels, satanism and even cannibalism emerged in fabricated stories and on social media.
8 On Dec. 4, Edgar M. Welch, a 28-year-old from North Carolina, arrived at Comet with a military-style rifle and a handgun. The police said he fired the rifle inside the pizzeria, hurting no one, and surrendered after finding no evidence to support claims of child slaves being held there.
9 The shooting did not put the theory to rest. Purveyors of the theory and fake news pointed to the mainstream media as conspirators of a coverup to protect what they said was a crime ring.
The conspiracy theory took the internet by storm. YouTube clips pushed the false story, racking up hundreds of thousands of views. Tens of thousands of individuals subscribed to message boards, feeding into theories with fake news reports and crowd-driven detective work. The police refuted the claims of an online pedophile ring running out of Comet Ping Pong, but the theories continued. Here are eight that gave #PizzaGate momentum.
WhoWhatWhy, June 25, 2013 — The Day Republicans Won the Election, WhoWhatWhy Staff, Dec. 10, 2016. With its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court opened the door for state lawmakers who wanted to turn back the clock and return to a time when race played a role in who could vote.
November 8 will go down in history as the day on which Donald Trump won the presidency and Republicans held the Senate by fighting off Democratic challengers in several close races. A key foundation for that victory, however, was laid more than three years earlier — on June 25, 2013. On that day, the Supreme Court handed the GOP a tool that allowed it to turn back the clock to a time when racism was OK.
The nation’s highest court decided that “preclearance,” the provision requiring the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to election laws in states with a history of discrimination, was no longer needed. They were quickly proven wrong.
Washington Post, The Women’s March on Washington says it has a starting location, Perry Stein, Dec. 10, 2016. The demonstration, scheduled the day after the Jan. 20 inauguration and expected to attract hundreds of thousands of participants, plans to begin its rally in front of the Capitol. The March plans to start its rally at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW, in front of the Capitol. From there, demonstrators will march west along Independence, although organizers said that they have yet to determine an official route.
Related news: 18MillionRising.org and allied activists will present petition with 50,000 signatures to Justice Department demanding investigation of “Interstate Crosscheck” after a news conference at the National Press Club at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 12 in Washington, DC. Speaking will be 18MillionRising.org digital campaigner Oanh-Nhi Nguyen; Muslim American activist Sameera Khan; voting rights attorney Barbara Arnwine; Rolling Stone investigative reporter Greg Palast; civil rights legend Ruby Sales, and Prof. Wilmer Leon of Howard University. They are demanding an investigation of “Crosscheck,” the racially biased mass vote suppression tactic they say affected the 2016 vote count.
SouthFront, Since Today Morning 1,217 Militants Surrendered To Govt Forces In Aleppo, Staff report, Dec. 10, 2016. Up to 50,000 civilians have been evacuated from eastern Aleppo over the past 48 hours, spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov announced on Saturday. “The Russian Center for Reconciliation, through humanitarian corridors near Karim El-Hun and Mahayar, has organized the evacuation of civilians from the eastern parts of Aleppo to the safe areas of the city,” he said.
Konashenkov added that 1,217 militants surrendered to government forces and over 20,000 residents left eastern Aleppo in the first part of Saturday.
“We are warning terrorists and so-called moderate opposition militants and we are addressing their patrons, to not provoke the situation, to not open fire on civilians leaving though the humanitarian corridors,” Konashenkov said. Earlier on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that there was a “continuous flow” of people fleeing the militan-held area of Aleppo to the government controlled part of the city.
Related news: SouthFront, Turkey Deployed Some 9,000-Strong Force To Seize Al-Bab In Syria’s Aleppo Province.
BBC, Islamic State fighters re-enter ancient Palmyra in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 10, 2016. Monitoring groups say militants and pro-government forces fought fiercely in the centre of Palmyra. An activist there told the BBC that the city was now “more or less” in IS hands. Reports from Palmyra say about 50 Syrian troops were killed and there was an unconfirmed report that the rest were fleeing.
IS held Palmyra and its nearby ruins for 10 months before it was recaptured by Syrian government forces in March. But the jihadist group launched an offensive earlier this week. Syrian government forces were backed by the Russian military when they recaptured Palmyra and its famed ancient Roman ruins from IS. The two militaries have since turned their attention to fighting local opposition forces in Aleppo and Damascus.
Washington Post, More Special Operations forces are headed to Syria, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Dec. 10, 2016. Here’s what they’re going to do. As Syrian forces push toward the Islamic State’s de-facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced Saturday that additional U.S. Special Operations forces will head into the country to help the fledgling offensive.
Washington Post, Trump’s generals, hardened by war, see militant Islam, Iran as dire dangers, Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller, Dec. 9, 2016. Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House. President-elect Donald Trump is assembling a national security team dominated by retired generals who share a deep distrust of Iran and have characterized the threat of militant Islam in far more dire terms than Obama administration officials and intelligence assessments.
The trio of ex-generals represents an emerging core of the Trump administration that is at odds with President Obama’s efforts to convince the American public that — 15 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — terrorism continues to pose a persistent threat to the nation, but not an existential one. The generals’ views also cut against the grain of U.S. policies seeking to empower moderates in Iran and of U.S. intelligence assessments that terrorism no longer stands alone atop the rankings of global security threats now crowded by concerns about cyberattacks and renewed aggression by China and Russia.
Their views, though far from uniform, have been heavily influenced over the past 15 years by intensely personal battlefield losses, the country’s waning attention to the wars and an up-close view of a ruthless enemy. Those experiences could lead retired Gens. Michael T. Flynn, James N. Mattis (shown in an official photo) and John F. Kelly to urge caution in Trump administration debates about the use of force. But former colleagues and experts said the generals are also more likely, by virtue of their training and experience, to see malign intent or view the world as a struggle between good and evil.
Washington Post, Obama orders review of Russian hacking during elections, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, Dec. 9, 2016. President Obama said he wanted the report before he left office, according to homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, who did not commit to making the report public. In October, the intelligence community accused Moscow of seeking to interfere in the election through the hacking of “political organizations.”
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter. Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign. Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking. “I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said in a television interview that the “Russian government is not the source.”
Washington Post, CIA report leaves GOP leaders facing an impossible choice, Aaron Blake, Dec. 9, 2016. By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Donald Trump’s favor, Republicans risk raising questions.
WhoWhatWhy, Dark View From Flyover Country, Jeff Shectman, Dec. 9, 2016 (Podcast interview of Sarah Kendzior). Sarah Kendzior lives and writes in the heartland of America, and from what she has observed, the country is about to explode. The journalist tells WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman that the election of Donald Trump is but the opening act. Racism, white supremacy and violence are all bubbling very close to the surface, and scapegoating will add fuel to the fire. She’s written extensively on the subjects of race and class and America’s role in the world. She recently published a book of her essays entitled: The View from Flyover Country and she writes a regular column for the Globe and Mail.
Not only have stores and plants closed, but locally based journalism has all but disappeared. In the resulting information vacuum the influence of inflammatory cable and right-wing national media as well as fake news is huge. As a close observer of Trump Country, Kendzior paints a grim and almost hopeless picture of where the nation as a whole is going. She also noted that one of the issues this election has revealed is the growing distrust of institutions, such as the FBI. Regular WhoWhatWhy readers know that we cover the Bureau extensively – and that there is much to be distrustful about. Excerpts from interview:
I went through a lot of Trump rallies and a lot of tea party Trump meetings in Missouri and also in Illinois throughout the year. I didn’t go as a journalist, I went as a member of the crowd and people would talk to me pretty openly because they thought I was a fellow Trump supporter. One thing that needs to be clear is that this is not a monolithic group of people. There are some people who really are very bigoted, who are anti-immigrant, who are racist; all of that is there. There are others that are just very desperate. They feel like their needs have not been addressed by the Democratic Party, by Obama and often by the GOP as well. I think that this is completely accurate. Since 2008, it’s been a struggle to live out here and to make ends meet.
I think that we’re at a point where people feel so desperate and so enraged that they are willing to listen to anybody who is very actively stating that he’s concerned for their welfare, that he’s going to return their lives back to when it was good, especially that they would have steady jobs and work again and the feeling of safety and inclusion in American life. That feeling is very understandable.
Donald Trump is not going to do that. He doesn’t actually understand or care about people in this part of the country. He’s had his whole life as a billionaire of major influence and political influence to care about what happens to people out here and all he’s done is shake people down. He’s done that all over the place; everywhere from Atlantic City to Gary Indiana.
He’s about to shake down the entire country in a very kleptocratic way. I think by privatizing resources, by not bringing jobs, by making people feel more desperate – and that kind of desperation can lead to ethnic violence and can lead to hate crimes, especially when you’re being prompted towards those hate crimes explicitly by the administration.
Center for Public Integrity, Donald Trump rewarding million-dollar donors with plum postings, Michael Beckel and Dave Levinthal, Dec. 9, 2016. Ultra-rich loyalists populating president-elect’s administration, transition team. Donald Trump routinely blasts his political foes for “pay-to-play” politics and “crony capitalism and corruption.” But Trump is now rewarding some of his biggest campaign bankrollers with unparalleled access, influence, prestige and power in his presidential administration-in-waiting, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of new campaign finance disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.
In all, 18 ultra-wealthy Americans — the majority are billionaires whose fortunes are greatly affected by government decisions — contributed at least $1 million to the Republican’s presidential campaign and political efforts supporting Trump’s bid, the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis shows.
At least one person on this list, former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, is slated to serve in Trump’s Cabinet: Trump this week tapped McMahon to lead the federal government’s Small Business Administration. In addition to spending $6.2 million to support Trump’s presidential effort, she and husband Vince McMahon have together donated millions of dollars to Trump’s scandal-plagued charitable foundation.
Washington Post, Donald Trump is actually a fascist, Michael Kinsley, Dec. 9, 2016. When you call somebody a fascist, you can mean any number of things. Often, it means no more than “somebody I don’t like.” It is an all-purpose epithet, usable by anyone against everyone from university deans to Fox News anchors. All this seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world.
Global Research, Constitutional Crisis, Movement to Undermine President-elect Donald Trump’s Accession to the White House? Michel Chossudovsky, Dec. 9, 2016. Author’s note: This article does not constitute an endorsement of Donald Trump. Quite the opposite. The focus is on an unfolding constitutional crisis.
While Trump has put together a right wing cabinet of “reactionaries” which largely conforms to the mainstay of the Republican Party, the bi-partisan “entente cordiale” is in crisis. The powerful corporate interests which supported the Clinton candidacy remain intent upon undermining Trump’s accession to the White House.
Global capitalism is by no means monolithic. What is at stake are fundamental rivalries within the US establishment marked by the clash between competing corporate factions, each of which is intent upon exerting control over the incoming US presidency. In this regard, Trump is not entirely in the pocket of the lobby groups. As a member of the establishment, he has his own corporate sponsors. His stated foreign policy agenda — including his commitment to revise Washington’s relationship with Moscow — does not fully conform with the interests of the defence contractors.
In contrast, Hillary takes her instructions from a panoply of corporate lobby groups including the defence establishment, the oil conglomerates, Wall Street hedge funds, etc. not to mention Monsanto-Bayer, which has generously funded her election campaign.
A carefully coordinated operation is ongoing. The propaganda ploy emanating from the outgoing Obama government and the pro-Clinton faction of the corporate media consists in relentlessly accusing Moscow of having interfered in the election campaign on behalf of Donald Trump. This initiative is supported by major corporate lobby groups (including defence contractors and oil conglomerates) which are behind Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy agenda.
The underlying project to disrupt the Trump presidency consists of several coordinated and interrelated processes including:
• The media smear campaign against Trump,
• The engineered anti-Trump protest movement across the US, coordinated with media coverage, petitions, with the objective to disrupt;
• The vote recount in three swing states,
• Passing of H.R 6393: Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. It includes a section against “pro-Moscow independent media,” in response to Moscow’s alleged election interference;
• The Electoral College Vote on December 19, which includes a process of co-optation of Republican Electors with a view to triggering Hillary Clinton’s accession to the White House.
• If the Electoral College Vote fails to prevent Trump’s election, continued protests and media smears against Trump would take place in the months following his accession to the White House.
• The disruption of the January 20, 2017 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony is also envisaged; and
• The possibility of an impeachment procedure could be contemplated during the first year of his mandate.
Washington Post, Trump’s pick for White House counsel is wrong for the job, Ellen L. Weintraub, Dec. 9, 2016. Donald McGahn obstructed probes of campaign-finance wrongdoing for four years at the Federal Election Commission.
Washington Post, None of the inauguration protests have their proper permits yet. Here’s why, Perry Stein, Dec. 9, 2016. Until the inauguration planners figure out their plans, demonstrators will not get permits. Groups seeking to protest in the nation’s capital on the day of — and the days around — the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump say they are being kept in limbo because officials have yet to issue permits for demonstrations.
About 20 groups — including the Women’s March on Washington, People’s Action and the ANSWER Coalition — have applied to demonstrate on federal property around the Jan. 20 event. But the National Park Service, which handles permitting, said it does not grant any requests until the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which plans the parade and other events to usher in the new president, maps out where it will hold inauguration-related activities.
Huffington Post, Top House Republican Unveils Plan To Gut Social Security, Daniel Marans, Dec. 9, 2016. A Texas congressman’s bill violates Donald Trump’s promise to protect the program. President-elect Donald Trump distinguished himself on the campaign trail as the rare Republican candidate promising not to cut Social Security and Medicare. But Republicans in Congress have other plans for the two popular social insurance programs ― and they are wasting no time rolling them out.
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security, released a plan Thursday to reform Social Security that would drastically reduce benefits. The bill would make the program less of a universal earned benefit and more of a means-tested safety net that aims only to provide basic support to the poorest retirees and disabled workers. In order to close Social Security’s long-term funding gap, Johnson would make Social Security’s benefit formula less generous for all but the lowest earners, rapidly raise the retirement age and reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment, among other changes designed to save money.
Johnson also proposes changes that would cost the program money, like an increased minimum benefit for the poorest retirees ― provided they have a long history of covered employment ― and the elimination of income taxes on Social Security.
Huffington Post, Rudy Giuliani Won’t Be Trump’s Secretary Of State, Staff report, Dec. 9, 2016. Remaining contenders for secretary of state include Mitt Romney and an Exxon Mobil CEO. Updated 24 minutes ago Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Friday he had removed his name from consideration for a position in Donald Trump’s new administration as the president-elect narrows the field of people he is considering for secretary of state.
Giuliani’s withdrawal from consideration came after Trump made clear that he was broadening his search for a secretary of state beyond the four finalists transition aides had identified: Giuliani (shown in an official photo with flag), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former CIA head David Petraeus and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
In recent days, Trump has expanded his search for a secretary of state to include additional lawmakers and corporate executives, such as Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil Corp and Alan Mulally, a former executive at Ford Motor Co and Boeing Co.
The Wall Street Journal, citing two transition team officials, said Tillerson (shown in a company photo) had emerged on Friday as the leading candidate for the State Department job. It said some Trump advisers saw Tillerson as a mold-breaking pick who would bring an executive’s experience to the post of top U.S. diplomat. Giuliani, speaking to Fox News, said he had actually sent a letter withdrawing himself from consideration back on Nov. 29 but that the transition team had rejected it, saying they wanted to continue to keep him in the running for the State Department.
Huffington Post, Trump Pays His Own Businesses $3 Million In Days Surrounding Election, Dec. 9, 2016. In all, Trump’s campaign funneled more than $12 million to entities he controls.
campaign money at his own businesses from Oct. 20 to Nov. 28. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sent Donald Trump’s businesses $2.9 million in the final days prior to and the weeks following his election.
Trump’s Miami golf club, where he staged an Oct. 25 news conference to showcase his employees who like him, received $13,015. Trump’s hotel in Las Vegas received $176,933 for lodgings from his presidential campaign and $60,442 more from a joint fundraising committee for Trump and the Republican National Committee. Trump Tower in Manhattan, meanwhile, received a whopping $462,011 in rent, including $283,500 on Nov. 28 – nearly $114,000 more than the campaign had been paying for its headquarters space for the previous several months.
Washington Post, If Republicans really want to drain the swamp, here’s how to do it, Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis, Dec. 9, 2016. Ted Cruz, a Republican shown in a file photo, represents Texas in the Senate. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, represents Florida’s 6th District in the House.
On Election Day, the American people made a resounding call to “drain the swamp” that is modern Washington. Yet on Capitol Hill, we seem mired in the same cycle of complacency: The game hasn’t changed, and the players remain the same. Thankfully, there’s a solution available that, while stymied by the permanent political class, enjoys broad public support: congressional term limits.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for enacting term limits, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has endorsed the idea. As soon as the 115th Congress convenes, both of us will move to restore accountability among the entrenched Washington establishment by introducing a constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms that a member of Congress can serve to three in the House and two in the Senate.
Roll Call, Senate Averts Shutdown With Little Time to Spare, Bridget Bowman, Dec. 9, 2016. Senators came close to a shutdown over coal miner health care.
CBS News, South Korea President Park Geun-hye impeached over corruption scandal, Staff and wire reports, Dec. 9, 2016. South Korean lawmakers on Friday voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye, a stunning and swift fall for the country’s first female leader, the subject of corruption allegations and protests that drew millions into the streets in united fury. Formal documents were handed over to the presidential Blue House later Friday, stripping Park of her power and making Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn the acting president until the country’s Constitutional Court rules on whether Park must permanently step down.
Relatives of the victims from a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 and was blamed in part on government incompetence and corruption, who were in the parliament observing the vote, cheered and clapped after the outcome was announced.
Once called the “Queen of Elections” for her ability to pull off wins for her party, Park has been surrounded in the presidential Blue House in recent weeks by millions of South Koreans who have taken to the streets in protest. They are furious over what prosecutors say was collusion by Park with a longtime friend to extort money from companies and to give that confidante extraordinary sway over government decisions. Her approval ratings had plunged to 4 percent, the lowest among South Korean leaders since democracy came in the late 1980s, and even elderly conservatives who once made up her political base have distanced themselves from her. An opinion survey released Thursday showed about 78 percent of respondents supported Park’s impeachment.
New York Times, Foes of Russia Say Child Pornography Is Planted to Ruin Them, Andrew Higgins, Dec. 9, 2016. Vladimir K. Bukovsky, a tireless opponent of Soviet leaders and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, is not a man easily put off his stride.
But he got knocked sideways when British police officers banged on the front door of his home on a sedate suburban street here early one morning while he lay sick in bed and informed him that they had “received information about forbidden images” in his possession. “It was all very bizarre and disturbing,” Mr. Bukovsky said. “This is not normally the language of a free society,” he added, recalling how his old K.G.B. tormentors used to hound him and his friends over texts and photographs declared forbidden by the Soviet authorities.
The images sought by the British police, however, had nothing to do with politics but involved child pornography, a shocking offense in any jurisdiction. The officers hauled away a clunky desktop computer from Mr. Bukovsky’s study — a chaos of books and papers dusted with cigarette ash — and a broken computer from his garage.
SouthFront, Govt Forces Renew Military Operation In Aleppo As Militants Again Ignore Terms of Russia-Proposed Ceasefire, Staff report, Dec. 9, 2016. Syrian government forces reportedly renewed a military operation in the Syrian city of Aleppo after Jaish al-Fatah and Fatah Halab militant coalitions prevented a high number of civilians from leaving the militant-held area of the city. Pro-government sources claim that the Syrian army and its allies are set to finish the job. The operations were renewed few hours ago after reports that the so-called “moderate opposition” was preventing civilians from leaving the militant-held area. By now, these reports have been ignored by the Western media.
It’s an obvious fact for Arab-language media outlets. Yesterday some 8,461 civilians, including 2,934 children, left militant-held districts of eastern Aleppo, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. BUT all these people left the militan-held area during the active phase of military operations against militants. Meanwhile, still president of the United States Barack Obama ordered to expand military aid to the so-called “opposition” in Syria.
Amid all these reports, the expert community is quite surprised by a feeble attitude of the Russian Foreign Ministry over the issue. Last night, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced another unilateral ceasefire in Aleppo. “Moderate rebels” just ignored it and Washington announced additional weapon supplies to pro-Al-Qaeda forces.
New York Times, Trump Picks Fast-Food Executive for Labor Secretary, Noam Scheiber, Dec. 8, 2016 (print edition). Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration. Puzder (shown in a file photo) has opposed efforts to expand eligibility for overtime pay, while arguing that large minimum wage increases lead to job loss.
Washington Post, Do Trump’s Cabinet picks want to run the government — or dismantle it? John Wagner, Dec. 8, 2016. Trump’s choices suggest that he intends to move in a sharply conservative direction at many agencies.
Washington Post, Trump era confronts organized labor with gravest crisis in decades, Steven Mufson, Dec. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter attack this week on a union official, followed by his choice of a labor secretary who has criticized new worker protections, has rattled leaders of the American labor movement, who fear unions may be facing their gravest crisis in decades.
On Thursday, Trump announced that he would nominate as his labor secretary Andrew Puzder, a fast-food executive who has opposed additional overtime pay for workers and expressed skepticism about increasing the minimum wage. That followed a pair of Twitter messages Wednesday evening in which Trump attacked an Indiana union leader who had criticized him, saying the official had done a “terrible job representing workers
Washington Post, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are on their way to the White House, Michael Gerson, Dec. 8, 2016. What are we seeing in Donald Trump’s presidential transition so far? The emerging outlines of a bipolar presidency. The president-elect is alternately making good choices (such as retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis as defense secretary) and horrible ones (Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development); sounding themes of national reconciliation and sounding crazed on Twitter; attempting magnanimity (opposing prosecution for his vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton) and rubbing it in (attacking presidential rival Evan McMullin and basking once again in chants of “Lock her up!”).
MSNBC / Rachel Maddow Show, Stung by criticism, Trump goes after local union leader, Steve Benen, Dec. 8, 2016. Donald Trump should be incredibly busy. Trump, however, hasn’t yet learned the value of focusing his attention on what matters most. Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999, told NBC News that he had been harassed and threatened in the wake of Trump’s latest attack – a broadside against Jones leadership of union workers at a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana that took center stage last week.
It should’ve been a relatively minor story. Trump (shown in an image by the Tax Wall Street Party) made claims about the Carrier deal that were demonstrably untrue, and Chuck Jones spoke up about it – as American citizens are still free to do. Last night, the labor leader appeared on CNN to “correct some of [Trump’s] math,” and soon after, the president-elect who lacks impulse control decided it’d be a good idea to go after Jones directly.
Jones, Trump said on Twitter, “has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” After having some time to reflect a bit, Trump made matters worse, adding another tweet on the subject: “If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues.”
Remember, all of this started with some criticism of a local union leader in Indianapolis who had the audacity to tell the truth. It’s not as if Trump is using social media to set the record straight about false allegations; rather, he’s using Twitter to try to intimidate a random American citizen – who’s now facing threats of violence from Trump’s followers. Such an approach is offensive and deeply at odds with American traditions, but it’s not surprising.
We learned during the campaign that Donald Trump has trouble controlling his worst instincts, and his own aides were so concerned about his erratic and “self-destructive impulses” that they had to intervene to silence him on social media before the Republican did further damage to his own candidacy.
Washington Post, The coming Trump kleptocracy, perfectly captured in a single sentence, Greg Sargent, Dec. 8, 2016. It’s not clear how much Mr. Trump’s businesses would benefit from his proposal to cut business tax rates. It’s not clear how much Mr. Trump’s businesses would benefit from his proposal to cut business tax rates. The key part of that sentence is the phrase, “it’s not clear.” Trump has employed a “web” of limited liability companies to house assets accounting for over $300 million of the revenues he reported in disclosure forms last year. The crucial revelation is that these entities are a key reason why many of the specific details of Trump’s holdings remain shrouded in “opacity.”
Roll Call, Boehner: “Thank god I’m not in the middle of this,” Aryn Braun, Dec. 8, 2016. The former Speaker compares the president-elect to Teddy Roosevelt. Former House Speaker John A. Boehner weighed in on the incoming Trump administration Wednesday, calling the president-elect a “good guy,” who wants to do “big things,” and advocating for bipartisanship in the new Congress. Boehner told Cincinnati TV station WCPO he and Trump have known each other a long time.
“We’ve played a lot of golf together over the years,” Boehner said. “When I was speaker, if I was having a tough week I’d always get a call from Donald. He’d pat me on the back, cheer me up.” When asked if he misses being in the thick of things, a relaxed-looking Boehner didn’t hesitate. “Oh my God, no.” Boehner said, incredulous. “Really?”
The Ohio Republican resigned his seat in the House last October after serving 24 years, and was replaced by fellow Midwesterner Rep. Paul D. Ryan. On the topic of Trump, the former Speaker gave the reality star credit for tapping into the American consciousness. “I think Donald Trump sees himself larger than life,” Boehner continued, “Looking back through history he kind of reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt, another guy who saw himself larger than life.”
Boehner seems to be enjoying the freedom that comes with leaving politics, especially when it came to discussing some of his former colleagues. Most notably, Boehner stood by his comments likening Sen. Ted Cruz to Lucifer, and still thinks the Texas senator is “the most miserable person I ever had to work with.”
Fake News Flare-ups
Washington Post, Clinton attacks ‘fake news’ in post-election appearance on Capitol Hill, Paul Kane, Dec. 8, 2016. Hillary Clinton challenged Congress on Thursday to combat fake and misleading news on social media, using a post-election appearance to tackle an issue that gripped her presidential campaign and culminated with a shooting incident Sunday in Northwest Washington.
Without directly citing the shooting at Comet Ping Pong by a man who believed a false online conspiracy related to her campaign, Clinton said the “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media” presented a danger to both the nation’s politics and the safety of its citizens.
In the weeks leading up to and after the elections, social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others were flooded with articles that looked like real news stories that were sometimes thinly connected to reality and sometimes completely baseless. Many of the stories floated conspiracy theories about Clinton and her family, but one particularly bizarre story came about after the FBI decided to review some new emails from her tenure as secretary of state that were discovered on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who is the estranged husband of one of Clinton’s closest advisers, Huma Abedin.
Those emails were uncovered in a separate FBI investigation into allegations that Weiner had inappropriate, sexually explicit online communications with a minor, but the FBI wanted to review the emails as part of its prior probe of whether Clinton’s email practices exposed classified information.
Around the Nation
President Barack Obama talks with former Senator John Glenn and wife Annie on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 17, 2010. John Glenn passed away Dec. 8, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Washington Post, What does it take to get a police officer punished for killing an unarmed black man? Eugene Robinson, Dec. 8, 2016. I’m trying to be an optimist after this week’s mistrial in Walter Scott’s shooting death, but it’s not easy.
National Whistleblower Center, We just dodged a major bullet, Harry Barko (KBR/Haliburton Iraq War Whistleblower), Dec. 8, 2016. Last Thursday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing to consider H.R. 5499, the Agency Accountability Act. If this bill had gone forward unchanged, it would have prohibited federal agencies from paying rewards to whistleblowers, effectively destroying the most effective whistleblower laws, leaving fraud and corruption to skyrocket unchecked. Committee Democrats invited National Whistleblower Center Executive Director Stephen Kohn to testify and explain the importance of protecting these laws. His written testimony is linked here.
After hearing testimony from the National Whistleblower Center, all of the committee members agreed to protect the whistleblower laws. Subcommittee Chairmen Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) supported a “friendly amendment” to the bill to ensure that whistleblowers would be protected. Congressman Gary Palmer (R-AL), the bill’s author, concurred. Committee Democrats also enthusiastically agreed. This was a huge success. The leading Democrats and Republicans on the Oversight Committee explicitly and publicly expressed support for whistleblowers. This time, our message was heard, but this will not be the last time the rights of whistleblowers come under threat.
Office of Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Introduces Legislation to Stop Arming Terrorists, Dec. 8, 2016. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act today. The legislation would prohibit the U.S. government from using American taxpayer dollars to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to groups like the Levant Front, Fursan al Ha and other allies of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, al-Qaeda and ISIS, or to countries who are providing direct or indirect support to those same groups.
The legislation is cosponsored by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Thomas Massie (R-KY), and supported by the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and the U.S. Peace Council.
Gabbard (shown in a photo) said, “Under U.S. law it is illegal for any American to provide money or assistance to al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups. If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS, we would be thrown in jail. Yet the U.S. government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al Sham and other terrorist groups with money, weapons, and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.”
The Duran via SouthFront, As Jihadi Resistance Crumbles In Aleppo Western Powers Play Diplomatic Game, Alexander Mercouris, Dec. 8, 2016. As is commonly the case in attrition war, the end in Aleppo is coming quickly. Throughout the last 12 hours, reports have been pouring in of more and more formerly Al-Qaeda held districts of eastern Aleppo falling to the Syrian army. The Syrian army was in control of at least 85% of the former Al-Qaeda controlled pocket of eastern Aleppo.
In what must have been for U.S. Secretary of State Kerry (shown in official photo) a particularly cruel and humiliating moment, TASS reports that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov threw Kerry’s 2nd December 2016 proposal – that all Jihadi fighters leave eastern Aleppo – back into Kerry’s face, telling him that Russia is still prepared to accept it, hours after the US backtracked on it. With Jihadi resistance in Aleppo collapsing, even this proposal is all but meaningless now.
Express, WikiLeaks Bombshell: Julian Assange ‘WILL face rape prosecution’ – lawyer for accuser, Jon Austin, Dec. 8, 2016. The lawyer acting for the woman Julian Assange is accused of raping has claimed the WikiLeaks founder will face prosecution over the alleged crime. Elisabeth Massi Fritz spoke out after saying Mr Assange’s release of his statement to Swedish prosecutors detailing his alleged relationship with the accuser was “unfortunate.” Yesterday, Mr Assange released the statement he gave to prosecutors last month in full, detailing his account of how he met the woman and she “consented to sex.” Ms. Massi Fritz said that decision has “violated” her client in the media.
New York Times, WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Denies Rape in Detailed Account of Encounter, Dan Bilefsky, Dec. 7, 2016. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, offered his most detailed and public account on Wednesday of events that led to a rape accusation against him in Sweden, saying he was innocent and had engaged in “consensual and enjoyable sex” with the accuser.
Last month, questions prepared by Swedish prosecutors were posed to Mr. Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has been living since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over the rape accusation. The questions were asked by an Ecuadorean prosecutor under an agreement made by the two countries in August.
But in a move that is likely to irk Swedish prosecutors, whom Mr. Assange (shown in a file photo) has denounced for forcing him to remain confined in the embassy for the past six years, the WikiLeaks founder on Wednesday released the answers he gave during the interview. In the 19-page statement, which reads alternately like a legal defense brief and an emotional airing of personal grievances, he writes that he is “entirely innocent” and had engaged in “consensual and enjoyable” sex with the woman who accused him of rape.
WikiLeaks has courted controversy by publishing confidential and damaging information from the United States and other countries. During the American presidential election, WikiLeaks came under renewed scrutiny for distributing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, and Mr. Assange acknowledged that he was timing their release to do maximum harm to the White House prospects of Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Assange, 45, an Australian, has refused to go to Sweden to face the rape accusation for fear, he says, of being extradited to the United States and being jailed for life, even though the Swedish authorities have sought to allay such concerns. No formal charges have been filed against him.
In the statement detailing his account of his relationship with his accuser, referred to as “SW,” whom he met in August 2010, Mr. Assange railed against the Swedish authorities, saying that he had been forced to endure “six years of unlawful, politicized detention without charge.”
Update: Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig appeared on RT America’s “The News with Ed Schultz” on Dec. 7 live to discuss the case in a video interview here, based on years of the project’s cutting-edge reporting.
These include: Noted Swedish Journalist, Assange Critic Exposed As Sapo Agent, subtitled, “Secret police agency cash for a journalist,” in which we reported: A prize-winning Swedish journalist noted for his left-wing, pro-NATO and anti-WikiLeaks commentary was revealed this month to have been a paid agent of Säpo, his nation’s security service. Martin Fredriksson, winner of a major investigative reporting prize in 2014 for his work exposing right-wing groups opposed to NATO, has been secretly paid for years by Säpo, the Swedish Security Service, according to news reports based on his own admissions.
In deep intrigue that resembles a spy novel, Fredriksson’s story undermines conventional wisdom on both sides of the Atlantic that journalists work independently from power centers, including government agencies. The matter is especially timely because of Sweden’s ongoing persecution of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange for what appears to be a trumped up sex scandal probe extending nearly six years in reprisal for massive and ongoing disclosures by WikiLeaks of Western governments’ darkest secrets.
CraigMurray.com, Julian Assange’s Defense Statement, Craig Murray, Dec. 7, 2016. Julian Assange has published his statement given to the Swedish prosecutor. I give it in full below. I do implore you to read it. This is the first time his defence has been made public, although the media have been delighted to report the leaked allegations against him in detail.
His defence will not be given in the same detail in the media.
Guardian, Julian Assange defies Swedish prosecutors by releasing rape statement, David Crouch, Dec. 7, 2016. WikiLeaks founder publishes answers he gave during questioning in Ecuador’s London embassy over rape allegationJulian Assange has thumbed his nose at Swedish investigators, who he says have robbed him of his freedom for six years, by releasing the answers he gave to them under questioning in Ecuador’s London embassy last month.
The decision to issue the statement, which contains for the first time a detailed account by the WikiLeaks founder of his encounter with a woman in August 2010 who made rape allegations against him, marks a fresh twist in a case in which Assange claims an early leak of information from the Swedish police has shaped opinion.
SouthFront, Washington Attempts To Save Militants From Total Collapse, Staff report, Dec. 7, 2016. Jaish al-Fatah and Fatah Halab militant coalitions’ defenses are collapsing in the Syrian city of Aleppo under the pressure of pro-government forces. Late on December 6 and early on December 7, the Syrian army, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Liwa al-Quds set control over the areas east and north of the Aleppo Citadel and seized the almost whole neighborhood of Old Aleppo, including the Umayyad Mosque. The advance took place amid a panic in the rebels’ ranks and reports that now the so-called “moderate” opposition is ready to discuss a deal on withdrawal from the city.
A big group of Fatah Halab (a local coalition of militant groups in Aleppo city) fighters even surrendered to government forces near the Aleppo Citadel. The army and its allies are developing the advance against militants. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Tuesday that he expects to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov later this week for further talks on a proposal for the rebels’ departure and is “not aware of any specific refusal” to follow the initially discussed agreement.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lavrov said that the US withdrew its initial proposal on militants withdrawal and wants to suggest new terms and conditions that the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance will have to follow in Aleppo. This US move faced a hardline reaction in Moscow and the Russian minister announced that all militants refusing to leave Aleppo will be eliminated. It looks Kerry is busy as a bee in his attempt to save al-Qaeda linked militant factions in the city. However, he has little chances to achieve this goal. Details below:
National Public Radio / Fresh Air With Terry Gross via KDLG-FM, Megyn Kelly On Trump And The Media: ‘We’re In A Dangerous Phase Right Now,’ Interview by Dave Davies, Dec. 7, 2016. As Donald Trump continues to court controversy via Twitter, Fox News host Megyn Kelly tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that the president-elect “really does need to be aware of the power that he has when he releases these tweets.”
Kelly felt that power firsthand in August 2015, when she pressed the candidate about his derogatory comments about women during the first Republican primary debate. Trump responded with a Twitter attack, which was quickly followed up by a barrage of insulting tweets and even death threats from his followers.
“What people don’t realize about Donald Trump — and I don’t even know if Donald Trump realizes it — is that every tweet he unleashes against you … creates such a crescendo of anger,” Kelly says.
The host of The Kelly File says that although she worried for her own safety and that of her children, she and her producers were determined not to let the threats impact their coverage of Trump. Now that Trump is the president-elect, she is especially concerned about his “de-legitimization” of the media.
“I think it’s dangerous,” Kelly says. “People … need good, strong, skeptical journalists to be covering whoever it is — whether it’s Barack Obama or President Donald Trump — and we’re in a dangerous phase right now, where too many millions of Americans aren’t listening at all to what the press tells them.”
Kelly’s new memoir, Settle For More, revisits her feud with Trump, as well as her work as a journalist and her decision to come forward in the sexual harassment case against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.
New York Times, Trump Picks a Retired General for Homeland Security Chief, Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 7, 2016. President-elect Donald J. Trump has settled on Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security, placing defense of American territory from terrorism in the hands of a seasoned commander with personal exposure to the costs of war.
General Kelly, 66, who led the United States Southern Command, had a 40-year career in the Marine Corps, and led troops in intense combat in western Iraq. In 2003, he became the first Marine colonel since 1951 to be promoted to brigadier general while in active combat. Mr. Trump, a person briefed on the decision said, has not yet formally offered the job to General Kelly, in part because the general is out of the country this week. The president-elect plans to roll out the appointment next week, along with his remaining national security positions, including secretary of state.
Washington Post, Trump picks Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad — a ‘friend’ of China’s leader — as Beijing ambassador, Simon Denyer and Philip Rucker, Dec. 7, 2016. The move could help ease worries among China’s leaders about dealings with the Trump White House.
The Hill, Ellison: I’ll resign from House if I win DNC chair, Harper Neidig, Dec. 7, 2016. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), shown in an official photo, on Wednesday said he will resign from Congress if he is elected chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “In order to further their commitment and maximize my effectiveness, I have decided to resign as a member of Congress if I win the election for DNC chair,” he said in a statement. “Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising. I will be ‘all-in’ to meet the challenge.” Some Democrats opposing Ellison’s candidacy have said that the next party chair should be dedicated to the job full-time. The last chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), served while holding a seat in Congress.
Washington Post, Trump’s pick to lead EPA is part of group suing the agency, Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson, Dec. 7, 2016. Donald Trump’s selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (shown in a file photo) — who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled” — signals an assault on President Obama’s legacy on climate change and the environment.
Huffington Post, Donald Trump Said He Can Call Every Company Planning To Leave The U.S., Arthur Delaney, Dec. 7, 2016. Workers at these companies are waiting. President-elect Donald Trump has asked his chief of staff to get him a list of every American company that has plans to shift production to another country. “Hey, Reince, I want to get a list of companies that have announced they’re leaving,” Trump said to Reince Priebus last week in the middle of an on-the-record interview with Time magazine that was published on Wednesday. “I can call them myself,” Trump said. “Five minutes apiece. They won’t be leaving. O.K.?”
Trump had just struck a deal with Carrier Corporation to stop the company from closing its factory in Indiana, saving 800 American jobs. As part of the process, Trump had called up the CEO of United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, and asked him to reconsider.
Fake News Flare-ups
Wall Street on Parade, Who’s Behind PropOrNot’s Blacklist of News Websites, Pam Martens and Russ Martens, Dec. 7, 2016. A shadowy group called PropOrNot (shorthand for Propaganda Or Not) that has gone to a great deal of trouble to keep its funders and principals secret, is promulgating a blacklist of 200 alternative media websites that it has labeled “Russian propaganda outlets.” On Thanksgiving Day, Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg amplified this smear campaign in an article giving credence to the anonymous group’s research.
While a handful of state-funded sites are included on the list, both the Washington Post and PropOrNot have come under withering criticism for engaging in McCarthyism by including dozens of respected sites like Naked Capitalism, Truthout, Truthdig, Consortium News and, initially, CounterPunch, on the list. (CounterPunch has since been removed and Naked Capitalism’s lawyer has sent a scorching letter to the Washington Post demanding a retraction and an apology.) The widely read Paul Craig Roberts also landed on the blacklist. Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Economic Policy under President Ronald Reagan, a former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former columnist at BusinessWeek. He held Top Secret clearance when he worked for the U.S. government.
Wall Street On Parade closely examined the report issued by PropOrNot, its related Twitter page, and its registration as a business in New Mexico, looking for “tells” as to the individual(s) behind it. We learned quite a number of interesting facts.
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Cato Institute, The State of American Criminal Justice, All-day conference (with video stream), Dec. 7, 2016. Featuring experts include keynoter Adam J. Foss on “Prosecutor integrity.” After another year of protests and unrest across the country, criminal justice reform remains a contentious issue. Some cities have experienced an increase in homicide rates, police departments are under intense scrutiny for their handling of police shootings, and prisoners are protesting living conditions. Meanwhile, policymakers are making scant progress to roll back mass incarceration.
Given the decentralized nature of the American criminal justice system, with some 18,000 law enforcement agencies spread across 50 state jurisdictions, which reforms are the most urgent, and what can we realistically expect to accomplish in the near term? To help answer these questions, the Cato Institute will host a conference to address the most pressing issues. The State of American Criminal Justice brings together experts from courtrooms, universities, prisons, and police departments to examine the myriad policies and incentives that drive the criminal justice system at its various stages—seeking insights, strategies, and solutions. Join us for a discussion on some of the most urgent criminal justice questions facing policymakers today at all levels of government.
Given the decentralized nature of the American criminal justice system, with some 18,000 law enforcement agencies spread across 50 state jurisdictions, which reforms are the most urgent, and what can we realistically expect to accomplish in the near term? To help answer these questions, the Cato Institute will host a conference to address the most pressing issues. The State of American Criminal Justice brings together experts from courtrooms, universities, prisons, and police departments to examine the myriad policies and incentives that drive the criminal justice system at its various stages—seeking insights, strategies, and solutions. Join us for a discussion on some of the most urgent criminal justice questions facing policymakers today at all levels of government.
Wall Street Journal, Rex Tillerson, a Candidate for Secretary of State, Has Ties to Vladimir Putin, Bradley Olson, Dec. 6, 2016. Exxon Mobil CEO (shown in a company photo) could redefine U.S. interests abroad. Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, who was meeting with Donald Trump on Tuesday to discuss becoming his secretary of state, is a seasoned deal-maker whose close ties to Vladimir Putin and other world leaders could redefine American interests abroad.
His emergence as a candidate to be the nation’s top diplomat despite having no government experience surprised senior Exxon officials — including Mr. Tillerson, according to people familiar with the matter.
Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson, who has known Mr. Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.
“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.
In 2011, Mr. Tillerson struck a deal giving Exxon access to prized Arctic resources in Russia as well as allowing Russia’s state oil company, OAO Rosneft, to invest in Exxon concessions all over the world. The following year, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.
Washington Post, Trump sold his entire stock portfolio in June, spokesman says, Drew Harwell and Rosalind S. Helderman, Dec. 6, 2016. The move to sell his stock, confirmed by spokesman Jason Miller, would have created a cash windfall as he began to invest more money in his general election campaign. The sell-off could help address conflict-of-interest concerns about his stock portfolio, a pivotal part of Trump’s financial life that was worth as much as $40 million as of December 2015.
Washington Post, Citing high cost, Trump says Boeing’s contract to build Air Force One should be canceled, Christian Davenport, Dec. 6, 2016. The president-elect tweeted that the cost of the project — a $4 billion contract for two planes to serve as Air Force One — is “out of control.” The company’s 747-8 is the only plane made in the U.S. that could meet the requirements for the presidential aircraft.
Washington Post, Trump adviser’s son removed from transition team after spreading conspiracy theory, Greg Miller, Dec. 6, 2016. Michael G. Flynn used his social media account to back a bogus story tied to a shooting at a Washington pizzeria.
Washington Post, ‘False flag’ planted at a pizza place? It’s just one more conspiracy to digest, Paul Farhi, Dec. 6, 2016 (print edition). It didn’t take long after the arrest of a gun-wielding man at a District pizza restaurant on Sunday for the usual conspiracy theory that swirls around such an incident to percolate on social media and in the nether corners of the Internet. The gunman, claimed the baying hounds of paranoia, was part of a “false-flag” operation — that is, he was an actor in an elaborate plot designed to discredit those who have for weeks spread a bizarre story about the restaurant being the locus of a child-molestation ring run by Hillary Clinton.
There’s no evidence that the suspect, identified as Edgar Maddison Welch, was acting on anyone’s behalf other than his own when he allegedly fired an assault-style rifle in the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong. There’s also nothing to indicate that any government or political party had conspired with him so that he’d take the fall for his alleged actions.
But saying so won’t stop the burgeoning industry of “false flag” wavers from saying otherwise.
False-flag conspiracies — the name comes from a military deception in which an enemy is tricked into thinking an opposing force is friendly — have a long and complex history. Historians have long debated, for example, whether the fire that destroyed the German parliament building, the Reichstag, in 1933 was set by the Dutch communist executed for the crime or was really a false-flag operation by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party to further entrench its power.
False-flag claims have become barnacles on many of the most traumatic events of the past 60 years: John F. Kennedy’s assassination; the Oklahoma City bombing; the Boston Marathon bombing; the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, San Bernadino and Sandy Hook; and especially the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In each case, the conspiratorial notion is that the “official” story conveyed by the government and the news media is a deception, all to justify some perfidious official action. Like all conspiracy theories, evidence and facts to the contrary are usually worse than meaningless to the people pushing them, says Joseph Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories. “Conspiracy theories are unique theories because the evidence against them works in their favor,” he said in an interview. “If you believe there’s a group plotting in secret against you, how can you be proven wrong? While Pizzagate may defame Hillary Clinton, Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami, says conspiracy theories are widely held and propagated.
Politico, Media Matters to pivot away from focus on Fox News, as it names new president, Hadas Gold, Dec. 6, 2016. Liberal media-watchdog organization Media Matters is naming a new president and taking its coverage in a new direction, with less emphasis on cable news and more focus on fake news and other “bad actors.” Angelo Carusone, currently the organization’s executive vice president, will take over as president. The group, known for taking on what they argue is misinformation in conservative media, particularly on Fox News, will enter a “new era,” focusing on the likes of Breitbart, the “alt-right”, conspiracy theories and fake news.
“There was a period of time which we were, rightfully so, described as the ‘Fox antagonists,” said Carusone, who also acted as Deputy CEO of the Democratic National Convention. “Now, our mission is to be principally focused on the value of journalism.” Media Matters will now focus their efforts on grappling with misinformation, where it comes from, and how it spreads. These new efforts will include new staff and a focus on technology, bringing in experts to build in-house software to help track conspiracy theories and misinformation.
“We have to think about how we’re getting bigger and louder, not just misinformation but all out propaganda. That’s a role that’s very different than in the past,” Carusone said. “We’ve not tried to mobilize massive amounts of people or develop a larger following. But it’s going to have to be a part of what we’re doing.”
“Whether it’s blunting the ‘alt-right’s’ ascent, ensuring the media doesn’t normalize Trump’s bigotry or neutralizing the spread of fake news and other propaganda, Media Matters has critical work ahead,” Media Matters founder and top Hillary Clinton ally David Brock said in a statement. “In his time here, Angelo has expanded our online footprint and led effective campaigns. He’s demonstrated that he knows how to bring to bear Media Matters resources and will advance our mission well.”
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“You gotta remember, establishment, it’s just a name for evil. The monster doesn’t care whether it kills all the students or whether there’s a revolution. It’s not thinking logically, it’s out of control.”
— John Lennon (1969)
OpEdNews, Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On, John Whitehead, Dec. 6, 2016. It’s been 36 years since Lennon was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet on December 8, 1980, but his legacy and the lessons he imparted in his music and his activism have not diminished over the years. All of the many complaints we have about government today — surveillance, militarism, corruption, harassment, SWAT team raids, political persecution, spying, overcriminalization, etc. — were present in Lennon’s day and formed the basis of his call for social justice, peace and a populist revolution.
Little wonder, then, that the U.S. government saw him as enemy number one. Because he never refrained from speaking truth to power, Lennon became a prime example of the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to persecute those who dare to challenge its authority.
Lennon was the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment by the U.S. government (spearheaded by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), an attempt by President Richard Nixon to have him “neutralized” and deported. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times points out, “The F.B.I.’s surveillance of Lennon is a reminder of how easily domestic spying can become unmoored from any legitimate law enforcement purpose. What is more surprising, and ultimately more unsettling, is the degree to which the surveillance turns out to have been intertwined with electoral politics.”
National Press Club, Kalb Report: What to do about the whoppers? Gil Klein, Dec. 6, 2016. In a presidential debate, what is the moderator’s responsibility to point out obvious lies spoken by the candidates? That was the central question in Monday night’s The Kalb Report as moderators and organizers of the 2016 debates autopsied the last effort. Joining host Marvin Kalb were two debate moderators – ABC’s Martha Raddatz and Fox News’ Chris Wallace – as well as Republican Frank Fahrenkopf and Democrat Mike McCurry, the co-chairmen of the U.S. Presidential Debate Commission.
Middle East Eye, US strikes on Syrian troops: Report data contradicts ‘mistake’ claims, Gareth Porter, Dec. 6, 2016. US strikes on Syrian troops: Report data contradicts ‘mistake’ claims
Moscow and Damascus cited the attacks as the reason for declaring an end to the ceasefire in Syria. The summary report on an investigation into US and allied air strikes on Syrian government troops has revealed irregularities in decision-making consistent with a deliberate targeting of Syrian forces. The report, released by US Central Command on 29 November, shows that senior US Air Force officers at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar, who were responsible for the decision to carry out the September airstrike at Deir Ezzor:
- misled the Russians about where the US intended to strike so Russia could not warn that it was targeting Syrian troops
- ignored information and intelligence analysis warning that the positions to be struck were Syrian government rather than Islamic State
- shifted abruptly from a deliberate targeting process to an immediate strike in violation of normal Air Force procedures
Last week Brig. Gen. Richard Coe, the lead US official on the investigating team, told reporters that US air strikes in Deir Ezzor on 17 September, which killed at least 62 and possibly more than 100 Syrian army troops, was the unintentional result of “human error.” The report itself says that the investigators found “no evidence of misconduct” but it is highly critical of the decision process and does not offer any explanations for that series of irregularities.
The strikes against two Syrian army positions were the pivotal event in the breakdown of the Syrian ceasefire agreement reached between the United States and Russia in September. Both Moscow and Damascus denounced the strikes as a deliberate move by the Obama administration to support the Islamic State group and cited the attacks as the reason for declaring an end to the ceasefire on 19 September.
Washington Post, Trump flunks his first foreign policy test, David Ignatius, Dec. 6, 2016. Whatever else future historians say about Donald Trump’s early foreign policy moves, they’re likely to note the erratic and, in many ways, self-defeating nature of the president-elect’s initial dealings with China, the country many analysts view as the United States’ most important long-term rival.
Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.
McClatchy News Service, Trump’s bid to tax companies that move jobs out of U.S. meets Republican resistance, Lesley Clark, Dec. 5, 2016. Donald Trump’s threat to impose “retribution” on companies that move operations out of the country is meeting with pushback from his own party. Donald Trump’s threat to impose “retribution” on companies that move operations out of the country is meeting with pushback from his own party.
After House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Monday refused to endorse the president-elect’s proposal to slap tariffs on American companies that move jobs overseas, the conservative Club for Growth joined the chorus.
“Tax cuts and deregulation will make the American economy great again, but tariffs and trade wars will make it tank again,” said the group’s president, David McIntosh. “The president-elect is spot on when he calls for cutting taxes and federal regulations, but 35 percent tariffs would be devastating to consumers and businesses. The majority leader is right to caution against protectionism and to urge a robust debate on free markets and trade.”
Trump said on the campaign trail that he champions free trade, but has vowed to rip up and renegotiate trade deals. And he pledged to tax companies that move plants or operations out of the country, though it’s not clear he could single out companies for such a tax – a move that would be impossible without support from congressional Republicans.
Washington Post, Trump names former presidential hopeful Ben Carson as HUD chief, Elise Viebeck and Karoun Demirjian, Dec. 5, 2016. The unconventional choice of the retired neurosurgeon underscores Donald Trump’s willingness to forgo traditional policy expertise in some Cabinet positions to surround himself with allies. Carson (shown in a file photo) is the president-elect’s first African American pick for a Cabinet-level post.
Washington Post, Pentagon buries study exposing $125 billion in wasteful spending, Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward, Dec. 5, 2016. Senior defense officials moved to kill the internal study — which revealed more administrative waste than expected — by discrediting and suppressing the results, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post. The military feared Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget.
Washington Post, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are reportedly house-hunting in Washington, Emily Heil, Dec. 5, 2016. The move underscores Kushner’s importance in the Trump White House, where he is expected to take a senior leadership role.
Washington Post, New pro-Trump group takes form, with Kellyanne Conway possibly at the helm, Matea Gold and Ed O’Keefe, Dec. 5, 2016. The new entity, whose legal structure has not yet been determined, will serve as an outside hub to support President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda.
Washington Post, The Wisconsin recount may have a surprise in store after all, Stephen Ansolabehere, Barry C. Burden, Kenneth R. Mayer and Charles Stewart III, Dec. 5, 2016. Thanks to the efforts of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a recount is underway in Wisconsin. It is highly unlikely to change the outcome — as Hillary Clinton’s campaign has stated — but it is much more likely to overturn some conventional wisdom about counting votes. In particular, we may learn, yet again, that computers are better than humans at counting ballots.
Wisconsin’s most recent experience with a statewide recount provides some useful background for the current recount. In 2011, David Prosser ran against JoAnne Kloppenburg for a seat on the state supreme court. After the initial count, Prosser was 7,316 votes ahead of Kloppenburg, out of 1.5 million votes cast. Kloppenburg demanded and received a recount. The recount added votes to both candidate’s total, although more to Kloppenburg’s. Ultimately, Prosser won by 7,004 votes. This is a tiny change.
Fake News Flare-ups
Washington Post, Fixated on false story of child sex ring, man may have been deluded into ‘hero mission’ at D.C. pizzeria, Peter Hermann, Susan Svrluga and Michael E. Miller, Dec. 5, 2016. A North Carolina man told police he was trying to rescue children when he, armed with an assault-style-rifle, spent 45 minutes searching Comet Ping Pong on Sunday, according to court documents. The restaurant was the target of a viral conspiracy theory that falsely suggested that its owner and powerful political allies were hiding a child sex trafficking ring.
Washington Post, Man fires assault rifle in D.C. restaurant at center of fake-news conspiracy theories, Faiz Siddiqui and Susan Svrluga, Dec. 5, 2016. The North Carolina resident told police he traveled to Comet Ping Pong in Northwest to investigate “pizzagate,” a false conspiracy theory related to Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign and that resulted in death threats against the popular restaurant’s owner and staff.
Wayne Madsen Report, When Fake News turns deadly, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 5, 2016 (Subscription required. Excerpted with permission). Edgar Welch, a 28-year old resident of North Carolina, entered the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in northwest Washington, DC’s Cleveland Park on a quiet Sunday afternoon claiming to be some sort of citizen journalist who was “self-investigating” a bogus story floating around the Internet. The unfounded allegations against John Podesta and the owners of businesses along Connecticut Avenue are legal textbook definitions of what constitutes libel.
Washington Post, In Trump’s America, ‘pizzagate’ could be the new normal, Dana Milbank, Dec. 5, 2016. There was a time when threats against journalists, like threats of any sort of political violence, were exceedingly rare. But in Trump’s America, such threats are neither rare nor idle.
Washington Post, Michael Flynn’s tweet wasn’t actually about #PizzaGate, but his son is now defending the baseless conspiracy theory, Aaron Blake, Dec. 5, 2016. There are so many fake tales floating around about the 2016 election that they appear to be getting confused for one another.
After a gunman who cited a Hillary Clinton-related conspiracy theory entered the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington on Sunday and fired one or more shots, reports and tweets pointed to Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, having fomented the rumors that apparently spurred the man. Except Flynn doesn’t actually appear to have tweeted something about Comet Ping Pong — not specifically. Flynn (shown in an official photo from his military service) did tweet a link involving dubious claims about the Clintons and sex crimes, and his social media presence is replete with fake news and controversial comments about Muslims, which made it an easy conclusion to draw.
What’s more, his son Michael G. Flynn on Sunday did suggest there could be something to the PizzaGate rumors, basically defending his father as if he had tweeted about Comet Ping Pong and challenging the media to disprove the baseless claims. The younger Flynn served as his father’s chief of staff — his top aide — making his tweets about this bogus theory particularly significant.
Washington Post, Trump is the Old Faithful of fake news, and that can cause real damage, Eugene Robinson, Dec. 5, 2016. Fake news leads eventually to real tragedy. It almost got there Sunday when an idiot reportedly brought a loaded assault rifle into a Washington pizzeria, firing at least one shot, in an attempt to “self-investigate” a preposterous made-up conspiracy theory.
No one was hurt — this time. But the same kind of thing will happen again, thanks to the poison being dispensed by alt-right and white-supremacist propagandists. They concocted “news” stories out of whole cloth during the campaign in an attempt to destroy Hillary Clinton and those closest to her. Is anyone surprised that some people take these paranoid fantasies as gospel truth? I’m not.
President-elect Donald Trump makes matters worse by trumpeting “facts” that are non-factual. To the extent that he shapes the “post-truth” media landscape, he shares responsibility for the consequences.
Naked Capitalism, We Demand That The Washington Post Retract Its Propaganda Story Defaming Naked Capitalism and Other Sites and Issue an Apology, Yves Smith, Dec. 5, 2016. Our attorney Jim Moody is a seasoned litigator who has won cases before the Supreme Court. He has considerable experience in First Amendment and defamation actions. Past high profile representations include Westomoreland v. CBS and defending Linda Tripp.
I also hope, particularly for those of you who don’t regularly visit Naked Capitalism, that you’ll check out our related pieces that give more color to how the fact the Washington Post was taken for a ride by inept propagandists.
Naked Capitalism, PropOrNot’s Grandiose Fabrications, Yves Smith, Dec. 5, 2016. The fake news site about fake news known as PropOrNot has been roundly derided, most recently by the New Yorker and the media watchdog FAIR, as an inept propaganda effort that has gotten far more attention that it ever deserved. It’s worth noting that PropOrNot’s efforts, as Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, and Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone pointed out, were so obviously childish and overreaching that no reputable reporter should ever have regarded them as credible.
However, PropOrNot didn’t just make wild assertions that they can’t back up. They’ve routinely said things that are simply false. A fresh incident involves the curious removal of five websites, including CounterPunch, from PropOrNot’s McCarthyite blacklist of 200 websites.
Down With Tyranny, Media Takes a Crack at Critiquing Itself, Sort of, at the National Press Club, Skip Kaltenheuser, Dec. 5, 2016. Thursday night, Dec. 1st, the National Press Club in Washington, DC put up a panel discussion, The Trump Victory and 2016 Election: What the Media Got Right & Wrong. A promising title, it filled every seat. I expected much would be made of media lost in a labyrinth of echo chambers, unable to dodge the bull-headed minotaur of Clinton surrogates, but I was wrong. Other than pesky polling, there wasn’t as much “why” in the journalists’ analysis as hoped.
President Barack Obama meets with Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office prior to the Vice President announcing that he will not be a candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign, Oct. 21, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)
Roll Call, Emotional Biden Won’t Rule Out 2020 Run, Niels Lesniewski, Dec. 5, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden said Monday he wouldn’t rule out a 2020 run for president. “I’m not committing not to run,” Biden told reporters off the Senate floor. Biden was in the Capitol to preside over a procedural vote to limit debate on a bill that includes support for the cancer “moonshot” he has championed since the death of his son Beau, the former Delaware attorney general.
SouthFront, NGOs Smuggling Immigrants Into Europe On Industrial Scale? Staff report, Dec. 5, 2016. NGOs, smugglers, the mafia in cahoots with the European Union have shipped thousands of illegals into Europe under the pretext of rescuing people, assisted by the Italian coast guard which coordinated their activities.
Human traffickers contact the Italian coast guard in advance to receive support and to pick up their dubious cargo. NGO ships are directed to the “rescue spot” even as those to be rescued are still in Libya. The 15 ships that we observed are owned or leased by NGOs have regularly been seen to leave their Italian ports, head south, stop short of reaching the Libyan coast, pick up their human cargo, and take course back 260 miles to Italy even though the port of Zarzis in Tunis is just 60 mile away from the rescue spot.
The organizations in question are: MOAS, Jugend Rettet, Stichting Bootvluchting, Médecins Sans Frontières, Save the Children, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch.org, Sea-Eye and Life Boat. The real intention of the people behind the NGOs is not clear. Their motive can be money, we would not be surprised if it turned out to be so. They may also be politically driven.
Washington Post, Mobsters ran a fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana for 10 years, flying the flag and issuing visas for $6,000, Katie Mettler, Dec. 5, 2016. For a decade, an American flag flew outside a battered pink building in Ghana’s capital city, welcoming out-of-town visitors who, once inside, found a photo of President Obama hanging on the wall. Signs confirmed to travelers — who had been bused in from the most remote parts of West Africa — that they had arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Accra.
The “consular officers” working there were not Americans, but they spoke English and Dutch and issued official-looking visas and identification papers. They charged their customers $6,000. Billboards and fliers advertised the official services. But there was nothing official about them. The real U.S. Embassy in Accra is white, not pink, and it sits on a large piece of land inside security fences in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
SouthFront, United States, Russia Start Talks on Militants Withdrawal from Aleppo, Staff report, Dec. 5, 2016. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed withdrawal of “rebel forces” from Aleppo city, RT reported on December 5, citing Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov noted that until Friday the United States had tried to “push provisions that would take the heat off Al-Nusra, which directs the militants in the unliberated parts of eastern Aleppo.”
Global Research, Chosen Leaders, Proven en Failures and Political Debacles, James Petras, Dec. 5, 2016. With a few notable exceptions, political leaders are chosen by political leaders, and not by electorates or community-based organizations or popular assemblies. Popular media figures and the so-called ‘pundits’, including academics and self-declared experts and ‘think-tank’ analysts reinforce and propagate these choices.
A collection of terms and pseudo concepts are essential in validating what is really an oligarchical process. These concepts are tagged onto whoever is chosen by the elite for electoral candidates or for the seizure of political power. With this framework in mind, we have to critically analyze the symbols and signs used by popular opinion-makers as they promote political elites. We will conclude by posing an alternative to the ‘propaganda of choice’, which has so far resulted in broken pre-election promises and political debacles.
The usual suspects in the business of mass-manipulation describe their political leaders in the same folksy or pseudo-serious terms that they attribute to themselves: Experts / intuitive improvisers / trial and error ‘muddlers.’ The ‘experts’ often mean wrong-headed policymakers and advisers whose decisions usually reflect the demands of their current paymasters.
Pundits often promote ‘experience’ in describing the ‘experienced’ leader, adviser or cabinet member. They denigrate the opposition candidate adversary as ‘lacking experience.’ The obvious questions to this platitude should be: ‘What kind of experience? What were the political results of this experience? Who did this experience serve?
Washington Post, Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese president was a long-planned, provocative move, Anne Gearan, Philip Rucker and Simon Denyer, Dec. 4, 2016. Preparations for a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan began even before Donald Trump became the GOP nominee, according to those involved in arranging the historic conversation.
Washington Post, The Plum Book is here for those angling for jobs in Trump’s Washington, Lisa Rein, Dec. 5, 2016. The book, which lists job openings in the new administration, will be published this morning. But as of Friday, 65,800 men and women had already applied, transition officials said.
Washington Post, What’s the right way to do tax reform? Lawrence Summers, Dec. 4, 2016. Look to Ronald Reagan. Just as Ronald Reagan’s landmark 1986 bipartisan tax reform increased simplicity, fairness and economic efficiency by broadening the tax base and reducing rates, today tax reform has the potential to help American families and the economy. Properly designed, revenue-neutral reforms could help to offset the dramatic increases in inequality that have taken place over a generation, repair a business tax system that globalization has rendered dysfunctional, reduce uncertainty and promote growth.
Unfortunately, what we know regarding the intentions of the president-elect and congressional leadership suggest that they are at risk of pushing through the most misguided set of tax changes in U.S. history. The proposals from the presidential campaign, reiterated last week by President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for treasury secretary, will massively favor the top 1 percent of income earners, threaten explosive growth in federal debt, complicate the tax code and do little if anything to spur growth.
Washington Post, No need for stimulus, Editorial Board, Dec. 4, 2016. The economy isn’t perfect, but progress is being made. You would not know it from the rhetoric of the recently completed political campaign, but the United States is in pretty good economic shape. The unemployment rate stands at a mere 4.6 percent of the labor force, the lowest level since August 2007, according to the Labor Department report published Friday. Inflation is running at a manageable 1.6 percent. The Dow Jones stock index stands at an all-time high of over 19,000. And hourly wages are growing at an annual rate of more than 2 percent. By any conventional measure, President Obama is handing his successor, Donald Trump, a far, far better situation than the one he inherited in January 2009. Reflective of that reality, the Federal Reserve is likely to continue its gradual normalization of monetary policy by raising interest rates slightly later this month.
There is, indeed, room for improvement: Broader labor-market statistics that account for underemployment (involuntary part-time work and the like) have still not quite returned to pre-recession levels. Labor-force participation remains subpar, especially among men in the prime working years between the ages of 25 and 54. Productivity growth has slowed. And the federal budget deficit has resumed growing, reflecting the continued imbalance between spending commitments (entitlement programs, defense spending) and revenues.
Washington Post, Trump threatens 35 percent tariff on U.S. companies that move jobs overseas, Ylan Q. Mui·, Dec. 4, 2016. In a string of early morning tweets, the president-elect declared that he intends to incentivize businesses to stay in America by lowering corporate taxes and slashing regulations. He also warned of “retributions or consequences” for companies that offshore jobs.
AP via Washington Post, Green Party drops bid for statewide election recount in Pennsylvania, Marc Levy, Associated Press, Dec. 4, 2016. Lawyers for the Green Party-backed voters who filed the case say they can’t afford a court-ordered $1 million bond. However, efforts to force recounts and analyze election software in scattered precincts across the state were continuing.
Democratic Leadership Fight
Haaretz, Keith Ellison on Israel in 2010: ‘We Can’t Allow Another Country to Treat Us Like We’re Their ATM, Allison Kaplan Sommer, Dec. 4, 2016. In speech by Democratic National Committee chairman frontrunner, snippets of which have already sparked a controversy, Ellison (shown in an official photo) says Israel asks U.S. for money but won’t stop settlement construction, urges Muslim Americans to organize like AIPAC.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said in 2010 that while he wanted the “U.S. to be friends with Israel” that “we can’t allow another country to treat us like we’re their ATM” in a speech the Anti-Defamation League called “disturbing and disqualifying” after an excerpt was published on Thursday.
The full recording and transcript of the speech by the frontrunner for Democratic National Committee chairman six years ago was posted Saturday by the Investigative Project on Terrorism. The organization had published a 36-second snippet from the speech published two days earlier. It was this clip that prompted the ADL criticism, which led Senate Minority leader Senator Charles Schumer to come to Ellison’s defense.
Meanwhile, Democratic mega-donor Israeli-American Haim Saban added his voice to those opposing Ellison on Friday. Saban, a key supporter of unsuccessful Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton said at the Washington D.C. forum he sponsors, “if you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.” Saban warned that “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
Fake News Flare-ups
HotAir.com, Fake news update: Newsweek never read their own “Madam President” issue, Jazz Shaw, Dec. 4, 2016. For something which is being described as common practice, I’m certainly not familiar with it, at least to this extent. Many of us had a bit of a chuckle when we learned that Newsweek had shipped out their “Madam President” issue of the magazine a bit prematurely (to put it kindly). This wasn’t unexpected, nor was the fact that they also had a backup version showing “President Trump” on the cover. For an event of this magnitude, a publication of that size would clearly be ready to roll in advance and the fact that they shipped the wrong one is at least forgivable since they were falling for the same polls everyone else was using.
What was less widely reported was just what a “throne sniffing” example of bowing and scraping to the historic First Female President was hiding between the covers, as well as the fact that nobody at Newsweek even read it before the copies were loaded onto the trucks (as reported by the Washington Examiner).
A Newsweek editor admitted Wednesday that he and other staffers didn’t actually read their recalled commemorative “Madam President” election issue before it was published. Newsweek political editor Matthew Cooper said Wednesday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that the magazine’s issue, which incorrectly anticipated a Hillary Clinton win, was not produced by Newsweek but by a third party.
“Well, no one on our staff wrote that,” Cooper said. “Again, we subcontract out to a company.”
That interview with Tucker Carlson was pretty brutal. One topic was the obvious question as to how something of that magnitude was produced and shipped without anyone from Newsweek actually looking at or approving it. According to the Examiner, the entire job was done by a company called Topix Media Lab. Now, the idea of having magazines and newspapers outsource some of their content isn’t unknown. There are certain routine sections of publications which require some regularly scheduled drudge work such as death notices, legislative reports, etc. which can be shopped out. But even when that’s done, wouldn’t you think it was a given that somebody in the organization would be responsible for at least reviewing and approving the material before it went out with your name on it?
If they had, they might have noticed what an unbelievable festival of toadying Clinton worship was contained in the text.
WhoWhatWhy, Trump Caught Blackmailing Zuckerberg into Rigging Facebook, DonkeyHotey and Klaus Marre, Dec. 4, 2016. In a scandal that could upend the outcome of the election, new documents reveal that President-elect Donald Trump coerced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into tweaking his website’s algorithm in a way that benefited the GOP nominee.
*** As you may have noticed, just about everything in this “article” is made up. Why did we write it? To highlight the growing problem of fake news.
Around the Nation
Washington Post, Army decision halts construction on Dakota Access oil pipeline, Brady Dennis, Dec. 4, 2016. In a monumental victory for the Native American tribes and thousands of others who have protested the project, the Army announced it will not approve an easement necessary for the controversial pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota and will “explore alternate routes.”
Surveillance video shows a suspect taking a bucket that weighed 86 pounds and was holding $1.6 million worth of scrap gold from an armored car in Midtown Manhattan (New York Police Department photo).
New York Times, The One That Waddled Away: Retracing a Weighty Gold Theft, Michael Wilson, Dec. 4, 2016. Flakes, fragments and particles are shed as jewelers and others work with gold, and these fallen scraps are meticulously collected. Its least pure form, a blend of dusts of various metals, is known in the industry as bench sweeps. Larger scraps, like flakes, are more pure and more valuable. They are weighed with precision and stored in buckets.
These buckets are transported in the backs of armored cars. The diamond district, the block of West 47th Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, is a hub for the scrap market and the buying and selling of sweeps and flakes.
On Sept. 29, a man cased the Loomis International armored car and, seeing his opportunity when a guard moved from the rear to the front of the cab, snatched an 5-gallon bucket weighing 86 pounds from the back and ran-walked-waddled away. He remains at large. Last week the police released a surveillance video of the theft. Its length and breadth are practically cinematic, showing the thief walking with his heavy prize through several busy New York City blocks like a character in a sitcom.
Washington Post, Italian prime minister resigns in blow to European establishment, Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola, Dec. 4, 2016. Europe’s embattled political establishment lost another round Sunday in its effort to thwart the anti-elite movement, as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned following a voter rejection of his constitutional reforms. But a center-left presidential candidate in Austria handily defeated his far-right challenger.
The thorough rejection of Renzi’s efforts to streamline lawmaking was a significant boost for the country’s surging populist forces just weeks after Donald Trump prevailed in the United States. Renzi’s loss also risked unleashing financial upheaval in Europe’s third-largest economy, as Italy’s weak banks struggle to contain the fallout.
But the surprisingly strong presidential victory in Austria for an elder statesman formerly of the Green Party suggested that there were still some limits to a wave of anti-elite anger that began with British vote to leave the European Union and continued with Trump last month.
Washington Post, Trump’s emerging Cabinet looking more conventional than many expected, John Wagner and Sean Sullivan, Dec. 3, 2016. Most of the president-elect’s choices have gone a long way toward mollifying some of his Republican critics, and several are tailor-made to encourage cooperation between the administration and Congressional GOP leaders.
New York Times, Will Ivanka Trump Be the Most Powerful First Daughter in History? Alessandra Stanley and Jacob Bernstein, Dec. 3, 2016. Ivanka Trump is about to become the most influential first daughter since Alice Roosevelt Longworth. But can she do so without damaging her own brand?
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Russian President Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image via DCMA)
SouthFront, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan faces hard times in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 3, 2016. On November 29, he publicly announced that Turkey had launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of “the tyrant al-Assad.”
Nonetheless, on December 1, the Turkish president was pushed to backtrack on Syrian goals, clarifying that “to end the rule of tyrant al-Assad” means “to combat terrorism“:The shift of Erdogan’s strategy in Syria came after a phone call with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. (Video below.)
Washington Post, Fearing abandonment by Trump, CIA-backed rebels in Syria mull alternatives, Karen DeYoung and Louisa Loveluck, Dec. 3, 2016. Three years after the CIA began secretly shipping lethal aid to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, battlefield losses and fears that a Donald Trump administration will abandon them have left thousands of opposition fighters weighing their alternatives, including a closer alliance with better-armed al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
SouthFront, Russian Sappers Depart to Syria to Demine Aleppo (Photo & Video), Staff report, Dec. 3, 2016. A video and photos showing Russian sappers departing from Moscow region to the Syrian city of Aleppo to conduct a mine-clearing operation in the eastern districts of the city, liberated from militants, were published online by the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday.
Huffington Post, China Lodges Protest After Trump Call With Taiwan President, Valerie Volcovici, David Alexander, Yara Bayoumy, John Walcott, Arshad Mohammed, Eric Beech, Jeff Mason and JR Wu, Dec. 3, 2016. “The one China principle is the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship.” China lodged a diplomatic protest on Saturday after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, but blamed the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own for the “petty” move.
The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China.” China’s Foreign Ministry said it had lodged “stern representations” with what it called the “relevant U.S. side”, urging the careful handling of the Taiwan issue to avoid any unnecessary disturbances in ties.
“The one China principle is the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship,” it said. The wording implied the protest had gone to the Trump camp, but the ministry provided no explanation. Speaking earlier, hours after Friday’s telephone call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointedly blamed Taiwan for the exchange, rather than Trump, a billionaire businessman with little foreign policy experience. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying.
Xinhua, Commentary: Future of China-U.S. ties rests on mutual trust and mutual respect, Liu Chang, Dec. 3, 2016. With Donald Trump ready to take over as U.S. president, many are having worries about the future of China-U.S. relations as a result of Trumps’s rhetoric on China during his presidential campaign. Trump promised to carry forward the U.S.-China relationship in a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China-U.S. relations need to rest on solid mutual trust and respect, vibrant economic and trade cooperation, and a firm belief that the two great powers can co-exist peacefully and help maintain global peace and stability. As President Xi has pointed out in his talks Friday with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the two sides should have a correct understanding of each other’s strategic intentions, abandon the zero-sum mentality, respect each other and promote mutually beneficial cooperation.
Trump needs to know that Beijing can be a cooperative partner in the Asia-Pacific and beyond,provided that Washington respects China’s right for peaceful development, as well as its core interests including the issues of Taiwan and the South China sea. As a matter of fact, the China-U.S. relations, despite some twists and turns, have reached a level of stability and maturity. China has become the largest trading partner of the United States, while the United States is the second-largest trading partner of China.
Democratic Election Loss
Huffington Post, Why Hillary Clinton Lost, She wrote off working people, Zach Carter, Dec. 3, 2016. Hillary Clinton’s top aides would like the world to know they are morally superior to Donald Trump and his staff, who ran an ugly campaign courting white nationalists. The Clinton team is right. And it doesn’t matter. At a vicious Harvard University post-mortem seminar on the 2016 election, top staffers for Clinton excoriated Team Trump for running a campaign that catered to white nationalists. “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri declared. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
There are three possible choices to be made in the logical universe in which a political party is running a fascist campaign. People can 1) join the fascists, 2) lose to the fascists or 3) defeat the fascists. The Clinton campaign wants credit for not choosing door No. 1. Their job was to make option three a reality. History will remember them for number two.
Zero Hedge, House Quietly Passes Bill Targeting “Russian Propaganda” Websites, Tyler Durden, Dec. 2, 2016. On November 30, one week after the Washington Post launched its witch hunt against “Russian propaganda fake news”, with 390 votes for, the House quietly passed “H.R. 6393, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017”, sponsored by California Republican Devin Nunes (whose third largest donor in 2016 is Google parent Alphabet, Inc), a bill which deals with a number of intelligence-related issues, including Russian propaganda, or what the government calls propaganda, and hints at a potential crackdown on “offenders.”
A quick skim of the bill reveals “Title V—Matters relating to foreign countries,” whose Section 501 calls for the government to “counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence … carried out in coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly.”
Express, Wikileaks bombshell could destroy Merkel’s plans for EU domination, Julian Assange warns, Tom Batchelor, Dec. 3, 2016. A troveof WikiLeaks documents revealing the true scale of cooperation between the German and US spy agencies risks derailing Angela Merkel’s hopes of dominating the EU, Julian Assange has warned.
Washington Post, Paul Ryan isn’t ruling out Medicare privatization, and it isn’t just Democrats who are wary, Mike DeBonis, Dec. 2, 2016. Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan made clear that he is willing to pursue a major overhaul of Medicare, including changes that could eventually put private companies in charge of the health care for tens of millions of American seniors.
Washington Post, Trump speaks with Taiwan’s president in major break with U.S. policy on China, Anne Gearan, Dec. 2, 2016. The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Donald Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.
The Salt Lake Tribune, Jon Huntsman Jr.: Trump’s ‘nontraditional thinking’ could signal a new approach to U.S.-China relations, Thomas Burr and Matthew Piper, Dec. 2, 2016. Donald Trump’s unconventional phone conversation with Taiwan’s leader might signal a fresh approach to a “complex and sensitive” relationship, said former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr. Trump tweeted that the Friday call was made by Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and that it was “interesting” that he was criticized for taking it, given that the U.S. sells weapons to the self-governing island despite China’s sovereignty claim.
Huntsman served an LDS mission in Taiwan and later worked there before serving as ambassador to China during the first term of President Barack Obama. He told The Tribune on Saturday that Trump “provides an element of nontraditional thinking and action that may result in new ways of approaching the one-China framework.” Speaking earlier to Fox News and The New York Times, Huntsman characterized Tsai’s call as “shrewd” and said it “shouldn’t surprise anybody” that Trump answered it. Taiwan might prove a “useful leverage point” in dealings with China, Huntsman told The Times.
Washington Post, The next FBI headquarters, a $2 billion project, could be built by a Trump associate, Jonathan O’Connell, Dec. 2, 2016. Trump administration to choose among president-elect’s adviser and friend for James Comey-backed project. Trump once considered bidding himself.
Two billionaire New York City developers bidding to build a new headquarters for the FBI — maybe the largest government development since the CIA moved to Langley in Northern Virginia in 1961 — have deep ties with President-elect Donald Trump, whose victory injects new intrigue into the jockeying for the more than $2 billion project.
One, Steven Roth, served as an economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and co-owns a building with him in Manhattan. Another, Larry Silverstein, has been referred to by Trump as a “friend of mine.”
Roth and Silverstein have both known Trump for more than 30 years. They have been rivals on some projects and cheerleaders on others.
FBI officials are nearing the finish line on a decade-long push for a secure campus in the Washington suburbs. The contract attracted some of the most prominent developers on the East Coast. And the winning development team not only would receive more than $1 billion in federal appropriations to foot the cost of a new campus but also would win control of the current FBI headquarters property, considered a once-in-a-generation development opportunity in downtown Washington.
Washington Post, Trump, Cabinet could avoid millions in taxes thanks to this little-known law, Drew Harwell, Dec. 2, 2016. Federal ethics laws would allow Cabinet nominees to skip the weighty taxes on profits from selling investments. The president-elect could also potentially reap the same tax advantage.
Huffington Post, Sarah Palin Slams Donald Trump’s Carrier Deal as ‘Crony Capitalism,’ Mary Papenfuss, Dec. 2, 2016. “Republicans oppose this sinfully stupid practice, remember?” she reminded the president-elect.
PaulCraigRoberts.org, Trump’s Appointments: What do they mean? Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 2, 2016. We do not know what the appointments mean except, as Trump discovered once he confronted the task of forming a government, that there is no one but insiders to appoint. Outsiders are a poor match for insiders who tend to eat them alive. Ronald Reagan’s California crew were a poor match for George H.W. Bush’s insiders. The Reagan part of the government had a hell of a time delivering results that Reagan wanted.
Another limit on a president’s ability to form a government is Senate confirmation of presidential appointees. Whereas Congress is in Republican hands, Congress remains in the hands of special interests who will protect their agendas from hostile potential appointees. Therefore, although Trump does not face partisan opposition from Congress, he faces the power of special interests that fund congressional political campaigns. With Trump under heavy attack prior to his inauguration, he cannot afford drawn out confirmation fights and defeats.
Does Trump’s choice of Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary mean that Goldman Sachs will again be in charge of US economic policy? Possibly, but we do not know. We will have to wait and see. Mnuchin left Goldman Sachs 14 years ago. He has been making movies in Hollywood and started his own investment firm. Many people have worked for Goldman Sachs and the New York Banks who have become devastating critics of the banks. Read Nomi Prins’ books and visit Pam Martens website, Wall Street on Parade. My sometimes coauthor Dave Kranzler is a former Wall Streeter.
Commentators are jumping to conclusions based on appointees past associations. Mnuchin was an early Trump supporter and chairman of Trump’s finance campaign. He has Wall Street and investment experience. He should be an easy confirmation. For a president-elect under attack this is important.
Will Mnuchin suppport Trump’s goal of bringing middle class jobs back to America? Is Trump himself sincere? We do not know.
What we do know is that Trump attacked the fake “free trade” agreements that have stripped America of middle class jobs just as did Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. We know that the Clintons made their fortune as agents of the One Percent, the only ones who have profited from the offshoring of American jobs. Trump’s fortune is not based on jobs offshoring.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Colonel Westhusing still haunts David Petraeus, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 2, 2016 (Special report published outside subscription paywall). Disgraced former Central Intelligence Agency director and Central Command chief General Petraeus may be on Donald Trump’s short list for a Cabinet position or some senior advisory role, but for those who knew Army Colonel Ted Westhusing, Petraeus’s possible role in the incoming administration is extremely troubling. Petraeus is shown in an official photo as CIA director.
For Petraeus, who must continue to report to a parole officer as a result of his federal conviction for mishandling classified information by sharing it with his girlfriend, Paula Broadwell, his criminal record is the least of his worries.
Serious questions remain concerning the death of Col. Westhusing in Iraq in June 2005. According to the Army, Westhusing took his own life with his service pistol in a trailer near Baghdad Airport. It based its decision solely on a “suicide” note said to be written in Westhusing’s handwriting. According to WMR’s January 2006 report on Westhusing’s death, Westhusing, the Army’s top military ethicist and professor at West Point, did not commit suicide in a Baghdad trailer as was widely reported in the mainstream media five months later.
Washington Post, Trump’s complex stock portfolio is rife with potential conflicts, Rosalind S. Helderman and Drew Harwell, Dec. 2, 2016. The president-elect has reported owning millions in stock in companies from financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo to energy companies like ExxonMobil and Halliburton, all of which could benefit from his policies. Trump’s stock holdings, which are separate from the more high-profile real estate and branding empire that he has said he will separate from in some fashion, represent another area rife with potential conflicts of interest that Trump has yet to address as he prepares to take office.
He has held substantial numbers of shares in Apple and a unit of Ford, companies whose executives he has spoken with since the election as part of his efforts to press corporations not to ship jobs overseas.
AP via Washington Post, Dean steps out of DNC race; Ellison says he may leave seat, Nicholas Riccardi, Dec. 2, 2016. Howard Dean took himself out of the race to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Friday, while the frontrunner in the contest, Rep. Keith Ellison, said he may leave his Minnesota congressional seat to serve in the position. The two dramatic announcements came during the first public forum in the race to lead the DNC after Democrats lost the White House in November’s election.
Media and Fake News Flare-ups
Washington Post, The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think, Margaret Sullivan, Dec. 2, 2016. Corey Lewandowski’s nonchalant defense of Trump’s falsehoods is chilling: “Sometimes . . . you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact. But now it’s time to cross another bridge — into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit. On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she declared on “The Diane Rehm Show” on Wednesday.
Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept on defending that assertion at length, though not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump’s recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally. The apparent genesis of Trump’s claim was Infowars.com, a site that traffics in conspiracy theories and is run by Alex Jones, who says the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., was a government-sponsored hoax.)
What matters now, Hughes argued, is not whether his fraud claim is true. No, what matters is who believes it. “Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”
Consortium News, The Orwellian War on Skepticism. Robert Parry (shown in a file photo, and former AP and Newsweek reporter breaking the Iran-Contra story in the 1980s), Dec. 2, 2016. Battling “Fake News.” Under the cover of battling “fake news,” the mainstream U.S. news media and officialdom are taking aim at journalistic skepticism when it is directed at the pronouncements of the U.S. government and its allies. One might have hoped that the alarm about “fake news” would remind major U.S. news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, about the value of journalistic skepticism. However, instead, it seems to have done the opposite.
The idea of questioning the claims by the West’s officialdom now brings calumny down upon the heads of those who dare do it. “Truth” is being redefined as whatever the U.S. government, NATO and other Western interests say is true. Disagreement with the West’s “group thinks,” no matter how fact-based the dissent is, becomes “fake news.”
So, we have the case of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius having a starry-eyed interview with Richard Stengel, the State Department’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, the principal arm of U.S. government propaganda. Entitled “The truth is losing,” the column laments that the official narratives as deigned by the State Department and The Washington Post are losing traction with Americans and the world’s public.
Yet, what Stengel and various mainstream media outlets appear to be arguing for is the creation of a “Ministry of Truth” managed by mainstream U.S. media outlets and enforced by Google, Facebook and other technology platforms. In other words, once these supposedly responsible outlets decide what the “truth” is, then questioning that narrative will earn you “virtual” expulsion from the marketplace of ideas, possibly eliminated via algorithms of major search engines or marked with a special app to warn readers not to believe what you say, a sort of yellow Star of David for the Internet age.
And then there’s the possibility of more direct (and old-fashioned) government enforcement by launching FBI investigations into media outlets that won’t toe the official line. (All of these “solutions” have been advocated in recent weeks.)
On the other hand, if you do toe the official line that comes from Stengel’s public diplomacy shop, you stand to get rewarded with government financial support. Stengel disclosed in his interview with Ignatius that his office funds “investigative” journalism projects.
Unz Review, Pizzagate, Aedon Cassiel, Dec. 2, 2016. Beginning in 1997, in an English town of more than 100,000 people, eight Pakistani men stood at the core of a group involving as many as three hundred suspects who abused, gang-raped, pimped and trafficked, by the most conservative estimate, well over a thousand of the town’s young girls for years. The police were eventually accused of not just turning a blind eye, but of participating in the abuse — even supplying the Pakistani gangs with drugs and tipping them off when they heard of colleagues searching for children they knew to be in the gangs’ possession.
Others were afraid of investigating the gangs or calling attention to their behavior because it would have been politically incorrect to accuse the town’s ethnic community of such a rampant and heinous crime — in the words of one English writer, “Fears of appearing racist trumped fears of more children being abused.” But when this story first broke, guess where it appeared?
The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal first “broke” in the far-right blogosphere. The accusation they made was that these gangs were being allowed to operate undisturbed because everyone was too afraid of “appearing racist” to properly investigate them . . . and nobody listened to the far-right bloggers who were breaking this story because they were afraid of “appearing racist” if they gave any credibility to those far-right sources, too. Never mind that it seemed paranoid to rely on bloggers to report truths like these when the allegations were so wide-reaching, involving a literal conspiracy within the police force.
The parallel with Rotherham is that the relatively small number of people asking for that are mostly the loathsome kinds of people who run “racist far-right websites.” So, since the claims are inherently conspiratorial, and the mainstream doesn’t want to be associated with those people who are talking about it, it is once again all too easy to just dismiss the claims out of hand as paranoia run wild. Again, the evolution of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal was an extremely painful lesson that the mainstream can be wrong and the “paranoid racist far-right” can be right. And that lesson was far too expensive to simply let go to waste.
The name of this scandal is Pizzagate. It gets the name for two reasons: first, because at the center of the scandal are high-level Washington insiders who own a handful of businesses in the DC area, including a couple pizzerias (Comet Ping Pong and Besta Pizza), who have fallen under suspicion for involvement in a child sex abuse ring. Second, because the first questions arose in peoples’ minds as a result of some very bizarre emails revealed by Wikileaks in “The Podesta Emails” that, quite simply, just sound strange (and usually involve weird references to pizza).
Washington Post, The next FBI headquarters, a $2 billion project, could be built by a Trump associate, Jonathan O’Connell, Dec. 2, 2016. Two billionaire New York City developers bidding to build a new headquarters for the FBI — maybe the largest government development since the CIA moved to Langley in Northern Virginia in 1961 — have deep ties with President-elect Donald Trump, whose victory injects new intrigue into the jockeying for the more than $2 billion project.
One, Steven Roth, served as an economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and co-owns a building with him in Manhattan. Another, Larry Silverstein, has been referred to by Trump as a “friend of mine.”
Roth and Silverstein have both known Trump for more than 30 years. They have been rivals on some projects and cheerleaders on others.
Trump considered bidding on the FBI project himself before running for the presidency; the current FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue is near his new Washington hotel.
And then there’s this wrinkle: The man who has lobbied hardest for a new campus, FBI Director James B. Comey, had his own role in the presidential campaign in publicly extending the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state less than two weeks before Election Day.
SouthFront, Rebels’ Murdered 45 People in Aleppo and Blamed ‘Regime Strikes’? (Caution Graphic Content), Staff report, Dec. 2, 2016. Since November 30, the media has been full of horrific reports about 45 civilians killed by the “regime artillery” in Aleppo city. The story also exploded in the social media with numerous posts blaming the Syrian government/ However, the further developments showed that there were some gaps in the initial story promoted by the mainstream media and the Syrian “opposition.”
Videos and photos images of killed civilians show numerous large bags which probably contain their belongings. This means that they were most likely killed during an attempt to leave the militant-controlled area of Aleppo city; Videos and photos from the scene don’t show pits or holes from artillery strikes.
This allowed some users and activists to suggest that the people were most likely killed by Aleppo militants that are well-known with their stiff opposition to anybody who attempts to leave the so-called “opposition-held area.”
Washington Post, Trump picks retired Marine Gen. Mattis for defense secretary, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 1, 2016. The president-elect has chosen former senior military officer James Mattis, who led operations across the Middle East, to run the Pentagon. To take the job, Mattis (shown in an official photo) will need Congress to pass legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years.
Washington Post, Shouting match erupts between Clinton and Trump aides, Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker, Dec. 1, 2016. The raw, lingering emotion of the 2016 presidential campaign erupted into a shouting match Thursday as top strategists of Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused their Republican counterparts of fueling and legitimizing racism to elect Donald Trump. The extraordinary exchange came at a postmortem session sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where top operatives from both campaigns sat across a conference table from each other.
As Trump’s team basked in the glow of its victory and singled out for praise its campaign’s chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, who was absent, the row of grim-faced Clinton aides who sat opposite them bristled. Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views. “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” she said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager (shown in a file photo), fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”
“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.
“Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” Conway asked. “How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”
Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, piled on: “There were dog whistles sent out to people. . . . Look at your rallies. He delivered it.” At which point, Conway accused Clinton’s team of being sore losers. “Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow,” she said. “Hashtag he’s your president. How’s that? Will you ever accept the election results? Will you tell your protesters that he’s their president, too?”
Washington Post, Clinton wasn’t charged with mishandling classified info. Trump might appoint someone convicted of it, Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 1, 2016. If nominated to be secretary of state, former CIA director David Petraeus would have to undergo a potentially bruising confirmation hearing that would likely reexamine the lurid case that led to his conviction and dredge up old comparisons to Hillary Clinton.
Center for Public Integrity, Judge rules against Center in cybersecurity lawsuit, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2016. Newsroom weighing options in pursuit of secret FEC document. A U.S. District Court Judge has denied the Center for Public Integrity’s request for access to a taxpayer-funded study about cybersecurity vulnerabilities at the Federal Election Commission. The court’s decision comes more than 13 months after the Center for Public Integrity sued the FEC for access to the security study, which the FEC commissioned following a Center investigation revealing how Chinese hackers infiltrated the FEC’s computer systems.
The 44-page document — known within the FEC as the “NIST study” — in part provides recommendations on how to fix the FEC’s problems and bring its computer systems in line with specific National Institute of Standards and Technology computer security protocols. The study cost $199,500 to produce.
Wall Street Journal, Do Illegal Votes Decide Elections? Hans Von Spakovsky and John Fund, Dec. 1, 2016. There’s no way to know. But the evidence suggests that significant numbers of noncitizens cast ballots. Donald Trump’s claim that illegal voting may have cost him a popular-vote majority has touched off outrage. Widespread voter fraud, the media consensus suggests, isn’t possible. But there is a real chance that significant numbers of noncitizens and others are indeed voting illegally, perhaps enough to make up the margin in some elections.
There’s no way of knowing for sure. The voter-registration process in almost all states runs on the honor system. The Obama administration has done everything it can to keep the status quo in place. The Obama Justice Department has refused to file a single lawsuit to enforce the requirement of the National Voter Registration Act that states maintain the accuracy of their voter-registration lists. This despite a 2012 study from the Pew Center on the States estimating that one out of every eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicate. About 2.8 million people are registered in more than one state, according to the study, and 1.8 million registered voters are dead. In most places it’s easy to vote under the names of such people with little risk of detection.
The Justice Department has opposed every effort by states — such as Kansas, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia — to verify the citizenship of those registering to vote. This despite evidence that noncitizens are indeed registering and casting ballots. In 2015 one Kansas county began offering voter registration at naturalization ceremonies. Election officials soon discovered about a dozen new Americans who were already registered—and who had voted as noncitizens in multiple elections.
How common is this? If only we knew. Political correctness has squelched probes of noncitizen voting, so most cases are discovered accidentally instead of through a systematic review of election records.
The danger looms large in states such as California, which provides driver’s licenses to noncitizens, including those here illegally, and which also does nothing to verify citizenship during voter registration. In a 1996 House race, then-challenger Loretta Sanchez defeated incumbent Rep. Bob Dornan by under 1,000 votes. An investigation by a House committee found 624 invalid votes by noncitizens, nearly enough to overturn the result.
How big is this problem nationally? One district-court administrator estimated in 2005 that up to 3% of the 30,000 people called for jury duty from voter-registration rolls over a two-year period were not U.S. citizens. A September report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation found more than 1,000 noncitizens who had been removed from the voter rolls in eight Virginia counties. Many of them had cast ballots in previous elections, but none was referred for possible prosecution.
The lack of prosecutions is no surprise. In 2011, the Electoral Board in Fairfax County, Va., sent the Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Eric Holder (shown in a file photo by Noel St. John), information about 278 noncitizens registered to vote in Fairfax County, about half of whom had cast ballots in previous elections. There is no record that the Justice Department did anything.
Unz Review, Record Traffic for Our “Fake News” Russian Propaganda Website! Ron Unz, Dec. 1, 2016. Ron Unz, a software developer and former publisher of The American Conservative Magazine founded by Patrick Buchanan, is publisher of the Unz Review of alternative commentary. I was very proud to see that the Washington Post included The Review in the official list of America’s major “Fake News” Russian propaganda websites, apparently used by the Kremlin to subvert American democracy and thereby foster the spread of Godless Soviet Communism… err, the Russian Orthodox Christianity of Vladimir Putin.
Sweeter still was that we received this honor as our traffic reached record levels, and we prepared to begin a major expansion of our content offerings. The “Fake News” lists themselves, compiled by some obscure academic as well as a tiny and totally unknown new website called PropOrNot.com, were certainly curious ones. Names listed variously include leading rightwing publications such as the Drudge Report and Breitbart.com but also extended to the some of the most popular libertarian or anti-intervention websites such as LewRockwell, Antiwar.com, Ron Paul, and David Stockman, further extending to leading anti-establishment leftist publications such as Counterpunch, TruthDig, Common Dreams, TruthOut, and Naked Capitalism.
Popular websites emphasizing conspiratorial views such as InfoWars, Rense.com, and Zero Hedge made the list, as did publications of the racialist Alt-Right such as American Renaissance and VDare. Even world-famous Wikileaks—that firehose of raw, unfiltered information which obviously falls into an entirely different category—reached one of the lists. The proposed solution to this “Fake News” problem was for our monopolistic social media and search companies such Facebook, Twitter, and Google to exercise their patriotic discretion and prevent these ideas from “confusing” the vulnerable public.
Given such a bizarre hodge-podge of webzines and individuals — who knew that Ron Paul was a Russian propagandist? — the only common thread I can find is that the writers tend to be critical of the political establishment of both major parties and are especially doubtful about such widespread bipartisan policies as support for nuclear war brinksmanship with Russia. Strangely enough, the election results seemed to demonstrate that many tens of millions of American voters shared these views, perhaps representing the diabolical fulfillment of Putin’s “Fake News” strategy.
I’ll admit that although our small webzine has republication relationships with several of the media outlets so targeted, I’d never heard of the vast majority of them. However, such an endorsement of fearlessness and credibility counts for something, and I’ll henceforth try to keep their names in mind. Meanwhile, we’ve already run a few pieces more directly addressing the topic:
- Confessions of an Alleged ‘Russian Propagandist’ — Dave Lindorff
- “Fake News” Fizzles on Arrival — Anatoly Karlin
- Fake News Impresario Jann Wenner Interviews President-Eject Obama About the Scourge of Fake News — Steve Sailer
- Dear President Putin — Paul Craig Roberts
And it was fitting that a senior figure of the most important “Fake News” website of them all — WikiLeaks — recently chose our publication as the venue to present his own views about the future of the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media, a article that attracted enormous worldwide traffic: “An Obituary of The New York Times” — Johannes Wahlstrom
Stepping back a bit, this silly flap in which pillars of the Establishment Media such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times denounced their less establishmentarian rivals as “fake” relates to the exact reason that I had originally launched this small webzine, hoping to make it a convenient venue for those important and controversial ideas largely excluded from mainstream coverage.
Indeed, I think we are almost unique among webzines in publishing controversial perspectives both rightwing and leftwing, libertarian and traditionalist, conspiratorial and racialist, and with topics ranging from foreign policy to politics to economics. Since these varied non-conforming ideologies were exactly the ones separately provided on the lists of the condemned fakers, I might suggest that we represent a summary encapsulation of the entire collection. So although some of those other publications certainly dwarf ours in traffic and readership, perhaps one could even argue that we are the absolutely fakest of all the Fake News websites.
White Collar Crime / Tax Cheats
Bloomberg, Credit Suisse Said to Freeze Accounts in U.S. Asset Search, David Voreacos and Giles Broom, Dec. 1, 2016. U.S. prosecutors now asking why $200 million was hidden; Bank said to be looking for indicators of U.S. accounts. Credit Suisse Group AG has frozen dozens of accounts as it tries to determine if U.S. clients are hiding money from the Internal Revenue Service after the firm pledged to come clean about secret assets, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The bank is looking at indicators such as phone numbers or powers of attorney to determine whether Americans are the true owners of accounts not disclosed to the IRS, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Any client activity on these accounts now requires approval by a group within Credit Suisse, the person said.
The unusual move to freeze accounts came in the past week as the U.S. stepped up a Justice Department investigation into why Credit Suisse neglected to tell them about $200 million in assets held by an American client who pleaded guilty Nov. 4 to conspiring to defraud the IRS, according to several people familiar with the matter. The bank wants to show that any hidden accounts were a lapse in controls and not a criminal act, another person familiar with the matter said.
“Credit Suisse has to prove it’s doing all it can to identify Americans, in order to draw a line under its U.S. tax dispute,” said Andreas Venditti, an analyst at Vontobel Holding AG in Zurich. “It’s hard to assess the potential significance of these lingering issues as banks don’t disclose details of unresolved legal matters.” The U.S. is investigating how effectively the firm rooted out hidden American accounts after a subsidiary pleaded guilty in May 2014, admitting it helped thousands of Americans evade taxes. A monitor appointed by New York’s banking regulator continues to review Credit Suisse’s operations after his initial two-year appointment was extended.
Credit Suisse, which paid a $2.6 billion fine with its guilty plea, is struggling to overcome its problems with U.S. tax authorities as it pins its future on managing money for the wealthy. The bank is betting it can attract rich individuals and families by offering them loans in the hundreds of millions of dollars while it pivots from investment banking to wealth management.
SouthFront, Putin Approves New Concept of Russia’s Foreign Policy, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2016. A new concept of foreign policy of the country has been approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some in the mainstream media, including at the Post, have published variants on the theme. This is yet another example of pack journalism whereby different outlets attack the same targets.
RT, Saudi ‘terrorist rehab resorts’ serve as ‘recruiting ground’ for militants, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2016. Interview with author Mike Springmann. They talk and they talk and there is no real action. The fact that they are engaged in terrorism around the world, it is the same thing, Michael Springmann, former head of US State Department visa bureau in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and whistleblower told RT. According to testimony of Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi, a prisoner at Guantanamo, who is a former Al-Qaeda member of Saudi origin, the Saudi government uses one of its ‘terrorist rehab’ centers to train terrorists.
The center is meant to help former jihadists abandon their militant ways in a resort-style setting with pools and palm trees. Dozens of Guantanamo detainees have been enrolled in the program. However, Al-Sharbi said that inmates are often recruited and sent to fight against Shia groups in Yemen or Syria.
RT: Do you think Al-Sharbi’s claims are trustworthy?
Michael Springmann: I think the claims are very trustworthy. This fellow, [Ghassan Abdullah] al-Sharbi, for example, that was quoted in the newspaper article, he was a guy that had been captured in Afghanistan, I think, held in Guantanamo for three years, and never charged with anything. And then finally after a while they came up with some ridiculous thing about known association with bad people. And he has been held there ever since like far too many people from elsewhere in the world. They are being held in Gitmo on the basis of strange things.
New Yorker, The Propaganda About Russian Propaganda, Adrian Chen, Dec. 1, 2016. In late October, I received an e-mail from “The PropOrNot Team,” which described itself as a “newly-formed independent team of computer scientists, statisticians, national security professionals, journalists and political activists, dedicated to identifying propaganda—particularly Russian propaganda targeting a U.S. audience.” PropOrNot said that it had identified two hundred Web sites that “qualify as Russian propaganda outlets.” The sites’ reach was wide — they are read by at least fifteen million Americans. PropOrNot said that it had “drafted a preliminary report about this for the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and after reviewing our report they urged us to get in touch with you and see about making it a story.”
Reporting on Internet phenomena, one learns to be wary of anonymous collectives freely offering the fruits of their research. I told PropOrNot that I was probably too busy to write a story, but I asked to see the report. In reply, PropOrNot asked me to put the group in touch with “folks at the NYTimes, WaPo, WSJ, and anyone else who you think would be interested.” Deep in the middle of another project, I never followed up.
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